Archive for January, 2009

World, Folk and Reggae Music

Concha Buika.  Nina de Fuego (Wea International, August 2008)

Concha Buika is a Spanish artist of African descent. Born on the island of Majorca, her parents were refugees from Equatorial Guinea.  Though extremely popular in Spain, Buika is just beginning to garner international attention for her unique brand of flamenco fusion. Niña de Fuego, her third album, recently received a Latin Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. Possessing a uniquely husky voice, Buika takes on the Spanish copla, then adds some ranchera songs along with several new songs she composed in collaboration with Javier Limón, who has produced some of flamenco’s biggest stars.

Cedric Watson.  Cedric Watson (Valcour Records, March 2008)

Watson is an accomplished fiddler from Louisianna (via Texas) who specializes in reviving old Creole fiddling styles while striving to make this music accessible to new audiences. He honed his skills while playing with Dexter Ardoin and the Creole Ramblers, Jeffrey Broussard and the Creole Cowboys, and most recently the Pine Leaf Boys. On his self-titled new release he offers up a number of new songs that he composed, including “Cedric Zydeco,” “TexaCreole Two-Step,” and “Zydeco du Violon,” along with his own arrangements of traditional tunes such as “La Valse de Grand Basile” and “La Vieille Chanson de Mardi Gras.” In addition to fiddle, Watson also pitches in on accordian and vocals, and is assisted by Jeffrey Broussard on electric bass, Chas Justus on electric and acoustic guitar, and Corey Ledet on scrubboard and triangle, among others.

Black Stars: Ghana’s Hiplife Generation (Out Here Records, May 2008)

This compilation documents the development of hiplife, a hybrid form of hip hop and highlife that emerged in Ghana in the 1990s.  The music draws on various international forms- including American and Jamaican hip hop, R&B, Afro-Cuban jazz, dancehall, ragga and reggae- while incorporating indiginous Ghanian languages (rapping in Twi), styles and instruments, such as the two-stringed kolgo. Featured artists include Reggie Rockstone (known as the “Godfather of Hiplife”), Tic Tac, Batman Samini (“King of African Dancehall”), King Ayisoba, and Ofori Amponsah, along with several artists representing the London diaspora.

Burning Spear.  Jah is Real (Burning Music, August 2008)

One of the biggest names in reggae roots music, Burning Spear (a.k.a. Winston Rodney) has released his most ambitious record since relocating to Queens, New York several years ago. Most notable are the contributions of Parliament Funkadelic’s Bootsy Collins on bass and Bernie Worrell on keyboards, who add a heavy dose of funk to the mix. The political messages, however, are still at the forefront, especially on “One Africa” and “No Compromise.”

Seckou Keita Quintet.  Silimbo Passage (World Adventures, June 2008)

Senegalese-born Seckou Keita, also known as the “Hendrix of kora,” fronts this UK-based quintet, which also features his sister Binta Suso on vocals and his brother Surahata Susso on drums, along with Egyptian violinist Samy Bishai and Italian bassist Davide Montovani. Intent on expanding the traditional range of the kora, Keita experiments here with new tunings while also drawing upon his griot roots and incorporating a vast range of African and international influences.

View review January 8th, 2009

R&B, Soul, Funk and Rock

Tom Morello.  The Fabled City (Red Ink, September 2008)

Morello, best known as a heavy metal guitarist and former member of Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine, now has another claim to fame as the “other half-Kenyan Harvard graduate from Illinois.” His latest solo album also reflects another side, which is decidedly folksy, but with a definite political edge. Morello is no stranger to politics- his father was Kenya’s first black delegate to the United Nations and his parents met during Kenya’s struggle for independance. Here, in his alter ego as Nightwatchman, he tackles a number of issues ranging from post-Katrina New Orleans to war.  His distinctive songwriting along with his acoustic vocal-guitar arrangements have already led many to brand him as something of a modern day Dylan.

Richie Havens.  Nobody Left to Crown (Verve Forecast, March 2008)

Noted ’60s folk singer Richie Havens recently released his first studio album in four years, singing covers of Pete Townshend (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”), Peter, Paul & Mary (“The Great Mandala-The Wheel of Life”) and Jackson Browne (“Lives in the Balance”).  The majority of the album, however, features new material composed largely by Havens, including the title track which lambasts political leaders and “Fates,” his ode against capitalism.

