Archive for February, 2013

D’Angelo – Voodoo

Title: Voodoo

Artist: D’Angelo

Label: Light in the Attic

Format: 2-LP gatefold deluxe limited edition

Release date: December 11, 2012

 

 

Twelve years after the release of D’Angelo’s dirty soul classic Voodoo (2012), Light in the Attic Records has come out with a deluxe double-vinyl reissue. While simply getting a high quality vinyl copy of Voodoo and getting to hear D’Angelo’s warm, soothing sounds should be enough to inspire people to hit the record store, the new 8,000-word liner note essay written by NYU professor Jason King is the icing on the cake. The liner notes, which also feature interviews with D’Angelo collaborators ?uestlove, Pino Palladino, Charlie Hunter, James Poyser, Alan Leeds, and Russ Elevado, provide a new realm of insight into Voodoo and are sure to stir up excitement for the long awaited new D’Angelo release rumored to hit later this month.

Following is Light in the Attic’s trailer for the reissue, which is oddly silent. For the music, check out the original video for the album’s megahit single “Untitled (How Does It Feel?)”

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Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review February 1st, 2013

Le’Andria Johnson – The Awakening of Le’Andria Johnson, Deluxe edition

Title: The Awakening of Le’Andria Johnson, Deluxe edition

Artist: Le’Andria Johnson

Label: Music World Gospel

Format: CD, MP3

Release date: February 14, 2012

 

 

Le’Andria Johnson, the 2010 Sunday Best winner, has come to the forefront of the gospel music industry after receiving a Grammy Award in 2012 for Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance and two Stellar Awardsin in 2013, for Contemporary Female of the Year and Best New Artist.

Born in Orlando, Florida, on January 23, 1983, to Bishop Gregory Johnson and Pastor Sharon Johnson, she has sung  in church since the age of two.  Before her appearance on BET’s Sunday Best, she was a twice-divorced single mother of three children without a home. Her desire to give a better life to her children pushed her to audition for the show, and throughout the third season she impressed judges Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, and Tina Campbell with her vocal ability and deep, raspy voice. Johnson ended up winning the competition plus a national recording contract with Music World Gospel.

This special deluxe edition of The Awakening of Le’Andria Johnson includes songs from her two EPs: the first which was released under the same title in 2011 and debuted on the Billboard gospel album charts at #1, and the second released in 2012 as The Evolution of Le’Andria Johnson.  Her performances from Sunday Best are arranged into two medleys, illustrating why she was chosen as the winner and why she has become a successful gospel singer.  These medleys are also proof of her ability to perform not only contemporary arrangements, but also traditional gospel music.

Johnson’s recorded version of “He Was There,” also performed during the show, is soulful testimony of her relationship with God, who gave her a chance to turn her life around.  Songs such as “Make Him Like You” show her possibilities as a cross-over artist with its R&B stylings and lyrical tactics, while beautifully describing both romantic relationships and religious beliefs. “New Reasons,” featuring female doo-wop singers, gives a different twist to the album, while Johnson demonstrates her talent as a songwriter with “I Shall Leap,” co-written with her brother Terrence.

The following live performance of her first hit single “Jesus” shows how Johnson’s powerful and sincere singing has the ability to touch people’s hearts:

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Whether the songs are traditional or contemporary, Johnson’s voice never loses its strength or conviction.  Her belief, determination, and love for music and God are present every time she sings.

Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa

View review February 1st, 2013

Maceo Parker – Soul Classics

Title: Soul Classics

Artist: Maceo Parker

Label: Razor & Tie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 18, 2012

 

 

Maceo Parker is an indisputable funk legend and a revolutionary saxophonist who has played an active role in many historical transformations of R&B. In this recording, Parker is accompanied by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Big Band, a Cologne, Germany-based orchestra conducted by Michael Abene, who put together incredibly soulful arrangements for this album. Aside from the WDR personnel, Parker’s own crew includes prolific bassist Christian McBride and drum phenomenon Cora Coleman-Dunham.  Soul Classics, released in the U.S. on the Razor & Tie label, was recorded live at the Leverkusen Forum during a performance at the Leverkusener Jazzstage 2011.

The repertoire comprises several “soul classics,” as the album’s title expresses, which range from a variety of sub-streams and branches of funk and R&B.  The concert features old-style funk songs by James Brown such as “Soul Power” (track 8), which brings out the best of Parker’s funky improvisations in a style that he himself helped to construct and arrange more than forty years ago.  One can hear both band and audience members cheering him on during his solo. After that, McBride’s bass improvisation, accompanied masterfully by C. C. Dunham’s drumkit grooves, takes people’s emotions to another level and joyful yelling becomes part of the music. Other featured pieces include Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” (track 4), which represents a later time in history for funky music.  The big band arrangements by Abene together with the WDR Band members’ improvisations make this cut another super funky dance tune, like most of this album. The performance also includes songs by Aretha Franklin, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, as well as Isaac Hayes and Maceo Parker himself.

Following is a clip from the live concert:

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Considering the pristine sound quality of the record, but also by the musical selections, the musician’s crew, Maceo Parker at the helm, and audience response, this was one hell of a concert. You do not need a video to feel everybody dancing . . . and it is contagious. Get this record, pump up the volume, invite your friends, and prepare to get down!

Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas E.

View review February 1st, 2013

The Floacist – Floetry Re:Birth

Title:  Floetry Re:Birth

Artist: The Floacist

Label:  Shanachie

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:   November 13, 2012

 

 

 

Natalie Stewart, a.k.a. The Floacist of the British duo Floetry, recently released her second solo album.  For those not familiar with her previous work, Stewart was the spoken word half of the duo, while Marsha Ambrosius was “the Songstress.” Now that they’ve parted company and embarked on solo careers, it’s been interesting to watch them develop over the last few years.

On Floetry Re:Birth, The Floacist proves that she can carry an album on her own.  Stewart’s lovely voice, soft and caressing, stays firmly within her comfort zone and though her range is rather limited, it’s perfectly suited to her style of jazzy neo-soul.  She’s assisted by a bevy of back-up singers, including her husband Nolan Weekes, who also produced, arranged, and co-wrote many of the songs.

