Welcome to the June 2017 African American Music Appreciation Month edition of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

As one might expect, many of this month’s new releases come with a heavy dose of socio-political themes. These include our three featured jazz releases: vocalist Jazzmeia Horn’s debut album A Social Call, Brian McCarthy’s Civil War inspired project The Better Angels of Our Nature which drops a week before Juneteenth, and B3 virtuoso Gregory Lewis’ Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite which pays tribute to Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Aiyana Jones.  Other jazz releases include the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s contemporary project So It Is, Terence Blanchard’s soundtrack album from The Comedian, and the new Wes Montgomery release from Resonance, Smokin’ in Seattle.

Two releases are devoted to African American composers: Zenobia Powell Perry Piano Works performed by Josephine Gandolfi, Deanne Tucker, and LaDoris Hazzard Cordell, and Richard Dowling’s new 3-CD box set The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin, released on the 100th anniversary of Joplin’s death. New R&B/soul releases include the CD/DVD Mavis Staples I’ll Take You There: An All-star Concert Celebration recorded in 2014, Mint Condition member Stokley Williams’ solo debut Introducing Stokley, and a preview of forthcoming reissues from Concord in celebration of Stax Records 60th Anniversary

Our politically conscious rap picks are Joey Badass’ All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ and Oddisee’s The Iceberg, while rock and funk-oriented releases include The New Respects’ Here Comes Trouble, Barbados-born singer-instrumentalist Bobby Saint’s Unholy EP, veteran Garland Jeffreys’ 14 Steps to Harlem, blues-rocker Selwyn Birchwood’s Pick Your Poison, and a compilation devoted to P-Funk’s Fuzzy Haskins I Got My Thang Together: The Westbound Years

Wrapping up this issue is Kenyan-born vocalist Naomi Wachira’s sophomore album Song of Lament; the compilation Zaire74: The African Artists featuring previously unreleased performances from the music festival surrounding the infamous “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match; and our May 2017 Releases of Note.

View review June 2nd, 2017

Better Angels
Title: The Better Angels of Our Nature

Artist: Brian McCarthy Nonet

Label: Truth Revolution Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 13, 2017

 

 

This month sees a new release from Vermont-based saxophonist, composer, and music educator Brian McCarthy that’s scheduled to drop a week before JuneteenthThe Better Angels of Our Nature features McCarthy and his nonet reimagining songs from the Civil War and composing original songs inspired by the conflict.  The project, with its title garnered from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, is both an academic and artistic endeavor. McCarthy explores music from a dark period of American history in an effort to chart new thematic and musical territory. This project was funded in part by a Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant and combines McCarthy’s personal interest in history with his masterful interpretation of both familiar and new music.

A project this ambitious demands an ensemble capable of sensitivity and innovation.  McCarthy, a great saxophonist and composer, is joined by pianist Justin Kauflin, tenor saxophonist Stantawn Kendrick, trombonist Cameron MacManus (three former members of trumpeter Clark Terry’s band), trumpeter Bill Mobley, bari player Andrew Gutauskas, saxophonist Daniel Ian Smith, drummer Zac Harmon, and bassist Matt Aronoff.  These masterful musicians allow the musical and historical themes implicit in these songs to unfold, their playing simultaneously beautiful and challenging.

Setting up musical and thematic tension among these Civil War-associated tunes is key to McCarthy’s approach to this material.  He directly juxtaposes the Confederate anthem “The Bonnie Blue Flag” with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” situates a bluesy attempt to reclaim “Dixie” next to a reading of the spiritual “Oh Freedom.”  Even the original compositions on this album evince a kind of tension—the multi-part title track reads as a character study of Lincoln, contrasting his roles as lawyer, President, and person.

One of the standout features of this album is that there are no standout players. This is a narrative jazz record and each note played by each musician serves McCarthy’s impressionistic reading of the Civil War by exploring its music, an approach that suggests both schism and unity (it is likely no accident, for instance, that some of the Union tunes included on this album were parodied by southerners during the war). It may be too much to try to draw contemporary comparisons to the seemingly intractable divisions in contemporary American social and political life, but McCarthy’s interpretation of seemingly arcane music allows him to deal with some conceptually significant undercurrents in American culture.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review June 2nd, 2017

jazzmeia
Title: A Social Call

Artist: Jazzmeia Horn

Label: Prestige

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 12, 2017

 
 

After winning the Theonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition in 2015, vocalist Jazzmeia Horn certainly validated the name assigned by her prescient jazz-loving, church musician grandmother. On her stunning debut recording, A Social Call, the Texas-born singer likewise demonstrates a maturity that belies her age, steeped in the spirit of her idols Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, and Abbey Lincoln.  Horn’s familiarity with jazz vocalists and techniques of the 1950s and ‘60s is showcased throughout the album, but this is not a stroll through memory lane by any means. She is equally comfortable with R&B and gospel music, bringing plenty of contemporary influences to her unique interpretations of the classics.

The album takes its title from the song penned by Gigi Gryce in the 1950s for Betty Carter. Horn excels in this conversational style, creating an extremely fast and nimble arrangement with a teasing tone that keeps the rhythm section on their toes (Victor Gould on piano, Ben Williams on bass, and Jerome Jennings on drums). But the title also reflects Horn’s concerns about current events: “These are not good times. This album is a few things—it’s a call to social responsibility, to know your role in your community. It’s about being inspired by things that happen in your life and being able to touch others.”*

Delving into the very roots of black music, Horn uses spirituals as a source of inspiration, reflecting faith, resistance, protest, and resilience. One of the album’s highlights is a 13 minute medley that melds Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Afro Blue” with Horn’s original poem “Eye See You” and the traditional spiritual “Wade in the Water.”  Opening with over three minutes of primal vocalizations based on West African sounds, the track gradually shifts in space and place, taking listeners on a journey from the motherland to an all-too-familiar present day soundscape. Over the wailing of sirens and chanting of protestors, Horn’s intense poetry speaks of “blood on the pavement, brothers on the corner shackled and chained, stopped and frisked.” As she transitions into an emotionally charged rendition of “Wade in the Water,” one can’t help but recall Billie Holiday or even Nina Simone, who could turn any song into social protest.

Another montage blends an unembellished version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (aka the African American national anthem) with the classic Bobby Timmons’ song “Moanin” which shows off Horn’s scatting technique, extensive vocal range and command of different styles. The band also gets a workout, with solos by trumpeter Josh Evans and bassist Ben Williams.

The remainder of the album mixes jazz classics such as Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You” and Betty Carter’s “Tight” with jazz-tinged R&B standards. Particular favorites include Horn’s renditions of “Up Above My Head” (Myron Butler’s arrangement) and the Rose Royce Carwash classic “I’m Going Down” that concludes the album.

One fact is obvious from Jazzmeia Horn’s debut album: this woman can sing! A talent like this doesn’t come along very often, and I can’t wait to hear what the future will bring.

