It’s in the first few moments of the trumpet solo that one recognizes what’s occurring in The Ego’s mesmerizing, modern interpretation of ‘Caravan’, the 1936 Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol jazz classic. The opening phrase, which lands on the major and minor second of the respective chords in the repeated progression, reveals the nature of this rendition as an inversion of the original.
‘Caravan’ was initially composed for the dance-floor. The melody’s phrygian sound, with its “oriental” connotations, was meant to exoticize the early 20th century western dance-club, imbuing the space with an aesthetic danger that would excite the Ellington Orchestra’s white audiences.
In The Ego’s arrangement, this structure is inverted. The migrant caravan is no longer a problematic superstructural reference used to excite the European gaze. Instead, the band takes the idea of the caravan seriously, making it the foundational meaning of the song: exploration. The initial phrase of the trumpet solo, the first point at which we hear clear melodic dissonance, is where the concept of sonic exploration is first made explicit.
However, until the solo, each aspect of the arrangement implies its own type of isolated journey. The eighth-note ostinato bass figure and the double time drum groove pursue each-other to no avail. The melody floats, mirage-like, unable to settle into this rhythmically tense background. Only the keyboard and guitar seem to be directed. But, within this gorgeously taut soundscape, they also seem to be searching for a foundation.
All of this is resolved in the solo section, when the band begins to travel as a single unit led by the fearless improvisational explorations of trumpeter, arranger, and bandleader Alonzo Demetrius.
In ‘Caravan,’ The Ego have created a long-form cycle of dissonance and consonance between musical voices, representing the search for a foundation in each other and the exploration of new sonic horizons as a collective.
If you can make it out to see The Ego perform this summer, you should. I have been able to catch two of their sets and each time I was blown away by their ability to push the expressive boundaries of their songs, both originals and covers. Their next gig is on July 10th, 10pm at Wally’s Jazz Club. Also, keep an eye out for their upcoming live record “Live From The Prison Nation,” a tribute to the activist and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Jackson Albert Mann is an activist, writer, and musician from Boston, MA. He is an Adjunct Professor of Music at Bunker Hill Community College and a Teaching Artist at Berklee College of Music’s City Music Program.