Melanie Charles and Fresh Cut Orchestra re-envision ‘We Insist!’

There are moments when life presents us with musical experiences that warrant braving the wet and cold and sitting in a room of strangers (or future friends as I like to think of it).  As for myself, moments like this can be few and far between.  Stumbling on the listing of a band getting set to perform the 1960 masterpiece ‘We insist!’ by Max Roach brought back memories of attending a concert in what was then a new town to me in that of Raleigh, the year of 1990.  At the time, I had just moved to Raleigh to attend NC State. The week I moved there was a record show at the Daniel Boone Village in Hillborough. I had frequented the record shows for the past year or two and went to a booth of two folks I new as aquaintances. When I picked up a couple of James Blood Ulmer records from their booth they informed me Mr. Ulmer would be perfoming later that night in Durham. I went to the concert and it spoke to me on so many levels. As an alum of Ornette Coleman’s band, his music had a certain appeal and I actually had only one record by him at the time. So, then I was on the verge of discovery.

Fast forward nearly 30 years, I found myself again in a fairly new town to me and while internet has certainly makes finding concerts much easier, you still need to look for them. With this in mind I stumbled across a concert slated for February 23rd 2019 that seemed like it could’ve just as easily not been discovered by me.  An interpretation of one of the best jazz records of its time, ‘We Insist!’ is replete with stellar musicians, song writing and politics of race and desegregation.

For me, going to see a great jazz show is equally as exciting as most people might find their favorite modern concert to be. It can be more thrilling than walking into a hip hop or rock experience to know someone or some jazz group is who’s talented and going to deliver. What’s more, this particular concert featured music written by one of North Carolina’s most heralded jazz musicians along with singer Oscar Brown Jr. Undoubtedly this band is one capable to deliver such a crisp and fiery show.

It can be more thrilling than walking into a hip hop or rock experience to know of someone or some jazz group who’s is talented and going to deliver.

Much like the aforementioned Mr. Ulmer moves me on several levels, so does the music of Max Roach, albeit differently. Max Roach had the jazz life of a legendary status, performing with Mingus, Parker and Ellington as well as transitioning to contemporary jazz artists such as Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor. ‘We insist!’ is ground breaking in that it shares a social commentary on the year 1960 in a way others had thought art perhaps might better play it safe and avoid.  Unlike modern social media explorations, Roach, along with his wife Abbey Lincoln, Coleman Hawkins and Booker Little made commentary that is rare in that it had no need to research it’s user or track data to find out more about us, it was and is a form of art that mirrored life of that moment.

Brooklyn based singer/flutist Melanie Charles released two recordings, one self released in 2010 as well as her 2017 recording ‘The Girl With the Green Shoes’. She has alsorecorded with brittish virtual progers Gorillaz. New York-Philadelphia based Fresh Cut Orchestra are led by Josh Lawrence on Trumpet, Jason Fraticelli on bass and Anwar Marshall on drums. Commissioned by Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, the group transcribed the music by listening to the original recording. Support was provided by UNC Asheville, NC Arts Council and Come Hear North Carolina. Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center is a wonderful music venue. In addition to bringing life to the college that existed nearly 30 minutes from Asheville from 1933-1957, Ms Charles and the Fresh Cut Orchestrea added their own perspectives as guitarist Tim Conley added treatments and samples to create a new interpretation. On the final song of the album Tears for Johannesburg a serious interplay took place between the samples Conley treated as the call and Marshall then interpreted on drums.