Estelle. Shine (Atlantic, April 2008)

British R&B songstress Estelle has hit it big with her sophomore release, which has garnered significant attention including placement on many “Best of 2008″ lists.  Kanye West, John Legend, and Cee-lo make guest appearances, ensuring success on this side of the pond, while Wyclef Jean and Will.i.am lend a hand on production. A major selling point is the album’s diversity. By incorporating elements of dance-hall, hip hop, R&B, soul and ska, every track offers up something distinctly new and fresh.

Conya Doss.  Still (Conya Doss Songs,April 2008)

Neo-soul singer/songwriter Conya Doss is a native of Cleveland who has been developing a considerable following, especially in Europe, since her debut album was released in 2002. Despite this fact, she still doesn’t have the backing of a major label and continues to self-release her projects, while earning a living as a teacher in the Cleveland public schools. Still features 14 tracks with a predominant focus on love and relationships that never become overly sentimental, and she keeps up the pace by alternating between up-tempo numbers and ballads.

Hil St. Soul.  Black Rose (Shanachie, April 2008)

Hil St. Soul is a duo featuring Zambian-born, London-raised neo-soul singer/songwriter Hilary Mwelwa and Victor Redwood Sawyerr, an instrumentalist and producer, who also shares songwriting credits. Like Doss, Hil St. Soul’s music largely appeals to the over-30 crowd and thus has been ignored by the major labels. Case in point, the song “Sweetest Days” reminisces about the time when “There was no Nintendo or computer games but a natural interaction with your friends.”  But if you fall into this demographic and enjoy original soul with a dose of jazz, R&B, funk, and hip hop, you might want to check out this album.

Raheem DeVaughn.  Love Behind the Melody (Jive, January 2008)

There are any number of young R&B singers we could have added to the list, but we have to give credit to Raheem Devaughn for keeping the soul alive, and keeping it fresh with healthy doses of hip hop. In an effort not to be constrained or classified, Devaughn claims to be a “R&B-hippie-neosoul-rock star.” His music almost achieves this level of diversity.  He frequently references classic R&B, such as when “Friday (Shut the Club Down)” playfully evolves into “My Girl,” and “Butterflies” is somewhat reminiscent of British-invasion era rock. What most impresses, besides his incredible vocal technique, is his ability to reach a wide audience without selling out.

View review January 8th, 2009

Jazz and Blues

Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis.  Two Men WIth the Blues (Blue Note, July 2008)

This album is a great deal of fun, showcasing a completely different side of Willie Nelson as a blues crooner. The jump-blues numbers draw heavily upon the Texas and New Orleans influences of these two legends, and as one might expect, the jazz standards really cook as well. The recordings stem from the January 12 and 13, 2007 Jazz at Lincoln Center concert billed as “Willie Nelson Sings the Blues.” Highlights include Nelson’s rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” the classic “Georgia On My Mind,” “Caldonia” and “Rainy Day Blues.”

B.B. King.  One Kind Favor (Geffen Records, August 2008)

The legendary B.B. King never seems to slow his pace, even as an octogenarian, and consequently he’s one of the few elder statemen to receive a Grammy nod for 2009. This album, produced by T Bone Burnett, is a return to the roots of the “King of the blues” and features such classics as Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” T-Bone Walker’s “I Get So Weary,” and Big Bill Broonzy’s “Backwater Blues.” Backing is provided by New Orleans pianist Dr. John, along with Jim Keltner on drums and Nathan East on bass.  The CD should have concluded with the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Sitting on Top of the World” (the penultimate track), since this certainly describes King’s place in the blues lexicon.

The Roy Hargove Quintet.  Ear Food (Emarcy, June 2008)

Jazz trumpeter/bandleader Roy Hargrove’s latest offering includes thirteen tracks of post-bop jazz that bring more than a little soul into the mix.  In addition to seven original tunes, the album includes some great covers, ranging from Cedar Walton’s “I’m Not So Sure” to “Speak Low” (by Kurt Weill & Ogden Nash) to Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me.”  You don’t have to be a hardcore jazz afficionado to enjoy this CD, which appeals to a wide fan base without EVER entering the smooth jazz territory.

