Hannibal LOKUMBE (b.1948)
Dear Mrs Parks (2004/2005) [59:03]
Taylor Lee Gardner (child soprano); Janice Chandler-Eteme (soprano); Jenetta Steele (alto); Kevin Deas (baritone)
Brazeal Dennard Chorale/Augustus O Hill
Rackham Community Choir/Suzanne Mallare Acton
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Wilkins
rec. live, 6-8 March 2009, Orchestra Hall, Max M Fisher Music Center, Detroit, MI. DDD
NAXOS 8.559668 [59:03]
This is a major release no matter what the colour, creed, nationality, race or gender of the composer. I repeat: this is a major release.
Born in Texas, Lokumbe is a composer and a jazz trumpeter who has worked with Gil Evans, Roland Kirk and the Jazz Composers Orchestra amongst others. Dear Mrs Parks was premièred in February 2005, by many of the performers here. That performance was broadcast nationwide and on the net. I recorded it and thus have heard the work several times prior to receiving this new CD.
The story of Rosa Parks is well enough known, I think, but for anyone who doesn’t know it, briefly: on 1 December 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus for a white passenger. This action sparked the Montgomery (Alabama) bus boycott. Because of her actions, Rosa Parks became an important figure in the modern Civil Rights movement. She has been called “The Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement”. She died a few months after the première of this work, which she attended.
What we have here is a celebration of Rosa Parks, using jazz, blues, funk and classical elements all fused together with great skill. Nowhere is one conscious of the change from one style to the other simply because the work is written in only one style – that of Hannibal Lokumbe. This is the work of an obviously very talented, and gifted, composer which makes it all the more confusing that it’s the only work of his I have ever heard.
As a composition it has arias, choruses, orchestral movements; everything you’d expect from an oratorio – drama, release, praise. This is a very fine piece indeed. It is full of good things. The orchestration is brilliantly colourful. Lashings of percussion drive the dance music, which is truly joyous. The arias are ecstatic, declamatory, utterances and the choruses are full-blooded.
The performance is totally committed, but be warned both Janice Chandler-Eteme and Kevin Deas employ a very fast vibrato which becomes tiring on the ear. Otherwise I have no worries about this disk whatsoever.
As a new look at oratorio it is vibrant and totally compelling. I hope that this piece will make many friends. Here is an important composer who has something to say and knows how to say it. Good notes and a full text are included in the booklet. Perhaps I should point out that the language is easily understood: it’s tonal and approachable.
Don’t miss this. It’s as important a choral work as Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast or David Blake’s Lumina.

Bob Briggs
An important composer … see Full Review