Welcome to the March 2019 Issue

Welcome to the March 2019 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting new releases from female artists across multiple genres and countries.

Two notable debut projects include mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson’s first solo release, Crooked Stick: Songs in a Strange Land, featuring acoustic arrangements of Negro spirituals, and Songs of Our Native Daughters from folk music supergroup Our Native Daughters.

Jazz releases this month include Catherine Russell’s Alone Together; the late Betty Carter’s The Music Never Stops featuring a previously unreleased live recording; UK saxophonist Camilla George’s The People Could Fly; Alicia Olatuja’s Songs from the Minds of Women; Vanessa Rubin’s exploration of the Tadd Dameron songbook on The Dream Is You;  Ulysses Owens Jr.’s Songs of Freedom celebrating Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, and Joni Mitchell; the 12-piece UK collective Nubiyan Twist’s Jungle Run; and Jeanne Lee & Ran Blake’s The Newest Sound You Never Heard featuring previously unreleased recordings from the 1960s.

Also featured is Damien Sneed’s We Shall Overcome—a multi-genre celebration of the 35th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; rising gospel star Casey J’s The Gathering; funk and soul diva Chaka Khan’s Hello Happiness; South African rapper Yugen Blakrok’s Anima Mysterium; Afro-Swedish singer Beldina’s Black & Blond; and reggae musician Rocky Dawuni’s Beats of Zion. Wrapping up this issue is our list of February 2019 Black Music Releases of Note.

Marietta Simpson – Crooked Stick: Songs in a Strange Land

 

Title: Crooked Stick: Songs in a Strange Land
Artist: Marietta Simpson
Label: Art Salad Productions/Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release: February 12, 2019

 

Indiana University professors Tyron Cooper and mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson have produced a fresh take on the Negro spiritual, the earliest form of Black religious music created by enslaved Black folk during the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States. Crooked Stick: Songs in a Strange, an11-track concept CD produced by Cooper, marks Simpson’s first solo project. The title “Crooked Stick” is derived from the expression to “hit a straight lick with a crooked stick,” which is the act of accomplishing a major feat using meager resources. This adage parallels the plight of African people who were, as Simpson states in her liner notes, “ripped from their native land, sold, beaten, plucked from families, and often treated worse than animals.” Despite such dire circumstances, these captives created new sacred songs, which also housed “clever strategies and hidden messages for survival… The Negro spiritual is therefore a tangible representation of what it means to ‘hit a straight lick with a crooked stick.’ That is, slaves transformed the misery of their daily plantation life (i.e. crooked stick) into something beautiful and creative that would sustain the songs and souls of Black folk for generations to come (i.e. straight lick).” Continue reading

Our Native Daughters – Songs of Our Native Daughters

 

Title: Songs of Our Native Daughters
Artist: Our Native Daughters
Label: Smithsonian Folkways
Formats: CD, Digital
Release: February 22, 2019

 

“It is only in his music…that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story. It is a story which otherwise has yet to be told and which no American is prepared to hear.” James Baldwin wrote these words in his 1955 collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son. These are the words that inspired the title for the collaborative project between four African American female folk musicians. Coming together under the name Our Native Daughters, Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell have combined their unique talents, distinct voices, and shared mission to shed light on the oft unknown influence of African Americans on Americana music to produce the much anticipated album, Songs of Our Native Daughters. Continue reading

Catherine Russell – Alone Together

 

Title: Alone Together
Artist:  Catherine Russell
Label: Dot Time Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 1, 2019

 

Born and raised in New York City, Catherine Russell comes from an impressive musical lineage. Her father, Louis Russell, worked as band member and music director for the great Louis Armstrong, and her mother, Carline Ray, was a pioneering bassist/guitarist/vocalist and holder of advanced degrees from Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music. With a family like that there is no surprise that Catherine Russell is able to perform with such a level of mastery and expertise. Now, with her seventh studio album, Alone Together, Russell reinvigorates the classic feeling of a vocal jazz album. Continue reading

Betty Carter – The Music Never Stops

 

Title: The Music Never Stops
Artist: Betty Carter
Label: Blue Engine/Jazz at Lincoln Center
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 29, 2019

 

The Music Never Stops is the never-before-released live recording of the late, and great, Betty Carter’s 1992 performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Known for her awe-inspiring scat improvisation and creative lyricism, Carter has without a doubt been one of the most influential jazz singers in American history. Her career spanned several decades, and in the past she collaborated with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Ray Charles, among many other prominent figures. Continue reading

