The Liberation Music Collective delivers stunning jazz poetry
in new album celebrating heroes of global struggle
Rebel Portraiture, due August 17 via AD Astrum Records, features new compositions
by co-founders Hannah Fidler and Matt Riggen, recent Indiana University graduates
who now make their home in Chicago
"The members [of the Liberation Music Collective] prove there can be no music without social conscience. But they play both without losing the impact of the other." - Carol Banks Weber, AXS
"Conceived in the blazing crucible of political awakening, and executed with a maturity way beyond its
leaders' years. . . ambitious and audacious . . . ." - Neil Tesser, The Jazz Network
August 17 CD release concert at Jazz Record Arts Collective, Chicago
But in the activist musical tradition of such jazz composers as Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and Charlie Haden - whose pioneering Liberation Music Orchestra provides the model as well as the namesake for their efforts - the Liberation Music Collective seeks to do what artists have always done, and what they should always do. They distill the anger and despair to create works that teach and inspire. With words as well as music, they gather up the emotions that attend history's victims and turn them into beacons, focusing listeners' remembrance and galvanizing their resolve. They transform sorrow into hope.
This dynamic undergirds Rebel Portraiture, the eagerly awaited sophomore effort from the Liberation Music Collective, a contemporary jazz orchestra born in Bloomington, Indiana - under the direction of bassist/vocalist Hannah Fidler and trumpeter Matt Riggen - who interrupted the jazz conversation two years ago with their startling Siglo XXI. That album that fulfilled their mission to form "a socially-conscious big band dedicated to performing original compositions about contemporary issues." Now, on Rebel Portraiture, they go behind the issues to honor the individuals whose courage and commitment call attention to oppression and injustice the world over.
In the tradition of the greatest artists in any genre, the LMC achieves this consciousness-raising with grace and grit, creating pieces that can stand on their own regardless of the events that inspired them. Reading about the fallen heroes to whom these performances are dedicated will certainly deepen one's appreciation for the goals and accomplishments of the LMC. But even without the historical overview, Rebel Portraiture overflows with musical wonder. The music employs a wide range of influences and resources: African and Arabic music, rap poetry, a 19th-century American hymn, early 20th century classical music, pan-national folk songs - all within the context of the modern jazz orchestra, with sophisticated arrangements by the LMC co-founders Fidler and Riggen.
In Rebel Portraiture, contemporary heroes rub shoulders with martyrs of history. They include Berta Cáceres - an indigenous environmental activist in Honduras, assassinated in her home in 2016 for her opposition to the Agua Zarca Dam project - all the way back to Giles Corey, put to an agonizingly slow death during the Salem Witch Trials in 17th-century Massachusetts. The LMC reminds us of the fallen we may have forgotten - such as the four students killed while protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State University in 1970 - and introduces us to more recent profiles in courage, whose names have already become rallying cries for the causes they championed.
The musicians of the LMC live what they believe. For the last two years, a small group drawn from the orchestra has traveled to Ferguson, Missouri - a touchstone of the Black Lives Matter movement - at the invitation of the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice. There they conducted daylong workshops to exchange ideas and share experiences (musical and otherwise) with local residents focused on racial justice. Members of the LMC have travelled together to be part of history in the making - from protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota to the streets of our nation's capital for the Women's March on Washington. These musicians strive to "show up" for the turning points of our era, both musically and personally.
In the two years since their debut, the musicians of the LMC have undergone a dramatic shift in the musical and personal relationships within the band. "I see this as a far more intimate album, in several ways," Fidler says. "The subject matter is much more personal. We're touching very deeply on intimate aspects of people's lives, involving their final actions and the decisions they made." In addition, the musicians have grown closer since Siglo XXI, making the LMC a collective in the truest sense. "That album was literally our first project as a group," Fidler explains. "But now you can really hear the result of two years working together; you can hear the trust these musicians have in each other, and in the music."
Indiana natives Hannah Fidler and Matt Riggen are both scientist-musicians: Riggen graduated with degrees in jazz and biology, and Fidler completed a double major in jazz bass and neuroscience. They met and bonded over music in the classes and performance groups led by GRAMMY-nominated trombonist Wayne Wallace, who is renowned for his exploration of Latin American musical traditions. Fidler and Riggen formed the Liberation Music Collective in 2015 as a way to channel their sociopolitical concerns into meaningful music. Since graduating from IU, both have moved to Chicago to pursue their careers and to introduce new musicians to their engaging brand of jazz activism.