Archive for February, 2017

Welcome to the February 2017 Black History Month Issue

Welcome to the February 2017 edition of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re not only celebrating Black History Month, but also our 10th anniversary and 2000th post! Many thanks to our supporters – including our reviewers and readers as well as the artists, publicists, promoters and record labels who make Black Grooves possible.

Our feature projects coalesce around themes related to the Black American experience: Otis Taylor’s Fantasizing About Being Black, Miles Mosley’s debut album Uprising (with the West Coast Get Down), Noah Preminger’s Meditations on Freedom, Atlanta rapper T.I.’s Us or Else: Letter to the System, Randy Weston’s The African Nubian Suite, Nate Smith’s debut album KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere, and Afro-punk trio BLXPLTN’s provocative New York Fascist Week.

We’re also featuring new releases from groups fronted by women, including Black Rose by Shirley Davis & the Silverbacks, Southern Avenue’s self-titled debut on Stax, Meditations of a G by the violin-viola duo Chargaux, Long Live the Angels by Scottish singer-songwriter Emile Sande, and Late Nights & Heartbreak by British soul singer Hannah Williams & The Affirmations.

On a Valentine’s Day theme, there’s Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better from jazz vocalist Allan Harris, and for Mardi Gras celebrations there’s Viral by the Jefferson St. Parade Band and Lapeitah from New Orleans funk musician Corey Henry.

Other new releases include Got Soul by Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Hot Coffey in the D celebrating side projects of Funk Brother Dennis Coffey, Devil is Fine by the black metal musician known as Zeal & Ardor, counterbalanced by the Miami Mass Choir Live at the Adrienne Arsht Center.

Wrapping us this issue is the world music compilation Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands 1973-1988, a DVD of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recent production of Hamlet featuring a black cast and composer, and our compilation of January 2017 Releases of Note.

View review February 1st, 2017

Otis Taylor – Fantasizing About Being Black

Otis Taylor
Title: Fantasizing About Being Black

Artist: Otis Taylor

Label: Trance Blues Festival Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: February 17, 2017

 

Building upon 20 years of recording and 15 albums, Otis Taylor presents his latest project, Fantasizing About Being Black, a historical retrospective on the African American experience. In a Conqueroo press release, Taylor says this album summons conversations about “the different levels of racism in the African American experience that are unfortunately still with us today. The history of African Americans is the history of America.”

Describing his music as “trance blues,” Taylor aims to transport the listener to an earlier era by incorporating instruments that were once played by enslaved people. The album opens with “Twelve String Mile,” a contemplative song about the social invisibility of the black man in the 1930s. This leads into “Walk on Water,” a song about the separation of an interracial couple and the pursuit of love. Taylor’s raspy, yet solemn vocals are accompanied by violinist Anne Harris, drummer Larry Thompson, bassist Todd Edmunds, Jerry Douglas on koa wood lap guitar, cornetist Ron Miles, and lead guitar player Brandon Niederauer. While much of this meditative album is acoustically composed, Taylor also includes electrifying spiritual songs such as “Tripping on This” and “Hands On Your Stomach”:

Taylor addresses the Civil Rights Movement, interracial relationships, the desire for freedom, and enslavement experiences in Fantasizing About Being Black. Each song reimagines what life was like for black men and women throughout different stages in America’s history. Taylor also uses this platform to call attention to pervasive racism and the need for empathy for people of color who continue their struggle today. Taylor’s last album, Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat, is currently on display at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture—a clear indication that his message is reaching a wide audience. Fantasizing About Being Black clearly continues Taylor’s commitment to social justice, and is an excellent contribution to this year’s Black History Month.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review February 1st, 2017

Miles Mosley – Uprising

Miles Mosley
Title: Uprising

Artist: Miles Mosley

Label: World Galaxy / Alpha Pup

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: January 27, 2017

 

When press releases surrounding Miles Mosley’s latest project were circulated last fall, little did we know just how strongly an album built around the theme “uprising” would resonate. By the time the album dropped last week, the country was embroiled in protests that show no sign of abating. Now Mosley’s concept for Uprising seems downright prescient:

The word “uprising” is often used in moments in which a group of people witness their strength in numbers and band together to seize an opportunity. This embodies the time we are currently living in, where people all over the world in art and politics are recognizing their own power in numbers. It is prophetic as it deals with the different tenants of survival within a world of mystery and ambivalence. From brotherly love to the dangers of good intentions, these are all universal occurrences to which we all seek advice.

If the album’s theme is not enough to draw you in, the music is a powerful hook. Mosley composed the music and also contributes lead vocals and his virtuosity on the upright bass. He’s backed by a soul stew otherwise known as the West Coast Get Down: Kamasi Washington and the late Zane Musa on saxophone, Dontae Winslow on trumpet, Ryan Porter on trombone, Brandon Coleman on keyboards, Cameron Greaves on piano, and drummer Tony Austin. Completing the aural tapestry, a full orchestra and choir are added to several of the tracks.

On Uprising, the WCGD collective fulfills another mission: “to defy genre and combine musical influences to make jazz dangerous and exciting again, while paying tribute to the legends before them.” Some of these legends include Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix, whose Southern soul and psychedelic rock are synthesized with jazz on nearly every track, along with message songs reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield.

The album kicks off with “Young Lion,” a fabulously funky song espousing the attributes of a young, woke man with Mosley singing, “set me free, let me run . . .I’m so on fire, look what I’ve become, I’m high, high, higher.” The track also demonstrates Mosley’s incredible bass technique, as the track closes in a fury of distorted riffs that might fool you into thinking he switched up his bass with electric guitar. This is followed by “Abraham,” a song framed with biblical references that begins peacefully with a keyboard backed intro. As Mosley concludes the first verse, “I’m scared, mediocrity is everywhere, but not here!,” the band explodes into action—proving that mediocrity will never fly with this renown ensemble.

In a recent LA Weekly interview, Mosley says he wanted to include “heart-wrenching songs of loss and disappointment,” but also “a soundtrack for this crazy time that people can lean on.” Many of the tracks embody these feelings of disillusionment; however, they never fail to inspire. The reverb soaked anthem “L.A. Won’t Bring You Down” seeks to embolden young artists to hold their own in the City of Angels, cheering them on with a shouting soul chorus, punchy horn section, and liberal applications of the wah wah pedal on the bass. This flows naturally into the emotional ballad “More Than This,” which starts off in a slow groove, then explodes in a powerful flurry of fuzzed up bass as Mosley shouts, “I was promised, maybe the whole world was promised, so much more than this!” Other stand out tracks include “Your Only Cover” and “Reap a Soul”—the latter a bit reminiscent of The Wiz in its “get on down the road” theme. In fact, both songs have lush orchestrations and a ‘70s era Broadway quality. The album concludes with “Fire,” a celebratory tune with Latin rhythms and full string section that will definitely get everyone on their feet, clamoring for an encore.

