Archive for January, 2016

Welcome to the January 2016 Issue

Welcome to the January 2016 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month were leading with Wes Montgomery’s One Night in Indy, Resonance Records’ third volume of mostly unreleased recordings by the jazz guitar legend, who is joined here by the Eddie Higgins Trio. Other jazz recordings include the live Abbey Lincoln album Sophisticated Abbey, the Abbey Lincoln tribute album Ghosts Appearing through the Sound by New York vocalist Kosi, and the jazz-based album Freedom & Surrender by Lizz Wright.

African American poets are also celebrated this month. Detroit native Jessica Care Moore’s debut, Black Tea: The Legend of Jessi James, is a “jazz poetry” album with guests Talib Kweli, Roy Ayers, and Jose James, among others. Also included is the new Blu-Ray edition of the 1982 concert documentary Gil Scott-Heron in Black Wax, and the Charenee Wade tribute album Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson.

Continuing our annual winter blues theme, we’re featuring the Andy T- Nick Nixon Band’s Numbers Man, Steve Howell & the Mighty Men’s Friend Like Me, Linsey Alexander’s Come Back Baby, Danielle Nicole’s Wolf Den, and the Sonny Terry compilation His 21 Best Songs.

Wrapping up this issue is Dream by R&B vocalist Angie Stone; Transparency by the rock band Straight Line Stitch; the Numero reissue of Eyes of Love recorded by soul group The Edge of Daybreak in Powhatan prison; and our list of December 2015 Releases of Note.

View review January 4th, 2016

Wes Montgomery – One Night in Indy

One Night in Indy

Title: One Night in Indy

Artist: Wes Montgomery featuring the Eddie Higgins Trio

Label: Resonance

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: January 15, 2016
 

 

With its latest release, One Night in Indy, Resonance Records brings us their third volume in what will be known as a treasury of mostly unknown early recordings of legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery. This release, from a performance recorded in Indianapolis on January 18, 1959, is certainly as exciting as the two that preceded it (In the Beginning and Echoes of Indiana Avenue), and reflects top-level performances by four emerging jazz artists: Wes Montgomery (guitar), Eddie Higgins (piano), unknown (bass), and Walter Perkins (drums).

Let’s begin with a few words about both Eddie Higgins and Wes Montgomery to set the stage. Higgins’ first recording was made early in 1957, and he appeared on many sessions the following year recorded by the Chicago-based Argo Records. This reflected the growing recognition of his talents among his fans in Chicago. The One Night in Indy performance, sponsored by the Indianapolis Jazz Club (hereafter IJC), was mid-way during Eddie’s time with Argo and nine months before he was recorded accompanying Coleman Hawkins at the Playboy Jazz Festival. Yet, despite his growing reputation, Eddie’s first documented performance outside the Chicago area was with Jack Teagarden in Florida in 1963, some four years later.

Clearly the IJC was among the earliest groups to recognize Eddie’s talents and commit funds to bringing him with two others to Indianapolis for this appearance. The notes to the CD state that the drummer was Walter Perkins, also growing his reputation in Chicago while recording on Argo Records with Ahmad Jamal. A likely candidate for bass would have been Bob Cranshaw, since he had recorded with Eddie twice at about this time on Argo Records, and a bit later in the appearance with Coleman Hawkins at the Playboy Jazz Festival; however, when contacted by the CD’s producer, Bob said that this was not him and could not provide any further information. Thus, the bassist remains unidentified, but perhaps other musicians recording for Argo Records could be candidates? Anyhow, the Trio was likely all Chicago-based and probably very familiar with each other’s styles.

Montgomery’s first recordings pre-date Eddie’s by a decade—with Lionel Hampton beginning in 1948—and then a five year gap until he recorded with his brothers at Columbia Records’ New York studios in June 1955. A year later, he was captured on a recording live in Indianapolis. Both performances have been released on Resonance Records, and capture Wes’s earliest development of his unique use of octaves in his soloing. Wes’s fame exploded following the release of his recordings for Riverside Records beginning just nine months after this IJC performance.

One Night in Indy captures Eddie and Wes on the threshold of their growing fame. The tracks on the CD average about eight minutes, allowing lots of space for creative solos and exchanges. Opening with my personal favorite, “Give Me the Simple Life,” the level of interplay among the musicians suggests that it was not the first tune performed that night. Eddie begins with a few pulsing chords leading to Wes’s swinging solo, first voiced with his unique octave style and then alternating with single note lines. Eddie follows and, after a bass solo, this leads to a series of conversational guitar-piano exchanges to close the performance. These delightful exchanges convey the sense of excitement the musicians shared in their unique bandstand encounter. The bass player and drummer provide excellent support throughout, leaving no doubt in my mind that this is a functioning trio and not a pickup group.

