Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mary D. Watkins & Olly W. Wilson: 'Recorded Music of the African Diaspora'

[Recorded Music of the African Diaspora; New Black Music Repertory Ensemble; Leslie B. Dunner, conductor; Albany Records Troy 1200 (2010)]

The instrumental music of Mary D. Watkins and the vocal music of Olly W. Wilson on this CD afford very different experiences to the listener. United under the theme of the sounds of the African Diaspora, the contributions of these two composers remain quite distinct from each other.

Albany says in a press release: “Repertoire includes Mary D. Watkins’ Five Movements in Color and Olly W. Wilson’s Of Visions and Truth: A Song Cycle. The music is performed by Bonita Hyman, mezzo-soprano; Rodrick Dixon, tenor; Donnie Ray Albert, baritone; and the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble under the direction of Leslie B. Dunner and Kirk Smith.”

The liner notes tell us “Mary D.Watkins is an eclectic composer and pianist of the classical and jazz traditions.” She has scored three documentary films which have been nominated for Academy Awards. “Five Movements in Color was commissioned in 1993 by the Camellia Symphony Orchestra with funding from Meet the Composer and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and was premiered in 1994. Five Movements in Color swings, grooves, and hearkens to the roots of African-American musical expression. Elements of jazz, traditional African music, and popular forms are merged with contemporary techniques and colorful orchestrations in Watkins' eclectic montage for full orchestra.” The movements are: 1. Once Upon a Time, 2. Soul of Remembrance, 3. Urban Suave and Dance Survivalist, 4. Slow Burn, 5. Drive by Runner.

Olly W. Wilson writes: “Of Visions and Truth is based on my personal reflection on the historical status of African-American males in American society.” “The first movement is based on a reinterpretation of the African-American spiritual 'I've Been Buked and I've Been Scorned,' which reflects the sensibilities of the slave to being maltreated, but more important, the belief that he will transcend this fate.” The composer observes of Interlude I: “The second movement is a lullaby sung by a mother to her son.”

The notes continue: “The third movement is based on the poem 'Ikef' by the African-American poet Henry Dumas, who was active in the Black Arts Movement of the nineteen-sixties, until his tragic death in 1968 at the age of thirty-four.” The fourth movement is Interlude II, (1:52). Wilson continues: “The final movement is a setting of the Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay's well known poem 'If We Must Die,' which exhorts the oppressed to resist, to trade blow for blow, and to die – fighting back.”

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