Archive for November, 2016

Welcome to the November 2016 issue of Black Grooves

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

Since November brings Election Day we’re featuring projects with political themes including Make America Great Again! by Delfeayo Marsalis & Uptown Jazz Orchestra and The Transformations Suite by Samora Pinderhughes, in addition to jazz trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s America’s National Parks celebrating the centennial of the National Park Service.

Under the umbrella of rock, rap and soul there’s Timothy Bloom’s The Beginning, Melissa Etheridge’s Stax tribute Memphis Rock and Soul, Nashville duo Muddy Magnolias’ Broken People, Pigeon John’s Good Sinner, Ashleigh Smith’s Sunkissed, teenage punk trio Unlocking the Truth’s debut album Chaos, and the Afrofuturist concept album Splendor & Misery from experimental rap group clipping., fronted by Hamilton star Daveed Diggs.

We’re also pleased to be promoting two projects with Indiana University ties: Allegro io son, the latest release from bel canto tenor Lawrence Brownlee, and Timeless from the popular R&B group After 7 featuring IU Soul Revue alums Melvin and Kevon Edmonds.

Notable historic releases include Marian Anderson’s Let Freedom Ring! and Mahalia Jackson’s Moving On Up a Little Higher which both feature previously unreleased material. Jazz releases include Joshua Breakstone’s cello quartet on 88, Quincy Jones & His Orchestra Live in Ludwigshafen 1961, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra on All My Yesterdays. Under folk and world music we’re featuring the Afro-Colombian group M.A.K.U Soundsystem’s Mezcla, South African singer Lorraine Klaasen’s Nouvelle Journee, a reissue of Josh White’s Josh at Midnight, and the compilation Space Echo: Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde.

Wrapping up this issue is our list of October 2016 releases of note.

View review November 1st, 2016

Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra – Make America Great Again!

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Title: Make America Great Again!

Artist: Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra

Label: Troubadour Jass Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 16, 2016

September’s new release by trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis is a strong, if jumbled, album full of social commentary, strong arrangements, and all-around great playing from the trombonist’s sturdy and compelling band.

While the album’s title, Make America Great Again!, is lifted straight from the headlines of the 2016 presidential race and suggests that Marsalis is shooting for penetrating political discourse (although a cynic might say this is a clever way to plug the album through serendipitous Google or Amazon hits), much of this release is simply a study in good jazz band writing.  There certainly are gestures at social commentary, including an excellent arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner” as the record’s opening cut. The title track offers a fairly obvious critique of the even more simplistic Trump campaign slogan, pointing out the conspicuous problems with the “Make America Great Again” rallying cry, given the country’s (to be charitable) checkered past.  This cut features the voice talents of the great actor Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme); unfortunately, the spoken word he delivers offers very little insight into the problems really at the heart of the resurgence of far right-wing politics in America. Overall, it seems like Marsalis, an artist who specializes in a particularly historically-conscious approach to jazz, is simply preaching to the choir on this one.

This album’s real high points are those where the band plays its swinging heart out. Marsalis and company dig deep into New Orleans trad-jazz on “Second Line,” comb West African music, rap, and jazz on “Back to Africa,” call back to the height of dance bands on “Symphony in Riffs,” play what sounds like the Basie chart for “All of Me,” and they even include a backbeat arrangement of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” complete with solo breaks. The Uptown Jazz Orchestra is a stylistic juggernaut, the album a veritable history book of American music. This compelling stylistic variety is largely due to the strength of the arrangements (by Kris Berg, Phil Sims, and Marsalis), but the absolute taste and skill of the players is not to be understated, either.

Marsalis and company’s music, rather than their political commentary, have the possibility to make American music great (again?). Without a doubt, this is the most stylistically diverse jazz album we will hear in 2016, a great alternative to the trite narratives we have heard from all sides of the political spectrum this year. I recommend turning off the news and putting on this record.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review November 1st, 2016

Samora Pinderhughes – The Transformations Suite

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Title: The Transformations Suite

Artist: Samora Pinderhughes

Label: Gray Area

Format: Digital (MP3, FLAC, etc.)

Release date: October 12, 2016

 

Although originally composed in 2011, The Transformations Suite is one in a long list of artistic projects related to and inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement.  BLM has pushed many artists to engage with questions of civil rights, police brutality, and black humanity, and Samora Pinderhughes is a leading voice in this conversation.  The 24-year-old Juilliard trained pianist and composer is already a very accomplished musician, with a number of high profile collaborators.  Pinderhughes is the musical director for Ava Duvernay and Ryan Coogler’s Blackout for Human Rights, a Sundance film festival fellow, and recently premiered a song inspired by the death of Sandra Bland at the Kennedy Center with Lalah Hathaway.  His sister, Elena Pinderhughes, is also a successful musician in her own right, currently collaborating with Common as both singer and flutist, and featured in his most recent Tiny Desk concert at the White House as well as on his upcoming album.  In fact, the two perform together in The Transformations Suite, with Elena being featured heavily on “Cycles.”

The Transformations Suite is tone poem with five movements: transformation, history, cycles, momentum (parts 1 and 2), and ascension.  It features a combination of jazz and spoken word (with texts by Saul Williams and Tupac Shakur), and draws on all facets of the African-American musical tradition, from spirituals to hip-hop.  Highlights include “Cycles,” which features a motif that will haunt you even after the movement is over.  Another favorite is “Momentum (Part 2),” which questions the status quo and refuses to be silenced.

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The Transformations Suite is an ambitious, extraordinarily timely composition, coming on the heels of another summer filled with police brutality.  The music becomes a space of both collective mourning and healing, and also imagines a space of possibility in which we get free.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review November 1st, 2016

Wadada Leo Smith – America’s National Parks

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Title: America’s National Parks

Artist: Wadada Leo Smith

Label: Cuneiform

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 14, 2016

 

Wadada Leo Smith’s multi-movement suite, America’s National Parks, is a musical proposition for a more expansive and inclusive definition of who and what can carry the label as an American National Park. Spread out over six movements, Smith evenly divides his focus on pre-existing National Parks and sites and individuals that should be bestowed the designation of a national landmark. In this composition Smith melds “Ankhrasmation,” his self-designed graphic score notation with sections of composed and improvised music. Such an approach leads to thematic unity and cohesion within each of the movements while also providing ample room within each piece for the members of the Golden Quintet to shine. The addition of cellist Ashley Walters to the group for this recording provides Smith with a greater sonic palette and contributes to a soundscape and musical moments unheard before in his recordings. If there were one word to describe this recording, it would be sparse. The sparseness of the recording contributes to a sense of intimacy where one can envision each musician attentively listening to one another that in turn leads to moments throughout the piece of unique instrumental combinations and arrangements that emerge and grab the listener’s attention.

The three movements based upon Yellowstone, Sequioa/Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks are all remarkable for the sonic visualization of the openness and majesty of these parks. Moments of note in these three movements include the simple melody played by pianist Anthony Davis and Smith in the opening moments of the Yellowstone movement, the loose and enveloping soundscape produced by the quintet that complements Smith’s extended solos in the movement inspired by Sequioa/Kings Canyon National Park, and the cool, icy playing of Smith that mirrors the glaciers of Yosemite.

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The three remaining movements, as noted earlier, take their cue from sites and individuals not formally within the National Park system. In “New Orleans: The National Culture Park USA 1718,” Smith proposes that the entire city of New Orleans, not just a specific location or a certain performance style, should be memorialized as a National treasure. Smith does not attempt to recreate the music of New Orleans per say, but rather alludes to the sounds of the city while never quoting them explicitly: from the movement’s opening with a bass riff similar to the chants of New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian tribes, to Smith’s blunt attacks and trumpet flourishes reminiscent of ragtime and early jazz, to the moments where pianist Anthony Davis’s runs can be heard as a homage to circum-Caribbean styles and genres.

