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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Roy Campbell Jr.

By Stef 

May Roy Campbell rest in peace. Such sad news. I am not familiar with the circumstances of his passing away, so I cannot talk about this. I can only talk about his music. and he's one of those musicians whose art resonated very deeply with me, and his music and his playing have been a kind of mental door-opener or ear-opener to me for real free music. He was without a doubt one of my favorite musicians.

I am listening to "Other Dimensions In Music" now,  released on Silkheart in 1989, and one of my favorite albums, with Daniel Carter, William Parker and Rachid Bakr, a quartet that performs open-ended improvisations, soulful, beautiful, spritiual, and so free. Nothing is composed, but these four artists know and feel each other so well, that the end result has this incredible coherence and esthetic. None of these guys plays for himself, the music comes first, and the soul that drives it.

Campbell did not release that many albums under his own name, having played primarily in many bands by now famous artists, starting with Jemeel Moondoc, or as part of William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra", as part of "The Nu Band" with Joe Fonda, Mark Whitecage and Lou Grassi, or with Louie Belogenis, Hilliard Greene and Michael Wimberley as "Exuberance", he even played in the Peter Brötzmann Tentet, an unlikely match if there ever was one, or in the horn section of Yo La Tengo, with Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen.

I loved his trio album, "Communion", with William Parker and Reggie Nicholson, his "Ancestral Homeland", but my real favorite is "Ethnic Stew And Brew" with William Parker and Hamid Drake.

His performance with Matthew Shipp, especially on the wonderful "Pastoral Composure" or on "Strata", his albums with Ehran Elisha, or his collaboration with Spring Heel Jack. I loved his collaboration with that other great warm trumpeter, Dennis Gonzalez, on his "Nile River Suite", a collaboration which probably made him release his own "Akhnaten Suite", an album that I hold in high esteem, in contrast to some other critics.

Campbell was a very soulful player, probably one of the real musical heirs of Don Cherry, very lyrical and playful in his expressivity, open to other cultural influences, never violent or harsh, which makes it surprising that he sometimes played with musicians who fall under that category, especially thinking of the "Europeans" here, a very spiritual player, someone who could lift the spirits of band-mates and listeners alike.

For those interested, here is my list of Roy Campbell albums, and my appreciation of them (and the list is evidently not complete: I do not have all his albums, unfortunately). I did not include all the William Parker collaborations, nor the Vision Festival CDs, which would have taken this too far. But just look at the number of four and five stars in this list. True, this is not all because of Campbell, but for sure his contribution played a significant part in the overall sound of the albums.


Roy Campbell
New Kingdom
Ethnic Stew and Brew
La Tierra Del Fuego
Communion
It’s Krunch Time
Ancestral Homeland
Akhnaten Suite
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Ehran Elisha
Suite Empathy
The Kicker
Watching Cartoons With Eddie
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Exuberance
The Other Shore
Live At Vision Festival
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The Gift
Live At Sangha
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Dennis Gonzalez
Nile River Suite 
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Jemeel Moondoc
Live In Paris
Muntu Recordings
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Other Dimensions In Music
Time Is Of The Essence
Other Dimensions In Music
Now
Live At The Sunset
Kaiso Stories
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Matthew Shipp
Pastoral Composure
Strata
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Spring Heel Jack
Masses
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Yuko Fujiyama
Re-entry
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Whit Dickey
Coalescence
In a Heartbeat
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The Blue Series Continuum
GoodAndEvil Sessions
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The Nu Band
Live At The Bop Shop
Live
The Dope And The Ghost
Lower East Side Blues
Live In Paris
Relentless - Live At The Sunset
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Saco Yasuma
Another Rain
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Burton Greene & Roy Campbell
ISMS Out
Burton Greene Quartet
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Tribute To Albert Ayler
Live At The Dynamo
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Stone Quartet
dmg@The stone
Live At Vision Festival
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Mat Maneri
Going To Church
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Dunmall/Gibbs/Carter/Campbell etc
Blown Away
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New Atlantic Octet
Unto the Sun
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Garrison Fewell
Variable Density Sound Orchestra
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Adam Lane Quartet
Blue Spirit Band
Oh Freedom
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Kevin Norton
The Dream Catcher
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Mike Ladd
Negrophilia
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In the meantime, I am listening to "The Gift - Live At Sangha", a trio performance with William Hooker on drums and Jason Kao Hwang on violin. This is one of those albums that I've listened to several times with my eyes closed for the entire album, with headphones on, and just to be fully part of what is happening. The album has only one track, an endless improvisation of these three instruments, who woo each other, rejoice, moan, weep and sing, while at the same time being full of character and gentleness, but full of a deep authenticity, playing blues and jazz and middle-eastern sounds, without any false sentiments or pretence, so real, so real.