*Quote from Concord press release authored by Ashley Kahn.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review June 2nd, 2017

gregorylewis
Title: Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite

Artist: Gregory Lewis

Label: Self released

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 5, 2017

 

A virtuoso on the Hammond B3, Gregory Lewis (aka Organ Monk) wowed the Chamber Music America conference last year when his group performed Thelonious Monk and a few of Lewis’s own chamber jazz compositions in their signature funky, Monk-inspired contrapuntally intricate style. One of those original works, The Breathe Suite, is featured on this newly released album, performed by Lewis with members of his regular quintet: tenor saxophonist Reggie Woods, trumpeter Riley Mullins, guitarist Ron Jackson, and drummer Jeremy “Bean” Clemons. Supplementing this line-up is drummer Nasheet Waits and guitarist Mark Ribot, who replace Clemons and Jackson on the first and third movements.

Four of the five movements of The Breathe Suite are dedicated to an African American killed during confrontations with police officers or vigilantes. With this project Lewis joins the ever growing rank of composers and musicians who write and perform as a personal form of protest: “I can’t protest, because if I protest I go to jail. And if I go to jail I can’t feed my five kids. So what I can do is what I do – I write music . . . Even if it brings joy for just a minute to these families, that’s what I can do.”

The first movement and by far the largest portion of the suite is “Chronicles of Michael Brown.” Clocking in at nearly 19 minutes, the track begins in an instrumental fog of distortion, over which the organ sounds an elegy. As the work progresses, one can’t help but reflect on the events of August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, where Brown’s body lay on the pavement for hours on end. Likewise, the music seems to portray an alternate reality, where straight ahead solos are sharply punctuated at odd moments by organ or guitar, oftentimes shifting between free jazz and funk rock like a collision of cultures. As the movement builds to a climax, it becomes more atonal, gradually fading out on a cymbal roll like a spirit rising up to heaven.

The second movement, “Trayvon,” is of course dedicated to young Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Scored for organ, guitar and drums, this track is more of a fast paced interlude, with Lewis freely riffing on the B3 and Jackson taking a brief guitar solo near the end. The trio continues in similar style on “Aiyana’s Jones Song,” referencing the seven-year-old girl shot and killed in 2010 during a Detroit Police raid. As the movement concludes, the instruments fall into a repetitive pattern, suggesting a never ending cycle.

“Eric Garner” is eulogized in the fourth movement by the full quintet. On this slow, haunting track, Lewis provides sustained chords on the B3 while the other instruments improvise, with special effects creating a discordant soundscape that has us floating through time and space. The suite concludes with “Ausar and the Race Soldiers” (reprised in the 6th track), a more straight ahead movement that still offers ample room for free improvisation and solos.

Gregory Lewis Quintet’s stated mission is “to expand upon the interpretation of jazz and create a catalogue of 21st century American originals.” In this they have surely succeeded, creating a highly original, socially conscious work inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the cycle of violence and deadly oppression which led to its creation.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

View review June 2nd, 2017

Stax

Just in time for Black Music Month, Concord Music Group announces its Stax Records 60th Anniversary celebration.  The year long celebration will include new hits compiliations as well as remastered vinyl offerings and brand new box sets with rare deep cuts from the Stax catalog.  Great tracks from artists like Isaac Hayes, Johnnie Taylor, The Staple Singer, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & The MGs and of course Otis Redding will be revisited during the year.

For those of us who are well steeped in the most popular output of the record label, Stax 60th also promises some surprises: a re-release of the soundtrack to Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song which features music by Earth, Wind & Fire in their pre-That’s The Way Of the World orientation; a box set spanning Isaac Hayes’ catalog from 1962-1976; and a new fourth volume of their acclaimed Complete Stax Singles box sets. This new box set will include lots of music from Stax’s subsidiary labels like Volt, Enterprise, Hip, Chalice and others.  While much of this music is being kept alive and well in Memphis at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Stax Music Academy, it’s a great time to make sure the whole world remembers what made the music from Stax Records so special. We’ll be reviewing these new releases in the near future.

Levon Williams

View review June 2nd, 2017

Mavis
Title: Mavis Staples I’ll Take You There: An All-Star Concert Celebration

Artist: Various

Label: Blackbird Presents

Formats: CD, MP3, DVD

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

 

This exciting release is a star-studded celebration of Mavis Staples, honoring her 75th birthday and the soul music that shaped her career. Presented on both video and audio formats, this concert performance was recorded live at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago on November 19, 2014. Each song features a line-up of special guest musicians performing with Mavis and her All-Star Band directed by Grammy Award-winner Don Was. Accomplished country, soul, and R&B musicians such as the late Gregg Allman, Bonnie Raitt, Keb’ Mo, Emmylou Harris, and Aaron Neville take the stage alongside up-and-coming generations of rock, folk, and soul musicians like Jeff and Spencer Tweedy, Grace Potter, and Glen Hansard.

YouTube Preview Image

The live concert exhibits high energy in every song and is certainly worth viewing for an all-consuming soulful experience. The show opens as Joan Osborne steps out on stage performing “You’re Driving Me (To The Arms of a Stranger)” followed by Keb’ Mo’ on “Heavy Makes You Happy.” A camera occasionally sets its focus off-stage on Mavis Staples’ joyful smile as she sings and dances along with the music.

From Buddy Miller’s “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind On Jesus)” to Taj Mahal’s “Wade In The Water,” each performance adopts Christian themes and engages with gospel influences. Many of the songs featured in this concert, such as Michael McDonald’s “Freedom Highway” and Eric Church’s “Eyes On The Prize,” reflect Mavis’s dedication to the Civil Rights Movement when she sang with the Staple Singers. Aaron Neville’s gentle voice sweetly complements while sharply contrasts Mavis’ unrivaled iconic vocals on “Respect Yourself.”

Between songs on the DVD release, the guest artists share their appreciation for Mavis Staples and her creative contributions to soul and R&B music. Her commitment to quality and giving her best with every performance can be seen in her energy on stage and engagement with the audience, especially on her solo song, “I’ll Take You There.” The full ensemble on “The Weight” combines the spirit of the night in one final and satisfying crowd-pleaser. This explosive collection of renowned musicians sharing the stage to honor Mavis Staples feels like the greatest birthday party you would not want to miss. Luckily, you can catch the concert when it will be aired on the cable network AXS TV on June 4th.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review June 2nd, 2017

PHJB
Title: So It Is

Artist: Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Label: Legacy

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 21, 2017

 

 

Now in its 56th year, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band continues to thrive and regularly record albums. This latest effort is a far cry from the original traditional Dixieland outings, and for that reason it’s likely to resonate with modern audiences.

According to the band’s website, a performing trip to Cuba last year was highly influential toward the writing of this album. Band leader and bass/tuba player Ben Jaffe has integrated Afro-Cuban elements into a New Orleans-style blend of funk and up-tempo jazz. There are still references, here and there, to Dixieland and second-line street jazz, but this version of the PHJB would find a home in the record shelf of a Meters fan as well as his trad-jazz loving elders.

Jaffe’s parents, Allan and Sandra, founded Preservation Hall and organized its first namesake bands, in the early 1960s. Back in the early years, via recordings for Atlantic and then Columbia, the band featured aging but still vibrant local stars and other practitioners of the “original” style of jazz. In more recent times, the band embraced New Orleans’ musical evolution and has collaborated with a wide variety of musicians and producers, moving its sound toward a modern beat-driven jazz style.

