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The Undying Spirit of the Dash

Composer and pianist Robert Glasper crafts an eloquent tribute to his late mother.
Composer and pianist Robert Glasper crafts an eloquent tribute to his late mother.

Funerals celebrate life as much as they mourn the departed, and Robert Glasper's poignant requiem "Tribute" — assembled in honor of his mother, who died three years ago — makes no secret of that. Glasper and his bandmates initiate a plaintive piano-trio hymn that soon underscores Rev. Joe Ratliff's poetic eulogy. Ratliff's baritone evokes all the radiant grandeur associated with an Easter-morning church service, as he unravels a compassionate message about how human shortcomings allow us to recognize God's complex perfection.

As the song builds momentum alongside the applause from Houston, Texas' Brentwood Baptist Church congregation, Ratliff focuses directly on Glasper's mother, recalling her as having "a smile in the midst of her pain."

Although the music retains its melancholic specter, it never gets maudlin. Instead, it deftly sweeps Ratliff's honorific lines: "Alpha 60/Omega 2004, dash," he says. "But neither of these dates are what brings us here today. It's the dash in between the two... Not that she was born. Not that she died. But because of the dash, she lived! I mean, she lived! I mean, her dash is vibrant!" At that point, the song transforms fully into billowy swing that doesn't quite resolve. Instead, it dissipates beautifully, insinuating the undying spirit of the dash.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for BETJazz.com. He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.