Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Howard Wiley is an extremely ambitious, thoughtful artist. I was introduced to the music of this 31-year-old composer/saxophonist in 2007 when he released The Angola Project, an extraordinary, challenging recording inspired by the field recordings of Alan and John Lomax in the 1930s at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. 12 Gates is a followup to that project. And it's a brilliant sequel. Wiley said the recording is a suite based on the traditional spiritual, with the 12 gates representing the many paths one can take toward finding redemption. Wiley finds a way to fuse old-time gospel with modern-day jazz, avant garde, spoken word, rap and serious saxophone chops. On "Come Forth (To The House Of The Lord)," Wiley blows a mean tenor solo over an in-the-tradition composition. That tune features what's great on a good portion of the record. Faye Carol, a gospel-infused jazz singer from Wiley's San Francisco, delivers earthy, wordless vocalizations as the band cooks and Wiley wails. But he's not satisfied to simply rework old jazz forms. "Endless Fields" is an avant ode to the idea that he saw endless fields of cotton when he visited Angola prison and realized someone had to pick it. That range - from old-time to avant garde to almost operatic - is what makes 12 Gates so appealing. Yes, Angola is still a working prison that houses mostly a black population. And Wiley obviously feels a breadth of emotions when he hears the field songs of long ago or during his modern-day research visits there. Both 12 Gates and its precursor, Angola, span that joy and pain of the past and the present. Wiley is calling attention to the fact that African-American men make up six percent of our population in the U.S. but remain the majority in our prison population. Something's wrong here, and Wiley makes the point the only way he knows how: with musical notes and his saxophone. He's earned our attention." -DownBeat
JazzTimes (p.70) - "The music in this compelling 13-movement suite ranges from uplifting to jubilant to transcendent..."
Personnel: Howard Wiley (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Lorin Benedict, Jeannine Anderson (vocals); Bicasso (rap vocals, spoken vocals); Dina Maccabee, Yeruda Caesar-Kaptoech (violin); Geechi Taylor (trumpet); Danny Armstrong (trombone); Sly Randolph (drums).
Audio Mixers: Daniel Atkinson; Howard Wiley; Sebastian Richard.
Liner Note Author: Daniel Atkinson.
Recording information: Broken Radio, San Francisco, CA (03/01/2008); San Francisco State University (03/01/2008); Seabas Studios (The House) (03/01/2008); Broken Radio, San Francisco, CA (08/02/2008-05/03/2009); San Francisco State University (08/02/2008-05/03/2009); Seabas Studios (The House) (08/02/2008-05/03/2009); Broken Radio, San Francisco, CA (08/03/2008); San Francisco State University (08/03/2008); Seabas Studios (The House) (08/03/2008).
Saxophonist and composer Howard Wiley's previous album, The Angola Project, was, like this one, inspired by the music of prisoners in Louisiana's notorious maximum-security plantation prison at Angola. The Angola Project consisted of jazz adaptations of work songs and spirituals recorded on-site in the 1930s and 1950s, and it was a dark and serious piece of work. 12 Gates to the City is no less serious, but it is considerably more joyful, and was inspired by the music (much of it gospel-based) that Wiley heard prisoners perform when he visited Angola himself. This disc will inevitably be categorized as "jazz," but the reality is much more complicated: much of the music on this program is carefully orchestrated and arranged, and although there are solos throughout the album, the pieces tend not to follow the head-solos-head convention of straight-ahead jazz. There are lots of vocals, but most of the time they take the form of scatting and vocalese, and a small string section makes sporadic appearances as well. The chord progressions frequently evoke gospel music more than jazz. All of that said, the compositions are mostly brilliant: "Old Highway 66" was written with thoughts of Angola Prison's only road in mind, and features a spoken performance by Bicasso; "Endless Fields" features some amazing interplay between Wiley's soprano saxophone and the string players; "In His Name" is a sort of acoustic hip-hop with a slippery New Orleans beat and mournful strings; "My God (New Angola)" is the most conventionally jazzy track, and is lovely. A few tracks fall rather flat and the liner notes (a long essay about prison and racial politics by co-producer Daniel Atkinson) are a bit tendentious, but for the most part the music is amazing. ~ Rick Anderson