Mainstream celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life tend to gloss over his revolutionary spirit. Civil rights lore paints Malcolm X and the Black Panthers as the radical faces of the movement, while MLK gets props for his sweet, innocuous ethos of global peace, a dream that's easy to explain in elementary school classrooms across the nation. But the truth is this: King's calls for solidarity are dangerous even 50 years later. Amiri Baraka and Roscoe Mitchell understand this legacy. Veteran poet and muckraker Baraka fosters activist community at his 15-year-old performance space, Kimako's Blues People. Mitchell, a saxophonist, has long embodied the come-together values of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a precedent-setting collective founded in 1965. The idea behind both efforts is to support the fringe arts (poetry, jazz, cross-genre exploration) with a public forum that encourages collaboration. Baraka is a fiery speaker who is often paired with innovative composer-improvisers. He brings leftist politics to his street-beat verses, regardless of the fallout: His poem "Somebody Blew Up America," on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, resulted in the elimination of the title of poet laureate of New Jersey, since the governor found Baraka couldn't legally be fired from it. Mitchell, the Darius Milhaud chair of composition at Mills College since 2007, is a virtuosic multi-instrumentalist whose work embraces numerous styles, including funk, West African highlife, and 21st-century classical. Bridging aesthetics and art forms, these two world-class performers honor King's message of unity, an avant-garde concept to this day.
Mon., Jan. 17, 8 & 10 p.m., 2011