Archive for July, 2015

Welcome to the July 2015 Issue

Welcome to the July 2015 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.  This month we’re featuring two new jazz releases:  Jack DeJonette’s Made in Chicago and the self-titled debut album from Jamison Ross, winner of the 2012 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition.

Also featured is American Music from the bluegrass/hip hop group Gangstagrass, drummer Skoota Warner’s Vignettes, Toro Y Moi’s synth-heavy What For?, and the self-titled debut from the quartet Sons of Serendip.  New R&B releases include Maysa’s Back 2 Love, Phil Perry’s A Better Man, and Philly legend Bunny Sigler’s Bundino.

Gospel releases include Jason Nelson’s Jesus Revealed and Casey J’s breakout debut The Truth. World music releases include Mbongwana Star’s From Kinshasa, Anansy Cissé’s Mali Overdrive, Chilean band Chico Trujillo’s Reina de Todas las Fiestas, and Peruvian band Novalima’s Planetario, plus a review of the DVD Finding Fela.

Reissues include a new deluxe edition of J.B. Hutto & His Hawks’ landmark blues album Hawk Squat from Delmark, the Chicago-based R&B vocal group The Notations’ compilation Still Here 1967-1973 from Numero, and a reissue of the California gospel-soul ensemble The Supreme Jubilees’ It’ll All Be Over from Light in the Attic.

Wrapping up this issue is a review of the website “The Spirituals Database” and a summary of June 2015 black music releases of note.


View review July 1st, 2015

Jamison Ross – Jamison


Title: Jamison

Artist: Jamison Ross

Label: Concord Jazz

Format: CD

Release date: June 23, 2015


This debut album from drummer and vocalist Jamison Ross showcases many sides of the multi-instrumentalist’s musical personality, from down home to uptown.  Jamison is simultaneously versatile and cohesive, with Ross and his band dipping into a variety of styles, playing everything from backwoods shuffles (“Deep Down in Florida”) to impressionistic jazz instrumentals (“Set Us Free”) so convincingly that it is possible to wonder whether it is actually the same band on all of these tracks.  Following is the album trailer:

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Ross is an excellent musician, one part soulful, church-trained soul singer, and another part studious jazz drummer who has clearly spent countless hours learning Max Roach and Art Blakey solos.  While this combination may look strange on paper, Ross unifies these skills with his supreme sense of taste, pulling the best from both worlds and accentuating his personal strengths.  Never oversinging and rarely overplaying, Ross understands that most listeners aren’t impressed by technical facility alone—rather, he makes his formidable chops serve the songs and tunes that he has chosen to include on this album.

Ross’s ability and taste are accentuated by a constantly in-the-pocket backing band.  Keyboardist Chris Pattishall and bassist Corcoran Holt consistently find and ride Ross’s exemplary grooves, digging in when necessary and laying back when appropriate and the contributions of guitarist Rick Lollar are truly remarkable.  Lollar, who plays both slide guitar (“Deep Down in Florida” and “Bye Bye Blues Part II”) and Spanish style showcases the same versatility that Ross does throughout the course of this record, demonstrating a capability for smooth jazz (“Martha’s Prize”), standards (“My One and Only Love”), down home blues (“Bye Bye Blues Part II”), and beautiful nylon string touches (“The Things You are to Me”).  A group that brings this kind of versatility is the only kind that could adequately deliver Ross’s artistic vision, and this band does that and more.

This is an exciting release from a young jazz musician who brings chops, versatility, and taste to the table, all in good measures.  Jamison deserves multiple spins, and suggests that Ross will remain a key player in the effort to make jazz more accessible for younger and ever-diversifying audiences.

Reviewed by Matt Alley

View review July 1st, 2015

Jack DeJohnette – Made in Chicago


Title: Made in Chicago

Artist: Jack DeJohnette

Label: ECM

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 10, 2015


August 29, 2013 was “Jack DeJonette Day” in Chicago; that night, Mayor Rahm Emanuel presented DeJonette with a celebratory plaque honoring him on this day at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Earlier, DeJonette had been invited to present a concert of anything he wanted, and DeJonette responded with a stellar lineup he called the Special “Legends” Edition: horn men Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, bassist Larry Gray and himself on drums. All but Gray were veterans of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) improvisers group founded in 1965; while these musicians have played together off and on since that time, this was the maiden voyage for this particular ensemble. The original AACM helped to establish the city of Chicago as a vital flashpoint on the free jazz circuit, fostered the famed Art Ensemble of Chicago and is, today, a key educational institution in the city. The choice of Gray to fill in the bass role which, in another time, might have gone to the late Malachi Favors is an interesting one, given his comparative youth and association with more mainstream concepts. However, Gray is widely recognized as a prime mover in the Chicago jazz scene, and his playing fits right in with this group of senior stalwarts.

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Anyone expecting these musicians, now in their 70s—and in Abrams’ case, 80s—to saddle forth with a nursing home rendition of “Muskrat Ramble” will be severely disappointed. Made in Chicago contains cutting-edge, challenging, exuberant and widely dynamic music making that embodies the spirit and soul of Chicago. Fresh and boldly expressive, this program of six compositions belongs to a distinct, disciplined and established tradition though, in a cursory listen, the word “tradition” would not be the first one would reach for; there is too much tilling of unbroken ground to signify that. It is hard not to single out the two Roscoe Mitchell pieces for their extraordinary beauty; “Chant” is a 17-minute explosion based on a simple upwards/downwards melodic idea, whereas “This” is a moody, mysterious and atmospheric meditation featuring Mitchell on bass recorder. DeJonette’s “Museum of Time” evolves from rolling, fountain-spray type figures emanating from Abrams’ piano and features some especially fine work from Threadgill on bass flute. DeJonette himself is the main element in “Jack 5,” composed by Abrams and at times reminiscent of Abrams own percussive, inside-piano approach. There is a definite sense of cohesive ensemble throughout the album, with compositions written to include the others in mind and concern for unified texture, particularly in “This.” The approach goes against the standard practice of typical “All-Star” gatherings where exalted soloists take turns, the people applaud, and everybody joins in on the head to close.

