Download of the Week: Jacques Coursil

Jacques Coursil on his time with the Sioux Indians in South Dakota in the 1970s:
"I was there during the birth of the American Indian movement and I was deeply impressed by the seriousness of those people, who don’t talk much. But when they say something, it’s heavy. There are a lot of books about this [the Trail of Tears], but that is nothing compared to people telling me things bit by bit. The musician always translates into music what they see and hear and smell and experience, so instead of making a theory out of it, I made music."
Trails of Tears was conceived back then only to be realized, recorded and finally released in 2011.

Jacques Coursil grew up in Paris on Webern and Schoenberg, "these were my heroes. The same thing goes with my discovery of modern painting and modern poetry. I didn’t want to be disturbed by entertainment." (all quotes are from the highly recommended "Jacques Coursil: The Weight of History" on Jazz Times). He headed to NYC, trumpet in hand, in 1965 where he hooked up with free jazz and its players including Jaki Byard (Coursil's "mentor"), Noel DaCosta, Sunny Murray, Byard Lancaster, Marion Brown, Perry Robinson, Sun Ra, Bill Dixon, and others. Coursil appeared as sideman on a number of releases from ESP-Disk and after two releases as leader on BYG in 1969, Way Ahead and Black Suite, Coursil disappeared from the music scene.

With a PhD in linguistics and literature and a second in science, Coursil was a Professor in France, Martinique, and at Cornell University and the University of California Irvine, until he retired. His recording career took off again in 2005 with a release, Minimal Brass, on John Zorn's Tzadik label followed by Trails of Tears on Sunnyside Records.

"The present time is not a spot. It’s a space and in that space there is a heavy past and some dreamed future. The past and the future only exist in the present time. So talking about something ancient, it’s necessarily actual."
Joined by a sextet of great musicians, Mark Whitecage (alto saxophone), Perry Robinson (clarinet), Jeff Baillard (keyboards and Fender Rhodes), Bobby Few (piano), Alex Bernard (double bass), Alan Silva (double bass), José Zébina (drums), and Sunny Murray (drums), together they share ageless beauty and the timeless sadness of human suffering. While the title refers to the 'Trail of Tears', a series of forced relocations of Native American nations in the United States in the 1800's, Coursil makes Trail plural to include other forced relocations including the passage of African slaves to America:
"The genocide of the [American] Indians is the history of the world," he says, "not just the history of the Indian or the black. The Middle Passage is not the story of black people; it’s the story of the world because they were not by themselves on the boats. Every time someone is suffering, there is someone there who is making them suffer. It’s a common story, as much your story [or] my story."

Trails of Tears is available from the Sunnyside Records Bandcamp page.

garrettnecessary's picture

Thanks. This is an extraordinary piece of music!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
It's be on nearly infinite repeat here.
jim tavegia's picture

very reflective piece of music that will make us all think about what our personal contributions are to our time and space and how we use it. Thanks. I do think that this holiday season will be a great time of reflection for many of us.

Ampalang's picture

This album just caught my inner feelings, wonderful piece of art and soul.