The anthroponym Araminta means “lofty” and “protective.” Araminta was also the given name of one of the most important figures in US and world history, abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer J.T. Lewis have proudly worn Harriet Tubman’s chosen name as their eponym for nearly 20 years, reaching for the heights of musical expression while preserving elements of their musical path.
Harriet Tubman’s new recording Araminta is about becoming. It is also about evolution and collaboration. Just as Araminta Ross adopted the name Harriet on her path to legend, Harriet Tubman the band has taken the monumental name for their own partnership and sonic growth. The group’s lengthy association has allowed for an instinctive musical relationship among the members, who have affiliations with music and musicians spanning genres and the globe. Together, their music is a cumulative repository of their musical influences, a sort of transcendental blues.
For Araminta, the trio invited the astounding trumpet player and musical conceptualist Wadada Leo Smith to add his unique sensibilities to their musical world as an electric improvisatory group. There is evidence of the musical weight that each musician has to bear. Each has his own approach to music, whether it be in motion, gesture or space. Their history comes through in the music they play, which spans nearly 50 years of black music. Though less “weighty” musicians might have found it intimidating to join a group as cohesive as Harriet Tubman, Smith fit right in. When their linguistic elements came together, Tubman and Smith immediately began a joint conversation.
This ensemble is a manifestation of Tubman’s quest to maintain the thread of creative musical construction that had to a large extent existed in a state of suspended animation for the past 30 years or so in the U.S., a style of musical exploration that was largely blocked in favor of a more conservative brand of jazz. This compositional approach, which blends jazz, rock, funk, dub and electronic music into a reconfigured whole that is Tubman’s singular take on “free” music, is compositionally akin to, and melds easily with, Smith’s own ideas on spontaneous composition. His idea of “concentration of activity,” which frames sound in space and intensity without relying on notation, fit seamlessly within Lewis’s and Gibbs’s multivalent rhythmic constructions and alongside Ross’s personal remix of theoretical and compositional elements as expressed through his guitar.
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