All of these tracks were recorded in 2012, at the same month-long session that gave birth to Kamasi Washington’s debut album, The Epic, and Cameron Grave’s Planetary Prince (though his tracks were eventually re-recorded). Now it is Mosley’s turn in the spotlight, and that light shines like a solar flare. With Uprising, Miles Mosley takes a huge dose of soul and funk, fuses it with astonishing bass technique enhanced with crazy special effects, and tops it off with empowering lyrics and vocals. This album will no doubt be one of the highlights of 2017!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2017

Noah Preminger – Meditations on Freedom

Noah Preminger
Title: Meditations on Freedom

Artist: Noah Preminger

Label: Independent Release

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: January 20, 2017

 

Inauguration day saw a new release from the prolific jazz saxophonist Noah Preminger, aptly entitled Meditations on Freedom. Many Americans have felt confused, afraid, and uncertain in the past few months and Preminger’s newest release channels these sentiments into meditative and provocative music. Composing original tunes and bringing several carefully chosen covers into the studio within weeks of the 2016 U.S. elections, Preminger and company recorded primarily from sketches, eschewing elaborate and polished arrangements for sounds that could touch the still raw nerves of his listeners. The unvarnished sense of the present on this record is heightened by the fact that each of these tracks was recorded live and released with no edits, lending the album the kind of immediacy that a listener may experience at a live set while allowing the musicians to act and react rather than scrubbing the record clean of potentially broken or missed notes. This technique gives this set of tunes a sense of urgency, one that is made even more stark by Preminger’s ensemble choice of a quartet that features no chording instrument, relying solely on melodic counterpoint for harmony. Featuring Preminger on saxophone, Jason Palmer on trumpet, Kim Cass on bass, and Ian Froman on drums, the group’s minimalistic approach ensures that every note counts, as it must with this ensemble and this material.

As the musical and technical choices set this album’s mood, Preminger’s selection of material provides the bulk of the political and social commentary. It is, of course, hard to convey specific social or political statements through instrumental jazz, an abstract medium generally unsuited to convey semantic meaning except through association or allusion.  Many artists try to solve this problem with sweeping titles that appear to convey something that the sound therein cannot.  Preminger’s solution to this problem is to intersperse his original tunes (complete with provocative titles like “We Have a Dream,” “Women’s March,” and “The 99 Percent”) with renditions of familiar socially-conscious numbers.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the way this group approaches its material is that Preminger and his quartet play the most familiar tunes in the set in a way that makes them seem to unravel as they progress. It would be easy (perhaps even lazy) to note that the quartet’s treatment of these tunes sees them dissipate as it seems that civil society is doing. What actually appears to be happening on these tracks, however, is more sophisticated: what makes these renditions especially salient is not that they actually fall apart, but that they clearly have the potential to. We can hear signature melodies on each of these songs before they morph into nearly unrecognizable improvisation over unfamiliar changes. They usually return to the familiar bits, but in a way that requires the listener to check the liner notes to make sure it’s still the same song.

The first two tracks are covers of songs that address racism in the United States head on: Bob Dylan’s “Only a Pawn in Their Game” (which can be heard below) and Bruce Hornsby’s “Just the Way it Is.” The band performs musical operations on these otherwise familiar tunes—we can recognize the songs in a way but they seem a bit off, almost as though they are being heard underwater. Dylan’s meandering vocal melody appears while the chords under it move in unexpected ways; the signature piano intro on the Hornsby tune is played by the horns before the quartet departs in a different direction than Hornsby could likely have imagined. It appears that Preminger meditates on freedom by pondering the perilous position of hard-won liberties—a house of cards that, like these songs, could easily fall apart with one wrong move. This thesis is supported by the tenuous feeling throughout the record—even the original tunes are not readily hummable, but melodically evanescent. The album feels transient, listening to it an absorbing meditation which is gone as soon as the final seconds tick off of the last track.

With Meditations on Freedom, Preminger and company have released an immediate artistic statement that packs quite a punch in a time that may be optimistically characterized as uncertain. Any flaws that may be found in the album’s one-and-done production style mirror the flaws that Preminger and company appear to highlight in democracy itself, full of promise but ultimately ambiguous in result. There are no shout choruses, no moments of divine Charlie Parker transcendence, but instead a preponderance of more muted soul-searching.

It is critical to note that this record does not end on a bright note—a fairly sunny reading of George Harrison’s “Give Me Love” is followed by an original, “Broken Treaties,” that reads as a lament for all of the hard fought battles that may have now been lost. Preminger’s music will likely not inspire revolution; rather it seems to grieve a failed one. Even the album’s gorgeous version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” is tinged with loss—sure, a change is gonna come, but will it be a good one?  It is difficult to interpret many of these numbers as seeing the glass half-full, and that may be precisely the point.

The most challenging part of Meditations on Freedom is its clearly articulated and profound sense of loss. Preminger and company’s skill at articulating this in a musically cogent way is what ultimately makes this album both so good and such a downer.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review February 1st, 2017

T.I. – Us or Else: Letter to the System

T.I.
Title: Us or Else: Letter to the System

Artist: T.I.

Label: Grand Hustle / Roc Nation Records

Format: digital

Release date: December 16, 2016

 

Looking back, 2016 was undoubtedly a great year for black music. And one particularly interesting part was listening to the myriad ways that black musicians interpreted and performed black protest, as well as the protesters’ routine practice of taking up these songs during their protests, especially Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” Likewise, Atlanta rapper T.I.’s December release, Us or Else: Letter to the System, signals a turn in the amount of explicit political content of his music, as well as a consistent effort from mainstream rappers and other black music icons to speak on issues related to the Black Lives Matter movement, including such heavyweights as Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Janelle Monáe, Killer Mike, and J. Cole. As far as the rappers go, Kendrick, Jay-Z, and J. Cole are devoted lyricists, though that is not all they do. But Killer Mike and now T.I. represent a new wave of southern trap rappers who use their music to explicitly respond to the issues and actions of the movement for black lives.

You could say T.I. entered this particular arena clearly with the August release of the single from the album, “We Will Not.” The song has a sinister melody and an anthem’s bigness and is an aggressive refusal of the race and class oppression he narrates in what is essentially a list of grievances addressed to a wide variety of unjust systems in the United States. This content is surrounded sonically by an articulation of the strength and badness—in the black usage of baad as positive—of contemporary black political activists, many of whom, I might add, are the same groups of teenagers innovating in trap music and black culture today. The album certainly demonstrates T.I.’s commitment to using his music to protest with and on behalf of the larger black community; even the long list of featured artists get completely on board with the mission, mobilizing countless Civil Rights Movement signifiers and centering their discussion primarily around police violence and mass incarceration.

In line with contemporary trap music, the sounds of the album include a steady stream of ad-libs, beat drops, autotune, excessive use of hi hats, gun sounds, filters, and especially current black “‘hood” vernacular and vocal performance. In terms of the vernacular and vocal performance, the song “Pain” works as a kind of guide to the pain of contemporary black life, the performance showing us how to feel good in its midst. This T.I. accomplishes through a type of showiness and effortlessness created through slurred vocals, the repetition of sound-phrases, and the way his flow rides the beat. The language is a compelling mix of this black vernacular and hot social justice language, and T.I. takes an introspective and encouraging, though still righteously enraged, position on today’s issues. In the song “Black Man,” the chorus sings celebratorily, “black man…drop top… there go the cops,” bringing two ideas together which have traditionally been thought of as mutually exclusive; and this is the cause of the confrontation with police in the song. This is just one example of how T.I.’s claims against white society are often represented by the “law” in the form of a white police officer—a longstanding tradition in black American culture because of the ways in which the legal system has been used by white society post-emancipation to maintain white supremacy and black exploitation and subordination.