The opening track “Start Again” sets the mood, with guest vocalist Raheem DeVaughn weaving in the background vocals, adding range and depth to the mix.  Other album highlights include “Soul” featuring the female quartet Debonair on back-up vocals, “Speechless” with its scatting refrain and poetic interludes, and “Roots of Love” with South African singer Thandiswa Mazwai providing the counterpoint to Stewart’s spoken text.  Also included is the “10th anniversary edition” of the sultry ballad “Say Yes,” a reinterpretation of the song from Floetry’s debut 2002 album:

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A seductive and provocative set piece, Floetry Re:Birth firmly establishes The Floacist’s vision and cements her place among female adult contemporary neo-soul singers.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2013

Macy Gray – Talking Book

Title: Talking Book

Artist: Macy Gray

Label: 429 Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 30, 2012

 

 

There’s a fine line when covering an entire album. For starters, you have to be faithful to the original material, yet make it a unique rendition. However, at the same time it’s important to not make it too outlandish in an attempt to make it unique, for it might become a separate entity all its own. Although some attempts might fall flat, for Macy Gray the line between unique and familiar doesn’t skip a beat on Talking Book. Released as a “love letter” to Stevie Wonder, Gray celebrates the 40th anniversary of the classic Stevie Wonder album with her own strong rendition.

On the first track Macy Gray starts off on a high note with “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” Beginning with a somewhat stripped-down jazz ensemble, additional vocals and synthesizers join the mix to push an upbeat, driving tone. “You’ve Got It Bad Girl” takes the drive and complements it nicely with jazz, especially near the end with a trumpet smoothly playing over the several layers of drums, vocals, piano and all else included. But while these are great renditions, possibly the greatest is “Big Brother.” Opting out of the harmonica featured on the original, Gray instead uses whistling to double the vocal melody with synthesizer, drums and acoustic guitar all combining for a laidback, yet powerful, track.

Following is the official album trailer:

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Macy Gray has no problem balancing the often difficult task of paying homage yet creating something fresh and new on her rendition of Talking Book. There’s hardly a moment where anything seems out of place, or that a track was anything short of amazing. In the same way that Stevie Wonder released something truly outstanding 40 years ago, Macy Gray has revived the classic album for a whole new generation of listeners.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review February 1st, 2013

Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

Title: R.A.P. Music

Artist: Killer Mike

Label: Williams Street

Formats:  CD, LP, MP3

Release date: May 15, 2012

 

 

R.A.P Music (Rebellious African People) is Atlanta rapper Killer Mike’s 6th album. The production was entirely handled by Brooklyn producer El-P, and the combination of Killer Mike’s politicized Southern flow with El-P’s hyper aggressive, post-apocalyptic synth beats creates a sound that is clearly on the attack, ready to claim focus and attention.  What holds your attention, though, are Killer Mike’s political-without-being-corny and hard hitting-without-being-needlessly-violent lyrics.

In an N.P.R. interview, Killer Mike described his political leanings as follows:

“If I tell someone, ‘I was listening to NPR,’ they’re going to naturally assume, ‘He’s a black liberal, he supports … ‘ If I tell someone, ‘I was just listening to Fox Radio,’ they’re going to assume, ‘He’s a black neo-conservative.’ I just listen ’cause I’m curious. I don’t want to be married to any ideology, because life is a lot more fluid than that, and I think that we’re trained and conditioned in this country to think in teams.”

The open minded social curiosity espoused in that quote is exactly what stops Killer Mike’s political rapping from falling into the dreaded trap of the saccharine “conscious rapper.” He raps about African Americans, the two-party system, women, and all his other topics in a way that has the benefit of a grown and worldly perspective. He tries not to write misogynistic raps anymore, not because he’s spent the last few years reading bell hooks, but because he is a father to two daughters and has a partner who challenges his old sexist ways.

Following is the official video for “Reagan,” one of the more political tracks on the album:

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Some rappers mature into caricatures of themselves, becoming slightly embarrassing human time capsules of another genre from another time. R.A.P. Music is a clear sign that Killer Mike will not be meeting that fate, as he continues to evolve as both a human and a rapper.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review February 1st, 2013

Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid: M.A.A.D City

Title: Good Kid: M.A.A.D City

Artist: Kendrick Lamar

Label:  Aftermath

Formats: CD (various editions), LP, MP3

Release date: October 22, 2012

 

 

“Martin had a dream / Kendrick has a dream / All my life I want money and power / Respect my mind or die by lead showers”—from “Backseat Freestyle”

The intensely huge amount of bandwidth that has already been used by internet commentators on Kendrick Lamar’s debut album good kid, m.A.A.d. city, would undoubtedly make it possible, at this very moment, to write a thesis titled “The Critical Response to Kendrick Lamar.” For the skeptical new listener, however, this kind of massive press that seems to stem from nowhere can certainly strain credulity.

good kid, m.A.A.d city, however, is one of the few that stands up to, and if anything, rises above its hype. While there are many well written think-pieces that analyze the album’s arc sonically, socially, lyrically, and any other way imaginable, all the casual listener needs to know is that Kendrick Lamar shocked everyone by coming out with a sophomore album that is comprised of perfect songs that seamlessly blend, leaving the listener with an album that can be played on repeat for days, each listen providing both the comfort of familiarity and the surprise of newfound complexities.

Lamar has referred to this album as “classic worthy,” which generally would smack of hip-hop hubris, but at this point, three months after the album’s release, 7 of the 12 tracks have charted and become underground hits. “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” a robotic R&B slow jam with a hypnotic hook about realizing your flaws and refusing to let them bring you down, leads into “Backseat Freestyle,” a rough and ready self-aggrandizing rap with the perfect balance of braggadocio and witty self-loathing, which is followed by “The Art of Peer Pressure,” an epic story-rap about a night in the life of Lamar and his friends, driving around Los Angeles and getting into trouble.

The quick succession of great song followed by great song is a marker of this album and is somewhat unheard of in the age of home recording technology and digital downloads, but the simple, high quality of good kid, m.A.A.d city is what ensures that Lamar’s prediction of future “classic” status will surely come to pass.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review February 1st, 2013

Toro y Moi – Anything in Return

Title: Anything in Return

Artist: Toro y Moi

Label: Carpark Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release: January 22, 2013

 

 

Anything in Return is a flawless pop album. Chaz Bunwick’s third album under the moniker Toro y Moi builds on his previous explorations of funk and pop and immediately blooms into a pristine blending of ’90s house music, funk and pop. It feels as though almost any track on this album could be remixed into the hipster club banger of Summer 2013. Bunwick’s completely laid back, breathless vocals are a fantastic fit for this brand of expertly produced pop, providing a human layer that is engaging and yet still somewhat grounded. Tracks like the immensely danceable “Say That” have a strong ’90s vibe, in perfect fit with the trendy ’90s resurgence:

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Anything in Return works so well, however, because Bunwick manages to be in the trends, but not of them. While the album is not necessarily “timeless,” it certainly doesn’t feel like it will become “that album we listened to the year we liked ’90s stuff.” It succeeds because Bunwick has the secret weapon at hand the separates good producers from producers with good ideas: a musician’s ear. His aural aesthetic is always spot on and is what leads him to keep raising the bar with each new release.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review February 1st, 2013

David Álvarez – Clandestino

Title: Clandestino

Artist: David Álvarez

Label: Tumi Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 13, 2012

 

 

Clandestino is the latest production from famous Cuban troubadour Daniel Álvarez, former leader of the band Juego de Manos. Released by Tumi Music as a 16-track CD, this album is a clear expression of the contemporary development of one of Cuba’s most important and influential musical genres: trova. And trova runs unequivocally through Álvarez’s veins, for his native city of Manzanillo has held a very active trova cubana scene since the mid-20th century. His compositions reflect this tradition, in which peasant songs integrate socially critical and romantic lyrics with ballad-style and Cuban son accompaniments, sometimes sounding closer to the music of Spain than that of the Caribbean Islands.

Clandestino is also notable for the participation of saxophonist Alfred Thompson (Irakere) and tres master Pancho Amat, who collaborate with Álvarez in creating that magical and dramatic atmosphere that is characteristic of contemporary trova. The influence of Mediterranean sonorities is also very clear, featuring Roldán Carballoso (Buena Vista Social Club), whose presence is predominant in “La tarde” (“The afternoon”), where guitar, violin and flamenco-inspired chants intertwine to make this Cuban song a soulful product of the Spanish and African diasporas of the Caribbean. The opening track, “A mi me gusta compay” (“I like it, buddy”), is a more straightforward trova rhythm, with long verses accompanied by tres, guitar, bongos, and timbales, which then break into a montuno, or a sung call and response chorus section, which is so characteristic of Cuban music.

Excerpts of the whole album can be heard at Tumi Music’s website: http://www.tumimusic.com/David-Alvarez/Clandestino/tumi182/albums/music/

Not only is this album finely produced, with a thick recording sound and crew of world class musicians, but also finely crafted music-wise, where the singer songwriter’s skills are demonstrated by the creation of a unified musical and lyrical concept of romanticism. Álvarez’s voice makes one think of legendary Cuban troubadour Pablo Milanés, but in a kind of contemporary version: an updated Cuban trovador, renovating one of Cuba’s most influential popular musics.

Reviewed by Juan Sebastian Rojas

View review February 1st, 2013

Stefon Harris, David Sánchez, Christian Scott – Ninety Miles Live At Cubadisco

Title: Ninety Miles Live At Cubadisco

Artists: Stefon Harris, David Sánchez, Christian Scott

Label: Concord Picante

Formats: MP3

Release date: September 25th 2012

 

 

Live at Cubadisco is the follow-up to the project Ninety Miles (2011), a video documentary accompanied by a studio-recorded CD which focused on the jazz and popular music traditions of New Orleans and New York and the musical and cultural connections with Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean. In fact, the title refers to the short distance between the US and Cuba. Three young and prestigious jazz musicians of African descent are the leaders of the project: trumpet-man Christian Scott (New Orleans), saxophonist David Sánchez (Puerto Rico), and vibraphonist Stefon Harris (New York). Having received great critiques on their 2011 release, the trio is back with a live release, recorded in Havana during the shooting of the documentary.

Following is a video of “City Sunrise” (track 3), featuring an amazing vibraphone solo by Harris:

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Even though Live at Cubadisco includes almost the same tracks as the studio version, the concert—which took place at Havana’s Teatro Amadeo Roldán in 2010—brings them back to life in a reshaped form, with an energy and creativity that is unique to live performances. For this show, the featuring trio relied on two backing bands, both of them composed of top-notch Cuban musicians on piano, bass, drumkit, and Afro-Cuban percussion. These back-up musicians deserve great credit, for they are largely responsible for the overall musical sound, while the two pianists (Rember Duharte and Harold López-Nussa) also contributed two of their own compositions. Overall, the album is a great sample of contemporary Latin jazz, where the complex stew of Cuban jazz and other Caribbean popular and traditional sonorities blend with New York and New Orleans’ styles to produce a new hybrid sound that expands the genre.

Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas E.

View review February 1st, 2013

Pete Escovedo – Live From Stern Grove

Title: Live From Stern Grove

Artist: Pete Escovedo

Label: Concord Picante/Stiletto Flats Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2012

 

 

In his latest release, “Live from Stern Grove,” timbales master and bandleader Pete Escovedo, 77, demonstrates to the Latin jazz audiences that he is not done yet. In fact, he is greater than ever, accompanied by his whole family: a legacy of tremendous percussionists, arrangers, composers and singers, of which the most salient is, of course, percussion-virtuoso Sheila E. This album, released under the labels Concord Picante/Stiletto Flats Music, is an eight-track live performance conducted in early 2012 at the famous Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco. In this performance, Pete Escovedo and his Orchestra perform Latin jazz classics, like Tito Puente’s “Picadillo Jam,” as well as recent compositions like the salsa/songo “Dance,” in which daughter Sheila and father Pete share the microphone on Spanish- and English-driven lyrics.

This album has plenty of fresh arrangements, brilliant improvisations, and abundant percussion solos, which are beautifully constructed the way that only collective performance throughout decades can: the feel of a reunited family. Pete Escovedo is on timbales, Juan Escovedo on congas, and Peter Michael Escovedo on the drumset. Daughter Sheila appears in just a couple of songs, which makes her presence even more meaningful in this production, where she is also co-producer along with her father. A fundamental addition to this already wonderful mix is the guest appearance of trumpet-genius Arturo Sandoval on the closing track, “Sueños de los toreros,” where he contributes to the grand finale of this amazing concert. In general, this album is a masterful and all encompassing sample of the renewed classic sound of Latin jazz in the 21st century.

Following is a video-trailer from the concert, featuring “Picadillo Jam” and “Dance.”

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Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas E.

View review February 1st, 2013

Lakecia Benjamin – Retox

Title:  Retox

Artist:  Lakecia Benjamin

Label: Motéma Music

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  May 8, 2012

 

 

Lakecia Benjamin knows how to bring on the funk, and it’s heaped on top a pile of jazz and soul in her debut album Retox. The saxophonist and bandleader has performed with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, The Roots and Macy Gray as well as jazz artists such as Clark Terry, Reggie Workman and the David Murray Big Band.  On Retox, which was funded in part by a grant from Women in Jazz Inc., Benjamin has chosen to showcase her formidable talents as a producer, composer, arranger, and songwriter. Penning 11 of the 12 tracks on the album, she then selected a variety of new talent to give voice to her songs. Following is the official trailer:

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Retox kicks off with “SoulSquad,” the name she gave to her band because “I always wanted to play like I was in an army of funky musicians.”  And this army takes no prisoners! Benjamin gets us fired up with the P-funk inspired opening jam, then jumps right into “Keep Talkin’” which maintains the ’80s-style groove but shakes things up with the vocals of Tracy Nicole and Amp Fiddler. Benjamin’s super tight horn arrangements come to the fore in “Maceo,” her tribute to James Brown’s legendary sax player Maceo Parker.  Slowing things down, the soulful “Share My Life” featuring Jacoria Marzett on vocals with rapper Whosane joining at the bridge, is an affirmation of love and respect.  “My Love” takes it down yet another notch, with the smoky vocals of Krystle Warren wafting over the Hammond B3, bending notes and stretching out the nebulous beat in an improvisational ballad that fades into infinity.  After a brief moment of silence, “Human Being” gradually cranks up the sound and tempo, bringing in the horns for a raucous jazz reunion before passing off to Mavis Swan Poole who lays down the vocals.

“Jump and Shout,” another standout track that’s a throwback to the days of Labelle and Chaka Khan, features the “aggressive soul” of Chinah Blac who leaves us wanting much, much more. “Smile,” though not an especially original arrangement, features up and coming singer Maya Azucena whose smooth R&B stylings do the song justice.  The funk returns on “Get Down,” a dance party groove that sounds like Chuck Brown meets the Meters, with plenty of outstanding solos from the horn section. “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” is Benjamin’s arrangement of the Stevie Wonder song, and after staying out of the spotlight for much of the album, she picks up her sax with a vengeance and makes up for lost time, proving that she hasn’t lost any chops while honing her songwriting skills.

The album concludes with two very interesting and more experimental compositions. The ethereal vocals of Melanie Charles float over the heartbeat of a bongo on “Dreams,” setting a hypnotic, calming mood.  But there is no chance of dozing off, for “Slow Juice” jump starts the final track with a piledriver bump and grind from the rhythm section that builds into layers of distorted improv before ending abruptly, leaving us hanging on the edge of a cliff.

Retox was co-produced by Ben Kane (D’Angelo, Krystle Warren), who gives the tracks a rich, full-bodied analog sound.  Any fan of old-school funk and soul will enjoy this album, while jazz aficionados will appreciate the expertly crafted arrangements, the tightness of the “Hotspot Horns” (Jonathan Powell, Nick Roseboro, Mark Williams, Andre Murchison) and the kick ass rhythm  section (Solomon Dorsey on bass, Jess Fisher and Chris Rob on keys, Shelton Gardner and Louis Gato on guitar, and Brandee Younger on harp).

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2013

Tia Fuller – Angelic Warrior

Title: Angelic Warrior

Artist:  Tia Fuller

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  September 25, 2012

 

 

Tia Fuller is another saxophonist and composer/arranger who cut her chops as bandleader during a five-year stint in Beyoncé’s all-female backing group and more recently as assistant musical director for Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society touring band. Despite these pop-oriented influences, Angelic Warrior, Fuller’s third release for Mack Avenue, is a pure jazz tour de force that “celebrates the peaceful demeanor of the ‘angel’ and the drive and determination of the ‘warrior’ spirit within.” Following is the official trailer:

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The album is something of a family affair, with Fuller’s sister Shamie Royston on piano and brother-in-law Rudy Royston on drums, featured prominently on the opening track “Royston Rumble,” along with Mimi Jones on acoustic bass and John Patitucci on piccolo bass, playing both the melody and bass line. This is followed by “Ralphie’s Groove,” an homage to drummer Ralph Peterson, Jr. that riffs on the beat from his tune “Surrender.”  On the title track, guest drummer Terri Lyne Carrington strikes a “warrior beat” while Fuller picks up the soprano sax for angelic overtones, and the two strive to balance opposing forces and “blaze a pathway for female instrumentalists.”

Another great track is the jazz standard “Body and Soul,” the only song on the album. Fuller says she “wanted to incorporate a solid bass line to represent my father (bassist Fred Fuller) and feature master vocalist, Dianne Reeves, to celebrate my mother (vocalist Elthopia Fuller).” As one might expect, Reeves carries off this original arrangement with considerable aplomb.  In the same vein, “So In Love With All of You” melds two iconic Cole Porter compositions into an arrangement that hands off the melodies to the sax, then Fuller and Patitucci explore the harmonies in an extended improvisation.

In the latter half of the album Fuller gives a nod to contemporary stylings, allowing some R&B influences into “Tailor Made,” as well as “Core of Me” which references Esperanza Spalding’s song “Winter Sun.”  On the penultimate track “Cherokee,” Carrington and Royston maintain a ferocious jungle beat while Fuller displays some of her most aggressive playing, before all of the musicians unite on the final “Ode to Be” outro, ending the album on a calmer, melodic note.

To echo Carrington’s father’s comment, “Tia’s a woman playing that horn like it’s supposed to be played.” On Angelic Warrior, she once again offers proof that she’s a gifted saxophonist, as well as a talented arranger and composer that can successfully combine traditional and contemporary influences while staying firmly within the realm of jazz.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2013

Terri Lyne Carrington – Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue

Title:  Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue

Artist:  Terri Lyne Carrington

Label: Concord Jazz

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 5, 2013

 

 

Drummer and composer/producer Terri Lyne Carrington is blazing a distinctive path through the jazz world, creating projects that incorporate elements of post-bop, funk and R&B. Her last album for Concord, the Grammy award-winning The Mosaic Project from 2011, was notable for collaborations with some of the most prominent female jazz vocalists and composers of the decade including Esperanza Spalding, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nona Hendryx, Cassandra Wilson, and Bernice Johnson Reagon.  While The Mosaic Project was aimed at a more general audience, jazz fans can take delight in her new album which pays homage to three legendary musicians: Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach.

The release of Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue is scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the iconic Money Jungle album from 1963 by the Ellington-Mingus-Roach trio. For Carrington’s reinterpretation, she joins keyboardist Gerald Clayton and bassist Christian McBride, but ventures beyond the trio format by adding a bevy of guests including Clark Terry on trumpet, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Tia Fuller and Antonio Hart on flute/sax, Nir Felder on guitar, and percussionist Arturo Stabile. Additionally, she has chosen to cover only those tracks that were written specifically for the original album, allowing room for two of her own compositions, “Grass Roots and “No Boxes (nor Words),” along with “Cut-Off” composed by Clayton.  Following is the album trailer:

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From the opening bars of the title track, Carrington asserts her independence, adding the spoken intro “You have to create problems to create profits” over a furious percussion solo to both recontextualize Ellington’s “Money Jungle” for a contemporary audience and serve as a cautionary tale about  money taking control of our lives. This device is repeated in a coda, where economic-related excerpts of speeches from Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are layered into the mix, then suddenly fizz out in a burst of static. “Fleurette Africain” is notable for the scatting vocal riffs from Clark Terry that punctuate the piano melodies and are echoed by the horns. “Backward Country Boy Blues” is a very enjoyable arrangement featuring vocalist Lizz Wright, again adding text to what was originally an instrumental, but it’s a natural transition. The musicians then settle into some extended sets, burning through renditions of “Very Special” and “Wig Wise” plus Carrington’s contributions.

The album closes with “Rem Blues/Music,” another enjoyable adaptation punctuated by Shea Rose’s rhythmic reading of the poem “Music” that concludes with Herbie Hancock as the voice of Duke Ellington, quoting from the master and offering insights on the popularity of money versus the popularity of art.  Though the spoken word elements are a bit jarring at the outset, once the listener discovers that it’s only occasionally used as a contextual device, it’s easy to appreciate Carrington’s vision for the project and give it a glowing recommendation.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2013

Valentine’s Day Feature

If Valentine’s Day puts you on the search for mood music, these two new releases may be exactly what you’re looking for.

 

Title: A Time for Love

Artist: Jeffery Osborne, George Duke

Label: Saguaro Road Records

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: January 29, 2013

 

 

Jeffery Osborne’s A Time for Love is a collection of reimagined standards. Produced by George Duke and backed by a fantastic group of jazz musicians, Time for Love is full of love songs that are already close to your heart. One of the album’s biggest treats, however, is a duet with Chaka Khan on the Frank Loesser classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

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Title: Love Songs

Artist: Destiny’s Child

Label: Sony Legacy

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: January 29, 2013

 

 

For Valentine’s Day slow jams featuring the reigning Queen of R&B, however, look no further than the aptly named new Destiny’s Child compilation Love Songs. Spanning the wide range of the classic DC trio, Beyonce Knowles, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, Love Songs has something for everyone: well known hits like “Cater 2 U,” from 2004’s Destiny Fulfilled, and deep cuts like “Brown Eyes” off 2001’s Survivor.

What is most exciting, however, is the final track on the CD, “Nuclear.” A smooth love song with ’90s inspired production, “Nuclear” is the first new Destiny’s Child recording in years and hopefully a harbinger of an epic reunion tour. Whether you love contemporary ballads or just love remembering the heyday of Destiny’s Child, Love Songs is a great purchase.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review February 1st, 2013

Harry Belafonte: Entertainer and Activist

Harry Belafonte was not only one of the most popular entertainers of his era, he also had an integral role in the Civil Rights Movements and led many other humanitarian efforts over the course of his career.  These are detailed in three products released in 2011-2012.

 

Title:  My Song: A Memoir

Author:  Harry Belafonte, with Michael Shnayerson

Publisher: Knopf

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

Release date: October 2011 (1st ed.)

 

The subtitle of the 2012 paperback edition aptly sums up Harry Belafonte’s autobiography:  a memoir of art, race, and defiance.  Over the past few years, Belafonte, who is now 85, has worked tirelessly to cement his considerable legacy—one that goes far beyond his “King of Calypso” moniker. Though this may sound somewhat self-serving, readers will benefit greatly from Belafonte’s first-hand account as told to Michael Shnayerson through a series of in-depth interviews. Of course ample space is given to Belafonte’s early years in the Caribbean and New York, as well as his acting career and musical triumphs. His work as a political activist, however, is the most captivating aspect of the memoir.  After a number of humiliating episodes on the entertainment circuit, particularly in Las Vegas, Belafonte dedicated his life to fighting racism, both in the U.S. and abroad. This led to a close friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr., who turned to Belafonte to marshall the forces of the entertainment industry in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Not only did Belafonte bankroll much of King’s work, but he was also a key negotiator with both Robert Kennedy during his term as U.S. Attorney General, and with John F. Kennedy, in efforts to move the civil rights bill forward.  Episodes related during this period will certainly enlighten and inspire many readers, as will those related to his later efforts to battle apartheid in South Africa and free Nelson Mandela.

Overall, this is a thoroughly engaging book with a great deal more substance than the typical entertainer biography—but then Belafonte was no typical entertainer. He’s led an extraordinary life that few can equal.

