Bob Belden Unveils a Dark Narrative of Manhattan on Second Animation Project, Transparent Heart, Available on RareNoise Records, September 25
Following on the heels of Animation’s 2010 RareNoiseRecords debut, Asiento, and 2011’s Agemo, saxophonist-composer-bandleader Bob Belden tells his own story on Transparent Heart. With his new Animation lineup consisting of young musicians hired from his alma mater, the University of North Texas (23-year-old keyboardist Roberto Verastegui, 24-year-old bassist Jacob Smith, 29-year-old trumpeter Pete Clagett and 20-year-old drummer Matt Young), Belden unveils a dark narrative as heard through the musical diary he has composed over 29 years of living in Manhattan.
An imposing electronic noir masterwork, Transparent Heart travels from Belden’s initial awestruck impressions of New York City (“Terra Incognito”) to his feelings of foreboding (“Urbanoia”) and hope (“Cry in the Wind”) as a city dweller on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, to the pervasive angst of post-9/11 Manhattan (“Seven Towers,” “Provocatism”). He also addresses the mass exodus of artists from the city (“Vanishment”) and concludes his musical memoir with the clash of the social classes manifested in the Occupy Wall Street movement (“Occupy!”). Belden has concocted a powerful, provocative suite of music that is charged by the intensely driving, highly intuitive playing of his young energetic Animation band mates.
“This record is not a jazz record, it’s about my life in Manhattan,” says the Grammy® Award-winning composer-arranger-producer. “In essence, the music on Transparent Heart is a reflection of the lingering tension since 9/11. It’s an honest look at Manhattan through music.”
The concept for Transparent Heart has been in the making for more than 30 years. “I first visited Manhattan in 1979 when I was with Woody Herman’s band. I’ll never forget seeing the dark shadows, steam rising from the streets, crowds of strange people lingering in Times Square well past midnight, all the tall buildings and how they created a post-gothic canyon effect. That’s ‘Terra Incognito,’ a term used by local residents to describe Central Park above 96th street. Darwinistic Urban Gentrification. The uncertain outcome of riding the subway late at night. Alphabet City. Bonfire of the Vanities. AIDS. Subway Gunman. Guardian Angels. Central Park jogger. Preppie murder. Sparks Steakhouse. That’s ‘Urbanoia.'”
“Cry in the Wind,” with Clagett’s muted trumpet carrying the melancholy theme reflects another Manhattan experience, “One night from inside my ground-floor studio apartment I heard the voice of a woman crying for help faintly mixed with the sound of the wind and rustling tree leaves. Bringing my phone outside, I saw this woman who had just been stabbed, and called 911. She reached up, grabbed my hand, and didn’t let go until the ambulance got there. I helped this woman live because I cared. This tune is about hearing the cries in the wind of extreme loneliness and helplessness that are heard all the time throughout the city.”
The darkly propulsive title track echoes the hard-hitting production that Bill Laswell brought to Herbie Hancock’s 1983 hit single “Rock It.” To listen to Transparent Heart is to think about Manhattan’s self-reflective nature exemplified by extreme conflicts between physical/corporatist and social/humanist structures and the perpetual sense of energy that is created and dissipated illogically in light and shadow.
“Seven Towers” is Belden’s reaction to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. As Belden reflects, “9/11 is a reaction to the power and influence that capital, centered in Manhattan and symbolically the World Trade Center, has on parts of the world, in the form of abject terrorism. I watched it happen from Chambers street in Lower Manhattan. This tune recreates my own autobiographical timeline of 9/11. It starts with the NORAD radio broadcast finding out a plane hit the North Tower; followed by the NYPD and NYFD responding. It’s very haunting. I believe that this moment has defined the course of history for Manhattan as well as the world at large. This album is offered in deep respect to those who lost their lives that morning of September 11, 2001 and to the families that have to live with this loss forever.”
“Provocatism” reflects the immediate aftermath of 9/11. “People fled the city as companies anticipated an economic downturn, laying off thousands upon thousands of workers. For years there were constant alerts, color-coded like a crayon book. Many small business, dependent on the World Trade Center complex, died after 9/11-replaced by the ubiquitous chain store, coffee shop, and branch-bank. The intense build up of the New York Police Department to the point of having one of the largest standing armies in the world, placing citizens under surveillance on the streets and in the subways-‘stop and frisk’ developed from this Quasi-military policing initiative.”
“”Vanishment” refers to the exodus of artists and musicians who couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan anymore to a point where the localized creative culture is now gone. Musicians work here in the clubs, but don’t live here. And you have this influx of college student musicians who have no real attachment to the city-it becomes a line on a resume. Thus, Manhattan post-9/11 is very different from the Manhattan that existed when I moved here in 1983.”
The final track, “Occupy!” is the most intense and harrowing of Belden’s musical memoir. His turbulent ode to the Occupy Wall Street movement is imbued with the sounds of screams and violence in the streets during clashes between protesters and police. “The Occupy movement is based on a psychological philosophy rather than political or industrial. These people are angry and frustrated with nowhere else to address their grievances, so they take to the streets-essentially declaring a philosophical war on Manhattan.”
The musicians on Transparent Heart are the most talented of their generation, performing complex operatic improvisations, sounds, and textures. They are serious musicians deep into the subtle and not-so-subtle nature of this music. That they are virtually unknown to the jazz public is a blessing, as you will hear them tabula rasa, with no conditions on what to expect. From this point on you will expect greatness from each one of them.
For Belden, Transparent Heart is a musical tool to get people to think about social issues. “Music must be returned to its place as a social engineer; provoking thought amongst society. This record is not about tunes, solos, and arrangements, it’s a way of telling a story that has something to do with my life, OUR lives, and for anyone who has ever landed with excitement, wonder, fear, and hope on this tiny island off of the coast of the United States. It’s not being a musician, but rather a citizen.”