To be in love with the idea of what America could be, and to know what it is and has been, is to suffer.
That pain suffuses a musical work I only recently stumbled across, “The Transformations Suite,” by composer Samora Pinderhughes.
Incorporating spoken word poetry and soul-searing vocals into a jazz ensemble, Pinderhughe’s suite is an hour-long meditation on the hurt the nation has inflicted on so many for so long for the benefit of so few. It is also a plea for America to, as Dr. King said, “live up to the true meaning of its creed.”
The suite is specifically a response to the unjustified police violence behind too many headlines of our time. But it also recalls the nation’s tragic history, a history that for many Americans is as hidden from polite view as were the humans stacked like cordwood in the holds of ships during the Middle Passage.
In its way, the suite is also a love letter from the heartbroken to the cruel subject of his affection. In a performance of the piece at a church in Berkeley, Calif. in 2016, the disappointment is palpable. But so is the hope.
“America, you know I love you but we’ve got to change,” sings Jehbreal Jackson in his evocative, glass smooth tenor-falsetto. “We can’t keep going on like this.” It is a message known to everyone who has had a troubled relationship that brought them to the edge of despair but not the end of love.
Listen to the entire suite. It will well repay your time. This clip gives a sense of the beauty and intensity of this confrontational work which, I hope, finds a much larger audience.