Water Music (New LP)Alex Massa's Water Music
Label: ears&eyes Records
"Born and raised in South Dakota, trumpeter Alexander Massa continues to be influenced by the stories and actions of Water Protectors nationwide. “Water Music” consists of musical reflections on the movements to protect our environment and our lives. Specifically influenced by sounds of the AACM, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, Philip Glass, Rachel Grimes, and the winds and silence of He Sapa (Lakota for The Black Hills) Massa has drawn a large sound out of a five-piece, chordless, ensemble - drums/percussion, upright bass, alto sax, tenor sax, and trumpet.
Four years ago, indigenous peoples from numerous tribes joined together near Cannon Ball, North Dakota at a building site for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Supporters gathered to amplify the work of the Water Protectors of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. As a young, white boy growing up in Rapid City, Alexander Massa was not encouraged to pay attention or listen to the indigenous people of the area - mostly members of the Lakota Nation. But as an adult, he witnessed the violence against Water Protectors at Standing Rock through live broadcasts while abroad. “Black Snake” emerged during his international creative residency program in Stodvarfjordur, Iceland.
The Lakota tribe tells a story about Zuzeca Sape, an enormous reptile that slithers through the land poisoning everything it touches. According to the Lakota prophecy, the Black Snake brings the world to an end. Evoking images of Zuzeca Sape, the Dakota Access Pipeline would extend more than 1,000 miles underground to distribute oil across indigenous land — owned (through U.S. treaties) by the Sioux Nation — and beneath the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and Lake Oahe (OH-WAH-HEE). The tribes demanded that construction cease.
Returning to the United States, Massa continued to research Indigenous and Land Rights through books, interviews, speeches, and articles by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Thomas Capossela, Marlette Thunderhouse/Barbara Nixon, Autumn Peltier, Dee Brown, Nick Estes, and Jaskiran Dhillon. He was learning that to be a part of sustainable change, he needed to understand how the water crisis affects us all.
“Black Snake” begins in 7/4, and peacefully weaves through multiple signatures, signifying the prayer and dance to keep the Snake away. The next section of the piece mimics the moment local and national law enforcement arrives, instigating conflict. This feeling of agitated conflict continues gaining momentum, you hear the cries and chants signaled on the trumpet and chaos on the drums. Artie Black beautifully lays an effortless solo on this.
Across the nation, the community protests and actions to protect our environment and our communities are ongoing today. This summer in July 2020, Water and Land Protectors, led by Nick Tilsen, and regional protestors gathered to stop traffic headed for a political campaign rally in the Black Hills. “Water Thief” features corporate exploitation of freshwater resources and the collusion of local and federal governments to pump hundreds of millions of gallons of water each year from regions of North America.
“Suite for Flint,” specifically the track “Thanks a lot Obama,” highlights another momentous event about access to clean water in the same year (2016). Residents of Flint, Michigan gathered at Northwestern High School to listen to President Obama address the community on the crisis. The city’s water was contaminated with a high level of lead causing serious harm, including 12 deaths, 90 hospitalizations, and long-term health effects for babies and children. The extent of the poisoning was not yet fully understood. When President Obama arrived, it seemed that someone had finally shown up to help. Instead, during his speech, he sipped on a glass filled with Flint’s tap water and told residents not to worry about a little lead.
“Thanks a Lot” is informed by patriotic and nationalist themes that are said to show pride in our country but are typically interpreted as subtle attacks on underserved communities, as can be heard in the middle of the alto sax melody. “Little Miss Flint”, the end of this document, begins with an uptempo and danceable solo bass groove, joined by drums after a few bars, and followed by an introductory statement by the horns before venturing into a melody that is promising and joyous, inspired by Flint Activist Mari Copeny. You hear the melody repeated by the alto saxophone, and finally, all three horns join in to harmonize and offset the melody, diving into an exciting musical finale.
With this project, Alexander Massa hopes to call attention to the crisis and the concerns of communities facing poisonous threats to their water. Massa traveled with his trio (Isaiah Spencer and Anton Hatwich) to bring “Water Music” to Midwestern audiences from Chicago to the Black Hills. During performances, he shares stories and invites listeners to reflect on difficult questions about what it means to experience crisis, to support environmental activism, and to build community."
Alexander Massa - trumpet/composition
Mai Sugimoto - alto saxophone
Artie Black - tenor saxophone
Anton Hatwich - bass
Isaiah Spencer - drums
Recorded on December 8, 2019, at Shirk Studios in Chicago, IL by Dan Pierson
Mixed & Mastered at Whiskey Point Studios in Chicago, IL by Dan Pierson
Cover art designed by Lydia Cheshewalla
Lacquer cut by Carl Saff in Chicago, IL
Pressed by Smashed Plastic in Chicago, IL