It’s worth noting that this album is the second in a row for the PHJB with all original compositions. No more traditional tunes and covers of beloved oldies. The newness of the material is probably a prime reason the band has successfully transitioned to the all-important festival circuit, often paired with rock and pop acts. This is not music to hear while sitting still in a formal concert hall, but rather get-up-and-dance music to power a good outdoor festival mud roll. It’s more party music than contemplation music.

Although all 7 cuts on the album are worth a few careful listens, the featured single “Santiago” is contagiously raucous, and “Convergence” stands out for its funkiness. On the jazzier side of the band’s capabilities are the title track and “One Hundred Fires.” It’s also worth mentioning Walter Harris’s outstanding drum work throughout. The album is beat-driven, and Harris is a very capable driver.

The downside to the party atmosphere is that the music seems wider at the expense of deeper, but the excellent playing mitigates some of the shallowness. This is gut-feeling jazz, more akin to pop music than concert-hall jazz. Alas, like even the best pop music, it has a somewhat plastic soul. Recommend for listening along with friends and fun.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review June 2nd, 2017

Stokley
Title: Introducing Stokley

Artist: Stokley

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 23, 2017

 

 

Introducing Stokley by Stokley Williams is an interesting record, and I mean that in most complimentary way possible.  Williams, well known to R&B fans for the past twenty plus years as the lead singer of the band Mint Condition, steps out on Introducing Stokley to chart his own course. It would have been very easy for Williams to tread the tried and true path of Mint Condition (who are one of the best bands to come out of the 1990s along with Tony! Toni! Toné!), but instead Williams brings forth an offering which is simultaneously approachable and eclectic.

The album’s opener and lead single “Level” finds Williams embracing a modern R&B feel with hip-hop leanings.  The track is rhythmic and bangs with hard 808 drums that compliment Williams’ always excellent singing surprisingly well.

On “Think of U” Stokley’s voice, which sounds somewhat reminiscent of Stevie Wonder, is on full display. Williams has always been a strong vocalist and he doesn’t hold back on his solo debut. “Art In Motion” serves as kind of a bridge between electronic and acoustic music, with an appearance by Robert Glasper on keyboards.  The song’s breakdown is especially interesting as all the elements mix together.

“Victoria” is probably the most “experimental” track on the album, playing into Williams’ flair for drama as a man pleading for a woman’s presence.  The musical backing for the song includes elements of jazz, R&B and African influences, all held together by Stokley’s vocals which he enjoys playing around with throughout the track. “U&I” is a duet with Estelle which works very well as a modern adaptation of the great male/female duos like Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack or Jerry Butler & Thelma Houston.  “Forecast” sees Williams’ incorporating an ever so slight hard rock element as he laments the difficult outlook on a not-so-good relationship.  The album’s closer, “Wheels Up,” is an uplifting (pun intended) track about not letting others rain on your parade.  Williams, who is also a talented percussionist, lends some steel drum to this track.

With Introducing Stokley, the artist achieves the difficult task of engaging fans of his work with Mint Condition while making this solo effort truly his own.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

 

View review June 2nd, 2017

Badass

Title: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$

Artist: Joey Badass

Label: Pro Era/Cinematic Music Group

Release Date: April 7, 2017

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

 

 

All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is the sophomore release from American rapper Joey Badass. The album’s title gives a taste of what Badass offers his fans this time around—political consciousness and controversy—throwbacks to the days of Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, but with a smooth, regulated flow reminiscent of the Golden Era of hip hop. All twelve tracks deal directly with poignant issues of racial discrimination and frustration, yet each does so in its own unique time and style that work to bring together an album that both refuses to remain silent but also courts the silence of social reflection.

The opening track, “Good Morning Amerikkka,” features Badass in a literal morning voice—raspy, edgy and choppy—superimposed over a vocal backgrounding of the refrain “Wake up.” The song functions as an introduction to the rest of the album, challenging its listeners through its hook phrase, “What’s freedom to you? Take a minute, think it through.” The ending showcases the song’s flowing style with a fade-out into the second track, “For My People.” This song is smooth-sounding as well, with a lyrical pleading for superpowers, peace, and modern-day heroes. Like many of the songs on this album, Badass showcases his percussion instruments, putting them front and center and fostering a polished contrast between melodious jazz sounds and jarring political wording. The rap break in the middle of the song may seem hard to interpret, but the complexity adds to its overall design and depth. Following is the official video for the powerful fourth track, “Land of the Free”:

 

“Devastated”—the album’s fifth offering—clearly draws from techo dance roots and combines them with catchy, repetitive lyrics that result in a smooth, rich feeling lasting long after the final tone fades. Cameos are the name of the game on at least five songs, with artists such as J. Cole, Chronixx, Styles P., School Boy Q, Pro Era members Nyck Caution and Kirk Knight, and Meechy Darko (Flatbush ZOMBiES) lending their presence. But by far, the most haunting melody is the track “Temptation,” with its intro and exit dominated by a small child expressing his frustration and desperation regarding racial discrimination and violence.

Badass delivers on his promise to address the tense atmosphere of socio-political issues, and while some might feel his message seems too weighty due to each tune’s complete devotion to current controversies, all can agree on one thing—Joey Badass’s All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is a hip hop album whose lyrics stay with you long after the last track is spun.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

 

View review June 2nd, 2017

Oddisee

Title: The Iceberg

Artist: Oddisee

Label: Mellow Music Group

Format: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2017

 

 

The iceberg meme, “You May Know Me, but You Don’t Know Who I am,” is a worthy companion to Oddisee’s newest offering, The Iceberg. Following up his 2016 release, The Odd Tape, D.C.’s own conscious rapper now offers an album challenging the public to dig deeper into their own soul and the soul of the nation in a quest to comprehend the current political atmosphere of not only the Beltway, but the entire country as a whole. His first song of the album, “Digging Deep”, does just that—a catchy refrain “Let’s Get Into It” echoes activist voices who are making their presence known. The 12 tracks are a combination of conscious rap selections interspersed with lighter yet-still-just-as-poignant relationship analyses, such as “This Girl I Know” and “You Grew Up.” With each song, Oddisee takes us deeper into the hidden corners of the world as he knows it.

Musically, The Iceberg stays primarily true to Oddisee’s standard sound—offbeat syncopation and dominate percussive elements layered over a backdrop of jazz instrumentals that deepen and strengthen the tone. However, a few songs off the album do break novel ground, at least in Oddisee terms. The intro on “Like Really” throws the listener into a smooth, relaxed mood with soft chordal sounds and feel-good vibes not easily found in any Oddisee collection to date. On the other hand, the last track “Rights & Wrongs” has both the opposite mood effect and audio quality, with its funky, synthesized tone and dance-beat styling. Oliver St. Louis, an R&B artist born in DC and currently based in Berlin, Germany, cameos on this offering, and his style adds a fresh sound.

