- “The Plum Blossom” sets up on a hillside dashed gold, white and black. Red roofed pagodas sketch out the horizon as Barry Harris regales piano, Ernie Farrow strums rabaab, Lex Humphries holds down drums, composer, Yusef Lateef, plays the oboe.
- Asserting a dissertation on measure and grace, the oboe and rabaab are African and Asian disciples of Baudelaire. They weave to an unwavering drum beat steady, snow melting over rocks to the river below. The oboe holds forth, a riverside Willow leaning long tendrils over the water flow, explaining. Listen,
- To the tambourine dazzle on beats, off beats, syncopate. It rings out beneath a southern sky well. It dangles off an end note, forgotten change in a dancer’s pocket, a lanky hard to catch lover, a Tinkerbell of sorts. Visibly young; so old, knowledge obsolesces as it shimmies toward the temples of Taishan.
- Two piano trills twirl twice through the oboe’s eloquent speech. Queen Nandi appears, elegantly strung with seashell and grass. She strolls out of the Indlu, sinew and majesty, harkening a clavichord. No longer cast out, she unveils her strength of reason.
- The oboe ends its important speech. His branches nod and sway approval to the queen.
- Clothed royalty and erudition, ebony and ivory, Queen Nandi develops a supporting argument. She wrangles the melody set forth by the oboe, a simple and hopeful series of notes, and delivers timely ethos, pathos, logos in support of his oration, elucidating and embellishing parts that may not have been consciously understood. She echos, bell-like, the oboe’s good sense, and the original statement floods out as if never heard before. Although highly dextrous, regal Nandi stumbles slightly in her final bar making her inimitable, a masterpiece.
- Nandi leaves us to a rolling rabaab, a double base, holding the rhythm we heard at the beginning of the song, the heart of the song, a primordial connection to every beginning’s end.
- A quiet fills the space Queen Nandi left behind. The melting snow drops slow slightly, deliberately, as if to say, yes, I know I repeat myself but this bears repeating. As melody spirals down beneath the river into the crust of the earth, a reverberation slakes our senses: musician and oboe merge twice to create that otherworldly song – Amen, Ashe, may it be so.
With gratitude for the brave and generous, Dr. Yusef Lateef. October 1920 – December 2013
Photo by Heinrich Klaffs used under CC.