Camilla George – The People Could Fly

 

Title: The People Could Fly
Artist: Camilla George
Label: Ubuntu Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: December 7, 2018

 

Nigerian born jazz saxophonist and composer Camilla George, who is based in the UK, released her debut jazz album, Isang, in 2017. Just one year later she follows up with her sophomore project, The People Could Fly. Drawing its inspiration and title from a book of African folktales, the album weaves these narratives with blues, jazz, 6/8 rhythms, and funk in a way that is both brilliant and imaginative. According to George, “my mother used to read these stories as a child and I have always been fascinated by them and really wanted to explore them further.” Continue reading

Ulysses Owens Jr. – Songs of Freedom

 

Title: Songs of Freedom
Artist: Ulysses Owens Jr.
Label: Resilience Music Alliance
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 15th 2019

 

Ulysses Owens is one of the most sought after jazz drummers around today, having worked alongside living legends such as Wynton Marsalis, Maceo Parker, Kurt Elling and Christian McBride, with whom he won his first Grammy Award. On top of his outstanding work as a side man, Owens is also making great strides as a band leader, with two studio albums, as well as positive influences in the jazz community through his work as an educator. Now, with the release of his third album, Songs of Freedom, Owens provides his commentary on the American political climate through the songbooks of three female icons of the turbulent 1960s: Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, and Joni Mitchell. Continue reading

Alicia Olatuja – Intuition: Songs From The Minds of Women

 

Title: Intuition: Songs From The Minds of Women
Artist: Alicia Olatuja
Label: Resilience Music Alliance
Formats: CD, Digital
Release: February 22, 2019

 

The newest release from acclaimed vocalist, composer, and arranger Alicia Olatuja celebrates noted female composers in a collection of reinterpretations entitled Intuition: Songs from the Minds of Women. Olatuja, who showcased her vocal talent for millions during the second inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama, picked songs for Intuition that encompass a wide variety of themes, genres, and perspectives in an effort to celebrate the diversity of women’s musical expression. Continue reading

The Dream Is You: Vanessa Rubin Sings Tadd Dameron

 

Title: The Dream Is You: Vanessa Rubin Sings Tadd Dameron
Artist: Vanessa Rubin
Label: Nibur
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 22, 2019

 

Cleveland native Vanessa Rubin is a self-described jazz vocalist who “enjoys timeless melodies and exquisite vocal forms as well as embracing stories lesser told.” On her new album, The Dream Is You: Vanessa Rubin Sings Tadd Dameron, her mission is to highlight well known, obscure, and new lyrical works of composer/arranger/pianist Tadd Dameron. A fellow Clevelander, Tadd Dameron (1917-1965) was an influential arranger/composer and pianist during the bop era of the 1940s and ‘50s, writing charts for the likes of Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, and Sarah Vaughan. For the past 25 years, Rubin has included Dameron’s songs in her repertoire, and now presents the first all-vocal recording of his music. Continue reading

Damien Sneed – We Shall Overcome

 

Title: We Shall Overcome
Artist: Damien Sneed
Label: LeChateau Earl
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 18, 2019

 

Conceived as a celebration of the 35th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Damien Sneed’s We Shall Overcome is an album steeped in the African American experience. In honoring Dr. King, Sneed chose to follow in the footsteps of artists that “have used their platform to proclaim songs of protest and reconciliation in response to the main issues in our homes, schools, government, nation and the world abroad.” The multi-talented pianist, vocalist, composer and arranger effortlessly crosses genres, delivering a cohesive 18-track collection that pays homage to civil rights anthems, Negro spirituals, classical composers, and iconic jazz, soul, and gospel musicians. This should come as no surprise from one who has worked with artists ranging from Jessye Norman and Lawrence Brownlee to The Clark Sisters, Richard Smallwood, Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis, and Stevie Wonder, to name just a few. Continue reading

Jeanne Lee with Ran Blake – The Newest Sound You Never Heard

 

Title: The Newest Sound You Never Heard
Artist: Jeanne Lee with Ran Blake
Label: A-Side (dist. CD Baby)
Formats: 2-CD set, Digital
Release date: January 25, 2019

 

