Title: The Ancestors’ Call
Artist: Marques Carroll
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 16, 2021
Within the musical canon of the genre traditionally known as “jazz,” Chicago’s legacy as birthplace or training ground for some of the genre’s most innovative and technically adept trumpeters is solidified by musicians such as Ray Nance, Louis Armstrong, Lester Bowie, Marquis Hill, and Corey Wilkes. With his stellar debut quintet album, The Ancestors’ Call, Chicago-based trumpeter and composer, Marques Carroll, rightly adds his name to this list.
Accompanied by long-time collaborator, pianist Amr Marcin Fahmy, alto saxophonist Brent Griffin, bassist Christian Dillingham, drummer Greg Artry, percussionist Victor Garcia, trombonist Alex Wasily, and guest vocalist Sharon Irving, Carroll crafts a triumphant homage to “our ancestors who are presently alive within us and whose spirits call to us.” Citing fellow trumpeters and composers Roy Hargrove and Nicholas Payton as influences, The Ancestors’ Call firmly roots itself in the expansive lineage of contemporary musicians like Payton and Hargrove whose sonic explorations of ancestry, be they familial and/or musical, embody Carroll’s motto to which The Ancestors’ Call abides: “Respect tradition, preserve the culture, and push forward.”
The interconnected relationship between past, present, and future is woven throughout the album’s eight original compositions and sequenced as a conversation between we the living, and those who have come before us. The album’s opening song, “The Ancestors’ Call Upon Us,” begins this intergenerational dialogue with the crescendoing sound of the foundation of African and African Diasporic music: the drum. Artry’s pulsating drum solo is followed by Garcia, Dillingham, and Fahmy’s percussive counterpoints over which Carroll, Wasily, and Griffin’s ancestors collectively and independently “speak.” In their solos, each voice conveys that which has been key to our survival as a people: Carroll’s assuredly measured phrasing underscores the concept of cool not just as aesthetic but an approach to life, Wasily’s persistent and determined tone reflects the history of our resolve, and Griffin’s dexterity reminds us to marvel at the beauty we create out of it all.
It is this wisdom that we are charged to remember in the wake of a cacophony of screeching horns and thunderous drums that lead the imagined aftermath of “Beyond The Battle.” Once the warring chaos ends, Artry’s militaristic drum cadence calls us to attention while Fahmy plays a contemplative melody of respite. Carroll and Griffin’s dueting harmonies intensify the contemplative mood of the song – to listen to it with closed eyes is to hear Griffin’s repeated refrain as an alternating prayer and plead for guidance from the ancestors on behalf of all of us as if to ask, “Where do we go now? Where do we go now from here?” Carroll offers an achingly visceral response reassuring us that our cries to the ancestors never go unheard or unanswered.
Throughout the album, Carroll invokes ancestral presences not only as unnamed omnipresent figures but also as specific points of musical and cultural reference. Echoes of John Coltrane’s “Psalm” and “Welcome” and Lee Morgan’s “Search For The New Land” are heard in the grand, otherworldly entrance of drum, bass, piano, and horn on the album’s final songs, “Resolution For Us” and “The Ancestors’ Final Words.” On the haunting dirge, “Aries Goddess (For Consuela and the Fallen)”, Irving’s lamenting voice soars as she sings, “Fly away, fly away/ rise above this empty space to endless love/ because you are, we are made new,” offering the incantation of flight present in the folktale, “The People Could Fly,” as a liberatory refuge to victims of gun and police violence.
The remaining songs, “Generational Response,” “Assemble the Enlightened,” and “Urgency” joyously complete the album, each evoking a sense of preparedness and steadfastness to be passed on for generations to come. On The Ancestors’ Call, Marques Carroll completes the cycle by heeding the call of those who have come before him and invites us to do the same.
Reviewed by Nia I’man Smith