As the title indicates, The Iceberg both freezes Oddisee’s standardized sound with similar tried-but-true political themes while concurrently breaking new tonal ground and giving his listeners a brief glimpse into the personal life of a rapper continuing to deliver, timelessly.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

View review June 2nd, 2017

New Respects
Title: Here Comes Trouble

Artist: The New Respects

Label: Credential

Formats: LP, MP3

Release date: May 5, 2017

 
 

“Fresh.”  That’s the first word that comes to mind when describing The New Respects and their debut EP Here Comes Trouble.  Their sound is crisp and clean, while simultaneously soulful and rock infused.  The group is a family unit from Tennessee with twin sisters Zandy and Alexis Fitzgerald on guitar and bass respectively, brother Darius on drums and cousin Jasmine Mullen (daughter of gospel singer Nicole C. Mullen) on vocals.  On their 5 song EP the band gives a glimpse at what they are all about with a strong showing on the musical front as well as the topics their songs cover.

 

The EP begins with the track “Money,” which serves as an excellent album opener and plays with the impact of wealth.  The band sounds particularly tight here and Mullen’s vocals are quite impressive.  On “Frightening Lightning” the rhythm section really shines, making the rocked out track still sound quite danceable.  “Come As You Are” serves as the EP’s lone ballad and sounds vaguely reminiscent of something you might hear from the Alabama Shakes or The Black Keys.  The theme for the track centers around inclusion in a way that makes a point without seeming overtly political.  “Trouble” wraps up the EP with lyrics that question if the straight and narrow is the right path, “I’ve tried livin life right, don’t know if I wanna do it anymore / ‘cause I’ve lived a pretty good life / but trouble keeps on knocking at my door.”  Mullen’s soulful voice authentically sells this as a thought she is actually pondering, so it is not just a song about youthful angst.

Here Comes Trouble is a fantastic debut from a band I am sure we will be hearing more from in the coming years, which is a very, very good thing.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

 

View review June 2nd, 2017

Bobby Saint
Title: Unholy

Artist: Bobby Saint

Label: Shoot to Kill Music

Format: MP3

Release date: May 19, 2017

 

 

Born in Barbados where he’s still known as Hal Linton, the producer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist relocated to the U.S. over ten years ago and rebranded himself as Bobby Saint. The young artist is finally starting to rise to the top. In addition to collabs with electronic duo Penthouse Penthouse on the hit song “69 Camaro,” he also scored with a guest appearance on the single “Black Bamboo” by With You and provided music for the Lego movie, among other productions.

Saint explains that his new solo release, Unholy,is about freedom, growth, spirituality, views of self, city nights and love. It’s about keeping the fires lit, raising consciousness, while bowing down to the greats: Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye. This is me going forward with only love and the funk in my heart.” The five track EP delivers a broad range of music. “Big Shoes” is a sexy, soulful ballad that showcases Saints powerful vocals and extensive range. The sultriness continues on “Sexy,” which is sure to be a summer of ’17 anthem, while the title track is a ‘60s throwback power guitar trio that will send chills down your spine.

With this short but extremely satisfying EP, Saint leaves us wanting more – much more.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review June 2nd, 2017

Selwyn
Title: Pick Your Poison

Artist: Selwyn Birchwood

Label: Alligator

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: May 19, 2017

 

 

Selwyn Birchwood has revitalized the blues scene in recent years with his lap steel and hard driving six-string guitar. The rising star from Orlando, Florida, where steel guitar is a familiar presence in both sacred and secular music, has drawn many new fans to the blues. Birchwood has also impressed the many legendary musicians with whom he has shared a stage, including Robert Cray and Buddy Guy. After winning the International Blues Challenge in 2013, the Selwyn Birchwood Band has been touring non-stop, impressing audiences worldwide with their high energy performances. Band members include Regi Oliver (baritone, tenor and alto sax and flutes), Huff Wright on bass, and Courtney “Big Love” Girlie on drums and percussion.

Birchwood’s sophomore outing for Alligator Records, Pick Your Poison, offers 13 original songs that draw upon multiple influences. As one might guess from the album’s title, whiskey and women are alternating themes, with a dose of religion thrown in for good measure. The opening track “Trial By Fire” begins with a funky flute solo from Oliver before Birchwood takes over on guitar laced with psychedelic overtones belying his early fascination with Jimi Hendrix. “Even the Saved Need Saving” is a rollicking tune with a gospel style chorus and spiritual message: “Ya got to practice what you preach / Break the habit of hypocrisy / Get back doing faith faithfully / And practice what you preach.” On the introspective “Guilty Pleasures,” the twang of the steel guitar punctuates a laundry list of temptations, while the title track has a light reggae beat but deeper, darker lyrics that dig into the soul and offer no pity as the band builds to a rousing climax. Here’s a live version of the song performed last summer:

YouTube Preview Image

“Heavy Heart” is heavy on the blues rock, with Birchwood tearing up the guitar on an extended solo. The funk returns on “Are Ya Ready?” featuring rhythms and harmonies far more complex than any blues tune you are likely to hear this or any other year. “Reaping Time” is a return to the storytelling blues tradition—a man, a woman, a betrayal and a gun. You can guess the rest, but like all of the songs on this album, the quality of the songwriting and non-traditional approach to the blues really sets it apart.

Birchwood offers two socially conscious songs that comment on contemporary society. The lyrics of “Police State” are mirrored by a harder, angrier guitar picking style that speaks volumes as he sings, “Gotta shake these shackles before it’s too late, or we’ll be trapped in a police state.” The album closes with “Corporate Drone,” with Birchwood espousing non-conformity through his music and the lyrics, “Rather strike it out on my own.” And he does – straight out of the park!

Pick Your Poison is another home run for Selwyn Birchwood. If you don’t think the blues has anything new to offer, this album is guaranteed to change your mind.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review June 2nd, 2017

Garland
Title: 14 Steps to Harlem

Artist: Garland Jeffreys

Label: Luna Park

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 18, 2017

 

 

“I’m a dreamer, and I wanna tell the world about my dreams” sings Garland Jeffreys on his fifteenth album, 14 Steps to Harlem. It’s unfair to say that Garland Jeffreys is enjoying a late career boost, as in a sense he never went away, releasing in every decade since the 1960s while still taking enough of a break to raise a family. Partly crowdfunded and released on his own label, Luna Park, 14 Steps to Harlem is an exceptionally strong outing, connecting with the varied touchstones of style and genre that he employs but never in a way that can be called scattered or diffuse. Here, one finds Jeffreys exploring elements of straight up pop, grungy rock, up-tempo blues, reggae, blue-eyed soul, hip-hop beats – what have you – and any one of these tracks might be shot through with country-styled lap steel, a sound he clearly loves. Jeffreys is not comfortable with genre being the boss, and he likes to live in different musical apartments. However, the overall effect of 14 Steps to Harlem is one of cohesion; the warmth of Jeffreys’ personality and the cogent spark of inspired enthusiasm behind each of these twelve selections is what pull them together.

One space in which Garland Jeffreys lived was in a dorm room at Syracuse University with the young Lou Reed. Reed’s impact and spirit is keenly felt in Jeffreys’ energetic cover of “I’m Waiting for the Man” which he’s been performing for some time; I caught it during a live show he did in Northern Kentucky in November 2014 and it was a mighty intense experience which comes through here. Lou’s vestige also turns up a little in the title track, with its simple progression, laconic narration and the panoramic view taken of its subject, treated with love, not derision. Reed’s widow Laurie Anderson contributes electric violin to the album’s closing track, the classically styled “Luna Park Love Theme.” This is arguably 14 Steps to Harlem’s most touching moment; for most of this disc you cannot tell that this is a singer in his seventies, but Jeffreys sings this one softly and allows the innocence which carries the album up to that point to give way to experience in its last moments.