The second movement (“Eileen Jackson Southern, 1920-2002: A Literary National park”) takes as its cue the work and legacy of musicologist Dr. Eileen Southern In addition to being the first black female tenured professor at Harvard, Dr. Southern’s scholarly work greatly contributed to our understanding of the history and development of African-American musical practices in the United States. In what can best be described as an abstract call and response, Smith and the Golden Quintet demonstrate how this central practice to African-American musical culture, when placed in the right hands, produces a musical moment that extends beyond the categories and genres placed upon Black music and musicians.

For the fourth movement, Smith turns his attention towards the murky waters of the Mississippi River. Smith does not celebrate how the waterway fits within the ethos, ecology, or history of the American nation, but rather points to the river’s dark history as a disposal site for black bodies. Smith accomplishes this through an episodic-like structure alternating with brief moments of silence. The musical interruptions mirror Smith’s idea that the disposed bodies float to the top and disrupt the flow of the river while also reminding us of the humanity of said bodies.

America’s National Parks offers a unique musical meditation on the idea of common property and memory and puts the full range of Smith and The Golden Quintet’s skills and talents on display. Alongside recent accolades, awards, and gallery retrospectives, this album serves as a superlative reminder that Smith is one of America’s most talented composers and performers active today.

Reviewed by Brian Lefresne

View review November 1st, 2016

clipping. – Splendor & Misery

clipping
Title: Splendor & Misery

Artist: clipping.

Label: Sub Pop

Formats: CD, LP, Cassette, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2016

 

Afrofuturism is an engagement with and an intervention into the tropes science fiction, denying the assumption of the whiteness of speculative worlds and claiming a place in space for people of African descent and Black culture. In literature, authors such as Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney have imagined future Earths or space adventures populated with the characters and themes important to the historical and contemporary Black Diaspora and the transnational cultures of the Black Atlantic.

In music, bands and musicians such as Parliament, Sun Ra, Drexciya, Kool Keith and Deltron 3030 have created personas and albums using the tropes of Afrofuturism. Clipping.’s new album, Splendor & Misery, engages with this musical aesthetic, drawing on experimental electronic music, hip hop and gangsta rap to create a thrilling and emotionally affective sonic space opera.

Daveed Diggs, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes’ debut, CLPPNG (Subpop, 2014), was a rap album performed and recorded in an experimental manner. The group deployed the themes and language of gansta rap through rhymes spit over analogue synthesizers and experimental beats, delivering the poetic and profane narratives over blasts of electronic noise. Even though it was not a concept album or a rap opera, because of its execution, it could be interpreted as a series of interconnected stories.

Splendor & Misery shares the flow and the experimental production of CLPPNG, but it is radically different in tone. This time, Diggs (the star of Hamilton), Hutson (a.k.a. Rale) and Snipes (also of Captain Ahab) set out to create an intentional concept album about a slave named Cargo 2331 who survives a slave revolt on an intergalactic transport where all human inhabitants except him have been terminated with gas. This leaves him alone with the ship’s computer, who we learn falls in love with 2331 on “All Black Everything.” This and other songs are told from the perspective of the ship’s computer, while others such as “Air Em Out” tell of Cargo 2331’s experience on the ship and his background growing up. The rap songs are intercut with spiritual-style acapella songs like “Story 5,” breaking up the flow of the rhymes and beats with both mourning and hope, and grounding the science fiction themes into a musical genre that evokes the Black Atlantic narrative.

The melding of rap and experimental noise music on clipping.’s first album was an aural shock that some rap and hip hop critics disliked, accusing the group of not being “real” hip hop (see Wondering Sound interview). In my opinion the white noise, clanks and saw tooth waves evoked an industrial violence that tangled together nicely with the pulp crime aesthetics of the album’s gangsta rap lyrics. It was jarring, but the discordance of the noise and flow in a song like “Dominoes” worked together, evoking the life of a gangsta who survived the game, in an exciting way.

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The blips and fm noise on Splendor & Misery fit more logically into a story of a protagonist on a ship floating in space; for many listeners these sounds signify science fiction space and because of this, the beats and flows sound more incorporated. On this album, it is the spirituals that are jarring to the listener. Nodding our head to a tuff banger one minute then being immersed in the longing and sadness of a spiritual the next is a different, potentially more difficult kind of dissidence. Rocking out to the catchy rhymes of “Air Em Out,” then switching gears to a song like “Story 5” that tells the story of Grace—a community leader who taught self-defense in a dystopian world but who was randomly struck down—could be off-putting to some listeners. But as an album, clipping. makes it work.

Bouncing around between themes of anger, defensive posturing, inspiration, alienation and spirituality, narrating how the character survives violence and determines his own future, clipping. weaves both musical styles and the various themes together into songs like “True Believer” or the uplifting album closer “A Better Place.” Sometimes music groups who deliver exceptional debut albums struggle with their sophomore album, delivering a pale imitation of the first, or an unfocused muddle that does not become clarified until subsequent albums. clipping. avoided both those scenarios by gathering up everything they worked out on CLPPNG, heeding the call of the Mothership and blasting their game out into space chanting “All Black Everything.”

Reviewed by N. A. Cordova

View review November 1st, 2016

Marian Anderson – Let Freedom Ring!

marian-anderson
Title: Let Freedom Ring!

Artist: Marian Anderson

Label: JSP

Format: CD

Release date: November 4, 2016

 

Though illustrious contralto Marian Anderson broke many barriers over the course of her career, her 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. stands as a signal moment in the history of civil rights. Most know this story but it certainly bears repeating for a younger generation.

After concertizing around the world in the 1930s and becoming the toast of Europe, Anderson’s agent, Sol Hurok, brought her back to America in 1935 for a historic homecoming at Town Hall in New York. His hope that her international stardom would shield her from racial discrimination in her homeland was unfortunately not realized. As was the case with all African Americans, concert artists included, Anderson was subjected to many indignities—not the least of which were segregated concert halls and denial of access to hotels and restaurants while touring. Though she initially avoided taking a political stance, this role was thrust upon her in 1939 when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to rent Constitution Hall for Anderson’s proposed Easter Sunday concert. After being turned down by additional venues in the nation’s capital, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took up the cause (she had brought Anderson to the White House three years earlier), along with many other politicians and celebrities. To make a long story short, the Easter concert went forward on April 9, 1939, but was moved to the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall. Over 75,000 were in attendance, and the concert was broadcast live over NBC.

Let Freedom Ring! is advertised by JSP Records as the first state-of-the-art audio restoration of the NBC broadcast to be reissued on CD. In the accompanying notes by restoration engineer John H. Haley, he describes using noise removal to downplay the “noisy outdoor audience” in order to give justice to Anderson’s sumptuous voice. She was 42-years-old at the time, and the concert captures her in her prime. After the opening announcements, the concert begins with “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)” as documented on this newsreel restored by UCLA:

Also included on this CD is a concert recorded over 20 years later at the Falkoner Centret in Copenhagen. Never before released, the October 27, 1961 performance includes Anderson’s typical mix of Brahms and Schubert lieder with a number of standard spirituals. Of particular interest are two lieder by Finish composer Yrjö Henrik Kilpinen, who died two years prior to this concert, as well as songs by Sibelius and an aria from Saint-Saens’ Samson et Dalila. As Haley notes, Anderson was 64 at the time of this concert and nearing the end of her career. Her performance is still captivating, even though a bit tenuous at times (Haley admits to making some pitch corrections).

If you wish to learn more about Anderson’s historic 1939 performance, the booklet includes the riveting story as excerpted from Harlow Robinson’s The Last Impresario: The Life, Times and Legacy of Sol Hurok (New York: Viking Penguin, 1994). Marion Anderson’s personal papers are housed at the University of Pennsylvania.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 1st, 2016

Mahalia Jackson – Moving On Up a Little Higher

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Title: Moving On Up a Little Higher

Artist: Mahalia Jackson

Label: Shanachie/Spirit Feel

Formats: CD

Release date: September 30, 2016

 

Billed as the “ultimate collection,” this new compilation from Shanachie is indeed a must have for all gospel music enthusiasts. Featuring 22 previously unleased songs recorded between 1946-1957, Moving On Up a Little Higher was produced by well-known gospel historian Anthony Heilbut, who was also responsible for last year’s Marion Williams compilation, Packin’ Up.

