Archive for August 2nd, 2018

Welcome to the August 2018 Issue

BG August

This month we’re featuring the release of 4 Banjo Songs, 1891-1897 by Charles A. Ashbury, likely the earliest extant banjo recordings by an African American artist. We’re also reviewing Music for Film by composer Terence Blanchard, known for his collaborations with director Spike Lee including the forthcoming film BlacKkKlansman.

New releases include projects from two Gulf Coast soul/funk bands—Say Yeah!! Live at the Blue Nile from the New Orleans-based Waterseed and Everything Here by Houston’s The Suffers—plus the self-titled debut from the American-Ugandan rap duo Nsimbi, the R&B/House music fusion of Oregon’s Chanti Darling on RNB Vol. 1, and Chicago harmonica player Russ Green’s debut album City Soul.

Other reissue projects include Winston Jarrett and The Righteous Flames’ reggae classic Jonestown, legendary pianist Erroll Garner’s Nightconcert and the compilation of 20th Century Singles (1973- 1979) by Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra.

Wrapping up this issue is our list of July 2018 Black Music Releases of Note.

View review August 2nd, 2018

Charles A. Asbury – 4 Banjo Songs, 1891-1897

Asbury
Title: 4 Banjo Songs

Artist: Charles A. Asbury

Label: Archeophone

Format: 45 rpm disc

Release date: May 4, 2018

 

Illinois-based Archeophone Records, a company specializing in acoustic-era reissues, has a long history of uncovering and releasing fascinating recordings from bygone eras.[i] In 2007 they received a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album for the 2-CD set, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1891-1922, a companion to the groundbreaking book of the same title by noted discographer and recording industry historian Tim Brooks. One of the musicians listed in the book was Charles A. Asbury (born ca. 1956, d.1903). Though referred to variously in the 1890s as “the popular colored banjoist” and performer of songs in the “negro style,” at least one reviewer mentioned Asbury as the only white member of an African American troupe. This conflicting evidence led Brooks to assume Asbury had been “misidentified as Black.” New research, however, reveals a more complex and fascinating story—while the discovery of extant copies of Ashbury’s earliest recordings likewise expands our knowledge of early banjo traditions.

In a diligent search through archival records that would impress any genealogist, Archeophone’s Richard Martin slowly unraveled the story of Charles A. Asbury with assistance from Asbury’s heirs. Born in Florida and raised in Augusta, Georgia during the Reconstruction era by his adoptive “mulatto” parents, Asbury joined a prominent traveling theater troupe, performing the role of Sambo in one of the many minstrel adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (apparently the George L. Aiken version). From there he can be traced to an all-black ensemble featuring his first wife, Annie Asbury, plugged as “the great shout singer.” In the liner notes, authors Richard Martin and Ted Olsen surmise that Asbury may have learned the banjo, or at least studied the technique of Horace Weston, “the internationally famous African American banjo virtuoso,” who was one of the biggest stars in Annie’s troupe. Whatever the case may be, Asbury toured with various Black jubilee ensembles throughout the South, further honing both his banjo and singing skills, and growing his reputation as an artist.

Now, for the recorded evidence. From 1891-1897, Asbury’s songs with banjo accompaniment were captured on wax by the New Jersey Phonograph Company in Newark—likely the oldest extant recordings of this genre by an African American artist. These wax cylinders are extremely rare, and thus far the only Asbury recordings known to survive are those featured on 4 Banjo Songs (he recorded many more). “Haul the Woodpile Down” was first made available via University of California Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Audio Archive website. The other three cylinder tracks are publicly available for the very first time on this set. Most of these songs—the popular “Haul the Woodpile Down,” “Never Done Anything Since” and “A New Coon in Town”—bear the hallmarks of the minstrel banjo tradition and early “coon songs,” while the fourth and earliest, “Keep in de Middle ob de Road” (1891), is a seldom recorded semi-religious jubilee hymn. What sets these apart from other minstrel tunes is Asbury’s “remarkably fluid, rhythmically complex” five-string banjo technique. With the assistance of experts in online banjo discussion groups, Martin was able to learn more about Asbury’s unique “stroke style” of playing, which is detailed at length in the liner notes. Because the stroke style was seldom used or recorded after 1900, these four Asbury cylinders are historically significant, documenting a 19th century performance practice that sheds further light on the African American banjo tradition.

