Charenee Wade Honoring Gil Scott-Heron On New Album
That the words and lyrics of legendary poet Gil Scott-Heron are still valid today, not only speak for his artistry as one of the most socially conscious commentator of his time, but also show us that unfortunately, much of what he was criticizing in the late 60s and 70s, is still true today.
Mark Ruffin produced the last album for Gil Scott-Heron before his untimely death in 2011, the brilliant “The Revolution Will Be Jazz” and it is Mark Ruffin who produced singer Charenee Wade‘s “Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson”. Charenee is the only singer ever to take part twice in the Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition (2004 and 2010) and can be heard on the new Aaron Diehl CD as well (see review on these pages).
Her own arrangements of these classic pieces are simply amazing, starting with the title track “Offering” (from Gil’s 1975 “The First Minute Of A New Day”) in true, spiritual form with a tender, soft, and creeping interpretation with totally sexy guitar licks by Dave Stryker and strong vibes work courtesy of Stefon Harris. The mild mood continues on the equally compelling and fascinating “Song Of The Wind” (from 1977’s “Bridges”) with irresistible mallet work and Charenee in total control of the still chilling lyrics: “You alone have been to Africa to hear the rhythm of the drum
And at the same time in America you greet the morning sun.
I wanted to get word to my brothers but I really didn’t know how until now…until now.
Blow wind blow/Please tell them don’t give up the fight.
Blow wind blow/Through the calm and through the storm.”
If at all, you could compare her to Dianne Reeves, but she clearly has found her own niche and I think she is equally as fascinating as an arranger. Hers is a very warm, clear, and mesmerizing voice. “A Toast To The People” (from 1976’s “From South Africa To South Carolina” – how accidentally appropriate that is up until today regarding the recent incident in South Carolina) features impressive guitar work again by Dave Stryker and continues the sultry mood of the first two songs.
Things get faster with the classic “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” (from the 1971 album “Pieces Of A Man”) where Alvester Garnett on drums and Lonnie Plaxico on bass are both mixed in-your-face in the truly pretty forthright production. Brandon McCune (who has worked with Nnenna Freelon) has a short, but effective solo on piano here as well. Charenee really gets behind the word here again becoming utterly bitter when she sings “Home is filled with pain and it might not be such a bad idea if i never, never went home again”.
The midtempo Funk of “Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman” (again from “The First Minute Of A New Day”) is a welcome change of pace with its sweaty approach. And there is more change: alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, Marcus Miller on bass clarinet, and Malcolm Jamal-Warner on spoken word are all featured on the effective “Essex/Martin, Grant, Byrd & Till” where Charenee explicitly takes the original song into the here and now with her preaching in a softer style compared to that of Jamal-Warner. A testifying piece. Let’s all hope that the list is not to be continued.
The are more optimistic and at the same time haunting moments and astutely executed arrangements on “Western Sunrise” and the spooky “The Vulture” (the latter from the 1970 LP “Small Talk At 125th And Lenox”) with more of those soulful Stefon Harris vibes. But in the end, Charenee is not letting the vulture capture her.
Christian McBride speaks the intro to “Peace Go With You Brother” (from the 1974 epic “Winter In America”), where the devastated and disappointed Gil Scott-Heron sermonizes. Charenee ends the album on a lighter note: the hilariously positive and optimistic “I Think I’ll Call It Morning” (from “Pieces Of A Man”): “I’m gonna take myself a piece of sunshine and paint it all over my sky”. “I’m gonna take the song from every bird and make them sing it just for me”. I’m glad she didn’t choose the obvious songs and she has truly put her own individual, original stamp on these timeless masterpieces. This is a wonderful work of art and one of my rare five-paw albums.
The record release concert will be at New York’s Jazz Standard on July 8th.