On “Prelude to a Kiss,” Wes adopts a richer but denser initial approach that contrasts nicely with Eddie’s light arpeggios that continue throughout his solo. Wes dances through the final bars showing appreciation for Eddie’s contribution, concluding a track that’s delicate and delicious throughout. “Stompin’ at the Savoy” starts in a call and response mode between Eddie and Wes, then Wes takes the first solo while the Trio provides firm support. Eddie solos next, while Wes drops into the background a bit, injecting some notes for selective emphasis as the tempo accelerates. A series of short exchanges follow, with all four musicians participating. They incorporate some short interpolations, among them are rapid allusions to “Give Me Five Minutes More,” “Great Day,” “Lady Be Good,” and other tunes that reflect their joy of performing together.

Their approach to Neil Hefti’s “Li’l Darlin’” can only be described as mellow. Wes and Eddie both have extended solos in this sensitive performance, although Eddie seems to be in the lead, while Wes and the unknown bassist provide rhythmic support, underscoring the collaborative nature of their rendition. Next comes a fine medley of two tunes, listed simply as “Ruby, My Dear” in the accompanying notes, though the performance begins with a solo from Eddie on “Ruby” and then seamlessly segues to “Laura” where Wes solos.

The CD closes with “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” opening with a nearly 3 minute performance and solos by Wes. Perhaps he is even sending a signal to the Trio that they should now feel at home in Indianapolis and return often? Certainly the CD provides proof of IJC’s gracious hospitality.

At this point, a bit of additional background on the recording might be helpful, extending and clarifying the information included in the liner notes. The CD was mastered from an open reel tape provided by Duncan Schiedt prior to his passing. Duncan was a noted photographer and champion of jazz throughout much of his lifetime, so it is worth noting a bit more about his role in events that led to this performance.

The liner notes state that the performance was “at a jazz club in Indianapolis” that Duncan ran with his friends. To me, this implies that Duncan operated some sort of nightclub, whereas the Indianapolis Jazz Club (hereafter IJC) was simply an informal group of enthusiasts who periodically organized gatherings and concerts for their own enjoyment and with their own funds. It all began with a concert performance by Chicago-based pianist Art Hodes in 1956. Duncan has written about this organization in notes supplied to me by an early IJC member Phil Oldham:

The group adopted a constitution that stated the following: “The Indianapolis Jazz Club, a civic, nonprofit organization, has been formed to afford a common meeting ground for lovers of Classic American Jazz; to stimulate and encourage public interest in this form of jazz, its cultural and historical significance, and by means of live performance and special programming to bring its members both enjoyment and education…. Dues were established at $5.00 per year, with an additional $2.50 for each member of the same family….

The venue, which would be our “home” for some time, was the student union lounge of the Indiana University Medical Center on West Michigan Street [in Indianapolis]. Equipped with a good grand piano and able to accommodate well over one hundred persons, the place served us well, though we were conscious of providing an evening’s free entertainment to any student who wished to sit on the fringes….

Opening the door to 1959 was our concert by the Eddie Higgins Trio, a Chicago unit which I believe had a long gig at the London House. Higgins, a classically-trained pianist turned jazzman par excellence, was joined at one point by Indy’s native son Wes Montgomery in an impromptu set which was our first exposure to the great guitarist. It was the first time for Higgins, and resulted in a marvelous, never-to-be-forgotten experience for both musicians and audience.

That brings us to the performance on One Night in Indy. To my ear, the audible applause between musical selections suggests a small audience was present, perhaps numbering two to four dozen supporters; however, there is no accessible record to support my guess nor to document the actual location of the performance. But, again to my ear, this seems to be a semi-private concert and not a commercial nightclub setting. Perhaps it was even held at the fore mentioned student union lounge on the Medical Center campus, located just west of the heart of downtown Indianapolis. The miking of the performers is close and balanced with each instrument clearly captured, and there is no ambient noise from glasses or chatter beyond occasional exclamations from the musicians themselves. While the specific location may never be known, I feel it important to acknowledge the commitment of the IJC visionaries who underwrote the performance, bringing Eddie Higgins with his bassist and drummer from Chicago, a longer drive before the construction of modern Interstate highways.

Again, to my ear, Higgins’ Trio performs in a manner consistent with musicians who have already worked together. There is no hesitancy in crafting support for solos and during ensembles. Wes Montgomery is a ‘local addition’ to the program. I speculate that the concert may even have consisted of two sets. Perhaps the first set would have featured the Eddie Higgins Trio and second, mostly captured on this CD, might have been a second set that added Wes Montgomery. That structure would have accomplished several things. First, it would have focused on the primary musicians imported to Indianapolis for this concert in the first set, honoring advance promotion. Then there would have been opportunities for informal conversations between the musicians and the sponsors of the concert during a break between sets that would be consistent with the sort of interactions valued by the organizers of the IJC. Next, there would have been the excitement added with the addition of the locally renowned guitarist, Wes Montgomery, for the second set. But this is conjecture.

The main point is that this was booked as a concert for the IJC by the Eddie Higgins Trio, perhaps noting that there would be an appearance by Wes Montgomery as a special guest at some point. This combination would have created excitement among the club’s members, but it is doubtful that there was extensive publicity beyond that core group for this event. But there is another possibility, namely that Wes simply appeared and was welcomed to the bandstand on the basis of his growing reputation based on recordings released on the Pacific Jazz label.

Interestingly, it is worthwhile noting that one tune from this Montgomery-Higgins performance, “How Come You Do Me Like You Do,” is not included on this CD but was issued in a special privately produced CD to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the IJC. Perhaps it was not included on the 7” reel tape provided to the producers? It a fine performance and would have fit within the time limitations of the CD.  The notes to the private CD state that this was “a spontaneous and surprise appearance by Wes during the Eddie Higgins Trio concert.” So it is possible that Wes’s appearance was not publicized in advance, although it remains possible that it was known to the organizers who would have made room in advance on the informal stage. The tune is performed in a satirical style, including a two-beat rhythm that is completely different from the issued tunes on the CD.

Thanks to Duncan Schiedt for preserving this recording and for doing so much to support jazz music, and thanks to Resonance Records for issuing this marvelous CD as the third in what should rightly be seen as a treasured trilogy of many of Wes Montgomery’s earliest recordings. Duncan is a true jazz hero. He has left us with many rich memories of great jazz and good times. It was my great pleasure to have been one of many who enjoyed his company many times during the past three decades.

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad
Author of Born to Play: The Ruby Braff Discography and Directory of Performances

View review January 4th, 2016

Jessica Care Moore – Black Tea: The Legend of Jessi James

Black Tea
Title: Black Tea – The Legend of Jessi James

Artist: Jessica Care Moore

Label: Javotti Media/dist. Fat Beats

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: October 2, 2015

 

 

Detroit’s Jessica Care Moore—a reknown poet, playwright, performance artist and producer—has achieved success through a wide variety of ventures: as a five time winner of “It’s Showtime at the Apollo” competition; as the author of poetry collections including The Alphabet Verses The GhettoGod is Not an American, and Sunlight Through Bullet Holes; as a performance artist in The Missing Project: Pieces of the D and Black Statue of Liberty; as a returning star of Russell Simmons’ HBO series “Def Poetry Jam;” as CEO of Moore Black Press; and as host, writer and co-executive producer of the poetry-driven television show “Spoken” on The Black Family Channel. But throughout her career, Moore has also indulged her passion for music. Her poetry was featured on Nas’s Nastradamus album and Talib Kweli’s Attack the Block mixtape, and she’s led the Black WOMEN Rock! concert series since 2004. So it should be no surprise to learn that Moore has long been yearning to record her own album.

Black Tea: The Legend of Jessi James, Moore’s official solo debut on wax, features notable jazz, soul, techno and hip hop musicians and producers who bring Moore’s vision to life. That vision is more reminiscent of the lilting “jazz poetry” of Langston Hughes than the Black Power era recordings of The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and Imamu Amiri Baraka, or the half-sung, half-rapped sprechstimme of her contemporary, Saul Williams. Moore emphasizes the purity and strength of the spoken word with poems that recognize the central role of music to the Black experience, but she relies solely on the band and backup singers to weave in the musical accompaniment. A number of featured guests contribute to this effort, including Imani Uzuri, Roy Ayers (vibes), Talib Kweli, Jose James, One Belo, Ideeyah, Ursula Rucker, Alicia Renee, and Paris Toon. The band is led by pianist Jon Dixon (Underground Resistance), with Nate Winn on drums, Ben Luttermoser on bass, De’Sean Jones on sax, and Nadir Onowale (Distorted Soul) on the mixing boards.

Black Tea opens with a spoken introduction—the legend of Moore’s alter-ego, Jessi James: “she is his reflection, a city-country girl, a gold horse kissing his black . . . she was waiting for him to call her name – Jessi James of Detroit, of Brooklyn, of Southern blues, of Harlem, of Colorado mountains . . . Detroit jazz, poet outlaw – sometimes the tea is spiked.”

Following are several jazz-based tracks, including “Walking Up 150th Street” featuring Chris Johnson on trumpet, “Pieces” featuring Detroit rock-soul singer Ideeyah, “Deep Breath” featuring alt-rapper One Belo, and “You Want Poems” with Roy Ayers and Jose James. On “It Ain’t Like We Didn’t,” the music shifts from jazz to an acoustic Delta blues style, with Moore riffing on the importance of the genre: “We die for the blues ‘cause we’re born with it . . stone rolling blues runs deep in these veins . . . know your place brown girl . . .”

An acoustic Spanish guitar opens “I Catch the Rain,” with ethereal background vocals provided by Imani Uzuri and Ursula Rucker, while Moore speaks of “this earth keeps pulling back to this place where I buried my wounded heart, countless times, this land of broken promises, this nation of liars, I will not give birth surrounded by all this fear . . .”

Ideeyah returns on “Wild Irish Rose,” singing the chorus “stay away from women with stems extending far beyond their flowers” between verses of Moore’s poem: “If I leave a seed on every corner maybe my people won’t forget me / I know God sent me, or the wind might have dreamt me / So many spirits sitting on top of Motor City, but I got to do something with the power my ancestors leant me . . . Another garden gone, won’t be long before Black girl doesn’t get to sing her song, ‘cause Daddy and the greenhouse disappeared at dawn.

Another highlight is “Catch Me if You Can,” a tour de force alternating between Moore’s reverb soaked verse and Talib Kweli’s rapid fire delivery, backed by acoustic guitar and trumpet.

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Black Tea: The Legend of Jessi James is Moore’s lush and provocative HERstory, a shape shifting fable rooted in the cultural experiences and music of the 21st century Motor City. This album is especially recommended for those who enjoy contemporary poetry, and for libraries collecting sound recordings of poetry set to music.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 4th, 2016

Gil Scott-Heron in Black Wax

gil scott heron in black wax

Title: Gil Scott-Heron in Black Wax

Artist: Gil Scott-Heron

Label: MVD Visual

Format: Blu-Ray, DVD

Release Date: November 13, 2015

 

 

The recent Blu-Ray release of director Robert Mugge’s 1982 concert documentary film Gil Scott-Heron in Black Wax features the original film plus the accompanying short subject “Is That Jazz?” Both are remastered with high-definition video and audio.

For those not familiar with this film, Mugge utilized the conventions of the concert documentary to great effect for Gil Scott-Heron’s unique blend of music, poetry, and political commentary. The musician-poet leads the camera on a guided tour of Washington, DC, highlighting both the “official” national monuments as well as the “unofficial” ghetto neighborhoods. All the while, Scott-Heron comments on the state of politics during the Reagan administration, performs his street poetry in DC’s black neighborhoods (complete with rapping alongside his own recordings playing on a ghetto blaster, a fascinating touch that implies the artist’s profound influence on hip hop music and culture), and philosophizes about art. This footage is interspersed with concert film of Scott-Heron’s band performing his original music, which ranges stylistically from reggae to funk to jazz and features Scott-Heron both singing and “rapping” his poetry. Unlike many concert documentaries that interrupt the musical performance in order to advance the film’s narrative, Black Wax provides a window into Scott-Heron’s multifaceted art and politics by jumping from concert footage to sections narrated by Scott-Heron himself, reading as a guided tour of the artist’s work and politics.

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Gil Scott-Heron in Black Wax is essential viewing for anyone interested in the artist’s unique blend of art and politics and is a masterful music documentary to boot. This remastered Blu-Ray version allows viewers to see and hear the film in high definition, enhancing both the filmmaker’s and the artist’s excellent work.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review January 4th, 2016

Charenee Wade – Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson

charenee wade_offering

Title: Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson

Artist: Charenee Wade

Label: Motéma

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: 6/23/2015

 

This most recent offering from vocalist Charenee Wade captures the spirit of poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron and his collaborator Brian Jackson.  The first thing that listeners may notice about Wade’s Offering is that the singer has done her homework–the album’s subtitle “The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson” indicates Wade’s complex understanding of the music by including Jackson’s name in the title. The soundscapes Jackson arranged were arguably as important to the enduring legacy of the arguably more famous Scott-Heron’s recordings as the poet’s signature style of delivery.

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The music included on this album demonstrates a similar concern for nuance, and was carefully put together by producer Mark Ruffin. The interpretations of Scott-Heron’s and Jackson’s material on Offering deviate some from the sound of the original, being more firmly rooted in combo jazz than funk and reggae, but ultimately stay true in spirit to the duo’s work.  “Essex/Martin, Grant, Byrd, & Till,” a highlight of the album, updates Heron’s perennial themes, by adding spoken word addressing the violent deaths of black youth, with spoken word by Malcolm-Jamal Warner comparing Trayvon Martin to Emmett Till.  Wade’s vocals are sensitive to the material throughout this cut, and she is complimented by an excellent band throughout the album which features Brandon McCune (Piano), Dave Stryker (Guitar), Lonnie Plaxico (Bass), Alvester Garnett (Drums),as Wade’s rhythm section and vibe virtuoso Stefon Harris on six of the album’s eleven cuts.  Wade has also enlisted several guest stars, including Warner, Marcus Miller (on bass clarinet instead of bass guitar), Lakecia Benjamin (saxophone), and Christian McBride (on spoken word instead of bass).  This collection of personnel creates plenty of atmosphere, upon which this material thrives, throughout the course of this album, with “Western Sunrise” featuring Wade’s band at its most in-the-pocket while able to lay down a hard-hitting groove on “Home is Where the Hatred Is.”

Fans of the music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson will certainly appreciate Wade and company’s renditions of these tunes.  While this release can be a bit inaccessible at times, like the music of Scott-Heron and Jackson, ultimately listeners who are willing to put time and effort into understanding Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson will be both pleased and challenged by what they find.