Garland Jeffreys’ positive messages of peace and friendship are life-affirming and refreshing to hear in a climate and time such as this one we’re all in. Although I was not too sold on “Reggae on Broadway,” which seemed a mildly amusing parody – produced by Dennis Bovell, nonetheless, and therefore fully legit – 14 Steps to Harlem is a delight to behold for even the weariest of ears.

Reviewed by David N. “Uncle Dave” Lewis

View review June 2nd, 2017

Joplin
Title: The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin

Artist: Richard Dowling

Label: Rivermont

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 19, 2017

 

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Scott Joplin’s death (and roughly 150 years since his estimated birth date of 1867), pianist Richard Dowling offers this splendid 3-CD box set containing Joplin’s complete piano works—over 50 waltzes, marches and rags. These include all authenticated Joplin compositions as well as those for which he received an arranging credit. The same cycle of works were performed in their entirety by Dowling in two historic concerts at Carnegie Hall on April 1, 1917, exactly 100 years to the day that Joplin died in New York City.

Now widely considered one of America’s most important composers of the late 19th – early 20th century, Joplin’s first solo piano works were published in 1896. His earliest piano rags, including “Original Rag” and the iconic “Maple Leaf Rag,” were printed three years later. This, of course, was the genre that made Joplin famous and cemented his place in history as “The King of Ragtime,” while ragtime’s distinctly African American syncopated rhythms formed the foundation of jazz.  Joplin’s career reached its peak from 1908-1914, culminating in the completion of his opera Treemonisha and his most innovative ragtime compositions, including “Fig Leaf” (1908), “Wall Street Rag” (1909), “Euphonic Sounds” (1909) and “Magnetic Rag” (1914). Sadly, Joplin died three years later at age 49—without realizing his plans for a symphony, piano concerto, or the staging of his opera—and nearly forgotten since ragtime music had been overtaken by jazz. Even more tragic from an archival perspective, there are no surviving letters or other personal papers.

Richard Dowling has made a career of interpreting the works of American composers, from Louis Gottschalk and George Gershwin to Eubie Blake and Fats Waller. Three of his previous CDs are devoted to ragtime music. As an official Steinway Artist, Dowling’s instrument of choice for The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin was a Hamburg Steinway concert grand. While one might argue this is surely a much finer instrument than any available to Joplin in his lifetime and thus is not a “period instrument,” it certainly speaks to Joplin’s desire for his works to be considered and performed as “higher class music,” and one can’t deny the magnificence of the piano’s tone and the richness of the recording. In all other matters, Dowling states that he followed Joplin’s performance instructions to the letter: “[my rags were] harmonized with the supposition that each note will be played as written…to complete the sense intended.” To that end, he recorded Joplin’s works “without adding embellishments or improvisations as is often done … carefully observing his phrasing, voice leading, placement of rests, use of ties, articulations, and dynamics.”

Dowling approaches each work with incredible sensitivity and scholarly intent. Noting that “Joplin’s piano music sings like that of Chopin,” he definitely strives for this effect. His carefully chosen tempos, magisterial tone color, delicate phrasing, and subtle dynamics bring out the sophistication and beauty of each composition. I particularly enjoyed listening to each of Dowling’s stated favorites, including ““The Crush Collision March” and “Antoinette” (for their drama), “Sugar Cane” and “Sun Flower Slow Drag” (for their sheer virtuosity).”

Dowling and musicologist Bryan S. Wright, who served as co-producer and recording engineer, eschewed the standard chronological programming order in favor of creating a more harmonious musical flow. They succeed brilliantly, and an alphabetical index allows listeners to quickly locate any work among the 54 tracks. Wright also composed the liner notes for the accompanying 72 page booklet, offering tremendous insight with his analysis of each composition, pointing out Joplin’s penchant for striking key changes and innovative modulations. Also included are full color illustrations of the original sheet music covers.

Though there are many recordings of Joplin’s piano works, including the landmark interpretations by Joshua Rifkin who was at the forefront of the Joplin revival in the 1970s, Richard Dowling’s The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin is highly recommended for its superb sound, excellent packaging and, last but certainly not least, his carefully articulated, virtuosic performance.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

 

View review June 2nd, 2017

Zenobia

Title: Piano Works—Zenobia Powell Perry

Artists: Josephine Gandolfi, Deanne Tucker, LaDoris Hazzard Cordell

Label: Cambria

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 12, 2016

 

 

Composer Zenobia Powell Perry’s long lifespan witnessed momentous upheavals in the course of African-American music; when she was born in 1908, Scott Joplin still had nine years to live and when she died at 96 in 2004 Tupac Shakur had already been gone for eight. The music collected on Cambria’s Piano Works: Zenobia Powell Perry mostly belongs to the latter half of her life, from the ‘60s to the ‘90s, and is performed by three pianists: Josephine Gandolfi, Deanne Tucker and LaDoris Hazzard Cordell. Gandolfi and Tucker join forces on a duet arrangement (by Gandolfi) of music from Perry’s 1987 opera Tawawa House that is handily the most appealing and immediate music in the collection. Tawawa House tells the story of a mixed-race resort in Tawawa Springs, Ohio that served as the predecessor to Wilberforce College, the first historically black institution of higher learning in the United States. The dramatic potential of this little known subject, combined with Perry’s interest in the folk idiom of the era around the Civil War, moved her to write some especially exciting and engaging music for it. Perry held a long time composition residency at Central State University, which began within Wilberforce, and while some listeners may feel that Tawawa House smacks of Copland and/or certain William Grant Still pieces like Miss Sally’s Party, it strikes this listener as being in tune with the music of the French neo-classical school exemplified by Les Six, an interest Perry would have shared with Copland.

That’s not to say that the rest isn’t equally captivating, but it’s more of a mixed bag. The seven pieces that open the disc are obviously for use in elementary music teaching and total to no more than eight minutes of the disc’s 54 minute playing time; their impression is rather slight, even the second time around. The more extended pieces outside of the suite are very interesting; Perry shares with Erik Satie a sort of disdain, or at least disinterest, in usual formal development schemes, though her gestures are linked through internal formal and thematic relationships that make clear that these are not transcribed improvisations, even if her choices are sometimes a little baffling, such as in the conclusion of Times Seven.

Perry is strongly attracted to big chords and sometimes her textures are rather thick. In the 1930s, she assisted choral director William Levi Dawson at Tuskegee and her Homage to William Levi Dawson on his 90th Birthday attempts to take the standard accompaniment used at that time for spirituals into a more instrumental direction. Some listeners may find it heavy-handed, but it is a sincere and deeply felt creation, and that summarizes much of what is heard here. Beyond that, Piano Works: Zenobia Powell Perry is a little technically challenged; it has a couple of glitchy edits and is a very quiet recording overall, so be prepared to crank it up.

