The Liberation Music Collective – Rebel Portraiture

Liberation Music Collective

Title: Rebel Portraiture

Artist: The Liberation Music Collective

Label: AD Astrum

Formats: CD

Release date: August 17, 2017


You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution . . .”

The Liberation Music Collective, a contemporary jazz orchestra founded by recent graduates of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, is charting a course as a conscious-raising group advocating for social justice and equality through poetry and music. On LMC’s bold 2015 debut, Siglo XXI, each of the album’s tracks focused on current social or political issues. For their sophomore release, LMC takes a different approach. As the title suggests, Rebel Portraiture “honors the individuals whose courage and commitment call attention to oppression and injustice the world over.” These individuals, both contemporary and historic, have another common thread—each lost their life while valiantly fighting for a cause. Liner notes by Latin Grammy Award winner Kabir Sehgal further illuminate the lives of these individuals and the compositions on the album.

Hannah Fidler and Matt Riggen, co-founders of LMC, composed or arranged the majority of the works on the album, drawing upon a multitude of genres, influences and instruments. For example, the opening track “Passing Away” is based on a sacred harp hymn and recalls the life of Giles Conery, who was killed during the Salem Witch trials “during a beautiful display of resistance” echoed in the trumpet solos by Riggen.

Many of the tracks are paired, offering more than one tribute to fallen heroes. “An Afterlife for Jeffrey Miller” and “Kent State” honor the four students killed by the National Guard in 1970 while protesting against the Vietnam War. The former, drawing upon a protest poem composed by Miller shortly before his death, is one of the more arresting tracks on the album. The spoken poetry is woven into music that begins in a more traditional Copland-esque style before shifting into Gil Scott-Heron territory. Another pair of tracks memorializing Syrian and Iraqi journalists killed by ISIS also effectively employ spoken word: “An Afterlife for Ruqia Hassan” recites (in English) an abstraction of the oldest verse from the Qur’an, while “Iqra” features both spoken and sung text performed by Fidler.

The remaining tracks also reference more recent deaths. “The Afterlife of Berta Cáceres” honors the Honduran indigenous environmental activist using an arrangement of a traditional Ghanian funeral song performed primarily on gyil, percussion and bass. “Ditchside Monument” and “An Afterlife for Noxolo Nogwaza” are dedicated to the South African LGBTQ+ activist killed in 2011. The latter “Afterlife” track features an extended bass solo by Fidler before concluding in a chorus based on the Bantu words handziyah (ascent) and kurhula (peace).

Rebel Portraiture closes with “All I Need,” bringing in the entire ensemble to perform LMC’s “anthem for the rebels of today and the heroes of tomorrow” in a glorious demonstration of solidarity.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

The Liberation Music Collective – Siglo XXI

liberation music collective_siglo xxi

Title: Siglo XXI

Artist: The Liberation Music Collective

Label: Ad Astrum Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: August 29, 2015



This month’s new release from the Bloomington, IN based jazz group The Liberation Music Collective is an ambitious debut from the self-described “socially-conscious big band.” Borrowing its name, concept, and utilizing cover art similar to Charlie Haden’s similar group from the 1970s—Liberation Music Orchestra—the group attempts to similarly address the sociopolitical concerns of its own day, with each of the album’s tracks being aimed at a particular social or political issue that is present in popular discourse.

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Despite the seemingly abstract nature of writing what is mostly instrumental music, the group finds ways to incorporate direct references to the topics which they reference on this album. Rather than writing conceptual compositions that are ostensibly “about” something, The Liberation Music Orchestra utilizes a number of techniques in order to situate their music in terms of the issues they are referencing. This takes many forms, from interviews with band members discussing art’s potential for social change, gay rights, and the difficulties of being a black man in America that are used as framing devices for instrumental pieces, to lyrics that directly address particular issues, as in “Herstory,” a jazz-rap song about feminism. A third and particularly effective way that the group provides direct points of reference for what may otherwise sound like musical abstraction is their use of samples, drawing material Malcolm X, the Adhan—the Muslim call to prayer—as well as from the cell phone recording of police choking Eric Garner to death.

The Liberation Music Collective’s overtly political agenda does not detract from the quality of their compositions, however. The group’s tunes would likely hold their own with or without the group’s political or social advocacy, with compositions showcasing skill in orchestration (the masterfully building minimalism of “Murasaki”), several excellent solos (highlights include guitarist Joel Tucker on “Black & Red” and cornet player, composer, and co-founder Matt Riggen on “War Department”), and co-founder and bassist Hannah Fidler’s excellent melodic writing and singing on “El Viento.”

As with any project with this broad of a scope, Siglo XXI presents some significant risks to the artistic vision of the Liberation Music Orchestra, including the possibility of misinterpretation or oversimplification of complex and significant issues. Fortunately, this group brings forth an earnestness in both their musical and social agendas which may help them overcome potential criticism on these fronts.   The Liberation Music Collective manages to avoid most of the potential pitfalls that come with this territory, and Siglo XXI is a fresh, provocative, and evocative artistic statement from a promising group.

Listen on Spotify here.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley