By Stefan Wood
Scott Clark is an outstanding percussionist. He reminds me of Max Roach, with his propulsive battery of drum work, tight time keeping, and yet loose and free forming, sculpting sounds with an extensive range of instruments. His group, the 4tet, is a modern descent of the classic Roach group of the 1950’s, muscular, finely tuned, and gorgeous playing. On their latest album, Bury My Heart on Clean Feed records, is a culmination of a project that Clark had been working on for some time, a suite that explores one of the dark periods of U.S. history, the massacre of Native Americans as the country expanded westward in the 19th century.
From the opener “Broken Treaties,” to the conflicts of “Wounded Knee,” “Little Crow’s War,” “Big Horn,” and “Sand Creek,” and finally “Remembrance,” the album is meant to be heard as a suite, a whole that is full of solid hard bop. The 4tet — Jason Scott (saxophone), Bob Miller (trumpet), Cameron Ralston (bass) and Clark himself play with aggression and precision, as evidence on the opener “Broker Treaties,” which begins with a moody opening by the horns, before the drums kick in and the group launches into a fire and brimstone assault, where the horns maintain the theme of the track, while the rhythm section lays down a crushing foundation of strings and percussion. On “Wounded Knee,” bass and percussion play a Native American inspired rhythm, Ralston’s bass playing the role of a dancer, with horns in the background playing a one note. “Little Crow’s War” has Clark playing a tom tom like rhythm, soft and in the background, while Scott and Miller engage in a low key duet that is foreboding and full of tension. “Big Horn” is the centerpiece of the album, a dense, aggressive track where Clark’s drums are showcased as he evokes the terrible conflict with a barrage of percussion, horns evoking the clarion calls of battle. “Sand Creek” and “Remembrance” are in contrast, calmer in tone but somber and contemplative. Horns delicately evoke the past events, mournful.
Like Max Roach’s We Insist – Freedom Now Suite, Bury My Heart is a statement piece. Do not forget the wrongs that were done to tribes and nations that comprised this country before the settlers moved in, it says. It is a powerful work, and to date the finest that the Scott Clark 4tet has done. Outstanding and gets my highest recommendation.