For a style of music that is, in some quarters, regarded as ‘dead’ or ‘irrelevant,’ Made in Chicago certainly seems very lively and forward-looking. It reaffirms the notion that music making can transcend age, and these musicians have survived well more than that since the AACM made its modest first steps forward in Chicago fifty years ago. ECM has done very well in recording this outdoor event, a difficult proposition given the variability of such conditions. The only drawback is that the live P.A. doesn’t sound so good in transmitting DeJonette’s spoken comments to the crowd of 10,000; these are fuzzy and indistinct at times. Nevertheless, this concert is a truly historic event, and judging from the fervent audience response, it appears that they do “get it” in Chicago.

Reviewed by David N. Lewis

View review July 1st, 2015

Gangstagrass – American Music


Title: American Music

Artist: Gangstagrass

Label: Rench Audio

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 9, 2015


No one does unique quite like Gangstagrass does. The bluegrass hip-hop group grew out of lead singer Rench’s home in Southern California, where he would breakdance to Run-DMC at school, then come home and listen to Johnny Cash with his parents. Since their beginning, Gangstagrass has made a name for themselves with their distinctive brand of music that holds emcees and banjos at the same level. Their latest album, American Music, includes the Emmy-nominated “Long Hard Times to Come” featuring rapper T.O.N.E-z, which was the theme song on the 2010 FX show Justified. T.O.N.E-z is featured on many tracks, as are a slew of other guests such as Soul Khan, Smif N Wessun, and Megan Jean. As can be heard in the album trailer below, Gangstagrass makes two seemingly incompatible genres blend together quite well, creating a style that is fun and constantly surprising:

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Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review July 1st, 2015

Skoota Warner – Vignettes


Title: Vignettes

Artist: Skoota Warner

Label: No Shame

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 23, 2015


Skoota Warner has played drums for everyone from Lionel Richie to Matisyahu. He has played for metal bands (Screaming Headless Torsos), hip-hop artists, rock groups, and even was a member of the house band on The Emeril Lagasse Show. He writes and produces his own music, but Vignettes is his first album in almost twenty years (he released NGA Style on Popular/Radikal Records in 1996), and was created as “a labor of love composed of snippets of everything I love.”

Skoota collaborates with a variety of artists on Vignettes, who he worked with both in the studio and through online file sharing. The result is an album that spans as many genres as Skoota plays. He opens with one of three instrumental songs, “Odyssey,” which is a driving, rock-propelled track interspersed with sound effects that display the variety of the album.

The next three tracks are mixes of smooth R&B and hip hop featuring rapper C-Rayz. “Man Of Value” also features vocalist Sahaj Ticotin and has a rougher feel while “Still In Love,” featuring Kelli Sae, sounds akin to R&B rap from the 90s (see video below). Kelli Sae goes from background singer to featured artist in “Deserving Heart,” with soulful vocals that give spirit to the track.

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Skoota returns to rock with “Mobo,” nearly five minutes of rollicking electric guitar, hard-hitting drum set, and turntable scratches featuring C-Rayz and Kelli Sae. The final track on Vignettes, “Mo’ Mobo,” is an alternative version of this track that features blues rock back Hot Tuna.

“U Oughta Know” is brought to life by vocalist Donna Angelle and is incredibly fun and upbeat. It morphs into the one minute funky “U Oughta Jam,” which repeats the lyrics, “You make want to say.” “Changes” is just as funky, with a little less of an edge but never losing an urgent vibe that toes the line between funk and disco.

“Ensemble of Artjah” is something entirely different, a mix of electronic beats by DJ Logic with hard, jutting hip hop beats by Skoota that ends by spiraling into a funky abyss.  When listened to alongside “Without a Melody,” another instrumental song that oozes romance, one can clearly see Skoota’s wide range of talent in many genres.

Whether you’re a fan of hip hop, rock, funk, or a number of any other styles, chances are you’ll find something on Vignettes to enjoy. While it lacks a bit of a theme and consistency as an album, one can’t deny that it’s a great display of the varied influences on Skoota Warner’s life as well as his remarkable drumming skills.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review July 1st, 2015

Toro Y Moi – What For?


Title: What For?

Artist: Toro Y Moi

Label: Carpark Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: April 17, 2015


Chaz Bundick, better known by his stage name Toro Y Moi, became famous as one of the most successful “chillwave” artists, a short-lived genre that combined indie rock with dazed lyrics, reverbed vocals, and heavy synths. Unlike many other bands of that type, Bundick has made sure that Toro Y Moi is continually evolving, and Pitchfork classified 2013’s Anything in Return as “limber electro-acoustic dance-pop.” On his latest album, What For?, Bundick returns to his roots, including heavy synth in many songs, such as “Lilly” (video below), while also maintaining an alternative rock vibe in songs like the guitar-driven “Empty Nesters.” Returning to his roots doesn’t mean living in the past, though. Bundick approached this album with maturity and years of new experience, making What For? one of the most talked about indie albums of the year.

