In 2015 Ezra Weiss began to compose a suite that he intended would be a cautiously optimistic message to his young children about the world they were living in and the challenges and promise they would face as they grew up. By the time this music was completed and recorded in December 2018, its mood and message had changed dramatically. This suite is now an impassioned cry by Weiss on how he and his children might cope with the dark, paranoid outlook that permeates American society. His music is, in turn, sarcastic, sorrowful, brooding and sometimes, even hopeful. It's matched by his narration, in the form of an imaginary letter to his sons, which goes from calm recitation to seething emotion over the course of the work.
The opening "Fanfare for a Newborn" creates a mood of brassy celebration infused with Latin dance rhythms by the entire band Then Weiss begins to speak in general terns, over quietly dignified piano, about his reasons for writing this music and how far our society has drifted from its promise, what he calls "The Truth of God." From there the suite alternates between Weiss' spoken passages and the subsequent musical responses. "Blues and the Alternative Fact" sounds like Charles Mingus' rumbling protest music. It's an ominous bluesy line set to a shuffle beat and dominated by the low menace of Mieke Bruggeman's baritone sax and Stan Bock's trombone. "Jose's Drawing," written for a five-year-old Honduran boy separated from his father by immigration authorities and sent to a foster home, is a gently sorrowful piece that features Renato Caranto's tenor cutting poignantly through a quiet cloud of woodwinds. "Obergefell" is a return to the optimism of "Fanfare" as Weiss rejoices in the changing laws that allow gay couples to wed. The music sails with the crowd-pleasing punch of a Dave Grusin composition and includes a solemn brass chorale to bring in a note of gravity.
On "What Now" Weiss talks in detail of the current horror show: children isolated in government camps, school shootings, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally, mistreatment of transgender and autistic children,, unarmed African-Americans shot by police and other bad things. He describes all this, over a quietly rippling rhythm section, in a voice of slowly rising anger and volume until he almost collapses into exhausted sobbing. This leads into the title hymn sung softly by the Camas High School Choir and Weiss' final defiant words against "alternative facts" replacing truth and the threat of divisiveness. "Please Know That I Love You" is the sweeping finale to the suite, graceful music that exudes calm with a playful melodicism that recalls Maria Schneider. It also boasts eloquent soloing by trombonist Jeff Uusitalo and soprano saxophonist Ron Davis. For a coda, the band launches into a lavish arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" with John Nastos' soprano running around the circular melody as drummer Alan Jones drops bombs and trumpeter Derek Sims dancing over the piano and bass.
Everyone has their own method of processing today's current events. In Ezra Weiss' case, that means composing music that plows through a sea of dark emotions on the way to defiantly proclaiming that truth will prevail. This is a strong and inspiring work that could provide catharsis and hope to someone overwhelmed by the world we currently live in.