 

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review January 4th, 2016

Lizz Wright – Freedom & Surrender

Lizz Wright

Title: Freedom & Surrender

Artist: Lizz Wright

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 4, 2015

 

 

Lizz Wright’s newest album, Freedom & Surrender, is an eclectic collection of love songs. Pulling from jazz, rock, Americana, and blues, the album is a sexy, sleek, and mystical listening experience, but one grounded in quotidian honesty. It is also an album of firsts: Wright’s debut release on the Concord label and her first collaboration with producer Larry Klein, whose production résumé includes Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux, and Tracy Chapman.

Originally intended to be an album of cover songs, Freedom & Surrender transitioned into a disc of original music written by Wright, Klein, David Batteau, J.D. Souther, Toshi Reagon, and Maia Sharp. “The New Game”—a catchy blues-rock tune co-written by Wright, Klein, and Batteau—demonstrates how productive the singer’s collaborative penchant can be. Another highlight is the dance track “Lean In”:

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Despite the numerous collaborations, Wright’s deep, sensuous voice remains the centerpiece of the album. The singer is immensely talented and sounds wise beyond her thirty-five years. Wright has been celebrated within the jazz industry since the early 2000s, achieving a rare combination of critical and commercial acclaim. Freedom & Surrender builds on this admirable body of work, resulting in Wright’s most accomplished release-to-date.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

View review January 4th, 2016

Angie Stone – Dream

Angie Stone


Title: Dream

Artist: Angie Stone

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 6, 2015
 

For the writing and recording of her newest album, Dream, veteran R&B vocalist Angie Stone found herself in an unfamiliar place: she was single.  With no love to call her own, the recording finds Stone inspired by what it would be like to love, lust, and correct the mistakes of her previous relationships.  Thus, one can imagine why Dream is an appropriate title for the release.

On the album, Stone collaborated with Walter Millsap III, a producer who has worked with Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Timbaland.  Millsap is clearly inspired by classic R&B and soul, as the album, at times, nods to Stevie Wonder and Motown in its compositions.  Stone admits that her favorite track is “Magnet,” which rhetorically questions why the singer always ends up with the wrong type of man.  “Two Bad Habits” is a playful R&B tune that explores Stone’s two worst behaviors: drinking too much wine and a particular romantic interest.

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One of the stand out tracks is “Begin Again,” a duet with R&B singer Dave Hollister.  The song opens with an irresistible groove that finds the singers wishing to rekindle a relationship that went sour.  “Dollar Bill” is a single woman’s anthem, detailing the excitement of preparing for a night on the town for a group of women “not looking for Mr. Right, right now.”

Stone’s artistic contributions to R&B have been significant throughout the 1990s and 2000s.   Dream continues down this successful artistic path, showing that Stone is not only a survivor in the music industry, but also in the game of love.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

View review January 4th, 2016

The Edge of Daybreak – Eyes of Love

edge of daybreak_eyes of love

Title: Eyes of Love

Artist: The Edge of Daybreak

Label: Numero Group

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: October 16, 2015
 

 

Releases by the Numero Group usually feature artists and groups that have fallen into, or who always existed in, obscurity; for example, their catalog includes releases on now-defunct labels, regional hits, and other offerings that may not be on many listeners’ radar.  The label’s newest project, Eyes of Love, has one of the most interesting backstories of any release in the Numero catalog.  The Edge of Daybreak was a group of inmates who met, wrote songs, rehearsed, and performed behind bars. This album was recorded live in a single morning by a mobile recording unit brought to the Powhatan prison complex in Richmond, Virginia, where the band members were incarcerated. Eyes of Love gained some regional publicity through local media outlets before band members were transferred to other facilities and ultimately released from prison, and they were not fated to create any follow-up music.  Jon Kirby’s excellent liner notes to this reissue detail the circumstances of the members’ imprisonment, music, and eventual release, and I highly recommend that readers consult the fifteen-page booklet for more interesting details on this project.

The Edge of Daybreak may be one of the best lesser-known soul groups of the late-1970s that remain unheard by most listeners, likely in large part due to the circumstances surrounding the group’s musical activities. However, it is apparent that this group was well-rehearsed and the songs carefully arranged.  Despite the band not having enough time to do overdubs and re-recordings of their parts, the tracks on this record sound pristine—everything feels wonderful and there are few, if any, wrong notes.  Highlights include the laid-back funk of the title track, the more energetic “I Wanna Dance With You,” and the band’s eponymous “E.O.D. (Edge of Daybreak),” a dance cut that is propelled by an active bass line and solid syncopated hi-hat.  The album also contains some excellent ballads, with the bedroom anthem “Let Us” and the album’s melancholy final cut (complete with atmospheric wah-wah guitar), “Our Love,” evoking a softer side of the group that seems to largely be dance-oriented.

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Eyes of Love is a beautiful album that arose under some ugly circumstances.  The song craft, musicianship, and arrangements are a truly wonderful testament to the ingenuity and talent of the album’s creators.

