Will Liverman and Paul Sánchez celebrate Black composers and writers on a collaborative album | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Will Liverman and Paul Sánchez celebrate Black composers and writers on a collaborative album

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While listening to Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers, the most recent release by operatic baritone Will Liverman with pianist and recital partner Paul Sánchez, I realized with a start that time had ground to a halt. But when? Had the clock stopped with H. Leslie Adams’s churning 1992 composition “Amazing Grace”? Was it when Liverman first slipped into his silken falsetto in Damien Sneed’s 2017 song “I Dream a World”? Or when Sánchez laid down the searingly injunctive piano chords of Robert Lee Owens’s 1969 piece “Genius Child”? I do not know, and it does not matter. Dreams of a New Day, which highlights the work of Black composers and writers across several generations, ensconces you in its sonic amber, and you’ll welcome the paralysis. Some of these songs are widely performed; all are criminally undervalued. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the album's imprint (Edgewater-based Cedille Records) and Liverman's local connections (he's a Wheaton College grad), works by Chicago composers form the beating heart of Dreams. Mid-20th-century composer Margaret Bonds indelibly sets three Langston Hughes poems in 1959’s Dream Portraits; Liverman imbues “I, Too”—Hughes’s sardonic response to Walt Whitman’s “I Sing America”—with righteous disdain, and his interpretations of “Minstrel Man” and “Dream Variation” are tender, wrenching, and plainly unforgettable. Liverman tapped Wheaton College professor Shawn Okpebholo, who’s also Chicago Opera Theater’s incoming Vanguard Emerging Opera Composer, to write Two Black Churches (2020), a diptych commemorating the victims of white supremacist violence at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 and Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in 2015. Sánchez, a Charleston native, plays Okpebholo’s haunting harmonies with the brittleness and angularity of broken glass. Liverman’s full-chested tone carries plaintive texts by pioneering poet–publisher Dudley Randall and contemporary writer and graphic designer Marcus Amaker (named South Carolina poet laureate in 2016) above the shards and straight to the soul. Dreams of a New Day is both timeless and all too timely.   v

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