March 22, 2021. Many of us have spent the last week reminiscing about what it was we were doing exactly one year ago. Memories are popping up on our social media accounts about the shutdown and the search for hand sanitizer, and we look at them and try to figure out how an entire year has passed. So much has happened, and composer, guitarist and Philly native Monnette Sudler has managed to touch on the many moods of the past 12 months on Stay Strong.
The title track focuses on the demand for social justice that ignited over the summer with the deaths of George Floyd and Jacob Blake, with Monnette (almost) doing it all, providing vocals and spoken word, along with electric bass, string and rhythm guitars,and string and drum parts. Her words implore her brothers and sisters to “Stay Strong,” with Miriam Suzette Ortiz and Raimundo Santos lending background vocals to the powerful piece.
Ortiz and Santos back Monnette up again on her own call for equality, “Stop Now I Can Breathe,” a true political anthem and peaceful call to action. Along with her lyrics, Monnette is on bass and lead guitar, and features the great Webb Thomas on drums, “The Rhythm Speaker,” Jan Jeffries on congas, and the gifted Philadelphia mainstay Aaron Graves on piano. The same group creates a calming force on “Love Is Peace Everlasting,” a comforting groove that is needed to remind us of what brought us peace, if just for a moment, during the course of the recent turbulence.
Bassist and 2020 Kimmel Center Jazz Resident Richard Hill joins Sudler and Thomas on “Standing Up,” a song about loneliness and rushing thoughts with a sultry, edgy delivery. This one is pure fire, with Adam Faulk’s piano a major contributor. The instrumentals on Stay Strong are as eclectic as the themes and spotlighted personnel. Hill appears again on the beautiful “Morning Meditation,” along with Jeffries and Thomas—yes, the title speaks for itself.
An old-school Philly squad rolls in to join Monnette on two tunes that help to sum up the time of lockdown and quarantine. Chico Freeman (tenor saxophone), Gerald Veasley (electric bass) and Byron “Wookie” Landham, along with Graves, make “Sunset Through My Window” have some soul, rather than what that reality may have been throughout the winter months. The same crew takes us to church (socially distanced, of course) with their take on the traditional “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep.” Whether you’ve been missing worship or not, this version will make your spirit sing.
Listening to Monnette Sudler’s Stay Strong is an enjoyable way to ride the roller coaster of emotion that we’ve all experienced together, yet apart. The angst, the anger and the realization that things cannot continue like this, intermingled with the soothing forces in the world, and in our immediate lives. Sudler has always been a strong leader, and her expertise has allowed her to speak her mind through music and have it relate to the masses.
Women’s History Month on WRTI is supported by Temple University, which celebrates the legacy of Agnes Berry Montier, class of 1912, and the first Black woman to earn a medical degree from Temple.