In response to today’s attacks from the “law,” T.I. puts forth an album about race pride and action, embodied in the song “40 Acres”—a celebration of black under class values, centering the ‘hood in the conversation without being disparaging or condescending. If it’s a revolution, it’s a people’s revolution with T.I. embracing the role of race man.

In “Picture Me Mobbin,” mobbin’—moving or goin’ in with one’s squad—becomes an expression of unity, not threat. Here trap language and style gets mobilized to encourage activism, to make political action the modus operandi of the “real n*gga.” In the same breadth, T.I. lays claim to a kind of respectability of the “dope boy” in “Writer,” which is a reference to 2Pac’s “Ambitionz Az a Ridah,” but also a play on the southern accent to signify another meaning, that rap is in fact a legitimate form of literary production.

“Here We Go / Don’t Fall For That” is one of several reflection moments in the album, which T.I. uses to create a pep song for the poor, black kid in the ‘hood—acknowledging, unlike corporate media, that our communities are under siege, and trying to work against that. The advice from the trap star is “don’t get trapped,” and, ultimately, choose another way that can build you and your community up. That’s what it means to be black, strong, and baad in the world T.I. renders for us in Us or Else.

In a final moment of reflection and humbling, the album ends with T.I. calling on Jesus to “Take Da Wheel,” reinforcing the overall feeling that this is bigger than any of us individually and the belief that, in Dr. King’s words, the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” even if that may only be in another world.

As a body, Us Or Else: Letter To The System is robust and full of opposition and counter-narratives, encouragement in the fight for racial justice, and an insistence on accountability from white society and systems of governance and policing. T.I. emphasizes the importance of members of the black community being responsible to each other, showing us how to feel good in the midst of the terror of today’s world. His letter to the system still brings us swag and flex in traditional Atlanta fashion. This album is a move towards devotion and commitment in bold pursuit of justice for the black underclass, asserting the “bigness” of the oppressed in terms of rage, resiliency, and joy. A tremendous effort from T.I. in an urgent time, Us Or Else goes down as one of those hugely empowering moments when black music, black radical thought, and black action intersect.

Reviewed by Nandi Marumo

View review February 1st, 2017

BLXPLTN – New York Fascist Week

BLXPLTN-300x300
Title: New York Fascist Week

Artist: BLXPLTN

Label: Wolfshield

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: October 31, 2016

 

 

 New York Fascist Week is the much-anticipated sophomore record from Austin’s BLXPLTN (pronounced Blaxploitation). The band has not shied away from speaking loudly and supporting justice for the oppressed, and they continue to take on state violence in its various forms. “Blood on the Sand” and “Gun Range” take the murder of civilians by police head-on, the latter describing the feeling of living in a neighborhood targeted by policing as “living in a gun range.”  “Auf Wiedersehen” could be seen as another commentary on our current police state, or as a warning of the continuing spread, acceptance, and consequences of ubiquitous surveillance and authoritarianism with the lyrics: “Where you going there, sonny? / Respect my authority / Funerals everywhere I go, Tell your children not to leave their homes.”  Following is the newly released video for the opening track, “Blood on the Sand”:

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Each song on New York Fascist Week offers powerful comments on events past, present, and future, with BLXPLTN’s electro-punk, industrial, and rock arrangements perfectly complementing their lyrics. The album is available with two different covers: the limited edition version with artwork by Hiram Melendez (shown above), or the Donald Trump cover with art by Pathetic Pixels (below):

Trump cover

 

 

 

 

 

Reviewed by William Vanden Dries

View review February 1st, 2017

Randy Weston African Rhythms – The African Nubian Suite

Randy Weston
Title: The African Nubian Suite

Artist: Randy Weston African Rhythms

Label: African Rhythms

Formats: 2-CD set, MP3

Release date: January 20, 2017

 

Released just in time for Black History Month, jazz elder Randy Weston’s epic work, The African Nubian Suite, traces the history of the human race through music, with a narration by inspirational speaker Wayne B. Chandler, and introductions and stories by Weston in his role as griot. This recording captures a live performance at New York University by the Institute of African American Affairs on Easter Sunday, 2012, and indeed possesses a sermonic quality. Stressing the unity of humankind, Weston incorporates music that “stretches across millennia”—from the Nubian region along the Nile Delta, to the holy city of Touba in Senegal, to China’s Shang Dynasty, as well as African folk music and African American blues.

Each movement of the suite involves different musicians, who enter a circle in order to “tell stories.” The opening tracks lay out the story of “Ardi” (Ardipithecus ramidus), referencing the oldest known remains of a human-like female hominid who lived in Nubia over 4.4 million years ago. Disc one features Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet (“The Call”), Howard Lewis Johnson on tuba (“Ardi”), Moroccan musician Lhoussine Bouhamidy on gnawa (“Sidi Bilal”), Gambian musician Salieu Suso on kora with T.K. Blue on flute (“Spirit of Touba”), Min Xiao-Fen on pipa (“The Shang”), and Martin Kwaakye Obeng on the Ghanaian balafon (“Children Song”), all accompanied by Weston on piano.

Disc two traces the development of the blues, “from its origins in the Niger Delta to its transmutation in the Mississippi Delta.” Weston ponders the roots of the blues in his introduction before launching into “Blues for Tricky Sam,” featuring a solo by Robert Trowers on trombone in a tribute to the bluesy nature of Duke Ellington’s horn section. “Cleanhead Blues” is a tribute to Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, performed here by Weston and Billy Harper on tenor sax. Weston then heads further south to Central America, drawing from his own Panamanian roots on “Nanapa Panama Blues” with Alex Blake on bass.

After a poignant monologue by Chandler on “The Woman”—the basis of all creation—Weston launches into a song by the same title featured poet Jayne Cortez, which is definitely one of the highlights of this set. The two-part movement “The African Family” introduces African percussion with drummer Lewis Nash and percussionists Neil Clarke and Ayanda Clarke, followed by the “battle of the saxophones” between T.K. Blue and Billy Harper. The project concludes with “Love, The Mystery Of,” bringing the jazz musicians together in a short instrumental penned by Guy Warren.

In these troubling times when our nation is divided by politics, race and religion, Weston uses The African Nubian Suite as a vehicle to remind us of our common heritage: “We all come from the same place – we all come from Africa.” As eloquently stated by Robin D.G. Kelley in the liner notes: “There are no superior or inferior races, no hierarchies of culture, no barbarians at the gate. Instead, Africa—its music, land, people, spirituality—tie us all together as a planet.”

