by S. Victor Aaron
In the wake of 9/11, LA producer Carlos Nino initially put together a collective of about 20 area musicians he named Build An Ark with the intent of spreading a message of peace, love and harmony through music. Nino himself says “we came together to make music that hopes to inspire peace and love in this world.”
The message can be heard through their 2003 release, Peace With Every Step. To Nino’s credit, the music matches that message. It may not be a dead ringer for anybody else but spiritually it’s close to Sun Ra’s Arkestra. There’s trombone, flute, violin, guitar, bass, Fender Rhodes, lead and backup vocalists, and percussionists galore. There’s also a lot of spontaneity here with cues being dropped and picked up all over the place, and for a “thrown together” band consisting of people of differing backgrounds, ethnicity and generations — just look at the album cover in the YouTube below — they seem to have a genuine feel for each other.
The music is a wonderful mixture of hippie folk, funk-jazz and African rhythms. Just the kind of music you’d dig at an outdoor festival on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Nate Morgan uses his Rhodes for ambience and coloring to great effect; along with the percussionists, it’s the glue that holds together the songs and prevents a loosely bound group from sounding like just a bunch of noise. He even gets in a few good licks on the calypso funk of “Vibes From The Tribe.” “The Tortoise And The Hare” reminds us what we used to like about Eric Burdon’s War. Pharoah Sanders’ “You’ve Got To Have Freedom” features some passionate vocals from Dwight Trible.
Sometimes the dedication to conveying that feel-good message makes for a few cringe inducing moments, like the beatnik babbling on “Love Is Our Nationality” (“giddy-up, love, giddy-up!,” “swallow your mushroom cloud” … yikes!) but that kind of wide-eyed optimism is something we hadn’t seen in music perhaps since Woodstock.
The closer is my personal favorite. BAA takes the main riff from Ronnie Laws’ funk classic “Always There” and slows it down to a perfectly loose slow groove and then, seemingly on the fly, it turns into a tribute of deceased jazz greats as each bandmember calls out a name of a fallen brother. The mention of Eric Dolphy even gets a Dolphy-esque swirl on the flute from Joshua Spiegelman in response. It’s that “aw, what the hell, let’s do it” attitude which makes this band so endearing most of all.
OK, so the idea of using music to “inspire peace and love in this world” sounds a bit naive, hokey, trippy … whatever term that’s leveled at idealistic slackers. But maybe a little hope and optimism makes a nice respite from the all the messages of hate and violence we’re confronted with everyday.
So on this 9/11 anniversary, if seeing those gruesome images of the towers being blown up being played over and over again has got you down, maybe this will pick you up. Through music, Carlos Nino and Co. help continue the healing. Or, at least, get you to forget about all the misery in this world for a little while.