Wanda Robinson

The Soul-Jazz Poetry of Wanda Robinson

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The Castle/Sanctuary reissues of the Perception catalog from the early to mid-'70s have been a blessing in that they put the former soul-funk label's offerings -- many of which were hard to come by in their original editions despite the top-tier names who recorded them (Fatback Band, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, et al). Two of the more obscure offerings the label issued were by soul-jazz poet Wanda Robinson from Baltimore, who issued a pair of printed collections, as well, and has since disappeared from public life. The two albums, Black Ivory (named for her backing band) and Me & a Friend, were issued in 1971 and 1973, respectively, and offer a portrait of the artist as a (righteously) angry young woman about social mores, political injustices, and sexual politics and were produced by jazz composer and pianist Anthony Davis. The 11 cuts that make up Black Ivory are rooted by a chamber jazz group of piano, flute and saxes, bass, and a drum kit textured by strings, a horn section, and a bluesy electric guitar in places ("Parting Is Such," "Tragedy No. 456 6.04"). The poems are excerpted from a book entitled The Daze of Wine...Without Roses, and deal with the politics of relationships, both facile and profound, both spiritual and sexual. While the set has funky moments, Me & a Friend is a far harder album musically. With a band led by keyboard maestro Julius Brockington and the United Chair -- a local jazz-rock fusion group -- Me & a Friend is wooly, greasy, and tough, it's all vibe with big, fat funk lacing its grooves and adding another dimension to both the celebration and darkness in the poetry. Robinson's delivery is strident, but not overbearing, her language is direct and confrontational, without metaphorical allusions. This is the music of "the message" that was inspired by the Last Poets and carried on by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson. It's dated sounding to be sure, but the grooves are magical and Robinson's original style is timeless.

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