Posts filed under 'Classical Music'

Gloriae Dei Cantores – God’s Trombones

gloriae

 

Title: God’s Trombones

Artist: Gloriae Dei Cantores

Label: Paraclete

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: February 2, 2018

 

Born in 1871, James Weldon Johnson is perhaps best known in musical circles as the brother of composer John Rosamond Johnson, who set his poem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” to music in 1900. But James was also a towering literary figure, among other accomplishments, and one of his best known works is God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, first published in 1927. Based on an old folk sermon that began with the creation of the world and ended with the Judgement Day,” the book of poems is now considered a classic of American literature.

American composer and baritone Gordon Myers (1919-2006) set God’s Trombones to music in 1966. The oratorio was Myer’s doctoral thesis composition and he articulated his goals as follows: “Approaching the task, I kept the sound of a church choir, the lilt of a folk song, and the vitality of the Negro Spiritual in my ear, and set out to blend them into one consistent idiom.”

In 1995, the premiere recording of the work was released by Paraclete Press, performed by Gloriae Dei Cantores conducted by Elizabeth C. Petterson, with Myers as the featured baritone. Based in Orleans, Mass., Gloriae Dei Cantores has a mission to “preserve in recordings worthy American sacred music that would otherwise be neglected,” and consequently decided to reissue their 1995 recording of God’s Trombones, with original liner notes and song texts included. Those who do not own a copy of the original release should certainly consider this new version.  It must be noted, however, that the movement “Let My People Go” was sacrificed due to time constraints on the original pressing. Regrettably, the new release is also incomplete—it’s a pity is wasn’t expanded to a two-CD set, but presumably the missing movement was simply not recorded during the 1995 session.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review June 1st, 2018

Sheku Kanneh-Mason – Inspiration

sheku

 

Title: Inspiration

Artist: Sheku Kanneh-Mason

Label: Decca/London

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: January 26, 2018

 

Sometimes it takes a royal wedding to bring musical talents to light. Such is the case with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Though the London-born musician was already a celebrity in the UK, the rest of the world took notice during his televised performance at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19. Now his debut album is topping the charts and fans can’t seem to get enough.

The 19-year-old cellist plays like Yo-Yo Ma and cites the late Jacqueline du Pré as an early influence. After winning the BBC Young Musician Award in 2016, Kanneh-Mason was signed to the prestigious Decca Classics label.  Inspiration, released earlier this year, proves his mastery through a mix of the classics and arrangements of popular songs.

Kanneh-Mason opens the album with an arrangement of the Hebrew song “Evening of Roses” (aka “Erev Shel Shoshanim”), then segues into the frequently performed chestnut “The Swan,” from Carnival of the Animals.” Next is “Song of the Birds” arranged by another cello great, Pablo Casals. All three are accompanied by the CBSO cello section.

The full City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, comes on board for Shostakovich. First, a beautiful rendition of his “Nocturne” from The Gadfly Suite, followed by Cello Concerto No. 1, which Kanneh-Mason performs brilliantly. One would expect no less since it was his performance of this work at the BBC competition that clinched his award.

The album concludes with four additional arrangements that demonstrate Kanneh-Mason’s beautiful tone and musical maturity: “Les larmes de Jacqueline” from Offenbach’s cello suite Harmonies des Bois, Op. 76; Casal’s arrangement of Sardana; and two popular favorites—Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The latter, arranged for strings, includes assistance from three other young musicians—violinist Didier Osindero, violist Alinka Rowe and cellist Yong Jun Lee.

None of the above were performed during the royal wedding, which included Après un Rêve by Gabriel Fauré, Sicilienne by Maria Theresia von Paradis and Schubert’s Ave Maria, but for those who want more of Kanneh-Mason, the wedding performance is available on video.  He will also be touring throughout Europe this summer and fall, with three performances scheduled in Seattle in October.  No doubt he will be filling those seats!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review June 1st, 2018

Welcome to the April 2018 Issue of Black Grooves

April 2018_small Mailchimp
Welcome to the April 2018 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month’s top picks include a new recording of Florence Price’s Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 performed by Er-Gene Kahng, and “American Songster” Dom Flemons’ collaboration with Smithsonian Folkways on an exploration of the music of Black Cowboys.

 

April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), with April 30th designated as International Jazz Appreciation Day. Jazz and social justice is the contextual lens for JAM this year, showcasing the progressive ways jazz continues to play a transformative role with respect to the civil rights of individuals from multiple facets of society. The jazz collaborations of both Wynton Marsalis Septet’s United We Sing and Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette‘s After The Fall demonstrate the excellence that prevails when groups work collectively towards a common goal. Don’t Play with Love released by the John L. Nelson Project showcases the formidable talents of Prince’s father, John L. Nelson, both of whom fostered positive inspiration in others through their artistic legacies. Perseverance plays a central role in Sy Smith’s Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete and saxophonist Lekecia Benjamin’s Rise Up, as both albums urge continuance despite the cost. Young Street by bassist Reggie Young rounds out this category with a blend of jazz and funk.

Other featured releases also contain a harmonious blending of genres. The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down and AJ Ghent’s The Neo Blues Project combine blues and rock. Stax Singles Vol. 4 – Rarities & The Best of the Rest is a collection of the label’s more obscure soul, rock, country, and gospel sides, while the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio’s Close But No Cigar pays tribute to the legendary Stax studio band. Memphis Rent Party is a survey of regional music that serves as the soundtrack for Robert Gordon’s sixth book of the same title.

Additional releases include Mud Morganfield’s latest blues album They Call Me Mud, London rocker L.A. Salami’s sophomore album The City of Bootmakers, and a live gospel album, The Gospel Truth Live, by the late Marie Knight. Wrapping up this issue is a new book by ethnomusicologist Sandra Jean Graham, Spirituals and the Birth of the Black Entertainment Industry, and our compilation of March Releases of Note.

 

View review April 2nd, 2018

Florence Price – Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2

price

Title: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2

Artist: Florence Price (comp.), Er-Gene Kahng (violin), Janaček Philharmonic

Label: Albany

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 1, 2018

 

 

As a scholar specializing in the art songs of Florence Price, it is always a special treat to spend time with her instrumental music! The recent release of Er-Gene Kahng (violinist) and the Janaček Philharmonic’s recording of Florence Price’s Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 is representative of the growing buzz surrounding the works of Florence Price. Since the University of Arkansas Special Collections’ acquisition of formerly unknown manuscripts in Price’s hand, scholars and musicians have flocked to this diverse and expressive repertory.

The liner notes of the recording, provided by renowned scholar of American orchestral music Douglas Shadle, provide a thorough musical analysis. Therefore, I will focus on the particularities of this recording as well as some interesting semiotic aspects.

Er-Gene Kahng’s virtuosity is on full display in her sensitive execution of the alternately cantabile and brilliant style melodies of Violin Concerto No. 2 (track one). I am immediately struck by the timbral variance that the Janaček Philharmonic achieves under the guidance of conductor Ryan Cockerham. The tumultuous and heroic final section avoids a colorless and bombastic fortissimo in favor of a broadness and majesty. This can be attributed to the sensitive shaping of phrases by the string sections, and the stunning ensemble of the woodwinds and brass. While Shadle refers to Price’s first violin concerto as “an episodic rhapsody on a sweeping opening theme first stated by the orchestral strings,” a similar approach is evident in Violin Concerto No. 2. The rhapsodic tone can be attributed to the abandonment of a clear-cut sonata form in favor of introducing additional motivic material. Price displays a preference for introducing multiple motives of differing contour and harmonic complexity and reconciling the material with a loose recapitulation that serves the purpose of concluding the piece in a way that is harmonically closed. However, the return of the A section is usually not a verbatim quotation, and often riffs on or further develops themes introduced in the exposition.

Given the time period of the composer’s milieu (1888-1953), as well as the pressure from the Harlem Renaissance bourgeoisie for “Negro uplift,” it may be expected that Price would include quotations of Negro Spirituals in this piece. After all, Alain Locke lauded Harry Burleigh’s concert spirituals, and favored William Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony. As Shadle states, “Under the influence of Dvorak and, later, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, younger musicians like J. Rosamond Johnson and Harry Burleigh continued to theorize about how to best incorporate the spirituals into the living musical practices of African Americans.” I, along with Shadle, note the way in which Price enfolds some of the signifiers of the Spiritual (blue notes, layered polyphony, and pentatonicism for example) in her orchestral pieces like the Symphony in E minor without directly quoting the spirituals. Rather, she creates an organic synthesis of her conservatory training and her roots in Afrological music. In a class essay quoted by Shadle, Price states, “We are even beginning to believe in the possibility of establishing a national musical idiom. We are waking up to the fact pregnant with possibilities that we already have a folk music in the Negro spirituals—music which is potent, poignant, compelling. It is simple heart music, therefore powerful.” This synthesis is not one in which her blackness is sublimated within the context of a European idiom; instead she uses her wide-ranging reference points to create markedly expressive works that speak to her own narrative.

Price’s organ training comes through in her homophonic treatment of the orchestra as the violinist plays in a brilliant style that evokes bird song, and later, flowing water. The musical space this choice creates is evocative of a pastoral topic, but she evokes the Sturm und Drang topoi of Brahms and even Tchaikovsky when the tempo increases and the brass makes an entrance toward the end. All in all, Price’s prowess as a composer of expressive musical narrative is on full display in the second symphony. Kahng’s clear, technical, yet expressive playing serves to further the composer’s intent.

Violin Concerto No. 1 (track 2) was composed in 1939 and takes on a more traditional form. Once again, Kahng shocks and amazes as she expertly performs a strikingly chromatic florid cadenza in the tempo moderato. I reached out to Kahng to discern if she composed any portion of the cadenzas, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that every pitch was notated by the composer! Price includes challenging double stops that almost emulate the rustic color of fiddle or banjo. The cadenzas dovetail seamlessly into the pentatonic opening theme. The call and response topic appears as alternating statements between the string orchestra, solo violin, a flute singing a bird song, and even a brief brass choir. The piece ends with aural fireworks featuring impressively brisk arpeggios in the solo violin as the harmony ventures chromatically to distant keys. The final codetta is a con brio exclamation of the solo violin caller and the orchestral respondent in unison. This moment is reminiscent of a communal outburst during a black church service, but within the harmonic context of a Eurocentric musical construct.

The second movement, Andante, displays more of a spiritual topic, passing the pentatonic central themes from the first movement to the violin in its most vocal register—the middle. The orchestra, as Shadle notes, is more homophonic here, emulating a hymn and sensitively shaping this cantabile movement with gradual arcs of mounting emotional intent. The violin again has moments of cadenza, but considerably shorter than those at the beginning. A second motive in minor pentatonic appears in the violin, accompanied by sighs from the orchestra that emit the affect of the sorrow songs. The greater involvement of woodwinds coupled with the sinuous treatment of melodic contour emulates the stillness of a dusk in Arkansas—the composer’s birthplace. This spiritual lullaby comforts the listener, but the calm is interrupted by a tempestuous final movement.

The third movement is a tour-de-force that demands an impressive level of breadth from the orchestra. The first cadenza wanders so chromatically, that it’s difficult to discern a harmonic direction. However, the piece is held together by the fraught topical material meeting with a gallop-like pentatonic theme. If it were more syncopated, this section would sound like a juba dance or cakewalk. The more sonorous pentatonic theme—carrying with it the signification of the spiritual—exists in an oppositional relationship with a more chromatic counter-topic. The piece ends with a flourish, satisfying the listener with the confluence of the orchestra and the violin in the pentatonic theme.

My brief correspondence with violinist Er-Gene Kahng was overwhelmingly positive. In her response, Kahng displayed a keen awareness of the importance of the project in question, and an overarching respect for Price’s talent:

“It was, as you can imagine, a thrilling experience to perform these concertos! It undeniably stretched me as a violinist and artist; without being able to have an actual conversation about the concerto, I developed a closer relationship to the manuscript. Because of this pioneering aspect with regard to both the work being rediscovered and its fully orchestrated performance being its first to our knowledge, I found myself asking performative questions I never thought I’d ever find myself asking. There was a freshness that created a welcome jolt to my normal methods of interpreting works (and developed my skills as an interpretive artist), and the simple pleasure of discovering something new is always significant, valuable, and emotionally fulfilling for me. I feel more complete now having had the opportunity to interpret, share and perform Florence Price’s violin concertos.”

The significance of this recording cannot be over-emphasized. The rising popularity of Florence Price’s music, as evidenced by Micaela Baranello’s recent New York Times article, bodes well for a future classical music scene that dispenses with the historic myth of white male compositional supremacy (both Er-Gene Kahng and I were interviewed for this article). The Fort Smith Symphony in Arkansas is embarking on a recording project of the Price symphonies, and the late Rae Linda Brown’s biography of Florence Price is awaiting release.

Young scholars such as myself are increasingly engaging with works by composers on the margins. I met a few scholars at last year’s American Musicological Society conference who will be exploring Price’s violin and organ works. My forthcoming dissertation will present readings of Price’s art songs through critical lenses including musical semiotics, black feminist inquiry, and Henry Louis Gates’s theory of signifyin(g). It is my hope that interest in Florence Price will lead to a movement that increases visibility of black classical musicians—particularly composers. It is a tragedy that the prolific black writer and composer Olly Wilson recently passed and I have never encountered his name in my schooling. It is a shame that in 2016 the Metropolitan Opera staged its first opera by a female composer (L’amour de loin by Kaija Saariaho) but has never staged an opera by an African American composer.

Until the margins are no more, we must continue to question the segregated concert music hall. Perhaps by decolonizing the lens through which we view the term “American music,” we can begin to divorce ourselves from the white canonical three “B” composers (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, etc.) and welcome in some new “B’s”—Regina Baiocchi, Margaret Bonds, Brittney Boykin and countless others.

Reviewed by Marquese Carter

View review April 2nd, 2018

February 2018 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during February 2018—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

Blues, Folk, Country
Memphis Minnie: Volume 1: The 1930’s [4CD] (Real Gone)
Bernard Allison: Let It Go (Ruf)
Hypnotic Wheels (w/Cedric Burnside): Muddy Gurdy Mississippi Project (Vizz Tone)
Johnny Tucker: Seven Day Blues (High John)
Leyla McCalla: The Capitalist Blues (Jazz Village)
Luther Lackey: Contender (Cds Records)
Reverend Shawn Amos: Breaks It Down (Put Together Music)
Sam Kelly’s Station House: No Barricades (Roxbro)
Sunny War: With The Sun (ORG Music/Pledge Music)

Classical
Florence Price, Er-Gene Kahng: Violin Concertos (Albany)
Marie-Josée Lord: Femmes (ATMA Classique)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Buttshakers: Sweet Rewards (Underdog Records)
Beatchild & The Slakadeliqs: Heavy Rockin’ Steady (BBE)
Flyer Learning: Flyer Learning (digital)
Kay-Gees: Keep on Bumpin & Masterplan; Find a Friend; Kilowatt (Robinsongs)
Marenikae: Ajebutter (The Zuchia Nexus)
Mark Grusane: Real Sound of Mark Grusane (BBE)
Soulive: Cinematics Vol. 1 (digital) (Soulive Music)
Tony MacAlpine: Death of Roses (Sundog Records)

Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM
Beverly Crawford: Essential Beverly Crawford – Vol. 2 (JDI)
Elevation Worship: Elevation Collective (digital) (Elevation Worship)
Enyo: Glorified (GospelNaija)
God’s Own Radicals: Under Construction (GospelNaija)
Jekalyn Carr: One Nation Under God (Lunjeal)
Restine Jackson: No Fear (Dream)

Jazz
Caesar Frazier: Instinct (Doodlin)
Charles Mingus: Live At Montreux 1975 (Eagle Rock)
David K. Mathews: The Fantasy Vocal Sessions Vol. 1 (Effendi)
David Murray & Saul Williams: Blues for Memo (Motema)
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: Cheek To Cheek : The Complete Duet Recordings [4 CD] (Verve)
Lin Rountree: Stronger Still (Trippin n’ Rhythm)
Marion Meadows: Soul City (Shanachie)
Matthew Shipp: Sonic Fiction (ESP)
Oscar Peterson Trio: Oscar Plays (Box Set) (Verve)
Raphaël Imbert: Music is my Hope (Jazz Village)
Roscoe Mitchell: Ride the Wind (Nessa)
Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (60th Anniv. Deluxe Edition) (Craft)
Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties (NNA Tapes)
Various: We Out Here (Brownswood)
Victor Gould: Earthlings (Criss Cross)
Walter Smith III: Twio (CD Baby)

R&B, Soul
Jonathan Butler: Sarah Sarah – The Anthology (Soul Music)
Bettye Lavette, Carol Fran: Bluesoul Belles: The Complete Calla, Port & Roulette Recordings (Music on CD)
DD’s brothers: From the Day Till the Dawn (Soul Brother)
George Jackson: Leavin’ Your Homework Undone: In the Studio 1968-71 (Kent)
Ink Spots: Best of the Singles 1936-1953 (Real Gone)
Otis Blackwell: The Songs & Recordings Of Otis Blackwell 1952-62 (Acrobat)
Spencer Wiggins: The Goldwax Years (Kent)
Starchild & The New Romantic: Language (Ghostly International)
Sy Smith: Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete (Psyko)
Tatiana Ladymay Mayfield: The Next Chapter (digital) (Ladymay Music)
The Agency: Philosophies (digital) (Philosophies)
Various: The 24-Carat Black Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth (vinyl reissue) (Craft)

Rap, Hip Hop
Negash Ali: The Ascension
ABBA Zulu: Problematic Vol. 1 (digital) (Utmost Musik)
Abz Tha Kid: Thoughtz…From a Park Bench (digital)
Alchemist: Paris L.a. Bruxelles Instrumentals (vinyl) (ALC)
Ash Kidd: Cruise (digital) (Caroline Int)
Audio Push: Cloud 909 (digital) (Good Vibe Tribe)
Black Milk: Fever (Mass Appeal)
Cozz: Effected (digital) (Interscope)
Demo Taped: Momentary EP (digital) (300 Entertainment)
DePaul: Damage Already Done (Twenty Two Music)
Digable Planets: Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (25th Anniv. Ed.) (Light in the Attic)
DJ Smoke: Dolla Bill: The Ty Dolla Sign Mixtape (JWS Records)
East Man: Red White & Zero (Planet Mu)
G Herbo: Humble Beast Deluxe Edition (Machine Ent. Group/Orchard)
Keezy off 38th: Trials & Tribulations (digital) (.38th Muzyk)
Khago: Walk a Mile (Streaminn Hub)
Kodak Black: Heart Break Kodak (digital) (Atlantic)
LARS: Last American Rock Stars (Majik Ninja)
Mark Battles: Vasi World (digital) (Fly America)
Nipsey Hussle: Victory Lap (Atlantic)
O.C.: A New Dawn (Ditc)
Onyx: Black Rock (X-Ray)
Ralo LaFlare: Diary of the Streets 3 (digital) (Famerica)
Rockstar JT: Streets Signed Me the Mixtape
Shirt: Pure Beauty (Third Man)
Skipper: Prezidential (digital) (Empire)
Skyzoo: In Celebration of Us (Empire)
Stalley: Tell The Truth Shame The Devil (Vol. 1) EP
Tenacity & D.R.U.G.S. Beats: Discussions (digital) (SoulSpazm)
Tony Colliseum: Legacy (digital) (BeatRocka Music)
Too Short: The Pimp Tape (Dangerous Music)
Various: Black Panther: The Album (Interscope)
Various: Death Row Chronicles OST (eOne)
Yukmouth: JJ Based on a Vill Story Three (Smoke-A-Lot Records)

Reggae, Dancehall
Bobby Digital: X-tra Wicked – Reggae Anthology (VP)
Bobby Digital: Serious Times (VP)
Etana: Live in London (Freemind Music)
Freddie McGregor: Bobby Bobylon Deluxe Edition (Studio One)
Justin Hinds & the Dominoes: From Jamaica With Reggae (Treasure Isle)
Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus: None a Jah Jah Children (VP)
Various: Roots Reggae Party (Warner)

World, Latin
Afrika Mamas: Iphupho – A Cappella from South Africa (Arc Music)
Boubacar Traore: Dounia Tabolo (Lusafrica)
Elida Almeida: Kebrada (Lusafrica)
Ernesto Chahoud presents Taitu: Soul-fuelled Stompers from 1960s – 1970s Ethiopia (BBE)
Femi Kuti: One People One World (Knitting Factory)
Lucibela: Laço Umbilical (Lusafrica)
Nene Brown: Raízes por Outras Óticas (Time Forte)
Tal National: Tantabara (FatCat)
Various: Levanta Poeira (Jazz & Milk)
Various: Putumayo Kids Presents Kid’s African Party (Putumayo)
Various: Putumayo Presents African Café (Putumayo)

View review March 1st, 2018

The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra – Black Manhattan, Volume 3

Black Manhattan
Title:  Black Manhattan, Volume 3

Artist:  The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra

Label:  New World Records

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: November 10, 2017

 

 

Rick Benjamin, founder/conductor of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, recently gifted us with Volume 3 of his series, Black Manhattan (Volume 2 was previously reviewed in Black Grooves). The title derives from James Weldon Johnson’s 1930 book about New York’s black music and theatre communities from the 1890s to 1920s, profiling “an amazing group of achievers . . . whose work profoundly transformed the cultural life of this nation.” Benjamin has made it his mission to bring to light previously unrecorded works by these composers using authentic scores. With the release of the third volume, we can now experience “60 works by 32 outstanding African-American composers, spanning the seminal years of the 1870s to the early 1920s . . . [closing] this gap in America’s cultural memory.”

Volume 3 continues the exploration of prominent Clef Club composers and their works, including founding member Alphonso Johns (“Ianthia March” written in 1902 for an African American bicycle club), Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake (“Love Will Find a Way” and “I’m Just Wild About Harry” from Shuffle Along), Clarence Cameron White (“Chant” from The Bandana Sketches and the spiritual setting of “I’m Goin’ Home” from Cabin Memories), Scott Joplin (“Wall Street Rag” written two years after his move to Manhattan), Frederick M. Bryan (“The Dancing Deacon” premiered by the Clef Club Orchestra in 1915), Will H. Dixon (“Delicioso: Tango Aristocratico”), J. Leubrie Hill (the newly discovered Overture to his celebrated musical My Friend From Kentucky), and J. Turner Layton (“After You’ve Gone” and “Dear Old Southland” orchestrated by Will H. Vodery). The set also sheds light on the works of lesser known African American composers, as well as works by prominent songwriters not featured in earlier volumes.

The disc opens with the “Pork and Beans Rag” (1913) by Philadelphia native Ch. Luckeyth “Luckey” Roberts. Known as one of the founders of Harlem stride piano, Roberts was also a talented theater composer and orchestra conductor who took over as the “leading purveyor of high society music” following the death of James Reese Europe. This aggressive yet charming Eastern-style rag, which he later orchestrated, was among his first published piano compositions, as well as the first piece taught to his piano student – none other than a young George Gershwin. Two additional works by Roberts are also included: “Jewel of the Big Blue Nile” written for the 1919 stage production Baby Blues and sung here by noted soprano Janai Brugger, and a later orchestration of “The Tremolo Trot” (1914), notable for its infusion of classical music elements. Tragically, though Roberts remained a very prominent fixture in Harlem until his death in 1968, little of his vast output survives.

Another Philadelphia-born pianist-songwriter, Q. Roscoe Snowden, is known primarily for a pair of 1923 recordings on the OKeh label. Benjamin has uncovered another instrumental, “The Slow Drag Blues,” published by W.C. Handy in 1919 and later orchestrated by a young William Grant Still. Though the success of this rendition is largely due to Still’s compositional technique, Snowden’s work is still a significant fusion of a 19th century African American social dance with blues, ragtime and jazz.

Baritone Edward Pleasant is featured on James Bland’s enduring 1879 minstrel song “Oh! Dem Golden Slippers,” a parody of the spiritual “Golden Slippers” popularized by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Bland was born in Queens and, like his highly educated parents, attended university before gravitating to African American minstrel troupes. He was one of the first black composers to be published and achieved wide acclaim at home and abroad, yet never moved beyond the minstrel genre.  By comparison, Benjamin refers to Black Manhattanite Sidney Perrin as “a key transitional figure between minstrelsy and vaudeville,” who likely composed hundreds of songs over his forty-year career. Regrettably, the majority of his 50 surviving works were published between 1897-1910 and only document his early years. Benjamin opted for Perrin’s 1904 cakewalk “Well Raise the Roof To-Night (Whoop ‘Er Up Boys),” the title indicating the celebratory nature of the composition performed with aplomb by the PRO.

Cincinnati’s Gussie L. Davis was one of the most successful African American songwriters of his era, but has not previously been featured. After relocating to New York in the 1890s he achieved considerable success composing musical revues, but died suddenly of heart failure in the midst of his first touring production. Chosen for this set is Davis’s most successful ballad, “In the Baggage Coach Ahead,” which sold over a million copies of sheet music. The Victorian-era parlor song is performed convincingly by tenor Chauncey Packer, accompanied by Benjamin on piano. Packer is featured again on the 1905 hit song “Just One Word of Consolation” by Tom Lemonier, another founding member of the Clef Club. This lovely ballad was originally featured in the black musical comedy Rufus Rastus and later become part of the standard repertoire for early 20th century American tenors. As Benjamin points out in the liner notes, many of these singers likely assumed the composer was French, just as many had assumed Gussie Davis was a white woman.

Brooklyn-born, Howard University educated pianist-composer Clarence G. Wilson burst onto the scene as conductor of the Smart Set, one of the last major black touring companies. Yet, after serving in WWI under Will H. Vodery in the 807th Pioneer Infantry Band, he returned to Harlem and all but disappeared. Benjamin uncovered one of Wilson’s early works, “The Zoo-Step,” composed in 1916 as a dance number for his anti-war musical How Newton Prepared. A stellar example of the music of the era, the PRO performance encapsulates what Benjamin describes as “raucous, hilarious, virtuosic, stylistically [representing] the unique territory between the circus, Dixieland jazz, and the Folies Bergère.”

Another historically interesting work is “Royal Garden Blues,” composed in 1919 by Clarence Williams and Spencer Williams. Taking its title from a well-known black café in Chicago, the song was immortalized by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1921. Benjamin discovered the original 1919 orchestration by African American band leader Dave Peyton, which notates every improvised slide and “hot solo.” Again, the PRO gives a fine performance, bringing life to an arrangement clearly intended for those uninitiated in jazz.

Volume 3 concludes with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” composed by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson and performed by sopranos Janai Brugger and Andrea Jones, tenor Chauncey Packer and baritone Edward Pleasant, accompanied by the PRO. According to Benjamin, this rendition is the world premier recording of the original 1900 score. The vocal harmonies are similar to the earliest recorded version by the Manhattan Harmony Four (1923), but the PRO’s rendition brings full glory to the Johnson brother’s masterful composition which became the national anthem of the African-American community.

As with previous volumes, the CD is accompanied by a 48-page booklet with meticulously researched biographies of the composers, several previously unknown to me. Once again, Rick Benjamin and The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra offer a carefully curated project celebrating the many composers of Black Manhattan, shedding light on lesser known composers and works, and advancing the study of American music of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 4th, 2018

December 2017 Releases of Note

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

Blues, Folk, Country
Doctor Ross: Memphis Breakdown (ORG Music)
Robert Finley: Goin’ Platinum! (Easy Eye Sound)
Vance Kelly: How Can I Miss You If You Don’t Leave (Wolf)
Various: Memphis Blues Festival 1975 (Klondike)
Various: Chicago Blues All Stars 1970 (Klondike)

Comedy, Spoken Word
Nephew Tommy: Won’t He Do It (TNT)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Bartees & The Strange Fruit: Magic Boy (Pineapple)
Danielia Cotton: The Mystery of Me (Cottontown)
Dk Aakmael: Take It Back (Scissor & Thread)
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble: Book of Sound (Honest Jon’s)

Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM
Alma Brown and A One Gospel Singers: Thank You Jesus

Jazz
Ella Fitzgerald: Ella at Zardi’s (Verve)
Incognito: Another Page of Incognito (P-Vine)
Irreversible Entanglements: S/T (International Anthem )
Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble: Drum Dance to the Motherland (reissue) (Forced Exposure)
Melvin Sparks: I’m Funky Now (Westbound UK)
Tony Tixier: Life of Sensitive Creatures (Whirlwind)

R&B, Soul
Bettye Swann:  The Money Masters (Kent)
Bobbi Ruffin: Chapter Five (digital)
Dionne Warwick: Odds & Ends – Scepter Rarities (Real Gone Music)
K. Michelle: Kimberly – People I Used To Know (Atlantic)
Kashif: Essential Kashif – Arista Years  (Legacy)
Lee Moore: A Gram of Boogie: Story of Moore, Score & L&M Records (Past Due)
Minnie Riperton: Perfect Angel (Deluxe Ed.) (Capitol)
Next: Too Close EP (Arista/Legacy)
Otis Redding: Definitive Studio Album Collection (7 LP box) (Atlantic)
Ruby Camille: R C 1   (Moore-Caldwell Plus)
Sugaray Rayford: The World That We Live In (Transistor Sound)
Tamar-kali: Mudbound OST (Milan)
Various: Soul on Fire: Detroit Soul Story 1957-1977 (Cherry Red)
Vedo: From Now On (New WAV)

Rap, Hip Hop
A Cat Called Fritz: Vertical Iris (HHV.De)
Allan Kingdom: Lines (LP) (Omerta Inc.)
Big Sean/Metro Boomin: Double or Nothing (G.O.O.D Music)
Boosie Badazz: BooPac  (Atlantic)
Boulevards: Hurt Town USA (Don’t Funk With Me)
Chief Keef: Dedication (digital) (RBC)
Cobra íl Vero: Ecdysis (NS3T Ent)
Euroz: Two Birds One Stone (digital)
Fes Taylor: Hood Famous (Chambermusik)
Futuristic: Blessings (We’re The Future )
G. Perico: 2 Tha Left (So Way Out)
G-Eazy: When It’s Dark Out (RCA)
Jeezy: Pressure (Def Jam)
Juicy J: Rubba Band Business (Columbia)
Kidz In The Hall: Free Nights & Weekends (digital)
Kipp Stone: Dirty Face Angel (L.I.F.E. Art & Content Co.)
KXNG Crooked: Good vs. Evil II: The Red Empire (Empire)
Marty Baller: Baller Nation (LP) (Omerta Inc.)
Miguel: War & Leisure (RCA)
Mike Lowery: Before It’s Too Late (Music Junkies)
N.E.R.D: No One Ever Really Dies (Columbia)
Nyron: Appreciation Day (digital)
Pell: Girasoul (Payday)
Quaz: In My Mind (Odic)
Red Storm Chicago: Redemption (digital)
Saba: Bucket List Project (LP) (Omerta Inc.)
Snug: 70812 Where It All Started (Money Gang)
Supa Bwe: Finally Dead (Empire)
TheKidGeeQ: TheKidFrOmElmStreet (FlyOverEverything)
Too $hort: The Pimp Tape (Dangerous Music)
Trizz: Ashes N Dust (Below System)
Visioneers: Dirty Old Hip Hop (reissue) (Tru Thoughts)
Whispers: Whismonoxide (That’s Hip Hop)
WizKid: Sounds From the Other Side  (Sony Music Canada)
Z-Ro: Codeine  (1 Deep Ent.)

Reggae, Dancehall
Ethiopian & His All Stars: Return of Jack Sparrow (Omnivore)
Randy Valentine: New Narrative (Royal Order Music)
Various: Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture (SoulJazz)

World, Latin
Fela Kuti: Box Set #4: Curated by Erykah Badu (Knitting Factory)
Hamad Kalkaba: Hamad Kalkaba & Golden Sounds 1974-75 (Analog Africa)
The Secret: The New Africa – TNA (Secret Records Music Group)
Various: Beating Heart – South Africa (Beating Heart Music)

View review January 4th, 2018

November 2017 Releases of Note

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

Blues, Folk, Country, Zydeco
Etta James: Chicago Blues Festival 1985 (Air Cuts)
John Lee Hooker: Black Night Is Falling: Live at the Rising Sun (Justin Time)
Lil’ Nathan & The Zydeco Big Timers: Unpause (Cha Cha)
Little Axe: London Blues (Echo Beach)
Lucky Peterson: Tribute to Jimmy Smith (Jazz Village)
Various: Blue 88s: Unreleased Piano Blues Gems 1938-1942 (Hi Horse)
Various: Hard Core Harp (Electro-Fi)
Various: Rough Guide to Holy Blues (World Music Network)
Various: Rough Guide to Ragtime Blues (World Music Network)

Classical, Broadway, Soundtracks, Holiday
Julius Eastman: The Zürich Concert   (New World)
Kevin John Edusei; Münchner Symphoniker: Schubert  Symphonies 4 & 7  (Solo Musica)
Kevin Kelley : A Soulful Christmas   (K2Music)
Kirk Smith: Joyful Noise – EP (Powerhouse)
Terence Blanchard; Brussels Philharmonic: Music for Film   (Silva Screen)
Paragon Ragtime Orchestra: Black Manhattan, Vol. 3 (New World )
Valerie Boyd:  A Gift for You (Shekinah International)
Various: Chasing Trane Documentary (DVD, Soundtrack)   (Ume)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Amp Fiddler: Amp Dog Knights (Mahogani Music)
Bad Brains: Finding Joseph I Documentary (DVD)  (MVD Visual)
Cameron Bethany: You Make Me Nervous (Unapologetic)
Kxngs: Air Sign EP (Tru Thoughts)
Malka Family: Le Retour Du Kif (Saint Paul Force)
Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas: World of Captain Beefheart (Knitting Factory )
Shamir: Revelations (Father/Daughter )
The Liza Colby Sound: Draw EP (Oh Baby)
Timothy McNealy: Funky Movement (Now Again)

Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM
Aha Gazelle: Trilliam 3 (Reach)
Beverly Crawford: Essential Beverly Crawford, Vol. 2 (JDI)
Derek Minor:   High Above EP (Empire)
Fedel:  Brave 2
Gods Own Radikalz: 20dozen The Call (Hawk -Eye Ent.)
Isabel Davis: The Call (eOne)
Javon Inman: Agape Eros (Liberty Music)
Joe Mettle: God of Miracles (Reverb Studios)
Judah Band: For My Good EP (Light)
N.E.M.G.: The Freeze
The Standard: Eight “New Beginning” (Band Geek Music Group)
The Walls Group: The Other Side (RCA Inspiration)

Jazz
Illinois Jacquet: Jacquet Files, Vol. 1 (Live At Village Vanguard 1986) (Squatty Roo)
Blaque Dynamite: Killing Bugs (Ropeadope)
Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band: Body & Shadow (Blue Note)
Dwight Trible: Inspirations (Gondwana)
Eric Valentine & Velvet Groove: Velvet Groove (Matcha Ent.)
Houston Person: Rain or Shine (HighNote)
Lyman Woodard Organization: Saturday Night Special (reissue)     (BBE)
Rahsaan Barber: The Music in the Night (Jazz Music City)
Ron Miles: I Am a Man (Yellowbird)
Sandra Nkaké: Tangerine Moon Wishes (Jazz Village)
Seal: Standards (Universal)
Sly5thAve: Invisible Man: Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre (Tru Thoughts)
Vincent Herring: Hard Times (Smoke Sessions)

R&B, Soul
Aretha Franklin: A Brand New Me (Rhino)
Barry Antoine: Eclipse (Shabar Music Ent.)
Beatchild & The Slakadeliqs: The Only Difference   (BBE)
Davion Farris: With Pleasure
Diana Ross: Diamond Diana: The Legacy Collection (Motown)
Elijah Blake: Audiology (Steel Wool / Empire)
Frank McComb: Soulmate: Another Love Story (Prodigee)
Karina Pasian: Interlude
Keaira LaShae: Purple Crowns (3707 Ent.)
Kristan Omor: From Then
Lalah Hathaway: Honestly (Hathaway Ent.)
Martha High: Tribute To My Soul Sisters (Record Kicks)
Maurice Moore: The Amber Room (Empire)
Maxayn: Reloaded: Complete Recordings 1972-1974 (Soul Music)
Phyllis Hyman: Deliver the Love: The Anthology (Soul Music)
Prince Charlez: Evolution EP (Republic)
Project Mama Earth: Mama Earth (Provogue)
Ruby Turner: Livin a Life of Love: Jive Anthology 1986-1991 (Soul Music)
Run N’ Fly: S/T (MRI)
Sharon Jones:  Soul of a Woman (Daptone)
Paxton:  In the Key of Love (Prodigee)
Syleena Johnson: Rebirth of Soul (Shanachie)

Rap, Hip Hop
Mr. Lif & Brass Menazeri: Resilient   (Waxsimile)
Williesco & Yikey Mikey: Yeamonyikezzzz (Triple R Muzik Group)
Amy True: Eleven (True Music)
BeatzByNEFF: Blackness (Bbent / Starcreations)
Big Cakes: No Excuses (Origarmy)
Black Squad: Bad Boy Files (mixtape)
Blacka Da Don: A Part of My Story (MusicThatMatters)
Cam’Ron: The Program (Killa Ent.)
Chris Brown:   Heartbreak on a Full Moon (RCA)
Cyhi The Prynce: No Dope On Sundays (Red Music/Sony)
Da Deputy: Bear Your Soul
Dee-1: Slingshot David (Essential Sound)
Droop-E: Trillionaire Thoughts (Sick Wid It)
Duckworth: XTRA UUGLY (mixtape)
Fabolous & Jadakiss: Friday On Elm Street (Def Jam)
Futuristic: What More Could You Ask for? (OnlyFuturistic, LLC)
Hopsin: No Shame (300 Entertainment)
J Hawk: Mood (LSR)
Jaden Smith: Syre
James Lavell:   StereoType
Jovan Mackenzy: Crooked 10
Keak Da Sneak: Withdrawal (Empire)
Kiddo Marv: Kingz in Denial Don’t Overcome
Lil Uzi Vert: Luv is Rage 2 (Atlantic)
Louis Cato: Starting Now (Ropeadope)
Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs: Gems From the Equinox (Soul Assasins)
Milo: Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! (Ruby Yacht)
Moka Blast: The Blast Testament (Fly Guy)
Oddisee & Good Compny: Beneath the Surface (Live) (Mello Music Group)
Pete Rock: Lost Sessions (VinDig)
Pharcyde: Bizarre Ride II (25th Anniv. Ed.) (Craft)
Philthy Rich: Sem God (Empire)
PnB Rock: Catch These Vibes (Atlantic)
Princess Nokia: 1992 Deluxe  (Rough Trade )
Reek I’van: Book of Tabias (London Boy Ent)
Rexx Life Raj: Father Figure 2: Flourish (Empire)
Rsxgld: S/T (Fat Beats)
ShaqIsDope: S/T (2UP WorldWide)
Shredders: Dangerous Jumps Explicit (Doomtree)
Skeme: Second Notice EP (eOne)
Skooly: BAcCWArdFeELiNgS (TRU)
Spitta:  Let Me Eat Too (N.W.A.)
Stalley: Tell the Truth: Shame the Devil (Blue Collar Gang)
Swissivory: Real Dreams 2 (Rough Trade)
T-Pain: Oblivion (RCA)
Thenewfaceofsound: LiveInDaFresh (Marvelous Phenomenon)
The Problem: Selfish (Empire)
Third Root: Libertad (Third Root Music)
Too $hort: Hella Disrespectful: Bay Area Mixtape (Dangerous Music)
Wiz Khalifa: Laugh Now, Fly Later (Taylor Gang/Atlantic)

Reggae, Dancehall
Blackstones: Insight (1st CD reissue) (Burning Sounds)
Dub Syndicate: Misplaced Masters (On-U Sound)
Horace Andy: Good Vibes (VP)
Ken Boothe: Inna de Yard (Chapter Two)
Various: Havana Meets Kingston (VP)
Various: Strictly the Best Vol. 56 (VP)

World, Latin
Lulendo: Mwinda (Buda Musique)
Monoswezi: A Je (Riverboat)
Various: Original Sound of Burkina Faso (Mr Bongo)
Various: Don’t Sleep: Omutibo From Rural Kenya    (City Hall/Mississippi)
World’s Experience Orchestra: Beginning of a New Birth (Now Again)

View review December 1st, 2017

October 2017 Releases of Note

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

Blues, Folk, Country

Darius Rucker: When Was the Last Time  (Capitol Records Nashville)
Du-Rites:  Greasy Listening  (Redefinition)
James Armstrong: Blues Been Good to Me (Catfood)
John Lee Hooker:  King of the Boogie  (Craft)
Kim Wilson: Blues and Boogie, Vol. 1 (Severn)
Mighty Mo Rodgers & Baba Sissoko: Griot Blues (One Root Music )
Nico Wayne Toussaint: Plays James Cotton (Dixiefrog)
Original Blues Brothers Band: Last Shade of Blue Before Black (Severn)
Supersonic Blues Machine: Californisoul (Provogue)
Various: Stax Country (Stax/Concord)

Classical, Broadway, Soundtracks
Pretty Yende:  Dreams (Sony)

Holiday
Fantasia:  Christmas After Midnight  (Concord)
Leslie Odom Jr.:  Simply Christmas  (S-Curve)
Various: Cool Blue Christmas: Mr. Santa’s Boogie (Contrast)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Ayo: S/T  (Believe Direct Limited )
Benjamin Clementine: I Tell A Fly (Virgin)
Bootsy Collins:  World Wide Funk (Mascot)
Crowd Company:  Sun and Stone (VLM)
Ikebe Shakedown: The Way Home (Colemine)
Jimi Hendrix Experience: American Landing Live at Monterey (DVD) (Legacy)
Kele Okereke: Fatherland  (BMG)
Nubiyan Twist: S/T  (  Wormfood )
Phonk Beta: Symplex 3 (digital) (Fahrenheit)
Rock Candy Funk Party: The Groove Cubed  (J&R Adventures)
The Clubs: Funk on the Floor (digital)
Various: Funkadelic Reworked By Detroiters (Ace)

Gospel, Christian Rap, CCM
Ada: Future Now (FreeNation)
Angella Christie: Intimate Conversations (ACSM)
Chad Brawley:  WeWorship Project (digital) (CKBMusik)
Coliér McNair: Intimacy (COGEO Ent. Group)
Deanna Ransom:  The Real Me EP
Earnest Pugh:  Survive  (Black Smoke)
Felton Hodges & The Annointed Voices: Fix It   (Ecko)
Lisa Knowles-Smith & The Brown Singers: Evolution-The Legacy (EvoWorld)
Mission: All of You None of Me (RPSMG)
Optimist & Fresh Yardey: The Mission, Vol. 1 (digital)
Parxx:  Uncharted (RLVNC Music Group)
Tasha Page-Lockhart: The Beautiful Project  (RCA Inspiration)
The Porter’s Gate: Worksongs (Fuel Music)
Troy Sneed: Taking It Back  (Tyscot)
Tye Tribbett: The Bloody Win (Motown Gospel)
Visionz Of Destiny: The Works
Williams Brothers: Timeless  (Blackberry)

Jazz
Céline Rudolph & Lionel Loueke:  Obsessions
Chantae Cann: Sol Empowered (Ropeadope)
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah:Emancipation Procrastination  (Ropeadope)
Cornell Thigpen: History (Hitman)
Ezra Collective: Juan Pablo: The Philosopher  (Enter The Jungle)
Joey Alexander:  JOEY.MONK.LIVE! (Motema)
Johnny O’Neal: In the Moment (Smoke Sessions)
Sherman Irby: Cerulean Canvas  (Black Warrior)
Sonny Emory: Love Is the Greatest (Universal )
Various:You Need This: Introduction to Black Saint & Soul Note (1975-1985) (BBE)
Virginia Ayers Dawson: Standards of Love  (Ayerplay Music)
Wadada Leo Smith:  Najwa  (TUM)
Wadada Leo Smith:  Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk  (TUM)
Wally Badarou:  Unnamed Trilogy, Vol. 1 (Diskotopia )
Wayne Ellington: Sings ‘Unforgettable (digital)

R&B, Soul
112: Q Mike Slim Daron  (eOne)
Bigg Robb: Born 2 Do This  (Music Access Inc.)
Bobby Byrd: Help For My Brother – Pre-Funk Singles 1963-68 (BGP/Ace)
Boyz II Men:  Under the Streetlight  (Sony Masterworks)
Brik.Liam:  The Ascension (digital) (Cre8Daily)
Chante’ Moore: Rise Of The Phoenix  (CM7)
Charlotte Dos Santos: Cleo (Fresh Selects)
Chuck Jackson: Big NY Soul – Wand Records 1961-66 (Kent/Ace)
Curtis Harding: Face Your Fear (Anti/Epitaph)
Demetria McKinney: Officially Yours (eOne)
Detroit Emeralds: I Think Of You-Westbound Singles 1969-75 (Westbound /Ace)
Deva Mahal: S/T (Motéma Music)
Devvon Terrell:  Weird Nights (digital)
dvsn: Morning After (Warner Bros.)
Eartha Kitt: I Want To Be Evil – The Wicked Eartha Kitt (Jasmine)
Eric Roberson: Fire (Blue Erro Soul)
Jackie Shane: Any Other Way (Numero)
Jamila Woods: Heavn  (Jagjaguwar)
Kelela: Take Me Apart (Warp)
Kenny Latimore: Vulnerable (Sincere Soul)
Keyshia Cole:  11:11 Reset (Epic)
Leroy Hutson: Anthology 1972-1984 (Acid Jazz )
Lyrica Anderson: Adia (Empire)
Marcus Randolph & My Peeples Peeple: Transplant (American Showplace Music)
Mic Lowry: Mood (Island)
Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland (DVD) (Lionsgate)
Mpho Sebina:  Neo (digital)
Nicole Willis & UMO Jazz Orchestra:  My Name Is Nicole Willis (Persephone)
PP Arnold: The Turning Tide  (Kundalini Music)
Rationale: S/T (Warner Bros.)
Rhyon: Pretty Girl (Empire)
Saràyah: Feel the Vibe (Basin Street)
Tom Tripp: Red EP (Prime Sound)
Vivian Green:  VGVI  (Make Noise)

Rap, Hip Hop
Juice Aleem: Voodu Starchild (Gamma Proforma)
Aaron Alexander: Memento Mori  (Ignant Art)
Belly: Mumble Rap (Republic)
Big K.R.I.T.:  4eva Is A Mighty Long Time (BMG)
Blood Before Pride: Mimesis, Catharsis and Imitation of Art in Life (Fatbeats)
Blu & Exile: In The Beginning: Before The Heavens (Fat Beats)
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Outlawz: Thug Brothers 3 (Real Talk Ent)
Chief Keef & Fredo Santana: Turbo Bandana mixtape
Cunninlynguists: Rose Azura Nijano (A Piece of Strange Music)
Da Flyy Hooligan: S.C.U.M.  (Lux Ent.)
Dame D.O.L.L.A.: Confirmed (digital) (Front Page Music)
Earthgang: Robots (digital) (Spillage Village)
Edo.G: FreEDOm (5th & Union)
Future & Young Thug: Super Slimey (mixtape) (Epic)
GhostWryter:  27 Darvin (digital) (Never Basic Assoc.)
Gospel of Rufus: Alternate Path (Alternate Path Music Group)
Hex One:  Words Worth a Thousand Pictures ( Mic-Theory)
Hustle Gang: We Want Smoke (Roc Nation/Grand Hustle)
IDK: Iwasverybad (Commission Music/BMG)
J. Stalin: Gas Nation 2 (Livewire)
Krayzie Bone: E.1999: The LeathaFace Project (Real Talk Ent.)
Krept & Konan:  7 Days & 7 Nights (mixtapes)
Lil Pump: Lil Pump (digital) (Warner Bros.)
Masta Killa: Loyalty Is Royalty ( Nature Sounds)
Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs: Gems from the Equinox (Soul Assassins)
Moneybagg Yo: Federal 3X  (Interscope)
Playboi Carti:  S/T (Interscope)
Rob Stone: Don’t Wait For It (Grove Town)
Sivion: Dark Side of the Cocoon (Illect)
Snoop Dogg: Make America Crip Again (Empire)
Stalley: Another Level (mixtape)
Swissivory: Real Dreams 2 (NoHook!/Rough Trade)
Tech N9ne Collabos: Strange Reign (Strange Music)
TeeCee 4800: Realness Over Millions 2 (digital)
Trippie Redd: A Love Letter to You 2 (mixtape)
Ty Dolla $ign: Beach House 3 (Atlantic)
Vandalyzm: Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated (Blue Collar Initiative)
Waka Flocka Flame: Flockavelli 2
Wu-Tang: The Saga Continues (36 Chambers ALC /eOne)
Yo Gotti: I Still Am (Epic)
Young Dolph: Thinking Out Loud (digital) (Paper Route Empire)
Young Dro: Da’ Real Atlanta (Real Talk Ent)
Young RJ: Blaq Royalty (Ne’Astra Music/Slum Village)
Young Spray: Invisible Tears (RTM)

Reggae, Dancehall
Emeterians: The Magic Touch (VP)
Frightnrs: More to Say Versions (Daptone)
Jamaiel Shabaka: Land of the Rising Sun ( Roots Vibration )
Lee Perry & The Upsetters: Trojan Albums Collection, 1971-73 (Trojan)
Prodigal Son: Pure Gold  (Main Street)

World, Latin
Adriano Trindade & Los Quemados: Balançando o Jazz (Loop Publishing)
Da Cruz: Eco do Futuro  (Boom Jah)
Diron Animal: Alone  (Soundway)
Eduardo Sandoval: Caminos Abiertos (Egrem)
Elida Almeida: Kebrada (Lusafrica)
Emo Kid:  Gqomtera EP  (Gqom Oh! )
KOKOKO!: Tongos’a EP (ICI)
Leila Gobi: 2017 (Clermont Music )
Miles From Kinshasa: Limbo (Quality Time)
Orchestre Les Mangelepa:  Last Band Standing (Strut)
Professor Rhythm: Bafana Bafana (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
Thandeka: Thandanani Ma Afrika (Chocs Pro Sound)
Various: Jukebox Mambo Vol. 3 (Jazzman )

 

View review November 2nd, 2017

McGill/McHale Trio – Portraits: Works for Flute, Clarinet & Piano

McGill McHale trio
Title: Portraits: Works for Flute, Clarinet & Piano

Artist: McGill/McHale Trio

Label: Cedille / dist. Naxos

Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Release date: August 11, 2017

 

Chicagoans who followed the classical music scene in the 1990s were likely first introduced to the amazingly talented McGill brothers when they performed with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. Raised on the South Side of Chicago, they began studying classical music at an early age, and by their high school years were receiving national attention.

Now, as musicians who hold principal positions in major orchestras, the brothers have not only reached the pinnacle of their chosen professions, but are among the few African Americans to do so. Demarre McGill recently returned to the Seattle Symphony as principal flute, and younger brother Anthony McGill is principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic. Together with Irish pianist Michael McHale, they formed the McGill/McHale Trio in 2014. Portraits is the trio’s debut recording, released on the prominent Chicago-based Cedille label.

YouTube Preview Image

 

For this project, the McGill/McHale Trio selected works by living composers; three of those works are recorded for the first time on Portraits. The album takes its title from the longest work on the disc (26:03), Portraits of Langston by Kentucky native Valerie Coleman, flutist/composer of the Chicago-based quintet Imani Winds. Composed in 2007, her six movement suite is based on selected poems by Langston Hughes, which are recited before their corresponding movements by Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali. Hughes’ love of jazz is conveyed in Coleman’s musical palette, along with other styles reflective of the Harlem Renaissance era.

The suite begins with the short, melodic “Prelude: Helen Keller,” then delves into the polyrhythmic “Danse Africaine.” After an extended clarinet solo, the movement becomes increasingly frenetic, offering an opportunity for each instrument to shine. The poem “Le Grand Duc Mambo,” describing an altercation between the dancers and patrons of a Parisian cabaret, is masterfully mimicked by flute and clarinet as they enter into a brief and occasionally strident squabble.  “In Time of Silver Rain” speaks of a period “when spring and life are new.” Here Coleman eschews jazz, writing instead a short, atmospheric piece with hints of Debussy in the piano intro and undulating winds, which also carries over into the flute solo.

Returning once again to Hughes’ brief sojourn in Paris in the 1920s, “Jazz Band in a Parisian Cabaret” is “that tune that laughs and cries at the same time.” As the programmatic movement progresses, jazz inflections intensify, with the climax brilliantly pairing stride piano against clarinet riffs. Though one might expect “Harlem’s Summer Night” to be more boisterous, Coleman instead concludes the suite in a more tranquil manner, with blue notes only occasionally jarring the calm of the evening.

French composer Guillaume Connesson reveals his pop music influences in Techno-Parade (2002). This virtuosic work features “a continuous pulsation from start to finish,” emulating the repetitive nature of the Kraftwerk-influenced electronic dance music that emerged from Detroit’s African American clubs in the 1980s and became hugely popular in Europe.  The ensemble performs brilliantly, maintaining precision throughout the complex counterpoint and rhythms, and increasing the intensity right up to the explosive finish.

Other works featured on the recording include an orchestrated version of Chris Rogerson’s A Fish Will Rise (2014/2016), based on Norman Maclean’s best-selling book A River Runs Through It;  Paul Schoenfield’s Sonatina for Flute, Clarinet and Piano; Philip Hammond’s The Lamentation of Owen O’Neil; and McHale’s arrangements of both Sergei Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and the Irish traditional song The Lark in the Clear Air.

Portraits showcases the formidable talents of Demarre and Anthony McGill, who have found their match in the outstanding pianist Michael McHale. Performing with emotional intensity, extraordinary precision, and superb blending of timbres, the McGill/McHale Trio presents a dazzling debut album that’s equally significant for its three world premiere recordings of contemporary works. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 2nd, 2017

Aruán Ortiz – Cub(an)ism

Aruán Ortiz
Title: Cub(an)ism

Artist: Aruán Ortiz

Label: Intakt

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 18, 2017

 

 

Cuban-born pianist Aruán Ortiz blends Cuban traditional rhythms with Cubist concepts and elements of free jazz improvisation in his astounding new release Cub(an)ism. This solo piano album is filled with fragments taken from both sides of the Cuban-Cubist spectrum, using the fundamental Afro-Cuban rhythmic structures as vehicles for Ortiz’s Cubist expressions. On “L’ouverture” he uses the Afro-Haitian gagá rhythm as a motif, which is developed further as the piece progresses. “Cuban Cubism,” however, begins with free improvisation, later combining Afro-Cuban 6/8 rhythmic patterns in the left hand with jazz melodic phrases in the right hand.

Cub(an)ism is a model for any aspiring musician interested in blending folkloric musics and classical structures.

Editors note: This fall Ortiz will be touring the U.S. and performing at jazz festivals in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

View review September 1st, 2017

The Liberation Music Collective – Rebel Portraiture

Liberation Music Collective

Title: Rebel Portraiture

Artist: The Liberation Music Collective

Label: AD Astrum

Formats: CD

Release date: August 17, 2017

 

You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution . . .”

The Liberation Music Collective, a contemporary jazz orchestra founded by recent graduates of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, is charting a course as a conscious-raising group advocating for social justice and equality through poetry and music. On LMC’s bold 2015 debut, Siglo XXI, each of the album’s tracks focused on current social or political issues. For their sophomore release, LMC takes a different approach. As the title suggests, Rebel Portraiture “honors the individuals whose courage and commitment call attention to oppression and injustice the world over.” These individuals, both contemporary and historic, have another common thread—each lost their life while valiantly fighting for a cause. Liner notes by Latin Grammy Award winner Kabir Sehgal further illuminate the lives of these individuals and the compositions on the album.

Hannah Fidler and Matt Riggen, co-founders of LMC, composed or arranged the majority of the works on the album, drawing upon a multitude of genres, influences and instruments. For example, the opening track “Passing Away” is based on a sacred harp hymn and recalls the life of Giles Conery, who was killed during the Salem Witch trials “during a beautiful display of resistance” echoed in the trumpet solos by Riggen.

Many of the tracks are paired, offering more than one tribute to fallen heroes. “An Afterlife for Jeffrey Miller” and “Kent State” honor the four students killed by the National Guard in 1970 while protesting against the Vietnam War. The former, drawing upon a protest poem composed by Miller shortly before his death, is one of the more arresting tracks on the album. The spoken poetry is woven into music that begins in a more traditional Copland-esque style before shifting into Gil Scott-Heron territory. Another pair of tracks memorializing Syrian and Iraqi journalists killed by ISIS also effectively employ spoken word: “An Afterlife for Ruqia Hassan” recites (in English) an abstraction of the oldest verse from the Qur’an, while “Iqra” features both spoken and sung text performed by Fidler.

The remaining tracks also reference more recent deaths. “The Afterlife of Berta Cáceres” honors the Honduran indigenous environmental activist using an arrangement of a traditional Ghanian funeral song performed primarily on gyil, percussion and bass. “Ditchside Monument” and “An Afterlife for Noxolo Nogwaza” are dedicated to the South African LGBTQ+ activist killed in 2011. The latter “Afterlife” track features an extended bass solo by Fidler before concluding in a chorus based on the Bantu words handziyah (ascent) and kurhula (peace).

Rebel Portraiture closes with “All I Need,” bringing in the entire ensemble to perform LMC’s “anthem for the rebels of today and the heroes of tomorrow” in a glorious demonstration of solidarity.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 1st, 2017

August Releases of Note

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

Blues, Folk, Country
Altered Five Blues Band : Charmed & Dangerous (Blind Pig)
Big Joe Turner : San Francisco 1977 (Rockbeat)
Dan Zanes and Friends: Lead Belly, Baby! (Smithsonian Folkways)
Steve Howell & Jason Weinheimer: Hundred Years From Today (Out of the Past)

Classical, Broadway
McGill McHale Trio: Portraits – Works for Flute, Clarinet & Piano (Cedille)
Various: The View Upstairs (Original Cast Recording) (Broadway Records)

Comedy, Spoken Word
Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From Hood to Hollywood! (Comedy Dynamics)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Fifth Harmony:  S/T (Syco Music/Epic)
Ghostpoet: Dark Days + Canapés (Play It Again Sam)
Peter Ngqibs: Let Me Go (Ananm Ent.)
Ronettes: The Colpix Years, 1961-1963 (Cornbread)
Van Hunt: Popular (digital) (Blue Note)

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM
Brinson: Thornz (GodChaserz Ent.)
Chevelle Franklyn: Set Time (N.O.W.)
Clark Sisters: You Brought the Sunshine, Sound of Gospel 1976-1981 (Kent)
Cobbs Leonard, Tasha:  Heart. Passion. Pursuit. (Motown Gospel)
Deitrick Haddon & Hill City Worship Camp: S/T (eOne)
Jared Robinson & Resurrection Worship: The Repentance
Jimmy Hicks & ACOJ: Waterway (Blacksmoke Music)
Judy Bailey: Between You and Me
Melvin Williams: Where I Started From (New Day)
Poetic Lace: King of the City (digital)
Reconcile: Streets Don’t Love You (mixtape)
Terrence Cotton: Live in Atlanta (Puretonez Productions)
The Blind Boys Of Alabama: Almost Home (BBOA Records)
TNED: Geneuslife (Royal Oath Ent)
Travis Greene: Crossover: Live From Music City (RCA Inspiration)

Jazz
Andrew McCormack, ESKA: Graviton (Jazz Village)
Brenda Nicole Moorer:  Brand New Heart (CD Baby)
Darren Barrett: dB-ish
Eclectik Percussions Orchestra:  Traces De Vie – Traces Of Life (Passin’ Thru)
Harold Mabern : To Love and Be Loved (Smoke Sessions)
Jamire Williams: Effectual (Carlos Nino & Friend)
John Vanore : Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (Acoustical Concepts)
Kris Johnson Group & Lulu Fall: The Unpaved Road (Artist Centric Music)
Najee:  Poetry in Motion (Shanachie)
New Vision Sax Ensemble: Musical Journey Through Time (Zaki Publishing)
Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (PI)
Ulysses Owens, Jr. :Falling Forward (Spice of Life )
Various: Soul of a Nation: Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power (Soul Jazz)
Dial & Oatts: Rediscovered Ellington

R&B, Soul
Brian McKnight : Genesis (Independent Label Services, Inc.)
D’Angelo: Brown Sugar (expanded ed.) (Virgin/Ume)
Decosta Boyce: Electrick Soul (Vintedge)
Joshua Ledet: S/T (digital) (SoNo Recording Group)
Kim Tibbs: Kim (Expansion)
R.LUM.R  : Afterimage (PRMD)
The Steoples: From the Otherside (Stones Throw)
Thelma Houston: Summer Nights
Undisputed Truth : Nothing But The Truth (Kent)
V.Lace: What Love Does
Various: Soul of the 70s (Box set) (Time-Life)
Wilson Pickett:  Sings Bobby Womack (Kent)

Rap, Hip Hop
A$AP Ferg: Still Striving  (RCA)
Akua Naru: Miner’s Canary (vinyl reissue) (Urban Era)
Andy Mineo & Wordsplayed : Magic & Bird  (Reach)
Apollo Brown & Planet Asia: Anchovies (Mello Music Group)
Berner & Young Dolph:  Tracking Numbers (Bern One Ent)
Chip: League of My Own II  (Cash Motto)
Chris $pencer: Blessed (Perpetual Rebel)
Ea$y Money: Flyer Lansky (EA$Y MONEY)
Grieves: Running Wild (Rhymesayers)
Gunplay: The Fix Tape ( X-Ray)
Illa J: Home (Jakarta)
Japhia Life: Welcome to Heartsville (Arms Out)
Joseph Chilliams: Henry Church (mixtape)
Lil B: Black Ken (BasedWorld)
MadeinTYO: True’s World (Commission)
Mozzy: 1 Up Top Ahk (Mozzy/Empire)
Pawz One: Pick Your Poison (Below System/Dope Shit)
Perceptionists (Mr. Lif & Akrobatik): Resolution (Mello Music)
Sean Price: Imperius Rex (Duck Down Music)
Slim Thug, Killa Kyleon:  Havin Thangs 2K17 (SoSouth)
Tattoo Money : Untitled EP
Too $hort: The Pimp Tape (Dangerous Music)
Wordsworth & Sam Brown: Our World Today (Fat Beats)

Reggae, Dancehall
Alborosie: Freedom in Dub (Greensleeves)
Barry Brown: Step It Up Youthman (Radiation Roots)
IamStylezMusic: Back to My Roots (Blaze Ent)
New Kingston:  A Kingston Story: Come From Far (Easy Star)
Rico Rodriguez & Friends: Unreleased Early Recordings (Dubstore)
Roy Panton & Yvonne Harrison: Studio Recordings 1961-70 (Liquidator)
Shurwayne Winchester: Shurwayne (VPAL Music)
Spacewave: Space Dub (Megawave)
Tanya Asaki: Simply Me (Treasure Chest Prod.)
U-Roy:  Dread in Babylon (Get On Down)

World
Bro. Valentino:  Stay Up Zimbabwe (Limited ed.) (Analog Africa)
Jay-U Experience: Enough is Enough (Soundways)
Sibusile Xaba: Open Letter To Adoniah (Mushroom Half Hour)
Various: Afrobeats Hot Hits: New Urban Dance Grooves from Africa (Shanachie)
Black Boy: Sa E Nan Bouda’w
Various: Sweet as Broken Dates – Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa

 

 

View review September 1st, 2017

July 2017 Releases of Note

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

 Blues, Folk, Country
Jimmy Reed: Mr. Luck Complete Vee-Jay Singles (Craft)
King James & The Special Men: Act Like You Know (Special Man)
Mighty Joe Young: Live From North Side of Chicago (RockBeat)
Various: Worried Blues series (Fat Possum)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup: Rocks (Bear Family)
Kevin Saunderson: Heavenly Revisited (KMS)
Lafa Taylor & Aabo: Feel (Mixto)
Polyseeds: Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1 (Ropeadope)
Taveeta: Resurrection (Gladiator)
Toro Y Moi: Boo Boo (Carpark )

Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM
Anita Wilson:  Sunday Song (eOne Music Nashville)
Anthony Brown & Group Therapy: A Long Way From Sunday (Tyscot)
Bill Moss Jr : Songbook of Praise & Worship (Salathiel)
Gene Moore: The Future (Motown Gospel)
Le’Andria Johnson: Bigger Than Me  (Verity)
Ricky McDuffie & The Family: He Changed Me (Ophirgospel)
Sho Baraka: The Narrative, Vol. 2: Pianos & Politics (Columbia)
Tauren Wells:  Hills and Valleys (Reunion)

Jazz
Ahmad Jamal : Marseille (Jazz Village)
Bryant/Fabian/Marsalis : Do For You? (Cap)
Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Passin’ Thru (Blue Note)
Cyrus Chestnut: There’s A Sweet, Sweet Spirit (HighNote)
Dezron Douglas Quartet: Soul Jazz
Douyé: Daddy Said So (Rhombus)
Eric Gale: The Definitive Collection  (Robinsongs)
Eric Roberson: Wind  (Blue Erro Soul)
Gary Bartz Ntu Troop: Harlem Bush Music (reissue) (Jazz Dispensary)
Gerald Beckett: Oblivion (Summit)
Gerald Cannon: Combinations (Woodneck)
Joe Henderson & Alice Coltrane: Elements (reissue) (Jazz Dispensary)
Russell Malone: Time for the Dancers (Highnote)
Stanton Moore: With You In Mind Songs of Allen Toussaint (Cool Green)
Yolanda Brown: Love Politics War (Black Grape)