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Title:  Harry Belafonte: Sing Your Song; The Music, Hope and Vision of a Man and an Era

Director: Susanne Rostock

Publisher: Docurama Films; distributed by New Video Group

Format:  DVD (104 min., NTSC, Region 1)

Release date:  May 29, 2012

 

Belafonte worked with his production company, Belafonte Enterprises, and director Susanne Rostock on this biopic companion to his autobiography.  Though something of a “Cliff Notes” version of the book, the DVD does capture the key biographical elements, frequently making use of the same first-person interviews with Belafonte that were transcribed in My Song.  These interviews often come across as a bit stilted, but there are plenty of other commentators that weigh in and add gravitas.  What’s really captivating, however, is the archival footage from Belafonte’s ground- breaking television shows from the late 1950s-1960s and from various concerts speeches as shown in the following trailer:

YouTube Preview Image

Many will be seeing this footage for the first time, and it’s definitely worth the price of the DVD just to have access to Belafonte’s early television specials. Educators at all levels should also find the documentary to be an extremely useful and engaging device for teaching various facets of Black history.

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Title: Playlist: The Very Best of Harry Belafonte

Publisher:  Sony Legacy

Format:  CD

Release date: May 29, 2012

 

 

 

Released on the same day as Sing Your Song, this short 14-track compilation offers a brief overview of Belafonte’s recording career, including the calypso “Matilda” and two other folk songs from his groundbreaking album Belafonte (1956), “Jamaica Farewell” from Calypso (1956), “Man Smart (Woman Smarter), “Mama Look a Boo Boo” and (of course) “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” from Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (1959), the “My Angel” duet with Miriam Makeba from An Evening with Befonte/Makeba, and several additional songs, primarily drawn from the 1950s-1960s. If you’re looking for a single disc overview of Belafonte’s career, this is a start.  Let’s hope that Legacy will soon devote a complete box set to Harry Belafonte.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2013

Reggie Quinerly – Music Inspired By Freedmantown

Title: Music Inspired By Freedmantown

Artist: Reggie Quinerly

Label: Redefinition Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 11, 2012

 

 

Jazz drummer Reggie Quinerly’s debut release Freedman Town takes inspiration from a historic African American community in his native Houston, TX. Quinerly pays homage to Freedman Town, established by free blacks after the Emancipation Proclamation, by recalling its residents’ struggles and triumphs in his original jazz compositions. His aim, as he declares in a spoken word interlude, is not to recreate music from the past (though he does throw in some early jazz standards), but rather to “capture a certain soulfulness of the music and the people” within his own musical imagination. The album is more or less Quinerly’s journey—a “Sentimental Journey” as he lets on in his final song choice—back home, back in time, to understand the historical roots of jazz and tap into the emotions and stories that inspired it. The title track “Freedmantown,” one of the album’s two vocal tracks, salutes Freedman residents for “working to rebuild the legacy/ Not far away from the hanging tree.”

Following is the album trailer:

YouTube Preview Image

With piano and saxophone center stage, accented by Quinerly’s lively drumming, the band affects an intimate jazz club feel with the mid-tempo shuffle of the opening tracks. The ensemble’s smoothness, reminiscent of cool jazz, has some unexpected corners, namely Houston’s Fourth Ward and touches of New Orleans’ Basin Street, as Quinerly and company incorporate local color and traditional jazz into their modern sound. “Portrait of a Southern Frame,” in the style of a traditional New Orleans dirge performed at jazz funerals, serves as a procession for a near-forgotten place. “The Virginia Gentlemen,” one of the album’s best tracks, showcases highflying solos over the Afro-Cuban rhythms of early New Orleans jazz, and uses the song’s multicultural stylings to pay tribute to Richard Allen, a freed slave turned political and civic leader in Texas.

And there are still corners yet: the jazz standard “I’m Old Fashioned” sounds neither standard nor old-fashioned. The track puts an ironic twist on tradition in Quinerly’s frenetically paced bop rendition. Is he just showing off? Or is he trying to pre-empt certain jazz sophisticates’ condescension toward traditional jazz by shaking things up? Perhaps, but mostly it seems that he is saying that the past isn’t simply the past.

Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd

View review February 1st, 2013

Wadada Leo Smith – Ten Freedom Summers

Title: Ten Freedom Summers

Artist: Wadada Leo Smith

Formats: 4-CD box set; MP3

Label: Cuneiform Records

Release date: May 22, 2012

 

 

Wadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers continues the lineage of seminal compositions inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, like Max Roach’s We Insist: Freedom Now! suite, that memorialize experiences of a tumultuous time without saccharine political proselytizing or falling into traps of nostalgia and longing.

Ten Freedom Summers is a collection of 21 pieces over 4 CDs. The compositions don’t take the form of an orderly chronological narrative, but rather highlight the emotional and psychological experiences of individual events on both Smith and the more widely imagined African American psyche.  Inspired by August Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” tracing a century of African American life in a series of ten decade spanning plays, Ten Freedom Summers focuses on the decade of 1945-1955, ten momentous years in the Civil Rights Movement, which include the ruling on Brown vs. Board of Education and the passing of the Civil Rights Act.  Smith’s expansive interior journal, however, travels over 100 years of the Black experience in America, from “Dred Scott: 1857,” to “Medgar Evers: A Love-Voice of a Thousand Year’s Journey for Liberty and Justice” to “September 11th, 2001: A Memorial.” The years spanning 1945-1955 are explored not just as they were in lived experience, but as they are currently remembered by the 70-year-old Wadada Leo Smith.

Following is the trailer for the album:

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Smith, who is currently the Director of the African-American Improvisational Music Program at the Herb Alpert School of Music at the California Institute of the Arts, is an established member of the old guard of creative and new music, working with luminaries like Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. Ten Freedom Summers bucks the tradition of overt political discourse associated (justly or not) with free jazz giants, with the impressionistic and experiential nature of these compositions. Smith’s expressive experimentation has, once again, produced an engaging and amazing project that honors his work as a composer and as a historian of the Black experience.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review February 1st, 2013

When African Americans Came to Paris

Title: When African Americans Came to Paris

Producer: Joanne Burke

Label: Blue Lion Films Inc.