 

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review January 4th, 2016

Straight Line Stitch – Transparency

straight line stitch transparency

Title: Transparency

Artist: Straight Line Stitch

Label: Pavement Entertainment

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 20, 2015
 

 

2015 saw a new EP from hard-rockers Straight Line Stitch.  The seasoned group has been fronted by Indianapolis native Alexa Brown since 2003, and has come into its own in a way that few female-fronted bands have been able to in a genre that is typically thought of as male-centered.  On Transparency, Brown delivers the typically-cryptic and vaguely-apocalyptic lyrics that characterize this style of hard rock, alternating between “cleans” and screamed vocals on lines like “I lost my way in your retribution/but give me absolution” from “Human Bondage.”

It is a marvel that Brown is able to achieve the pristine vocal sounds that she does on this record after 12 years of screaming on stage, but indeed, her voice is as good as ever.  Brown’s vocals are complimented by band mates Darren McClelland (bass) and Jason White (guitar) playing riffs that—while not necessarily instant classics—certainly compliment the lyrical and emotional territory the band explores.  The rotating drummer’s chair is filled with lots of bright cymbal crashes and extensive double-bass work.  This is not a shred metal band or pop-oriented hard rock group, and those looking for virtuosity or rock-radio hits should probably look elsewhere.  With that said, Straight Line Stitch has a well-conceived and well-defined sound and Transparency is a tight package of arrangements that serve the group’s songs well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BH17NvMYMuo

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review January 4th, 2016

Abbey Lincoln – Sophisticated Abbey

Abbey Lincoln
Title: Sophisticated Abbey

Artist: Abbey Lincoln

Label: HighNote

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: August 21, 2015

 
 

Sophisticated Abbey provides a new window to a previously under-documented period in jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln’s career. This set, recorded live in 1980 at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, showcases Lincoln’s sensibility during the ‘70s and ‘80s, moving away from her signature songs about social issues and sonic experimentation towards a revival of classic vocal swing.

Lincoln, a singer who just sings the songs, rather than embellishing them as an instrumentalist or a flashier vocalist might, interprets the tunes on this record with a restrained sensibility, backed by only a rhythm section of Phil Wright (piano), James Leary (Bass), and Douglas Sides (drums). The set includes some of Lincoln’s original compositions, such as “Painted Lady” and “People in Me,” but mostly consists of songs composed or popularized by other artists, including numbers composed by Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” and even Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady.”

Lincoln and company treat all of the songs gently, simply playing through the form rather than turning them into vehicles for extended improvisation, staying true to the vocalist-fronted small band idiom. This set is an interesting record of Lincoln’s mid-career activities, but ultimately falls short of her more adventurous classic album releases.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review January 4th, 2016

Ghosts Appearing through the Sound: Kosi Sings Abbey

Kosi
Title: Ghosts Appearing through the Sound: Kosi Sings Abbey

Artist: Kosi

Label: Self-produced

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 6, 2015

 
 

Based in New York City, jazz and R&B singer Kosi (a.k.a. Akosua Gyebi) tackles the music of Abbey Lincoln on her third full-length release, Ghosts Appearing Through the Sound. An artist who makes her way across the country predominantly performing at house shows, Kosi has assembled a competent rhythm section to record the complex and difficult music of Lincoln.

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There are some very nice interpretations on this album, but Kosi has a tendency to over-sing and her band makes strange choices at times, such as the seemingly missing hi-hat during the conventional medium-tempo swing on Lincoln and John Coltrane’s composition “Africa.” One of the challenges with interpreting Lincoln’s songbook is the attention to detail that comprised an essential part of Lincoln’s interpretations of her own songs. Some of this detail is missing in Kosi’s approach, which seems more designed to showcase her chops than serve the songs themselves. The difficulty of effectively performing this repertoire is likely one reason there aren’t many tribute albums dedicated to Lincoln’s music. The songs are carefully constructed and interpreting them requires the proverbial scalpel rather than the hatchet. It is impossible to duplicate Lincoln’s delivery and quite difficult to set up a compelling original interpretation of much of this material.

Overall, Ghosts Appearing Through the Sound is somewhat underwhelming, and this project was likely a bit beyond this band’s interpretive reach. This release certainly reflects effort on the part of its creators, but unfortunately falls short of being especially compelling, musically or emotionally.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review January 4th, 2016

Andy T-Nick Nixon Band – Numbers Man

Numbers Man


Title: Numbers Man

Artists: Andy T-Nick Nixon Band

Label: Blind Pig

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 28, 2015
 

The Andy T-Nick Nixon Band combines the flavors of Nashville and Southern California, a partnership created when guitarist Andy Talamantez moved from the West Coast to Tennessee and hooked up with Nashville veteran James T. “Nick” Nixon, whose voice was honed in the church and clarified by opera, allowing him to both growl and croon his way through soul, rock and blues. Now they tour the country in their 1953 GMC Greyhound bus, spreading their brand of blues far and wide. On their third album, Numbers Man, they are joined by their regular band—Larry van Loon on Hammond B3, Jim Klingler on drums, and Sam Persons on bass—plus several special guests.

