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Classical Music Review

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My Ancestor's Gift


Composer: Carlos Simon
Label: Navona Records
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 13 April 2018

On his Navona Records debut, composer Carlos Simon combines influences from jazz, gospel, and neoromanticism. My Ancestor's Gift incorporates spoken word and historic recordings to craft a multifaceted program of musical works that are inspired as much by the past as they are the present...

Normally, I'm not a fan of compositions that incorporate spoken word elements or, heaven forfend, poetry... However, My Ancestor's Gift doesn't just drop these in to pad out space or flesh out music that's not that interesting. Here they're used to slowly unravel an engaging thread; to reflect and explore an important historical subject. It's overall driving force is to explore and depict the evolution of black people in the USA.

It tackles several subjects from various points of view. For example 'Portrait of a Queen' focuses on the subject through the eyes of black women, whilst the sorrowful and contemplative 'Elegy,' is dedicated to “those wrongfully murdered by an oppressive power.”

Simon also lays bare his personal family history on 'Generations,' which includes audio clips of sermons given by his great-grandfather, his grandfather and his father, with musical elements that feature a processed Fender Rhodes that Simon inherited from his grandfather, and Hammond B3 organ. Along the way George Wallace’s infamous 'Segregation Now, Segregation Forever' speech is incorporated as are the always uplifting words of Martin Luther King.

It's probably asking too much, but I would have loved to have heard a version without the spoken word. I know the speeches are an integral part of the album, but as an extra, it would have been interesting to hear the tracks again but this time allow the music to shine through on its own merits.


Darren Rea

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