R&B, Soul
Alfa Anderson: Music from My Heart (digital)
Aretha Franklin: Divas Live (MVD Visual)
Don’t Miss A Beat: My Destiny (digital)
Eddy Grant: Reparation (Ice)
Esther Phillips: Beautiful Friendship Kudu Anth. 1971-76 (SoulMusic)
Force M.D.’S:  Our Favorite Joints (Goldenlane)
Harvey Mason: Sho Nuff Groovin You: Arista Anthology   (BBR)
Jimmy Reed: Mr. Luck Complete Vee-Jay Singles (Craft)
LeVert: Family Reunion The Anthology (SoulMusic )
Mr. Jukes: God First (Alamo/Interscope)
Royce Lovett: Love & Other Dreams (Motown Gospel)
Sam Frazier, Jr.: Take Me Back (Big Legal Mess)
Sevyn Streeter: Girl Disrupted  (Atlantic)
Ultra Naté & Quentin Harris: Black Stereo Faith (Peace Bisquit)
Various: Complete Loma Singles Vol. 1 (Real Gone Music)
Various: Foxy Brown OST (expanded) (Motown)

Rap, Hip Hop
Aminé: Good For You Explicit (Republic)
Decompoze: Maintain Composure (Orchestrated Prods)
Dizzee Rascal: Raskit (Island)
DJ Harrison : HazyMoods (Stones Throw)
DJ Krush : Kakusei
Gensu Dean & Wise Intelligent: Game of Death (Mello Music)
Illa J: Home (Jakarta Records)
Issa: 21 Savage (Epic)
Madchild: The Darkest Hour  (Battle Axe)
Malik Turner:  Invisible Freedom  (Osceola Music Group)
Marquee: Femme Fatale (Marvel/Shinigamie)
Marty Baller: Baller Nation (916% Ent.)
Meek Mill: Wins & Losses (Atlantic)
Philthy Rich: Neighborhood Supastar 4 (dig.) (Empire)
SahBabii : S.A.N.D.A.S. (Warner Bros.)
Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz Born on a Gangster Star (Sub Pop)
Snoop Dogg: Neva Left (Empire)
Stalley: New Wave (Real Talk Ent.)
The Doppelgangaz: Dopp Hopp  (Groggy Pack Ent.)
Therman, Prod. Roc Marciano: Sabbath (Hardtimes)
Trae tha Truth: Tha Truth, Pt. 3 (ABN)
Tyler, The Creator: Flower Boy (Sony)
Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (Roc Nation)
Wizkid: Sounds From the Other Side (Starboy/RCA Records)

Reggae
Chronixx: Chronology (Virgin)
Damian Marley: Stony Hill (Island)
Delroy Wilson: Here Comes the Heartaches  (Kingston Sound)
Various: Treasure Isle Story: The Soul of Jamaica (Sanctuary)

World
Rio Mira: Marimba Del Pacifico (Aya Records)
Sibusile Xaba: S/T (Mushroom Half Hour)
XOA: Mass/Mon Ecole EP (Soundway)
Jupiter & Okwess : Kin Sonic (Glitterbeat)

View review August 1st, 2017

Hear in Now – Not Living in Fear

HiN
Title: Not Living in Fear

Artist: Hear in Now (Mazz Swift, Tomeka Reid & Silvia Bolognesi)

Label: International Anthem; dist. Redeye

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 2, 2017

 

Formed in 2009 through a commission from WomaJazz, the string trio Hear in Now features New York violinist Mazz Swift, Chicago cellist Tomeka Reid, and Italian double bass player Silvia Bolognesi. Individually the three women have performed and recorded with artists ranging from jazz musicians Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, and Butch Morris to rappers Common, Jay-Z and Kanye West.

On their second studio album, Not Living in Fear, the trio displays their affinity for free jazz and the avant-garde across 13 tracks of original music composed variously by members of the group. The project is a natural fit for the International Anthem label, dedicated to promoting boundary-defying recordings and occurrences of creative music in Chicago and beyond. Through the label’s sponsorship, we’re now able to appreciate these works, recorded by HiN in 2012 and 2014.

Rather than easing into the album with a more accessible work, the trio fearlessly opens with “Impro 3.” The track builds slowly over long, sustained harmonies punctuated by a flurry of glissandos that provide a sense of foreboding as they lead to a freely improvised and frenzied climax. This is followed by “Leaving Livorno,” a more melodic work with a yearning quality that features a jazzy interplay between cello and violin. “Requiem for Charlie Haden,” composed by Bolognesi, is dedicated the late jazz bass player who died two months prior to this recording session. Bolognesi adds a touch of free jazz to the bass line and takes an extended solo, but otherwise incorporates Haden’s penchant for blending simple melodies with classical harmonies.

Chicago jazz vocalist Dee Alexander is featured on the title track. Reid frequently performs with Alexander, so it’s fitting that they collaborated on this composition. To say this song is a highlight feels like a bit of a cop out, given its broader appeal, but I make no apologies. Clearly it was sequenced at the album’s midpoint to provide a bit of breathing room, and displays the trio’s extensive background in jazz (all have various jazz side projects).

Throughout the album, the three musicians employ extended playing techniques. For example, col legno and other percussive effects are used in “Transiti” to emulate the chugging rhythm of a train, and the opening of “Terrortoma” is punctuated by an ominous thumping reminiscent of the sound of advancing soldiers. But these techniques are never overused; each composition offers multiple sections and thematic complexity.

Not Living in Fear is a courageous album, brilliantly performed by three very accomplished women. They may frequently present concerts in museums, but the museum analogy often applied to classical music is certainly not relevant. Instead, HiN challenges us to hear the music of the present, defined in their own terms.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 7th, 2017

Leontyne Price; Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma; Sir Georg Solti, conductor – Verdi – Aida

Aida
Title: Verdi – Aida

Artist: Leontyne Price; Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma; Sir Georg Solti, conductor

Label: Decca

Format: 2 CDs + 1 Blu-ray Audio (Deluxe Edition)

Release Date: June 30, 2017

 

On February 10, 2017, the great soprano Leontyne Price celebrated her 90th birthday. The occasion was marked by numerous articles, including an online tribute by NPR Classical, which referred to Price as the “first real [African American] superstar” who was “among the very best Verdi sopranos of her time.” In that article, Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page offered the following thoughts on what he considered to be one of Price’s most notable recordings:

“In my opinion, still the best performance of Aida I know on record would be [Leontyne Price] with tenor Jon Vickers. There’s a sense of longing to it. There’s a real identification and loneliness, an ease in the high notes, as well as the medium range. There’s fierce musical intelligence and emotional intensity. The singing with Jon Vickers is extraordinary. There you had two spirits who were very much in alignment—the ferocity, the tenderness. It’s beautiful, it’s songful, it’s grand. It’s a marvelous statement from a great artist.”

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The Aida referenced above was recorded in Rome in June and July, 1961, with the Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma conducted by Sir Georg Solti and featuring the “Verdi dream cast” of Price, Vickers, Robert Merrill, Rita Gorr, and Giorgio Tozzi. Produced by Richard Mohr with engineers Lewis Layton and René Boux, the RCA Living Stereo recording won the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1962.

Price was at her peak during this period, in terms of both vocal prowess and international stardom, and by 1961 had been performing the role of Aida for several years. A few months prior, in January of 1961, she also made her début at the Metropolitan Opera House, where her legendary opening night performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore received a 42 minute standing ovation. This occurred six years to the month after Marian Anderson paved the way as the first black woman to sing at the Met.

In honor of Price’s 90th birthday, Decca just released a special deluxe edition of her 1961 recording of Verdi’s Aida. Though reissued numerous times over the years, many of these recordings have been criticized for poor sound quality, having been dubbed from LPs. This three disc set is newly remastered from original analog sources by former Decca engineer Paschal Byrne. Since CDs don’t support sampling rates greater than 44.1 kHz, the third disc is a Pure Audio Blu-ray featuring 96kHz/24-bit high fidelity sound. The hard-back edition includes liner notes by William Weaver, an essay on the recording by Richard Mohr, as well as the libretto and synopsis in English, German and French translations.

If you don’t already have one of the recent reissues of Leontyne Price’s 1961 Aida, then this deluxe edition is highly recommended if you have a Blu-ray player.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 7th, 2017

Richard Dowling – The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin

Joplin
Title: The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin

Artist: Richard Dowling

Label: Rivermont

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 19, 2017

 

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Scott Joplin’s death (and roughly 150 years since his estimated birth date of 1867), pianist Richard Dowling offers this splendid 3-CD box set containing Joplin’s complete piano works—over 50 waltzes, marches and rags. These include all authenticated Joplin compositions as well as those for which he received an arranging credit. The same cycle of works were performed in their entirety by Dowling in two historic concerts at Carnegie Hall on April 1, 1917, exactly 100 years to the day that Joplin died in New York City.

Now widely considered one of America’s most important composers of the late 19th – early 20th century, Joplin’s first solo piano works were published in 1896. His earliest piano rags, including “Original Rag” and the iconic “Maple Leaf Rag,” were printed three years later. This, of course, was the genre that made Joplin famous and cemented his place in history as “The King of Ragtime,” while ragtime’s distinctly African American syncopated rhythms formed the foundation of jazz.  Joplin’s career reached its peak from 1908-1914, culminating in the completion of his opera Treemonisha and his most innovative ragtime compositions, including “Fig Leaf” (1908), “Wall Street Rag” (1909), “Euphonic Sounds” (1909) and “Magnetic Rag” (1914). Sadly, Joplin died three years later at age 49—without realizing his plans for a symphony, piano concerto, or the staging of his opera—and nearly forgotten since ragtime music had been overtaken by jazz. Even more tragic from an archival perspective, there are no surviving letters or other personal papers.

Richard Dowling has made a career of interpreting the works of American composers, from Louis Gottschalk and George Gershwin to Eubie Blake and Fats Waller. Three of his previous CDs are devoted to ragtime music. As an official Steinway Artist, Dowling’s instrument of choice for The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin was a Hamburg Steinway concert grand. While one might argue this is surely a much finer instrument than any available to Joplin in his lifetime and thus is not a “period instrument,” it certainly speaks to Joplin’s desire for his works to be considered and performed as “higher class music,” and one can’t deny the magnificence of the piano’s tone and the richness of the recording. In all other matters, Dowling states that he followed Joplin’s performance instructions to the letter: “[my rags were] harmonized with the supposition that each note will be played as written…to complete the sense intended.” To that end, he recorded Joplin’s works “without adding embellishments or improvisations as is often done … carefully observing his phrasing, voice leading, placement of rests, use of ties, articulations, and dynamics.”

Dowling approaches each work with incredible sensitivity and scholarly intent. Noting that “Joplin’s piano music sings like that of Chopin,” he definitely strives for this effect. His carefully chosen tempos, magisterial tone color, delicate phrasing, and subtle dynamics bring out the sophistication and beauty of each composition. I particularly enjoyed listening to each of Dowling’s stated favorites, including ““The Crush Collision March” and “Antoinette” (for their drama), “Sugar Cane” and “Sun Flower Slow Drag” (for their sheer virtuosity).”

Dowling and musicologist Bryan S. Wright, who served as co-producer and recording engineer, eschewed the standard chronological programming order in favor of creating a more harmonious musical flow. They succeed brilliantly, and an alphabetical index allows listeners to quickly locate any work among the 54 tracks. Wright also composed the liner notes for the accompanying 72 page booklet, offering tremendous insight with his analysis of each composition, pointing out Joplin’s penchant for striking key changes and innovative modulations. Also included are full color illustrations of the original sheet music covers.

Though there are many recordings of Joplin’s piano works, including the landmark interpretations by Joshua Rifkin who was at the forefront of the Joplin revival in the 1970s, Richard Dowling’s The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin is highly recommended for its superb sound, excellent packaging and, last but certainly not least, his carefully articulated, virtuosic performance.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

 

View review June 2nd, 2017

Piano Works – Zenobia Powell Perry

Zenobia

Title: Piano Works—Zenobia Powell Perry

Artists: Josephine Gandolfi, Deanne Tucker, LaDoris Hazzard Cordell

Label: Cambria

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 12, 2016

 

 

Composer Zenobia Powell Perry’s long lifespan witnessed momentous upheavals in the course of African-American music; when she was born in 1908, Scott Joplin still had nine years to live and when she died at 96 in 2004 Tupac Shakur had already been gone for eight. The music collected on Cambria’s Piano Works: Zenobia Powell Perry mostly belongs to the latter half of her life, from the ‘60s to the ‘90s, and is performed by three pianists: Josephine Gandolfi, Deanne Tucker and LaDoris Hazzard Cordell. Gandolfi and Tucker join forces on a duet arrangement (by Gandolfi) of music from Perry’s 1987 opera Tawawa House that is handily the most appealing and immediate music in the collection. Tawawa House tells the story of a mixed-race resort in Tawawa Springs, Ohio that served as the predecessor to Wilberforce College, the first historically black institution of higher learning in the United States. The dramatic potential of this little known subject, combined with Perry’s interest in the folk idiom of the era around the Civil War, moved her to write some especially exciting and engaging music for it. Perry held a long time composition residency at Central State University, which began within Wilberforce, and while some listeners may feel that Tawawa House smacks of Copland and/or certain William Grant Still pieces like Miss Sally’s Party, it strikes this listener as being in tune with the music of the French neo-classical school exemplified by Les Six, an interest Perry would have shared with Copland.