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Reviewed by Anna Polovick


View review July 1st, 2015

Sons of Serendip – Sons of Serendip


Title: Sons of Serendip

Artist: Sons of Serendip

Label: NIA

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 17, 2015


In 2014, Sons of Serendip first wowed television audiences as a contestant on the ninth season of America’s Got Talent. Their passionate covers and distinct arrangements granted them the fourth place spot in the competition and are the heart of this debut release. On Sons of Serendip, these four friends who originally met during their graduate studies at Boston University, have transformed a few well-known classic songs with their artful arrangements that they perform on voice, piano, cello, and harp. The album includes eight tracks plus two bonus tracks, and all except one are covers originally performed during the America’s Got Talent competition. Some of the group’s covers are riveting arrangements of dance numbers they adapted to fit the character of their instrumentation, including a very slowed down version of Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child.” The group also softens the edge of the driving “Bring Me to Life” by the rock band Evanescence. In addition to dance tracks, the group makes great use of songs that easily fit the group’s character, performing covers of Bonnie Rait’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know.”

Sons of Serendip showcases the reason these four musicians grabbed America’s attention in competition on America’s Got Talent and gives good reason for us to continue to follow their careers.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review July 1st, 2015

Maysa – Back 2 Love


Title: Back 2 Love

Artist: Maysa

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 26, 2015


This year marks Baltimore native Maysa Leak’s 20th anniversary as a solo recording artist. Even before her solo pursuits, she was making musical career moves that would catapult her into the upper echelons of the music industry. After meeting Stevie Wonder at a performance during her studies at Morgan State University, she became a supporting vocalist in his female backup group Wonderlove. After joining and performing with the British jazz band Incognito, she released her self-titled debut album in 1995. Since then, she has released ten albums, some of which have been successful on both the contemporary jazz and R&B charts, with Blue Velvet Soul (2013) earning her first Grammy nomination. Maysa’s eleventh solo release, Back 2 Love, is a personal statement about her desire for love in a blend of dance pop, R&B, soul and jazz.

Maysa wrote the majority of the twelve tracks on this album, but there are other significant contributions from well-known artists and producers. For example, Back 2 Love features two duets with artists who also contribute as songwriters on the album. The album’s first single, “Keep It Movin’,” is a duet with Mint Condition’s Stokley Williams, which he also wrote and produced (see video below). The album also features a duet with Phil Perry on the song “Last Chance for Love,” a song he also co-wrote.

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Other highlights on the album include the jazzy “Heavenly Voices”—a composition that handles the density of Maysa’s voice perfectly. The opening and title track, “Back 2 Love,” is an up-tempo dance track that celebrates love and the search for it. “Go Away Little Boy” is an original, inspired by the song of the same title performed by Marlene Shaw, and before her, Nancy Wilson.

Back 2 Love showcases Maysa’s beautiful and unique voice and celebrates love in all of its facets.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review July 1st, 2015

Phil Perry – A Better Man


Title: A Better Man

Artist: Phil Perry

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 20, 2015


When mentioning Phil Perry’s name you often hear, “You mean Steve Perry the lead singer from Journey?”  No, Phil Perry, no relation.  Phil has been around since the early 1970s, singing with the group The Montclairs.  In the 1980s he had a respectable hit called Just to Make You Happy,and in the 1990s he did some vocals for the smooth jazz band The Rippingtons.  Throughout his career he has worked with some of the biggest names in pop, R&B, and jazz such as Dave Grusin, Freddie Hubbard, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Bobby Womack, Chaka Khan, Fourplay, and George Benson, just to name a few.

Now with his tenth solo album, A Better Man, Phil is hitting his stride.  Coming back into the limelight at the age of 62, his voice is still as pure and clear as the first time you heard him back in the ‘70s.  This album is for the lovers out there and the track that really exemplifies this is Feelin’ You,” a very soft and tender song that makes you want to look into each other’s eyes and just be in love.

The only disappointing aspect of this album is that it only has ten tracks, which will leave you wanting more.  The opening track, which is the title song “A Better Man,” is a great blend of soul and smooth jazz all rolled up in one song. Perry also does a great remake of the Cliff Richards’ song “Gypsy Woman” that’s nice and slow and emotional, with his voice soaring over the music. His cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “I’m So Proud” features saxophonist Kim Waters, a well know player in the smooth jazz realm.  Throughout this very soulful song, Phil and Kim play off one other with great harmonies and great vocal lines.

Phil’s voice sounds so smooth throughout the album, you will not go wrong getting into A Better Man.

Reviewed by Patrick Byrket

View review July 1st, 2015

Bunny Sigler – Bundino


Title: Bundino

Artist: Bunny Sigler

Label: BunZ Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 12, 2015


Legendary producer, songwriter and soul singer Bunny Sigler—lauded as one of the architects of the Philly Sound—offers a new album that showcases his classic R&B sound.  Bundino, also the term for an unusually rich and creamy pudding, aptly describes Sigler’s ultra-rich voice. The album offers a mix of romantic ballads sung with the heart wrenching style that earned him the moniker “Mr. Emotion.” Sigler excels on tracks such as his tribute to a lovely lady “She’s Got the Good Stuff,” the love song for his woman “Lavada,” and the current single “When I Think of You.” For added variety, there’s the more contemporary R&B number “Call 911,” the jazzy ballad “Song for Sig,” the hip hop oriented “I’ve Been There Before,” and my personal favorite, the ode to southern cooking “Buttermilk and Cornbread.”

