Howard Wiley is the type of person who exemplifies the word “character” from both sides of the spectrum…by having it, and by being one. Always willing to take the music or the conversation to the next level, it’s rare to end the music, or the conversation, without a smile on your face.
Born in Berkeley, California, Howard Wiley displayed the seeds of his musical talent at a very young age. Wiley found himself playing in the most nurturing of all environments for young African American musicians; the church. Throughout the history of jazz, the church has been root and center of the community, giving musicians, worshipers, and preachers alike the freedom and comfort to express themselves in the celebration of life. Wiley’s music is a direct reflection of his youth which gives his music a level of simplicity, honesty and integrity. He has developed into a very complete artist in the sense that he possesses a great awareness of the past while he continues to make statements and ask questions into the future.
Wiley has recorded and performed with the likes of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Lauryn Hill , and Lavay Smith as well as receiving numerous awards and accolades from the Thelonious Monk Institute, including MVP honors for the Grammy All-American Jazz Band and the Berklee College of Music Scholarship Award. At the age of 15, Wiley released his first c.d. as a leader, signaling the arrival of the San Francisco Bay Area’s newest diamond in the rough. In 2007 Wiley released his third album, The Angola Project, comprising ensemble pieces inspired by 1950s recordings from Angola State Prison. According to jazz critic Daniel King of the San Francisco Chronicle, “What makes Wiley’s album a great artifact (and great listen) is his textural range, his less-is-more compositional approach and his patience as a soloist. Instead of packing notes into every bar, he places them thoughtfully into well-paced improvisations.”
On experiencing Wiley in a live setting, journalist Drew Foxman writes, “With a debonair, untailored stroll, Howard Wiley stepped on stage, donning a freshly pressed peach suit. He befitted this dignified presence by displaying his deep reverence for the musicians with whom he was collaborating, unmasking the persona of an unassuming leader. This is a musician who understands his place, not only in an ensemble, but in the history of music. This humility, though, translates into downright explosiveness on the bandstand.”
As a member of Lauryn Hill’s band, and gigging in the New York scene, Howard Wiley has been seen and heard all over the country. The Los Angeles Times writes, “The soloing from Howard Wiley is first rate.” Dan Quolette of Down Beat magazine says, ““Much has been written about the twenty-something crew of musicians heralded as the new keepers of the jazz flame. Well make way for a representative of the next generation”. And jazz vocalist Lavay Smith adds, “Howard Wiley is the future of jazz...he knows the history of jazz and uses his knowledge to create his own unique and exciting style.”
Howard Wiley Tenor/Soprano saxophone, Faye Carol vocal, Bicasso rap vocal, Lorin Benedict scat vocal, Jeannine Anderson vocal, Danny Armstrong trombone, Geechi Taylor trumpet, Yerdua Caesar-Kaptoech violin, Dina Maccabee violin, David Ewell bass, Devin Hoff bass, Sly Randolph drums, Kito Gambel piano.
Business man, Twenty First Negro, The Angola Project. in 2008 The Angola Project in heavy rotation in all major markets in the US as well as a two feature on the home page of itunes Japan.
A wrenching jazz tribute to prisoners
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When saxophonist Howard Wiley first heard about the 1950s Angola State prison recordings, he refused...When saxophonist Howard Wiley first heard about the 1950s Angola State prison recordings, he refused to listen. He brushed them off as historic documents that, however valuable, couldn't possibly get him going.
His friend kept pushing him to listen, but the Berkeley-born improviser and composer shrugged "I'll pass on the prison spirituals, sir. You know, no thanks."
A year later, when Wiley heard them, he fell silent. Drawn in by the prisoners' deep tonal power and lyrics of hope, solitude and deprivation, he decided to record a tribute album, "The Angola Project," which is part of Intersection for the Arts' Prison Project series. The album is exceptional -- a brilliantly constructed, emotionally wrenching but unsentimental set of spirituals and jazz.
What Wiley, 27, heard in Roosevelt Charles and Robert Williams are the stories of broken men who, despite their missteps and miscalculations and despite the prison system's injustices, kept their self-respect and curiosity.
Inconsolable grief, however, doesn't itself make powerful music. The '50s recordings stand out because of the musicians' gut-first expression, the design of their ensemble work and the challenges and demands of their resilience.
What makes Wiley's album a great artifact (and great listen) is his textural range, his less-is-more compositional approach and his patience as a soloist. Instead of packing notes into every bar, he places them thoughtfully into well-paced improvisations.
