Courtney Bryan | This Little Light of Mine

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Jazz: Modern Creative Jazz Spiritual: Spirituals Moods: Type: Improvisational
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This Little Light of Mine

by Courtney Bryan

a collection of re-compositions of Negro Spirituals with improvised performances by this amazing ensemble of New Orleans musicians... These spirituals suggest the themes of Justice, Rebellion, Redemption, and Hope.
Genre: Jazz: Modern Creative Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Steal Away
3:08 $0.99
2. Oh Freedom
3:20 $0.99
3. Go Down Moses
6:20 $0.99
4. North Star
1:59 $0.99
5. Wade In the Water
7:38 $0.99
6. I Surrender All
3:40 $0.99
7. I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray
2:12 $0.99
8. No Hiding Place
9:12 $0.99
9. Give Me Jesus
8:13 $0.99
10. Balm In Gilead
4:05 $0.99
11. This Little Light of Mine
5:55 $0.99
12. Eternal Rest
5:59 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Courtney Bryan – piano; Brian Quezerque – electric bass;
Ricky Sebastian – drum set, percussion; Troi Bechet – voice;
Calvin Johnson – tenor saxophone; Gregory Agid – clarinet

Recorded at Piety Street Recording Studio, August 2009 and Axistudio, October 2009 in New Orleans, La. Mixed by Whitney Slaten at the facilities of AM Studios, April 2010 in New York, NY. Mastered and replicated by Disc Makers, May 2010 in Pennsauken, NJ. Paintings by Alma Bryan Powell and assemblages by Amy Bryan. Conceived of and produced by Courtney Bryan.

Notes on This Little Light of Mine, by Matthew D. Morrison –

Courtney Bryan, composer and pianist, radiates a special light that shines throughout the music and performances of her sophomore album, This Little Light of Mine. The spirit of the Courtney Bryan Trio’s performance is rooted in the music’s compositional threads, which are intimately connected by the musical tradition of the American Negro spiritual. As a testament to the current relevance of the Negro spiritual (with a legacy that extends back to the nineteenth century), Bryan’s music both adopt and adapts the genre’s lyrics, melodies, and spirit, fusing it with the diverse musical influences that have contributed to the formation of her elegantly robust and eclectic compositional style.

The virtuosity—restrained or overt—with which the Trio and guest artists perform is humbly delivered within the geist, or spirit, of the project, shaped by the cacophony of cries, prayers, and praises of the slaves in the Negro spirituals, as well as the voices that have continued to cry for freedom in the composer’s hometown of New Orleans. Bryan uses the spirit of this vocal chorus in the opening piece, “Steal Away,” in the singular (although digitally layered) voice of the piano; but the characteristically plaintive melodic delivery of the chorus, “steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus,” is usurped by the disjunct bass ostinato that drives the rhythmic force of the entire composition (this pattern might even suggest the footsteps of slaves on the run to freedom). The multi-textured, African-inspired rhythms ground and shape the folk-like voicings (open sonorities) of the traditional melody, a compositional technique also found in the work of Modern composers, such as Igor Stravinsky and Béla Bartók, who used folk melodies as source material.

Bryan’s setting of “Oh Freedom” audibly conveys the dexterity and adaptability of the spiritual, as the Trio immediately launches into an up-beat, fusion-like style in a more popular, contemporary idiom. With a vibe inspired by the instrumental track of Jay-Z’s “Show me what you got,” “Oh Freedom” is juxtaposed with the melody of another yearning spiritual, “I want Jesus to Walk with Me” (introduced in plain form by Calvin Johnson on saxophone) and “Steal Away,” performed by Gregory Agid on clarinet; the intimate dialogue between the text and music of these spirituals hints at the desire for Jesus to accompany the traveler on her journey to freedom. As the Trio continues on its freedom-seeking voyage, “Go Down Moses” begins with an introspective musing by Brian Quezerque (solo bass) on the its well-known melody; after this introduction, Bryan channel’s the musical legacy of John Coltrane and the influence of Pharaoh Sanders through the rumbling bass drone that accompanies the free rendition of the melody, colored by virtuosic keyboard flourishes that add to the declamation of the text, “let my people go.” As the melody of this phrase is repeated, the demand becomes more discordant in the piano, until Bryan moves beyond the keys of the piano and into the corpus of the instrument during the interlude “North Star,” rendering “let my people” go in an almost ghostly, haunting aesthetic that harkens back to the suggestive extended piano techniques of such post-World War II American composers such as John Cage and Henry Cowell.

