Legacy: Violin Music of African-American Composers

Tami Lee Hughes

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Legacy: Violin Music of African-American Composers Review

by V. Vasan

This is an endlessly enjoyable gem of an album that makes classical music accessible to a wide range of listeners, including jazz fans. The talented Tami Lee Hughes on violin shines with such technical mastery that she can give the artistry her all, playing with such feeling and soul. No less talented is her accompanist Ellen Bottorff, who lets her take the spotlight but sure knows how to swing and firmly, assuredly support the violin with her jazz-meets-classical style. There is a strong classical feel throughout the album, both in terms of repertoire and in its performance, but there is no doubt that this is a program of uniquely African-American composers. George Morrison's Five Violin Solos cover the famed spirituals, which are beautifully arranged for the violin. The instrument perfectly takes the place of a voice: bluesy and able to slide and scoop thanks to no frets or keys. Hughes plays with such a singing, lush quality reminiscent of Perlman in "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" that it simply pulls at one's heartstrings, and the piano is grand and warm in "Steal Away, Steal Away to Jesus." David Baker's Jazz Suite takes the listener on, perhaps, a ride through Harlem in the jazz age, or at least on a musical ride through pieces that really draw on the African-American jazz experience. One can dance the Calypso in "Jamaican Jam," dance to the great bass line in the piano in "Harlem, Saturday Night," or sit back and enjoy the jazzy syncopations executed with great timing in "Minton's." The most classical, Western European-sounding work on the album is Francis Johnson's graceful, elegant "Bingham's Cotillion," Also elegant -- and unbearably romantic -- is Mixed Feelings by Ozie Cargile. Cargile has perfectly captured anguish yet passion, romance yet heartbreak; all the contrasts that make for mixed feelings indeed. Hughes and Bottorff conclude the album with the modern, 2009 "S.L.I.C.E.," where Hughes definitely has something to say. The sound quality of the album is excellent, conveying Hughes' full vibrato and solid bow technique, her moods and emotions, and the accompanist's jazzy rhythms underneath. Highly recommended.

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