That’s not to say that the rest isn’t equally captivating, but it’s more of a mixed bag. The seven pieces that open the disc are obviously for use in elementary music teaching and total to no more than eight minutes of the disc’s 54 minute playing time; their impression is rather slight, even the second time around. The more extended pieces outside of the suite are very interesting; Perry shares with Erik Satie a sort of disdain, or at least disinterest, in usual formal development schemes, though her gestures are linked through internal formal and thematic relationships that make clear that these are not transcribed improvisations, even if her choices are sometimes a little baffling, such as in the conclusion of Times Seven.

Perry is strongly attracted to big chords and sometimes her textures are rather thick. In the 1930s, she assisted choral director William Levi Dawson at Tuskegee and her Homage to William Levi Dawson on his 90th Birthday attempts to take the standard accompaniment used at that time for spirituals into a more instrumental direction. Some listeners may find it heavy-handed, but it is a sincere and deeply felt creation, and that summarizes much of what is heard here. Beyond that, Piano Works: Zenobia Powell Perry is a little technically challenged; it has a couple of glitchy edits and is a very quiet recording overall, so be prepared to crank it up.

Reviewed by David N. “Uncle Dave” Lewis

View review June 1st, 2017

Daahoud Salim – Erwin Schulhoff: Forbidden Music

salim
Title: Erwin Schulhoff – Forbidden Music

Artist: Daahoud Salim, piano; Symphony Orchestra of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam; Andrew Grams, conductor

Label: Challenge Classics

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2016

 

Challenge Classics International, a Netherlands based label, recently released this disc featuring the early piano works of Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942). The Czech-born composer of German heritage was himself a gifted pianist who performed internationally. When Schulhoff relocated to Berlin in early 1922, he was introduced to American ragtime, dance and jazz music through the record collection of his friend George Grosz, an artist affiliated with the Berlin Dada group. This decade was extremely prolific for Schulhoff, who wrote many successful works synthesizing jazz and classical music, four of which are featured on Forbidden Music. The album’s title denotes the increasingly tenuous place of jazz in Germany by the late 1930s, which was one of the vilified genres designated by the Nazi party as “Entartete Musik” (degenerate music). Tragically, as a communist of Jewish heritage, Schulhoff was deported to a concentration camp in Bavaria, where he died in 1942. His music, considered unfashionable in the decades immediately following his death, has seen a much deserved revival over the last 20 years with numerous recordings of his works in print.

Pianist Daahoud Salim is certainly up to the challenge of interpreting Schulhoff’s music. Initially trained by his father, American composer and jazz saxophonist Abdu Salim, Daahoud studied both jazz and classical piano at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.  The album begins with a brilliant reading of Schulhoff’s complex Konzert für Klavier und Kleines Orchester, op. 43 (1923), featuring the Symphony Orchestra of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam led by Andrew Grams.  The initial “Molto Sostenuto” movement flows into Salim’s rapturous piano cadenza in the “Sostenuto” section, then sweeps into the cinematic “Allegro alla Jazz” with full orchestra. This final movement is loosely scored ABA, with a mid-section interlude for violin and piano reminiscent of café music of the era.

The remaining works, all for solo piano, allow Salim to display his brilliant technique. “Troisième Suite pour piano pour la main gauche” (1926) consists of five short movements that begin in a contemplative manner, gradually increasing in complexity through the third movement “Zingara,” before concluding in an intricate, rhythmically percussive finale.  In Suite dansante en jazz (1931), each of the six short movements represent a different dance style: Stomp, Strait, Waltz, Tango, Slow, and Fox-Trot.  The final movement sounds particularly “Gershwin-esque,” but overall this work holds up well and doesn’t sound overly dated. Salim performs with aplomb, bringing out the nuances of each dance style. He is joined by Russian pianist Nadezda Filippova for the closing work, Ironien op. 34, a six movement suite for piano four-hands that’s light-hearted and whimsical, with touches of Debussy and ragtime.

Forbidden Music is a fine introduction to the classical side of Daahoud Salim, who is already making waves throughout Europe with his jazz quintet—they just released their debut recording to critical acclaim.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 3rd, 2017

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street – Trevor Weston Choral Works

trevor-weston
Title: Trevor Weston Choral Works

Artist: The Choir of Trinity Wall Street; Julian Wachner, cond.

Label: Acis

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 6, 2016

This collection of powerful and eclectic choral music is the first album dedicated entirely to celebrating Trevor Weston’s compositions. The Grammy nominated Choir of Trinity Wall Street performs under famed conductor Julian Wachner, with the Trinity Youth Chorus and NOVUS NY (Trinity’s resident contemporary music orchestra) providing accompaniment on a few selections. Weston is Associate Professor of Music at Drew University and has received several honors throughout his career, including the George Ladd Prix de Paris from the University of California, Berkeley; a Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and residencies from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the MacDowell Colony.

Weston embraces both sacred and poetic influences in his musical compositions. In the album liner notes he discusses the inspiration and motivations for each piece. For instance, Weston wrote “My Heart Hath Trusted in God” after searching through collections of short expressive texts from the English Gradual while working as music director at a small Anglo-Catholic church in Berkeley.

Certain compositions reflect expressions of collective African American experiences. “Truth Tones” was written to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the “revelation of hidden truths” using texts from the African Saint Augustine and the African American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar. In “O Daedalus, Fly Away Home,” the choir engages in a percussive stomp and clap similar to the traditional juba patting performed during slavery. The piece was based on a poem by Robert Hayden that combines Greek mythology with the African American folktale, “Flying Africans,” to evoke the spiritual flight away from adversity.

The still and static sorrow present in “Ashes” is a response to the attacks on 9/11 and the senseless violence and suffering reverberating throughout the world. The voices echoing during the song represent the cries for mercy. As Weston explains, “The drama builds to a symbolic creation of the two towers, a ‘tall’ chord consisting of two notes for each voice part.” This eight-minute composition draws from Psalm 102, acting as a prayer in the face of terror:

Hear my prayer, O lord,
And let my crying come unto thee.
My days are gone like a shadow.
And I am withered like grass

The final tracks on this album consist of five movements called “Ma’at Musings.” Conductor Julian Wachner commissioned Weston to create this piece in 2004, in which he incorporated 5th century BCE Egyptian texts. Describing the movements, Weston states, “The texts are earthly and direct so I composed a musical fantasy responding to striking words from the ancient world.”

This 15-track album eloquently expresses Weston’s interest in exploring the limits of creativity within sacred and secular thematic elements.

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

View review December 1st, 2016

Samora Pinderhughes – The Transformations Suite

samora
Title: The Transformations Suite

Artist: Samora Pinderhughes

Label: Gray Area

Format: Digital (MP3, FLAC, etc.)

Release date: October 12, 2016

 

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

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

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

Reviewed by Allie Martin

View review November 1st, 2016

Marian Anderson – Let Freedom Ring!

marian-anderson
Title: Let Freedom Ring!

Artist: Marian Anderson

Label: JSP

Format: CD

Release date: November 4, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 1st, 2016

Lawrence Brownlee – Allegro io son

lawrence-brownlee
Title: Allegro io son

Artist: Lawrence Brownlee

Label: Delos

Formats: CD, MP3, Streaming

Release date: September 9, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View review November 1st, 2016

Pretty Yende – A Journey

Pretty Yende
Title: A Journey

Artist: Pretty Yende

Label: Sony Classical

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 16, 2016

 

South African soprano Pretty Yende’s debut album, A Journey, will be released this month by Sony Classical.  Much-anticipated since her triumphant Metropolitan Opera debut in 2013, Ms. Yende’s album celebrates the lyric coloratura repertoire which propelled her to the top of the opera world.  She performs with the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI Torino, under conductor Marco Armiliato, with additional assistance from mezzo soprano Kate Aldrich, as seen in the album trailer below:

Ms. Yende was born in 1985 in the small remote town of Piet Retief, about three hundred miles from Johannesburg. At the age of sixteen, her life was transformed by hearing the “Flower Duet” from Delibes’s opera Lakmé on a British Airways television commercial.  On learning that this haunting music was opera, she decided at that moment to abandon her plans to become an accountant and train to become an opera singer instead.  Soon she gained a scholarship to study at the South African College of Music in Cape Town with Professor Virginia Davids, who was the first black woman to appear on opera stages during the apartheid years in South Africa.  With Davids’ help, Ms. Yende’s extraordinary talent blossomed and she was taken from a childhood in a remote village in South Africa to sing on the major opera stages of the world.

Preparing to enter the opera world from such a background cannot have been easy, but in interviews with the New York Times, Ms. Yende has referred to South Africa as “… a singing nation. Music is something that we are born with, it’s like the African rhythm; it’s like a heartbeat.  In Sunday school you will have to sing one song, and a little girl will start harmonizing it.  Just like that, just by hearing.  It’s that kind of world.”  Such innate musicality is showcased in Ms. Yende’s album, featuring as it does selections from the bel canto and later French repertoire.  Her voice boasts a solid lower middle register not always heard in this voice type, and in her upper range, a ringing squillando which she manages with taste.  Her ornamentation is fresh and well-chosen to highlight her strengths: while her runs are not always clean, her pizzicato coloratura is excellent.

Overall, the album provides a refreshing take on some old favorites, while providing some more unusual repertoire for the jaded palate. Among the latter is the scene “Vous que l’on dit” from Rossini’s Le Comte Ory.  It was in this opera that Ms. Yende starred opposite Juan Diego Flórez as the Countess Adèle, at her Met debut.  With less than a month’s notice (having never sung the role), she replaced an ailing Nino Machaidze to complete the run of the show.  She has since performed the role several times, including at the Theater an der Wien where she replaced Cecilia Bartoli.  The performance reflects her theatrical experiences, communicating a thorough command of the French text and musical line, bringing Adèle’s character brightly to life.  One can only imagine the riches in store for us as this rising star finds her place in the operatic firmament.

Reviewed by Andrea Cawelti

View review September 1st, 2016

My Cup Runneth Over: The Complete Piano Works of R. Nathaniel Dett

clipper erickson_my cup runneth over

Title: My Cup Runneth Over – The Complete Piano Works of R. Nathaniel Dett

Artist: Clipper Erickson

Label: Navona; dist. by Naxos of America

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 13, 2015

 

 

Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) was one of the most important and highly regarded Black composers of the early twentieth century. At that time, only a few had achieved widespread success in the classical music genre, most notably the British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Though born on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, Dett’s father was a U.S. citizen and during his youth the family relocated to the New York side of Niagara, thus he is usually considered to be an American composer. The Oberlin educated Dett was also a noted concert pianist, choral conductor and educator.

My Cup Runneth Over: The Complete Piano Works of R. Nathaniel Dett gathers together, for the first time on CD, Dett’s solo piano compositions, brilliantly performed by Clipper Erickson (an alum of The Juilliard School, Yale University, and Indiana University). Like his mentor and teacher, British pianist John Ogdon (who taught at IU’s Jacobs School of Music in the late 1970s), Erickson has championed 20th and 21st-century music and American composers, in particular.  He was introduced to Dett’s music by Dr. Donald Dumpson, currently on the faculty of Rider University, who like Dett is also a noted keyboardist, choral conductor, composer and arranger. Thankfully, their relationship inspired this recording project, which recently garnered an Editor’s Choice citation from Gramophone UK—now let’s hope it receives wider recognition in the U.S.

My Cup Runneth Over features Dett’s neo-Romantic piano suites which were widely performed by artists such as Percy Grainger and Fanny Bloomfield-Zeisler. The CD opens with the earliest suite, Magnolia, composed in 1912. As one might guess from the title, the five movements call forth images of the Old South with names such as “The Deserted Cabin” and “Mammy,” though the final movement, “The Place Where the Rainbow Ends” was based on a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar. In the Bottoms, composed the following year, is another five movement suite based on “scenes peculiar to Negro life in the river bottoms of the Southern sections of North America” (quoted from Dett’s own notes). Included is one of his most popular works, the folk-song based “Juba Dance,” played by Erickson with great clarity and verve.[i]

The year 1922 was obviously a productive year for Dett, which yielded works of increasing complexity: the four movement suite Enchantment (dedicated to Percy Grainger) and the solo piece Nepenthe and the Muse (dedicated to Arthur Foote)—a Debussy-esque work of shifting moods and tone colors convincingly performed by Erickson. Disc One closes with another programmatic suite, Cinnamon Grove; each movement based on poems and concluding with an Allegretto referencing two spirituals later used by Dett for choral settings.

Disc Two opens with Tropical Winter (1938), a demanding suite in seven movements which presents a leap forward in Dett’s compositional style.  “Parade of the Jasmine Banners” and, in particular, the more contemplative “Legends of the Atoll” are highlights of this suite. Dett’s final suite, Eight Bible Vignettes (1942-43), was composed at the very end of his life—possibly contributing to his use of Biblical texts as inspiration. Divided evenly between the Old and New Testaments, the movements reference many themes, including the African diaspora and slavery, expressed through some of the most heart-rending and insightful music Dett composed. Erickson eloquently breaks down each movement in the liner notes, indicating the intensity of his research which obviously aided his meticulous and multifaceted interpretation.