S.M.V.   Thunder (Heads Up, August 2008)

S.M.V. is a new jazz-fusion supergroup composed of three of the greatest living bass players: Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, and Victor Wooten.  What more is there to say? This is an album full of virtuoso performances and unique arrangements, with contributions from Chick Corea and George Duke.  And, as one might expect from this crew, there is plenty of funk to go around, plus more than a dash of latin.

Solomon Burke.  Like a Fire (Shout Factory, June 2008)

Pioneering soul singer Solomon Burke has released a wide variety of genre-bending albums in the past, including his country masterpiece Nashville (2006). What is unique about his latest offering is that each track was composed especially for him by an all-star group of songwriters, including Steve Jordan (the producer of the album), Eric Clapton (who wrote the title track), Ben Harper (who also sings with Burke on “A Minute To Rest and a Second To Pray”), and Jesse Harris and Keb’ Mo, who each contribute backing vocals and guitar on their songs. This CD has been nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category, which is a mystery, since there is nothing bluesy about it.

John Lee Hooker, Jr.  All Odds Against Me (CC/Copycats, August 2008)

The son of famous blues singer John Lee Hooker is poised to carry on the family tradition.  “Born in “Motor” City Detroit with Delta blues-filled blood running through his Motown veins,” John Jr. toured with his father while still a teen but his career was unfortuantely derailed by drugs and alcohol. He returned to the music scene in 2004, winning a number of awards with his debut album Blues With a Vengeance.  His latest comtemporary urban blues release is the first to include all original tracks, and has already garnered a Grammy nomination.

Pine Top Perkins and Friends (Telarc, June 2008)

This album was produced as a tribute to Perkins, who celebrated his 95th birthday on July 7, 2008. There is something to be said for Perkins not reaching out to the wider arena of pop music guests for his “Friends” album, as so many have done. The biggest names here are B.B. King and Eric Clapton, who both sit in for one cut each. Jimmy Vaughn stays for four tracks and provides the most satisfying musical exchanges of the short, ten song album. Also featured are bassist Willie Kent (who passed away in March 2008) and drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.  Perkins still plays like a master, and his voice isn’t bad either. All in all, a fitting tribute to the legendary blues pianist.

View review January 8th, 2009

Gospel Music

Dionne Warwick.  Why We Sing (Rhino, January 2008)

Although one normally associates Dionne Warwick with  pop-oriented R&B, she is no stranger to gospel. Not only did she grow up singing in the church, but her father was a gospel promoter for Chess Records and her mother managed the Drinkard Singers.  And lest we not forget, she started her career as a member of the Gospelaires, which included sister Dee Dee (featured on the title track) as well as Cissy Houston. Consequently, it should be no surprise that she chose to return to her gospel roots on this album. Although BeBe Winans is involved in the production, this is pure classic gospel, with songs ranging from “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Rise, Shine and Give God the Glory” to “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” The only new offerings are “Seven,” composed by son David Elliott, and “I’m Going Up” and “The World Needs Jesus,” both by Winans.

Blind Boys of Alabama.   Down in New Orleans (Time Life Entertainment, January 2008)

Its great that the Blind Boys of Alabama are still garnering attention. This rollicking album recorded in New Orleans is led by original member Jimmy Carter and also features the legendary pianist Allen Toussaint, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and the Hot 8 Brass Band.  The back-up musicians lend a distinctly funky atmosphere to various classics, including “Free At Last,” “If I Could Help Somebody,” “How I Got Over,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “A Prayer.”  The group may have been formed over 70 years ago,but there is nothing staid about this album.

Tye Tribbett.  Stand Out (Sony, May 2008)

Tye Tribbett represents the leading edge of contemporary urban gospel, and he shows no sign of slowing down with his third major release, Stand Out.  As is common with gospel, the album was recorded live at Rock Church International in Virginia Beach and incorporates the energy of the audience. A DVD version was recently released, all the better to showcase his dynamic performance. Tribbett’s version of gospel is one that draws heavily from all aspects of contemporary music, taking inspiration from hip hop, techno, rock, urban R&B, and ska, to name just a few. The result is an album that bears no relation to much of the highly derivitive contemporary gospel music that is being produced today. Tye Tribbet & G.A. know how to keep it real, and this album really rocks.

