Check Cashing Day
Check Cashing Day marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech (the album title is a reference to King announcing it was time to cash the equality check written into the Declaration of Independence by the country’s forefathers). Featuring a quintet and two vocalists, the music here hews pretty closely to mainstream bebop, with trumpeter Hermon Mehari and pianist Richard Johnson also getting plenty of solo time alongside Watson’s saxophone. Musical standouts include the melodic and midtempo “Sweet Dreams” and “At the Crossroads.” Nonetheless, it’s the voice of poet Glenn North that sets this apart. He strikes a nice tone between anger and uplift, speaking vivid lines on several pieces but most effectively on the title cut, “Black Is Back,” and “Revival (Ovedia).” Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was with King for that speech, and here her role is filled by singer Pamela Baskin-Watson, who shines on Ellington’s “Come Sunday” (the lone cover) and her own “Seekers of the Sun.” Sometimes great music can have a message.