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A Review of Dwight Trible’s “What the World Needs Now is Love”

Reviewed by Mark Anthony Neal | @NewBlackMan |NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Friday, September 29, 2017.

There’s an urgency to “What the World Needs Now is Love”, the opening track of Dwight Trible’s latest release Inspirations, that suggests that it could have been recorded only days after Charlottesville.  “Kumbaya” be damned, the pop standard, first recorded by Dionne Warwick in the 1960s when she was working with Hal David and Burt Bacharach, has never seemed so insistent, but that is the case with virtually everything that Trible gives voice to.  Inspirations, released on the independent Manchester, UK based Gondwana Records, is Trible’s first solo effort since 2011’s Cosmic.

Dwight Trible is no Gregory Porter;  that’s not a knock on Porter, who represents the tradition of Black male Jazz singers in the mainstream, as well as anyone since the the late Johnny Hartman was in his prime.  Yet even as Hartman was trading bars with Coltrane on their lovely duet album from 1963, there were a generation of Jazz vocalists who pushed on the edges, saw the ledge and hopped across; it is in that tradition that Trible resides, alongside the late Leon Thomas, who like Trible was a formidable foil for saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, or Andy Bey, whose own “Celestial Blues” was the  bar for Trible to match, as he did on The Living Water (2006).

Inspirations feels like a throwback, to a time when Jazz still resonated on them streets, and that’s not to discount the way that the genre continues to inform the aesthetics of resistance and revival, for folk both on the front line and ravaged by the bottom line. Yet, ask some of them youngsters to name a Jazz artist who didn’t die in the last century -- or is living in this one; it’s why Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was so significant, with the space he created for musicians like Terrace Martin, Thundercat and Kamasi Washington -- and yeah, that was Trible, along with Patrice Quinn providing vocals throughout Washington’s The Epic, including the stellar “Malcolm’s Theme,” a vocalization of the Terence Blanchard composition.

Inspirations is produced by Matthew Halsall, who also joins Trible on trumpet.  Trible and Halsall draw on an archive of mid-20th century compositions that, not surprisingly, speak to the complexity of folk standing ground on the margins or choosing to flee those margins on their own accord. In the aforementioned Warwick, Donny Hathaway, Nina Simone -- who gets a double citation -- frequent muse John Coltrane, and harpist Dorothy Ashby, Trible captures a gamut of Black modalities, and thus is perfectly pitched for a moment for which trauma and crisis -- and joy and transcendence -- is at every turn.

Trible mostly plays it straight on Hathaway’s “Tryin’ Times,” one of the anchors of Hathaway’s debut Everything is Everything (1969), hanging just behind the beat throughout, as if showing some deference to the legendary, genre-bending, stylist. In the spirit of previous Coltrane interpretations -- “Africa” from The Living Water, “A Love Supreme” from his Life Force Trio collaboration in 2005 -- Trible is dutifully respectful to Coltrane’s legacy, this the 50th anniversary of his death. Trible provides his own lyrics to the Coltrane ballad “Dear Lord” capturing a surprising buoyancy in Coltrane’s music from the mid-1960s.

Simone’s “Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair” has a bluesier feel than expected -- Halsall standouts out here -- while Trible pushes the upper registers of his voice, providing supple interiority for the listener that contrasts how we’ve come to hear signature Simone tunes. Trible is also in his upper register on Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris,” heightening the sense of longing that echoes the cosmopolitan practices that have sustained and replenished Black American culture.

Dorothy Ashby -- a largely obscure Black harpist, at least in this generation -- is lovingly recovered via “Heaven and Hell,” which originally appeared on her opus The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby (1970).  Ashby was the product of Detroit’s rich musical culture of hardbop and Motown; that is Ashby playing harp opposite Stevie Wonder on “If It’s Magic” (Songs in the Key of Life), and on Bill Withers +Justments (1974) and Minnie Riperton’s Adventures in Paradise (1975). Trible’s choice to cover Ashby, in the spirit of what historian Treva Lindsey calls “critical generosity” is emblematic of a citation practice that disrupts male-centered recollections of Black artistic contributions.

The highlight of Inspirations is Trible’s soaring rendition of Simone’s “Feeling Good.”  Propelled by the hard-driving piano of Taz Modi, Trible is given a broad template to capture the contradictions of the hard-earned reality of “feeling good” in the midst of terror and tyranny; you will lose your breathe with this thunderclap of an interpretation of one of Simone’s signature songs.

Inspirations closes with the spiritual “Deep River,” perhaps an apt metaphor from the very well that Dwight Trible so deftly draws from with such brilliance and passion.

Mark Anthony Neal is a Professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University, USA. He is an eminent cultural critic and the publisher of NewBlackMan (in Exile).

A Review of Dwight Trible’s “What the World Needs Now is Love

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