And if you don't hear the gospel strains of Mahalia Jackson and David Murray throughout the title track, you're somewhere else completely.
Howard Wiley & The Angola Project
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Music has often been used to commemorate the indefatigable resolve of the human spirit in the face o...Music has often been used to commemorate the indefatigable resolve of the human spirit in the face of great suffering. Countless interpretations of field hollers, slave chants and spirituals have been re-envisioned by trained musicians, only to have the raw, unrefined soulfulness of the originals smothered by academic excess.
Bay Area saxophonist Howard Wiley's fervent tribute to the prison music of Angola State Prison avoids this fate. Wiley uses recordings of the gospel spirituals and work song hollers sung in the Angola Penitentiary in the 1950s as the conceptual foundation for The Angola Project. Primal and unfettered, Wiley's ensemble blends ebullient New Orleans vamps, somber blues, poignant operatic vocals and expressive free-jazz catharsis into an organic whole.
A piquant blend of brass and strings, Wiley augments a horn-heavy, piano-less New Orleans styled line-up with a pair of violinists and a trio of vocalists. Utilizing an assortment of line-ups throughout the album, the ensemble ranges from a stripped-down saxophone trio on a swinging rendition of Ornette Coleman's “Peace” to ten musicians on “Trouble of the World.”
The rhythm section and brass play with an appropriately ragged edge, but the operatic vocalese of Faye Carol, Jeannine Anderson and Lorin Benedict soar with an ethereal grace that elevates the session beyond mere formalism. Hauntingly transcendent, they bring an austere otherworldliness to the proceedings, drawing a historical timeline to the seminal 1960s vocal/choir experiments of Max Roach.
Recalling another politically active sixties-era maverick—saxophonist Archie Shepp—Wiley plays with roiling intensity, his gruff tone and linear attack rarely resorting to histrionics, yet commanding attention with a scorching tone.
The Angola Project shares thematic similarities with both Wynton Marsalis' From The Plantation To The Penitentiary (Blue Note, 2007) and David Murray's Sacred Ground (Justin Time, 2007). Back in the early 1980s, the jazz press was filled with inflammatory articles trumpeting the culture war between the upcoming neo-conservative “young lions” (Wynton Marsalis) and the liberal, post-loft jazz generation (David Murray).
Reconciling the aesthetic differences of both camps with emotional conviction and compositional forethought, Wiley's efforts are closer to Murray's (who contributes a stirring solo on “Angola”), delivered with a rousing freedom unheard on Marsalis' recordings. Rough yet refined, The Angola Project is a powerful conceptual statement
Howard Wiley Angola Project
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nspired by field recordings of inmates at Louisiana’s Angola Prison, Howard Wiley’s Angola Project r...nspired by field recordings of inmates at Louisiana’s Angola Prison, Howard Wiley’s Angola Project recreates their rustic folk sound. Yet the tenor saxophonist’s craftsmanship is also on display, generating a tension that defines the album as much as the subject does. It’s a superb achievement. Gospel is the dominant motif: Four of 10 tracks are spirituals, and nearly all arrangements draw on the church, as do Wiley’s compositions. His “Angola” and “The Conversation” feature moaning female voices (Jeannine Anderson) and gently rocking rhythms behind his sax’s—and, on “Angola,” David Murray’s—cathartic wails, sounding like a loose Pentecostal choir. Indeed, Wiley’s playing is “folk” in the manner of Ornette Coleman’s: prizing instinct over technique, blowing pure emotion despite harmony or form. (Wiley amplifies his obvious debt by including Coleman’s “Peace.”)
Wiley never abandons discipline, though. He casts the traditional “Twelve Gates to the City” in a curious 52-bar structure even as he gives it a primal stomp, and updates call-and-response traditions on “Rosie” with a precise eight-part-ensemble theme that nonetheless suggests calls and responses. The subtle architecture reinforces that at the music’s heart is imprisonment, which Wiley evokes with recurring martial drum rolls and licks. That conflict between rawness and polish, freeform and rigidity, illuminates the miserable experience of Angola, which the liners call “one of the last holdouts of the antebellum plantation system.” But if The Angola Project testifies to the despair and dark-at-best hope within those walls, it also heralds the breakthrough of a remarkable talent in Howard Wiley.
Howard Wiley - The Angola Project
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John Coltrane is a jazz household name. Ornette Coleman is a jazz household name, as is Sonny Rollin...John Coltrane is a jazz household name. Ornette Coleman is a jazz household name, as is Sonny Rollins, David Murray, Branford Marsalis, and Joe Lovano. Howard Wiley is not on that list but my ears are telling me that he will be. At the very least, he should be.
