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Howard Wiley - 12 Gates to The City

Howard Wiley -//- 12 Gates to The City – [Howard Wiley, 2010]

Have you by chance met the music of composer/saxophonist Howard Wiley? If not, this Berkeley, California native initially found himself deeply rooted in the fabric of the African American culture through his lineage of family, church and music.

With that said, you’ll find yourself transfixed by Mr. Wiley’s persuasive tone as it penetrates slowly over the sweltering fertile ground to develop his aspiring voice as a musician in a place where fellowship joins hands with gratitude in a community to openly express the sentiments of love, values, integrity and encourage the disenfranchised, gifted, suffering, talented and to inspire all who gather to listen to his music.

The award winning and inventive body of work created by the thirty-one year composer and saxophonist Howard Wiley will truly amaze anyone who listens. Prior to this project, Wiley’s phenomenal work consists of: The Angola Project (2007), Twenty First Century Negro (2005) and In Solo. As a matter of fact, all three projects possess and anointing lined with songs that are harmonically constructed to shake one’s sensibilities to ultimately hear Wiley’s life unfold through the voice of these remarkable compositions. It appears to me, one of main his objectives is to reflect spiritually the influences which in essence strengthen his persona, and integrity as much as humanly possible.

Wiley returns to explore the rich legacy of African-American prison music he was introduced to by his friend and ethnomusicologist Daniel Atkinson back in 2005 after visiting the infamous maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary (“12 Gates to the City.”) Amazingly, this engaging montage of music is comprised of 13 originals steeped in the trenches of traditional jazz is entangled with the elements of gospel, jazz, and rap with jump blues pioneer Louis Jordan as well as folk blues icon Lead Belly, one of Angola’s most famous prisoners.

“The narrative shape of the suite is based on the traditional spiritual, ‘Twelve Gates to the City,’ which conveys the many paths one can take toward finding redemption” … Wiley wrote. As the opener “Intro,” whales soncially to affirm in solace the massive landscape yet to be discovered is ready for take off. Therefore, as his sound permeates as a footprint to establish access to the surreal cold and dark dungeon like atmosphere into the gated city of Angola clearly addresses his ongoing passion to inform the uninformed is accented by the beautifully adorn voicing’s perfectly outlined with a colorful pitch in harmony of “After Prayer.” Unexpectedly, this gem encompasses a resounding chant reminiscent to the hope and enriched spirit of the people of New Orleans.

Meanwhile, the door remains slightly ajar to allow room from more pervasive detail pieces to brilliantly and of course humbly showcase Wiley’s extraordinary gift as composer, arranger and dynamic player. “Three Days,” does just that! It reveals the openness, warmth and dexterity revamps the upbeat rhythms to interface with a triad of hearty vocal exchanges raises the temperature to enhance this already infallible gem. To better understand the artistic depth of Wiley’s compositional palette, he “At the age of 15, released his first c.d. as a leader, signaling the arrival of the San Francisco Bay Area’s newest diamond in the rough.” Wiley’s voice is indeed exalted with fury through groaning tonality and with an unpredictable range which bares the burdens and complexities that ensnare us during life’s journey with sheer brilliance.

After several spins, it occurred to me as a reminder we simply don’t hear artists approach music with the vitality and character embellish throughout “12 Gates of the City” very often. His motive to score, play and arrange music of this magnitude can’t be easily described, as I hear his passion resonate in response to the deceit which evolves from the political and social disparities the poor are faced with here in this Nation and globally for that matter. Wiley ingeniously infuses the components of social injustice into the mainstream of jazz with heart and soul which reveals his transparency and humility without apology is very much appreciated.

Wiley’s latest endeavor “12 Gates to the City” is absolutely stunning. Although artistically unmeasurable, his music is a testimony that inhabits impeccably complex qualities which emerged from the sphere of his previous projects and life experiences with a sense of urgency. Yet, Wiley incorporates atoning voicing’s like “slave chants, field hollers, call-and-response, folk melodies, and advanced jazz theory” with conviction and diction in reference to the historical and social injustices that plague the vision, hope and despair to impede progress of the poor and undereducated in the African American community at large.

In closing … for Atkinson, Wiley’s artistic work goes even deeper. He writes in the album liners about the Angola experience: “The appalling, repugnant and inhumane institution of slavery, though illegal, still exists legally in the United States. Behind the beauty of the music Howard and I witnessed, described and [were] ultimately inspired by is one of the darkest secrets. Regardless of status or class, no on should have to endure such treatment.” …

At your leisure, please visit http://www.howardwiley.com

Reviewed by Rob Young