Paul Austerlitz


Innova 223


Chapter One: In-Vocation

1       Bara Súwą Y (traditional YorĚbá-Cuban, arr. Austerlitz); PA, BO, SD, RH, KKO, RG


Chapter Two:  Palo and Beyond

2       Underground Palo (Austerlitz); PA, BO, BM, PR, JD

3       One Peace (Austerlitz, BMI, Roope Music); PA, BO, SD, RH, KKO

4       Journey (Austerlitz, BMI, Roope Music); PA, DZ, RH, KKO

5       Thunder Flow (traditional YorĚbá-Cuban, arr. Austerlitz); PA, BM, PR, JD


Chapter Three: Merengue and Bebop

6       Ornithology (Parker, arr. Austerlitz); PA, GR, JV, WV, JF, JD

7       Sisterhood is Powerful (Austerlitz, BMI, Roope Music); PA, BO, BM, PR, JF, JD

8       Santiago (Hernández; arr. Austerlitz); PA, AT, JF


Chapter Four: Poetry and Song

9       Mountain’s Music (Austerlitz/Fradkin, BMI, Roope Music); PA, RC, GR, JV, WV, JF

10     A Place Inside (Austerlitz, BMI, Roope Music); PA, RC, BO, BM, PR, JF, JD

11     East Broadway Merengue, featuring Michael S. Harper reading

         “The Latin American Poem” (Rollins/Austerlitz: BMI, Sonrol Music); PA, GR, JV, WV, JF, MSH

12     Two Poems,  featuring Michael S. Harper reading “Br’er Sterling and the Rocker” and

         “Twiddlin’ Thumbs” (Austerlitz, BMI, Roope Music); PA, SD, RH, MSH

13     Word-Consciousness-Arena (Austerlitz, BMI, Roope Music), featuring

         Michael S. Harper  reading “Corrected Review”; PA, BO, SD, RH, KKO, JF, MSH


Chapter Five: Out-Vocation

14     Bara Súwą Y (Reprise) (traditional YorĚbá-Cuban, arr. Austerlitz); PA



Paul Austerlitz (PA):

contrabass clarinet, bass clarinet, clarinet,

tenor saxophone, voice

Barry Olsen (BO): piano

Gustavo Rodríguez (GR): keyboards

Angelina Tallaj (AT): piano

Santi DeBriano (SD): acoustic bass

Bernie MiĖoso (BM): acoustic bass

Dave Zinno (DZ): acoustic bass

Juan Valdéz (JV):  electric bass

Phoenix Rivera (PR): drum set

Royal Hartigan (RH): drum set

Wellington Valenzuela (WV): drum set

Kwaku KĆwaakye Obeng (KKO): donno, cowbell

José Duluc (JD): palos, balsié, güira, voice

Julio Figueroa (JF): tambora, conga, bongó, güira

Michael S. Harper (MSH): poet

Regie Gibson (RG): spoken word

Renee Cologne (RC): voice


       As an ethnomusicologist specializing in African-based traditions of the Dominican Republic and as an improvising musician dedicated to mastering the bass clarinet, my life has been a journey blessed with opportunities to sojourn with great musicians from across the planet.  This CD is a creative corollary to my ethnomusicological studies generally and to my books, Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity and Jazz Consciousness, particularly.   Among the most important things I have learned my travels is that when the prime movers of life and death (manifesting in various ways throughout the world and among Afro-Dominicans as Las 21 Divisiones) call us, we must respond.   Because the Word comes first, I believe that music is rooted in conversation, and in African-based traditions, this relies on the drum as much as the voice.  The drum speaks, and we respond by dancing outwardly (as to merengue) or inwardly (to more meditative sounds).  Michael S. Harper affirms that African American improvised music (also known as jazz) is an “arena” of “word-consciousness,” one peace of powerful sisterhood and brotherhood. I offer the creative fruit of my ethnomusicological journey as a universal communion. 

       Born in Finland but moving to New York City at one year of age, I was introduced to African American and Afro-Latin music on the streets and the likes of Stravinsky and Sibelius at home.  I went to Bennington College, where the trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon encouraged me to play the bass clarinet (in addition to Bb clarinet and saxophone) and the visionary-percussionist Milford Graves introduced me to Afro-Caribbean sounds and musical philosophies from around the planet.  I later went to graduate school, developed professional and personal ties in the Dominican Republic, and became a professor of ethnomusicology. 

       In 2005, I was named a MaColl Johnson Fellow in Music Composition by the Rhode Island Foundation.  This, combined with residencies at the Yaddo and Omi Artists’ Colonies, gave me the space and time to complete the compositions heard here.   This CD presents musical conversations between many close friends with whom I have sojourned on my journey.  A confluence of the bass clarinet’s wooden timbre, drums, and the human voice fills these sound waves.  One of the top “jazz-poets” of all time, Michael S. Harper took me under his wing when I was teaching at Brown University, insisting that I play music in addition to writing about it (thanks, Padre!).  For more than two decades, I exchanged musical and other thoughts with the great Ghanaian drummer-composer Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng; some of our conversations are heard here.  I have been sharing good times and great music with Julio Figueroa and José Duluc in the Dominican Republic since 1991.  To my mind, Figueroa is simply the single best living player of the tambora drum, which provides the soul-beat of merengue.   Duluc’s inimitable talents span singing, drumming, dancing, song-writing, politicizing, and philosophizing.  Both of my Dominican brothers gave their all to this recording. 