View review January 8th, 2009

Hip Hop

GZA/Genius.  Pro Tools (Babygrande, August 2008)

GZA, one of the original members of the Wu-Tang Clan, once again proves he is a master of production, combining great rhymes and beats into an album that is sure to become a classic. A host of guest producers were involved as well, including Bronze Nazareth, Allah Mathematics, True Master, Arabian Knight, Jay Waxx and Black Milk. Featured artists also include GZA’s son Justice, and Wu-Tangers RZA and Masta Killa. Tracks include the ode to ghetto youth “Short Race” and the politically charged “Columbian Ties” and “Path of Destruction.”

Knarls Barkley. The Odd Couple (Downtown/Atlantic, May 2008)

The duo known as Knarls Barkley is a collaboration between producer Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton) and Atlanta rapper/singer Cee-lo Green, a former member of the Goodie Mob who pioneered the Dirty South style.  This was one of the break-out albums for 2008, which built upon the success of their previous release St. Elsewhere.  By merging hip hop with neo-soul and blending in large doses of special effects, they’ve created a style that’s all their own.

Young Jeezy.  The Recession (Def Jam, July 2008)

When Southern rapper Young Jeezy released The Recession last summer, he probably had no idea that the economy would continue to freefall.  And he cut the final track, the Obama shout-out “My President,” well before the election.  Addressing these topics put him somewhat ahead of the pack and add a significant degree of social relevance, though its not sustained thoughout the album. Then again, maybe he’s found a new focus since it was just announced that he is performing at the “Hip Hop Inauguration Ball,” along with T.I. and LL Cool J.

Akrobatik.  Absolute Value (Fat Beats, February 2008)

Boston rapper Akrobatik, who interestingly has a side gig as an announcer for the “Sports Rap-Up” segment on Boston hip hop station 95.5 FM, released his most significant album to date in 2008.  Absolute Value positions him firmly within the socially conscious alternative rap pantheon, with tracks such as “Rain” that addresses gang violence, and “Front Steps, Pt. 2 (Tough Love)” which slams gangsta rap with the rhyme “They shut down the conscious rosters/But talk about being a pimp you’ll get an Oscar.”   Among the many guests are Talib Kweli (“Put Ya Stamp on It”), Little Brother, Chuck D, and B Real.

Will C.  Down the Dial (Double You Productions, 2008)

Compiled by Will C., a Boston area deejay,  Down the Dial is a mix of highlights from the influential radio program Rap Attack, hosted by DJ Mr. Magic and broadcast over New York’s WBLS-FM in the 1980s. Will C. combed through piles of old DATs and cassettes containing airchecks from the show, culling watershed moments from the original programs. What is unique about this project though, is the manner in which the old is mixed with the new.  “What I did with this project was absorb the format of Mr. Magic’s radio shows over a period of years . . . when I went into the studio to put together some Will C. mixes, I always kept in mind the master mixes of deejays like Marley Marl and Chilly Q on the Rap Attack. . . The end result, if all went according to plan, are moments on Down the Dial where you can’t tell if you’re hearing the vintage side of things or the new pieces.”

View review January 8th, 2009

Classical Music

Barbara Hendricks, Henry Purcell, Georg Friedrich Haendel: Endless Pleasure (Arte Verum, January 2008)

American soprano and humanitarian Barbara Hendricks partners with the Drottningholms Barockensemble for this recording of English Baroque songs and theatrical music by Purcell and Händel.  While the Purcell selections tend towards his songs and incidental theater music, including “Music for a While” and “From rosie bow’rs,” Hendricks does not fail to include the inevitable recit-aria combo “Ah! Belinda / When I am Laid” from Purcell’s only full opera, Dido and Aeneas. The Händel selections, by contrast, draw entirely from dramatic works such as Giulio Cesare and Semele, as well as a lengthy instrumental dance suite from his ballet Terpsichore, which showcases the conductorless Barockensemble’s lively performance.

Carl MaultsBy, Eye of the Sparrow (Albany Records, February 2008)

Composer and conductor Carl MaultsBy leads the Rejoiceensemble! and the St. Bart’s Senior Girls Choristers in this recording of two of MaultsBy’s choral works, Eye of the Sparrow and The View From the Mountain, as well as his arrangements of several traditional spirituals including “Kum Ba Ya”, “Swing Down Chariot”, and the medley “Hold On.”  Eye of the Sparrow was composed in 2005 as a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., while The View From the Mountain (2007) commemorates both Dr. King and his late widow, Coretta Scott King.  MaultsBy’s classical training, combined with the gospel and spiritual traditions at the heart of these works, yields intricately crafted works that are thoroughly contemporary while acknowledging their roots in tradition.

