Ashby Anderson "The Historic Richmond Jazz Suite" (self-produced)
Goes well with Richmond African-American history.
There is much to admire in Anderson's suite: It's ambitious, complex and designed to leave plenty of room for his capable septet to storm and scamper. The work is divided into four sections, each evoking a facet of Richmond African-American history. "The Devil's Half-Acre" conjures a slave prison on the site of Virginia Union University; "Train 231," a locomotive entombed in a Church Hill tunnel collapse; "Steppin'" is a tribute to 1930s hoofer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson; and "The Soul of Second Street" celebrates the center of the city's Black Renaissance.
It's impossible not to root for this hometown project, and hard not to wish it was better that the melodies were more memorable, that it was shaped and structured so that it built to a conclusion rather than coming to an end, that it was somehow specifically "Richmond." With the exception of a brief foray to New Orleans, the compositions stay very much in the classic 1960s New York/Blue Note records mold. Those are great neighborhoods, but they are far from here.
Inevitably, calling it "The Historic" overreaches; the handful of tone poems is too small to capture the grand sweep of the city's past. Where is the Civil War, the end of the slave nation capital in flames, the bright, fading, still unfulfilled promise of Reconstruction? Where is Maggie Walker, Massive Resistance or the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in? Perhaps "The Historic Richmond Jazz Suite" is, like its subject, a flawed but promising beginning of a work in progress. *** Peter McElhinney