Telergy - Black Swallow

Telergy – Black Swallow

Some stories are important to be told; some hideaway, some never see the light of day and history is written by the victors. We miss albums that both delight and provide interesting revelations. Black Swallow is one, telling the tale of First World War hero Eugene Jacques Bullard, born in 1895 in Georgia, USA; a runaway at 12, firstly living in Scotland, before moving to France where, when the First World War started, he signed up for the French Foreign Legion. Injured in combat he left the infantry and joined the fledgling French Air Force, where he became a distinguished flying ace. He married a French woman, had two daughters and, when the Great War was over, he opened a nightclub, Le Grand Duc in Paris, where he played the drums in the club jazz band. After the Second World War he moved back to the United States, eventually ending up as a lift attendant in New York. What’s remarkable about this is he’s black and his story remains relatively untold, save in the book The Black Swallow of Death (based on his nickname, ‘L’Hirondelle Noire De La Mort’).

Eugene Bullard

Eugene Bullard

There is more to it than the synopsis above, more in the sleeve notes, and I’m sure much more if you wish to research. I like this album very much, it does has that frequent thing where multiple artists perform with just a little excess fat to allow each their showpiece. A solo too long, with perhaps too much technical style, when less would have been more. But it’s good. I queried the metal use when representing Black Civil Rights, but then why not? The anger is justified. There is a line used in reference to the war, about whoever the casualty was, the blood was always red. Put simply, but forever a truism, the words that decorated his fighter plane – ‘All Blood is Red’.

Georgia reflects the roots of our protagonist and you do wonder where the journey will go. Our start point is where Eugene witnesses the attempted lynching of his father by the Ku Klux Klan. How anyone dressed in bed linen can claim superiority is beyond me. Eugene runs away, to sea, to Scotland in search of a better life, as a jockey, a minstrel and a prize fighting boxer.

It’s a nice bluesy intro, guitar and harmonica, turning metal progressive with our first sign of the large number of contributors. I’m not quite sure of the shredding necessity, but all in all, it’s a dramatic start, balanced by some very nice organ and keyboard playing. Ooh, I likes a nice bit of blues, preceding the vocals at around the 8-minute mark, it really didn’t feel that long, and I think I detect the dulcet tones of the McBroom girls, Durga and Lorelei; it’s a great start.

A brief narration and then Chased, Pt 1 with an orchestral intro, film-like with a sense of pace that gives the aura of a chase. Then the next narrative from France and the beginning of War. They have been very clever in the construction of the music, infantry creating again a good sense of place, with some great drumming. You do get a feel for the field of combat. The Wakeman flourishes on keyboard are here too, but it’s Oliver, not Rick, though I believe Dad would be proud. The tracks are a combination of instrumental and vocal, though some just have exceptionally long introductions.

Take to the Sky soars, quite bombastic, with lots of soloing and a cast of thousands, and I suppose that more is good. Presence is inevitable, there are some great passages, and unlike, say, Ayreon, my ears have not required a time out.

Marcelle is a gentle piece, piano with a jazz tinge, symbolic of his love for Eugene’s aristocratic French wife, and the jazz club he opened in Paris, his two daughters and a generally settled period of his life. Le Grand Duc is very American jazz, this is an album of the unexpected, and I find it, overall, entertaining. Much of this piece centres around the drumming, and an excellent interpretation of the style it is too.

But in Eugene’s rich life, nothing lasts. World War Two arrives, and nightclub owner M. Eugene Bullard becomes a spy, gathering information for the Resistance from the Nazi officers frequenting his club. Given their dislike of “inferior” races, I was surprised that he remained in Paris. Spy is more instrumental with nice solos from a varying, more rock variety of instruments, becoming more rock as it concludes.

All Blood Runs Red represents that second conflict, a darker piece of music, posing the question, ‘Why does it have to be this way?’ A question I frequently ask. This track has Cookie Monster vocals, followed by choral singing, more guitar solos, and shredding. Contextually, I’m not sure about it, but it seems to reflect the anger.

