Michael-Louis Smith’s newest album is a beautiful narrative about the passion, pain,and resilience of the “First Black Nation,” Haiti, and specifically its recent struggle with the earthquake in January 2010. In the age of the iPod shuffle, it is somewhat rare to find an album with an overarching theme. First Black Nation is like a suite with each piece rolling into the next, telling a story in a way words never could.
Saxophonist Stacy Dillard shows off his abilities in a blowing-over-changes setting on the calypso opener “In the Hot Sun.” It seems to signify an unsuspecting population unaware of the impending disaster. Dillard’s distinguishing characteristics really come out later during a solo performance called “Voices in the Rubble,” where you can hear sirens and voices screaming out “Help me,” and practically see the scene as desperation takes hold among the islanders. This all takes place outside of time as Dillard explores the world of sounds that can be produced by the soprano saxophone.
Dillard isn’t the only one to give a coloristic solo performance on this album. Drummer Ismail Lawal shows off his creative penchant on “Earthquake” and also “Aftershock.” Both tracks give an almost physical rendering of the power and relentlessness of a magnitude 7.0 quake.
First Black Nation covers some pretty dark territory with tracks like “Mass Grave” and “A Foul Wind,” but Smith wraps it all up with his solo performance, “Hope,” which is a winding Ben Monder-esque DNA helix that acknowledges the dire situation and the long road to recovery.
With this release, Smith has been able to go above and beyond what he did with his eponymous first release, and has risen above simply making jazz music to now making a true artistic statement.
Michael-Louis Smith will also bring his band to WAMC’s Linda Norris Auditorium this Friday (June 14) at 8 PM. Tickets are $18. Call 465-5233 for info.