A tireless researcher, Heilbut scoured archives across the country to locate the gems included on this disc. Nine of the selections were recorded in 1957 during Mahalia’s first appearance at Newport Jazz Festival, where she was accompanied by both Mildred Falls on piano and Dickie Mitchell on organ.[1] Heilbut notes that Mahalia followed her chief rival, Marion Williams (Clara Ward Singers), who also performed at the festival, perhaps inspiring Mahalia to greater heights. Whether or not there’s any truth to this assumption, the inclusion of other gospel singers at the festival likely helped Mahalia channel the Holy Spirit in this very secular setting. Though she had already recorded some of these songs, her renditions at Newport are often much more intense than her studio recordings for Apollo, and later Columbia.

The disc opens with Mahalia explaining to the Newport audience, “You know, I’m really a church singer – I may have this rock ‘n’ roll, but I’ve got to feel this thing – I got to get it to be a part of me, you know? Hallelujah!” Then she tears into “Keep Your Hand on the Plow,” rocking and shouting to the heavens. This is followed by a swinging version of “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well” and the Mahalia standard “Troubles of the World,” a slow burner starting on a low moan that sends chills up the spine. Next is Roberta Martin’s arrangement of “Didn’t It Rain,” which Jackson “builds to a shouting explosion.” This leads into Thomas A. Dorsey’s “I’m Gonna Live the Life I Sing About In My Song,” and the obvious crowd favorite, “In the Upper Room,” which Jackson recorded for Apollo in 1952. Here she only includes the chorus, but still manages to brings down the house.

The Newport set closes with several more crowd favorites: a shouting rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” the Rev. W. Herbert Brewster’s “Move On Up a Little Higher,” and “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” which includes some impromptu testifying.

The next batch of recordings were sourced from The William Russell Jazz Collection housed at The Historic New Orleans Collection. This fabulous treasure trove of rare material includes two tracks recorded in 1951 during a folk music concert at Chicago’s Wendell Phillips High School. Mahalia sang six songs at this concert, but only two are included here: Alex Bradford’s “Savior More Than Life To Me” (never commercially recorded by Jackson), and “I’m Glad Salvation Is Free.” The latter was one of her biggest hits, and on this performance she ad libs verses not included on her 1950 Apollo recording.

Four months later, Jackson was the featured guest at a symposium held in 1951 at the Music Inn in Lennox, MA. Two more tracks come from this performance: “He’s Pleading in Glory For Me” composed by her good friend Robert Anderson, and “Have a Little Talk With Jesus”—a gospel standard by the noted Baptist preacher/composer Cleavant Derricks, Sr.

Now, for the crème de la crème. In 1955, William Russell also recorded rehearsals in Mahalia’s Chicago home, and I understand these have only recently been digitized and made available to scholars. A haunting, a cappella performance of “Dark Was the Night and Cold the Ground”—the same song first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1927—is included on track 2 (the disc is not sequenced chronologically).  Jackson similarly lines out “Before This Time Another Year” and “When The Roll Will Be Called In Heaven,” as well as “Father I Stretch My Hand to Thee,” which is preceded by her memories of Mount Moriah Baptist Church in her hometown of New Orleans. Even more enticing, there’s Mahalia accompanied by the great Thomas A. Dorsey on “Peace! It’s Wonderful” which segues rather abruptly into “Coming Back Home to Live With Jesus.” Though brief, this remarkable track captures a rare pairing of the “Father” and the “Queen” of gospel music.

The last gem from the William Russell Collection dates from a 1956 CBS Sunday morning television broadcast, featuring Mahalia on “There’s Been a Great Change In Me,” described as an old shout song rearranged by Doris Akers with Jackson singing in a higher range than usual.

The final tracks of the disc are also extremely significant, since they document Mahalia performing gospel music in sacred settings. “Beams of Heaven” was restored from a one-of-a-kind lacquer disc aircheck of a 1946 Bronx, New York church radio broadcast. Even better, the compilation closes with Jackson singing Rev. W. Herbert Brewster’s “Getting Happy In Chicago,” sourced from a 1948 aircheck of a live broadcast from Chicago’s Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church. In 1945 the church’s founder, Rev. Louis Boddie, began to broadcast Sunday services over radio station WAAF, which aired coast to coast. Thankfully, a number of these broadcasts from 1948 were recorded on wire reels by Melville Herskovits and later deposited and preserved at the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music.

Heilbut, who also wrote the liner notes, begins his essay with 8 compelling reasons why Moving On Up a Little Higher should be considered the definitive Mahalia compilation. Needless to say, we can find 22 reasons why any gospel enthusiast will want this CD, since each track is a treasure.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

[1] Jackson’s appearance at Newport the following year was released by Columbia as “Mahalia Jackson Live at Newport 1958.”

View review November 1st, 2016

Lawrence Brownlee – Allegro io son

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Title: Allegro io son

Artist: Lawrence Brownlee

Label: Delos

Formats: CD, MP3, Streaming

Release date: September 9, 2016

 

Lawrence Brownlee’s second release of bel canto opera arias on the Delos label—Allegro io son—is a welcome follow-up to the American tenor’s Grammy®-nominated album of Virtuoso Rossini Arias from 2014 (reviewed here). Once more he proves his rank as the leading proponent of this repertoire, consistently exhibiting rock-solid technique in spinning long legato lines, precise coloratura, and seemingly effortless high notes.

Brownlee again has again joined forces with Constantine Orbelian and the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, performing both popular and somewhat rarely heard selections—from Bellini’s I puritani and Donizetti’s Rita, La favorite, Don Pasquale, Dom Sébastien, L’elisir d’amore, and La fille du regiment, recorded in Lithuania’s Kaunas Philharmonic in April 2016.

Right from the beginning, he sets the tone with the joyful title track from Donizetti’s late (and rarely performed) one-act comedy Rita (or The Beaten Husband), tossing off B-naturals and C-sharps like they were confetti.

In the selections from I puritani—what would be Bellini’s final work—Brownlee negotiates the unforgiving tessitura with unbelievably remarkable ease. In Arturo’s entrance, “A te o cara,” the tenor floats the long lines in the ensemble—with fine support from soprano Viktorija Miskunaite, bass Liudas Mikalauskas, and baritone Andrius Apsega—always maintaining the pulse, notwithstanding the slow tempo. Equally, in Arturo’s third act “Son salvo,” Brownlee conveys (as does Miskunaite) with directness and full-bodied tone.

The two selections from L’elisir d’amore also are delivered in a straightforward fashion, without resorting to sentimentality, perhaps showing us that Nemorino might be more than just a “country bumpkin.” In both, he adds a little bit of ornamentation as well as mini-cadenzas that never distract from the character’s heartfelt declarations of love.

The concluding two tracks are from one of Brownlee’s signature roles, Tonio in Donizetti’s La fille du regiment. The first selection, “Pour me rapprocher de Marie” is, according to the tenor “actually harder than ‘Ah, mes amis’—which you can sing if you have a solid high C—because it lies high overall and demands expressive phrasing.” He should know, because it is in this track, more so than any other on the disc, where Brownlee exhibits exactly why he is virtually peerless in this repertoire. Despite the slow tempo and flexible rubato, there is continuous forward motion even as he stretches the aria’s phrases to their limits, finally tossing off a C-sharp before floating a high A to pianissimo.

In the final track, Brownlee dives headfirst into “Ah! mes amis” from the opera’s first act. His earlier version on This Heart That Flutters with piano accompaniment (from 2013, reviewed here) may have had a little more urgency, but with support from the orchestra, Mikalauskas, and the men of the Kaunas State Choir, Brownlee takes his time and sounds much freer as a result. And all nine of those high Cs are as solid as ever.

Editor’s note: Lawrence Brownlee is an alumni of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he recevied his Master of Music degree.

Reviewed by Frank Villella, archivist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association

View review November 1st, 2016

After 7 – Timeless

after-7-timeless
Title: Timeless

Artist: After 7

Label: Entertainment One

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 14, 2016

 

Vocal group After 7 returns after an eleven year hiatus with their album Timeless.  On this new outing the core members of the group, Kevon & Melvin Edmonds and Keith Mitchell, are joined by Melvin’s son Jason Edmonds.  As with their previous offerings, the group’s smooth vocal harmonies are front and center and Jason fits right in without missing a beat.