Chased, Part II gives you a sense of the anger in the civil rights movement of the late ’40s and ’50s, back in New York City where Eugene works as a lift attendant. This strikes as a poor end for such a rich human being, where in his homeland he cannot receive the respect he deserved. Honor closes with his burial in 1961, after succumbing to stomach cancer. He was buried with full French military honours, at Flushing, Queens, New York.

I’m surprised his tale is so little known, although an attempt was made to film his story in 2014, but I cannot recall a finished film appearing. Perhaps this album goes a small way to addressing that omission, and it is a worthy listen. All profits from its purchase go to charity.

01. Georgia (12:27)
02. Scene 1 (1:32)*
03. Chased, Pt. 1 (2:53)
04. Scene 2 (0:59)*
05. Infantry (9:24)
06. Scene 3 (0:35)*
07. Take to the Sky (10:14)
08. Scene 4 (0:43)*
09. Marcelle (3:13)
10. Scene 5 (0:36)*
11. Le Grand Duc (4:12)
12. Scene 6 (0:52)*
13. Spy (6:14)
14. Scene 7 (1:01)*
15. All Blood Runs Red (7:39)
16. Scene 8 (0:51)*
17. Chased, Pt. 2 (3:03)
18. Scene 9 (0:48)*
19. Honor (3:43)

[* spoken word narrative scenes]

Total Time – 70:59

Robert McClung – Guitar, Bass, Violin, Viola, Mandolin, Piano, Organ, Keyboards, Flute, Percussion, Vocals
Narrative & Vocals:
Bryan Hicks – William Bullard
Pete Peterson – Eugene Bullard
Champ Hollins – Young Eugene
Rev. Robert Thompson – Eulogy Preacher, Church Goer
Nadine Thompson – Church Goer
Emmanuel De Saint Méen – Nightclub MC
Jordan Hall – Attacker 1
Tim Clarck – Attacker 2
Durga McBroom – Marie-Madeleine Fourcade
Lorelei McBroom – Gospel Vocals
Lara Smiles – Gospel Vocals
Emily Lynn – Gospel Vocals
Stephanie Slabon – Soprano Vocals
Dustin Brayley – Tenor, Baritone & Bass Vocals, Radio Newscaster
Martyna Halas-Yates – Hardcore Vocals
Chris Bonito – Drums
Todd Sucherman – Drums
Tony Levin – Upright Bass
Michael Manring – Fretless Bass
Steve Di Giorgio – Fretless Bass
Tony Dickinson – Bass
Mike LePond – Bass
Pete Trewavas – Bass
Dave Meros – Bass
Caith Threefires – Bass
Charles Cormier – Slide Guitar
Vernon Reid – Guitar
Phil Keaggy – Guitar
Gary Wehrkamp – Guitar
Timo Somers – Guitar
Stephan Lill – Guitar
Andy LaRocque – Guitar
Jimi Bell – Guitar
Jeff Rapsis – Piano
Rachel Flowers – Piano
Jeremy Heussi – Keyboards, Organ
Vikram Shankar – Keyboards
Basil Bunelik – Accordion
Troy Donockley – Uilleann Pipes
Magic Dick – Harmonica
Tina Guo – Cello
Adam Nunes – Cello
Tim Nunes – Violin
David Ragsdale – Violin
Mattan Klein – Flute
John Cardin – Trumpet
Mitchel Bailey – Trombone
Gus Sebring – French Horn
Tracy Crane – French Horn
Chip Brindamour – Tuba
Edie Brindamour – Euphonium
Katrina Veno – Clarinet
Thomas Gimbel – Tenor Saxophone
Nils Crusberg – Tenor & Alto Saxophones
Bryan Campbell – Baritone Saxophone

Record Label: Independent
Catalogue#: CD20
Date of Release: 29th July 2020 (Digital) | 31st August 2020 (CD)

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