After the gospel-tinged, Coltrane-inspired rendition of “Go Down Moses,” each of the expert musicians of the Courtney Bryan Trio is featured as a soloist in the setting of “Wade in the Water” within a more standardized jazz form (AABA). The rhythm that accompanies the traditional (although tonally obscured) melody has a distinctly Afro-Caribbean flair—driven by Bryan and Ricky Sebastian on percussion—giving the piece a driving, dance-inducing force until its close. As an almost necessary respite to the exuberant music inspired by the troubled waters, “I want Jesus” returns as a source melody—this time performed in a more reflective spirit and delivery. But just as soon as the piano introduces this timeless spiritual, the bass interrupts, or rather, interacts with the piano as it is fluidly juxtaposed with the hymn (and track title) “I Surrender All,” exhibiting the connection between the Negro spiritual and other forms of religious music in African-American churches.

As This Little Light of Mine reaches its midpoint, the voices that have continued to move the spirit of the Negro spiritual are manifested in the single voice, polytextured dirge, “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Prayin’.” Bryan and recording engineer Whitney Slaten digitally manipulate the individually recorded calls, cries, sighs, moans, and wailings of singer/actor Troi Bechet (also of New Orleans) into a multilayered chorus of voices that engulf Bechet’s poignant performance of “I’ve Been Buked and I’ve Been Scorned.” This digital rendering of multiple lamenting voices from a single source hints towards the disembodied voices of those whose lives have been lost and voices never heard during their Quest for Freedom. These voices permeate the remainder of the CD and resonate particularly in locations such as the composer’s home of New Orleans or Haiti, where individuals have been collectively crying for freedom from the structures that have led to these unnatural disasters (and the fallout/response to these catastrophes), which have inadvertently suggested the disposability of lives and bodies. As the musical texture returns to the instruments, the persistent ostinato that permeates “No Hiding Place ” harkens back to the repeated figure of “Steal Away”; both songs suggest some symptom of fugitivity of the oppressed, whose only option for reconciliation, according to the lyrics, is escaping to Heaven. “No Hiding Place” (which also features the clarinet as a nod to pioneering New Orleans clarinetist, Sidney Bechet) is followed by a call for the “Comforter” that will provide the weary traveler with reconciliation in “Give Me Jesus,” set in a recognizable jazz idiom in which the music serves to emphasize the spiritual’s title and primary text, “give me Jesus.”

The virtuosic piano performance of “Balm in Gilead” is a fusion of influences found in the Nocturnes of Frédéric Chopin, the spiritually and musically mystical piano works of Olivier Messiaen, and the reverse (composite) compositional style of Charles Ives, all seated in Bryan’s own stylistic development that bas been heavily influenced by her introspective spiritual experiences and rigorous training as both church and jazz musician. The title track of the CD “This Little Light of Mine” sonically takes the listener to the composer’s hometown, as the walking rhythms and instrumental combination suggest the New Orleans tradition of “Second line”—a musical procession in which the music drives the movement of the second line of dancing participants who follow the processing band. The second-line rhythm enters after the Alice Coltrane-inspired opening, culminating in a rhythmic conversation between the bass and percussion that evokes the style of the well-known Mardi Gras Indians.

“Eternal Rest” closes the CD as somewhat of a cathartic apotheosis, as Courtney Bryan takes the spirit of the traditional genre and composes a new spiritual, linking her composition to the theme of freedom and redemption that permeates much of the CD’s quoted material. As suggested by many of the spirituals, but particularly resonant within this song, earth does not offer, for some, the option of peace, and true freedom may only be obtained through eternal rest.
But Bryan’s music and the performances of this CD are a testament to the transformative, transfixing nature of the spiritual, and the current resonance of its lyrics and melodies encourage the listener to imagine and strive for freedom, even here on earth. This Little Light of Mine is as a beacon of musical and spiritual hope—hope for reconciliation and inspiration—through the powerful melodies and messages of the Negro spiritual, which kindles the flame that inspired its music and performances.



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