Wanda Robinson – 1971 – Black Ivory
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Main review by Perfect Sound Forever
Rip, Research, Posting and additional info’s by Nikos
Jazz poet Wanda Robinson from Baltimore released Black Ivory (named for her backing band) in 1971 on the Perception label. It offers a portrait of the artist as a (righteously) angry young woman about social mores, political injustices, and sexual politics and was produced by jazz composer and pianist Anthony Davis. The 11 cuts that make up Black Ivory are rooted by a chamber jazz group of piano, flute and saxes, bass, and a drum.
A1 The Meeting Place 6:04
A2 John Harvey’s Blues 3:10
A3 Parting Is Such 2:53
A4 Tragedy No. 456 6:12
A5 The Trouble With Dreams 2:24
A6 Grooving 2:27
B1 A Black Oriented Love Poem, The First Time I Saw Loneliness 5:18
B2 The Final Hour 3:16
B3 Celebration, Compromise, Read St. Festival, A Word To The Wise, The Great American Past Time 5:32
B4 Instant Replay 2:49
B5 Good Things Come 3:56
Poet Wanda Robinson’s first experience as a writer was composing letters for neighborhood Baltimore girls whose boyfriends were fighting in Vietnam. She charged 25¢ to talk about love on their behalf. As the ’60s progressed and Robinson entered college, her writing turned more political, although it still focused on male-and-female relationships. Inspired by singer Arthur Prysock’s 1969 LP, This Is My Beloved, a collection of romantic poems by Walter Benton set to music by Mort Garson, Robinson recited her poetry into a tape recorder while playing albums in the background.
Classmates at the Community College of Baltimore were impressed, as were local DJs who played her recordings on the air. Soon, the 20-year-old received a phone call from Perception Records in New York. Perception was known for releasing jazz (Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody were among its stable of artists), while Perception’s sister label Today Records focused on soul, such as the band Black Ivory. While she was in New York, they offered Robinson access to their tape library, suggesting she pick prerecorded tracks. She chose several pieces from the Harlem-based R&B group Black Ivory, hence the name of Robinson’s 1971 debut, Black Ivory. Although the liner notes claim that the poems are taken from Robinson’s book The Daze of Wine…Without Roses, she never got around to publishing it. Her second album for Perception, 1973’s Me and a Friend, was assembled from session outtakes from Black Ivory and released without her input. By that time, Robinson had dropped out of music and was in the process of changing her persona to Laini Mataka.
While others have placed Robinson in the same league as the Last Poets, I’d file her work in the category of mediocre, freshman-year of college love poems, supplemented by extraneous background music. Given the origins of her poetry, that’s exactly what it is! In 1977 she self-published Black Rhythms for Fancy Dancers under the name of Laini Mataka. In subsequent decades, she’s become a respected figure of black consciousness, with works published by Baltimore’s Black Classic Press (who have also reprinted George Jackson’s Blood in My Eye and Bobby Seale’s Seize the Time).