The cylinder transfers were carried out by John Levin, developer of the CPS1 Cylinder Playback Machine. Now used by a number of institutions, the machine yields astonishing results, rendering Asbury’s performances in the best possible sonic resolution, with additional restoration from Martin. The accompanying 16 page illustrated booklet provides further insight on Asbury’s life and music, with notes on each track plus endnotes and technical notes. Lyrics are printed on the sleeve of the 7-inch 45-rpm disc. 4 Banjo Songs is a first-rate package, well-worth the $16.99 list price for this significant piece of musical history. Please note: the limited run of 1000 copies will likely disappear quickly.

For further reading on Asbury and 4 Banjo Songs, there’s Geoff Edgers’ article and podcast in The Washington Post, plus related blogs posts on the Archeophone site.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

[i] Archeophone Records releases previously reviewed in Black Grooves include There Breathes a Hope: The Legacy of John Work II and His Fisk Jubilee Quartet, 1909-1916 (2010); Cabaret Echoes: New Orleans Jazzers at Work, 1918-1927 (2010); and “Ain’t Gonna Settle Down”: The Pioneering Blues of Mary Strafford and Edith Wilson (2008).

 

 

View review August 2nd, 2018

Brussels Philharmonic – Terence Blanchard: Music For Film

film

 

Title: Terence Blanchard: Music For Film

Artist: Brussels Philharmonic

Label: Silva Screen Records

Formats: CD, Digital

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, is set to open on August 10th. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prix, the work has already received positive reviews. Composer and jazz musician Terence Blanchard’s soundtrack for the film has yet to be released, but his previous film compositions can give an idea of what the score might sound like.

Released in late 2017, Terence Blanchard: Music for Film spans his film work from the 1992 Malcolm X to 2015’s Chi-Raq, performed here by the Brussels Philharmonic under the direction of Dirk Brossé as part of the Film Fest Gent’s series of film composer spotlights. Like the upcoming BlacKkKlansman, many of Blanchard’s works presented on this album, including music from Malcolm X, 25th Hour, and When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, have been in collaboration with director Spike Lee. The collaboration has proven fruitful for Blanchard, who has said that Lee always encourages him to write music that could be successful on its own.

Though each film presented has its own unique sound, the tracks are connected by a strong presence of trumpet, calling back to Blanchard’s own career as a jazz trumpeter. Many also make use of jazz idioms, most notably the two tracks from When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006). Although he calls New Orleans home and this film is a documentary describing the destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Blanchard intentionally stays away from traditional New Orleans jazz. Instead, he explains that he wanted to create a more universal sound to appeal to a wider audience and the musical themes he created do just that, blending jazz with incredibly emotive melodies depicting the tragedy and despair of the city’s residents. The “Levees” track is particularly successful, combining a soulful trumpet line with descending, dissonant string patterns.

Another film directed by Spike Lee, 25th Hour, received much critical acclaim; Blanchard’s score was nominated for several awards, including the 2003 World Soundtrack Award and Golden Globes. Telling the story of a drug dealer’s last 24 hours of freedom before he is sent to jail, the music is haunting and memorable. Heavier on strings, particularly solo cello, than many of his other films, it features twisting musical themes above persistent ostinato patterns. Still, it is not without Blanchard’s signature jazz inflections, as the third track on the album, “Playground,” embraces a traditional lounge-style piano along with the lusher string sound and solos present in the other selections.

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Some selections, such as the suite from Inside Man (2006) and the opening title music of Miracle at St. Anna (2008), lean less on Blanchard’s jazz background and instead seem to be reminiscent of earlier film music styles like the compositions of James Horner. Tracks on this album from both films make use of a more militaristic style, emphasizing repetitive snare drum lines underneath epic brass and string melodies.

Two comedies, Bamboozled (2000) and She Hate Me (2004), showcase other sides of Blanchard’s work. The former’s biting satire and pointed social commentary are offset by a more somber, restrained musical theme. In contrast, the selections from She Hate Me are a bit less serious, incorporating several jazz styles including references to bebop, fusion, and cool jazz.

Blanchard’s skill in composing for a wide range of genres shines through the tracks presented in this album. His masterful usages of thematic material, blending of styles, and jazz inflections make this an incredibly rewarding listen. Blanchard’s score for BlacKkKlansman is sure to deliver the same exciting interplay of styles.

