Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project
There are a lot of similarities between the debacle of the Vietnam War and what was swiftly dubbed “the war on terror”. Post 9/11, Americans had to – at first – take the word of their government, had to believe that a truth was being sought, defended, that a revenge as retribution was just.
Just as with the sprawl of the Vietnam War we’ve seen a bunch of art arrive to challenge and question the notion of war – music, films, TV, literature and, given the way of the world these days, blogging too. And not just question the notion of war, part of that is to present the frayed ends of sanity as a result of the war.
Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project is the third collaboration between jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and hip-hop artist/poet/librettist Mike Ladd. Dealing with the dreams of people who have served in the recent war/s Ladd has shaped their nightmare visions into a compelling set of story-songs and spoken-word pieces, using Maurice Decaul and Lynn Hill to provide further voices in the telling of these tales. Iyer’s music could hardly be called jazz a lot of the time – in fact it sprawls and stretches to include almost any and all space between jazz and hip-hop and a lot that falls down the sides of either genre. It is full of gloomy, glitchy, post-techno dance-music dalliances, it builds up into a blanket of sound that’s not too dissimilar to the one Jamie XX created when he reworked Gil Scott-Heron’s final album, creating a new sound-setting.
It’s not an easy listen but it’s full of beauty, voices that soar and these awful stories of paranoia, of woundings – particularly the mental scarring. These are the truths of this – and any – war. And the way these stories are played out, with Iyer and band striving beneath to be sympathetic always, but to ratchet tension, to tweak the emotional response, makes for a powerful, captivating listen.
It’s not jazz. Because modern jazz never sounded this good. It’s not hip-hop because hip-hop generally doesn’t carry this much weight within its heart. It’s some strangely beautiful mix of the two. A future-music for the sad stories that started in the recent past and continue on to this day.