Timeless begins with arguably its strongest track, “Running Out,” which would be right at home with the best “Quiet Storm” grooves of the 1980s.  Despite the fact that they use various sound effects, the strength of the vocalists shine through and the music is fantastic.  The track definitely has a few Atlantic Starr vibes. “Running Out” is one of the many songs on the album written by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.  It is clear from this jam that Babyface has in no way lost his touch and might very well be the producer heir apparent to Quincy Jones, should he ever decide to go that route.

Another highlight on the album is “I Want You,” which has been making the rounds as a single. On this Babyface penned track the fellas creatively share lead, switching between vocalists on each line.  After 7 sounds exceptionally energized here and the track is all the better for it. Following is another single from the album, “Let Me Know”:

The themes throughout the album are, as you’d expect, love, relationships, and desire.  This is stanchly “grown folks music,” with perspectives on these themes that are more in tune with the “Grown and Sexy” than their younger counterparts.  The production volleys between the aforementioned Quiet Storm and soft rock elements.  A couple of the tracks definitely put me in a “Human Nature”/”Africa” (Toto references) space and that is not at all a bad thing.

The album concludes with two covers. After 7 definitely does a good job with The Stylistics’ “Bet You By Golly Wow,” although it does not reach the heights of their “Baby I’m For Real/Natural High” cover from years back. “Home” is a strong closer and ends the album with a bit of a meditative tone.

Black Grooves has a special connection to the group After 7.  Members Kevon and Keith both attended Indiana University in the late ‘70s and were members of the IU Soul Revue, a live performance ensemble that tours around the country performing songs from the Black American Songbook, past and present.  Both Keith and Kevon cite their time with the IU Soul Revue as a major influence on their respective careers in music. Furthermore, both the IU Soul Revue and Archives of African American Music and Culture were founded by Dr. Portia K. Maultsby, who mentored countless students over the years.

Overall it is great to have After 7 back doing their thing.  The smooth sounds of Timeless also reinforce the fact that Babyface has not lost a step in his production work.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

View review November 1st, 2016

Timothy Bloom – The Beginning

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Title: The Beginning

Artist: Timothy Bloom

Label: Beyond the Sky Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 23, 2016

 

Timothy Bloom’s latest project, The Beginning, is the first in a trilogy of albums called “The Life.”   Bloom is perhaps best known for his 2011 hit with V. Bozeman, “Til the End of Time,” a stunning ballad that introduced him as a force in R&B.  More than just a gifted singer, though, Bloom is also an accomplished songwriter and producer as well, having written for artists such as Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, and Smokey Robinson.

Musically, the EP doesn’t fit into just one category, with Bloom’s capable voice traversing across genres and decades. The opener, “Work It Out,” sounds like a ’70s R&B hit.  Immediately following is “Adam and Eve,” which hearkens back to the pace and style of Prince.  After that, “Me and Myself” swings into jazz.  Even within this assortment of musical styles, Bloom stays true to his gospel roots, particularly on “Howl at the Moon.” He grew up listening to and singing gospel music in the South, and it shows.  Although the EP clocks in at 23 minutes, Bloom features a lot of collaborators.  Perhaps the best comes not from a vocalist but the French harmonica player, Frederic Yonnet.  They pair up on “Sweet Angel,” with Yonnet featured throughout.

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Overall, The Beginning is a solid EP, and listeners can look forward to not only this project but the two EPs to follow.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review November 1st, 2016

Muddy Magnolias – Broken People

muddy-magnolias
Title: Broken People

Artist: Muddy Magnolias

Label: Third Generation

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: October 14, 2016

 

Jessy Wilson and Kallie North are the soulful vocal duo behind the Muddy Magnolias. Wilson, the powerful lead vocalist, was raised in Brooklyn singing gospel and R&B music at clubs throughout her young adult years and backing stars such as Alicia Keys and John Legend. Meanwhile, North grew up in Texas singing in church choirs and listening to country and blues music. The couple met while in Nashville when Wilson discovered North’s photography and fell in love with her work. The collection of songs on their debut album, Broken People, showcases their song writing capability as well as their collaborative ability to wield Americana musical genres.

A soft wah wah pedal can be heard kicking into a rock-blues groove on the opening title track, “Broken People,” with a likeness to the music of Jack White. “Brother, What Happened?” follows, a cool and catchy anthem beckoning a socially activist generation to come forward.

Muddy Magnolias capture the attention of their listeners with power vocals and songs that stay in your head long after the album ends. This is best proven in the high energy pop songs, “Devil’s Teeth,” “Shine On!,” and “Got It Goin’ On.” Their music shifts in “I Need a Man,” from a darker blues sound into a Jason Mraz style pop chorus.

Wilson’s voice is often the dominant one on this album as North provides supportive harmonies with a country rasp like that of Susan Tedeschi. Several songs are instrumentally minimal in order to feature the duo’s powerful belting voices including “Train,” “Why Don’t You Stay,” and “Take Me Home.” The concluding track, “Lead Me to the Sky,” is strikingly similar to John Legend’s “All of Me,” which makes sense since Legend is provides piano accompaniment and backing vocals.

Broken People by Muddy Magnolias is an exciting pop album that highlights the duo’s ability to creatively blend musical genres.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review November 1st, 2016

Ashleigh Smith – Sunkissed

asleigh-smith
Title: Sunkissed

Artist: Ashleigh Smith

Label: Concord Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 19, 2016

 

Ashleigh Smith’s debut album on Concord is collection of upbeat and bright songs of love and encouragement warmly reflective of the album title, Sunkissed. The track-list contains cover renditions of recognizable tunes and original music by Ashleigh and her band members, Nigel Rivers and Joel Cross, whom she met while studying jazz at the University of North Texas. The recordings include jazz arrangements with a full band, brass section, and string ensemble to support Ashleigh’s harmonious vocals.

The bossa nova beat of “Best Friends” introduces the album with a bittersweet plea to heal from the pain of a lost friendship. With Joel Cross’s acoustic guitar taking the lead followed by piano, brass, and a chorus building up into a key change, the song is hardly gloomy as the lyrical theme may imply:

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“The World is Calling,” written by Smith and Rivers, showcases her confidence and creativity as a jazz vocalist, while “Sunkissed,” co-written by Smith, Rivers, Keitie Young, and Nadia Washington, expresses encouragement to embrace one’s inner and outer beauty:

Don’t you let it go,
Mocha skin so brown,
Don’t you drop your crown,
Hold your light keep shining now,
Baby can’t you see?
You’re my little brown skin queen
.

Smith and her sister, Lauren Smith, together wrote the lyrics of “Into the Blue,” a love song that grapples with the complexity of emotions following the loss of a relationship. “Brokenhearted Girl” follows, a song about lost romance and emotional maturity with a melody similar to the children’s song “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Each original piece reflects artists who have influenced Smith’s music—from Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Bill Withers to Sting. “Beautiful and True” is the only song that was written for Smith to perform by her former teacher, Rosanna Eckert. Her interpretation is as intense as it is gentle, with a dynamic orchestration encapsulating the climactic near-conclusion of the album.

The various cover songs emphasize the album’s themes of wonder and imagination. From the Beatles classic “Blackbird” to “Pure Imagination,” made famous by the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Smith experiments with the original musicality of these songs. Utilizing jazz instrumentation and dreamy vocal harmonies, she creates a truly haunting sound. “Love is You,” originally by Chrisette Michele, and “Sara Smile” by Hall and Oates similarly inspire a sense of familiarity, both complementing and completing Smith’s showcase of talent.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review November 1st, 2016

Melissa Etheridge – Memphis Rock and Soul

melissa-ethridge
Title: Memphis Rock and Soul

Artist: Melissa Etheridge

Label: Stax

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: October 7, 2016

 

I love Stax Records. When I see that distinctive logo, you know, the one with the finger snapping, I never hide my love. To quote the great singer Rufus Thomas, “Motown was cute, but Stax was souuul.” So when I heard that Melissa Etheridge was releasing a tribute album on the legendary label, two thoughts ran through my mind: (1) Shock and (2) No way (now if it was Bonnie Raitt, those two thoughts would have never entered my mind). Etheridge did what any true artist should do when you want recreate the magic and aura of Stax—she recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis, where some of the original songs on Memphis Rock and Soul were recorded. Al Green, Ann Peebles, and believe it or not Bruno Mars have all recorded there over the years.

