NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 46

44 The last third of the book features 26 virtuosic and typically incisive essays, reviews, liner notes, and feature articles by Baraka written for and published by various national magazines, journals, and newspapers in the 1975-1987 period as well as some new and important critical essays written specifically for the book. Covering everyone and everything from Miles Davis (in a masterful 1985 article for the New York Times) to the history of Jazz and other African American musics in Greenwich Village in nyc to a series of briliant reviews and recordings about and by such major musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Woody Shaw, Cecil McBee, Gil Scott-Heron, Chico Freeman, Ricky Ford, and Craig Harris. There are also a scintillating collection of extremely informative, lyrically written, and politically astute theoretical and critical essays like “Where’s the Music Going and Why?”, “Jazz Writing: Survival in the Eighties,” “The Phenomenon of Soul in African American Music,” “Masters in Collaboration,” “Blues, Poetry, and the New Music,” “AfroPop,” “The Class Struggle in Music” and “The Great Music Robbery.” There is simply not enough space in this piece to do justice to the crackling intellectual firepower and truly impressive depth and scope of Baraka’s writing here; suffice it to say that he (re)proves all over and once again exactly why he is the preeminent American music critic of the past half century by a very wide margin with virtually no real contenders in sight. Long out of print (and criminally never republished in paperback!) one must track down this 1987 hardcover classic and read what it says about a massive range of issues and concerns with respect to the music in not only aesthetic and ideological terms but from the equally profound standpoints of literature (and rhetoric), social theory, cultural history, and political analysis and journalism. One will not come away disappointed. If only the academic departments of ‘American Studies’ and ‘African American Studies’ (and all other so-called “ethnic,” “humanities,” and “cultural studies” programs generally) had professors, public intellectuals, and social activists of Baraka’s caliber and clarity running them instead of the often pretentious, biased, and myopic fetishists of “language and culture” who too often ride herd in these fields in u.s. colleges and universities today. We would all be much better informed about the actual strength, beauty, and complex reality of the multiracial and multinational society that we all in fact inhabit. As Baraka makes clear in the essay “Blues, Poetry, and the New Music” from what is finally a great book: Each generation adds to and is a witness to extended human experience, If it is honest it must say something new. But in a society that glorifies formalism, i.e. form over content, because content rooted in realistic understanding of that society must minimally be critical of it — the legitimately truthfully new is despised. Surfaces are shuffled , dresses are lengthened or shortened, hair is green or blond, but real change is opposed. The law keeps the order and the order is exploitive and oppressive! The new music reinforces the most valuable memories of a people but at the same time creates new forms, new modes of expression, to more precisely reflect contemporary experience! Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music (University of California Press, 2009) After an astonishing forty five years of endlessly writing, teaching, and lecturing about African American music all over the world it was an absolutely thrilling and inspiring surprise to find yet another extraordinary volume of music criticism by Amiri in the 21st century. Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music (University of California Press, 2009) is an epic 411 page text of 84 essays, reviews, liner notes, articles, and precise literary portraits of and about musicians and their art over a fifty year period. Taking on a huge canvas of critical themes and musical personalities, Baraka can only be described as a penultimate triumph of the art and craft of music criticism at its highest possible level. In a stunning display and critical synthesis that includes an encyclopedic knowledge of the music, a razor sharp attention to the historical nuances of the music and how it has stylistically evolved and mutated over the years, and finally a thoroughly independent theoretical and critical perspective on the music in aesthetic, historical, and social/cultural ter