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Augmented Variations

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Album Review

Augmented Variations is Amina Claudine Myers first offering since 2004. Its two discs place her in three different musical contexts. Disc one is divided between her playing solo and singing, and being backed by her trio and a male/female vocal quartet. Disc two features her trio — with Oluwu Ben Judah on basses, and percussionist Reggie Nicholson — playing live in 2005 and 2008. On set opener “Introduction To . . .” Myers plays her signature style of piano, which melds various elements of jazz tradition into a labyrinthine whole. This is contrasted when she begins singing “God,” a tone poem underscored by voice. The elliptical instrumental “Cairo, Part II” stands in stark contrast to the melodic gospel of “Africa, Part II” that melds South African township music and gospel. The disc's last half begins with the 13-minute “Have Mercy on Us.” Myers plays a spooky, blues-drenched B-3, and Richarda Abrams takes the vocal lead among the singers who usher it in as a moaning, old-school dirge. When her band enters, it becomes something else entirely. "African Blues” is reprised here, commencing as a classic a cappella quartet number before her piano and band swing it out. This setting is perfect for Myers; she is musical director as well as performer; her charts are provocative yet accessible. Disc two begins with “Soul Funk”; she wastes no time on her organ as Judah plays electric with Nicholson’s kit. This is soul-jazz with a very contemporary twist. “Hardtime Blues” is a growling, slow, tribute to John Lee Hooker with Myers' vocal emoting deeply. The slippery groove in “Happiness” features some gorgeous improvisation by Myers, and killer interplay in the rhythm section. On “Claudine’s Blues,” she walks the B-3 like she invented it. The set closes on her majestic composition “Song from the West.” Playing piano, she leads her trio through some wonderfully knotty twists rhythmically, harmonically, and improvisationally. Augmented Variations is an utterly compelling listen. It reminds us that Myers continues to be a true original on the jazz scene — one to be reckoned with — and regrettably, that she records far too infrequently. Savor this one.

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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Augmented Variations, Amina Claudine Myers
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