Wycliffe Gordon captures the essence of Micheaux's Within Our Gates skillfully in stunning composition by reimagining the past, present, and future aspects of this fundamental work. His 78-minute original score imbues the refrains of early-to-modern jazz alongside work songs, hymns, and classical motifs, which recur throughout the film and are executed superbly by a live 18-piece jazz orchestra and vocalists. The composition draws from Gordon's musical training in jazz, classical, gospel, blues, and church music and from Gordon's depth as an artist both musically and culturally.
This is not Gordon's first project of this magnitude. He was tapped a decade ago by Jazz at Lincoln Center to compose an original score for another silent film by Oscar Michaeux, Body and Soul. In collaboration with the New York Film Society, the premiere of this vibrant new work was to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Paul Robeson, a prolific African-American actor who was making his film debut in the 1925 classic. Much like Within Our Gates, the score to Body and Soul was performed live by an 18-piece jazz orchestra (the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) at Avery Fisher Hall.
Other commissioned works by Wycliffe include The Apollo: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow that premiered May 2011 as part of the Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival and Wycliffe Gordon's Jazz a la Carte program, which coincidentally was voted as one of the top five jazz performances of the year by the Wall Street Journal; I Saw the Light, a musical tribute to Muhammad Ali, commissioned and premiered by The Brass Band of Battle Creek in March 2004 that is being re-orchestrated for symphony; and Beyond the Blackberry Patch, a work celebrating the Lincoln-King district of Columbus, Ohio, featuring musicians, dancers, and a chorus that was commissioned by the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus and premiered March 2012.
Originally commissioned, screened, and premiered in 2011 by Harlem-based organization Jazzmobile, Within Our Gates was met with critical acclaim and rave reviews. Once again, it's presented here tonight by Symphony Space in collaboration with Jazzmobile and the Harlem Resonance Festival.
Wycliffe Gordon Jazz Orchestra
Wycliffe Gordon, composer, conductor, trombone, vocals
William Reardon Anderson, alto sax
Lynn Gruenewald Speakman, alto sax, flute
Adrian Cunningham, tenor sax
Peter Reardon Anderson, tenor sax, flute
Carl Maraghi, baritone sax
Michael Dease, trombone
St. Clair Simmons, trombone
Natalie Cressman, trombone
Ron Wilkins, bass trombone, tuba
Jumaane Smith, trumpet
Tanya Darby, trumpet
Jami Dauber, trumpet
Bria Skonberg, trumpet
Timothy Brumfield, classical piano
Aaron Diehl, jazz piano
Yasushi Nakamura, bass
Ulysses Owens, drums and percussion
Marion Felder, drums and percussion
Brianna Thomas and Milton Suggs, vocals