In 1962, African American singer Jeanne Lee (1939-2000) and pianist Ran Blake set the jazz world on its ear with their landmark debut album, The Newest Sound Around. The duo’s unorthodox interpretations were a result of their wide-ranging influences including film noir, the avant-garde, free jazz, blues, spirituals, gospel, and more. The two continued to collaborate throughout much of the ‘60s, including European tours in 1966 and 1967.  During one of those tours, Lee met German jazz musician Gunter Hampel, whom she later married.  From that point forward, most of Lee’s work was based overseas, hence she is not as well-known in the U.S. as she should be. That may well change with the release of The Newest Sound You Never Heard, compiled from recordings captured during the 1966 and 1967 European tours by Belgian radio and television station VRT. The previously unreleased tracks on this two-disc set nearly double the amount of available recordings from this unique duo. Continue reading

Nubiyan Twist – Jungle Run

 

Title: Jungle Run
Artist: Nubiyan Twist
Label: Strut Records
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: February 15, 2019

 

The 12-piece collective Nubiyan Twist, named after frontwoman Nubiya Brandon, just released their newest studio album, Jungle Run. Formed in 2015 at Leeds College of Music and influenced by the diverse music scene in Leeds, Nubiyan Twist and their unique sound can only be described as versatile, fluid, and all-around captivating. Continue reading

Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness

 

Title: Hello Happiness
Artist: Chaka Khan
Label: Island
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 15, 2019

 

Chaka Khan’s new album, Hello Happiness, is a short, seven-track release that is somewhat of a departure from her previous work. Many listeners will associate Khan with her classic hits such as “I’m Every Woman,” which would lead them to expect a strong vocal showing. However, one might find this newest release more barren of Khan’s vocal prowess than anticipated. But before a decision is made to not give this album a chance, understand that the lessened presence of Khan is more attributed to a difference in production than a diminishing of her abilities. Chaka Khan’s powerful voice is used to complement contemporary production practices that are at times ambient in nature. Continue reading

Casey J – The Gathering

 

Title: The Gathering
Artist: Casey J
Label: Tyscot/Integrity Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 25, 2019

 

Casey J’s music goes beyond the four walls of the church into the mainstream for all to hear and experience the power of Christ through music. Her new album, The Gathering, recorded live in Nashville, is a mixture of gospel, contemporary Christian, country and pop music with broad appeal, which led to a debut at number 11 on the Billboard Top Christian & Gospel Albums Sales chart.  The album’s first single, “If God,” is based on Romans 8:31—“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” —then segues into her rendition of the hymn, “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus.” Continue reading

Yugen Blakrok – Anima Mysterium

 

Title: Anima Mysterium
Artist: Yugen Blakrok
Label: I.O.T.
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 1, 2019

 

South Africa’s Yugen Blakrok, with her smoky voice and mesmerizing lyricism, is a fresh force to be reckoned with in the hip hop stratosphere. With the release of her debut album she captured the attention of Top Dawg Entertainment, who succinctly wove her uniqueness into “Opps” on the Black Panther soundtrack alongside Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar. With her sophomore album Anima Mysterium, Blakrok continues to deliver mind-blowing rhymes infused with fortitude and finesse—a literal mix of sci-fi soundscapes and meditative melodies. Continue reading

Beldina – Black & Blond

 

Title: Black & Blond
Artist: Beldina
Label: Self-released
Formats: Digital
Release date: February 8, 2019

 

Born in Stockholm with ancestral ties to Kenya, Scandinavian R&B artist Beldina Malaika pays homage to her heritage through her autobiographical album title, Black & Blond. An aspiring artist from an early age, Beldina was accepted to one of Sweden’s most prestigious performing arts schools at age 10. Soon after, she was releasing her own music and performing with some of Sweden’s top acts in the country’s most iconic venues. Her work with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams and Childish Gambino further enhanced her legendary status, and with the release of her newest EP, Beldina is emerging as a free, independent artist. Continue reading

Rocky Dawuni- Beats of Zion

 

Title: Beats of Zion
Artist: Rocky Dawuni
Label: Six Degrees Distribution
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 8, 2019

 

Named one of CNN’s Top 10 Global Stars from Africa and a GRAMMY nominee for “Best Reggae Album” in 2016, Ghanaian artist Rocky Dawuni is the real deal. Rocky is more than a musician, however; his eloquence and passion for activism have led to his designation as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Africa and a global spokesperson on various causes. It is the experiences he gained while traveling as an ambassador that have helped shape his highly anticipated seventh studio album, Beats of Zion. Continue reading