- Audio CD (November 7, 2000)
- Number of Discs: 4
- Format: Box set
- Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
- Label: Rhino
- ASIN: B00004ZDZC
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #393,079 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
Rhapsodies in Black
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Not since historian David Levering Lewis's Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader has there been anything remotely as expansive as Rhapsodies in Black. This four-CD set comes with an elaborately designed 100-page booklet, with the CDs tucked into graphically cool sleeves that bring the Harlem Renaissance's visual advances to life. What comes to life in the recordings are the era's poetic, literary, and musical traditions. The renaissance, of course, wasn't contained in Harlem, with smaller African American arts and culture movements throughout the U.S., but Harlem was, to use the title of Alain Locke's 1925 collection, the "Mecca of the New Negro."
Rhapsodies reaches back to 1918 for Wilbur C. Sweatman's Original Jazz Band and their recording of "Indianola," and it gathers in poems and excerpts from stories and essays, read by such luminaries as Quincy Jones, Public Enemy's Chuck D, Branford Marsalis, and Angela Bassett. Musically, the collection focuses in some depth on early jazz and the first iteration of "urban blues." Bessie Smith's 1925 "St. Louis Blues," Duke Ellington's 1929 "Cotton Club Stomp" and 1926 "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," Fats Waller's 1929 "Harlem Fuss" and "Smashing Thirds," Cab Calloway's 1931 "Minnie the Moocher," and Louis Armstrong's 1929 performance of Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" all stand out indelibly.
Along with the famous tunes are lots of underappreciated gems. Guitarist Lonnie Johnson's 1927 "Woke Up with Blues in My Fingers" is an awesome solo guitar showing. Also tremendous are early looks at future jazz giants Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, the former on Don Redman's "Wherever There's a Will, Baby" (from a 1929 McKinney's Cotton Pickers session) and the pair together on the Chocolate Dandies' 1930 "Dee Blues." The political core of the movement is alive here, too, with Claude McKay's "America" read by playwright August Wilson. Georgia Douglas Johnson's "I Want You to Die While You Love Me" and Helene Johnson's "Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem" (read by Bassett and Alfre Woodard, respectively) capture the poetic spirit from a woman's perspective, and Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God" and "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" are read by Veronica Chambers and Debbie Allen. --Andrew Bartlett
Top customer reviews
This is a project that is so generous, so full, and so nicely focused that all one can do is read the booklet, and listen to the readings and the music in a sort of awed appreciation - for the greatness of it. Amos was painstakingly thoughtful and careful, and it shows at every turn. The essays are informative, thoughtful, and utterly absorbing. All the poetry and short story excerpts are included, too. So it's a field day for lovers of liner-notes and lyrics.
The music is thrilling. Much of it will be familiar, some less so. (Mastering Engineer Patrick Kraus weighs in, too, in a note regarding changes in sound quality over the years.) The pieces are arranged chronologically, and sensitively. Spoken word compliments music and song. This is something that requires a curatorial sensitivity that Amos clearly possesses. My only mild gripe is that I longed for several additional seconds of silence after each of the spoken-word pieces, before the music started. The power of the poems, for example, requires a little awed silence (the listener's) afterwards. Alfre Woodard's interpretation of Georgia Douglas Johnson's gorgeous, erotically triumphant poem "I Want to Die While You Love Me," deserves those seconds of silence. After Quincy Jones' interpretation of Langston Hughes' "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," you want some extra time, too.
Eartha Kitt interprets Cuban-born Marxist poet Nicolas Guillen's "Sensemaya - Chant for Killing a Snake" and it is spellbinding.
The terrific poems and short stories that are read in this compilation were for the most part recorded by Amos himself. He crisscrossed the country, LA and NY, at least a few times to do it - taping in an attic (Branford Marsalis) and in a variety of venues. The performances are fantastic.
These four CDs knocked me out. I've listened to them repeatedly, with no loss of enthusiasm. Buy this box set - a very good value considering the high quality of the book that comes with it - if you have an interest in the fabulous sound of the Harlem renaissance, and in an artful and wonderful project.
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