On “Respect Yourself” Etheridge tries not to outdo Mavis Staples, which is smart. The opening guitar on this remake is similar to the Staple Singers’ version. On the Johnny Taylor cover “Who’s Making Love,” Etheridge slows the pace way down and changes the words to “Who’s Making Love To Your Sweet Lady.” If you know the original, it is much faster and has the kicking guitar along with Taylor’s soulful delivery on “Who’s Making Love To Your Ol Lady.”

Of course if you are going to cover Stax, you have to include Sam & Dave. Etheridge plays both Sam & Dave on the vocals to “Hold On, I’m Coming” and yes, I personally wanted to hear the horns just like original, and my wish was granted.

Stax’ biggest act, no question, was Otis Redding, who is covered on two tracks. The first, “I’ve Been Loving You,” is very underrated. Etheridge stays true to the original—no words changing here—and her vocal delivery is perfect. The second, “I’ve Got Dreams,” is again nothing fancy, with Etheridge showing respect for the original.

No doubt, it must have been a dream for Melissa Etheridge to record this album and pay respect to perhaps the greatest American record label ever.

Eddie Bowman

View review November 1st, 2016

Pigeon John – Good Sinner

pigeon-john

Title: Good Sinner

Artist: Pigeon John

Label: Dine Alone Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 23, 2016

 

Pigeon John honed his musical skills by performing during open mic nights at the Good Life Café in his home state of California. Even though he’s experienced much success, he’s kept this DIY approach and indie aesthetic central to his music. In fact, this new CD was crowdfunded through the website Pledge. Good Sinner is Pigeon John’s seventh album and features many genres, from his characteristic indie rock songs to covers of the Beastie Boys.

The first single, “That’s What I Like,” is a catchy song about chasing a hard-to-get lover. It features hand claps, hearty brass, and an undeniably pop chorus singing “Na na na, hey.” “Stick Up” is a similarly upbeat, pop song that sounds akin to Pigeon John’s most popular hits such as “The Bomb.”

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Pigeon John emphasizes his indie rock side on songs such as “Rebel Rebel,” which is driven by heavy yet simple beats on the drum set and features a catchy whistling section that is sure to be stuck in your head for days. This edgy vibe continues on “Gravity,” a foot-tapping song with an electric, urgent chorus featuring synthesizer.

Though he stays true to his own style, Pigeon John also explores the intersection of indie rock with other genres. He raps on “Shake It Down,” an extremely funky track featuring shouts and jingling bells in the background. His love for this mix of rock and hip hop can also be heard in his mellow cover of the Beastie Boys “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).”

Taking the exploration of genres even further, Pigeon John’s vocals in “Take Off” lay somewhere between melodic country twang and a slow rap that discusses fights, visiting penthouses, and taking off in a beautiful car. The way the vocals are manipulated in “Knock Out” is Beach Boys-esque, with fuzzy harmonies throughout the track. Growing up in California, it seems very likely that Pigeon John was inspired by Beach Boy era love songs, as he sings, “My pretty knockout, you drive me batty like Hollywood.”

Good Sinner explores love and rebellion through a number of genres, though Pigeon John still finds himself most comfortable situated between indie rock and pop. The album is upbeat, and more often than not seems focused on making fun, catchy music. With the varying styles and appealing nature of pop choruses and beats, anyone who listens to Good Sinner will inevitably find themselves humming a chorus hours later.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 1st, 2016

Unlocking the Truth – Chaos

unlocking-the-truth
Title: Chaos

Artist: Unlocking the Truth

Label: self-release

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 17, 2016

 

Over the past few years the punk band Unlocking the Truth has gone from YouTube sensations to performing at major festivals and landing a nearly unprecedented recording contract with Sony (later rejected), all while just entering their teens.  While a knee jerk reaction might be to dismiss them as a “kiddie act,” their first official release, Chaos, aims to dispel all those doubts and for the most part succeeds.

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Jarad Dawkins (drums) and Malcolm Brickhouse (guitar/vocals) have been friends since early childhood and have been playing together since middle school.  Alec Atkins (bass) joined the band during the period in which they made quite a bit of noise on YouTube, once the word got out about their impromptu shows in Times Square.  Chaos is the first foray into what the fellas have been cooking up since they made the jump to the Vans Warped Tour and Coachella.

The album is very well-produced with a sound that feels tailor made for radio airplay.  Each track feels crafted as a potential single, which though understandable—given how music is consumed in 2016—takes away from a cohesive whole.  However, if you can look past this issue and take Chaos as a first step on a career that will hopefully include a respectable artistic growth arc, what they’ve produced is a very respectable start.  Unlocking the Truth’s sound is decidedly steeped in the Nu-Metal tradition of bands like Slipknot and System Of A Down.  And while these might be big shoes to fill, Chaos hints that the teenage power trio may be mentioned in the same breath as these bands down the line.

Of particular note is the level of the playing the band has mastered.  Tracks like “Monster”, “A Tide” and “Other Side” really do a great job in showcasing how well the group plays together and gives glimpses of what may come as they continues to mature.  Thematically the album leans heavily on imagery about outsiders (perhaps due to being three young African-American males participating in a genre that is dominated by bands that do not look them); relationships (usually difficult or outright bad ones, which begs the question how much of these songs sprang from personal experience?); and general human connections (which serves as a bookend to the outsiders theme, as the band embraces a new community built around freedom to be one’s self).

The album’s lead single, “Take Control,” utilizes these themes in its music video and in the lyrics which speak to taking control of your own destiny.  It will very interesting to hear Brickhouse’s voice as it matures—he is clearly coming into his own vocally, which is best heard on “Escape.”  This track also features some great drum work by Dawkins and bass work by Atkins.

All in all, Chaos feels like a preview of great things to come.  It is my hope that Unlocking the Truth beats the odds of becoming pigeonholed as a novelty act and continues honing their craft both live and in the studio.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

View review November 1st, 2016

Joshua Breakstone: The Cello Quartet – 88

joshua-breakstone
Title: 88

Artist: Joshua Breakstone: The Cello Quartet

Label: Capri Records Ltd.

Format: CD

Release Date: October 21, 2016

 

Guitarist Joshua Breakstone and his cello quartet (featuring bassist Lisle Atkinson, cellist Mike Richmond, and drummer Andy Watson) pay tribute to pianists on the group’s latest release, 88.  In the liner notes to the record, Breakstone notes that, as a guitarist, he has always considered pianists “family,” because both instruments share the duties of being both accompanists and soloists.

While there isn’t really anything new here for fans of small combos or jazz guitar, Breakstone and his trio do what they do best: delivering compelling small-combo jazz, using a set of great tunes as vehicles for their improvisations. This approach leads to a set of halfway familiar tunes, such as a Latin rendering “Lolita” (from the Kubrick film of the same name), Tad Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now,” and the lesser-known standard “Soul Eyes,” composed by Mal Waldron.  The playing on this record is stellar, from Richmond’s fiery cello solo on “v to the band’s sturdy navigation of the potentially slippery Lennie Tristano tune “Lennie’s Pennies.” The only original on the album, Breakstone’s “88,” seems familiar as well, straight in the post-bop style pioneered by many of the musicians who Breakstone and company pay tribute to on this record.

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Overall, there isn’t anything groundbreaking here, but Breakstone’s quartet plays compelling tunes with aplomb. This is certainly worth a few listens, and for jazz cellists, guitarists and pianists, some serious study.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review November 1st, 2016

Quincy Jones – Live In Ludwigshafen 1961


Title: Live In Ludwigshafen 1961

Artist: Quincy Jones

Label: SWR-Jazz Haus

Formats: CD, digital

Release date: March 25, 2016

 

In 1959, Quincy Jones put together a big band orchestra for the European musical Free and Easy. The show lasted only a couple of months, playing for small audiences in Utrecht, Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. Marooned in Europe with a payroll to meet, Jones and company set off touring the continent, booking venues and collecting money to pay their way forward. Eventually, the band ran out of money and came home to the U.S., with Jones $145,000 (in 1960 dollars) in debt. Mercury Records president Irving Green offered Jones a vice president position, and Jones went on to arrange and/or produce hits by Dinah Washington, Leslie Gore, Billy Eckstine and others. He eventually made his biggest mark on music as a producer (Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, George Benson, Aretha Franklin, etc.), but continued to make jazz and jazz-pop albums throughout his tenure with Mercury.

Jones continued touring with a big band early in his Mercury executive career, and live recordings made in Zurich, Switzerland on March 10, 1961 and the 1961 Newport Jazz Festival in July of that year, have been released by Mercury/Polygram. Jones recorded his last strictly-jazz big band album, The Quintessence, for Impulse! Records in December, 1961, essentially ending his career as leader of a touring jazz big band.

On this CD is the band’s complete concert of March 15, 1961 at the Pfalzbau auditorium in Ludwigshafen, Germany. The well-made mono recording highlights the combination of ensemble and solo playing that was the trademark of Jones’ skilled and modern-sounding band. Featured are excellent live renditions of tunes on Jones’ Mercury studio albums, including “G’Won Train,” “Birth of a Band,” “Stolen Moments,” “Moanin’” and “I Remember Clifford.” Also included is a superb version of the Count Basie classic “Lester Leaps In” featuring great solos by guitarist Les Spann and pianist Patty Bown.

It’s worth listening carefully to Jones’ introduction of the band (track 13, which is followed by a somewhat loose and joyous version of “Birth of a Band,” the title cut to Jones’ first Mercury album). This lineup included many future headliners and leaders on 1960s jazz albums. That Jones could assemble such a band testifies to his influence in the music business even at a relatively young age. Although his greatest career highlights were years forward, this concert demonstrates why Quincy Jones always had the respect of musicians, and always knew how to please an audience.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

View review November 1st, 2016

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra – All My Yesterdays – The Debut 1966 Village Vanguard Recordings

thad-jones
Title: All My Yesterdays – The Debut 1966 Village Vanguard Recordings

Artist: Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra

Label: Resonance Records

Formats: 2-CD set, MP3, Streaming

Release date: February 19, 2016

 

Did you ever wonder where the musicians in the bands that appeared on various television variety shows in the ‘60s and ‘70s—such as the Mike Douglas Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show, and the Dick Cavett Show—went after work? Well, an important part of this answer is disclosed in this two-disc CD set from Resonance Records. The musicians gathered at the Village Vanguard—sometimes in the audience, but more often as members of perhaps the most distinctive jazz big band of the past fifty years. Some reviewers referred to this group as simply THE Jazz Orchestra, capitalizing THE for emphasis. But let’s first set the early foundation for this wonderful collaboration.

The recording careers of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis intersected many times and spanned similar decades. Jones made his mark with Count Basie and his appearances on recordings stretch from the ‘50s until his death in 1986. Lewis, who began with Ray Anthony and continued with Stan Kenton, was active as a session drummer throughout his career. Lewis’ first recording dates from 1949 (with Anthony), and he was a regular in clubs and studio sessions led by many well-known musicians and vocalists alike through the ‘80s. The first time that Jones and Lewis recorded together was in a studio in Chicago booked by Argo Records for a session led by James Moody, released as “Great Day.” It preceded the sessions on this CD set by three years.

Unlike other Resonance releases, over half of the tunes on All My Yesterdays previously appeared on a CD released by Alan Grant in collaboration with BMG Records. The notes to this Resonance release state that Grant’s earlier release was unauthorized, despite the fact that Grant, a noted jazz deejay, directly facilitated the organization of the band and its appearance at the Village Vanguard. Grant’s release also included his brief interview with Mel Lewis that was broadcast a week prior to the opening performance at the Village Vanguard. While this interview is excluded from All My Yesterdays, the Resonance set importantly adds five previously unreleased performances. By including a thick booklet containing many interviews with the musicians, Resonance makes this a truly definitive and wonderful production, taking a place alongside an earlier compilation by Mosaic Records of the majority of commercially released recordings by THE orchestra.

The style of the performances on All My Yesterdays is inclusive, ranging from elements that sound like traditional swing arrangements (hear Hank Jones’ Basie-tinged piano introduction to “Ah, That’s Freedom” on the second CD) to almost free form (such as the alto solo on “The Little Pixie”). Across this range, the band integrated soloists inside original arrangements, producing landmark recordings that demonstrate much of the history of jazz from the ‘30s through the ’70s. Jones was truly the creative leader providing the charts, but Lewis contributed the rhythmic unity and momentum that anchored each performance, seemingly both relaxed and propulsive at the same time.

The first CD opens with a thundering performance of Thad Jones’ original composition, “Back Bone.” Voices of band members and other musicians in the audience are heard throughout, shouting words of encouragement. The house was full and passions were high, while the level of creativity in the performances disappointed no one. Section work was tight, and soloists were inspired. The second CD’s highlight is a wonderful performance of “Lover Man;” however, the unique passion of band and audience on the first CD provides many high spots. We are truly fortunate that this special debut was captured so well on this recording. And by the way, the sound quality on these new CDs is absolutely beyond reproach. Resonance provides a wonderful release that you will enjoy, especially if you appreciate the evolution of big bands in the history of jazz music.

The official recorded history of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra began one month after these live Village Vanguard recordings. They appeared on LPs released on Solid State Records (a label owned by United Artists Records), which were later compiled and reissued with additional selections by Mosaic, including THE Orchestra backing vocalist Joe Williams. Another live recording one year later also captured a performance at the Village Vanguard. The final released recording of the band dates from 1985 on Atlantic, and it was the last time Jones and Lewis were recorded together in this reconstituted gathering. The only television program featuring the band I know of was on Jazz Casual, issued on DVD and streamed on YouTube. It is worth your time to watch it.

As a personal note, when in New York during 1971 to conduct interviews for part of my own doctoral research, I was fortunate to have a Monday evening free. Having heard of THE Orchestra, I hopped on the subway and reached the Village Vanguard in time to be seated before the opening set. Live, the performances were every bit as exciting as those captured on these wonderful CDs. Listen and I bet you will agree.

Track listings for each CD and session personnel follow:

Disc 1: February 7, 1966

Back Bone—All My Yesterdays—Big Dipper—Mornin’ Reverend—The Little Pixie—Big Dipper (alternate take). Personnel: Thad Jones (tp, flhrn, arr.,cond.); Jimmy Nottingham, Snooky Young, Jimmy Owens, Bill Berry (tp); Garnett Brown, Jack Rains (tb); Bob Brookmeyer (v-tb); Cliff Heather (b-tb); Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion (as,cl,fl); Joe Farrell (ts,cl,fl); Eddie Daniels (ts,cl); Marv “Doc” Hollady (bar); Hank Jones (p); Sam Herman (g, perc); Richard Davis (b); Mel Lewis (d).

Disc 2: March 21, 1966

Low Down—Lover Man—Ah, That’s Freedom—Don’t Ever Leave Me—Willow Weep for Me—Mean What You Say—Once Around—Polka Dots & Moonbeams—Mornin’ Reverend—All My Yesterdays—Back Bone.

Personnel: Thad Jones (tp, flhrn, arr.,cond.); Jimmy Nottingham, Bill Berry, Jimmy Owens, Danny Stiles (tp); Jack Rains, Garnett Brown, Tom McIntosh (tb); Cliff Heather (b-tb); Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion (as, cl, fl); Joe Farrell (ts, cl, fl); Eddie Daniels (ts, cl); Pepper Adams (bar); Hank Jones (p); Sam Herman (g); Richard Davis (b); Mel Lewis (d).

