Anthony Joseph can halt your breath with intonation alone. The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives is a work of historical interrogation that is as searing as it is sentimental, in which Joseph details his own struggles along with the tribulations of poets who came before him. These remembrances are the forceful evidence in his call for change, and they are also the material he is made of. It’s a wildly tricky proposition, but throughout the album Joseph attempts to summon spirits of the diaspora to make his case for a novel way of remaking society, if not creating a new society altogether.
This might seem like a mighty, almost impossible task; regardless, this is one of the most cohesive, forward-looking jazz albums in recent memory. Backed up by old hands and newer players, Joseph recites poetry with verve, pushing himself and the band to relay both crushing oppression and real hope for change.
Nowhere is this clearer than on the second track, “Calling England Home.” Over a sinuous groove, Joseph recounts different stories of immigrants who arrived in England at different times. Each person, he says, had a difficult relationship with the idea that England was their home. The haunting instrumentation reflects this ambivalence: Unison horns begin to drift apart once Joseph begins to speak, while the rhythm section maintains forward momentum, merging stories that are unified in their sense of isolation.
Joseph manipulates his voice as he tells his tales, proffering quiet statements of fact (“Black and been here since 1949”), muttered musings (“I’ve lived here longer than home”), and shouted questions (“How long do you have to live in a place/Before you can call it ‘home’?”). As a means of representing the violence of the diaspora, the physicality of their approach is revelatory.