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2017

Nate Smith – KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere

Nate Smitjh
Title: KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere

Artist: Nate Smith

Label: Ropeadope Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 3, 2017

 

Nate Smith’s debut album, KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere, is an invigorating collection of both instrumental and lyrical music blending jazz, R&B, and hip-hop into an interpretive showcase of his Black American experience. Smith’s career spans from teaching music to performing and recording with accomplished musicians such as Dave Holland, Chris Potter, and Ravi Coltrane, among others. Both bandleader and drummer, Smith celebrates the collaborative art produced on this album with his “kindred spirits,” the featured KINFOLK musicians.

The album slowly eases in with “Intro: Wish You Were Here,” a 30-second whisper-like pause before he kicks off with the rhythmically syncopated tune, “Skip Step.” “Bounce: Parts I & II” follows, highlighting the tight horn section’s unison melody. At periodic interludes, Smith incorporates partial recordings of his mother and father speaking about their family migratory experiences across the United States. “Retold” is a comforting tune with a sweeping melody, both reminiscent and nostalgic, which Smith describes as sounding “like someone telling a love story from start to finish.”

Smith is joined on this album principally by keyboardist Kris Bowers, guitarist Jeremy Most, alto and soprano saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, and electric bassist Fima Ephron. Singer and lyricist Amma Whatt and back-up singer Michael Mayo provide captivating vocals amid the dominating instrumental tunes, rendering the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement on “Disenchantment: The Weight” and “Morning and Allison.” Several recorded guests are also featured on KINFOLK including saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Dave Holland, guitarists Lionel Loueke and Adam Rogers, and vocalist Gretchen Parlato singing “Pages.” The final track, “Home Free,” is dedicated to the memory of his paternal grandfather. It opens with a somber yet bright string section as the band gently adds peaceful layers of sound forming a soothing conclusion.

KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere is a visual album, in the sense that Smith’s music evokes images of childhood, identity, nostalgia, and family, while each song creatively balances improvisation with steady melodic and rhythmic themes. With this debut, Smith and his collaborators have crafted an excellent work of art.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review February 1st, 2017

Robert Randolph & the Family Band – Got Soul

Robert Randolph
Title: Got Soul

Artist: Robert Randolph & the Family Band

Label: Sony Masterworks

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: February 17, 2017

 

So in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll let it be known that I am a longtime fan of Robert Randolph & the Family Band. I became aware of the band sometime around the early 2000s when they performed at the Grammy Awards as part of an all-star funk jam with members of Parliament-Funkadelic, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Outkast, among others. The band had just released their debut studio album Unclassified, which showed great potential for where the band could go with their recorded material. Of course, albums are just one metric by which to judge a band; the other (and arguably more accurate) metric is their live performances.  Masters of the jam band aesthetic, Robert Randolph & the Family Band have toured steadily for the last 15+ years. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them multiple times, and love seeing the band live, in their element.

I bring up these two specific metrics because the dynamic between the two can at times be difficult to reconcile. How does the band take the kinetic energy of their live show and “bottle it” in a studio environment without losing some of what makes them so great? Robert Randolph & the Family Band has grappled with this challenge on their four previous studio albums, with various degrees of success. In my opinion, Unclassified best captured their live aesthetic, while We Walk This Road (2010) best captured their “focused studio album” potential. The band’s fifth album, Got Soul, finds them seeking that oft elusive balance once again.

The album opens with the title track which sets the tone for the album, with an upbeat and lively groove and Randolph’s signature pedal steel guitar front and center. This track is all but guaranteed to go over well live. Near the end of the track the band goes into a gospel breakdown that leads into the next song, “She’s Got Soul,” which really, really is a peek at the band at their best. “She’s Got Soul” also features Anthony Hamilton, who adds his signature vocals to the track, while Randolph contributes an excellent pedal steel solo. Darius Rucker appears on “Love Do What It Do,” and he is a great match for the group on this song:

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The album also includes a cover of the Isaac Hayes & David Porter penned “I Thank You,” originally performed by Sam & Dave. I’m a complete sucker for the song in general (the Bar-Kays do a great funky rocked version), and Robert Randolph & the Family Band do not disappoint with their version. The track “Be the Change” unfortunately highlights one of the weaknesses of the band’s material. Randolph himself is credited with writing several of the tracks, and while the music is typically strong, it is somewhat bogged down by the lyrical content. I would love to see Randolph partner with more experienced songwriters like he does on “Lovesick,” which does a better job at matching their great instrumentals with well written lyrics.

One standout track is “I Want It,” which finds the band, including the excellent Lenesha Randolph, sharing vocals ala Sly & The Family Stone; however, at this point I realized I hadn’t yet heard former bassist/vocalist Danyel Morgan. Adding his falsetto to the mix was the only thing that could’ve made the track better for me. Robert Randolph has a killer pedal steel solo at the peak of this track.

Also included are a couple of the band’s signature instrumental tracks—“Heaven’s Calling” and “Travelin Cheeba Man”—the former would have fit perfectly with Randolph’s side project The Word and the latter would feel at home on Unclassified. Both are very enjoyable.

All in all, Got Soul does not completely overcome the challenge of balancing the energy of live performance with the focus of a studio album, but like many of the band’s prior studio releases, there are moments spread throughout where that balance can be heard. I look forward to hearing these new tracks in a live performance if I can catch Robert Randolph & the Family Band on tour this summer.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

View review February 1st, 2017

Dennis Coffey – Hot Coffey In the D

Dennis Coffey
Title: Hot Coffey In the D: Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge

Artist: Dennis Coffey

Label: Resonance

Formats: CD, digital

Release date: January 13, 2017

 

If you listen to classic Motown soul, you have heard guitarist Dennis Coffey, a bona fide member of the famous Funk Brothers in-house studio band. That fuzzy funky guitar on the Temptations “Cloud Nine,” that’s him. Also the neat little psychedelic hooks on later Diana Ross and the Supremes hits, and you can hear him on songs by Edwin Starr and Freda Payne. But wait, there’s more: he also had a million-selling instrumental hit in the ’70’s, “Scorpio.”

Like most other Detroit musicians of his era, Coffey’s recorded work is only part of his legacy. He was a regular in the city’s then-thriving music club scene. By 1968, Coffey was a member of a jazz/funk trio led by organist Lyman Woodard. The group regularly played at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge, known around town as a club where the audience expected excellent music, and respected the musicians by listening rather than partying and dancing.

These recordings were funded by Coffey and his production-company partner, but not released until now. They are not haphazard tapings, or soundboard feeds, but rather professional recordings of a working band in action. Here’s the promo video for Hot Coffey In the D, which is more of a mini-documentary on the making of this album:

For the most part, Coffey, Woodard and drummer Melvin Davis smoke up the joint. Some tunes run a little long (especially their cover of “The Look of Love,” which just doesn’t have enough meat on the bones to justify a nearly 12-minute excursion), but for the most part this is tight and very soulful instrumental jazz. I call it “jazz” because it is improvisational soloing over skeletal song beds.

