The driving force behind this album, Frank Proto, has been called a Renaissance man because of his wide range of musical interests, ranging from classical music to chamber jazz. He has written for such diverse performers as Doc Severinsen and Roberta Peters; he even did a little arranging for Duke Ellington when the Duke was performing in Proto's adopted city of Cincinnati. The compositions on this album pay tribute to four African American artists, poet Langston Hughes and jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Charles Mingus. The principal work on the session -- taking up the first nine tracks -- is "Afro-American Fragments," Proto's music put to nine poems by the great chronicler of African American lives, Langston Hughes. The way in which Proto combines his music with this poetry is exulting. Charles Holmond's recitation is done with just the right amount of emotion and theatrics to underscore Hughes' commentary on the state of the struggle of the African American. Although written in 1955, the message and the anguish it conveys are still relevant. The interplay between the voice and instrumentation approaches perfection as the dark, heavy tones of bass clarinet, cello, and bowed double bass underscore Holmond's narration. Devoted to Gillespie, Davis, and Mingus, the other three poems were written by John Chenault, who has collaborated with Proto on other occasions. They are designed to celebrate the triumphs and accomplishments of these three artists who overcame the barriers they faced in their journeys to reach the zenith of their profession. Holmond again does the narration. The depth of these works and the strength of their performance are enhanced considerably by the remaining members of Ensemble Sans Frontière: Ronald Aufmann, Norman Johns, and John Blake on bass clarinet, cello, and violin, respectively. In this case the "without frontiers" refers to musical, not geographical, boundaries. This album captures intense, serious chamber jazz, and is highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan