Welcome to the June 2019 Issue

Welcome to the June 2019 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.  This month we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of African American Music Appreciation Month, originally designated Black Music Month by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. In our efforts to preserve and promote the legacy of Black music, we’re featuring new releases across multiple genres by artists both new and iconic.

Jazz releases include the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival’s 50th anniversary 5-CD set, Jazz Fest, Wynton Marsalis’s Bolden: Music from the Original Soundtrack, the latest Wes Montgomery compilation Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings from Resonance Records, trumpeter Theo Croker’s Star People Nation, jazz harpist Brandee Younger’s Soul Awakening, the Marcus Shelby Orchestra’s Transitions featuring the new suite “Black Ball: The Negro Leagues and the Blues,” saxophonist Elan Trotman’s Marvin Gaye tribute Dear Marvin, and Sam Newsome’s Chaos Theory: Song Cycles for Prepared Sax.

New releases from iconic artists include Mavis Staples’ We Get By, The Last Poets’ Transcending Toxic Times, and Dionne Warwick’s She’s Back. Other R&B/soul releases include Jamila Woods’ Legacy! Legacy! highlighting legendary Black artists, Rahsaan Patterson’s Heroes & Gods, and the 50th anniversary reissue of Stax Records’ Soul Explosion.

Also celebrating a 50th anniversary is the Gospel Music Workshop of America Detroit Chapter’s Bringing It Back Home. Other featured releases include Winged Creatures and Other Works for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra performed by the talented brothers Anthony McGill and Demarre McGill, young blues prodigy Christone “Kingfish” Ingram’s debut Kingfish, Keb Mo’s Americana blues album Oklahoma, and L.A. rapper Choosey’s collab with producer Exile on Black Beans. Wrapping up this issue is our list of May 2019 Black Music Releases of Note.

Various Artists – Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

 

Title: Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Artist: Various
Label: Smithsonian Folkways
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: May 10, 2019

 

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival’s new box set, Jazz Fest, is a grand 50th anniversary celebration. Curated by Jazz Fest and Smithsonian Folkways, this compilation includes 50 tracks culled from live performances—one song for each year of the festival’s existence—as well as announcements intermixed throughout the collection. The set features prominent New Orleans artists like Allen Toussaint, Kermit Ruffins, Irma Thomas, Professor Longhair, Trombone Shorty, Dr. John, Stanley Joseph Dural Jr. (a.k.a Buckwheat Zydeco), The Zion Harmonizers, Big Freedia, and The Neville Brothers, and many others, all while exploring the Fair Grounds as a space where music genres such as traditional New Orleans jazz, blues, zydeco, Cajun, and bounce music converge to create a unique and rich experience. Continue reading

Mavis Staples – We Get By

 

Title: We Get By
Artist: Mavis Staples
Label: ANTI
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 24, 2019

 

Living legend and vocal powerhouse Mavis Staples’ twelfth studio album, We Get By, features eleven tracks written and produced by Ben Harper. Harper was able to capture the voice and the spirit of Staples by creating pieces that speak to who she is now and has always been—an advocate for change and for humanity. Continue reading

Jamila Woods – Legacy! Legacy!

 

Title: Legacy! Legacy!
Artist: Jamila Woods
Label: Jagjaguwar
Formats: CD, LP, Cassette, Digital
Release date: May 10, 2019

 

Chicago native and Brown University graduate Jamila Woods has released yet another impactful album that both celebrates Black culture and humanity. Legacy! Legacy! “highlights legendary artists of color, spanning disciplines, genres, and decades—[including] Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Frida Kahlo, Eartha Kitt, Miles Davis, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.” Woods honors each of these artist as ancestors, giving praise to them for being examples of how to unapologetically navigate life as a person of color. She also uses their lives and works as a way to discuss black life with an emphasis on Black feminism, Black identity, Black relationships, Black Rage, self-love and other sociopolitical issues found in Black communities. Continue reading

Wynton Marsalis – Bolden: Music from the Original Soundtrack

 

Title: Bolden: Music from the Original Soundtrack
Artist: Wynton Marsalis
Label: Blue Engine
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: April 19, 2019

 

The name Charles “Buddy” Bolden should be a familiar one for many jazz fans and aficionados. Bolden, a New Orleans cornet player, is “ranked among the most influential yet obscure figures in the pantheon of American music,” according to jazz clarinetist and historian Dr. Michael White. Known for developing a style of music that blended Black sacred and secular musical aesthetics (melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic ideas), European dance music, marching-band, and Caribbean folk styles, Bolden laid the foundation and was a progenitor for what we refer to today as jazz music. Although none of his recordings or compositions are extant, we have an understanding of what the cultural and musical environment was like during that period. Continue reading

Wes Montgomery – Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings

 

Title: Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings
Artist: Wes Montgomery
Label: Resonance
Formats: 2-CD set, Limited Ed. LP, Digital
Release date: April 26, 2019

 

Resonance Records has made yet another miraculous discovery, extending its documentation of legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery’s early career and sharing the results with us.  I had the great pleasure of contributing reviews of this company’s two earlier releases that set the stage for the wonderful performances captured on this new release, One Night in Indy and In the Beginning.  For those readers with ties to Indiana, it is worth noting that this release was prepared with assistance of a number of notable artists and scholars, among them David Baker, Duncan Schiedt, Jamey Aebersold, Royce Campbell, and John Edward Hasse.  They, along with others, attempted to identify the musicians who accompanied Wes.  Some possibilities are also identified  in the photographs included in the comprehensive notes that accompany this release. Visible there are Larry Ridley, Melvin Rhyne, David Baker, David Young, Pookie Johnson, Buddy and Monk Montgomery, Carroll DeCamp, and Hal Grant.  But despite their collective wisdom, specific personnel cannot be conclusively linked to each recorded performance. But no matter, the results are consistently musical, reflecting creativity at the highest possible level.  Sound quality proves the considerable care taken in preparing these invaluable recordings. Both the solos and collective interplay among the musicians are clearly captured, bringing the listener right into the spirit of each performance. Continue reading

Theo Croker – Star People Nation

 

Title: Star People Nation
Artist: Theo Croker
Label: Sony Masterworks
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: May 17, 2019

 

Jazz trumpeter Theo Croker continues the success of his two most recent releases—Afro Physicist (2014) and Escape Velocity (2016)—with his ambitious new project, Star People Nation.  The genre-defying album is Croker’s personal exploration of “the everyday rituals of blackness,” fusing elements of African percussion, American jazz, Caribbean reggae and more to reflect the plurality of his identity and Afrodiasporic experiences. As the title suggests, Star People Nation draws upon legends of extraterrestrials that came to Earth, encapsulated in a poem by Justin Emeka (from the liner notes): “Somewhere there’s a star child, gazing in the sky/On the verge of madness, but not really knowing why/They are reaching for a dream, that was poisoned with a lie/They are searching for a song, that might teach them how to fly/Play the songs of a star nation.” Perhaps this is a continuation of Croker’s fascination with Afrofuturists, but whatever the case may be, he never flags in his quest to expand our musical horizons. Continue reading

The Last Poets – Transcending Toxic Times

 

Title: Transcending Toxic Times
Artist: The Last Poets
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: May 10, 2019

 

The Last Poets are at it again with their latest album, Transcending Toxic Times. Released just a year after their 50th anniversary album, Understand What Black Is (2018), and a few months after Understanding What Dub Is (2019), this funk oriented album is fused with elements of jazz, R&B, rock and percussive rhythmic grooves. As with previous efforts, there are also socio-cultural messages that comment on the conditions of African American lived experiences. The album brings together the original members—Baba Donn Babatunde, Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassanall—along with producer and bass guitarist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, for what is likely the “definitive Last Poets album.” Continue reading

Demarre & Anthony McGill – Winged Creatures

 

Title: Winged Creatures and Other Works for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra
Artist: Demarre McGill, Anthony McGill
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 10, 2019

 