Reviewed by David N. “Uncle Dave” Lewis

View review June 1st, 2017

Fuzzy
Title: I Got My Thang Together: The Westbound Years

Artist: Fuzzy Haskins

Label: Westbound/Ace

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 7, 2017

 

 

Ace Records has released the compilation I Got My Thang Together: The Westbound Years celebrating the music of one Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins.  Who’s Fuzzy Haskins, you ask?  Well, if you are even a casual fan of Parliament-Funkadelic, chances are you are already familiar with his brand of earthy, heavyweight funk (“Put Up Your Dukes”).  Although amongst most popular culture George Clinton and Bootsy Collins are seen as the brand ambassadors for the P-Funk Mob, there were many, many players who made both bands what they were.  Some of these players were even given their own chance to shine on various side projects that sprung up during the height of their popularity.

After growing up on Parliament (my Dad’s record collection is the core of my own collection), I was still amazed at how much material was out there to be discovered.  During my personal “deep dive” into the Parliament-Funkadelic catalog, I came across A Whole Nother Thang and Radio Active, the aforementioned Fuzzy Haskins albums from 1976 and 1978 respectively.   As with many of the side releases from P-Funk, Haskins is backed by other members of the band including Billy “Bass” Nelson, Tiki Fulwood, Bootsy Collins, Cordell “Boogie” Mosson and Bernie Worrell.  Since the lion’s share of this compilation was pulled from these two albums, it definitely has a very familiar feel.

Haskins’ history with Parliament goes back to its very origins as part of the doo wop group known as “The Parliaments”—the original group that would later birth Funkadelic and Parliament.  Haskins is credited with writing several songs on the early P-Funk records, but by the mid-1970s he was feeling a little disconnected (pun intended) from the Mothership and began stashing songs away for what would become his debut solo album: A Whole Nother Thang on Westbound Records (the label behind the first few Funkadelic releases).  The most famous track from this first outing was “Cookie Jar.”  The song has a great groove and was later covered with great results by P-Funk’s female group, Parlet.  The version included on this compilation is not from the album, but an alternate that’s arguably better based solely off the hilarious conversational intro by Haskins.  Another highlight is “Mr. Junk Man,” a funky lament for those addicted to drugs, and “The Fuz and Da Boog” which features Haskins on drums and Cordell Masson on bass.

This compilation also features tracks from Haskins’ second Westbound release, Radio Active, including the tracks “Sinderella” and “Not Yet,” which feature Haskins basking in his carnal desires.  It is tracks like these that eventually stalled Radio Active from getting a solid push from the label.  By this time Haskins had become disenfranchised with the P-Funk Mob and turned his life over to religion.  Not wanting to sing “nasty” songs he was equally unenthusiastic about the record upon its completion. In the years since, Haskins has reunited with Parliament-Funkadelic on several occasions and was inducted with them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

I Got My Thang Together serves as a great introduction to Fuzzy Haskins’ solo work and fits right in with many of the other great P-Funk side projects.  If you are a hardcore Funkateer, this one’s for you.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

 

 

View review June 1st, 2017

Smokin
Title: Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse

Artist: Wes Montgomery

Label: Resonance

Formats: CD, Limited Edition LP, MP3

Release date: May 19, 2017

 

This is Resonance Records’ fourth CD release of classic performances by Wes Montgomery, clearly making this label one of the major documenters of Wes’s remarkable career. The first three releases capture Wes’s earliest days performing in Indianapolis and as a leader and member of other small groups.  Smokin’ in Seattle captures his final recorded performance with the Wynton Kelley Trio in a club setting in Seattle two years before his early death. Every follower of Wes’s career must own these four releases.

Wes Montgomery’s earliest recorded appearances were captured when he was a member of Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra, including his first broadcasts in 1948 and continuing on studio recordings released by Decca continuing through early 1950. Resonance Records has played a major role in extending Montgomery’s early recorded legacy with its previous releases, In the Beginning (including the separately issued LP titled Live at the Turf Club), Echoes of Indiana Avenue, and One Night in Indy. The former couples an overlooked Montgomery Brothers session for Columbia Records in 1955 with live performances at the Turf Club in Indianapolis captured in August 1956. The second adds other live recordings from clubs in Indianapolis in 1957-1958, while the latter adds a performance before members of the Indianapolis Jazz Club in 1959.  Wes lived in Indianapolis and was known to local jazz fans, explaining the location of most of these recordings.

Wes’s national reputation began to develop when Pacific Jazz and World Pacific released recordings by the Montgomery Brothers in 1957 through 1959; however, Wes’s career skyrocketed with his move to Riverside Records in October 1959 following the release of his third and classic album for that label, The Incredible Jazz Guitar in January 1960. Almost immediately, guitarists began to flock to clubs to observe Wes and to study his unique style of playing in octaves.  Resonance Records’ third Montgomery CD, One Night in Indy, dates from just months before the start of Wes’s Riverside recordings. All of these Resonance CDs were previously reviewed in Black Grooves.

Wes moved to Verve Records in 1964, capitalizing on his growing fame, and toured Europe in 1965 where a number of bootleg recordings capture his performances on television and in various concert and club settings with small groups. Verve captured his first recording with the Wynton Kelly Trio in an exciting performance in June 1965 at the Half Note; however, Verve increasingly focused on Wes performing as featured soloist with large jazz orchestras and emphasizing more ‘popular’ songs to broaden the sales of his releases. This ultimately led to the final phase of Wes’s career, when he moved to Herb Alpert’s A&M Records.  While these became ‘pop’ recordings, Wes never lost the unique elements of his style.

The latest release from Resonance is Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse, which again features Wes with the Wynton Kelly Trio, is taken from a live FM radio broadcast during a club engagement in Seattle on April 14 and 21, 1966. This places the recording six months after the Montgomery-Kelly Verve release. Other recordings of this notable pairing have appeared, featuring them in 1965; however, Resonance captures their final recorded encounter.  The CD, while clear and well-recorded, is not quite up to the standard of top studio quality sound in capturing the sound of Wes’s guitar; however, the overall quality of the performances more than compensate for this slight imperfection. The musicians complement one another throughout, and Wes performs with gusto. Truly, with this release, Resonance Records has made another notable contribution to the jazz legacy of Wes Montgomery. Jazz fans throughout the world should celebrate.

The CD features the Wynton Kelley Trio (Wynton Kelly on piano, Ron McClure on bass, and Jimmy Cobb, drums) on four of the performances, adding Wes as the featured artist on six others. Unfortunately two of those six are faded out due to union-imposed restrictions on the length of live broadcasts from clubs. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy.

Wes and Wynton had recorded together several times, beginning with a Riverside session led by vibraphonist Milt Jackson in 1961.  Among the included songs, Wes had previously recorded “Jingles” during the Riverside session with Jackson and “What’s New” and “If You Could See Me Now” with the Wynton Kelly Trio released in their album on Verve. “West Coast Blues,” Wes’s original composition, was a staple in his repertoire, including its first appearance on The Incredible Jazz Guitar.

It is important to point out that the Jobim tune listed on the disc is identified as “O Morro Nao Tem Vez,” while to my ear it is actually “O Amor em Paz (Once I Loved).”  This is but a small distraction and in no way detracts from the care taking to assemble a wonderful release that includes interviews with several musicians and others with connections to the production and original session.

