What is our purpose here on earth? In a world of instantaneous gratification, seldom do we stop and really ponder such a poignant and long term question. Vibraphonist and composer Cecilia Smith has compiled a rich and complex musical work entitled Dark Triumph, The Life of Victoria Lancaster Smith, which reminds us of the possibilities of answering such an important, but often overlooked question.
Smith hopes are that "Dark Triumph will help people look within themselves and pose the question how am I serving the world during my brief moments here on earth?" The stimulus for inspiring our thinking is the life story of Victoria Lancaster Smith, an African-American woman that has dedicated her life to serving others. The selfless and extraordinary life of Victoria Smith is celebrated and conveyed in a blend of original music united with narration.
The music of the project is presented by a jazz rhythm section (piano, bass, drums) augmented with vibraphone, soprano saxophone, percussion, the Boys Choir of Harlem and a full string section. The resulting orchestration of the original music is an emotional blend of classical and jazz, creating a third-stream sound reminiscent of Gunther Schuller, Charles Mingus and the extended works of Duke Ellington from the 30’s and 40’s.
There is a nice mix of improvisation and written material that keeps the music flowing and easily accessible while matching the mood and character of the story line. "Seating by Color" is an excellent example of the musicianship of the entire project. Bruce Williams delivers a fine soprano sax solo at a poignant transition in the composition from composed classical sounds, to an up-tempo, straight-ahead, swinging jazz celebration of perseverance. Pianist Carlton Holmes keeps the post-bop celebration building during his solo, which is followed by Smith’s solo contribution, displaying that her talents go far beyond the pen and conducting. Smith’s abilities on the vibraphone are quite expressive and impressive.
The subject matter has such a depth of meaning that a simple CD review cannot do it justice. The project needs to be experienced to start the process of true understanding. However, the overall theme pays homage to an all-American experience, with the specificity of an African-American point of view. The narration by Victoria Smith is organic and sincere. Smith shares her many life experiences and triumphs, ranging from a beginning fraught with confusion over identity and skin color, through career obstacles and her journey in becoming a whole and giving individual full of love and peace.
The project has extensive liner notes talking about the music and storylines. There are also two CDs included, one with narration and one without, both are very effective. The project could easily be adapted for classroom study that would benefit the student in areas of racism, personal growth, music education and relating to the world as a whole.
The project is a beautiful and up lifting story that is highly recommended for everyone. Dark Triumph, The Life of Victoria Lancaster Smith will inspire the larger questions to be asked, but in a way that is enlightening and entertaining all at once.