Reviewed by Thomas P. Hustad

Author of Born to Play: The Ruby Braff Discography and Directory of Performances

View review November 1st, 2016

M.A.K.U. Soundsystem – Mezcla

maku-soundsystem

Title: Mezcla

Artist: M.A.K.U. Soundsystem

Label: Glitterbeat Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: May 27, 2016

 

Immigration has been a theme in music for centuries, as people who relocate try to remain connected to their roots, and attempt to relate past experiences to the present. However, themes of immigration seem to be especially poignant in the political climate of 2016, as boundaries and immigration policies are pushed and pulled throughout the world. Many musicians are speaking out about their personal immigration experiences in this year of contention, in particular addressing humanitarian issues. That’s what M.A.K.U. Soundsystem does on their fourth album, Mezcla. The eight-piece Colombian to New York City band combines traditional Colombian beats, grooves from West Africa, and Moog synthesizers from the ‘90s club scene to bring all of their experiences—both musical and personal—into a comprehensive album.

The opening track, “Agua,” addresses income inequality through the melismatic voice of lead singer Liliana Conde. Two minutes into the almost six minute song, she switches to spoken word poetry: “With so many walls going up around the world trying to separate us, trying to divide us, we want to come together and sing in unison of the things that bring us together and unify us.” A full chorus then joins in, singing about how the oceans cannot be separated and water flows through all of our veins, regardless of race or country. It is a powerful and upbeat song, featuring a fast beat maintained through a variety of percussive instruments and ornamented by the horns.

Another standout track is “Let It Go,” a rhythm-driven song that focuses on instrumentals over vocals. Starting with a heavy West African beat, the song blends Afro-Caribbean roots with improvising horns that edge into a jazz feel. Three minutes into the song, voices enter in unison saying, “Let it go and let the music take you.” These words repeat for the rest of the song, building with the music as it becomes faster and new instruments join in to create a satisfying climax.

A slow waltz, “De Barrio,” takes the listener on a journey of an immigrant from Latin America to the United States. It is sorrowful yet warm, and reflects the complications of the bittersweet trip. According to bassist and singer Juan Ospina, this tone is meant to reflect how immigrants put their lives at risk, and emphasizes that borders are created by men: “Look down from space and you won’t see them.” Harmonious notes held out near the end of the song echo unbridled cries of emotion, though whether they are cries of sorrow or hope is left to each listener’s interpretation.

In “La Inevitabile,” M.A.K.U.’s hope for the future is clear, as they sing in Spanish, “when in mixing and coming together they represent the rhythm of our beating hearts.” This message of mezcla, or “mixing,” is central to the album. Mixing of music old and new, mixing of people from different cities and backgrounds, all come together on Mezcla as this group of Colombian artists create music that combines their past experiences with their present lives in New York.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 1st, 2016

Lorraine Klaasen – Nouvelle Journée

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Title: Nouvelle Journée

Artist: Lorraine Klaasen

Label: Justin Time

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 21, 2016

 

South Africa native Lorraine Klaasen learned how to perform on the world’s stages by tagging along with her mother Thandie Klaasen, a highly respected jazz singer. This allowed Klaasen to launch her career at an early age, and after successfully touring Europe, she decided to settle in Montreal. Since then, she’s been involved in musical theatre, won a JUNO award, and released three albums. On her latest project, Nouvelle Journée, she pays homage to her homeland by singing in the many languages of South Africa—specifically Tsonga, Sotho, isiZulu, Xhosa, English, and French—and by creating her own form of Township music.

Most of Nouvelle Journée focuses on having a “Township music feel,” reflecting the music created by the Bantu people in South Africa, particularly during segregation and the Apartheid. Klaasen’s decision to focus on this genre and South African languages came after reconnecting with her family and particularly her mother, in South Africa. The title track, “Nouvelle Journée,” is about this new experience and phase in Klaasen’s life, as she sings about having a new, fresh start and letting go of past mistakes:

The album was co-produced by Ntaka and recorded with musicians from all over the world, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti. Though the main style is Township music, these various musical influences and textures weave together throughout the album, from the funk of “Make It Right” to the jazz ballad “Where To Now.”

The exceptionally heartfelt “Polokwane” is a piano driven song with lyrics describing how one’s birthplace is a “sacred place,” a place that can never be forgotten or replaced. Klaasen pours out her soul, and it is evident that her homeland will always occupy an important and irreplaceable place in her heart and in her music. Nouvelle Journée is a physical manifestation of that, as Klaasen celebrates and honors South Africa and the many experiences and perspectives it brings to her music.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 1st, 2016

Josh White – Josh At Midnight (LP reissue)

josh-white
Title: Josh At Midnight

Artist: Josh White

Label: Ramseur Records

Formats: LP

Release date: August 19, 2016

Josh White (1914-1969) played a style of folk-blues with a jazz-like swing that stood in contrast to the Delta style of blues that came to dominate the genre. Although White enjoyed fame and popularity in his lifetime (and a period of being blackballed for his activism in favor of civil rights legislation), his music fell out of frequent broadcast or rotation on many blues fans’ turntables.

Josh At Midnight was recorded in 1955, in a small church in New York City, using a single Neumann U-47 mic. Original producer Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records, oversaw this vinyl-only reissue. The sound quality is superior to the early-era CD reissue I found in the local library system. It’s a mono recording, but the careful placement of White, bassist Al Hall and second vocalist Sam Gary produces a 3-dimensional sound quality, and creates nice separation between the sounds even as they weave together into a satisfying whole.

Musically, White covers songs in the traditional overlap between folk and blues music, such as “Timber (Jerry the Mule),” “One Meat Ball,” and “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” He also dives deeper into the blues vein with the saucy “Jelly, Jelly” and “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed” (a traditional blues song the lyrics of which were later appropriated by Led Zeppelin for “In My Time of Dying”). There is also the album’s opener, “St. James Infirmary,” a blues-jazz song made famous by Louis Armstrong.

White’s style will appeal to modern “roots music” fans. He was a superb guitar player—Holtzman describes him as “an acrobat with the instrument” in the LP’s new liner notes. His voice was refined and expressive, more a polished performer than a “down and dirty country bluesman.” The key appeal is that he had a ton of soul, and his big personality shines through in his playing and singing.

This vinyl reissue is clearly aimed at audiophiles as well as roots-music fans. If you don’t have a phono rig, seek out one of the previous CD reissues. Even though they don’t have the crystal clear sound and powerful dynamics of this version, the music will shine through.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

View review November 1st, 2016

Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed

space-echo
Title: Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed

Artists: Various

Label: Analog Africa

Formats: CD, LP, digital

Release date: May 27, 2016

 

Although this album is a compilation of actual music made by real-life musicians in the 1970s and 1980s, Analog Africa chose to anchor its theme to a fantastical and somewhat bizarre myth of a ship full of electronic keyboard instruments mysteriously appearing in a farm field in the island nation of Cape Verde, located off Africa’s west coast (see the album’s webpage for the full text of the music’s “creation myth”).

Back in the realm of facts, much of the music in this single-disc compilation was either written or performed by the band Voz de Cabo Verde, lead by Paulino Vieira. This group was sort of the Motown or Stax house band of Cape Verde’s musicians, performing at recording sessions both at home and in Portugal. As with all the Analog Africa compilations, it’s worthwhile to buy the physical media (CD or 2LP set) in order to read the extensive liner notes. The booklet includes interviews with some of the musicians and an article about Cape Verde musical traditions.

