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Great Voices In Harlem, The Gloster Project, AT MIST Harlem, Sunday , March 9th, 2015, Reviewed


Queen Esther’s “Crazy Blues”, 2015

The word to notice in “The Gloster Project” is project,  as in a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non profit arts service organization. The project in question here belongs to The Harlem Arts Salon’s Margaret Porter Troupe, which, following a similar fundraiser in 2014, brought art and music to impoverished children in her hometown, Gloster,Mississippi, for three weeks last summer. A way to give back to a community  and also a blueprint for education. Ten years ago, Margaret and her husband, poet Quincy Troupe,  began presenting programming at their Gramercy Court apartment, an echo of “the salons of A’Lelia Walker during the Harlem renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s”. “The Gloster Project” is an offshoot.

Gloster is where Margaret Porter Troupe was born, a small close knit community, apparently one part racist horror during the heart of Jim Crow Laws racial segregation years when Margaret was a child and one part idyllic childhood. Margaret left only to be found in New York  where she met her future husband Quincy. Many years later, Margaret returned to Gloster, a town with a population of less than a 1000 people, and made her peace with her home. She was ready to give back.

Last summer, The Gloster Project brought art and music to children in Gloster, Mississippi where three weeks of education and fun culminated with an appearance by actor Danny Glover. This year Margaret will be doing it again and the fundraiser at MIST in Harlem, Sunday afternoon at 2pm would be providing the means to an end which would find this afternoon’s musical director, guitarist and singer Kelvyn Bell, among others, returning to the kids.

The fast paced and fun three hour program, which included live music, a buffet lunch, silent auction and an art exhibition, started with a DJ set by Afrikan Sciences,  and was followed by “House Band” Kelvyn, Living Colour’s drummer Will Calhoun and the terrific bassist Mark Peterson’s 40 minute set. Kelvyn plays at any given time Pop, Contemporary African-American Experimental Composition, Funk/Hip-Hop, Jazz and Middle Eastern tonality. Opening with the glorious soulful funk of “Dream Of U”, the band went in all directions thereafter, with Will performing some strange percussion instruments, one looked like an echoey drum loop.

After a voice over presentation where Margaret explored Gloster and her early life, poet Rachel Eliza Griffiths read “Elegy”, inspired by the murder of Trayvon Martin:

They gave me their last words. They gave me smiles for their fathers.

They slept in my arms, dead & bruised. Long as brambles.

The bullets in their heads & groins

quieting like a day. The meat of nothing.”

I was at the Fundraiser at the invitation of True Groove Records owner Tomas Doncker and along with harpist David Barnes, Tomas was a part of the “Mississippi Blues Tribute”. Following a piece of blues speaking in tongues by Kelvyn, Queen Esther covered Mamie Smith “Crazy Blues” (from 1920 and with its “I’m gonna kill a cop” climax. a reminder that nearly a century later… ) and if anybody can pull off crazy it is Queen Esther, a member of James Blood Ulmer’s “Black Rock Experience” and the leader of her own jazz quintet the Hot Five, she brought crazy and sass to her performance. Later, she would sing an a capella “Lush Life” which defied its lustrous history and made it her own.

Doncker performed “Big Apple Blues” and an electrifying “At This Midnight Hour” with Barnes following him every step of the way, while belieing Kelvyn’s claim that all the best blues players come from Mississippi! Tomas’s growling voice gets more assertive every time I see him and his burst of rhythmic guitar soloing are show stoppers. Janelle Monae’s guitarist Kellindo Parker played a folk psychedelia before Doncker joined in for a  blistering finale.

Two jazz greats from the World Saxophone Quartet followed. Both are legends. Both could have played till midnight with no complaints from yours truly. Alto Sax legend Oliver Lake improvised  for a song and he was followed by Hamiet Bluiett’s master class of playful baritone sax. Next, Awa Sangho performed a lovely West African track and Quincy read from a long poem he is working on about mentor, the artist Romare Bearden. It had all the deep bop of 50s swing and the smell and semblance, indeed the feel for Harlem back then.

Given the nature of the fundraiser jazz pianist, surely the best man left standing, Dr. Randy Weston chose a lovely composition from 1958  he had done with trombonist  Melba Liston, he called it “waltzes about children” and performed with TK Blue on sax. “I’ve always been fascinated by children because they are free”, Weston explained before performing his composition “Little Niles”, named for his son.

The afternoon ended (or rather mine did, I didn’t wait for Danny Glover who was racing from the airport, and Gregory Porter had a family emergency and didn’t make it) with Margaret thanking the participants.

Any afternoon, any time at all, you get to listen to such a great collection of musicians, especially in such an intimate space, is a great afternoon. Or evening. And in aid of such a wonderful project: music can change your life and as art teacher and artist Carlos Uribe noted, once these children got a taste of art, of being artists themselves (the walls were filled with their work), they couldn’t stop. For music, Kelvyn would tell them at the end of a day, “I don’t want you to practise, I want you to jam” and these kids would jam all night. As did these great musicians. Thank you Tomas for the invitation.


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