Heroes Are Gang Leaders is a group formed in New York in 2014, in tribute to the poet Amiri Baraka, who died a few months earlier and who was a central figure in the Black Power movement. The name of the band is directly derived from one of his poems. The band recorded this album in three sessions of six hours, spread between 2014 and 2015. But if it was the starting point of the movement, it does not leave until the beginning of 2019 and takes the fifth place in the discography of the group . Because although recorded after, four disks are already out. The Pre-Age Guard I Ams of the Gal Luxury, dedicated to another poet, Bob Kaufman, was released in 2015. Then Highest Engines Near / Near Higher Engineers, published meanwhile in 2016, put forward yet another poet, Gwendolyn Brooks. Then came the single Hurt Cult, also released in 2016, and finally the album Flukum, released in 2017.
A true nursery of multidisciplinary activists (poets, instrumentalists, vocalists) Heroes are Gang Leaders is like a family living in a house with wide open doors. Members enter and leave permanently. Aside from the hard core of the collective, consisting of Thomas Sayers Ellis, James Brandon Lewis, Margaret Morris or Ryan T. Frazier (aka Heru Shabaka-ra) the course fluctuates depending on the albums and is completed each time with a multitude of ‘guests. The collective renews the great tradition of Black Poetry, with energy and determination with a raised fist, armed with words to express a revolt and music as the ultimate cry of hope. Thomas Sayers Ellis, New York poet and co-founder of the group with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, describes HAGL as “a groove expressing a greeting to Mr Baraka” and places the musical influences on the side of Thelonious Monk, Sun Ra , the Wu Tan Clan or A Tribe Called Quest.
After a first “Amina” – an introduction to the solo saxophone – the groove resulting from “Superstar”, a title of 12 minutes with two separate slopes, immediately challenges the abundance of expressions it contains. The music is colorful, fertile, and the poems are declaimed with rage or tenderness, in a pulsating trance. The disc is crossed by real moments of grace, like “Leautoroiography”, which suspends time and breathes. The interpretation is permissive and carefree, like a flutter in free migration, the wind, which touches the ground without ever being caught. Thomas Sayers Ellis seems to be inhabited by the words he utters, and James Brandon Lewis’ saxophone declaims phrasings that resonate like manifestos. The saxophonist punctuates the album of three versions of this melody which opens the disc, “Amina”, which it declines each time with a different intention and a different game. The album ends with the latest version, heartbreaking, and troubling familiarity with another saxophone poet, David S. Ware.
The reliefs of this uncompromising music are radical and its slopes steep but if the purpose is direct, it is never linear. Fresh, committed and engaging, full of sensuality, The Amiri Baraka Sessions is a reminder to act, summarized in this sentence that a child pronounces in the introduction to the title “The Real Illegal Must Be Crazy”: Craziness is no act, not to act is craziness. (Google Translate)
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