Davis does a great job of holding the music together with rock solid beats and tasteful un-busy accents. Woodard is a funky B3 player in the Groove Holmes or Jimmy McGriff mode, although the album notes indicate he was emulating Jimmy Smith (I didn’t hear much Jimmy Smith-style jazz swing in his playing, more a solid funk groove and superb management of the bass pedals). But the real star of the show is Coffey, whose guitar playing is at turns funky, psychedelic, jazzy, and lyrical. His style is somewhat akin to Gabor Szabo in that, like the Hungarian-born jazz-pop guitarist, he can switch styles quickly and weave in and out of the song’s beat and melody. Also like Szabo, he tends to return to the song’s melody with clean single-note runs. But Coffey’s style is all his own, more leaning toward soul and rock than any contemporary jazz guitarist. And, judging from his Motown work, he was very much at home in the “Factory,” able to adapt his playing to whatever the hit producers needed.

The agility and ability of this band is demonstrated in the set list: opening tune “Fuzz” is pure acid jazz; mid-set the band lays down a fast-paced by jazzy cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”; and two songs later the band covers the then-current pop/R&B crossover hit “Casanova (Your Playing Days Are Over).”

Not to be overlooked, the CD booklet is another Resonance Records masterpiece. It includes interviews with Coffey, Davis, Mike Theodore (Coffey’s production partner and producers of these recordings), and legendary singer Bettye LaVette “on the 60’s Detroit club scene.” The ample text may require more than one playing of the CD to read, unless you’re a speed-reader! The booklet and cover art make strong arguments to buy the physical media rather than a download or stream.

Overall, Hot Coffey In the D is a worthy document of a great time and place in music.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

View review February 1st, 2017

Allan Harris – Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better

Allan Harris
Title: Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better

Artist: Allan Harris

Label: Love Productions

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: September 16, 2016

 

Vocalist Allan Harris combines the soundscapes of Harlem—jazz and R&B with a dash of blues and Braziliam beats—on his latest release Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better. Subtitled Black Bar Jukebox Redux, the album is a follow up to his 2015 release Black Bar Jukebox, and provides the same eclectic mix of covers and original material. Harris again draws upon his longtime collaborator, Pascal Le Boeuf, to cover pianos and Hammond B3, who is joined in the rhythm section by Russell Hall on bass, Shirazette Tinnin on drums and cajón, and Freddie Bryant on guitar.

The album opens with the Harris penned “Mother’s Love (Nobody’s Gonna Love You), a swinging upbeat jazz number that’s timeless in character, both musically and in subject matter. This is followed by a cover of Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude Will Tell You,” which is nicely transformed through the syncopated jazz rhythms and excellent keyboard solos from Le Boeuf, though the somewhat limited vocal range doesn’t allow Harris to shine. On the Johnny Mercer standard “I Remember You,” Harris achieves a much warmer, more sultry timbre, that when combined with Le Boeuf’s subtle keyboard phrasings and bluesy riffs, would be a perfect accompaniment for a candlelight dinner. This segues perfectly into an after dinner dance, courtesy of the Stan Getz & João Gilberto samba, “Doralice,” which Harris sings in Portuguese. Then the classic “Moody’s Mood For Love” takes us into a slow dance, for a perfect close to the evening.

Perhaps the most daring arrangement is the reimagining of Jimi Hendrix’ “Up From the Skies” (the single from Axis: Bold as Love). Though the original song had a definite jazz feel, Harris and the band provide a smooth, swinging accompaniment making it sound like more of a jazz classic, until Le Boeuf breaks out with a funky B3 solo. The highlight of the album might be “Blue Was Angry,” from Harris’s Cross That River song-cycle. This bluesy, countrified song is a complete departure, with a mid-section that turns into a story about an enslaved man escaping his master, and a finale featuring a no holds barred jam with percussion and keyboards.

Think of Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better as the jukebox for your Valentine’s Day, with enough variety to take you from dinner to the dancefloor.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2017

Shirley Davis & the Silverbacks – Black Rose

Shirley Davis
Title: Black Rose

Artist: Shirley Davis & the Silverbacks

Label: Tucxone Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 29, 2016

 

The recently formed Shirley Davis & the Silverbacks consists of an Australian born soul singer and the resident house band at Tucxone Records, a soul label based in Madrid, Spain. The combination of these two forces is pretty unstoppable on Black Rose, their first full length project. Recorded in under a month’s time, the album is a mix of funk and soul, hearkening back to the 1960s. In fact, their band leader, Edu Martinez, describes the band as working similarly to the classic soul labels of the ‘60s.

Before joining the Silverbacks, Shirley Davis was featured in prominent Australian groups Deep Street Soul and Grand Wazoo. She also collaborated with Japanese funk band Osaka Monorail and the late Marva Whitney. Her voice draws an obvious comparison to the late great Sharon Jones, but is also reminiscent of Gladys Knight at times, Macy Gray at others. Davis’s voice has a versatility and an individuality all its own, though, which shines throughout the album.

The groove established in the opening title track, “Black Rose,” continues throughout the album, but never becomes repetitive. One of the best arrangements comes in the final track, “Make My Day,” which makes excellent use of organ. “Pay for Your Love” is another highlight, a slowed down song with Davis utilizing more of her range than she does on other parts of the album. There is one instrumental track on the album, “Burial of a Dead Star.” Surprisingly, though, it was not a standout arrangement compared to the other songs.

Overall, Shirley Davis & the Silverbacks are an impressive combination, and Black Rose is a solid first project.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review February 1st, 2017

Hannah Williams & The Affirmations – Late Nights & Heartbreak

hannah
Title: Late Nights & Heartbreak

Artist: Hannah Williams & The Affirmations

Label: Record Kicks

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: November 18, 2016

 

 

The UK indie soul singer Hannah Williams received high praise for her 2012 debut album, A Hill of Feathers, from soul greats such as Charles Bradley and the recently deceased Sharon Jones. Williams even opened for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings once, which set her off on a European tour and newfound success. Her sophomore album, Late Nights & Heartbreak, steps it up a notch with the help of producer Malcolm Catto, the drummer for the Heliocentrics, and her new Bristol-based band The Affirmations.

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Catto (who has produced albums for artists such as Mulatu Atatke and Melvin Van Peebles) brings his psychedelic funk and jazz flavor to Williams’ work on songs such as “Dazed and Confused” and “Fighting Your Shadow.”  The addition of The Affirmations to her music and tour is new to Williams, and their tight groove really completes the album. Williams also explores the intermingling of gospel and soul in the harmonious background choruses on songs such as “Tame in the Water.” It is clear that Hannah Williams is going places, and is not afraid to adventure into new styles and collaborations while holding on to her soulful voice that has taken her so far.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review February 1st, 2017

Emeli Sandé – Long Live the Angels

Emeli Sande
Title: Long Live the Angels

Artist: Emeli Sandé

Label: Capitol Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: November 11, 2016

 

Emeli Sandé’s second full length album, Long Live the Angels, comes four years after her 2012 debut, Our Version of Events.  The Scottish singer-songwriter goes further on this album than she did on her first, with a heavier gospel music influence, more penetrating songwriting, and a voice that is equal parts desperation and determination, the voice of someone who has been through something.

“Breathing Underwater” is quite possibly the best song on the album. From the intimacy of the songwriting (“I believe in miracles ‘cause it’s a miracle I’m here”) to the swelling of the choir in the final chorus, the song is an anthem about making it through the impossible.  Other such anthems on the album include “Sweet Architect” and “Every Piece of Me.”  For as many anthems as there are, though, this is a very intimate album with production that allows Sandé’s voice to shine through rather than be overpowered.