I don't know the person Roy Campbell well. I met him several times when he performed in Belgium, or at the Vision Festival, and talked to him, after the concert, once even sat the bar with him to chat about his music. He seemed to be a very friendly and open person, accessible and interested.

I am listening to "The Gift" now, to his great trumpet playing, and think about what he has offered us, what gifts he has given us all when you see the list above. I am sad, and my thoughts, and probably all our thoughts are with his family and friends. We will miss him.




10 comments:

AGM said...

Thank you for that tribute and assessment of Roy Campbell, Jr. I have some of his albums, seen a fair number of shows where he performed, and had a chance to talk to him a bit on several occasions. The portrait you sketch of him is a good one.

Tom Burris said...

A wonderful tribute. Thanks Stef!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. He was a warm, beautiful person. (He was not on Moondoc's Pygmy CDs.)

Stef said...

Thanks Anonymous. I went a little too fast there.

Phil Freeman said...

Great rundown. Roy was a terrific player and a truly warm, nice guy. One disc I would recommend adding to the list above is "From Valley To Valley," by Peter Brötzmann's Die Like A Dog, with Roy subbing in for Toshinori Kondo. It's on Eremite, and I think it's still in print, or at least locatable.

FreeJazzJeff said...

A stellar epitaph, Stef.... and a most positive slant on otherwise saddening news.

I listen to Campbell regularly on "The Gift" and on the newer New Atlantis Octet CD, and am always impressed with his interactive ability and sense of musical egalitarianism.

A definite loss to the improv community.

slovenlyeric said...

I am very sad about this. As noted above, he was a very warm and open person. I got to take to him frequently at shows and the last time I saw him he walked over during the set to give me a hug.

He was a fixture around New York and I am sure many in the local music community will feel an immense sense of loss.

Like many others I had a deep religious or spiritual feeling sometimes when I would hear his music. I was thinking of one particular set with Other Dimensions in Music with Matt Shipp sitting in which was trans-formative.

He had a great sense of humor. I was recently at a show of his in Amsterdam where they played some pretty nasty old porn reels behind him and his improvisation to an oral sex scene was one of the funniest moments of that trip.

More than just a player, he was often in the audience at shows. He was part of our world. I will miss his playing and I will miss the man.

Troy D said...

Thanks for this tribute, Stef. Ethnic Stew and Brew was a transformative record for me personally--it was a great way to see just how accessible the "avant-garde" could be.

Urania Mylonas said...

I met Roy over 15 years ago when my friends and I had started co-producing a jazz series called Neues Kabarett. Roy was a huge supporter and friend, and his kindness and gentle spirit were always welcomed at our space, as was his strong and beautiful playing. Always ready with a smile and a joke, or a compliment, he was a joy to be around. I'll miss our conversations about growing up in the Bronx! Miss you Roy!

Kevin Murray said...

Wow.... this loss hit me hard. I saw him play live with William Parker's Essence of Ellington orchestra at Stanford University less than a year ago....

He was playing more inspired than ever, with his warm tone reflecting his warm personality.

I got to talk to him before the concert, as William introduced me to the band (I had played with him the night before). That concert was incredible (Hamid Drake, Rob Brown, Dave Sewelson, Dave Burrell, Aleta Hayes, Kidd Jordan.....) Wow.

His loss will be felt greatly. Rest in peace, Roy. What a master.