The Cape Verde flavor of Afro-pop is a keyboard-heavy mashup of dance rhythms, Portuguese and Brazilian influences and native beats. It is at home at a lively party or in a dance club today. Worth a listen if you’re in the mood for something different but accessible. Belief in the ship-in-the-field “creation myth” is optional.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review November 1st, 2016

October 2016 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during October 2016—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
Angel Faye Russell: Taste of Angel (Music Access)
Arthur Gunter: Baby Lets Play House Complete Excello Singles (Jasmine)
Big Daddy Wilson: Time (Dixiefrog)
CeDell Davis: Even The Devil Gets The Blues (Sunyata)
Dom Flemons & Martin Simpson: Selection of Ever Popular Favourites (Fledg’ling)
Jerimiah Marques & The Blue Aces: Winning Hand (The Last Music Company)
John Lee Hooker: Modern, Chess & Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62 (Acrobat)
Lightnin’ Hopkins: Thinkin’ And Worryin’ – Aladdin Singles 1947-1952 (Jasmine)
Mississippi Heat: Cab Driving Man (Delmark)
Mississippi John Hurt: Spike Driver Blues: Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings (Dark Was the Night Records)
Rev. Km Williams : The Real Deal Blues (Cleopatra)
Sonny Rhodes: Then & Now (Blues Express)
Trudy Lynn: I’ll Sing the Blues for You (Connor Ray Music)
Various: Classic Blues Artwork From The 1920s Calendar (Blues Images)
Various: Rough Guide To Delta Blues (Rough Guide)

Classical
Leontyne Price: Prima Donna Assoluta – Her Ultimate Opera Recordings (Box set) (Sony Classical)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Misc.
Kadhja Bonet: The Visitor (Fat Possum)

Gospel, Gospel Rap
Anthony Faulkner: Guardian Angel (7th Chapter Music)
Bishop Paul S. Morton: Legacy: Live in New Orleans (Light Records)
Clifton Ross III: I Believe God (digital) (CDBaby)
Dee Dee Sharp: Songs of Faith (reissue) (ABKCO)
Derek Minor: Reflection (eOne)
Hart Ramsey & The NCC Choir: True Story (eOne)
Mahalia Jackson: Sings–The Great Television Performances (Real Gone)
Nimisilla Park : Welcome to Nimisilla Park (Coal Mine Ent.)
Rance Allen Group: Live From San Francisco (CD + DVD) (Tyscot)
Various: Best of Proverb & Gospel Corner Records (Narro Way/City Hall)

Holiday
Bob Baldwin: The Gift Of Christmas (Red River Entertainment)
Kenny Lattimore: A Kenny Lattimore Christmas (Motown Gospel)
Phillip Carter & SOV: Christmas
R. Kelly: 12 Nights Of Christmas (RCA)
Various: Joyful Jazz! Christmas with Verve, Vol. 1: The Vocalists (Verve)
Various: Joyful Jazz! Christmas with Verve, Vol. 2: The Instrumentals (Verve)

Jazz
Charles Mingus: Complete Albums (Enlightenment)
Daniel Weatherspoon: The Langley Park Project (Longlife Entertainment)
David S. Ware & Matthew Shipp Duo: Live in Sant’Anna Arresi 2004 (AUM Fidelity)
Earl Hines All Stars: Live at CLub Hangover, S.F. 1957 (Acrobat)
Fostina Dixon: Here We Go Again (Fossiebear Inc. Productions)
George Cables: The George Cables Songbook (HighNote)
Josef Leimberg: Astral Progressions (digital) (Alpha Pup)
Kenny Burrell: Complete Albums Collection 1956-1957 (Enlightenment)
Kenny Burrell: Complete Albums Collection 1957-1962 (Enlightenment)
Malia: Malawi Blues / Njira (MPS)
Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5 (Legacy)
Mili Bermejo and Dan Greenspan: Arte del Dúo (Ediciones Pentagrama)
Orrin Evans: #knowingishalfthebattle (Smoke Sessions)
Pennal Johnson : Conversations: Live In Chicago (Hitman)
Ramsey Lewis: Hot Dawgit: Anthology – Columbia Years (SoulMusic)
Shabaka and the Ancestors: Wisdom of Elders (Brownswood)
Zoot Sims Quintet: Buried Gold: Complete 1956 Quintet Recordings (Acrobat)

R&B, Soul
Ari Lennox: Pho (Dreamville/Interscope)
Chet Ivey: A Dose Of Soul – The Sylvia Funk Recordings 1971-75 (BGP)
Della Reese: Singles Collection 1955-62 (Acrobat)
Dr. John: Musical Mojo Of Dr. John: A Celebration of Mac & His Music (Concord)
Edwin Birdsong: S/T (expanded ed.) (BBR)
Eric Benet: Sunshine (Primary Wave)
Evelyn “Champagne” King: The Complete RCA Hits and More! (Real Gone)
Johnny Mathis: Complete US Singles As & Bs 1957-62 (Acrobat)
Jones: New Skin (Pias America)
Kadhja Bonet: The Visitor (Fat Possum/Fresh Selects)
Kevin Ross: Awakening (Motown)
Lizzo: Coconut Oil (digital) (Atlantic)
Otis Redding: Dictionary of Soul (2CD 50th Anniv. Ed.) (Rhino/Atlantic)
Otis Redding: Live At The Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings (Stax)
Rebecca Ferguson: Superwoman (RCA)
Sebastian Kole: Soup (Motown)
Sly & The Family Stone: Ain’t But The One Way (Friday Music)
Syreeta: The Rita Wright Years – Rare Motown 1967-1970 (Kent)
The Seshen: Flames & Figures (Tru-Thoughts)
Various: Let It Be – Black America Sings Lennon, Mccartney And Harrison (Ace)
Various: Please Relase Me – The Soulful Side Of Country (Jasmine)

Rap, Hip Hop
Cakes Da Killa: Hedonism (Ruffians)
Sleepdank: Airport Lifestyle (Hands Down)
A-F-R-O and Marco Polo: A-F-R-O Polo (Duck Down Music)
Bizzle: Crowns & Crosses (digital) (God Over Money LLC)
BROOKZILL!: Throwback to the Future (Tommy Boy Ent.)
D.I.T.C.: Sessions (digital) (The Fam Agency)
D.R.A.M.: Big Baby D.R.A.M. (digital) (Empire)
Damian Lillard (Dame D.O.L.L.A.): The Letter O (digital) (Vibe Music)
DJ Shadow: Endtroducing (3CD set) (Mercury)
Gaika: Spaghetto (Warp)
Gucci Mane: Woptober (Atlantic)
Ishdarr: Broken Hearts & Bank Rolls (Empire)
Stalin: On Behalf of the Streets 2 (Livewire/Empire)
Jay Prince: Smile Good (Cosa Nostra Music)
Joe Budden: Rage & the Machine (Mood Muzik Entertainment / EMPIRE)
Journalist 103: Battle for the Hearts and Minds (Babygrande)
Lauryn Hill : The Lauryn Hill Story (Chrome Dreams)
Lil Keke: ABA IV (digital) ( SoSouth)
L’Orange & Mr. Lif: The Life & Death Of Scenery (Mello Music Group)
Mark Steele: Almost Time (digital)
Mickey Factz x Nottz: The Achievement: circa ’82 (digital) ( W.A.R. Media)
Napoleon Born Apart: Infinite Nights (Hit Man)
NxWorries (Anderson .Paak & Knxwledge): Yes Lawd! (Stones Throw)
OG Maco: Children of the Rage (Columbia/Motown)
Saba: Bucket List Project (digital) (Saba Pivot, LLC)
Soprano: L’Everest ( Warner Music France)
Swet Shop Boys : Cashmere (Customs)
The Game: 1992 (eOne)
The Outlawz : Living Legends
U.G.: Portals (Creative Juices)
Various: Latest & Greatest Hip-Hop Anthems (Union Square Music)
Various: BBE20: Attitude, Belief & Determination (BBE)

Reggae, Dancehall
Alkaline: New Level Unlocked (Zojak World Wide)
Bunny Wailer: Solomonic Singles 1: Tread Along 1969-1976 (Dubstore)
Bunny Wailer: Solomonic Singles 2: Rise & Shine 1977-1986 (Dubstore)
No-Maddz: Sly & Robbie Presents No-Maddz (Nomaddz/Epiphany)
Osunlade: Mix The Vibe-King Street Goes Yoruba (King Street Sounds)
Patrice: Life’s Blood (Supow Music)
Various: Merritone Rock Steady 1: Shanty Town Curfew 66-67 (Dubstore)
Various: Kuduro Reggaeton Hits 2017

World
Bobo Yeye: Belle Epoque in Upper Volta (Numero)
Le Tout Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo: Madjafalao (Because Music)
Noura Mint Seymali : Arbina (Glitterbeat Records)
PeruJazz: Verde Machu Picchu (Vampisoul)

View review November 1st, 2016

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