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Laura Karpman: Ask Your Mama *

Track List

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Album Remarks & Appraisals:

Epic poetry set to powerful music, brought to life by a cast of legendary performers: Ask Your Mama is an original musical setting by four-time Emmy®-winning composer Laura Karpman, of the 1961 masterpiece by Langston Hughes, delivered with majesty and magnetism by sopranos Janai Brugger and Angela Brown, hip-hop innovators The Roots and Medusa, jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon and others, conducted by Grammy® nominee George Manahan. Ask Your Mama premiered to a sold-out Carnegie Hall in 2009. It has since played from Harlem's Apollo Theater to the Hollywood Bowl, and has reached millions more through media coverage by NPR, PBS, NBC TV, The New Yorker, and the Huffington Post.

New York Times
Karpman's music, melding Ivesian collage with club-culture remixing, morphed from one vivid section to the next in a dreamlike flow ... genuinely striking.

Vanity Fair
Fevered, restrained, and super-lush in turns ... always impressive.

Album Notes

Tributee: Langston Hughes.

Audio Mixers: Justin Merrill; Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum; John Kilgore .

Liner Note Authors: Laura Karpman; Langston Hughes.

Recording information: Skywalker Sound (2012-2014).

Photographer: Garrett Bradley.

This Grammy-nominated release is extraordinary, partly because Ask Your Mama is generically unlike any other work ever composed. It is based on a cycle of poems of that title by Langston Hughes, written in 1960 and subtitled 12 Moods for Jazz. Hughes conceived the work at the Newport Jazz Festival that year, creating it as a reflection on the brave new forms of black culture that were emerging at that time, and he specified general ideas and even specific cues for accompaniment without actually writing or commissioning music. Despite the subtitle, he did not restrict the music to jazz. Ask Your Mama as heard here is composer Laura Karpman's realization of Hughes' vision, which encompassed jazz in several forms, blues, gospel, Latin jazz dance music, devices from the European tradition, calypso, African drums, and, memorably, "Shave and a Haircut," which is one of several verbal and musical motifs that knit the work together. Karpman's structure is clear and distinctive -- what you hear here is a single composition, not a jazz album with guest stars -- but it's loose enough to incorporate a variety of talents, including hip-hop group the Roots, jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon, and others, all doing their own things. The first thing you hear is Hughes' own introduction to the work, recorded when he wrote it (although he never heard the whole work performed in any musical realization), and his voice, sometimes sliced up and reconstituted, also runs through the entire work. This is an extremely compelling fusion of contemporary and historical elements. It's hard to recommend a single place to start, but try "Ode to Dinah" (CD 1, track 5), which is a virtuoso reflection on the blues and on the music of Dinah Washington. The traditions of concert music and of African American vernacular styles have not been combined before as they are here, and the work would be ideal for large-scale, collegiate oratorio-like performances incorporating a variety of forces. This performance, however, may be ideal. ~ James Manheim



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