Contents (* features Montgomery on guitar): There Is No Greater Love (7:56) — Not a Tear (6:29) — *Jingles (4:31) — *What’s New (4:51) — *Blues in F (2:44) — Sir John (8:10) — If You Could See Me Now (5:54) — *West Coast Blues (3:56) — *O Morro Não Tem Vez (6:15)  (see note in above paragraph) — *Oleo (2:08).

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad

Author of Born to Play: The Ruby Braff Discography and Directory of Performances

View review June 1st, 2017

Zaire 74

Title: Zaire ’74 – The African Artists

Artist: Various

Label: Wrasse

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: May 26, 2017

 

In conjunction with the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” fight, trumpeter Hugh Masekela and concert promoter Steward Levine planned a 3-day music festival in Kinshasa, the capitol of what was then Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Held in the country’s largest sports stadium, the event included performances by James Brown, Bill Withers, the Crusaders, the Fania All-Stars with Celia Cruz and Ray Barretto, and other American stars. Also featured were the top stars of Zaire and folk singer Miriam Makeba, who hailed from Masekela’s home country of South Africa.

When the fight was delayed due to Foreman suffering a training injury, the music festival became a stand-alone event, three weeks removed from the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Both the fight and the musical performances of the American artists were previously well known, in part via the excellent documentaries. The Oscar-winning When We Were Kings documented the fight and Soul Power captured the American musical performances with some brief African musical segments, plus the behind-the-scenes story of staging the festival. Now, finally, the complete performances of the African artists have been released.

According to Masekela’s liner notes, even though all of the music performances were well recorded with modern equipment, event promoter Don King tied legal knots around releasing it. Given King’s history of, to put it charitably, non-traditional business dealings, Masekela’s version of events seems credible. In any case, most of the performances on this 2-CD set haven’t been available until now, 43 years after the event.

Miriam Makeba was already world-famous in 1974, and she put on a superb performance in Zaire. Like the other artists, she prepared a “Praise Song” for the country’s ruler, Mobutu Sese Seko. This was probably part tribute to the man who had led Zaire to independence from Belgian colonization, and partly insurance for safe passage in a country ruled with an iron fist by Mobutu.

Although all of the artists featured in the album offer something worthwhile, two bands stand out. Tabu Ley Rochereau and Afrisa present a guitar and horn-driven funk style that would be at home in the Nigeria of 1974, or opening up for James Brown. Franco and T.P.O.K. Jazz was already popular in Zaire, and they put on a flawless and fast-paced performance. In the interest of full disclosure, almost all lyrics are sung in non-English languages. The horn runs, complex beats and funky song structures are at home in any language.

This album makes a great companion to the two excellent documentaries, all mementos of a long-ago Big Event.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review June 1st, 2017

Naomi Wachira
Title: Song of Lament

Artist: Naomi Wachira

Label: Doreli Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

Between civil wars, natural disasters, environmental crisis, and refugees fighting for their lives across the globe, it is easy to feel surrounded by despair and violence. Seattle-based, Kenya-born artist Naomi Wachira certainly feels this way. On her sophomore release Song of Lament, she sings out looking for a connection by means of our mutual destruction: “I am the only one who thinks we’re gonna go up in flames?” (“Up In Flames”). Wachira, who grew up singing in gospel choirs, tries to reconcile faith and hope with insurmountable suffering on Song of Lament, which comes out June 2 on Doreli Music.

Wachira says that she was inspired to write Song of Lament when she read about 700 men, women, and children who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach a better life: “I felt so helpless watching people die needlessly, and I wanted to do something that would bring to light these issues.” The Afro-folk singer songwriter weaves empathy and a common thread of humanity through all the despair, whether questioning how people can use god to justify violence (“Where Is God?”) or urging those who feel life crashing in on them to continue fighting (“Run, Run, Run”).

Backed by acoustic guitar and bare bones percussion, for the most part Wachira’s effortless voice is in control here. A few songs have more involved instrumentation, such as “Beautifully Human,” which has an upbeat reggae beat as Wachira calls for seeing all life as sacred, tired of questions about who deserves to live:

“Don’t make me prove why I should be, why I belong, why I deserve to be here.”

“Up in Flames” also employs horns and drumset that add to the urgency and power of Wachira’s voice and desperation to find any spark of hope: “Where is kindness? Where is love?”

Though most of the tracks deal uniquely with global pain and suffering, Wachira still sees reason to seek light in the darkness. The opening and closing tracks, “Our Days Are Numbered” and “Think Twice,” are songs that beg for hope, as Wachira calls for a renewed responsibility to be kind, respect others, and show love before hate. As she says on her website, “while the sun does not discriminate between the good and the bad, fulfillment is found when we spend our days practicing kindness and wisdom.” In the end, Song of Lament is a cautionary message: evil will triumph over good if we let ourselves grow numb to the pain and suffering. Wachira wants the listener to turn into the despair instead of away from it, saying only through shared empathy will people find the energy to take action.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review June 1st, 2017

TerenceBlanchard_TheComedian
Title: The Comedian (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Artist: Terence Blanchard

Label: Blue Note

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 7, 2017

 

Terence Blanchard is a name you are probably familiar with, even if you’re not a jazz person.  Apart of the scene for quite some time, Blanchard replaced his fellow New Orleans mate, Wynton Marsalis, in Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. Before Blakey, Blanchard made his bones with the great Lionel Hampton.  Now, if you are still in the dark and the name just don’t ring a chime, Blanchard is perhaps best known for his collaborations with filmmaker Spike Lee. Together, they have become quite a tandem, with Blanchard scoring many of Lee’s films including Summer of Sam, Clockers, Miracle at St. Anna, Mo Better Blues, When The Levee Breaks, Jungle Fever, X and Chi-Raq. Blanchard has also worked with other filmmakers, including Kasi Lemmon. With over forty film scores to his credit he’s one of the most productive jazz musicians ever.

Most recently, Blanchard composed the score for the 2016 motion picture The Comedian, starring Robert De Niro. On the original soundtrack album, the multi Grammy winning composer gives his audience eight tracks of hard bop featuring Kenny Barron on piano, David Pulphus on bass, Carl Allen on drums, Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax and Khari Allen on alto sax.

The album starts off with “Jackie in the Rain,” which could be mistaken for the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Yes, it has a very identical sound, but hip and catchy. Maybe it’s Kenny Barron on piano that makes it sound like a scene from Charlie Brown. Please don’t be offended

All the tracks have cool titles. “Electricity On MacDougal” features bass playing at very rapid speed by David Pulphus, but Blanchard stays with him, note for note. Almost as if he was toying with him. Yes! “Tit For Tat Nocturne” is mellow 10pm cocktail jazz. Again Kenny Barron on piano shines bright. The band members all get their shine on The Comedian.  After all, that’s what jazz is all about.

