Archive for September 4th, 2018

Welcome to the September 2018 Issue

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This month we’re featuring Product of Our Souls: The Sound and Sway of James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra—the earliest mainstream recordings of an African American dance band—in an authoritative package from Archeophone Records.  In honor of Gospel Music Heritage Month, there are two new compilations from the Gospel Friend label: the two-CD Soul Don’t Worry! Black Gospel During the Civil Rights Era 1953-1967, and the tribute to Ohio gospel artist and composer Prof. Harold Boggs, Lord Give Me Strength.

New jazz releases include Cécile McLorin Salvant’s forthcoming album The Window, the Snarky Puppy affiliated group Ghost-Note’s Swagism, American steel pan player Jonathan Scales’ Pillar with his group Fourchestra, jazz flutist/composer Nicole Mitchell’s Maroon Cloud, the vocal group Take 6’s Iconic, Marcus Miller’s Laid Black (with a guest appearance by Take 6), and Diana Purim & Eyedentity’s exploration of Brazilian jazz/trip hop, Many Bodies, One Mind.

Rock-oriented releases include Corey Glover’s new supergroup Ultraphonix’s debut Original Human Music, punk legend Jean Beauvoir’s Rock Masterpieces Vol. 1, and Sean Ardoin’s Kreole Rock and Soul. Portland, Oregon’s Ural Thomas & The Pain confirm it is The Right Time for old-school R&B, “Queen of the Blues” Shemekia Copeland offers America’s Child, boogie woogie pianist Errol Dixon releases the 1973 live recording Midnight Train, and Delmark Records marks the label’s 65th anniversary with Tribute.

Wrapping up this issue is the late Australian indigenous musician Gurrumul’s final release and orchestral collaboration Djarimirri: Child of the Rainbow, Ugandan flutist Samite’s music of Resilience, and our list of August 2018 Black Music Releases of Note.

View review September 4th, 2018

Europe’s Society Orchestra – The Product of Our Souls

europe

 

Title: The Product of Our Souls: The Sound and Sway of James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra

Artist: Europe’s Society Orchestra

Label: Archeophone

Format: CD

Release date: June 1, 2018

 

This extraordinary new set from Archeophone Records, The Product of Our Souls, compiles for the first time in history the eight sides recorded by Europe’s Society Orchestra for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Dating from December 1913 to February 1914, these sides represent the earliest mainstream recordings of an African American dance band. In addition, there are twelve tracks featuring recordings of James Reese Europe’s compositions performed by other ensembles of the era, allowing a comparison of performance practices, including differences in arrangements and instrumentation. The compilation is an audio companion to David Gilbert’s excellent socio-cultural history, The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

James Reese Europe is more widely known for his famed Clef Club, the city’s first labor union for African American musicians, which supplied highly skilled dance bands to white elites in New York and beyond. Europe’s Clef Club Orchestra, with over 100 members, also broke racial barriers in Manhattan’s performance spaces, including Carnegie Hall. The recordings on this set, however, feature Europe’s Society Orchestra (ESO)—another revolving group of black musicians—reduced to about a dozen for these Victor sessions.

After James Reese Europe was appointed exclusive music director for social dance pioneers Vernon and Irene Castle, the ESO accompanied their performances. The orchestra’s syncopated rhythms were incorporated into the Castle’s movements, popularizing new dance forms such as the one-step. Hence the reason three of the eight ESO tracks on this set bear titles associated with the Castles and were composed by Europe, or co-written with Ford T. Dabney. The ensemble selected for this session includes flute, clarinet, cornet, baritone horn, violins, cello, piano and drums.  “The Castles in Europe (Castle House Rag)” is considered Europe’s most influential recording and was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2004. The song is a fusion of ragtime and march styles, while also creatively inserting bluesy modulations between major and minor keys.  The Castle’s signature one-step, “Castle Walk,” is notable for the improvised, highly embellished violin solo—a rare feature on recordings in the pre-jazz era—as well as Buddy Gilmore’s percussive effects. The mid-tempo “Castle’s Lame Duck (aka Congratulations Waltz)” has a prominent flute part, while “You’re Here and I’m Here,” an instrumental arrangement of a Jerome Kern-penned Broadway show tune, once again showcases Gilmore’s extraordinary talents.

