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Lynne Arriale Trio

Chimes of Freedom

by Ian Mann

May 05, 2020


The writing and playing maintain the high standards laid down by the previous release, while at the same time introducing a subtle political element to the music.

Lynne Arriale Trio

“Chimes of Freedom”

(Challenge Records CR73494)

Lynne Arriale – piano, Jasper Somsen – double bass, E.J. Strickland – drums
K.J. Denhert – guest vocalist

Hot on the heels of Arriale’s excellent 2018 trio release “Give Us These Days” comes this latest offering “Chimes of Freedom”, her second release for the Austrian Challenge label.

“Chimes of Freedom” represents Arriale’s sixteenth album release as a leader and features one line up change from its immediate predecessor with the American drummer Enoch Jamal “E.J.” Strickland replacing Jasper Van Hulten. Van Hulten’s Dutch compatriot Jasper Somsen continues in the bassist’s role and this latest release also includes guest vocals by the singer K.J. Denhert on the final two tracks.

My review of the exceptional “Give Us These Days” can be read here;

The following paragraphs, which summarise my relationship with Arriale’s music and offer a brief overview of her career, are lifted directly from that review, via the process that I like to refer to as “Jazz Will Eat Itself”. Here goes;

“I first heard Arriale’s playing around a decade ago when I was introduced to her music by my friend Paul, a great fan of the piano trio format in jazz, and of Bill Evans in particular.

Through Paul I was introduced to such Arriale recordings as “Arise” (2002), “Live” (2005) and “Nuance” (2008), enjoying them all in my capacity as a jazz fan. Both “Arise” and “Live” featured Arriale’s long running trio with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Davis and the majority of her recordings have been in this format.

Others to fill the bass and drum chairs in Arriale’s trios have included bassists John Patitucci,  Scott Colley, Drew Gress, George Mraz and Omer Avital and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. Occasionally Arriale has expanded her groups with the addition of a horn player, such as trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Bill McHenry. She has also recorded in the solo piano format. As can be seen from the quality of the musical company that she keeps Arriale is a true jazz heavyweight, a musician whose talents demand that she be considered as a member of the jazz Premier League”.

Lawrence K. Abrams’ perceptive and illuminating liner note essay for this latest release also reveals that Arriale has also worked with saxophonist Benny Golson, bassist Rufus Reid, guitarist Larry Coryell and fellow pianist Marian McPartland. She was part of the “100 Golden Fingers Tour” celebrating the history of jazz piano alongside such famous pianistic names as Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Monty Alexander, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Harold Mabern, Roger Kellaway, Junior Mance and Ray Bryant. Sadly a number of those listed are no longer with us.

As Abrams explains Arriale’s new album is a semi-conceptual affair that takes its inspiration from the Civil Rights era anthem “Chimes of Freedom”, written by Bob Dylan. This song appears as one of two vocal items, the other being an arrangement of Paul Simon’s “American Tune”.

Meanwhile Arriale’s seven original compositions are inspired by the political and social divisions of contemporary America, with particular emphasis being placed on the ongoing refugee crisis as Arriale herself explains;
“The album expresses my wish for an America that offers hope, not scorn, for immigrants who seek a better life. It also acknowledges the sacrifices of refugees who have risked, and even lost, their lives trying to reach our borders. And I want to share my great admiration for those who defend our right to hear the truth at a time when honesty itself is under assault”.

The album commences with Arriale’s arrangement of the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”, written by Harry Burleigh. The pianist chose this much covered piece in the wake of the well publicised events at the U.S . / Mexican border involving the separation of children from their families. In the sensitive hands of Arriale’s trio the song becomes a lament for those children in an ominous arrangement designed to evoke a gathering storm, with the dark rolling of Arriale’s piano cadences augmented by Strickland’s evocative mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers.

The opening piece seems to acts as a kind of overture and is followed by the urgent Arriale original “Journey”, the title of which speaks for itself. This is a more forceful and energetic piece, whose hard driving rhythms elicit a powerful performance from Strickland behind the kit. To these ears Arriale’s opening melody seems to allude fleetingly to Gershwin’s “Summertime”, a musical reference, perhaps, to the optimism of the migrants at the start of their journey. Along the way the performance includes features for bassist Somsen, who continues to impress following his excellent contribution to “Give Us These Days”, and the dynamic Strickland.

The title of “The Dreamers” refers to the 800,000 immigrant children in the United States who now face deportation following administrative changes made by the current government. Strickland sets the ball rolling at the kit and his polyrhythmic flow, augmented by Somsen’s supple bass lines, provide the undertow for Arriale’s flowing pianism.  Her lyrical melodies express a sense of yearning, this countered by the sense of apprehension expressed in the ferment of the busy rhythms bubbling beneath.