Terence Blanchard’s score for The Comedian is nothing to laugh at. It better be taken serious, by a serious trumpet player in the game.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman   

 

View review June 1st, 2017

Following are additional albums released during May 2017—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
Harrison Kennedy: Who U Tellin’? (Electro-Fi)
Lindsay Alexander: Two Cats (Delmark)
Tony Jackson: S/T (DDS Ent.)
Various: Rough Guide to Jug Band Blues (World Music Network)
Various: American Epic: The Collection (Box Set) (Legacy)

Comedy, Spoken Word
Clayton English: All the Same (Comedy Dynamics)
Flip Wilson: Cowboys & Colored People (Wounded Bird)
Flip Wilson: You Devil You   (Wounded Bird)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Bobby Saint: Unholy EP (Shoot To Kill Music)
Chastity Brown: Silhouette of Sirens (Red House)
Mtume: Prime Time: The Epic Anthology (SoulMusic)
The New Respects: Here Comes Trouble (Credential)
Ziggy Funk: Boxer’s Fracture (BBE)

Gospel, Contemporary Christian
Alice Coltrane: World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop)
Ben Tankard:  Full Tank 3: Cantankerous (Ben-Jammin Universal)
Como Mamas: Move Upstairs (Daptone)
Jermaine Dolly: Dolly Express (By Any Means Necessary)
LaVarnga Hubbard: Better Is Coming (eOne)
Mandisa: Out of the Dark (Sparrow/Capitol)
Sherwin Gardner: Greater (Tyscot)

Jazz
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones: UFO Tofu (Warner Bros.)
Camille Thurman: Inside the Moment (Chesky )
Charnett Moffett: Music From Our Soul (Motéma Music)
Christian Sands: Live From Jazz at the Bistro (Mack Avenue)
Eclectik Percussions Orchestra & Olive Lake: Traces De Vie (Passin’ Thru)
Heliocentrics:  A World of Masks (Soundway)
Jaco Pastorius: Truth, Liberty & Soul – Live in NYC (Resonance)
Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die (International Anthem)
Julian Vaughn: Bona Fide (Trippin’ & Rhythm)
Lionel Loueke: The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke   (Earshift)
Louis Hayes: Serenade For Horace (Blue Note)
Matthew Shipp, Mat Walerian, William Parker: This Is Beautiful Because We Are
Beautiful People (ESP Disk)
Naturally 7: Both Sides Now (Warner)
Oliver Lake & Joseph Bowie: Live At “A Space” 1976 (Sackville)
Patti LaBelle: Bel Hommage (GPE)
Pieces of a Dream: Just Funkin’ Around (Shanachie)
Richard Dowling: Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin (3CD set) (Rivermont)
Sean Jones: Live from Jazz at the Bistro (Mack Avenue)
Skinny Hightower: Emotions (Trippin & Rhythm)
Teodross Avery: Post Modern Trap Music (Katalyst Ent.)
Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (OST) (Sam Records/Saga)
Theo Hill: Promethean (Posi-Tone)
Various: Jazz Ladies 1924-1962 (Naxos)
Various: Savory Collection Vol. 3, Honeysuckle Rose: Fats Waller and Friends
(National Jazz Museum in Harlem )
William Appling: Scott Joplin: The Complete Rags, Waltzes & Marches (W.A.S.O.)
Ragan Whiteside: Treblemaker (Randis Music)

R&B, Soul
Albert King: Stax Classics (Stax/Concord)
Bob Holmes: Nashville Soul   (Ace/Kent)
Booker T. & The MG’s: Stax Classics (Stax/Concord)
Carla Thomas: Stax Classics  (Stax/Concord)
Clarence Daniels Orchestra: Hard Workin: West Coast Big Band R&B Grooves (Ace/Kent)
Darien Dean: Departures (My Mouth Music)
Dramatics: Stax Classics (Stax/Concord)
Don Bryant: Don’t Give Up on Love (Fat Possum)
Eric Roberson: Earth (Blue Erro Soul)
Freddie North: What Are You Doing To Me – Complete A-Bet Recordings (Kent)
Goapele: Dreamseeker EP (Skyblaze)
Isaac Hayes: Stax Classics (Stax/Concord)
Jeanette Jones: Dreams All Come True (Playback)
Johnnie Taylor: Stax Classics  (Stax/Concord)
LeToya Luckett: Back 2 Life (eOne)
Maysa: Love is a Battlefield (Shanachie)
Otis Redding: Stax Classics (Stax/Concord)
Ruth B: Safe Haven (Columbia)
Sam & Dave: Stax Classics (Stax/Concord)
Staple Singers: Stax Classics  (Stax/Concord)
Various: Shrine – Rarest Soul Label Vol. 2 (Kent)
Various: The Big Beat: Dave Bartholomew Songbook (Ace/Kent)
Various: Dreamgirls (Original London Cast Recording) (Sony Classical)
Various: Virtue Recording Studio (Tramp)
Various: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song OST (Stax/Concord)
William Bell: Stax Classics (Stax/Concord)

Rap
Azizi Gibson: Memoirs of the Reaper (Prehistoric)
B.O.B.: Ether (Empire)
Big L: The Big Picture (reissue) (RPG)
Brother Ali: All the Beauty in This Whole Life (Rhymesayers)
Buddy & Kaytranada: Ocean & Montana EP (Cool Lil Company)
Daylyt & Willie B: Let There B Lyt (Champions Only 98)
David Banner: The God Box (Banner Vision)
Dr. Octagon: Dr. Octagonecologyst (Vinyl box reissue) (Get On Down)
Endemic Emerald & Skanks The Rap Martyr: Rapsploitation (No Cure)
Faith Evans and the Notorious B.I.G.: The King & I (Rhino)
Gucci Mane: Droptopwop (Atlantic)
Insight The Truncator: Ears Hear Spears (Redefinition)
Jus-P: Supafriendz 2 (Chambermusik)
K.A.A.N. & Klaus Layer: Abstractions (Redefinition)
Kid Ink: 7 Series (RCA)
Lil Darrion: Blame the Streets (Black Market)
Lil Yachty: Teenage Emotions (Quality Control Music)
Logic:  Everybody (Def Jam)
Molecules & Showbiz: A Bronx Tale (Legion)
Montana of 300: Don’t Doubt the God (eOne)
Nef the Pharaoh: The Chang Project  (Sick Wid It)
Philthy Rich: Loyalty B4 Royalty 4 (Black Market)
Quelle Chris: Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often (Mello Music)
Snoop Dogg: Neva Left (Empire)
Stik Figa: Central Standard Time (Mello Music)
The Underachievers: Renaissance (RPM Music)

Reggae, Dancehall
Cornell Campbell: Ropin’ (Radiation Roots)
King Tubby: Shalom Dub (Radiation Roots)
Morgan Heritage: Avrakedabra  (CTBC)
Techniques & Friends: Winston Riley’s Rock Steady & Early Reggae 1968-1969 (Dubstore)

World, Latin
Erik Aliana & Pickett: Just My Soul   (Buda Musique)
Kanazoe Orkestra: Miriya (Buda Musique)
Mulatu Astatke: Mulatu of Ethiopia (Strut)
Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya (No Format!)
Quantic/Nidia Gongora: Curao (Tru Thoughts)
Timbila & Chartwell Dutiro :  Sadza With the Head of A Mouse (Lion Songs)
Various: Afro Rap: L’Album  (Wagram Music)
Various: Putumayo Presents Cuba! Cuba! (Putumayo)

View review June 1st, 2017

Older Posts


Calendar

June 2017
M T W T F S S
« May    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Posts by Month

Posts by Category

Blogroll

  • Bold As Love
  • Fake Shore Drive
  • Journal of Gospel Music
  • School Craft Wax