The initial four tracks recorded in 1913, however, were not composed by Europe and were likely selected by Victor to capitalize on the social dance craze. The lively “Too Much Mustard” features multiple banjo mandolins against a violin and virtuosic clarinet, with Buddy Gilmore adding the groove on an early trap drum-kit. Clarinetist Wilbur Sweatman’s swinging “Down Home Rag” takes the group one step closer to jazz, with the new transfer of the disc revealing background vocals in a bluesy shout style. The other two ESO tracks include the Brazilian maxixe “Amapa,” and the Argentinean tango “El Irresistible,” popularized by the Castles, among others.

The remaining 14 tracks on the set date from 1908-1916 and include other performances of the above ESO repertoire by the Indestructible Band, Prince’s Band, the National Promenade Band, the Van Eps Trio. As one might imagine, these lively but somewhat rigid band renditions are a far cry from Europe’s improvisational pre-jazz style. Also included are five recordings of Europe’s compositions rendered by the popular singers Ada Jones, Bob Roberts, Kathleen Kingston and Billy Murray, as well as the Victor Military Band and Metropolitan Military Band.

Sourced from discs and cylinders in private collections, some of these recordings are relatively rare, and the transfers and digital restoration were done by experts in the field. The extensive 56-page booklet includes an essay and notes on each track by David Gilbert (complete with end notes), historic photographs from archival collections in the U.S. and London, and discographic information. Produced by Archeophone owners Richard Martin and Meagan Hennessey, The Product of Our Souls is an authoritative compilation that emphasizes the importance of James Reese Europe as an extraordinary musician, composer, and bandleader who paved the way from ragtime to jazz.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 4th, 2018

The Window- Cecile McLorin Salvant

The Window

 

Title: The Window

Artist: Cecile McLorin Salvant

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: September 28, 2018

 

Where does one begin when reviewing a talent as astonishing as Cecil McLorin Salvant? Through years of hard work and training, McLorin Salvant has found a way to combine her operatic background with stylistic aspects of legendary singers—from the percussiveness of Ella Fitzgerald, to the creativity of Sarah Vaughn, to the entrancing story telling ability of Billie Holiday and Carmen McCrae. McLorin has crafted a sound all her own, unveiling new aspects of her artistry with every release. In under a decade, she has become a multi Grammy-award- winning artist, winning Best Vocal Jazz Album for her albums For One To Love (2016) and Dreams and Daggers (2017).  Now, with her fourth album for Mack Avenue, The Window, we wait with great anticipation to see what major strides this phenomenal woman will make.

The Window is an album of both live and in-studio duets for which McLorin Salvant has partnered with distinguished jazz pianist Sullivan Fortner. The two come together to explore the endless expressive possibilities of a vocal-piano duo as they freely improvise with everything from the meter to the harmony, playing off of each other perfectly. The two manage to cultivate such a wall of sound on each track that the lack of a full rhythm section almost goes unnoticed.

As the main architect of this 17 track album, McLorin Salvant set out to create a meditative cycle of songs about the “mercurial nature of love,” beginning her journey with a haunting rendition of “Visions” by Stevie Wonder. Listeners are immediately drawn in by a falling piano line from Fortner that’s enough to send chills down your spine, before McLorin Salvant enters so softly with intonation and presence that any singer would be envious. While this live performance is not the version you will hear on the album, it offers just a taste of the power and energy displayed by this duo:

These two work so well together, consistently conveying clear musical conversations while allowing space for each artist to have their own moment to shine. This is especially clear on other stand out tracks such as “Ever Since the One I Loves Been Gone,” “The Sweetest Sound,” and the ever playful “I’ve Got Your Number,” where Fortner lays down a magnificent solo.

One very interesting feature throughout most of McLorin Salvant’s recordings is their lack of reverb. This in conjunction with the interspersion of live tracks, gives the album a very personal quality, as though McLorin Salvant is in the room singing directly to you.

The Window traverses love’s wide universe, from the pleasure of a lover’s touch with its feelings of human communion, to the invisible masks we wear to hide from others and from ourselves. One can easily see that we are witnessing a legend in the making with jazz vocalist Cecil McLorin Salvant.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

View review September 4th, 2018

Shemekia Copeland – America’s Child

shem

 

Title: America’s Child

Artist: Shemekia Copeland

Label: Alligator

Formats: CD, Digital

Release Date: August 3, 2018

 

Since her Outskirts of Love release, “Queen of the Blues” Shemekia Copeland has been striving for a deeper representation of Americana blues. With her newest offering, she has done just that. Combining elements of rock, soul and country, America’s Child is Copeland’s most diverse and compelling work yet. Americana Instrumentalist of the Year winner Will Kimbrough both produces and plays guitar on the album with additional contributors Emmylou Harris, Steve Cropper, J.D. Wilkes, and Al Perkins adding their own unique stylings that seamlessly blend with Copeland.

