William Roper's JUNETEENTH

Juneteenth. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves of the Southern states that had seceded from the Union. It took awhile for the news to trickle down. It was not until June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, that the slaves of the eastern portion of that state found out dey wus free.

William Roper's new CD of music for solo tuba and tuba in mixed ensembles presents an unusual program of his own pieces and music written or arranged by friends. There are two works for tuba alone, one for tuba, piano, percussion, three for tuba and percussion and perhaps strangest of all, a piece for tuba, taiko, woodwinds and two shamisens. This last work, Kagami Jishi, is a traditional Nagauta piece.

Glenn Horiuchi was an improvising pianist and composer of extraordinary accomplishment. He began learning Nagauta music to incorporate it into his original compositions. As he began formal studies with his aunt, Lillian Nakano, in 1990, shamisen and Nagauta became a central activity of his life. He became committed to learning shamisen in the tradition, which has existed largely unchanged for over 100 years, in order to help keep it part of living tradition for future generations. The founding of Zen Tsuba and this arrangement of Kagami Jishi is a result of these two goals. He has the tuba play the vocal part. Interspersed between sections of the traditional work are episodes of improvisation. On this cut Zen Tsuba is joined by Francis Wong on woodwinds and Tom Kurai on taiko.

Featured prominently on this recording is the ensemble Judicanti Responsura. Formed in 1984 by Roper and percussionist Joseph Mitchell, this ensemble performs compositions by its members and other composers that have been intrigued by the combination of instruments. Joseph contributes the only composition on this disc that does not incorporate improvisation. (Which is unusual for him.) Even that exception, The Dance of the Sophists, because of its austerity, opens a special place for listener imagination and participation.

Another composition is contributed by that wacky trombone player Michael Vlatkovich. The Perfect Construction of Decisive Moments is done as a tuba and vibraphone duet.

The four remaining compositions are by Roper. The title track, Juneteenth for solo tuba (though there was an unpremeditated studio addition), Pigs, Pigs, Oh! Those Tasty Pigs for tuba, piano, percussion trio with Glenn Horiuchi on piano. Then there are the two works on the subject of love gone wrong: A Recondite State of Lorn for solo tuba and Lachrimae (Flow My Tears) for tuba and percussion. Hey, what kind of CD doesn't have a love song?

Juneteenth is Roper's debut album as a leader. Unlike his two previous releases as a co-leader, (free-improv projects) this is an album that melds improvisation with an appreciable amount of composition. It is about finding and expressing freedom(s) within the context of structures. Even in slavery people do this. It is from this context that much of African-American music derives -- joy within misery; the necessity and willingness to seize a moment's possibility of humanity within an inhumane environment. Not that dots and lines on paper are all that oppressive, but they can get tedious. All of these pieces, save one, depend as much on the improvisations as on that which is prescribed in ink.

Hear selections from JUNETEENTH performed LIVE!.


Watch a video portrait of Roper by Joseph Santarromana.


See the video of Fanfares and Arhoolies on youtube

Don't miss William Roper's new work Land Ob Cotton - A Tragic Slapstick