The title of “3 Million Steps” refers to the journey of refugees from Guatemala to the southern border of the U.S.A. Here Arriale’s melody seems to allude, again fleetingly, to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, while her expansive, Tyner-esque soloing, allied to the implacable rhythms of Somsen and Strickland expresses the determination and momentum of the walkers.

“Hope” is another of those pieces whose title needs no explanation. The trio adopt a gentler, more lyrical approach here with Arriale’s flowing piano melodies augmented by a melodic bass solo from Somsen and a busy, but subtle, performance from Strickland, whose playing is rich in detail and loaded with nuance.

With the title of “The Whole Truth” Arriale pays tribute to the investigative journalists who have helped to bring the iniquities of contemporary American political life into the public eye. Perhaps fittingly it is one of the most straight-ahead pieces on the album, fast, swinging and rooted in the blues, and featuring an excellent double bass solo from the dexterous Somsen.

Named after the statue “Lady Liberty” expresses her “raising her lamp of welcome to those who come to the United States in search of a better life”. A genuine ballad, with Strickland featuring on brushes, this beautiful piece has an almost hymnal quality to it,  with Arriale’s playing at its most tender, delicate and lyrical. 
It’s a shame that as a symbol of tolerance and freedom that the reputation of the Statue of Liberty should have become so tarnished in recent years. I remember Lou Reed making reference to the ‘Statue of Bigotry ‘ back in the 1990s, a jibe that seems even more appropriate in the era of the Trump administration.

“Re-Union” is a brief but joyous Caribbean inspired piece designed to imagine the re-union of families driven apart by war, famine, poverty and forced separation. Arriale’s dancing piano motifs are augmented by a busy rhythm section, with Strickland breaking cover to deliver an ebullient solo, sketching melodies on his drums.

The album concludes with the two vocal items, Arriale’s jazz arrangements of songs by two of America’s most distinguished song writers. Both tunes are sung by guest vocalist K.J. Denhert, an artist to whom I’ll admit to knowing nothing about until her appearance on this album. 

Karen Jeanne Denhert was born in New York City of Grenadian heritage and is a versatile singer, songwriter and guitarist with nine albums as a leader to her credit. A frequent award winner she has won respect in both the folk and jazz genres and her reputation as a socially conscious artist makes her an ideal choice as a guest on this CD.

Arriale’s arrangement of Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom”  omits several verses and re-imagines the song in a 12/8 meter, but without ever losing the essential spirit of the piece.  This is to the credit of Denhert who sings Dylan’s dramatic and often apocalyptic lyrics with a quiet dignity, her very stoicism itself a gesture of defiance. There’s a conversational quality and a gentle soulfulness about her delivery, and a gravitas that still makes this seem like an important song, with lyrics that give verbal expression to the themes that run throughout the album. The singer receives excellent support from Arriale and the trio, who play with skill and conviction throughout.

The album concludes with Paul Simon’s “American Tune”, itself an adaptation of a 17th century melody written by Hans Leo Hassler and later used in the German hymn “Passion Chorale”. Bach and Liszt also adapted the piece for their “St. Matthew Passion” and “Stations of the Cross” respectively.
The performance here begins with the simpatico duo of Arriale and Denhert, the singer perfectly encapsulating the weariness and ennui of Simon’s lyrics. Somsen and Strickland subsequently enter to provide suitably nuanced accompaniment, with the drummer giving a particularly sensitive and finely detailed performance. The lyrical image of the ‘Statue of Liberty’ appears again, linking this thoughtful and sympathetic interpretation to the rest of the album.

As a long standing Arriale fan I’ll admit to approaching the two vocal items with a degree of scepticism / trepidation, but both succeed brilliantly. Denhert proves to be a skilled interpreter of a lyric, a technically accomplished vocalist with the ability to get right inside these songs and bring out the full significance of the lyrics. She keeps true to the intentions of Dylan and Simon, but, in conjunction with Arriale’s arrangements, still finds something fresh to say about these songs in the light of the current political situation. It is perhaps, a sad reflection of humanity that both songs appear to be still so topical, and almost timeless.

“Chimes of Freedom” represents a worthy successor to the glories of “Days Like These”. The writing and playing maintain the high standards laid down by the previous release, while at the same time introducing a subtle political element to the music. The introduction of Strickland in the drum chair provides an additional energy and dynamism when required, but musically speaking the album is still typically rich in terms of light and shade.

As a primarily instrumental music jazz isn’t always regarded as being ‘political’, but nevertheless its practitioners have always reflected the spirit and issues of their times, and Arriale is no exception. 

This isn’t an overtly political record, it doesn’t shout in anger but instead makes its arguments with intelligence and great musicality, a voice of reason and compassion in these troubling times.

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