The Angola Project takes as inspiration the music born in Louisiana's Angola Penitentiary and recorded in the 1950's by Alan Lomax and Harry Oster. Wiley was introduced to the music by way of friend and ethnomusicologist Danial Atkinson, and the result was the construction of the Angola Project ensemble.
"Wow!" That was my inner response upon first listening to this album. It's not that the spirit of this material hasn't been visited before (Duke Ellington's Sacred Music, David Murray's Speaking In Tongues being fine examples), it's that Wiley has put together a band that is able to amplify this powerful theme while respecting the past. The key here is that the ensemble's sound relies on both the human voice and instruments with human vocal qualities: two vocalists, saxophone, trombone, two trumpets, two violins, and two basses: what Wiley refers to as a "soul chamber ensemble." Yes, there is soul in abundance.
Staying with and leveraging the tradition of field hollers and church rave-ups, the ensemble makes many powerful statements. "Angola," which features saxophonist David Murray, is Wiley's musical take on what it must feel like for the new prisoner heading toward Angola. As the mournful vocals dig into their ostinato, Murray's horn lines slowly morph from merely sad to outright anguished. Nearing the end of the piece, the horns drop away to give the violins and singers the spotlight. It's very moving stuff.The tradition of call & response is used to great effect on nearly every selection: from the explosive "The Conversation" (sax to vocals to sax to trumpet), to the abject blues of "Trouble of the World," to "No More My Lawd." With each song, you can feel this group of musicians pulling in the same direction. The emotion seems to boil over on the intense reading of John Newman's "Amazing Grace," where Wiley plays the most impassioned solo of the entire album: "chilling" is the word.
The most unusual piece here is undoubtedly "Rise & Fly." Originally recorded in 1959, it takes a musical theme and moves it through multiple key centers and meters, while never straying too far from home. For music composed nearly a half century ago, it's amazing how 'modern' it sounds. It also makes for an interesting companion to a truly modern song, Ornette Coleman's "Peace," included here as a tribute to Wiley's late Great Uncle Eddie.
Finally, it must be pointed out that a positive outlook, as found in much revival music, has always been an important ingredient in coping with adversity. This is reflected in the songs that bookend The Angola Project, which blasts out of the gate with the uptempo swagger of "Twelve Gates to the City," and closes it all down with the stomp of "Second Line." We shall overcome, indeed.
So jazz fans, remember the name of Howard Wiley. It'll come up again
Howard Wiley The Angola Project
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Howard Wiley’s The Angola Project is full of anger, bitterness, sorrow, joy and beautiful music. Ins...Howard Wiley’s The Angola Project is full of anger, bitterness, sorrow, joy and beautiful music. Inspired by Louisiana’s Angola State Penitentiary, which he calls “one of the last hold outs of the antebellum plantations system,” Wiley pulls together original compositions, an Ornette Coleman tune and traditional prison and gospel songs into a coherent, masterful suite that’s orchestral and far reaching without ever losing the edge of jazz.
Wiley can make his tenor shout and scream. Like some other young players, he treats the avant-garde as another legitimate register in jazz and not a religion. He recalls David Murray’s youthful ambitions, and the elder saxophonist joins Wiley on “Angola,” a haunting orchestral song that stubbornly refuses to offer resolution. At the same time, he can lead his ensemble through the rollicking “Twelve Gates to the City,” based on a spiritual recorded by an Angola State Penitentiary a cappella group, or match the energy of a New Orleans brass band in the concluding “Second Line.”
Jazz suites with grand narrative ambitions often lack the urgency of improvisation. They can veer too close to Hollywood soundtracks, becoming efforts to be taken seriously rather than serious efforts. The outstanding Angola Project, despite its subject and scope, never feels mannered. It doesn’t sound like a lesson. It sounds like something lived.
We'll play sections from the suite and fourth coming CD of the same name 12 Gates To The City commissioned by meet the composer NYC, sections from our debut CD The Angola Project and jazz and gospel standards. For theater, club, Church engagements We normally play two 45-60 min sets per night. For festivals 60-90 min set
12 GATE SUITE: Three Days, Threnody, The Walk, John Taylor,Old Highway 66, Come Forth to the, House,Captain Donna DeMoss, Endless Fields,Rise
In His Name,Song For a Hot Summer Night, After Prayer.