Anthony Davis, Amistad (New World Records, October 2008)

Anthony Davis’s opera Amistad (completed, ironically, the same year as the Steven Spielberg film of the same title and subject) is now released in a full length recording, drawn from the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s world premiere performances in December 1997. Though not stated in the liner notes, the length of this CD suggests that it may incorporate the significant revisions made for the work’s performance at the 2008 Spoleto Festival.  With a libretto by Thulani Davis, the opera retells the story of the 1839 slave rebellion on the Spanish slave ship La Amistad, and the slaves’ subsequent arrival and struggle for freedom in America.  Anthony Davis’s music fuses Western classical avant-garde approaches with post-minimalist techniques, jazz and gospel traditions, and east Asian elements, to create a sound drawn from many cultures but representative of none.

Patmore Lewis, Rillito River Project (You-Entertainment, June 2008)

Patmore Lewis, composer and violinist with the Metropolitan Opera, spearheads this fundraiser album for the Rillito River Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to implementing the arts in raising awareness of the effects of climate change in the American Southwest (Arizona’s Rillito River now stands dry during part of the year.)  The cornerstone of the album is Lewis’s ambient composition Elemental Flow, which evokes the landscape and musical cultures of the Arizona desert through violin, drums, synthesizers, and field recordings of the desert environment.  The rest of the album features Lewis as soloist on violin sonatas by Richard Strauss and Alan Seidler, as well as Karol Szymanowski’s La Fontaine d’Arethuse.

Lecolion Washington, Legacy: Works for Bassoon by African-American Composers (Albany Records, August 2008)

This album offers an unusual collection of classical bassoon works by African American composers, collected and recorded by Lecolion Washington, professor of bassoon at University of Memphis and a member of the Memphis Woodwind Quintet.  Few of these works are well known, even among bassoonists, and represent compositional approaches of the twentieth century from composers such as Ed Bland, Adolphus Hailstork, and Ulysses Kay (nephew of jazz bandleader King Oliver) and the twenty-first century, with Gary Powell Nash and Daniel Bernard Roumain.  The three William Grant Still pieces are song transcriptions rather than original compositions for bassoon, but serve as a necessary homage to the first great African American classical composer.

Posted by Ann Shaffer

View review January 9th, 2009

Notable Reissues

Let the Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969 (Hip-O Select, April 2008)

The producers of this CD combed through the Motown archives in order to come up with a two CD set of 47 previously unreleased takes. As is typical with compilations of this type, the alternate takes reveal elements of the creative and production process through altered verses and extended versions. If you’re only interested in hearing the final versions, this CD set is not for you.

Gladys Knight & the Pips: Claudine/Pipe Dreams. (Shout! June 2008)

Shout Factory has assembled on one compact disc two rare 1970s movie soundtracks featuring Gladys Knight & The Pips.  Claudine, released in 1974, was a film starring Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones, with music composed by Curtis Mayfield (this was two years after his much celebrated Superfly score).  The soundtrack includes the chart-topping single “On And On,” as well as the more poignant “Welfare Man.”  Pipe Dreams, released in 1976, actually featured Gladys Knight in the starring role. The film was not commercially successful and Knight’s acting career went no further. The soundtrack includes one hit single, “So Sad The Song,” though contemporary audiences may be more interested in “Alaska Pipeline.”

Bo Diddley.  Road Runner: The Chess Masters, 1959-1960. (Hip-O Select, June 2008)

This is the second installment of Hip-O Select’s tribute to Bo Diddley, who passed away earlier this year (the first installment, I’m A Man: The Chess Masters 1955-1958, was released in 2007).  The two CD set features 52 tracks in all, including 23 previously unreleased songs and alternate takes encompassing both his Chess studio recordings and various home recordings. Liner notes were provided by George R. White, Diddley’s biographer. This is great stuff and absolutely essential for anyone interested in the black roots of rock ‘n’ roll.