Sigler may be well into his seventh decade, but he’s still got the voice and the songwriting skills to keep “Mr. Emotion” in the game.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 1st, 2015

Jason Nelson – Jesus Revealed


Title: Jesus Revealed

Artist: Jason Nelson

Label: RCA Records

Format: CD and MP3

Release date: January 16, 2015


Jason Nelson  has been described on iTunes as a “worship leader, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and soulful contemporary singer/songwriter.” A factor that is pivotal in the making of his recent album, Jesus Revealed, is the conspicuous and fiery desire to project his gospel music as a passionate worship of God. This spiritual keenness was already apparent in July 2014 when he released the single, “I Am” (track 5), a cool worship song that “personifies God speaking to his people of His perfect ability and power through Jason’s voice” (New Release Today)––a theme that seems to run through the entire album in variety of ways.

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However, what is intriguing about Jesus Revealed is its heterogeneity of styles. Listening to “Right In This Place” one gets an impression––given its very hot and upbeat tempo––of being transported to the arena of techno, until the chorus enters with a homophony that seems to betray immediately the religious trajectory of the track. On the other hand, the preceding track “So In Love” has a gentle swing with string accompaniment that is characteristic of bluegrass.  “I See the Lord” features the worship-inviting voice of Tasha Page-Lockhart, a well-known Christian R&B and urban contemporary gospel artist and musician who is famous for winning the Sunday Best gospel singing competition for consecutive six seasons. The ensuing track (10), “The Lamb,” has every mien of worship, accompanied as it were by only a piano.

Other tracks include the “Opening – God Is Great” (1), “Pour Out Your Spirit” (2), “Can’t Stop Calling” (3), “Way Maker” (4), “Jesus Revealed” (6), “Never Ending Worship” (7), “I Can Run” (8), “There Is Something About That Name” (11), “I’m In Love With You (Intro)” ( 12), “I’m In Love With You” (13), “Shout Praise” (14), “In This Place” (15).

According to Jason Nelson’s website, “he pastors the Greater Bethlehem Temple Church, a thriving ministry in Randallstown, Maryland; however he is one of the most recognized voices in gospel music and is considered to possess a rare gift in the Body of Christ as he releases the power of the presence of God.” This summary is testimony of the high powered spiritual experience that one can expect to have while listening to Jesus Revealed.

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review July 1st, 2015

Casey J. – The Truth


Title: The Truth

Artist: Casey J.

Label: Marquis Boone Enterprises/Tyscot Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 21, 2015


The Truth!  And it was Pontius Pilate who once asked the very important question to Jesus: What is the truth? Probably for Casey J. Hobbs, fondly known as Casey J, truth is to be located in the life and lived reality of gospel worship music production. Her recent album The Truth was therefore primarily produced in a live worship session on January 30, 2015, at Fresh Start Church in Duluth, Georgia. Not in the studio! For her, gospel worship must really be live and hence lived.

Casey started out as a teacher  but was laid off, something that proved to be a grace inasmuch as she suddenly rose to become one of “the Top Ten of three different Billboard Magazine sales or airplay charts with her powerful debut radio single ‘Fill Me Up,’” as her biography puts it. The single constitutes the 9th and 12th track in the present album. Indeed it was a sign of greater things to come.

Listening to the first track of the album, “Let it Be Known,” one is immediately impressed by the confidence exuded and by her new approach to gospel performance. Indeed, it is all about a modern communal gospel-based worship. This is confirmed in the title track, “The Truth,” that bursts forth with an upbeat rhythm and full melodic accompaniment, while the message “You are my truth” is aggressively stated. On the song “I’m Yours,” she brings out what Bob Marovich refers to as “the ebullience of Casey’s vocal delivery, which oozes with optimism and kinetic energy,” a factor contributing in making the album a break out hit. In the brisk and breezy “Better,” the listener is treated to Casey’s energy and optimism. The same mien is seen in “Have Your Way,” a duet which Casey performs with Jason Nelson, which demonstrates her penchant for solid, almost orchestral-sized pop accompaniment. Other noteworthy tracks include “Oh You Bring,” “Your Heart,” “Never Run Dry,” and “Journal.”

Casey brings to gospel performance an attitude of total dedication. For her, “people and worship are my heart.” In saying this she desires “the environment of [her] performances to be about the worship and not so much about [herself as a person] or [her] artistic persona.” Her gospel “isn’t a traditional church sound – [but] worship in its purest form.”

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review July 1st, 2015

Finding Fela


Title: Finding Fela

Director: Alex Gibney

Label: Kino Lorber

Format: DVD

Release Date: January 13, 2015


Operating on the premise that Fela Kuti, the Nigerian Afro-Pop pioneer, was somewhat unknown to American audiences until the Broadway musical “Fela!” opened in 2009, director Alex Gibney weaves extensive interviews and rehearsal footage from that production with a somewhat clipped and shallow biography of the actual Fela.

The result is an over-long documentary that underplays the revolutionary impact of the real Fela Kuti, both as a musical force and a political actor. The interviews with Kuti’s children touch on how much risk and abuse he endured in a stubborn quest to use popular music to upset and perhaps unseat the military dictators in Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s.  Fela sacrificed everything: his mother was thrown off a second-floor balcony by soldiers raiding his home, and she never fully recovered; his compound and recording studio were destroyed; and he was arrested and beaten numerous times, finally serving several years in a harsh prison.  He never gave up, but eventually contracted AIDS as a result of his free-form lifestyle, and died at age 58 in 1997.

Fela Kuti’s real life provides plenty of grist for a great documentary, but instead we get half a film documenting the rehearsals, self-aggrandizing production talk and snippets of performances from the Broadway production.  While this footage is visually compelling, it’s boring compared to the real Fela.

