Music Review: Let My People Go

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Let My People Go, opens a new window by Howard Roberts Chorale

Not to be confused with the outstanding West Coast jazz guitarist Howard (M) Roberts, the versatile Howard (A) Roberts, who was based in Queens, brought years of experience as a musician, producer and arranger to this 1968 Columbia Records release, which boldly blends traditional African-American spirituals with Pan-African percussion. The album’s opener, “Let My People Go,” commences with the sound of drums played in an inviting triplet pattern - musically complementing and contrasting the oscillating vocals of the chorale. In his insightful liner notes, Roberts mentions his deliberate arrangement of the drum choir having “the same spectrum as the vocal choir, that is, soprano, alto, tenor and bass.” With Roberts’ stirring lead vocals, “Wade in the Water” surfaces as the defining moment of the album. While many listeners of the era might have been familiar with this traditional spiritual from the 1966 hit instrumental version by Ramsey Lewis, the copious percussion combined with the sweeping and coruscating chorale vocals takes Roberts’ rendition to new heights. Built upon an Afro-Cuban rhythmic pattern and a call-and-response cadence, “Hold On” offers an undeterred statement that the foundational spirit will not be broken in the face of adversity and oppression. Initially billed as the African Explosion, this recording anticipates the ardent embracement of African cultural heritage and consciousness, while being a nascent expression of the ongoing movement emboldened by the liberating powers of spirit and sound. - Ted (Downtown)