Making Music with Meaning

Album art for It Is Right to Rebel by Mat Callahan & Yvonne Moore


It’s Right to Rebel
is a musically uplifting and politically inspiring recording. The duo of Mat Calahan and Yvonne Moore are joined by a number of European musicians: Arno Troxler on drums,

André Pousaz on contrabass, Colin Hogan on accordion on most of the songs with David Brühlmann doing the honors on three tunes, David Flores on congas, and Sibylle Fässler, Konrad Rohrer and Nadja Stoller singing background vocals. The result is a sound that is beyond folk, but not quite rock. Its influences span American folk, different African American and indigenous musical forms, and even a hint of country. .At times, I am reminded of 1970s Jackson Browne performances, at other times it is Taj Mahal who echoes in this recording, while still other songs take me back to earlier acoustic folk rock endeavors. The recording production is nicely done. The lyrics are overtly political of the radical left variety, as one would expect from Calahan and Moore. A single titled “Free Leonard Peltier” leads off the album. The song titled “99 Books” is a haunting yet celebratory tribute to George Jackson, who maintained a radical prison library despite prison censors. It is a fitting tribute to the man, the prison rebellions of the long sixties, and the murderous nature of prison and the system it protects. Another of my favorites in this double disc collection is a song celebrating the resistance of the enslaved of the Americas titled “High John the Conqueror Root.” High John is a classic trickster figure in African-American folklore that embodies resistance. In one tale, he tricks the devil itself. The tune depends on its percussive nature to celebrate the spirit of rebellion.

Moore and Callahan’s previous recording was titled Working Class Heroes and reflected their political concerns and understanding of history. This album is the fifth collaboration between the two musicians. Moore recorded several earlier discs, including a couple that featured Callahan on guitar and vocals. Callahan was a founder of the early 1970s folk-rock group Prairie Fire; a musical group with distinctive left politics and a that morphed into a punk ensemble before it broke up in the late 1970s. Moore is a Swiss blues musician, who has released at least three albums with her blues ensemble. Calahan and Moore released their first collaborative disc titled Welcome in 2007.

Chet Baker’s Blue Room CD is a 2023 special release for the CD and vinyl industry’s merchandising gimmick known as Record Store Day. On this day, record labels release recordings of never-before-released and special editions of previously released material. Blue Room is a worthy selection for this merchandising holiday. It easily qualifies as an important recording in jazz of what were obviously incredible sessions by these particular groups of musicians. Never before release, the discs are from live radio sessions at Vara Studios in Hilversum, Netherlands on April 9th and 10th, 1979. The clarity of this remastering is remarkable. The sounds are as fresh as the day they were put on tape. Baker’s trumpet always created a tone as uniquely identifiable as Miles Davis’. The two combos in these recordings are equal in their harmonic perfection and their abilities. Bass lines effortlessly shift into piano melodies, the drummer filling and expanding the rhythms until they become their own form of melody. It’s not just Baker’s mellifluous trumpet that makes this recording so transcendent. It’s the musicians in the ensembles in equal measure.

Likewise, Baker’s vocals are spot on and, like always, delivered with the apparent ease of an early morning songbird in a tree outside my window. There are eleven tunes on two CDs. Seven of the eleven feature Phil Markowitz on piano, Jean-LouisRassinfosse on bass and Charles Rice on drums. The other four tunes have Frans Elsen on piano, Viktor Kaihatu on bass and Eric Ineke on drums. Of the collection of musicians, Rice had worked with Baker previously, including a European tour in 1964-1965 that ended with Baker going to prison in Italy for narcotics.(He was an addict who frequently returned to narcotics use over his life. This made him a target for police agencies and also caused him to miss gigs–neither of which endears one to the industry). The others were new to Baker’s circle, with Eric Ineke musically meeting Baker at these sessions for the first time. The packaging of the CD is equally exquisite and includes a booklet featuring discussions of the sessions from Baker and the rest of the musicians. Exquisite in its performance and presentation, this release is an experience that will be enjoyed well into your future.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com