Reviewed by Emily Baumgart

View review August 2nd, 2018

Water Seed – Say Yeah!! Live at the Blue Nile

Water Seed

Title: Say Yeah!! Live at the Blue Nile

Artist: Water Seed

Label: Water Seed Music Group

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: June 22, 2018

 

Water Seed, a New Orleans-based group under the leadership of drummer Lou Hill, drew attention with their May 2017 debut album, We Are Stars, which reached the Billboard Top 20. Three months later, on August 19, 2017, their high-energy and brilliant performance at the Blue Nile in New Orleans was recorded and has now been released as the band’s first live album, Say Yeah!!.

Water Seed’s success has lead them to perform on prominent stages such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Apollo Theater, and a three-month residency in Russia. Their compositions blend funk, R&B, fusion, and soul genres into an amalgam of sound and groove that reflect not only the musical mission of the group, but also the musical environment that is New Orleans.

Say Yeah!! includes songs from their debut album, including the fan favorites “Open Sesame,” “Work It Out,” “Brand New Day,” and “Funktimus Prime.”  Now, while each track is musically exhilarating and dynamic, the highlight of this live set is the impeccable musicianship and artistic acumen of the entire ensemble (Lou Hill, J Sharp, Cinese Love, Shaleyah and Berkley). The vocal harmonies are blended perfectly, the brass lines are clean and precise, and the grooves in the rhythm section are flawlessly executed. In addition to the superb performance, listeners are treated to the call-and-response interactions between the band and audience members, which according to Hill inspired the title Say Yeah!!.

Besides the soulful and foot-stomping grooves, this album captures the spontaneity and pure artistic expressions of a well-rehearsed ensemble. Say Yeah!! is truly a magnificent demonstration of maturity and musicality.

Review by Jamaal Baptiste

View review August 2nd, 2018

The Suffers – Everything Here

suffers

 

Title: Everything Here

Artist: The Suffers

Label: Shanachie

Format: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: July 13, 2018

 

The Suffers are a multi-faceted, musically diverse group hailing from the Gulf Coast, and just in case there’s any doubt, the first track, “Intro (A Headnod to Houston)” sets us on the right path. Their musical style, however, is less straight-forward. Soul? Jazz? Neo-blues? Retro R&B? The group, comprised of eight highly-talented individuals from multiple artistic backgrounds, can be classed as all of these and more. As lead vocalist Kam Franklin states, “We make music for all people.” Houston marks the album in more ways than one, as area rappers Paul Wall and Bun B. cameo on more than one track, and many songs express love for the city and its inhabitants. The Suffers exploded onto the scene in 2015 and 2016 with their EP Make Some Room and their self-titled debut album, and their newest offering, Everything Here, is a fitting follow-up.

The short album introduction leads into the first full-length track, “I Think I Love You.” The song has a rocking rhythm that quickly captures your mind, encouraging you to sit back, relax and let the music take control. The melody line is simple and repetitive, and exactly what you didn’t know you needed, with the beautiful lullabying of Franklin’s crooning settling your soul. Bun B’s cameo in “Bernard’s Interlude (feat. Bun B.) has a mellow, Barry White-esque tone, furthering the mood of relaxation and contemplation. Further down the list, “You Only Call” shines a spotlight on the sporadic moments every relationship—familial, personal or otherwise—can suffer in its quest to work out. “Sure to Remain” completes relational upsides as well, dealing us another round of sweet melody nestled down in a funky, electro-piano and percussion feather bed.

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In keeping with their inclusive promise, the group also offers up-tempo melodies. The title-track, “Everything Here,” is a sweet-spot mixture of all the group has to give, including Franklin’s disclosure that “Everything here, everything here/ reminds me of you.” The track “All I Want To Do” showcases Franklin’s expert songwriting abilities in the band’s jazz instrumentals and her own melodic virtuosity. “Do Whatever” cements the Suffers as message deliverers of rounded choice and acceptance, while the closing track, “Won’t Be Here Tomorrow,” urges us to appreciate the now, as things can change at the blink of an eye and the drop of an instrument.

Everything Here’s bold statements about life, love and home in tandem with their interdisciplinary musical style do indeed uphold the album’s declaration. The Suffers have everything in our musical world to offer to all in their artistic world willing to listen.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

View review August 2nd, 2018

Nsimbi – Nsimbi

Nsimbi
Title: Nsimbi

Artist: Nsimbi

Label: Imara

Format: CD, Digital

Release Date: June 22, 2018

 

 

American-Ugandan power duo Nsimbi offer their debut onto the world stage with their self-titled album, Nsimbi. Hip-hop MC Zamba and American song-writer Miriam Tamar comprise this duo they describe as originating from ancient African insight in the form of Swahili proverbs. As Zamba explains, every song is based on a thread of those adages connected through the theme of human oneness and sociality. These networks, Tamar details, are then woven sonically via instruments from kalimba to kora into tight grooves that convey the message of hope and humanity.

