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By Philip Booth
“A history of a people has been hushed, been stilled. Only few sing the old songs,” Ron Daise recites on “Forgotten Moments,” the opening spoken-word track on the self-titled debut album from artistic collective Lowcountry. “Time, progress and short-sightedness are silencing a heritage. Precious memories, though, are like the lyrics of old slave songs. They should not be stored up in the minds of a few.” The album, which melds traditional Gullah songs from the Low Country region of the Southern U.S. with jazz composition, seeks to redress that oversight. The nine tracks here, built on the large-ensemble arrangements of composer and trumpeter Matt White, offer scintillating music that doubles as an act of cultural anthropology and reclamation.
Saxophone luminary Chris Potter, a South Carolina native, lends his tenor to some of the most engaging tracks, including “Were You There?” which begins with Gracie Gadsen singing the spiritual. The Charleston Symphony String Quartet sneaks in under the vocals, and Potter restates the theme over colorful chord shifts before turning in a lit solo. Like many pieces on Lowcountry, this one, at more than nine minutes, comes off as a suite. The similarly sprawling “Watchman,” also featuring Potter, is another highlight. Quentin E. Baxter, the project’s co-leader, launches the tune with creative trap-kit statements. This sets up Rosa Murray’s keening vocals, interlaced with guitarist Tim Fischer’s declarations and horn section punctuation. Shortly after, Potter lets loose again.
Memorable moments abound: “Cheraw” (nodding to Dizzy Gillespie’s South Carolina hometown) ambles along on a simple but soulful melody before tossing out a quick reference to Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” and jumping into a double-time bop section; “Prayed Up” offers well-used solo space to Potter, White and pianist Demetrius Doctor; and closer “Come by Here” is a somber but ultimately uplifting take on the enduring hymn “Kumbaya,” its theme initially voiced by White’s trumpet. It’s surprising and emotionally potent.