Format: DVD

Release date: 2012

 

 

From the innovative movements of Josephine Baker, to the illustrious writings of James Baldwin, the city of Paris has always been a field of venture for African Americans of the Diaspora to conquer.  Known for many award-winning documentaries such as Tom Spain’s Any Place But Here, and her series on groundbreaking women from the countries of Zimbabwe, Thailand, and Guatemala called New Directions, film and video documentarian Joanne Burke decided to highlight the history of African Americans in Paris. Through six 4-7 minute shorts packed with original visual and audio footage and interviews with such contributors as Richard Powell, Tyler Stovall, and Barbara Chase-Riboud, she sheds light on how France, specifically the City of Paris, became a pillar to the artistic and scholastic endeavors of African Americans who traveled there.  A 66-page K-12 Teacher’s Guide to When African Americans Came to Paris can be ordered separately, and a post-secondary guide is in the works.

Following is the official trailer:

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Commencing her journey through time with “W.E.B. Du Bois and the 1900 Paris Exposition,” Burke draws on vivid imagery and original footage detailing the exposition, where 50 million came to marvel at the achievements of yesteryear and envision the future. One of the individuals chosen to present an exhibition was Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, then a research sociologist from Atlanta University. His travels and studies done on the continent of Europe, specifically in Paris, made him a logical choice to produce a retrospective centered on African American life. Du Bois and his research team created “The Exhibit of the American Negro,” and his pioneering use of photography resonated greatly with fair goers. Through hundreds of photos, he revealed stories and aspects of African American life few were exposed to: urbanized, educated African Americans in the South. One of the interlocutors, Terri Francis of Yale University, believed that the idea of the exhibition was to highlight progress within the African American community, and the development of modernity within African American society after the abolition of slavery.  The exhibition won 15 awards (as well as a Gold Medal) due to Du Bois’ work, but not a word was printed in the mainstream American press about its content.

In the next video in her series, “Henry Ossawa Tanner: An Artist in Exile,” Burke recounts the story of one of the first African Americans to achieve international acclaim as an artist, and accompanies her narrative with beautiful displays of Tanner’s works.  Burke and other interlocutors discuss in depth how obstacles troubled his advancement in America, namely because of his race. Raised in Philadelphia, Tanner studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the first African American to do so. Because of the racism at the time, Tanner faced a hard time when attempting to sell and exhibit his works, which led him to go to Paris. At age 32 he enrolled at the Académie Julian, where he found more freedom as an artist and a person of color.  His paintings, “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” and “The Resurrection of Lazarus” made him an international commodity, which prompted many other African American artists such as Hale Woodruff and Augusta Savage to pilgrimage to Paris in the 1920s in order to meet Tanner. Tanner was one of the first to show that talent could definitely be acknowledged as well as transcend prejudiced ideologies.

The third video, “The Harlem Hellfighters,” gives the history of New York’s all black 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed “The Harlem Hellfighters” by the Germans because of how fiercely they battled. When the U.S. joined WWI in 1917, many African Americans who were called to duty were optimistic and saw it as a great experience not only to travel overseas away from their small towns and the South, but also to serve and prove themselves worthy and accepted citizens of the U.S. However, they were subjected to treatment not unlike that of the manual labor they faced during slavery times. The U.S. forbade them to fight the Germans in an effort to maintain racial hierarchy within the military. When it came time for France to recruit, they called on 150,000 troupes from West African colonies. Unlike the soldiers from the U.S., these soldiers did the same work as Whites with no discrimination because of their race. In 1918, when the French were in need of more soldiers, the U.S. let them “borrow” the Harlem Hellfighters. The soldiers were amazed at the positive treatment they received, due to France’s colorblind nation policy. They spent 191 days on the front, more than any other American outfit in the War, resulting in many accolades, including France’s “Croix de Guerre” military decoration. Although the Harlem Hellfighters were celebrated in February of 1919 with parade through New York City, race riots broke out a few months later during “The Red Summer,” named for strategic attacks by Whites on Black communities. Black soldiers were targeted by lynching parties and tortured in order to enforce color lines, in an effort by Whites to demonstrate racial superiority and show Blacks that they were not equal regardless of their valiant efforts in the War.

Burke keeps her momentum into the fourth video by discussing “James Reese Europe: Warrior and Musician”. Lt. Europe, the first African American officer to lead troupes into combat and war, was also a leading black orchestra conductor who performed at Carnegie Hall regularly with his 125-member Clef Club Orchestra. While serving as a lieutenant with the Harlem Hellfighters, Europe went on to direct the regimental band as well, travelling over 2,000 miles playing various shows in France.  Many onlookers were amazed at the quality of sound that came from these African American musicians. Whilst performing for both European and American military audiences and citizens, Europe came to the conclusion that for African Americans, constructing their own music would be much more influential than imitating their White counterparts. By doing so, African Americans as a whole could develop richly as a society and culture. The fifth video continues this theme. With “Jazz Comes to Paris,” Burke tells how jazz exploded onto the scene in France after WWI, specifically along the Rue Fontaine in Paris where a lively black population dwelled. Interlocutors, such as Brent Hayes Edwards of Columbia University, discussed the French’s fascination with the “other,” in this instance, the African American musician seen as the ‘colonial other’ on the Paris stage. Jazz roots are discussed from two viewpoints: one as originating from “jungle music” produced by savages and Africans; the other as a vision of modernity, with African Americans as the originators of jazz. Racial ties also became less strict and interracial relationships began to surface during this time, which made forms of racial equality seem more within reach. Eugene Bullard, Bricktop, and Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes are shown avid appreciation for their experiences working at France’s thriving nightclubs catering to the jazz sound.

In the final video of the series, “Three Women Artists in Paris,” experiences of three remarkable artists are highlighted during the 1920s-30s: sculptors Augusta Savage and Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, and the painter Lois Mailou Jones. In spite of gaining racial equality, if one was void of financial resources, one would be bound to struggle, as was the case of Nancy Elizabeth Prophet.  She detailed her hardships in many of her works, such as “Silence” and “Poverty.” Nonetheless, Prophet was able to finish many works and exhibit them in Paris when virtually no galleries in the U.S. would accept them due to her race.  Augusta Savage faced similar issues, when an American art program rescinded her admission upon finding out she was Black. Artist Lois Mailou Jones came to Paris during a sabbatical from Howard University, and remarks that she received her first feelings of absolute freedom while in France. Once these artists returned to the U.S. after gaining fame in France, they found it difficult to construct art on their own terms because of the prevailing racial climate.