The opening track, “Ain’t Got Time for Hate,” has an immediate drive and speaks right to the heart of those fed up with the current atmosphere: “One more moment is a moment too late / We ain’t got time for hate.” “Americans,” the next offering, is chock full of slide guitar and open-mindedness about the wonderful diversity within United States: “We’re walkin’, talkin’ contradictions / No two are the same / That’s what makes us beautiful / I hope we never change.” Songwriting props for this song and for “Smoked Ham and Peaches” go to executive producer John Hahn and Mary Gauthier for their collaborative work.

Music legend John Prine joins Copeland on his own “Great Rain,” with Copeland adding her sultry, stirring pipes to Prine’s classic blues chords and vocal growl. Her cover of the Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody” transforms this iconic song into a blues-fueled declaration of independence. Two ballads dominate the line-up as well, adding a softer-yet-edgy sound to Copeland’s repertoire: “Promised Myself,” written by her father the late bluesman Johnny Clyde Copeland and the traditional “Go To Sleepy Little Baby.”

Throughout the album, Copeland sings with passion and insight about the chaos and uncertainty in the world while still finding joy all around her. Confidently announcing a new chapter in a constantly evolving story, America’s Child is a courageous and fiery statement of purpose, and a major step forward for the singer whose musical consciousness continues to expand as her star continues to rise.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

View review September 4th, 2018

The Right Time- Ural Thomas & The Pain

Ural Thomas

Title: The Right Time

Artist: Ural Thomas & The Pain

Label: Tender Loving Empire

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: September 28, 2018

 

 

We’ve covered a number of artists over the past decide whose careers were revived later in life, including the late, great Charles Bradley. A similar artist who recently entered our radar is soul singer Ural Thomas, a Louisiana-born preacher’s son who opened for the likes of James Brown, Otis Redding, and Stevie Wonder back in the day. Thomas released a few singles in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, most notably “Can You Dig It” with backing vocals by a power trio featuring Merry Clayton, Merry Wells and Brenda Halloway. But like countless artists before him, Thomas gave up on the music business, returning to Portland, Oregon where his family had relocated.

After several decades of performing only occasional gigs, Thomas’s break came when Eric Isaacson, owner of Portland’s Mississippi Records, reissued his out-of-print singles, which attracted considerable local attention. Soul DJ and drummer Soul DJ and drummer Scott Magee helped Thomas put together a backing band, the Pain, likely taking their name from Thomas’s 1967 single, “Pain Is the Name of Your Game.” Their self-titled debut was released in 2016 and around the same time, Thomas was featured on the local PBS program, Oregon Art Beat:

Now, two years later, as Thomas celebrates his 78th birthday, “Portland’s Pillar of Soul” returns with The Right Time, his first album of all original songs. In addition to Magee on drums and percussion, Thomas’s seven-piece backing band includes Bruce Withycombe (The Decemberists) on baritone sax, Portland jazz guitarist Brent Martens who doubles on vibes, bass player Arcellus Sykes, Steve Aman on keys, Dave Monnie on trumpet, Willie Matheis on tenor sax, plus backing vocalists and the Arco Quartet adding some smooth strings.

Thomas doesn’t venture far from his roots, offering 11 tracks of old-school R&B with a funky groove. Opening with “Slow Down,” Aman lays down the B3 tracks while Thomas hollers “slow down, let’s make it last.” On “No Distance (Between You & Me)” the female backing vocalists provide a Motown-style vibe, while “You Care Very Little” is a soulful tale of woe. “Smoldering Fire” gives us a taste of Thomas’s formative years singing doo-wop, with a voice that’s still supple and falsetto ready. One of the highlights is the title track, which harkens back to the James Brown era, while also incorporating contemporary funk and rock influences. The album closes with “Smile,” a heartfelt directive to chase away the blues, sung by a man who knows the power of positive thinking and the value of cherishing life’s finer moments.

Ural Thomas may have lived through plenty of pain in his life, but he didn’t let the music die. On The Right Time, Ural Thomas & The Pain deliver plenty of old school soul, spreading the love to a new generation of fans who just can’t seem to get enough.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 4th, 2018

Ghost-Note – Swagism

Swagism
Title: Swagism

Artist: Ghost-Note

Label: Ropeadope

Release Date: April 20, 2018

Formats: CD, Digital

 

Ghost-Note is a project led by two Snarky Puppy members, Robert “Sput” Searight and Nate Werth, who perform with a rotating cast of top session players.  Their newest album, Swagism, is the group’s sprawling and definitive artistic statement, one that is funky, jazzy, and experimental all at once. The record combines grooves that hit hard on the one, progressive jazz gestures, and spoken voicemail interludes that advance the double album’s conceptual and musical narrative.

Ghost-Note’s approach is perhaps best summed up by the album’s opening track, a spoken intro that questions the way that people value both music and choice as concepts, setting up the band as breaking down social and taste barriers through its conceptual framework of “swag,” despite the fact that it’s a band that likely appeals to a fairly narrow set of jazz-hipster listeners.  However, when compared with its bigger brother, Snarky Puppy, Ghost-Note’s approach would certainly be a bit more accessible to a listener not deeply invested in progressive jazz.  Tracks like the title track and “Pacemaker” rely on infectious and danceable grooves, despite featuring impressive improvisation from the group’s stellar ensemble.  Generally speaking, this approach holds true, with groove taking precedence over virtuosity on Swagism. Even the jarring “Shrill Tones” grooves in the way that the Brecker Brother’s “Some Skunk Funk” does—highly rhythmic within its complex melodic phrases. The band does venture into ambient outer space soundscapes once or twice, notably with Kamasi Washington’s featured performance on the socially-conscious “No More Silence.” However, Ghost-Note quickly returns to earth with tracks like “Nod to Dilla,” a miniature headphone symphony that serves as a tribute to the influential hip hop producer J Dilla, and asserts that above all else, groove animates the group’s approach to music.

Swagism, and Ghost-Note’s work in general, represents what funky jazz could have been had it not largely been commandeered by the wah-wah guitars of ‘70s smooth jazz—that is, culturally relevant while musically complex.  This album is challenging, hip, and a fun listen—a trifecta that other groups in every genre should learn from.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

View review September 4th, 2018

Pillar- Jonathan Scales Fourchestra

Pillar

 

Title: Pillar

Artist: Jonathan Scales Fourchestra

Label: Ropeadope

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 14, 2018

 

American steel pan player Jonathan Scales is about to release his next project, Pillar, with his group Fourchestra, which includes Maison Guidry (drums) and E’Lon Jordan-Dunlap (bass). Traditionally, pans are played in steelbands performing Calypso music. However, Scales places the steelpan in a contemporary environment using music genres such as jazz, fusion, hip-hop, Latin jazz, and funk, as vehicles for his creative explorations.

Pillar features many world-renowned guest artists including Victor Wooten, Béla Fleck, Jeff Coffin, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Shaun Martin, and Oteil Burbridge. On “Focus Poem,” Scales draws on Latin American and Caribbean rhythms as source materials for his underlying groove, while Fleck—an accomplished banjo player—performs a spirited banjo solo. “The Trap” places the steelpan at the center of a dynamic funk groove with complex rhythmic hits, featuring virtuosic performances by bassists Wooten and MonoNeon, the colorful and energetic sound of Scott’s trumpet, and spirited solos by Guidry and percussionist Weedie Braimah.

This album is above all intriguing, exciting, and lively. Heavily rooted in rhythm, groove, and harmony, Pillar offers sonorities that are pleasing to the ear and comforting to the soul.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

View review September 4th, 2018

Maroon Cloud- Nicole Mitchell

Nicole Mitchell

 

Title: Maroon Cloud

Artist: Nicole Mitchell

Label: FPE Records

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: August 20, 2018

 

Jazz flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell’s latest album, Maroon Cloud, was recorded live in Brooklyn’s National Sawdust as part of multi-instrumentalist and avant-garde composer John Zorn’s Stone Commissioning Series. The album features Mitchell performing eight of her original compositions for flute, with vocalist Fay Victor, pianist Aruán Ortiz, and cellist Tomeka Reid. Speaking of Maroon Cloud, Mitchell writes, “Imagination, especially Black imagination, is a really vital and undervalued resource. It’s very clear that we can’t continue in the same direction that we’ve gone, but we need to return to the source of where imagination and creativity come from, because if we don’t have another vision then we can’t implement it, and we can’t make a different future. What makes us special as human beings is our ability to imagine things that don’t even exist yet.”

In this light, Maroon Cloud can be considered a part of the developing ideology of Afro-futurism—a mode of thinking that encourages the envisioning of Black life beyond our current reality. In fact, themes of Afro-futurism can be located in the album’s title itself. While the word “cloud” can refer to a space reserved for imagination and creativity, “maroon” is able to simultaneously embody a couple of meanings: Africans who escaped slavery in the Caribbean or “people being abandoned to their fate.”

Mitchell’s consideration of Black futures is immediately apparent by taking a glance at the composition of the ensemble. The omission of drums is an unusual move for a jazz ensemble or an ensemble that performs music of the African diaspora; however, Mitchell believes it creates “other ways of coming together” because of the ensemble’s need to move and create in “a new direction.”

While Mitchell continues the line of Afro-futurism through the use of her avant-garde jazz background, she certainly makes use of the blues tradition. Whether that be in Victor’s vocals and spoken word on the tracks “Warm Dark Realness,” “Vodou Spacetime Kettle,” and “Hidden Choice;” or Mitchell’s solos on “No One Can Stop Us” and “A Sound;” or the rhythm provided by Ortiz and Reid throughout the album; or the call-and-response between all members of the ensemble, roots of the blues are found throughout the album.

Maroon Cloud manages to “sonically explore the space within our minds where all ideas come from” and is sure to encourage the listener’s envisaging of possible Black futures.

Reviewed by Kennedi Johnson

View review September 4th, 2018

Laid Black- Marcus Miller

Laid Black

Title: Laid Black

Artist: Marcus Miller

Label: Blue Note

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 1, 2018

 

World-renowned bass player and multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller dropped his latest album, Laid Black, over the summer. Released three years after his Afrodeezia project, this album weaves together funk, hip-hop, R&B, gospel, and jazz into an amalgam of sounds. Although Miller is the focal figure throughout, we cannot neglect the contributions of his dynamic supporting cast of Kirk Whalum, Take 6, Jonathan Butler, Trombone Shorty, Russell Gunn, Marquis Hill, and Miller’s band, all prominent figures in their own rights.

Laid Black opens with “Trip Trap,” a live number featuring Miller’s funky bassline, a trap influenced hip-hop groove, and lush harmonies intermixed between the horns and synthesizer. Miller follows this with a heartfelt slow blues rendition of “Que Sera Sera,” reminiscent of Sly and the Family Stone’s version, sung by Belgian vocalist Selah Sue. Listeners are later treated to “Sublimity ‘Bunny’s Dream’,” a soothing composition that evokes sonorous qualities that resonate with West African musical traditions. Closing the album, Miller reprises “Preacher’s Kid” from his previous album, echoing the sounds of the Black church through the vocally inspired moans and groans produced by saxophonists Whalum and Alex Han, and the vocal harmonies by a cappella gospel sextet, Take 6.

Covering a wide range of genres, Laid Black highlights the interconnected nature of Black music through its local and global sensibilities. By looking at jazz as an extension of the Black music aesthetic, Miller produces sonic qualities that not only blur musical boundaries, but also accentuate the transnational exchange of sounds, ideas, and musical practices within the global Black community.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

View review September 4th, 2018

Take 6 – Iconic

take6

 

Title: Iconic

Artist: Take 6

Label: Sono Recording Group

Format: CD, Digital

Release date: April 27th, 2018

 

Six legendary men of Take 6 recently released their 11th studio album, Iconic, reminding us exactly why they are not only one of the most influential a cappella or vocal groups, but one of the most influential jazz ensembles of all time. Their story began in the 1980s at the Seventh-day Adventist affiliated Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, while the group still went by the name Alliance. They primarily performed at local churches and on their college campus. Things began to change for them in 1985 when half of the group graduated and took on Alvin Chea, Cedric Dent, and David Thomas. Within two years they were signed to Warner Bros. and changed their name to Take 6.

With ten Grammy Awards, ten Dove Awards, a seven year stint as Best Jazz Vocal Group in Downbeat’s Reader’s and Critic’s Poll, and so many more accolades, Take 6 is still going strong. The current members of the group include founding members Claude McKnight, Mark Kibble, David Thomas, and Alvin Chea, plus the later additions of Joey Kibble and Khristian Dentley.  Now, with Iconic, Take 6 makes sure we never forget just who they are!

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In true Take 6 fashion, the album includes intricate adaptations of new and old pop and R&B hits, such as “Can’t Stop The Feeling” by Justin Timberlake, “Sailing” by Christopher Cross, and an extra funky version of “Roof Garden” by Al Jarreau. They close the album by harkening back to their gospel roots with the modern hymn, “Nothing But the Blood.” With the use of thick and luscious harmonies and unique harmonic substitutions, Take 6 makes every tune on this album their very own.

Debuting at number 3 on the ITunes jazz charts, within a month of release Iconic hit number one on the billboard contemporary jazz chart. Take 6 reminds us all exactly why they are ‘Iconic.’

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

View review September 4th, 2018

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