NEA JAZZ MASTER DONALD HARRISON JR.’S recording “Congo Square Suite,” Movements I, II, and III, is his music and cultural perspective placed into a classical orchestral, tribal, and jazz paradigm. The elements include over forty years working with hundreds of master innovators from every jazz era, various other African diaspora music styles, and European classical music.
“Congo Square Suite” is a unique idea of epic musical proportions. It marks the only recording that displays an artist’s life experiences as an Afro-New Orleans Big Chief and master musician composing, orchestrating, and performing his production. Its concept of music as a series of multiverses containing the same elements was the natural evolution for this artist. Harrison furthered this idea when he saw correlations between music and quantum theory. With “Congo Square Suite,” Harrison shows that his talent, experiences, and quantum realizations are the keys to understanding his intrinsic portals.
CONGO SQUARE SUITE MOVEMENT I
Movement I is a chant composed by Donald Harrison for drums and voices. The performances exemplify the Afro-New Orleans offshoot culture, rhythms, and music forged in Congo Square. Harrison integrates elements of ancient African music kept alive in Congo Square with ideas he learned listening to tribal African field recordings.
Big Chief Donald Harrison lead vocals & percussion / Joe Dyson background vocals / Max Moran background vocals / Gerald French percussion / Bruce Jackson percussion / Antoine “Tuba Fats” Wade percussion / Howard “Smiley” Ricks percussion
CONGO SQUARE SUITE MOVEMENT II
Harrison composed and orchestrated Movement II as a classical work for a full orchestra. He recorded this version with The Moscow Symphony Orchestra in 2015. The piece incorporates Congo Square’s offshoot culture and music into a classical realm that utilizes secret chants and drum patterns. This movement creates a unique fabric for classical music. It unifies the composer’s experiences as the current Big Chief of Congo Square and his participation in Afro-New Orleans culture for sixty-plus years into a classical orchestral music experience of epic proportions.
CONGO SQUARE SUITE MOVEMENT III performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra
This movement connects ideas from the Congo Square movement’s I and II with Harrison’s jazz quartet and The Moscow Symphony Orchestra to create a hybrid Afro-New Orleans – modern jazz – orchestral sound. The band melds a perfect symmetrical feeling and tapestry with the orchestra. The drummer Joe Dyson and bassist Max Moran are members of The Congo Square Nation, which help better understand Harrison’s vision. Dyson’s experiences playing percussion under Harrison help him keep the spirit of Congo Square present while adding modern jazz touches. Bassist Max Moran has melodious thunder, which resounds with a mighty groove. His suggestions help propel the bands while keeping everything in the pocket with a fine-tuned balance. Pianist Zaccai Curtis uses his understanding and experiences to find new ways to accompany the band with rhythm, melodic invention, and harmonic extrapolations. Harrison’s vision shines clear and bright as a composer and instrumentalist in this movement. He shapes the overall concept with lines that spur new ways to look at the construct of jazz, tribal, and orchestral music fused. His use of what he calls suspended
harmony adds colors thought to be wrong into a logical place.
Donald Harrison: Composer, orchestration, producer, saxophonist, lead vocals, percussion Joe Dyson drums / Zaccai Curtis piano / Max Moran bass / The Moscow Symphony Orchestra / Gerald French percussion / Howard “Smiley” Ricks percussion / Antione “Tuba Fats” percussion / Bruce “Action” Jackson percussion
“…a wonderful and wholly-realized artistic and musical concept! So rare these days and fun and exciting to listen to. So great to be able to hear the connections and variations as they unfold over the three movements. Everyone is playing so deftly and carrying the spirit of Congo Square all the way through, Bravo. Thank you so much for sharing this major work…” Gregg Bendian, Professor of Music, William Paterson University of NJ
“A forward-thinking work…” Mitch Glickman hosts Symphonic Jazz on KJAZZ Los Angeles. “
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