Bruits Cover v8

“We Cannot Continue This Way:” Imani Winds’ BRUITS Calls for Change

Amidst the social and political turmoil that has erupted in the United States over the past year, many artists have sought to create projects that not only speak to this chasm, but reveal the underlying history that laid the groundwork for such a boiling point. Grammy-nominated wind quintet, Imani Winds, does all of this and more in their newest album, BRUITS. Out February 5, 2021 on Bright Shiny Things, the project examines these issues from both historical and contemporary perspectives through three world premieres by composers Vijay Iyer, Reena Esmail, and Frederic Rzewski. The album’s title comes from the medical term “bruit,” meaning “a sound, especially an abnormal one, heard through a stethoscope; a murmur.” Applying this term to the political and racial landscapes of the country, the group writes: “We are bruited. Our passages are raw, blocked. And we cannot continue this way.”

The album begins with the titular piece, Bruits, a five-movement work by composer Vijay Iyer that features the quintet along with pianist Cory Smythe. Setting the tone for the album, Bruits offers commentary on the intersection of race and the United States’ justice system by contextualizing the 2012 murder of Black teenager Trayvon Martin and the devastating trial that ensued. The title refers to the ways in which justice was blocked—in this case, particularly in reference to the “Stand Your Ground” law as it pertained to the murder trial. The tension this trial caused is mirrored by the ensemble’s incorporation of spoken text, rhythmic and dynamic complexity, and finesse of percussive extended techniques. In addition to these components, Smythe plays an invaluable role in expanding the timbral range of the ensemble’s already motley sound. 

Imani Winds--Photo by Shervin Lainez

Imani Winds–Photo by Shervin Lainez

The first movement, “gulf,” uses textural variation to reflect the larger social context in which the country was operating prior to Martin’s murder: the continuous fast paced notes of the winds mimicking the country plowing forward, with its dark history looming beneath the surface like the piano, only to gradually increase until it can no longer be ignored. The second movement, “force,” focuses on the “Stand Your Ground” law. The majority of this movement is spoken text, which draws the listener’s attention to the content of the words and urges one to listen intently to the text while the ensemble provides a rhythmic foundation. The piece later features the words of Lucy McBath, a Georgia congresswoman and gun control activist whose son, Jordan Davis, was killed at a gas station just 10 months after the murder of Trayvon Martin. McBath’s words explicitly apply the issue of race to the conversation of how laws are enforced when Black people are involved—a concern that, as we heard in the first movement, has existed beneath the surface of everyday life for many. 

Reena Esmail’s The Light is the Same introduces the concept of recognizing our similarities despite cultural difference through the use of two Hindustani raags—melodic frameworks that form a basis for improvisation in Indian classical music. These raags—Vachaspati (dark and brooding) and Yaman (light and innocent)—are very similar in pitch, but differ greatly when played. Although they are distinguishable from each other, their similarities allow them to ebb and flow while being in constant conversation throughout the piece, and even line up at times.

Imani Winds--Photo by Shervin Lainez

Imani Winds–Photo by Shervin Lainez

The final piece, Frederic Rzewski’s Sometimes, focuses on the words of historian Dr. John Hope Franklin, who studied the Reconstruction period of American history—a period of time post-slavery in which African Americans began integrating into society as free people. The work opens with the melody of the Negro spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” while narrator John Whittington Franklin issues a call for a new American Revolution that would go further than the first revolution, which failed to do Black people justice. The foundation of the piece being a Negro spiritual holds extreme significance, as it utilizes a commonly overlooked yet fundamental aspect of American music. Moving forward, however, the spiritual is fragmented, transformed into a theme and variations that is passed around the ensemble, and juxtaposed with Langston Hughes’ poem “God to the Hungry Child,” sung by soprano Janai Brugger. Hughes’ poetry underscores the fundamental truth that America was not built for the marginalized, while Hope Franklin’s words offers a reimagined vision of the country moving forward.

The varied perspectives of BRUITS bring together past and present, realism and optimism, and create a tapestry of viewpoints that tell the stories of those who are most marginalized by America’s social and political frameworks. These stories are told with impeccable artistry and versatility from Imani Winds and their featured guests, and the result is an album that will challenge, educate, and empower all who listen.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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