To “find” Fela, the fim crew should have stayed in Africa, included longer segments of Fela himself speaking (he was interviewed numerous times), and letting his children tell more about what Nigeria was like while Fela was alive and trying to effect change.  It’s also worth noting that many American music fans don’t need to “find” Fela because we knew all about him, as the pioneer of Afro-Pop, a known and promoted EMI recording artist, a man whose music has often been discussed and sampled in the years after his death, a known and admired political activist, etc.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review July 1st, 2015

Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa


Title: From Kinshasa

Artist: Mbongwana Star

Label: World Circuit

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release Date: May 19, 2015


Mbongwana Star began when Congolese singers Coco Ngambali and Theo Nzonza, formerly members of Staff Benda Bilili, heard the album Black Voices by Nigerian drummer Tony Allen with the eclectic Parisian producer Doctor L.  Inspired by Allen’s different sound, they decided to leave behind their rumba days and create something new. “Mbongwana,” which means change, grew out of this transition and their desire to make more futuristic music. They reached out to Doctor L and joined together a few more players, both relatives and people they knew from their street jams, to create the band Mbongwana Star, a fusion of traditional Afro-Caribbean rhythms with modern electronic and rock music.

From Kinshasa is Mbongwana Star’s debut album and is named after the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The band describes the city on their website: “the whole continent danced to its premium musical exports: rumba and soukous. Then war, corruption and chaos bought Kinshasa to its knees.” Along with other artists, photographers, designers, technicians, and sculptors, Mbongwana Star is “refashioning waste into unimagined objects, sounds, happenings, ideas.” They have certainly succeeded in From Kinshasa, a fearless, unapologetic mix of the traditional and modern.

The single from the album, “Malukayi feat. Konono No.1,” resides somewhere in between soft rock and smooth electronica.  Though woven together by a melodic guitar that almost has the timbre of an mbira, other parts of the song use distortion which Doctor L intentionally added, saying “There are three TVs going full blast. Distortion multiplies the energy.” Vocals are interspersed throughout the song, falling in and out effortlessly and functioning more as an instrument than words. The music video features “The Congo Astronaut,” who is content to wander the streets of Kinshasa in a spacesuit:

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“Masobélé” and “Kala” both sound like popular songs that could be heard on the radio. The vocals in “Masobélé” resemble rapping until the end, which is thirty seconds of soulful harmonic singing. There is a soft flute in the background and even the sound of heavy breathing. “Kala” has more of a club feel, with percussion led by an upbeat drum set with electronic beeps that fade in and out of the track.

“Coco Blues,” an extremely soothing track that stands out as one of the most acoustic songs on the album, is also one of the only songs where the vocals truly take the lead. Coco and Theo’s soulful yet guttural voices are what make this track so raw and moving.

“1 Million C’est Quoi?” is the sole track that was not written or arranged by Doctor L and, like “Coco Blues,” does not have a heavy production.  Allowing the raw musical abilities of Mbongwana Star to shine, the song is driven by harmonious vocals, group choruses, rocking guitar, and Afro-Caribbean production.

Mbongwana Star’s goal for their music is to “get out of the Afro-African straightjacket into which everyone tries to put African bands.” From Kinshasa achieves that goal and, while eclectic, offers a cohesive fusion of styles and sounds. Doctor L’s distinctive production style and electronic effects bring something new to Congolese music, but what makes this album most successful is that Mbongwana Star never put aside their Afro-Caribbean roots or their immense musical talent while boldly incorporating many genres into one new sound.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Listen on Spotify here.

View review July 1st, 2015

Anansy Cissé – Mali Overdrive


Title: Mali Overdrive

Artist: Anansy Cissé

Label: Riverboat Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 27, 2015


It is easy to adopt a reductionist view of African music as consisting mainly or even exclusively of drumming. Listening to Mali Overdrive forces one to revisit, if not totally abandon this hackneyed and groundless concept. This album is not merely another conglomerate of sounds from different guitars as has become typical of some Afro-pop (although guitars are not absent), but incorporates original Malian instruments, especially the riff producing ngoni and the mesmerizing soku fiddle, as well as the sound of the calabash. There you have it––African music with indigenous African instruments!

While the rhythm, “electrified and reenergized” under Anansy Cissé’s direction, is characteristically Fulani and Songhai, the lyrical content is generally about life. There are ten tracks in all, dealing with issues such as social living, love, dance and Malian history. The tracks in order of their arrangement are as follows: 1. Baala, 2. Fati Ka, 3. Aïgouna, 4. Sekou Amadou, 5.Wamassiheme, 6. Agobene, 7. Alhamidou, 8. Aye Woma, 9. Horey and 10. Gomni. However, more interesting is the fact that these tracks were recorded over a period five months (January to May 2013), indicating a rigorous engagement with the recording.

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Cissé, whom Rachel Jackson and Philippe Sanmiguel (authors of the liner notes) describe as “a pioneer of new music that champions ancient tradition and uncharted modernity at once,” presents to a world audience a “gutsy guitar style that plays on tradition by matching it with direct influence of 1960s and 1970s psychedelic-flavored rock and roll.”

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

Listen on Spotify here.