       My music calls upon the various world influences that I have encountered on my journey. “Bara Súwą Y” is  an arrangement of a YorĚbá-Cuban invocation to the Ůrďşą (spirit) of auspicious beginnings and crossroads, ťşĚ-Elgbára, featuring the great spoken-word artist Regie Gibson reciting a translation of the YorĚbá song.  Underground Palo” is perhaps the first recorded fusion of jazz with Afro-Dominican palos ritual drumming.  It is dedicated to the late, great multi-instrumentalist Mario Rivera, who was the first musician to blend palos with jazz (regrettably, Rivera never recorded his innovation).  “Underground Palo” is inspired by John Coltrane’s “Song of the Underground Railroad,” which, in turn, was based on the spiritual, “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd.”  Duluc’s words, like the traditions of Dominican palos and the African American freedom-train, say “Me voy!:” "I am leaving this place because I refuse to be bound!"  One Peace” employs an original improvisational language based on themes inspired by Igor Stravinsky.  Like my ethnomusicological travels, the four segments of “Journey” pass through various world traditions, combining Indian raga, Debussy scales, Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng’s talking donno drum, and Ghanaian rhythms adapted to clarinet choir. “Thunder Flow” is a traditional YorĚbá-Cuban song dedicated to the Ůrďşą Şąngó, here combined with the rarely-recorded Afro-Dominican pri-prí rhythm which features the balsié or “Dominican talking drum,” whose tones are controlled by the drummer’s foot.   Ornithology” fuses bebop, hip-hop, and merengue, featuring majestic tambora drumming by Julio Figueroa and my contrabass and soprano clarinets.  Sisterhood is Powerful” blends palos, bolero, merengue, and bebop.  Santiago” was composed as a light-classical solo piano piece based on merengue by the great Dominican composer Julio Alberto Hernández in 1927; my arrangement adds the tambora and a New Orleans -tinged clarinet, pointing to Caribbean connections between early merengue and early jazz.  I composed “Mountain’s Music” at Bennington College as a setting of my friend Ava Fradkin’s poem about Vermont’s land-sound-scape.  A Place Inside” features the great pianist Barry Olsen and the astounding Dominican trap drummer Phoenix Rivera (he is Mario Rivera’s son).   Dominicanizing a Sonny Rollins theme and juxtaposing it with South African–inflected sounds, the confluence of Afro-diasporic styles in “East Broadway Merengue” parallels Michael S. Harper’s intoned message.  Two Poems” again feature Harper’s jazz-infused words, as does the penultimate testament of this trip, “Word-Consciousness-Arena.” Solo contra-bass clarinet multiphonics (no overdubbing) invoke new crossroads as we move to the end with a reprise of “Bara Súwą Y.”

-Paul Austerlitz, Gettysburg,

Pennsylvania, March 9, 2008


Supported by The MaColl Johnson Fellowship of the Rhode Island Foundation, Gettysburg College, Yaddo Artist’s Colony, and Omi Artist’s Colony.   Recorded at Kaleidoscope Studies in New Jersey (tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14), John Sippell Studio in Rhode Island  (track 4), Enkiu Studios in Santo Domingo (tracks 6, 9, 11), and Audio Proceso Studios in Santo Domingo (tracks 7, 10, 13) in 2006 and 2007.  Track 1 recorded at Francis Phan Studios and tracks 11, 12, & 13 at and Brown University Studios. Mixed at Kaleidoscope Sound Studios by Randy Crafton and mastered by Gene Paul at DP Plus Studios in 2007. YorĚbá translation by Olúflákmi AlČlądé. Photo credits: C. Keitner (photos of Austerlitz), K.K. Obeng (photo of Obeng), M.S. Harper (photo of Harper), J. Sussman (photo of Duluc).


This CD is dedicated to the memories and legacies of Mario Rivera and Bony Raposo.  Thanks to all who contributed!  I want to express special appreciation for the advice and support of Randy Crafton, Gene Lee, Hafez Modirzadeh, Dave Liebman, Bobby Sanabria, Chris Washburne, Barry Olsen, Bobby Parra, Milford Graves, Robert Farris Thompson, Michael S. Harper, José Duluc, Julio Figueroa, Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng, Regie Gibson, R.A. Fish, Marty Cuevas, Angel Fernández, Philip Blackburn, Marta Robertson, Olúflákmi AlČlądé, and Magaly.  Praise and great thanks to Las 21 Divisiones!


innova is supported by an endowment from the

McKnight Foundation.

Philip Blackburn, innova director

Chris Campbell, operations manager

Also by Paul Austerlitz: Double Take (innova 604)