Jazz bassist Marcus Shelby is a composer, bandleader, and Bay Area educator. He combines these talents on the magnum opus Harriet Tubman, a two-CD orchestral tribute to the iconic African-American nurse, Civil War spy, and antislavery activist. While such a project practically proclaims its Solemn and Reverential Subject Matter, Tubman mostly sidesteps high-handedness and righteous fury. Instead, Shelby pays homage with exultant, often fiery big-band jazz and enthusiastic soloing. There are nods to Charles Mingus (the turbulent “Stampede of Slaves,” rich with bluesy motifs and gospel overtones), Duke Ellington (the hearty, vocally inflected solos and elegant swing of “Black Suffrage Blues”), and 1960s-era McCoy Tyner and Freddie Hubbard (“Ashanti Stomp,” a slab of sinewy modal hardbop). Vocalists include Faye Carol and Kenny Washington, and while at times they get a little melodramatic (there's a tad too much scat-singing for this aging hipster's taste), they don't put a damper on the triumphant joie de vivre of Harriet Tubman.
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