This is not the first time brothers Demarre and Anthony McGill have recorded together on the Chicago-based Cedille label—an earlier album, Portraits (2017), with pianist Michael McHale showcased works for flute, clarinet, and piano trio. In their new release, the McGill brothers emphasize their orchestral roots with four works for flute, clarinet, and orchestra. The album features two world premiere recordings: African American composer Michael Abels’ titular Winged Creatures and Joel Puckett’s Concerto Duo, each commissioned by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO) for the McGill brothers. Both Demarre and Anthony are principal performers with some of the top orchestras in the country (Demarre as principal flutist with the Seattle Symphony and Anthony as principal clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic) and their musicianship is clear throughout this recording. Both performers have a beautiful fluidity to their tones and incredibly precise technique—they are masterfully in synch in terms of timbre, intonation, and timing. They are also wonderfully supported by the CYSO led by Music Director Allen Tinkham; it is easy to forget that the orchestral musicians are not professionals themselves. Continue reading

Choosey & Exile – Black Beans

 

Title: Black Beans
Artist: Choosey & Exile
Label: Dirty Science
Release date: March 29, 2019
Formats: CD, LP, Digital

 

Four years after his debut album Left Field, LA rapper Choosey makes his long-awaited return with Black Beans, his collaboration with producer Exile. Delving into his lineage as both a San Diegoan and an Afro-Chicano, the tracks pay homage to both the successes and challenges of his particular positionality, capturing the beautiful struggle while navigating life’s potholes throughout sunny Southern California. Continue reading

Keb’ Mo’ – Oklahoma

 

Title: Oklahoma
Artist: Keb’ Mo’
Label: Concord
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: June 14, 2019

 

Blues musician Keb’ Mo’ has often incorporated elements of other genres in his music and his new release, Oklahoma, is a stellar example. Featuring artists ranging from Rosanne Cash and Jaci Velasquez to Robert Randolph and Taj Mahal (his collaborator on the 2017 release TajMo), Keb’ renders ten tracks of blues-infused Americana. The artist, who is celebrating twenty-five years in the music business, recently revealed the connections between his current frame of mind and the societal issues that fueled his songwriting: “When you are in a certain part of your life, the concept of an album is woven into the process. All of these songs stemmed from important issues and topics worldwide that really resonated with me during the time we were recording the project.” These topics include depression and waning love—the backbone of the blues—as well as contemporary concerns such as immigration and environmental degradation. Continue reading

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – Kingfish

 

Title: Kingfish
Artist: Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
Label: Alligator Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 17, 2019

 

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram has been making waves in the blues community and beyond with his natural musical talent, soulful vocals, and compelling songwriting. The 20-year-old guitarist has the passion of a young performer as well as a commitment to the Delta blues tradition, established just outside his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi. Ingram’s debut album, Kingfish, is a collection of tracks that, while inspired by the work of blues legends like Buddy Guy, are unique to the young performer. The album’s songs range from autobiographical (“Been Here Before”) to humorous (“Trouble”) and slow and searing (“Love Ain’t My Favorite Thing”). Continue reading

Rahsaan Patterson – Heroes & Gods

 

Title: Heroes & Gods
Artist: Rahsaan Patterson
Label: Shanachie
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 17, 2019

 

Since releasing his self-titled album in 1997, singer/songwriter Rahsaan Patterson has been a steady presence on the R&B scene, exuding more than enough talent, charisma, and vocal prowess to gain legions of fans. On his new release, Heroes & Gods, Patterson offers 13 songs ranging from old-school R&B to uptempo dance tracks tinged with jazz and rock. The album’s first single, “Sent From Heaven,” is a throwback featuring lush orchestrations, sexy vocals and a jazzy horn interlude. Relationship songs, another important aspect of classic R&B, include “Catch Me When I Fall,” the slow ballad “Sweet Memories,” and a cover of Luther Vandross’s “Don’t You Know That.” The remainder of the album reflects Patterson’s love of house and electronic dance music, including the midtempo funk groove “Silly, Love, Fool,” the seductive party jam “Rock and Roll” featuring Trina Broussard and LaTonya Williams, the pulsing title track with drum programming by Jamey Jaz, and “Wide Awake,” which morphs between classic R&B and hip hop. Continue reading

Brandee Younger – Soul Awakening

 

Title: Soul Awakening
Artist: Brandee Younger
Label: Self Released
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 7, 2019

 

Jazz harpist Brandee Younger’s latest album, Soul Awakening, has finally been released nearly seven years after its inception. The album’s eight tracks were recorded in 2012 by the Brandee Younger Quartet under the direction of bassist Dezron Douglas. Showcasing the ensemble’s aptitude for improvisation, spiritual jazz, and experimental music, the tracks include everything from Marvin Gaye’s “Save the Children” (featuring Niia) to album producer Dezron Douglas’s “Soulris,” reflecting the Brandee Younger Quartet’s passion for social justice and creative freedom. This album will also satisfy longtime Brandee Younger fans with covers of Dorothy Ashby’s “Games” and Alice Coltrane’s “Blue Nile,” two popular staples of Younger’s live performances. The remaining tracks are all originals by Younger, including “Respected Destroyer” (featuring Sean Jones on trumpet) and “Linda Lee,” a tribute to her mother. Continue reading

Marcus Shelby Orchestra – Transitions

 

Title: Transitions
Artist: Marcus Shelby Orchestra
Label: MSO
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 7, 2019

 

As we officially enter summertime and peak baseball season, jazz bassist Marcus Shelby offers an irresistible combination in his new album, Transitions. The centerpiece is Shelby’s original suite, “Black Ball: The Negro Leagues and the Blues,” inspired by his research for a similarly-themed theatrical project last September. Each movement reflects prominent Negro League teams and the music associated with their hometowns. “Transition 1 (Pittsburgh)” celebrates both the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays with a hard swinging tune featuring Rafa Pastel on trumpet. “Transition 2 (New York)” has a hip urban vibe punctuated by frenetic transitions and tenor sax solos by Patrick Wolff, while the tight and steady groove of “Barnstormin’ (Chicago)” morphs into the slow, bluesy drawl of a South Side speakeasy. Concluding with “Black Ball Swing,” Shelby pays tribute to the Kansas City Monarchs, “the most respected team of all-time in the Negro Leagues,” which of course warrants a large dose of the hard bop pioneered by KC native Charlie Parker. Other notable tracks on the album include Duke Ellington’s “On a Turquoise Cloud” performed by violinist Mads Tollings and five newly arranged tunes from the Cole Porter, George Shearing, and Ellington songbooks featuring vocalist Tiffany Austin. Continue reading

Elan Trotman – Dear Marvin

 

Title: Dear Marvin
Artist: Elan Trotman
Label: Woodward Avenue
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 2, 2019

 

Released in April in celebration of Marvin Gaye’s 80th birthday, Dear Marvin is jazz saxophonist Elan Trotman’s tribute to the legendary soul singer. Reimagining ten tracks from Gaye’s catalogue, this predominantly instrumental album includes a variety of guest artists who compliment Trotman’s smooth sax solos. Opening with “Inner City Blues,” Trotman is assisted by guitarist Sherrod Brown, who holds down the rhythm section throughout the album along with Keithen Foster and Kyle Miles alternating on bass, Mitch Henry on keyboards, and Atticus Cole on percussion. The lead single, “Got to Give it Up,” retains the funky flavor of Gaye’s original version, while Ray Green covers the vocals on “Mercy Mercy Me.” Trumpet player Patches Stewart is featured on “Distant Lover,” with Jeff Lorber taking over the keys on “Trouble Man” and Najee adding a flute solo to “After the Dance.” Ushered in on a bed of sensuous strings and snappy horns, “I Want You” receives an update courtesy of a brief appearance by rapper Obadele Thompson, and trombonist Jeff Bradshaw alternates funky solos with Trotman on the satisfying closing track, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Continue reading

Sam Newsome – Chaos Theory

 

Title: Chaos Theory: Song Cycles for Prepared Saxophone
Artist: Sam Newsome
Label: New Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 3, 2019

 

Saxophonist and composer Sam Newsome is perhaps best known for pushing the envelope of his instrument, expanding the sound palette through a wide range of avant-garde techniques. His arsenal includes everything from electronic manipulation to multi-phonics and micro-tones to sound effects produced by percussive slap tonguing—all spliced into a multi-layered concoction that defies categorization. On Chaos Theory, Newsome goes one step further by augmenting his soprano sax with plastic tubes between the neck and mouthpiece, extending the range by two or more octaves. The album’s 15 tracks are representative of Newsome’s “improvisatory art music in which jazz functions more as a resource than a musical genre.” Many of the track titles portend what is to come, such as the Middle Eastern overtones of “Tel Aviv,” the increasingly frenetic sounds of “Marching Towards Insanity,” and mechanical drone underlying “Boiler Room Aesthetics.” Throughout, there are also tracks that fall within the more typical parameters of jazz, such as “Solo No. 1 (Naked Truth).” Chaos Theory should appeal to anyone interested in experimental music, especially those with a desire to tinker with instruments. Continue reading

GMWA Detroit Chapter – Bringing It Back Home

 

Title: Bringing It Back Home
Artist: Gospel Music Workshop of America Detroit Chapter
Label: G.M.W.A. Detroit Chapter
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 1, 2018

 

In 1967, Rev. James Cleveland founded the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA) and organized the first national convention the following year at Detroit’s King Solomon Baptist Church. One of the most notable events of that convention was the formation of a 250 member mass choir that marched in singing “We Are on Our Way” by Eugene Dukes of Philadelphia, PA. Now, fifty years later, the GMWA Detroit Chapter celebrates this anniversary with the album, Bringing It Back Home. Recorded live at Second Ebenezer Church with Bishop Greg Davis serving as emcee, the album’s 12 tracks showcase the development of the mass choir movement, from uptempo contemporary worship songs such as “Bless the Lord” and “All is Well” featuring Theresa Moss, to more traditional choral works including  “O King” and “Kept By the Grace of God” featuring Charles Thompson. Representing one of the best mass choirs in the country, the Detroit Chapter blends the secular sounds of the Motor City with the sacred on this fantastic project. A must have for any fan of gospel music! Continue reading

Dionne Warwick – She’s Back

 

Title: She’s Back
Artist: Dionne Warwick
Label: eOne
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 7, 2019

 

The great Dionne Warwick has had one of the longest careers in the music industry and at 78-years-old she is far from finished. Warwick returns to her roots on her latest album, She’s Back, produced by her son, Damon Elliott. Though she is still perfectly capable of carrying a song, the tracks that really soar pair Warwick with other artists, and she has chosen some of the best. Highlights include the ballads “Am I Dreaming” featuring Musiq Soulchild, whose dulcet tones blend well with Warwick’s throatier voice, and “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” with After 7’s Kevon Edmonds, which is nothing short of a life-affirming statement of purpose. Some of the more contemporary efforts, such as “Déjà Vu” with Krayzie Bone, fail to gel, but the album picks up steam again with uptempo songs such as “Life is Waiting” and Ashford and Simpson’s “We Need to Go Back.”  Despite billing the album as Warwick’s first R&B/soul release in fifty years, she really soars on two Burt Bacharach pop classics—the uplifting “If I Want To” and “What the World Needs Now”—concluding the album with a positive message song.  The two-CD set also includes a remastered edition of her 1998 album, Dionne Sings Dionne, which features her greatest hits, remastered for this edition. Continue reading

Craft Celebrates 50th anniversary of Stax Records’ “Soul Explosion”

In 1969, the iconic Stax Records’ intense undertaking to rebuild its brand as an independent label culminated in the release of 27 albums and 30 singles in just a handful of months. This period in the Memphis label’s history is known as the “Soul Explosion.” During Black Music Month, Craft Records will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of this achievement with a “Made in Memphis” reissue campaign, including the original Soul Explosion compilation album, back on vinyl for the first time since 1969. The two-disc set features a number of rare bonus tracks from the Bar-Kays, Eddie Floyd, and the lesser known Ollie & The Nightingales. Continue reading