Yvonne Fair.  The Bitch is Black (Reel Music, June 2008)

The late Yvonne Fair performed with the James Brown Revue in the early 1960s and simultaneously released several singles which never took off, even though they were produced by Brown. She then took a stab at Motown, pairing up with Marvin Gaye, but success did not arrive until  Norman Whitfield produced several of her singles in 1974, which led up to her one and only album. The Bitch is Black, released in 1975, features some great “in your face” funky R&B from a little known performer. The accompanying booklet features photos and a biographical essay by A. Scott Galloway.

Joe Tex.  Get Way Back: The 1950s Recordings (Ace, August 2008)

Joe Tex (1933-1982) was Texas-born soul singer who rose to fame in the mid-1960s, but this compilation traces the beginnings of his career. The 27 tracks that he recorded for the King and the American Ace label, some released on CD for the first time, include elements of rock ‘n’ roll as well as New Orleans R&B. The accompanying booklet offers biographical information and previously unpublished photographs.

View review January 9th, 2009

Books

Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music, by Ted Gioia. (W. W. Norton, October 20, 2008)

A comprehensive new history of the Delta blues by noted jazz author Ted Gioia, which journeys from Mississippi to Chicago while tracing the careers of many famous blues recording artists, including Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. This book will make a fine addition to any blues collection, and is recommended for public as well as academic libraries.

Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South, by Michelle R. Scott. (University of Illinois Press, August 2008).

The latest biography of Bessie Smith (1892-1937), the famous blues singer and entertainer who was originally known as the “queen of the blues” and gradually worked her way up to “empress.”  While this might not be the definitive biography (there are several others in print, most notably Chris Albertson’s Bessie),  it does include interesting discussions of the black entertainment industry, as well as the African American community within Chattanooga.

Swing Along: The Musical Life of Will Marion Cook, by Marva Carter. (Oxford University Press, September 2008)

Will Marion Cook was one of the most important African American composers in the early 20th century, and a comprehensive biography is long overdue. Carter draws upon  Cook’s unfinished autobiography as well as his wife Abbie’s memoir, and includes analyses of his most important works, including the musicals In Dahomey and Swing Along.  This is a must read for anyone interested in Black music and musical theater between 1890-1920.

Icons of R&B and Soul: An Encyclopedia of the Artists who Revolutionized Rhythm, by Bob Gulla (Greenwood Press, 2008).

A wonderful two volume survey of artists including Ray Charles, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, Sam Cooke, Etta James, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, Temptations, Berry Gordy, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Ike & Tina Turner, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and Prince. Intended for public and school libraries, the volumes include selective bibliographies and discographies, as well as a multitude of side bars addressing everything from social issues to record labels, timelines, and chart topping hits.

The Funk Era and Beyond: New Perspectives on Black Popular Culture, by Tony Bolden. (Palgrave MacMillan, August, 2008)

In the words of our Director, Dr. Portia Maultsby, “This engaging book takes the reader on a journey across the multi-layered and multidisciplinary terrain of funk. This series of essays on music and the visual and literary arts reveal how ‘da funk’ represents innovation and aesthetic principles rooted in the Black vernacular, which defines the uniqueness of Black creativity. The Funk Era and Beyond is a must-read to understand funk as a philosophy, an attitude, a way of life, and more broadly, a cultural phenomena.”

A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AAMC and Experimental Music, by George E. Lewis. (University Of Chicago Press, May 2008).

This nearly 700 page tome documents the history of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and the avant-garde jazz scene in Chicago. A major contribution to jazz research, the book is scholarly yet highly readable and entertaining. The author also does a more than admirable job of entertwining the music scene with the racial and cultural aspects of the Chicago landscape.

View review January 9th, 2009

DVDs

Jessye Norman: A Portrait (Decca, April 2008).

The in-depth interviews combined with thirteen staged performances should delight any fan of opera and Jesse Norman. According to other sites, the “staged performances” are actually lip-synched for this production, a sample of which can be found here.

Africa Unite. (Palm Pictures, Feb. 2008)

Finally available on DVD, Africa Unite is a concert documentary filmed in 2005 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the 60th anniversary celebration of the birth of Bob Marley. Featuring performances by three generations of the Marley family, the film is also sprinkled with archival footage and interviews.