There are few features on the album, but they carry a lot of weight: the elusive Jay Electronica offers a verse detailing his journey through love (“Love is like a garden, love is like a death sentence Love is like a pardon, I’m free again and ready”). On “Tenderly,” Sandé is joined by her father, Joel Sandé, and The Serenje Choir.

The album is over an hour long, but doesn’t overstay its welcome. Sandé is a poet, detailing her heartbreak over the last four years, but ultimately emerging triumphant.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review February 1st, 2017

Southern Avenue – Southern Avenue

Southern Avenue
Title: Southern Avenue

Artist: Southern Avenue

Label: Stax

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2017

 

There’s something about Memphis-based band Southern Avenue that feels undeniably raw and authentic. Their intermingling of soul, blues, and gospel music has been talked about in Memphis for years and is now available for everyone to hear on their debut self-titled album. The band’s impassioned vocals, emotional songwriting, and guitars that rollick between easygoing blues and hard rock provide a lively glimpse into the Southern aesthetics and musical traditions of Memphis.

The first seeds of Southern Avenue were sown when guitarist and Israel-native Ori Naftaly competed in the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. After briefly touring with his own band, he met singer Tierinii Jackson, who grew up in Memphis singing gospel music in church. The two hit it off, and after gathering other members including Jackson’s sister as their drummer, formed the band Southern Avenue. In less than a year, they were signed to Stax. As a Memphis native, Jackson takes this responsibility seriously, determined to honor and build on the history of the legendary label and the renowned music that the name Stax evokes.

The first track and single on Southern Avenue is the hopeful “Don’t Give Up.” Starting off with acoustic guitar, hand claps, and gentle vocals, Jackson leads a call and response, singing “When it hurts real bad” while a chorus responds “Don’t give up.” Soon, drumset and electric guitar come in, building the energy and urgency. Jackson changes her call throughout the song, also singing “When you feel there’s no hope” and “Don’t give up,” building her melisma through a crescendo until the song culminates with a rocking electric guitar solo and then fades out over organ chords:

The rest of the album is a mix of R&B songs—such as the romantic, pleading “Love Me Right” and sexy “Wildflower”—and the upbeat blues rock of “No Time to Lose” and “Rumble.” The group’s gospel influences can also be heard in the harmonies of “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” a much softer, soothing song that emphasizes the soulful qualities of Jackson’s vocals. “80 Miles from Memphis” draws on both blues and country music traditions, as Jackson sings about being away from home and “crying her blues away.” Naftaly’s guitar is a highlight of this song, showing his immense passion and skills for playing the blues.

Southern Avenue’s mix of cultures and genres reflects and honors the diversity of cultures and music in Memphis. Even the group’s name pays homage to the musical history of the city, as Southern Avenue is a Memphis street that runs from the eastern city limits all the way to the original home of Stax Records in Soulsville. Southern Avenue is an impressive debut, which showcases the impeccable songwriting and musical talent of its member and transforms Southern traditions into a modern sound.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review February 1st, 2017

Chargaux – Meditations of a G

CharGaux

Title: Meditations of a G

Artist: Chargaux

Label: Chargaux Records

Format: MP3

Release date: September 29, 2016

 

Chargaux consists of violinist Jasmin “Charly” Charles and violist Margaux Whitney, who met by chance when Margaux saw Charly playing violin on a Boston street corner. The next day, they were playing together on the street corner and have been collaborators ever since.  The two have worked with a variety of high profile artists, providing the solo at the end of Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” as well as the strings on J.Cole’s past two albums, 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014) and 4 Your Eyez Only (2016).  More than just string players, though, the two also sing, paint, compose, and are all around performance artists, as seen from their installation performances in New York City.

Meditations of a G is eclectic and more experimental than 2014’s Gallerina Suites and Broke and Baroque. The duo plays homage to their classically trained roots, opening the EP with the sounds of a tuning orchestra on “First Chair.” From there, the project spreads into a minimalist direction, and could sit comfortably between projects like Solange’s A Seat at the Table (2016) or FKA Twigs LP1 (2014).  Although much of the album has an effortless groove about it, one can still hear the intricacy and complexity of the production, particularly in the more elaborate string arrangements, found on songs like “Sosha Media” and “Tie Your Fukn Shoes.”  There is a welcome amount of humor throughout the EP, especially in “Trap Yoga,” an interlude consisting of the two narrating a yoga class, complete with reimagined trap poses over a pizzicato groove.

Chargaux has many strengths, one of which being their ability to transform the textures of their instruments, creating a different soundscape within each song. Overall, this is a beautiful project, showcasing the growth of Charly and Margaux as instrumentalists, producers, singers, and overall artists.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review February 1st, 2017

Corey Henry – Lapeitah

Corey Henry
Title: Lapeitah

Artist: Corey Henry

Label: Louisiana Red Hot Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 6, 2016

 

Corey Henry was raised in the birthplace of jazz—New Orleans’s Treme neighborhood. Inspired by his environment and musical family, Henry started learning trombone at the age of 10, and by age 16 he was hired to play with the Treme Brass Band. Since then, he’s become a vital part of the New Orleans jazz scene, performing with his Little Rascals Brass Band and the nationally touring jam band Galactic. Last September, Henry released his solo debut, Lapeitah, out on Louisiana Red Hot Records. Produced and co-written by Brian J., Lapeitah includes nine originals and one cover that showcase modern New Orleans funk at its finest.

There are a number of guest stars on Lapeitah, including alto saxophonist Greg Thomas (George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic). Thomas plays on the exuberant “Muddy Waters” (below) and the soulful “We Got the Funk,” both of which share vocal choruses straight out of 1970s funk scene. Thomas is also featured on the instrumental “Get Funky,” which displays the connections between jazz and funk in a playful call and response between varying soloists and the rest of the musicians.

The album also features a number of guest vocalists, such as Corey Glover (Living Colour) on an impressive hard rock cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9.” Glover’s gritty vocals, which at times dissolve into rock star shrieks, are echoed by the timbre of Henry’s raw, relentless trombone solo. Nowhere is Henry’s New Orleans origin more evident than on the original “Baby C’mon,” featuring vocals by Cole “Ms. Cake” Williams. This funky, upbeat second-line pride song is perfect for Mardi Gras celebrations in Henry’s hometown.

The fusion of jazz and funk makes Lapeitah a joyful, celebratory outpouring of two of New Orleans’ most famous musical cultures. While the songs may sound carefree, the carefully curated songwriting and talent that Corey Henry and Brian J bring to the album prove that Henry is a force to be reckoned with in the New Orleans jazz and funk world.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review February 1st, 2017

Jefferson St. Parade Band – Viral

Jefferson Street Parade Band
Title: Viral

Artist: Jefferson St. Parade Band

Label: Self-released

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: November 4, 2016

 

On Viral the Bloomington, Indiana based Jefferson St. Parade Band continues to hone their unique mix of musical styles, reaching for a sound that is their own. This new release is one step closer on that journey. JSPB operates as a mobile street/party band complete with horns, a drumline, and backpack amplifiers for their bassist and guitarist. As the band prepares to play their third Mardi Gras set this February, Viral serves a great primer for the uninitiated.

The album begins with “Austin City Unlimited,” which provides a great groove over which the horn section of the band shines. Not to be outdone, the syncopated rhythms of the JSPB drumline are also on display on this great opener. Despite its tongue-in-cheek title, “Most Annoying Song Ever, Gone Viral,” while “different,” is far from annoying. Perhaps the title is referencing a synthesized wind instrument that sounds like a melodica? Regardless, as the track continues, it shifts into an almost prog rock space which was a surprising but a welcome addition to the other genre influences that can be heard on the album—including funk, crunk, soul, and world music.

“Easy Dub,” which is a King Tubby cover, allows JSPB’s drumline to shine and comes across very well, with almost a jammy, zoned out vibe. That track is followed by the standout, “Jazz Bastard,” which sees the band really blending as a unit in a fashion that I would imagine translates well to their live performances. This track, in particular, features some great guitar work.

Viral finds the Jefferson St. Parade band still growing and finding new ways to incorporate their wide musical influences while continuing to hone in on what may eventually be known as “their” sound.

Reviewed by Levon Williams

View review February 1st, 2017

Zeal & Ardor – Devil Is Fine

Zeal & Ardor
Title: Devil Is Fine

Artist: Zeal & Ardor

Label: MVKA

Formats: CD, LP, Limited ed. picture disc, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2017

 

Swiss-American artist Manuel Gagneux (a.k.a. Zeal & Ardor) has already garnered considerable buzz for his forthcoming release, Devil is Finea daring hybrid of black metal interspersed with Delta blues, spirituals, jazz, ring shouts, hip-hop beats, soul and gospel. By fusing elements from the entire spectrum of black music, Gagneux has created a deeply personal album—a black history soundtrack that also touches upon his own “diabolical” political and religious beliefs.

Gagneux’s soundscape imagines an alternate universe: “It’s like walking through slave-era America and seeing a chain gang in the woods practicing Satanic rituals. Imagine if slaves in America had rejected Christianity and embraced Satanism instead, if instead of being forced to accept the ‘will of God,’ they had chosen defiance and rebellion and the power of Satan. That’s the world in which the album is rooted.” And his black metal pseudonym, Zeal & Ardor, is a subversive attempt to draw unwitting listeners into this universe through a “vaguely Christian sounding name.” The concept is further reinforced by the cover art featuring Robert Smalls, the Civil War-era slave who freed himself and his crew by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, and then continued to push boundaries as a black politician in South Carolina.

For the title track, Gagneux drew inspiration from historic recordings collected by Alan Lomax and his father John Lomax for the Library of Congress, particularly work songs and the chants of prison chain gangs which he believes capture the same defiance as black metal towards Christianity. The video for the single “Devil Is Fine,” directed by award winning Swiss filmmaker Samuel Morris, capitalizes on these elements, resulting in a dark and disturbing visual straight from the Antebellum South, akin to a more satanic version of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained:

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Another standout track, “Come on Down,” similarly begins with acoustic blues and the call and response “I can’t see no devil in the fields – come on down,” then traverses through distorted soul and black metal electronica before looping back to the blues. “Children’s Summons” begins innocently with a music box melody, then devolves into a satanical call to “summon the children, for tonight He rises…” Taking a difference approach, “What Is a Killer Like You Gonna Do Here?” features a sotto voce chant over a jazzy acoustic bass and drums. The album concludes with the final “Sacriligium,” one of three primarily instrumental tracks that reinforce the sermonic quality of the album.

While Devil is Fine may not be embraced by all black metal enthusiasts, its diverse palette and sinister subject matter will likely draw new fans, especially those rebelling against right-wing extremists and religious fundamentalism.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2017

Miami Mass Choir – Live at the Adrienne Arsht Center

Miami Mass Choir
Title: Live at the Adrienne Arsht Center

Artist: Miami Mass Choir

Label: Self-released

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: December 9, 2016

 

Ok, real talk—I like gospel music. After all, gospel music is the ‘mothership’ of all black music: Mahalia Jackson, Sister Clara Ward, Shirley Caesar, and of course Aretha Franklin, who brought the church with her to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The Staple Singers kept their gospel roots when they crossed over, as did the great Sam Cooke. The Hawkins Singers “Oh Happy Day” was broken on college radio. The New Jersey Mass Choir was brought to our attention when Foreigner had them sing backup on “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” And in the ‘90s, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis struck gold with the Sounds of Blackness when the single “Testify,” from the group’s national debut album The Evolution of Gospel, crossed over into dance and soul.

So, after listening to the Miami Mass Choir, where do they fit in? First off, when one thinks of Miami, gospel music is not the first thing that comes to one’s mind. Rev. Milton Bingham, the head of Savoy Records’ gospel division and founder of the Georgia Mass Choir, helped form the Miami Mass Choir in 1996 with Pastor Marc Cooper, the choir’s director and lead singer. Their 1997 debut album, Its Praying Time, produced the hit song “It Is For Me,” and was followed three years later with Just For You.

On their new album, Live at the Adrienne Arsht Center, the Miami Mass Choir takes you to the mountain. The praise and worship song “Lord of Everything,” featuring Danette Inyang, is uplifting to the almighty high. They praise the King and thank him for all he’s done. That theme continues throughout the album. On “I Will Rejoice,” featuring Mark Cooper and Joy Cooper, the choir lets their hair down. Featuring a very funky bass, Marc Cooper talks via sermon, telling the audience to ‘praise him’ and the brass section pays attention. Other guests include Betty Wright, Beverly Crawford, Zacardi Cortez, JaLisa Faye and Avery Jones.

Perhaps the one eyebrow raising track is “Good News,” featuring Tony Lebron and Paula Coleman. Latin gospel. Yes Latin Gospel! After all, it is Miami. Cuban music has a huge influence, and the choir is multicultural. The opening sounds as if Carlos Santana was in the band, while the choir responds throughout, ‘I Got Good News.’

The Miami Mass Choir isn’t necessarily looking to get into the top 40 with this album, though the radio single “Lord of Everything” is climbing the charts. Live at the Adrienne Arsht Center is traditional enough to keep the old timers, while incorporating new sounds to draw newcomers. Raise your hand and close your eyes!

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

View review February 1st, 2017

Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands 1973-1988

Synthesize the soul
Title: Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands 1973-1988

Artist: Various

Label: Ostinato Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 24, 2017

Ostinato Records’ latest compilation, Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands 1973-1988, gives an “alternate history” of the electronic music that dominated popular music by the late 1990s. Rather than emerging from a big city, Synthesize the Soul begins in the archipelago 400 miles off the Senegalese coast known as the Cape Verde Islands.

After independence from Portugal in 1975, Cape Verde suffered financially while trying to fit into an increasingly globalized world. As a result, there was an intensification of immigration to Europe and the United States. As musicians began travelling back and forth between these countries and their home islands, they brought synthesizers and MIDI instruments with them. The rhythms of rural farms previously played on accordions began to be transposed to synthesizers, birthing a new era and style of music for Cape Verde.