Nsimbi has diverse origins but the tracks share a sonic integrity, a sunny acoustic sound and a rhythmic intensity. In music video for the first track, “Dunia Ni Matembezi,” we journey through the wondrous eyes of a schoolboy as he embarks on a trip through the desert after reading his favorite afro-future comic book, “Dunia.” He’s joined by a merry band of pranksters and vagabonds, who teach him about discovering the world through the five senses, a universal language that we all share. As the boy comes into contact with exotic landscapes and develops his perception of sight and sound, he finds connection and community with those around him. In this retro-future video, time is at a standstill, forever present, and travel is a state of mind.

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All of the contributor’s various styles glimmer throughout the album. Tamar’s singer-songwriter instincts lay the groundwork for “Gonna Be Alright,” Zamba’s hip hop roots offer age-old griot wisdom on “Flower of the Heart,” US-based Ugandan multi-instrumentalist Kinobe offers his expressive kora on the refugee-themed “Forsaken,” and Congolese-born soukous guitarist and singer Jaja Bashengenzi imprints his own style on multiple tracks overall.

The day used to end the same way around the world. After the work was done, families and communities would gather around a fire, where they would sing, dance, tell stories, and distill learning into proverbs. Thanks to Nsimbi, we are able to capture that magic of long-ago and instill it into our modern existence. With Nsimbi, the fire that brought us all together burns eternally.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

 

View review August 2nd, 2018

Chanti Darling – RNB Vol. 1

chanti

 

Title: RNB Vol. 1

Artist: Chanti Darling

Label: Tender Loving Empire

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: August 3, 2018

 

Old meets new in Chanti Darling’s debut album, RNB Vol. 1, as the Portland, Oregon based trio seamlessly blends the traditional sounds of disco, funk, and R&B with modern house music to create a sound that captivates listeners. While Chanti Darling may come off as a band that simply produces songs best-suited for the dancefloor, the group’s underlying goal is to bring back the sounds of ‘80s R&B that they were raised on. According to frontman and performance artist Chanticleer Trü, “RNB ain’t no joke,” and that attitude shows in their 10-track album.

Though Chanti Darling is passionate about reviving ‘80s R&B, they still capture the energy of  electronic music and also feature contemporary messages in their lyrics. “Casual,” the second track on the album featuring fellow Portland native and hip-hop artist The Last Artful, Dodgr, speaks on the complicated dynamics of new relationships. Trü’s smooth vocals are layered on top of an entrancing electronic melody, a recurring theme for the rest of the tracks on the album.

If there’s one thing to be said about Chanti Darling, it’s that they are creating a sound all their own, and listeners are loving it. Voted Portland’s “Best New Band” by Willamette Week, the group is getting noticed for their blend of electronic beats and old school R&B vocals.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

View review August 2nd, 2018

Russ Green – City Soul

russ

 

Title: City Soul

Artist: Russ Green

Label: Cleopatra

Formats: CD, Digital

Release Date: June 8, 2018

 

City Soul, harmonica player and vocalist Russ Green’s debut album, pays tribute to the Windy City and the many musicians who have shaped its signature sound. Born and raised on the west side of Chicago, Green didn’t realize his musical aspirations until adulthood. After purchasing a harmonica in an attempt to recreate the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Green was mentored by two of Chicago’s legendary harmonica players, Sugar Blue and Billy Branch, and his blues career took off from there.

City Soul is composed of 10 tracks co-produced by Green and Sam Clayton that feature musicians from around Chicago. The bluesy opening track, “First Thing Smokin’” is inspired by the sounds of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Other tracks, like “Lint In My Pocket,” are more funk-inspired, while Green’s duo with guitarist Vince Agwada is reminiscent of modern blues rock. “The Edge,” a nod to Green’s fascination with Jimi Hendrix, includes a swirling psychedelic harmonica intro that precedes a funky rock track.

