“Different Placements of Spirit”: The Unity Music of William Parker’s Curtis Mayfield Project


“Different Placements of Spirit”: The Unity Music of William Parker’s Curtis Mayfield Project
Jazz Perspectives
1749-4060, 1749-4079
This article explores the politics of musical process and historiographic revision in bassist William Parker’s project The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield. Comprising veteran “downtown” improvisers and poet Amiri Baraka, Parker’s group reimagines Mayfield’s music and message for the twenty-first century, reconstructing form and content anew in the moment of performance. In revisiting Mayfield’s songs, Parker transgresses the genre boundaries of jazz, framing his project instead within a broader lineage of “black music,” a gesture that recalls Baraka’s vision of a revolutionary “Unity Music” from his 1966 essay “The Changing Same (R&B and New Black Music).” By revisiting the 1970s cultural politics of Black Power, uplift, and resistance immanent in Mayfield’s songs, Parker’s project both foregrounds and collapses historical distance, creating a space in which musical and textual interventions signify on the “changing same” of the political landscape. The analyses in this article focus on versions of the song “We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue,” considering three versions recorded by Mayfield (1970, 1971, 1996), as well as two recorded by Parker and his ensemble (2004, 2008). I argue that both Mayfield’s 1996 revision and a 2004 recording by Parker’s ensemble might be understood as varied responses to the collapse of movement politics in the decades since the song’s conception, and, ultimately, I contend that the interpretive practices Parker fosters within his ensemble enact their own form of spiritual and political liberation.
“Different Placements of Spirit”
DOI.org (Crossref)