Kicking off with an original song on a familiar theme, “Shut the Front Door” features the dueling guitars of Andy T and Anson Funderburgh, while Nixon gives a rollicking account of a man left to booze and drugs after his baby leaves. On the title track, The Texas Horns fire on all cylinders, adding some rhythm and blues to the mix while extended solos are given to the guitars and B3. “Blue Monday” is a satisfying slow burner, with Nixon tearing into the vocals on the front end, but leaving plenty of space to showcase the band. Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds) picks up the harmonica on “Sundown Blues,” while “Tall Drink of Water” and “What Went Wrong” have a distinct zydeco flavor courtesy of Zeke Jarmon on rubboard and Christian Dozzler on accordion. Pulling out all of the stops on “This World We Live In,” the band is joined by Kevin McKendree on B3, Steve F’dor on piano, Rick Reed on bass, and Denise Fraser on drums. The socially conscious song, penned by Andy T, draws on themes of war, religion and intolerance, bringing the album to a close on a blaze of searing guitar solos underlying Nixon’s vocals mourning the state of the world with an element of despair.

Over the course of 14 tracks, Numbers Man offers a wide range of styles from traditional blues to rhythm and blues, jump blues, zydeco, and even a touch of jazz—performed with an exceedingly high level of musicianship led by the electrifying guitar of Andy T.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 4th, 2016

Steve Howell & the Mighty Men – Friend Like Me

Steve Howell

Title: Friend Like Me

Artist: Steve Howell & the Mighty Men

Label: Out of the Past

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 20, 2015

 

The blues can make one dance, shout, and cry, but it is not often that they make one relax. This is exactly what Steve Howell accomplishes on Friend Like Me, his fifth release. Joined by his band, The Mighty Men, Howell revisits songs by the likes of Bukka White, Charly Patton, the Grateful Dead, and many more. These artists have been Howell’s collaborators, mentors, and inspirations throughout his 40-year career, which is most associated with his time in Shreveport, Louisiana and Texarkana, Texas. Friend Like Me is a mature and laid-back release, more focused on tasteful performances and musicianship than an animated delivery of the acoustic blues.

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

View review January 4th, 2016

Linsey Alexander – Come Back Baby

Linsey

Title: Come Back Baby

Artist: Linsey Alexander

Label: Delmark

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 19, 2014
 

 

Linsey Alexander, better known as the “Hoochie Man,” is a veteran Chicago blues musician. His most recent Delmark release, Come Back Baby, features what Alexander does best: soulful guitar playing, solid vocals, and no-nonsense lyrics. Alexander reflects on the past (“Things Done Changed”), shows he still loves to have a good time (“Call My Wife”), pays homage to the blues tradition (“I Can’t Quit You Baby”), and Chicago winters (“Snowing in Chicago”).

The result is a fun, and at times naughty, release. Come Back Baby breaks no rules, but is a confident statement from an elder of the blues.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

View review January 4th, 2016

Sonny Terry – His Best 21 Songs

Sonny Terry

Title: His Best 21 Songs

Artist: Sonny Terry

Label: Wolf Records International

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2015
 

 

The joy of Wolf Records International’s release of a new Sonny Terry compilation is that the harmonica player and singer’s talent is allowed to take center stage. While his later recordings were mostly in a duo format with guitarist Brownie McGhee—who does appear on the album—His 21 Best showcases many of Terry’s recordings released before World War II. The result is a powerful document of the musician’s playful, sometimes falsetto, voice and his mastery of the blues harmonica.

Terry could make the harmonica be an instrument for rhythmic accompaniment, a stand-in for the human voice, and a ready-to-lead melodic instrument for improvisation. A range of collaborators—including Woody Guthrie, Blind Boy Fuller, Washboard Sam, and the aforementioned McGhee—augment this release, to mixed results. The album feels, at times, to be thrown together and under-curated. Many cuts seem to be studio outtakes that would make the diehard fan ecstatic, but leave new listeners underwhelmed. Despite this weakness, the album serves as a strong reminder of just how much Terry’s influence can be heard in blues harmonica players to this day.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

View review January 4th, 2016

Danielle Nicole – Wolf Den

Danielle

Title: Wolf Den

Artist: Danielle Nicole

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2015

 
 

Sometimes, a change of scenery can do wonders for a project. Take Danielle Nicole’s newest release, Wolf Den, for example. The singer is a proud St. Louis native, but for this album she traveled south to New Orleans. Teaming up with veteran producer and guitarist, Anders Osbourne, and enlisting some of the best session musicians in the city’s blues, roots, and funk scenes, Wolf Den achieves a swampy New Orleans-sound without losing Nicole’s preferred aesthetic of the “groove blues.” Her songs are both seedy and seductive. The album’s title track evokes a bar where sin runs amok and its clients are up to no-good, but, somehow, it still it remains irresistible.