Although City Soul is his debut album, Russ Green is already an accomplished blues musician, having been featured on the renowned Chicago Blues Harmonica Project and having performed at numerous blues festivals across the country. This is just the beginning of the Chicago native’s journey as a blues harmonica player.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

View review August 2nd, 2018

Jonestown – Winston Jarrett and The Righteous Flames

Jonestown

Title: Jonestown

Artist: Winston Jarrett and The Righteous Flames

Label: Omnivore

Format: CD, Digital

Release Date: August 3, 2018

 

Classic Reggae can never truly fall under into “out of sight, out of mind” category, but just in case we need a refresher, Omnivore Records has reissued one of the best offerings, Jonestown. Originally released by Nighthawk Records, Jonestown is the work of prolific reggae artists Winston Jarrett and Eggar Gordon (Baby Gee). Obtaining their start in 1965 from locally famous Kingston vocalist Alton Ellis, Winston and Gordon released multiple recordings, were featured on Coxsone Studio One’s many artistic endeavors, and recorded for other producers such as Duke Reid, Lee Perry and Joe Gibbs.

Jarrett’s transition to Nighthawk Records began in 1983 upon meeting the label’s producer Leroy Jody Pierson, who was working on a mix of Justin Hinds’ Travel With Love album. Together with Gordon, who was still performing in the area, Jarrett recorded Jonestown. After nearly 30 years, the album is being reissued along with new liner notes from Pierson and featuring previously unseen photos. Each song is a testament to the combined talents emanating from Jarrett and Gordon, with songs such as the smooth “Hold On To This Feeling” and the regional shout-out “Jonestown” testifying to the unique collaborative relationship dedicated to their quality art.

True legends never disappear, but rather they remain imbedded in our hearts forever. With its lyrical methodology and its definitive rhythmic soundscape, Jonestown lovingly reignites our passion for the reggae genre while simultaneously redistributing the sunshine and peace Jarrett and Gordon’s artistic oneness originally bestowed upon us.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

 

View review August 2nd, 2018

Erroll Garner – Nightconcert

Garner
Title: Nightconcert 

Artist: Erroll Garner

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: July 13, 2018

 

 

Although it has been just over 40 years since his death, legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner’s music vibrantly lives on thanks to the record labels who have championed his work. First, Sony Legacy released The Complete Concert By The Sea in 2015 as well as Ready Take One the following year, both of which received major award consideration. Now the people behind Mack Avenue Records have continued efforts to keep Garner’s memory alive with their new release,

Nightconcert. The title is drawn from Garner’s midnight concert in November 1964 at The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, captured live with an audience of 2000 highly enthusiastic and enraptured people of all ages. This concert recording displays Garner at the height of his career, with eight unique arrangements of classic standards as well as a newly discovered original!

Erroll Garner, was born June 25th, 1923 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He may be best remembered for his composition, “Misty,” which has become a treasured classic for jazz lovers and standard repertoire for every jazz musician to this very day. Beginning his study of the piano at age three, Garner took lessons from a family friend but he was primarily self-taught and remained an “ear-player” his entire life, never learning to read music. By age 11 his career was well on its way as he played piano on Allegheny riverboats and at 14 he began playing with well-known saxophonist Leroy Brown. Garner went on to enjoy a successful career working with other greats like bassist Slam Stewart and bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker on the “Cool Blues” sessions. He also made regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Nightconcert is an instant classic piano trio album as Garner displays his incomparable style and virtuosity. Opening with the Rogers and Hart classic “Where or When,” Garner chooses to begin this and many other songs with elaborate piano introductions, often with the intent of throwing off the audience so they don’t know what song is coming. He seems to have a tendency to play a hemiola in these intros by maintaining a triple meter in the left hand while playing in a duple meter in the right. He makes this especially prevalent later in the album with the song “Night and Day” as he carries this idea from the introduction throughout the rest of the tune. This is indicative of Garner’s overall style—his right hand typically lays back behind the beat as his left hand drives steadily along—often used as a powerful function to begin and end his slick phrases. As the concert continues, Garner jumps between his up-tempo tunes and lush ballads such as “My Funny Valentine” and “Over The Rainbow,” where he enraptures listeners with his thick and unique chord voicing.

Garner’s playing is unlike any others and simply hearing his live performance on Nightconcert is a truly unique experience—from his iconic groans that can be heard on every record, to his astounding skill and mastery over the piano. Great thanks must be extended to those at Mack Avenue Records for releasing yet another historical recording that keeps Garner’s body of work alive for a new generation.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

View review August 2nd, 2018

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