View review July 1st, 2015

Chico Trujillo – Reina de Todas las Fiestas


Title: Reina de Todas las Fiestas

Artist: Chico Trujillo

Label: Barbés Records

Format: CD

Release date: June 23, 2015


The group Chico Trujillo was formed fifteen years ago in the little town of Villa Aleman, just outside the colorful seaside city of Valparaíso, Chile. In informal gatherings, singer Aldo “Macha” Asenjo and his punk band La Floripondio played old cumbia hits from before the Pinochet dictatorship. The more they played together, the more they began to create a cohesive sound, and before long a new band was formed. Chico Trujillo has gone on to become one of the leading cumbia bands in the world, touring everywhere from Berlin to Chicago and releasing six albums. Their latest effort, Reina de Todas las Fiestas, which translates to “Queen of All the Parties,” brings more upbeat cumbia songs with a new “pan Latin American sound” that includes “an Andean edge, some Argentinean slang, and Mexican fans.”

Some of the standout collaborations on the album are with Banda Wiracocha, Kevin Johansen, and Rebel Diaz. Banda Wiracocha is a thirty-piece brass band from Iquique in the North of Chile. Their specialty carnival music brings a big-band feel to the title track “Reina de todas la fiestas.”  Argentinian pop star Kevin Johansen is featured on “Los nervious que te di” with the chorus sung in unison by all nine members of Chico Trujillo. Rebel Diaz is a hip-hop group from the Bronx led by two Chilean brothers, and they are featured on “Chatito,” a slower cumbia track with a great electronic keyboard part.

Chico Trujillo gave the album a high bar when naming it Reina de Todas las Fiestas, but through their international collaborations, years of experience, and larger than life sound, they proved themselves once again as the kings of cumbia and the queen of all the parties.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Listen on Spotify here.

View review July 1st, 2015

Novalima – Planetario


Title: Planetario

Artist: Novalima

Label: Wonderwheel Recordings

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: June 15, 2015


Since the early 2000s, Peruvian band Novalima has worked together to bridge the divide between the mainstream and the minority Afro-Peruvian community, which has faced discrimination and cultural dissolution for generations. Their latest album, Planetario, has a more international outlook and includes guests from Colombia, Spain, and the UK/New Zealand. The album includes a song written in honor of the legendary Peruvian percussionist and Novalima band member Mangue Vasquez, who passed away in 2014, titled “Como Yo.” He asked friends to celebrate his life rather than mourn, which is inspired the chorus “Gozen la vida como y,” which means “Enjoy life like I do.” Combining traditional Afro-Peruvian instruments such as cajon, shekere, and quijada with electronic synth and bass, Novalima creates funky Latin electronic dance music that is sure to get you moving.

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Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Listen on Spotify here.

View review July 1st, 2015

J.B. Hutto & His Hawks – Hawk Squat


Title: Hawk Squat

Artist: J.B. Hutto & His Hawks

Label: Delmark

Formats: CD (Deluxe ed.), MP3

Release date: April 14, 2015


In the mid 1960s Joseph Benjamin (J.B.) Hutto played three nights a week at Turner’s Lounge, a rough blues bar at the corner of 39th and Indiana on Chicago’s South Side.  Delmark Records founder Bob Koester describes the place in his booklet forward for this new deluxe reissue of one of his label’s modern blues classics: “Fifty cents would gain you entry and a beer. Not having that dollar charge at the door made Turner’s rowdier than other clubs.”  When Koester and his wife, Sue, first heard Hutto in “’62 or ’63,” the guitarist/singer “lived in Harvey (Illinois) and took public transportation to and from Turner’s Lounge. And he got $5 a night.”

Starting in 1966, Koester tried to capture the raw power of a live Hutto show for a Delmark studio album.  A session recorded at Mother Blues club after hours netted one song on this album, “Hip Shakin,'” which gained enough traction as a single to get Hutto and his band booked on a small West Coast tour.  But, Koester wrote in his original LP liner notes, drummer Frank Kirkland came down with tuberculosis.  When he recovered, Hutto “caught a serious case of pneumonia.”  The end result was that Koester couldn’t get the band back into the studio until 1968.  A May session at Sound Studio and an August session at Chess-owned Ter-Mar Studio netted enough tracks for a classic electric blues album.

Hawk Squat is one of three Delmark albums from the ‘60s now inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame.  The others are Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues and Magic Sam’s West Side Soul.  For this deluxe reissue of Hutto’s album, Delmark included 6 extra tracks—the previously-unreleased “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” from the Ter-Mar session plus alternate takes of five tunes on the original album.

Hutto was a slide guitar powerhouse.  Like Hound Dog Taylor, he was influenced by Elmore James and Muddy Waters.  His blues was the kind of faster, louder, grittier electric music that appealed to a younger urban crowd in the ‘60s, and ended up being the dominant strain of the 1990s “blues revival.” Koester created an interesting and varied album by paring Hutto and Kirkland with keyboardist Sunnyland Slim and different bassists at each session.  For the Ter-Mar session, Lee Jackson was added on rhythm guitar, Junior Pettis played bass and Sunnyland Slim mostly played electric organ.  For the Sound Studio session, Dave Myers played bass and Koester added tenor saxman Maurice McIntyre, an avant garde jazz player who worked days at Koester’s Jazz Record Mart.

Musically, this album falls somewhere between the rough-edged raw energy of Hound Dog Taylor’s classic live album Beware of the Dog and the polished talent of a late ‘60s Muddy Waters outing.  There’s a ton of blues power, but listen carefully to just how well Hutto, Sunnyland Slim, McIntyre and the rhythm section play together. They never let their enthusiasm and passion make them un-tight. That’s why the album is a classic.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review July 1st, 2015

The Supreme Jubilees – It’ll All Be Over


Title: It’ll All Be Over  

Artist: The Supreme Jubilees

Label: Light in the Attic

Release date: January 27, 2015

Formats: CD, LP, MP3


The Supreme Jubilees constituted by the four Sanders brothers (Philip, Tim, Leonard, and Melvin) and two Kingsby brothers (Joe and David) first came to the limelight in the 1970s when they started to perform around California’s Central Valley church circuit. The gospel ensemble released their only album, It’ll All Be Over, in 1980 on its own S&K (Sanders & Kingsby) label.

