"Worshippers Come Nigh is one of this year's finest releases, with yeasty solos by Brackeen and Dara and hard-charging accompaniment by Hopkins and Cyrille on five varied Brackeen originals that boast some of the spunk and rhythmic abandon of the early compositions of Ornette Coleman. The title track – a dour hymn – is especially appealing."
Francis Davis, Philadelphia Enquirer, May 18, 1989
Through diligent efforts by Knox and Dallas-based producer/composer/musician Dennis Gonzales, who tracked down Brackeen and supervised the recording sessions, the success of the Silkheart musical mission is now a documented fact. Brackeen is back and the world of jazz has regained a voice of unusual clarity, coherence and compassion.
Brackeen, more by the nature of his personality than by his music, has often seemed to be one of the more mysterious of modern jazzmen. He's studiously avoided the limelight of publicity, preferring to search for an inner light by which to guide his music. As a result Brackeen's music is wonderfully unaffected by passing trends and commercial, or even critical, concerns. His music springs whole from an internalized universe where passion and precision meld to produce a marvelous melodic logic that carries his music to a higher plane and communicates a message that rises even above the exalted heights of the music.
The recording sessions which produced this album and its equally intriguing companion piece Attainment (Silkbeart SHCD-110) were not the sort of quick trips to the studio that have unfortunately become all too common in the contemporary record business. This was no "in by 9, out by 5" session where musicians met each other for the first time in the studio and dashed through the tunes before waving good-bye and heading for the airport. Instead producer Gonzalez brought the musicians together for a week long meeting of musical minds where Brackeen's original ideas were explored, expanded and embellished by his fellow players
The songs were worked out in Gonzalez' front room amidst an atmosphere of familial togetherness, marked by the occasional comic relief provided by the producer's children, Aaron and Stefan. While Gonzalez' wife Carol took care of the nutritional needs of the musicians, consistently turning out minor dining masterpieces that were the only competition for the intense musical concentration of the rehearsals, Gonzalez himself was busy with the delicate ongoing evolution of Brackeen's compositions. The lengthy rehearsals had their moments of levity but for the most part they remained intense and involved on everyones' part, assuring Brackeen's music of the proper serious respect its depth and diversity commands. Cornetist Olu Dara, a player with no shortage of finely honed instrumental chops, remarked during one of the marathon rehearsal session I haven't rehearsed this much since I was in high school. But Dara said it with a resigned smile, knowing that all the physical exertion was paying obvious musical dividends which would be reflected in fine form once the recording tapes were rolling.
The success of the approach is readily evident in the strong and supple ensemble playing that gives the group the unified sound of a unit which has spent years together. The finely tuned and well knit ensemble passages are the most conspicuous evidence but equally important is the heightened sense of anticipation during the solos, times when spontaneous flights of fancy by one player trigger perfectly supportive creative responses by the others without a note being lost in the shuffle.
The fact that the rehearsals and sessions took place during Thanksgiving was more of a chronological coincidence than an actual plan but the distinctive American occasion given to the sharing of blessings and the pooling of abilities could not have been better chosen. Brackeen's music is based in just such concerns and the timing seemed to act as a catalyst to focus the other musicians on the same aspects.
Brackeen's playing, at once both mercurial and concise, clearly dominates the vinyl document of the time but, once again, he's not lust a leader blowing for ego's sake while his supporting players are reduced to a purely subordinate role. That's not Brackeen's style, either musically or personally, and the strength of the musicians on the date would almost preclude it if such was attempted. Olu Dara, usually heard with his free-wheeling Okra Orchestra, is a contemporary musical voice that has the bulk of jazz history engrained into his sound. There is no "outside" or "inside" to his playing. All aspects of the music mingle on egalitarian terms and each can be drawn upon when the occasion arises, providing a rich and resilient brass counterpoint to Brackeen's playing.
The rhythm section of bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Andrew Cyrille needs little intr-duction, so pervasive is its participation in the finest efforts of modern jazz. Cyrille, whose extraordinary endeavors in behalf of the music of Cecil Taylor and Rahsaan Roland Kirk would cap most drummers' careers, continues to find fascinating contexts (and this record surely qualifies) in which to display his talents. Hopkins, a dynamo of enthusiasm on and off stage, has provided the bottom line propulsion for high flying jazz units like Air, as well as involving himself in countless projects with the likes of David Murray and Henry Threadgill.
Much, if not all, of Brackeen's music is infused with a gentle spirituality whose calming qualities are evident during even the most intense passages. The album's opening track and title tune perfectly encapsulates both the method and message of Brackeen's musical creations. With Hopkins' bouncing bass and Cyrille's customary cunning rhythmic attack providing excellent underpinning, Brackeen's tenor sax issues an insistent, yet celebratory, clarion call. Dara darts in to add cornet colorations and the full quartet, sounding somewhat more massive than four musicians have a right to, exudes an air of expansive spirituality.
The other tunes, all from the mind of Brackeen, work equal wonders and most of the fun of this album will come from the listeners discovering them on their own without critical guidance from notes like these. Of particular interest is "Bannar", the tune that served as the title of Brackeen's excellent 1987 Silkheart Records release (SHCD-105) but somehow found its way onto this album instead. A sort of subdued parade feel, with Mardi Gras and Caribbean flavorings dancing around the periphery, adds to the tune's inherent attractions. Brackeen says he pictured "a little civilization" when he first played "Tiny Town" and if such exists it will be hard pressed to come up with a better anthem for the small folks than what he and his fellows produced. Some extra shades of color are inserted via Cyrille's congas and Gonzalez' pao de chuva work and the first side marches off in fine fashion.
Two extended pieces make up the album's second side and both are gems. "Ible", sporting a typically cryptic Brackeen title, is somewhat atypical in compositonal terms but undeniably engaging in listening terms. Superb ensemble work, a brilliant bowed solo by Hopkins and Brackeen's clear questing sax work are highlights of the piece, but its overall unity and emotional impact are its most distinguishing characteristics. "Cing Kong", only vaguely related to its namesake, is a monumental piece that brings out the best in each of the participating players. Its manifold delights are easier to appreciate than describe and, after all, you're buying the record to listen to, not to read.
If his previous Silkheart Records releases haven't convinced you of the triumphant return of Charles Brackeen it's possible you may have some sort of hearing impairment. There's ample aural evidence of Brackeen's brilliance on each but as a matter of purely personal choice I'm convinced his flame burns brightest on the one you are holding. In summoning the musical community to his side with Worshippers Come Nigh Brackeen serves notice that his voice will be heard again. The persuasive power of the music itself holds out the promise that the worship service, however brilliantly realized on this album, is only beginning.
1. Worshippers Come Nigh 07:57
2. Bannar 08:11
3. Tiny Town 09:04
4. Ible 10:58
5. Cing Kong 10:34
6. News Stand (Take 1) 09:13
Charles Brackeen tenor saxophone
Olu Dara cornet
Fred Hopkins bass
Andrew Cyrille drums, congas
Dennis Gonzalez pao de chuva