A Rite for All Souls
Almost 50 years ago, on Halloween night in 1971, the Mark Harvey Group played at the Old West Church in Boston. The concert, in keeping with the day and the place, was called A Rite for All Souls. Band member Peter Bloom dubbed performances like Rite “aural theatre,” and they were an adventurous addition to the local arts scene.
This surprising—and timely—music is now available through Americas Musicworks (AM CD 1596; for reviews, go here and here). It’s good to have this document of the MHG’s early work available. Stalwarts of the local jazz scene, Harvey and Bloom are heard here at the beginning of their 50-year musical collaboration.
A gathering storm of time, place and people led to the creation of A Rite for All Souls. Start with the time, or more appropriately, the times. In October 1971, there was work to do in the city of Boston. Local grassroots activists organized around issues involving equal rights and the corrosive effects of urban renewal. They forced an unwilling city to confront the impact of racial inequality in employment, housing and public education. Rent control was a hot-button issue, and citizen action had finally shut down the land-grabbing Inner Belt and Southwest Expressway projects. But there was much more to do.
A Rite for All Souls came to life at the Old West Church, on Cambridge Street, on the edge of what remained of the West End, that once-bustling neighborhood leveled by urban renewal. Old West’s pastor, Reverend Bill Alberts, had worked steadily for six years to establish a center of community engagement. And did he ever!
Old West’s activities were many and varied. They ran programs for homeless teens, street people, community groups, kids needing tutors, seniors needing lunch. Alberts organized anti-war protests (he was once jailed for eight days for it), and marched for civil rights and prison reform. And he started an ambitious arts program, and among its residents were the Hub Theater Center, and the Mark Harvey jazz ensemble.
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