As Jessica Hundley writes in the liner notes of this Light in the Attic reissue of the album, “its lyrics [are] drawn from the Old Testament, its sound from the church by way of the disco.” Indeed, the nine tracks have a disco soul feel, with “decent… uptempo tunes… that have a tactile magic about them.” The upbeat nature is immediately felt as one listens to the gentle unfolding of the first track, “It’ll All Be Over.” Further, the liner notes declare ambitiously: “If God had a disco, the DJ would be playing California gospel-soul group The Supreme Jubilees.” The listener is then warned rather oxymoronically: “prepare to dance and contemplate death all at the same time.” This monition is literally verified as one listens to the second track “Do You Believe”:

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Other songs include “Thank You Lord” (track 3), “I Am on the Lord’s Side” (track 4), “You Don’t Know” (Track 5), “Standing in the Need of Prayer” (track 6), “Got a Right” (track 7), “We’ll Understand” (track 8), and “Stop Today” (Track 9). While laden with varied if complementary religious and deeply spiritual messages, these tracks are commonly marked by that so-called four-on-the-floor rhythmic pattern that is characteristic of disco music, consisting – more or less – in a uniform accentuation of all the units of beat in a simple common time signature. A veritable disco sacro, however paradoxical it may sound!

It’ll All Be Over is de facto apocalyptic both in reference and emphasis. But its apocalyptic posture has nothing to do with being gloomy; instead we have a musical picture suggesting – as Andy Beta observes (and as succinctly depicted in the album front picture) – that “the afterlife is as beauteous as the Pacific Ocean come sunset yet as warm as a baptismal dip in the Caribbean” (Pitchfork, February 13, 2015).

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

Listen on Spotify here.

View review July 1st, 2015

The Notations – Still Here 1967-1973


Title: Still Here 1967-1973

Artist: The Notations

Label: Numero Group

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 17, 2015


Chicago-based vocal group The Notations were formed in 1962 by two childhood friends, Clifford Curry and LaSalle Matthews, who attended Parker High School where they performed together in their high school’s talent show. After meeting James Stroud, a former Dunbar High School student, they rounded out the group and took their performances from high school talent shows to the local nightclubs. Eventually, their contacts led them to Tad Records where they produced recordings that were mostly sold hand-to-hand. It was a connection to the legendary Syl Johnson that led to their signing with Twinight Records and their first hit song, “I’m Still Here,” the inspiration for this compilation’s title.

Still Here brings together works from the period between 1967 and 1973. Included are previously unreleased titles such as “Young Girl,” from the Notations’ very first recording recovered from a cassette tape. This collection also includes only scarcely heard Tad singles—“Trying My Best To Find Her” and “Gonna Get Ready”—as well as recordings such as “I’m Still Here” from Twinight Records, and other singles that saw minimal distribution such as “What More Can I Say” and “I Don’t Want To Be Late” from their time at Cash Records. Although the group’s time at Curtis Mayfield and Eddie Thomas’s Curtom label is outside of the scope of this collection, Still Here offers an insightful view into the groups’ earlier recordings and their overall career through the songs and extensive liner notes.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

Listen on Spotify here.


View review July 1st, 2015

The Spirituals Database: An Art of the Negro Spiritual Project




Title: The Spirituals Database: An Art of the Negro Spiritual Project

Artists: Various

Format: Website/Database

As educational, public, and private institutions expand the breadth of information available on the internet, there is much that remains unrepresented and misrepresented, particularly concerning African American music. To address one area of this vast body of cultural expressions, soprano and researcher Randye Jones has developed a website called The Spirituals Database aimed at cataloguing “negro spiritual settings performed by solo classical vocalists.” Currently featuring information for over 2,700 recordings in multiple formats (CDs, 45s, LPs), The Spirituals Database is being constantly updated to include an ever growing range of materials. This site is fully searchable for categories like song title, voice part, performer, and composer. It also includes a browse feature that allows users to peruse recordings alphabetically by song title or by the composer’s last name.

Jones has intentionally crafted this site to be a resource for vocalists and teachers or vocal coaches interested in exploring this repertoire. It includes a brief historical overview of spirituals as well as several related resources that offer sheet music and primary documents that discuss the context and style of early folk and arranged spirituals. While The Spirituals Database is in its nascent phase, it is a valuable resource for those looking to hear and learn more about this timeless expression.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review July 1st, 2015

June Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during June 2015—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
Barbecue Bob: Rough Guide To Barbecue Bob (World Music Network)
Bey Paule Band: Not Goin’ Away (Blue Dot)
Carl Sims: Hell On My Hands (Music Access)
Charley Pride: Country Wat/Make Mine Country Reissues (Music City)
Charlie Sayles: Night Ain’t Right-Complete Session-25th Aniv. Ed.  (JSP)
Fannie Lou Hamer: Songs My Mother Taught Me (Smithsonian Folkways)
Lucky Peterson: July 28th 2014 [Live in Marciac] (Jazz Village)
Luther Lackey: Contender (Music Access)
Tyree Neal: I’ll Be the Other Man (Music Access)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Amos Lee: Live At Red Rocks With The Colorado Symphony (ATO)
Blessid Union of Souls: Live At Never On Sunday (Goldenlane)
DJ Vadim & Sena: Slow Grow (BBE)
Frankie Knuckles: House Masters (Defected)
Nozinja: Nozinja Lodge (Warp)
Slash: Live At The Roxy 09.25.14 (Armoury)
Straight Line Stitch: Transparency (Pavement Music)
Tina Turner: Private Dancer 30th Anniversary Ed. (Rhino)
Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band: Funk Life (Self released)