Jazz Icons, Series 3 (Naxos, Sept. 2008)

The latest release in the Jazz Icon series, this box set includes 8 DVDs featuring Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Nina Simone and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The source of the footage is European television programs that aired between 1958 and 1975. The DVDs are also sold separately.

Experience Hendrix. (Image Entertainment, August 2008)

Enjoy two star-studded tribute concerts, one filmed in Seattle and the other in San Diego, celebrating the legendary Black rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Featured artists include blues guitarists Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin, along with Robert Randolph, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, and many others. Billy Cox and the recently deceased Mitch Mitchell, of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, also contribute to the mix.

View review January 9th, 2009

CD Box Sets

Miles Davis. Kind of Blue: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Sony Legacy, Sept. 2008).

One of the seminal albums in jazz,  newly repackaged with a hard cover book, DVD, LP, and two CDs featuring previously unreleased tracks. If you don’t already own previous releases, the 50th anniversary edition is worth the splurge.

Manhattans.  Sweet Talking Soul, 1965-1990. (Shout! August 2008).

This newly released 3 CD set is a fitting tribute to the Manhattans, tracing their early career as a doo-wop influenced vocal quartet through their soul ballads of the 1970s-80s, when the group was led by Gerald Alston. Included are 45 of their chart-topping hits, including “One Life to Live” (1972), “Kiss and Say Goobye” (1976) and “Shining Star” (1980).

Motown: The Complete #1s. (Motown/Universal, December 2008).

Yet another 50th anniversary compilation, this 10 CD box set surely wins the award for most interesting packaging concept, though shelving it with your current CD collection may proove difficult. Featuring 50 different Motown artists, the 191 tracks should keep you entertained well into the new year. Check out the promotional video below:

View review January 9th, 2009

Yes We Can

Title:  Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement
Artists: Various
Label: Hidden Beach
Catalog No.:  HBRCD 00070 (Special Collector’s Edition)
Date: 2008

Released just in time for the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, you can now purchase the official Obama campaign CD, which was previously available only as a bonus to donors. The compilation includes music representing “the essence of the messages espoused” by Obama. As producer Steve McKeever explains in the liner notes, a huge number of artists and industry folks were pitching songs, and many  compilations were privately compiled and circulated. However, complex campaign finance rules inhibited efforts to use any of the material for fundraising purposes.  McKeever perservered, eventually finding a way around these obstacles, but then finding himself with an impossibly short (48 hr.) deadline. Regardless, 150 songs were put forth for consideration, resulting in a playlist that was originally 10 hours long.

Finally winnowed down to 18 tracks, the performances chosen for Yes We Can represent multiple genres from rock, pop, and country to gospel, R&B, hip hop, and the blues. Featured performers include Lionel Richie (“Eternity”), Stevie Wonder (“Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”), Shontelle (“Battle Cry”), John Legend (“Pride, in the Name of Love”), Bebe Winans (“I Have a Dream”), Jill Scott (“One is the Magic #”), Yolanda Adams (“Hold On”), Keb’ Mo (“America the Beautiful”), Suai (“Am I All Alone?”), and Malik Yusef with Kanye West and Adam Levine (“Promised Land”).  Many of the songs are introduced through snippets of speeches by Obama and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., while others actually interwine song lyrics with speeches or crowd chants.

The 51 p. booklet that accompanies the CD is a wonderful campaign memento, including photographs, texts of speeches, and the lyrics for each song. Of course, many other artists wrote music that was inspired by the campaign, and not all could be included here. McKeever hints that other compilations might be considered in the future. Meanwhile, now that the election is over, Hidden Beach will be donating a portion of the profits on all future sales of Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement to charity.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 9th, 2009

Welcome to the January 2009 Issue

In light of the forthcoming Presidential Inauguration, we’re kicking off this month’s issue with a review of the official Barack Obama campaign CD, Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement.  Following is our annual wrap-up called the “Best of the Rest,” where we take a brief look at items published in early to mid 2008 that were not previously covered in Black Grooves.  Categories include CD Box Sets, DVDs, Books, Notable Reissues, Classical Music, Hip Hop, Gospel, Jazz and Blues, R&B/Soul/Funk/Rock, and World/Folk/Reggae Music. This is by no means an exhaustive list– we’ll still be picking up some 2008 releases in future issues.  Feel free to contact us with your own “2008 Best of the Rest” nominees.

View review January 9th, 2009

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