Sept. 03--DURHAM -- Phillip and Chuck Campbell, two members of the sacred steel band The Campbell Brothers, say audiences should come to their concert Friday at Hayti Heritage Center prepared to get involved with the music.
"This is music that is not just meant to be listened to," but to be enjoyed and experienced, guitarist Phillip Campbell said. And if the music leads the audience to clap or dance to express praise, "that's what we're used to," he said.
They were talking about their new arrangement of North Carolina native John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," which they will perform Friday, the first night of the Bull Durham Blues Festival. Duke Performances and Lincoln Center commissioned the arrangement in August 2013, but the idea of arranging Coltrane's music in the style of sacred steel goes back 12 years, Phillip Campbell said. Bill Bragin, director of public programming at Lincoln Center, asked The Campbell Brothers to perform some arrangements of pieces by Miles Davis, and from there the idea of an interpretation of "A Love Supreme" began, he said.
The commission marks the 50th anniversary of the album's release. Since 1964, the album has influenced countless musicians who play different styles. Durham saxophonist Branford Marsalis released a live recording of his arrangement of "A Love Supreme" in 2004. Guitarist Baron Tymas, who teaches in North Carolina Central University's Jazz Studies Program, said the album was one of his early influences. "When I was 18, I got it and I listened to it about every day for a year," Tymas said. Joe Williams, the entertainment organizer for the annual Coltrane music festival held in High Point, said the album is probably the most recognized of the saxophonist's work. "I think that he was a spiritual person," Williams said. "It kind of oozes out of him in the way he plays. He goes very deep down into his beliefs and transforms it in his music."
The spirituality of the album (Coltrane wrote a prayer for the liner notes) fits well with The Campbell Brothers' church music traditions, Chuck Campbell said. The Campbell Brothers grew up playing in the sacred steel tradition in the House of God Church in Rochester, New York. The full band is Phillip on guitar, Chuck on pedal steel guitar, Darick Campbell on lap steel, Carlton Campbell on drums, and Katie Jackson and Denise Brown on vocals.
"A Love Supreme" is soul music in the truest sense. "Along with the prayer, let's think about the four pieces," Chuck Campbell said. "Acknowledgement," the first part of this four-part piece, "is acknowledging that we have some shortcomings ... that there is a higher power and another source that can help you become a better person," he said. The second movement, "Resolution," calls to mind the realization "that something needs to change," Phillip Campbell said. "Pursuance," the third movement, evokes praise and being joyous that you are on the right path, Chuck Campbell said. "Psalm," the final movement and the slowest in tempo, is like a prayer and an expression of thanks, he said.
The band has been practicing the piece for about a year, and got help with transcriptions of some of the solos. "We wanted to do this technical justice," Phillip Campbell said. "We didn't just want to overshadow it with our style. We wanted to remain true to the musicality of that piece," he said. "We actually improved our musicianship learning this piece as we worked through and saw some of the ground-breaking techniques Coltrane employed."
The band also listened to other recordings of Coltrane playing the piece, Chuck Campbell said, and realized there's a lot of room for interpretation in what Coltrane wrote. They have performed a trial run of the arrangement, which continues to evolve "as we live this music and embrace it more as we perform it," Phillip Campbell said.
The performance involves more than mere technique -- it also involves spirit and interactions with the musicians and audience, they said. And "A Love Supreme" encompasses the blues, gospel and other musical traditions. "The best blues, the best jazz still comes from the heart and soul," Phillip Campbell said. "You can hear people who are technically proficient ... but that does not necessarily touch you. What's so remarkable about 'A Love Supreme' is you can hear from all those movements where Coltrane is coming from. You know this music is coming from his soul."
Go and Do
WHAT: The Campbell Brothers perform their arrangement of "A Love Supreme." Phil Cook, John Dee Holeman and The Rousters also will perform.
WHEN: Friday, 6 p.m., the first night of the Bull Durham Blues Festival
WHERE: Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville St.
ADMISSION: Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 at the door. To purchase, visit www.hayti.org or call 919-683-1709.
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