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM
Conrad Miller: Caught Up (Millcon Music Ministries)
Danetra Moore: Light In the Dark (Tyscot)
Dr. F. James Clark & the Shalom Church Mass Choir: Simply Amazing
Marvin Sapp: You Shall Live (RCA Inspiration)
Paul Scott & One Wat: Heart (Topnotch Music)
Rev. Charles Taylor: Inspirational Gospel Legends Vol. 3 (Independent Label Services)
Rev. Claude Jeter: Inspirational Gospel Legends Vol. 4 (Independent Label Services)
Richard Smallwood with Vision: Anthology Live (RCA Inspiration)
Swan Silvertones: Amen, Amen, Amen: The Essential Collection (Rockbeat)

Aaron Diehl: Space Time Continuum (Mack Avenue)
Ahmad Jamal: Live In Marciac, August 5th 2014 (Jazz Village)
Antoinette Mantague: World Peace in the Key of Jazz (Straight Ahead)
Billie Holiday: Banned From New York City, Live 1948-1957 (Uptown Jazz)
Bob Baldwin: Mellowonder / Songs In the Key of Stevie (Red River Ent.)
Charenee Wade: Offering – The Music of Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson (Motema)
Fort Lean: Quiet Day (Ooh La La)
Randy Scott: Serenity (Trippin & Rhythm)
Robert Glasper: Covered (Blue Note)
Terell Stafford: BrotherLee Love – Celebrating Lee Morgan (Capri)
Wycliffe Gordon: Somebody New

R&B, Soul
Bilal: In Another Life (eOne)
Carl Hall: You Don’t Know Nothing About Love (Omnivore)
Chic: An Evening With Chic (Goldenlane)
Demetria McKinney : Officially Yours (eOne)
Elijah Blake: Shadows & Diamonds (Def Jam)
Grace Jones: Slave to the Rhythm (LMLR)
Jason Derulo: Everything Is 4 (Warner Bros.)
Jill Scott: Golden Moments (Hidden Beach)
John Michael: Sophisticated (Topnotch Music)
Leon Bridges: Coming Home (Columbia)
Lyfe Jennings: Tree of Lyfe (Ral)
Miguel: Wild Heart (RCA)
Nao: February 15 EP (Dummy)
Percy Sledge: Ultimate Performance – When A Man Loves A Woman (CD+DVD)
Rebecca Ferguson: Lady Sings the Blues (RCA)
Simi Stone: Simi Stone (Reveal Records)
Sonny Knight and the Lakers: Do It Live (Secret Stash)
Teedra Moses: Cognac & Conversation (Shanachie)
The Internet: Ego Death (Columbia)
Trey Songz: Trigga Reloaded (Atlantic)

Rap, Hip Hop
Twista & Do Or Die: Withdrawal EP (Gmg Ent.)
Beat Flippa: Street Certified III (Music Access Inc.)
Black Knights: Almighty (Record Collection)
Czarface: Every Hero Needs a Villain (Brick)
Declaime: Southside Story (SomeOthaShip Connect)
Denzel Curry: 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms (C9)
Des Hoodstar: Anger Management (Thump)
Dom Kennedy: Dom Kennedy (Other People’s Money Co.)
Dre Doja: J-Diggs Presents Dre Doja Skate Rap Trap (T-Team)
EDO.G: Afterwords (Effiscienz)
Estee Nack & Purpose: 14 Forms (Ill Adrenaline)
Harleighblu: Futurespective EP (Tru Thoughts)
J-Diggs & Jacka: Mobb Nation (Romp)
Jedi Mind Tricks: The Thief and the Fallen (Enemy Soil/The Orchard)
Lil C: H-Town Chronic 14 (Oarfin)
Lil Durk: Remember My Name (Def Jam)
Luniz: High Times (Zoo Ent)
Main Attrakionz: 808s & Dark Grapes III (ADA/Vapor)
Nappy Roots: The 40 Akerz Project  (Nappy Roots Ent.)
Pete Rock: Petestrumentals 2 (Mello Music)
Skyzoo: Music for my Friends (First Generation)
Slum Village: Yes (Ne’Astra Music)
Stevie Stone: Malta Bend (Strange Music)
Thaione Davis: Donald Mayhem – Skywriters (Jericho Lounge Music)
Vince Staples: Summertime ’06 (Def Jam)
Will Sessions: Mix Takes (Fat Beats)
Z-Ro: I Found Me (RBC)

Reggae, Dancehall
Byron Lee & The Dragonaires: Uptown Top Ranking (VP)
Don Omar: Last Don II (Machete Music)
Expanders: Hustling Culture (Easy Star)
Ky-Mani Marley: Maestro [Deluxe Edition] (Konfrontation Muzic LLC)
The Expanders: Hustling Culture (Easy Star)

World, Latin
Daby Touré: Amonafi (Cumbancha)
Ginger Johnson & His African Messengers: African Party (Freestyle)
Ola Fresca: Elixir (Pipiki Records)
Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band: Strut

View review July 1st, 2015

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