The Ostinato Records compilation out later this month features a number of important songs and artists from this era, including Manuel Gomes and Tchiss Lopez, whose song “É Bô Problema” can be heard on Soundcloud below:

The mix of electronic disco beats, Latin-inspired rhythms, and West African instrumentation present on the album illustrate the blending of cultures and complex history that makes the Cape Verde islands so unique. Synthesize the Soul aims to firmly place the music emanating from Cape Verde into the history of popular electronic music as we know it. Ostinato describes the music as an “unknown, ultra-progressive sound” for its time, putting a spotlight on the oft-forgotten artists from the islands who brought their musical traditions with them across Europe, from Lisbon to Rome and Naples, in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review February 1st, 2017

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet

Hamlet
Title:  Hamlet

Artist: Royal Shakespeare Company

Label: Opus Arte/Naxos

Format: DVD (widescreen, NTSC, all regions; 180 minutes + 5 minutes of extras)

Release date: November 18, 2016

 

 

What could be better for Black History Month than a new production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet featuring a Black cast? The answer is a production supported by Black musicians. This recently released DVD from the Royal Shakespeare Company captures the first performance of this new production, live from Stratford-Upon-Avon on March 12, 2016.  Directed by Simon Godwin, the cast features British-Ghanaian actor Paapa Essiedu in the starring role—the first black actor to ever play Hamlet in the history of the RSC.

Chief composer for this production is none other than Sola Akingbola, longtime percussionist for the British funk and acid jazz band Jamiroquai, who leads the musical ensemble on vocals and percussion. He is joined by Bruce O’Neil, the RSC’s Head of Music, who performs on keyboards, as well as Joe Archer on guitar and on keyboards; Dirk Campbell on woodwinds, nyatiti, and percussion; and Sidiki Dembélè and James Jones also contributing to the percussion ensemble. With the shift to a Black cast, Godwin also shifted the geographic focus of the play from Denmark to Africa, and Akingbola’s score perfectly encapsulates the action.

If you missed the live stream of the performance last summer, the DVD version is highly recommended. Teachers will find a wealth of information and classroom tools on the RSC website for the production.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review February 1st, 2017

January 2017 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during January 2017—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk Country
David “Honeyboy” Edwards: I’m Gonna Tell You Somethin’ That I Know (Omnivore)
Ronnie Baker Brooks: Times Have Changed (Provogue)
Danni Peace: The Odyssey

Classical
Kathleen Battle: Complete Sony Recorordings (Sony/Naxos)
Measha Brueggergosman: Songs of Freedom (Outside Music)
Cynthia Haymon/Wilard White: Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s Porgy and Bess (Warner Classics/Parlophone)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Various: Studio One Rocksteady, Vol. 2 (Soul Jazz)
Anonymous Choir: Sings Stax (Mind Rider)
King’s X: Dogman (reissue) (King’s X)
King’s X: Ear Candy (reissue) (King’s X)
King’s X: King’s X (Reissue) (King’s X)
King’s X: Out of the Silent Planet (reissue) (King’s X)

Gospel, Gospel Rap
The Williams Singers: In Real Time (Blackberry)
McIntosh County Shouters: Spirituals & Shout Songs from the Georgia Coast (Smithsonian/Folkways)
Various: WOW Gospel 2017 DVD (RCA Inspiration)
Lyrically Blessed: Freedom (Lyrically Blessed)

Jazz
Throttle Elevator Music & Kamasi Washington: Retrospective (Wide Hive)
Three Sounds: Groovin’ Hard: Live at the Penthouse (Resonance)
Noah Young: Start the Reactor (Noah Young)
Jeff Siegel/Feya Faku: King of Xhosa (ARC)
Muhammad Ali: The Greastest OST (reissue) (Varese Sarabande)
Vibration Black Finger: Blackism (Enid)
Mark Whitfield: Grace (Marksman Productions)
Mark Lewis: New York Session (Audio Daddio)
Jimmy Scott: I Go Back Home (Rough Trade)
Matthew Shipp Trio: Piano Song (Thirsty Ear)
Lil Bibby: FC3 the Epilogue (digital)

R&B, Soul
Tony Fletcher: In the Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett (Oxford University Press)
Tina Turner: Windy City Limits: Chicago Broadcast 1984 (FM Concert Broadcasts)
Soul Scratch: Pushing Fire (Colemine)
Sugar Pie DeSanto: A Little Bit of Soul 1957-1962 (Jasmine)
Desiree Jordan: The Principles Present (Rich Life/Zosmooth)
Manhattans: I Kinda Miss You: The Anthology – Columbia Records 1973-1987 (Soul Music)
Nathan East: Reverence (Yamaha Ent.)
Kehlani: SweetSexySavage (Atlantic)
Omar: Love in Beats (Freestyle )
Dawn Richard: Infrared EP (Fade to Mind)
Bell Biv DeVoe: Three Stripes (eOne)
Various: Men in the Glass Booth (BBE)
Chief Keef: Two Zero One Seven (mixtape, digital)

Rap
Lil Ross: The Connection
Jefe: The World is Yours (digital)
Jaylib: Championship Sound: The Remix (LP) (Stones Throw)
Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 3
Ran Reed: Still Commanding Respect
Tristate x Oh No : 3 Dimensional Prescriptions (Heiroglyphics)
PnB Rock: Gttm: Goin Thru The Motions (Atlantic)
Reek Daddy: Firey Hot Rocks
Prodigy of Mobb Deep: Hegelian Dialectic (The Book Of Revelation) (Vodka & Milk)
Nadio Rose: Highly Flammable
Ras Kass: Intellectual Property (vinyl) (Goon Music)
PartyNextDoor: PartyNextDoor 3 (OVO)
Wyclef Jean: J’ouvert (eOne)
Tinie Tempah: Youth
Damu the Fudgemunk : Vignettes (Redefinition)
Homeboy Sandman: Actual Factual Pterodactyl (Boy Sand Industries)
Denzel Curry: Imperial (Loma Vista)
P.O.S.: Chill, Dummy (Doomtree)
Wiley: Godfather (Wiley)
Elaquent: Worst Case Scenario (vinyl) (Urbnet)
Juelz White: This Sh-T Ain’t Free (Juelz White Music)
Raised By Seuss: Unless: Twenty Years Too Late (Untek)
Loyle Carner: Yesterday’s Gone (Virgin EMI)

Reggae, Dancehall
Lloyd Parks: Time A Go Dread (Pressure Sounds)
Sylford Walker: Lamb’s Bread (Greensleeves)

World
Jake Sollo: Coming Home (PMG)
Mighty Flames: Metalik Funk Band (PMG)
Black Children Sledge Funk Co. Band: Vol. 3 (PMG)
The Nile Project: Jinja
Various: Calabar-Itu Road: Groovy Sounds From South Eastern Nigeria (1972-1982) (Comb & Razor)
Baba Sissoko: Tchiwara (Good Fellas)
Joe Kemfa: Jungle Juice (reissue) (PMG)
Wells Fargo: Watch Out (Now Again)
Awa Poulo: Poulo Warali (Awesome Tapes From Africa)

View review February 1st, 2017

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