Harlem Hellfighters in the UK press

Press reaction to the Harlem Hellfighters performances included the following 5* review in Scottish national paper, The Herald


and the following review in London Jazz News


And extracts from others…..

From John Lewis’s review in the Guardian

Jason Moran: The Harlem Hellfighters review – the soldiers who brought jazz to Europe

Barbican, London

4 / 5 stars    

Moran’s musical homage to bandleader Jim Europe and his wartime ragtime band keeps the spirit of the music alive without casting it in aspic

When the 369th Infantry arrived in Brittany on 1 January 1918, they were not only the first African American regiment to fight for the US Army in the Great War, they also became the first people to take jazz across the Atlantic. The regiment contained a ragtime band called the Harlem Hellfighters, led by Lieutenant James Reese Europe, the best known black bandleader in the US at the time, who entertained troops across Europe before returning home as heroes.

Intrigued by this story, Texan pianist Jason Moran and his trio have assembled a seven-piece British horn section to pay tribute to Jim Europe’s music. Jerky two-step tunes that the Hellfighters performed are faithfully rendered, but with a novel twist. Rather like Ornette Coleman’s avant-trad mash-ups, these orchestrations paint an alternative history of jazz that stops in 1920, misses out half a century of swing and bebop, and goes straight into free improv. Moran lurches from intense ragtime into jabbering improvisations, while his horns also freak out, often playing an extraordinary series of sounds that sound like a tape being reversed.

And from the Bristol Jazz Blog, Jon Turney…

An altogether fascinating 90 minutes, and one of the most memorable gigs of the year….

What I heard in Cardiff at the Royal Welsh College the other night seemed a marvellous marriage of proto-jazz styles with modernism. Jason Moran’s aim was to highlight the work of bandleader James Reese Europe. I checked, and he’s at least a footnote in all the jazz histories*, but he’d passed me by until now. And what a fascinating figure: led an all-black ensemble; promoted music that developed what the people he knew listened to; made the first recordings of jazz, or almost jazz, by an African-American band before the war, and a second batch shortly before his early demise in 1919.

On top of that, he joined the black 369th Infantry, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, in WW1, enlisting in the service of a country that, as Moran put it flatly,”made him no promises”. They fought in France and Reese, who became the regimental bandleader, performed widely in Europe. The parade on their return to New York drew an immense crowd.

All this inspired Moran’s regular trio, with Tyrus Mateen on bass and the always arresting Nasheet Waits on drums and a band drawn from the UK-based Tomorrow’s Warriors (plus Andy Grappy on one of two tubas). The trio were well to the fore at first, but the band had plenty to do thereafter, and everyone rose brilliantly to the challenge of often complex scores. The tunes were generally lively-going-on-raucous, the band sound – seven horns including those two tubas – rich, and the blend of old and new cleverly worked into the arrangements.

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