The notes tell us that “this music means to draw a line somewhere between the Blues tradition and Creative Jazz. The original tongue and the modern dialect of Black Music.” This is hardly a new conceit, of course—the AACM has been doing this for 50 years now, and it’s common knowledge that many of our most influential free improvisers cut their teeth in R&B and blues contexts and never abandoned those roots, no matter how far out they may eventually have gone.
But if the recording by this all-Italian ensemble isn’t quite as visionary as its proponents claim, it’s still satisfying. Works by artists ranging from Charley Patton and Blind Willie Johnson through John Carter, Sun Ra, Olu Dara, Julius Hemphill and Phil Cohran are featured, along with contributions from Roots Magic bassist Gianfranco Tedeschi and alto saxophonist Errico DeFabritiis. Highlights include a remake of Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night,” featuring Tedeschi and DeFabritiis immersed in a miasma of ghost-like clatters, clangs and moans from percussionist Fabrizio Spera and clarinetist Alberto Popolla; the Hispano-funk jubilance of Cohran’s “Unity,” on which Popolla’s burr-tone declamations evoke Saturday night and Sunday morning with equal fervor; and the juxtaposition between edge-of-chaos jubilance and dark-hued introspection on Tedeschi’s “The Joint Is Jumping.” Echoes of artists like Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, Jimmy Garrison, Henry Grimes and others resonate throughout, but they’re effectively reimagined and recontextualized.
Hoodoo Blues, though, raises some thorny issues. As dedicated and accomplished as this band is, they seem to be embracing Africanist tropes, traditions and spiritual iconography with disarming ease, almost as if they’re claiming them as their own. Undoubtedly, that’s not the intention; nonetheless, there can be a very fine line between homage and cultural appropriation.