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Women In (E)Motion

Amina Claudine Myers Trio

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Album Review

This was all set to start on the "What a mystery Amina Claudine Myers never enjoyed more recognition in the '80s" tack since her blend of blues, jazz and gospel had a basis in song forms that, in theory, could easily have connected with a broad audience. Not many artists have the courage to tackle blues empress Bessie Smith, let alone as memorably as Myers did on her Salutes Bessie Smith disc recorded in 1980, but she was avant-jazz stigmatized for her long AACM association.

So her comfort working with accessible forms didn't pan out then, but maybe it would now, anticipating Women in [E] Motion as a return to active leader duty with a new live look at old repertoire highlights. Turns out it's a 1988 gig by her working trio of the era at the first Women in [E] Motion Festival in Bremen, Germany, and originally released in 1993. Ahh well, back to the drawing boards. Myers was a perfect choice for the festival but the disc also offers an interesting look at the piano trio as ensemble rather than featured soloist with rhythm section support. The opening "Blessings" very much reaches trio equilibrium with Myers working rhythmically deep in the lower registers, Reggie Nicholson's drum swirls and eddies, while Jerome Harris' electric bass peeks out with the occasional countermelody (maybe in part because it isn't recorded that well). The stately "African Blues" is in a similar vein with Myers' melismatic vocal to complement the rolling piano — McCoy Tyner's meditative themes might be a reference point as Myers favors chordal bedrock and rhythmic melodies to create a near-trance effect over virtuoso displays.

There's very little straight soloing, except when Myers goes outside with ominous ostinatos and Cecil Taylor-esque swirls and clusters into a very seamless fade to a Nicholson solo on "Jumping in the Sugar Bowl." And the sparer the arrangement the better — she shines dipping into deep church mode on "Keep on Loving" (most likely a gospel standard) and her first venture into the Bessie Smith songbook on "Dirty No Gooder Blues" shows her skills as a totally convincing blues pianist and singer. The latter is arguably the best performance of the set but Myers squanders the rest. "Country Girl" is mostly devoted to introduce-the-sideman solos for Nicholson and Harris, but a verbal rundown of country-life pleasures, U.S. South division? That just doesn't compute with a German audience, even one so warmly receptive to the music.

More unforgivable is a too-fast version of Smith's "Wasted Life Blues," which thrilled and chilled in equal parts on the Salutes Bessie Smith album. Losing the lyric flow here doesn't help any but that studio version got in way deep on some core women's emotions — universally human ones, for that matter, when the pressures of life just get to be all too much. And Myers all but throws it away as a snappy little up-tempo set closer here.

Too bad, because until the final missteps, Women in [E] motion worked as a fine introduction to the range of elements that Amina Claudine Myers weaves into a genuinely singular, rooted-deep-in-tradition musical approach. It still does, with reservations, but man, you gotta hear her studio version of "Wasted Life Blues" at least once in your life. No lie.

Biography

Born: 21 March 1942 in Blackwell, AR

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s

A very original pianist who displays her gospel roots when she plays organ or sings, Amina Claudine Myers started studying music when she was seven. She sang with gospel groups in school. After moving to Chicago, Myers taught in the public schools, played with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, and joined the AACM. She moved to New York in 1976 (where she would record with Lester Bowie and Muhal Richard Abrams), formed her own group, spent a few years in the early '80s in Europe, and toured with Charlie...
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Women In (E)Motion, Amina Claudine Myers Trio
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