ROIO of the Week [Recordings of Indeterminate Origin]

Dave Douglas
Speaking Truth To Power Modern Music Protest [No Label]

"Angered by a newspaper article on the rising fortunes of weapon makers during the NATO war on Yugoslavia, I decided to write music celebrating positive protest against the misuse of money and power. Each piece is inspired by and dedicated to artists and activists who have creatively challenged authority, sometimes endangering their own lives, but inspiring the rest of us to resist."
- Dave Douglas, May 2001.

Dave Douglas

This is Dave Douglas' Witness album from 2001, premiered live in concert in Germany two years before the album's release.

The show is incomplete as several tracks performed were not broadcast eg for Edward Said. It has been a long road since jazz first blew a fresh note in protest against racism and bigotry in the '50s [Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite] and even longer since Billie Holiday sang about lynching in America's south with Strange Fruit.

Witness gets lost in world history and offers observations of real people from different parts of the globe still fighting against injustice. Hence, the title of this album - to speak truth to power, using modern jazz as a form of protest.

Unfortunately, the listening experience is mixed. On the one hand, the minimalist style - nine men playing like there are only two on stage - could be interpreted as an attempt to reproduce ennui or apathy toward the causes of these unfortunate victims, as it is in life. Douglas dedicated songs to prisoners of conscience - Naguib Mahfouz, Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Nawal el-Saadawi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Eqbal Ahmad and Chandralekha. Each song drags around in search of a melody. The listener finds it hard to listen just as it has been hard for these men and women to have their cases heard in public. The struggle becomes the issue.

Douglas however offers nothing new to jazz as a protest idiom. If you recall Max Roach's We Insist: Freedom Now Suite or Albert Ayler's Music Is The Healing Force of The Universe or Archie Shepp's Things Have Got To Change, each of these albums hit with the force of a hurricane. It left you breathless. This was something new, unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Like the impact of a new idea - that racism was evil.

You don't get much by way of the music on Douglas' Witness. In fact, the playing is so standard, so polite, so accommodating, so friendly that you are irritated. Where's the balls? The sense of outrage has been co-opted into co-operating with the authorities to not protest too loudly. Think non-governmental organizations without teeth.

When actually jazz, or any other music, should take a note from India's anti-colonial leader, Gandhi, who substituted violent protest with a form of non-violent non-cooperation that could unite people to make a difference. Generally, Gandhi preached a protestor should practice boycott. Boycott their products, boycott their activities, boycott their people. That would send a non-violent and peaceful message that you disagree.

Otherwise, it's just another show. - Michael Cheah

[The radio show was broadcast live from Donaueschinger Musiktage, Germany, on Oct 15, 1999. Excellent stereo.]

The Witness group:

Dave Douglas: trumpet
Chris Speed, saxophone & clarinet
Joshua Roseman: trombone
Erik Friedlander: cello
Mark Feldman: violin
Bryan Carrott: vibraphone, marimba
Drew Gress: bass
Ikue Mori, electronic percussion
Michael Sarin, drums

The tracks:

1. Introduction [by German radio announcer]
2. A Catalog of Scenes: Mahfouz - for Naguib Mahfouz
3. Child Of All Nations - for Pramoedya Ananta Toer
4. Introduction
5. Woman at Point Zero - for Nawal el-Saadawi
6. Introduction
7. Sozaboy - for Ken Saro-Wiwa
8. Introduction
9. Creative Dissidence - for Eqbal Ahmad
10. Introduction
11. One More News - for Chandralekha
12. Introduction
13. Episode - for Tasmina Nasrim
[radio show live at Donaueschinger Musiktage, Germany, Oct 15, 1999]

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