What each of the segments in this series does rather well is explore African American experiences that might otherwise be left untouched in both American as well as European histories. Although very short in length, each chapter provides a vital critique of the time and struggles faced by many African Americans while living in America and the solace they found in Paris.  This is an integral piece to use in a curriculum catering to History, African American studies, European Studies, and various forms of Art and Music History.

Reviewed by Floyd Daniel Hobson III

View review February 1st, 2013

The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra – Black Manhattan, Volume 2

Title:  Black Manhattan, Volume 2

Artist:  The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra

Label:  New World Records

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: December 4, 2012

 

 

Rick Benjamin, the prolific founder/conductor of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, has once again reached into his massive library of historic American orchestra music and pulled out a handful of early 20th century gems by African American composers for volume 2 of Black Manhattan. The title derives from James Weldon Johnson’s 1930 history of New York’s black music and theatre communities from the 1890s to 1920s that called attention to “an amazing group of achievers . . .whose work profoundly transformed the cultural life of this nation.” Included among this group were members of the legendary Clef Club of New York―James Reese Europe, Will Marion Cook, Will Vodery, and the brothers James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamund Johnson, among others, who were the focus of the first volume.  The new release offers a wider range of composers and styles, featuring works written for pioneering African-American theatrical companies including the Black Patti Troubadours, Williams & Walker, and The Smart Set, as well as productions from Harlem’s famed Lafayette Theatre.

Covering a span of twenty-five years from 1896-1921, the disc’s earliest work is “Black Patti Waltzes” composed by Will Accooe (1874-1904) in the standard 19th century Viennese style and dedicated to the celebrated soprano Sissieretta Jones, who at the time had just formed her musical comedy company. On the other end of the spectrum, two highlights of the disc date from 1921 and offer wonderfully contrasting styles: W.C. Handy’s “Aunt Hagar’s Children Blues,” sung to great effect by Linda Thompson Williams in the style of the great female blues belters of the 1920s; and the overture to Eubie Blake’s Shuffle Along, the first successful African American musical, in an arrangement by Will H. Vodery that masterfully references hit songs from the production including “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” In between are many delightful examples of ragtime, ballads, one-steps, and even a Brazilian-themed tango by Will H. Dixon, who Benjamin considers to be a long-lost genius who wrote “some of the most hauntingly beautiful music” on this CD.

Of the 19 tracks, only a few were recorded during their heyday. “Nobody,” a major hit song from the 1906 show Abyssinia with music by Bert Williams and Will Marion Cook, was first recorded by white “coon” singer Arthur Collins (Edison 9084) and shortly thereafter by Williams for Columbia (cylinder 33011). Baritone Edward Pleasant covers the song on Black Manhattan and does a marvelous job bringing it back to life, no doubt drawing upon Williams’s recording for inspiration. “The Castle Walk,” a syncopated one-step composed by James Reese Europe and Ford T. Dabney for Vernon and Irene Castle at the peak of the social dance craze, was recorded by Jim Europe’s Society Orchestra in 1914 (Victor 17553).  “Aunt Hagar’s Children Blues” and Wilbur C. Sweatman’s “That’s Got ’Em — Rag” were likewise recorded during the 78-rpm era and it’s interesting to compare all of these to the high fidelity contemporary renditions.* But most of us will be hearing the other works on Black Manhattan Vol. 2 for the very first time.

As with his recording of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha (2011), Benjamin strives to achieve an accurate restoration of this music as opposed to a reconstruction. Hence the musicians of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra perform on period instruments and the vocalists take care to follow the performance practices indicative of early 20th century music theater (soprano Anita Johnson and tenor Robert Mack are also featured soloists).  Add an authoritative 48-page booklet that sheds new light on many of these African American composers (also including Frederick M. Bryan, J. Leubrie Hill, Al. Johns, Chris Smith, Scott Joplin, J. Tim Brymn and James J. Vaughan), and you have a truly spectacular package that performs a great service to the advancement of the study of American music.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

*Notes on the recordings were taken from Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 by Tim Brooks (University of Illinois Press, 2005) and the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project website.

View review February 1st, 2013

Welcome to the February 2013 Issue

Welcome to the February 2013 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.  In honor of Black History Month, we’re featuring several projects with historical themes: The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra’s Black Manhattan Vol. 2; the DVD When African Americans Came to Paris which includes segments on James Reese Europe and Jazz in Paris; Wadada Leo Smith’s jazz masterpiece Ten Freedom Summers; drummer Reggie Quinerly’s Music Inspired by Freedman Town; and Harry Belafonte’s autobiography My Song, his biopic Sing Your Song,  and the CD The Very Best of Harry Belafonte which document his work as an entertainer, activist and humanitarian.

Also featured are three recent jazz albums by women: drummer Terri Lyne Carrington’s Money Jungle, saxophonist Tia Fuller’s Angelic Warrior, and Lekecia Benjamin’s Retox—all drawing from a variety of influences and genres. These are followed by three Latin jazz albums: Pete Escovedo’s Live from Stern Grove, David Álvarez’s Clandestino, and Ninety Miles Live at Cubadisco with the Christian Scott-David Sánchez- Stefon Harris trio.

Rap albums include Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, while R&B/Soul/Pop is covered by Toro y Moi’s Anything in Return, Macy Gray’s Stevie Wonder tribute Talking Book,  Maceo Parker’s Soul Classics, The Floacist’s Floetry Re:Birth, and the deluxe vinyl reissue of  D’Angelo’s Voodoo.  Gospel is represented by Stellar Award winner Le’Andria Johnson’s new deluxe edition of The Awakening of Le’Andria Johnson.

Last but not least is a short feature on new releases with a Valentine’s Day theme: the Destiny’s Child compilation Love Songs and Jeffrey Osborne’s A Time for Love.

View review February 1st, 2013

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