Alex Coke: Iraqnophobia/Wake Up Dead Man

Alex Coke: Iraqnophobia/Wake Up Dead Man

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VoxLox CD, 2005  Release Date: June 15, 2005
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IRAQNOPHOBIA/WAKE UP DEAD MAN

In 1986 I returned to my home in Texas after two years of living in Europe. With the State in the midst of its Sesquicentennial celebration, I received a commission from Tina Marsh to compose a new work for the Creative Opportunity Orchestra. I had recently discovered Clifford Jordan's tribute album to Leadbelly, These Are My Roots (Koch 8522). This, in turn, led me to further explore the original Leadbelly recordings and many of the early Alan Lomax recordings. A direct inspiration for the title and form of the piece came from the Bruce Jackson book, WAKE UP DEAD MAN Afro-American Worksongs from Texas Prisons (Harvard University Press, 1972).

In early 2001, Wake Up Dead Man saw a second performance by the CO2 at Symphony Square in Austin, Texas. I had admired Alan Pogue's photography for years and heard he had photos of various southern prisons. Although they weren't from the same time period as Jackson's book, I felt having the photos at the concert would provide a link to current issues in the Texas prison system. Alan graciously came to the concert and set up a display. At that point, I knew I would want to integrate his photos and my music in some future project as well.

Shortly after the tragedy of September 11, I was commissioned to write another piece for the CO2. The event, coupled with the U.S. government's subsequent rush to war, affected me deeply. I wrote Iraqnophobia and again thought of Alan's photography. He had been in Iraq several times since the Gulf War and had recently returned to escort a young girl and her father to the U.S. for medical treatment. Originally I had hoped to make a DVD and was thrilled when Alan agreed to let me use his photos. The DVD idea is still in the works but, meanwhile, here is a small sample of Alan's work. It's important to me because he's been an inspiration for many years, both as an artist and a human being.

The following book excerpt is to be read preceding the musical performance:

"The turn rows, the roads forming the perimeter of the agricultural cuts in the rich bottom land, were where the men who collapsed or died were thrown in the days when neither happening was particularly rare, and the bodies were left there in full sight of the men working, under the hot sun until something came along to carry them away. The men still working in the fields could look and see the bodies there, and know they'd better not run, they'd better not collapse, no matter how thickly laced the weed growth. They knew, too, that there was no help, so the irony of "say get up dead man, help me carry my row..." was obvious: no one, no one at all, could offer any help at all, and there was nothing to do but push on and think about how many more years of the same work remained, to feel the sun beating down and indulge in the absurd wish that perhaps tomorrow the sun, Hannah, would just remain wherever it was when it was not broiling the convicts working in the endless fields" (Jackson, 1972, p. 111).
The titles for the movements are taken from expressions used in No More Good Time in the World For Me, a song sung by J. B. Smith (Jackson, 1972, p. 148).

-ALEX COKE

WAKE UP DEAD MAN

1. Hanna - 1:11 (Solo - Russ Scanlon-Guitar)
Hanna refers to the sun.

2. Sundown Man - 3:29 (Solos - Russ Scanlon/Pere Soto-Guitars; Ed Jarusinsky-Drums)
Based on the idea that prisoners worked until sundown. Time had a different meaning. There were no labor laws and overtime did not exist.

3. Running Time - 3:12 (Solo - John Mills-Bass Clarinet)
Running time is the concept of indeterminate sentencing, such as two-to-ten or ten-to-twenty years. Modern penology favors such sentences over "flat time."

4. No More Good Time in the World For Me - 00:48
Obviously a play on words. The melody is rearranged from the actual notated transcription of J.B. Smith's song and set as a march. It's also an observation on how western notation doesn't really capture folk music.

5. Bunk House - 2:11 (Solo - Holland Hopson-Banjo and processing)
A brief, dreamy and personal respite, though still edgy and mysterious. The awakening is abrupt.

6. Danger Line - 3:03 (Solo - Alex Coke-Tenor Saxophone)
The line between state land and free land. Crossing it could get a prisoner punished or killed. Once crossed, it could be the first step to escape.

IRAQNOPHOBIA

7. Shifting Sands - 6:59 (Solo - Alex Coke-Flute)
This piece sets the scene for the following movements. The musicians' score
includes a photo of a sand dune as a reference for my flute improvisation.

8. Longnecks and the Shah - 5:34 (Solos - Tina Marsh-Vocals; Oliver Rajamani-Percussion)
Though the title refers to the bumper sticker and Texas-Middle East historical connection, I think of Mosques and a call to prayer. Early on, Tina sings a long tone against the soprano that reminds me of tuning in a radio. There are melodic references (quotes) to the Steve Lacy /Brion Gysin song Somebody Special.

9. Three Years Later - 1:12 (Solo - Buddy Mohmed-Guitar)
This is a guitar improvisation by Buddy Mohmed. We all realized the significance of the date. (We recorded this 9/11/2004)

10. Yalli n'Sitouna (You Who Have Forgotten Us) - 5:26 (Solo - Pat Murray-Trumpet)
An arrangement of a traditional Iraqi song. I'm inspired by home life and domestic situations. I was attracted to the sentiment of not forgetting the people.

11. The Shreik of Araby - 1:19 (Solo - Brian Allan-Trombone)
Brian Allan's introduction to the next movement.

12. Straddle the Camel - 3:08 (Solo - Brian Allan-Trombone)
A 7/4 bi-tonal blues. I've always heard that camels are notoriously independent. My image was of someone who knew nothing about camels trying to mount one and stay on it.

13. The Eye of the Needle - 1:36 (Solo - Rich Harney-Piano)
Rich Harney's introduction to the next movement.

14. Release - 6:15 (Solo - Rich Harney-Piano; Steve Vague-Soprano Saxophone)
The finale.

MUSICIANS

VOICE
Tina Marsh

REEDS
Alex Coke Steve Vague
John Mills

TRUMPETS
Pat Murray
Shayne Pitsch

TROMBONES
Brian Allan
Dave Bowman

BASS & GUITAR
Buddy Mohmed

VIOLIN
Roberto Riggio*

KEYBOARDS
Rich Harney

DRUMS
Steve Schwelling*

PERCUSSION
Oliver Rajamani*

Additional musicians for
WAKE UP DEAD MAN:

DRUMS
Ed Jarusinsky

GUITAR
Russ Scanlon
Pere Soto

BANJO
Holland Hopson

* Iraqnophobia only

Liner Note by Steven Feld

Alex Coke's WAKE UP DEAD MAN and IRAQNOPHOBIA are deep meditations on human rights, peace, and social justice. For all their sensuous aesthetic appeal as contemporary ensemble jazz, these compositions are also critical works of musical citizenship. Like Alan Pogue's stunning photographs which accompany the presentation, they directly confront the brutal circumstances of life in prisons and war zones. They cause us to ask about the pain and misery of these places, and in doing so they advocate for compassion and human dignity.

Tina Marsh and Creative Opportunity Orchestra have for many years commissioned and performed works of musical conscience. As the premier aggregation of progressive musical spirits in Austin, Texas, their agenda has been as much social as musical, asking us to remember that music is not just a passive pleasure but also an active form of soul searching. VoxLox is proud to include this recording in our human rights catalog. And we do so with gratitude to Alex, Tina, the players, Alan and co producer Mark 'Kaz' Kazanoff for their commitment to creating provocative art in troubled times.

For more information about Alex Coke:
www.xs4all.nl/~alexcoke/

For more information about Tina Marsh and the Creative Opportunity Orchestra:
www.creop.org

For more information about Alan Pogue's photographs:
www.documentaryphotographs.com

 

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