Equally irresistible is Nicole’s musicality. The artist has proven herself as both a singer and bass player—she won the Blues Foundation’s 2014 Blues Music Award for Best Instrumentalist on Bass—and now, with Wolf Den, has also proved that her artistic turns can lead to fruitful new terrain.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

View review January 4th, 2016

December 2015 Releases of Note

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

Blues, Folk, Country

B.B. King: Here’s One You Didn’t Know About– From The RPM & Kent Vaults (Ace)
Barrence Whitfield & Tom Russell: Hillbilly Voodoo & Cowboy Mambo (reissue) (Rockbeat)
Big Bill Broozy: Seven Classic Albums (remastered) (Real Gone Jazz)
Elmore James: Complete Singles As & Bs, 1951-62 (Acrobat)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Cymande: A Simple Act of Faith (Cherry Red)
Deantoni Parks: Technoself (vinyl) (Leaving Records)
Egyptian Lover: 1984 (Egyptian Empire)
Fingers Inc.: Another Side (vinyl reissue)    (Alleviated)
Kid Cudi: Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven (Republic)
Mickey’s Candy: Unprotected Funk ( Magic Mile Music)
Willow Smith: Ardipithecus (digital) (Roc Nation)

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM
Duawne Starling: Deeper Faith (New Day Ent.)
Pilgrim Travelers: Gospel Boogie Rare Recordings, 1946-1957 (Gospel Friend)

Jazz
Ameen Saleem: Groove Lab (Vio Veneto Jazz)
Comet Is Coming: Prophecy EP (vinyl) ( Leaf)
James Taylor Quartet:  Rochester Mass  (Cherry Red)
Max Ionata, Clarence Penn, Reuben Rogers: Kind of Trio (Vio Veneto Jazz)
Miles Davis: The Last Word – The Warner Bros. Years (8CD Boxset)   (Rhino)
Nat King Cole: Stardust—The Rare Television Performances (Real Gone)
Robin Eubanks Mass Line Big Band: More than Meets the Ear (ArtistShare)
Various: Detroit Jazz City (Blue Note)

R&B, Soul
Aurra :  Body Rock (Family Groove Rec.)
Babyface: Return of the Tender Lover (Def Jam)
Chris Brown: Royalty (RCA)
Coasters: Four Classic Albums Plus Bonus Singles (Real Gone Jazz)
Dells: Freedom Means  (Caroline International/SoulMusic Records)
Five Satins: Complete Releases 1954-62 (Acrobat)
King Curtis: Complete Atco Singles (Real Gone)
Leeda Lyric Jones : Perspective
Monica: Code Red (RCA)
R Kelly: The Buffet (RCA)
Various: Chi-Raq (OST)  (RCA)
Various: Dave Hamilton’s Detroit Soul Volume 2 (Kent)
Various: From Sacred to Secular: A Soul Awakening (box set)  (History of Soul)
Various: King & Deluxe Acetate Series Beef Ball Baby! New Orleans R&B (Ace)
Various: The Wiz LIVE! OST of the NBC TV Event   (Masterworks)

Rap, Hip Hop
August Alsina: This Thing Called Life (Def Jam)
Boosie Badazz:  Thrilla Vol. 1 (Trill Ent)
Chief Keef :   Nobody 2 (digital)  (12million)
Corey Paul : Today, Tomorrow, Forever (digital)   (Collision)
Curren$y:  Canal Street Confidential   (Atlantic Urban)
Daz -N- Snoop:  Cuzznz (Dogg Pound)
DJ Ready Cee: Order 66 (End Of Days) (ReadyMade)
G-Eazy: When It’s Dark Out (RCA)
Jeremih: Late Nights: The Album   (Def Jam)
Kid Ink: Summer In The Winter (digital)  (RCA)
Kidd Called Quest : Put Your Headphones On 2  (New Era Boom Batt)
King Chip: CleveLAfornia   (S.L.A.B. Ent)
Pearl Gates: Diamond Mind (Below Systems)
Pimp C: Long Live the Pimp  (Mass Appeal)
Prhyme (DJ Premier & Royce Da 5′ 9 ): Prhyme  (Prhyme)
Price the Poet:  The Passion of the Price  ( Blaze Of Glory Productions)
Pusha T: King Push Darkest Before Dawn (Def Jam)
R. Kelly: Buffet (RCA)
Rick Rock: Rocket the Album  (Southwest Federation)
Rick Ross: Black Market (Def Jam)
Rohff: Rohff Game
Sheek Louch: Silverback Gorilla 2  (Tommy Boy)
Talib Kweli: Fuck the Money (Javotti Media)
Termanology: Term Brady  (Showoff)
Young Roddy: The Kenner Loop  (Ihiphop Dist.)

Reggae, Dancehall
Iba Mahr: Diamond Sox (VP)
John Holt: Memories By the Score  (VP)
Junior Kelly: Urban Poet  (VP)
Pablo Gad: Hard Times, Best of (Burning Sounds)
Sly & Robbie and Spicy Chocolate: Reggae Power 2 (Tuff Gong)

World
Domingo Justus: Juju Music in Nigeria 1928, Vol. 1 (Ashera)
Kumasi Trio: Fanti Guitar in West Africa 1928, Vol. 1   (Ashera)
Peace:  Black Power (Now-Again)

View review January 4th, 2016

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