Not addressed in the liner notes are three of Dett’s earliest solo piano works that close the album: the ragtime based After the Cakewalk (1900), the march and two-step Cave of the Winds (1902), and the much more substantial show piece Inspiration Waltzes (1903), which Erickson performs with aplomb.

My Cup Runneth Over offers a wonderful overview of R. Nathaniel Dett’s captivating solo piano compositions, magnificently performed Clipper Erickson. A hearty bravo is in order—may these works find their way onto more recital programs!

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

[i]Dett had performed these works himself, to great acclaim, at the first All-Colored Composer’s Concert at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall on June 3, 1914. Noted music critic and composer Felix Borowski, writing for the Record Herald on June 4 proclaimed, ” . . .it was not Coleridge-Taylor whose music at this concert disclosed the largest measure of individuality and inspiration.  Those qualities shone more brilliantly in two suites for piano composed and performed by R. Nathaniel Dett.  Without having heard of Mr. Dett or his music before, we believe that his abilities are such as to qualify him for leadership of the musical creators among his people . . . This composer’s performance was also a surprise.  Piano playing much less admirable, much less poetic, has often been heard in Orchestra Hall and in concerts much more pretentious than that which has formed the subject of this review.” [June 4, 1914]

View review June 1st, 2016

Black Violin – Stereotypes

Black Violin Stereotypes

Title: Stereotypes

Artist: Black Violin

Label: Universal Music Classics/Deutsche Grammophone

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 18, 2015

 

Three years have elapsed since Black Violin’s debut album, Classically Trained, garnered worldwide acclaim for its unique blend of classical music flavored with hip hop, jazz and R&B. The duo, featuring Kevin “Kev” Sylvester on violin and Wilner “Wil B” Baptiste on viola, demonstrate significant musical growth on their sophomore album and major label debut, Stereotypes. Whereas previous performances relied heavily on loops of arpeggios (primarily in the key of d minor), there is now a greater depth and breadth to their vision, as well as an attempt to balance instrumental tracks with songs in a variety of styles. Some of these changes can likely be attributed to producer Eli Wolf (The Roots, Norah Jones), who brought in a backing ensemble of top studio musicians—Rob Moose on strings (plus all arrangements and orchestrations), Eric Krasno on guitar, Al Carty on bass, James Poyser and Ray Angry on keyboards, Daru Jones on drums, and programmer DJ Infamous.

Stereotypes is the duo’s tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, but the opening title track also serves as a commentary on the preconceived notions they regularly encountered as black violinists:

“Being big black dudes we’re ‘supposed to be’ athletes or we’re ‘supposed to be’ something else, but were classically trained violinists. Instead of shying away from or not being proud of it, we stand our ground. This is who we are, this is what we do, you didn’t think this was possible, but here we are.”

The spoken closing lines of “Stereotypes” eloquently express their goals: “completely crushing peoples’ perceptions of not only what a violin can do, or what music could possibly sound like, but also of what a black man is capable of.”

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Legendary MC Pharoahe Monch makes a guest appearance on the hard hitting message song “Invisible,” emphatically rapping the chorus: “I’m not Invisible, I’m not Invisible, I’m not Invisible/It’s not my fault you don’t understand/You can pretend not to care/That won’t make me disappear/As I rise it’s clear/Here I stand – Here I am.” For the remainder of the album, the focus turns more towards love and relationships. Wil B takes over the vocals on “Another Chance,” a convincing R&B song with shades of John Legend and a hip hop beat, with the violins alternating between static and melodic patterns leading up to the chorus “I just need a chance to show you, to make you understand/that I can’t change the past, but I control the future.”

Melonie Fiona and Black Thought of the Roots are featured on the heartfelt relationship song “Send Me a Sign,” with Black Thought spitting the line “throw on some Serge Gainsbourg” (if you’re a record collector you’ll catch the significance). This is followed by a jazzy cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “Walk on By” with Angela Johnson providing the soulful back-up vocals. Wil takes over again on “Magic,” crooning over the rhythm section of Angry, Carty and Jones: “It’s Like magic, though I lost what I desire/It’s Like magic, there’s always hope to fuel the fire/and my world was once divided/now I’m feeling so alive/Yes, it’s magic and so are you.” On “Stay Clear,” rising vocalist and Prince protégé Kandace Springs is featured alongside jazz pianist Robert Glasper, with the violins intricately woven into the mix. “Losing Control” is a great showcase for Wil’s seductive R&B vocals, and there’s a nice violin interlude in the mid-section.

Drawing from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, “Shaker” is an instrumental based on “Simple Gifts.” After playing the folk tune in its original form, the duo begins inverting the melody, eventually turning it into a fugue with Angry providing the piano glissandi. Other instrumentals include “Day 2,” written in collaboration with Angry and Infamous, and the closing track “Runnin’” which showcases the violin technique of Wil and Kev with minimal backing from strings, keyboards, and programming.

Stereotypes provides the perfect balance between message songs, lively instrumentals, and heartfelt R&B ballads—while shattering preconceived notions and affirming Black Violin at the vanguard of classical fusion.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review October 1st, 2015

DJ Spooky and the Kronos Quartet – Rebirth of a Nation

DJ Spooky Rebirth of a Nation

Title: Rebirth of a Nation

Artist: DJ Spooky and the Kronos Quartet

Label: Cantaloupe Music

Formats: CD/DVD; wav and MP3 (audio only)

Release date: August 28, 2015

 

 

Rebirth of a Nation was DJ Spooky’s (i.e. Paul D. Miller’s) first large scale multimedia piece, made in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet and premiered in 2004 at the Lincoln Center Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, Weiner Festwochen, and the Festival d’Automne á Paris. It has since been given some fifty times as a live performance, and the studio recording of the soundtrack heard here was made in 2007, but this combined CD/DVD release from Cantaloupe Music marks the first time the full musical score has been available as a separate entity. The film Rebirth of a Nation is a re-imagining, or “remix,” of D.W. Griffith’s notorious 1915 feature The Birth of a Nation, which—with apologies to Al Gore—truly may be the most ‘inconvenient truth’ in the history of cinema. The radical cinematic style, three-hour running time, sense of grandeur and the relentless publicity machine that fueled The Birth of a Nation’s prosperity spelled doom to the lowly Nickelodeon and paved the way for ambitious film epics of all kinds, and American film history cannot dispense with it. But its corrigenda of the Ku Klux Klan as the salvation of the American South in the post-Civil war period, and its vilification of African Americans, helped to revive a sleeping Klan into a new round of vigilantism that flourished into the early 1920s. Although Griffith’s centennial was widely observed and celebrated in 1975, in the years to follow screenings of The Birth of a Nation were picketed and often cancelled, and Griffith’s name was removed from the Director’s Guild of America’s Award in 1999.

Shutting down screenings of The Birth of a Nation doesn’t make the film go away, and suppressing it only prevents younger generations from seeing how prevalent and mainstream white supremacy was a century ago. DJ Spooky feels that some of the complex, painful and malevolent themes in The Birth of Nation still connect with America as it is in the twenty-first century, and utilizes digital editing, graphics, inserts, narration and a hip hop music track to render the hundred-year-old film into a commentary on itself. Collaborating with the Kronos Quartet, DJ Spooky’s work has a strongly post-classical feel and largely avoids nostalgic gestures that would normally play to the subject matter, save samples of wailing harmonica and occasional banjo-like pizzicati from Kronos. The character sketches, such as “Stoneman” and “Cameron,” seem the most successful from a purely musical standpoint, as if the persons connected to these names in the film elicited the most involved responses from the composer. Nevertheless it is difficult to appreciate the music without its visuals; some of the pieces are very restrained, and are understated even for film music, which is normally a little under the action. Rebirth of a Nation, the film (2008), runs about half the length of Griffith’s original and even that is a lot of screen time to cover; given that there is narration, but there’s also no direct dialog from the actors—the soundtrack has to be wall-to-wall. Without the visuals, the score comes across as partly inspired and partly padded.

Rebirth of a Nation is nonetheless an interesting investigation into William S. Burroughs’ idea that by cutting something up, you may be able to reveal the truth in it, neutralize it or at least recast it into another context, and there’s every reason to experience this project in the form that Cantaloupe Music has packaged it in; DVD and music, whereas before there was only a downmarket DVD and the music was only available as excepts.

Listen on Spotify here.

Reviewed by David N. Lewis

View review September 2nd, 2015

FLūTRοNIX – City of Breath

flutronix city of breath._SS280

Title: City of Breath

Artist: FLūTRοNIX

Label: Flutronix Records

Format: EP CD, MP3

Release date: August 13, 2015

 

 

Brooklyn-based urban pop duo, Flutronix, released their third CD, City of Breath, just in time for the National Flute Association convention held this August in Washington, DC. Perhaps it was with this event in mind that inspired Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull to include original compositions and a pivotal 20th century flute work that highlights their classical training. That said, their now signature style that blends classical, hip hop, soul, electronic music, and more is still dominant on each track.

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The first track, “She Is,” begins not with flute but with one haunting but clear, resonant female voice which is later joined by the Melodia Women’s Choir of NYC. It then transitions to the sultry sounds of the alto flute and flute blended with enchanting electronic backing, transporting the listener to another place and time. Their next original composition, “Flocks,” demonstrates their precise and fluid technique with melodic fragments that swoop and climb through the flute’s tessituras with the same ease as the feathered friends this work is intended to emulate. This is an acoustic version of the same work that appeared on their 2.0 CD. The sheet music is now available from Carl Fischer Music and is scored for four flutes and alto flute. Composed in 1982 by Steve Reich, “Vermont Counterpoint” is a minimalist work for a solo flutist (doubling on alto and piccolo) with 10 other flute parts pre-recorded on tape. With their extensive studio experience, Nathalie and Allison navigate the complexities of coordinating the rhythmically complex, repeated melodic fragments with great polish. Moreover, they are able to capture the subtle metric grooves that emerge as each fragment is layered on top of the others, creating a whole that sounds fresh and new in this offering.

The music comes to a repose in the final track, “Like a Storm (a tribute to Carol Wincenc).” Wincenc, in addition to being Natalie’s flute teacher at Julliard and a Grammy award-winning flutist herself, has become a great champion of this duo. Our performers/composers present here nothing bombastic as one might expect from the title, but rather a simple duet comprised of a seamless lyrical melody accompanied by scale patterns reminiscent of etude work they might have done under Wincenc’s tutelage. It is often punctuated by drum and triangle which I feel somewhat detracts from the beauty of the work. The storm fades away with flutes in Copland-esque harmonies.

Once again, these savvy ladies are raising the bar for any instrumentalists willing to push themselves to new possibilities of artistic endeavors. With pen and ink cover art by Natalie Cooperman, this CD is beautifully mastered at Avatar Studios in NYC and is available for download at Amazon and iTunes.

Listen on Spotify here.

Reviewed by Annette Farrington

View review September 2nd, 2015

Sons of Serendip – Sons of Serendip

SonsOfSerendip

Title: Sons of Serendip

Artist: Sons of Serendip

Label: NIA

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 17, 2015

 

In 2014, Sons of Serendip first wowed television audiences as a contestant on the ninth season of America’s Got Talent. Their passionate covers and distinct arrangements granted them the fourth place spot in the competition and are the heart of this debut release. On Sons of Serendip, these four friends who originally met during their graduate studies at Boston University, have transformed a few well-known classic songs with their artful arrangements that they perform on voice, piano, cello, and harp. The album includes eight tracks plus two bonus tracks, and all except one are covers originally performed during the America’s Got Talent competition. Some of the group’s covers are riveting arrangements of dance numbers they adapted to fit the character of their instrumentation, including a very slowed down version of Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child.” The group also softens the edge of the driving “Bring Me to Life” by the rock band Evanescence. In addition to dance tracks, the group makes great use of songs that easily fit the group’s character, performing covers of Bonnie Rait’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know.”

Sons of Serendip showcases the reason these four musicians grabbed America’s attention in competition on America’s Got Talent and gives good reason for us to continue to follow their careers.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review July 1st, 2015

The Spirituals Database: An Art of the Negro Spiritual Project

SpiritualDatabase

 

 

Title: The Spirituals Database: An Art of the Negro Spiritual Project

Artists: Various

Format: Website/Database

As educational, public, and private institutions expand the breadth of information available on the internet, there is much that remains unrepresented and misrepresented, particularly concerning African American music. To address one area of this vast body of cultural expressions, soprano and researcher Randye Jones has developed a website called The Spirituals Database aimed at cataloguing “negro spiritual settings performed by solo classical vocalists.” Currently featuring information for over 2,700 recordings in multiple formats (CDs, 45s, LPs), The Spirituals Database is being constantly updated to include an ever growing range of materials. This site is fully searchable for categories like song title, voice part, performer, and composer. It also includes a browse feature that allows users to peruse recordings alphabetically by song title or by the composer’s last name.

Jones has intentionally crafted this site to be a resource for vocalists and teachers or vocal coaches interested in exploring this repertoire. It includes a brief historical overview of spirituals as well as several related resources that offer sheet music and primary documents that discuss the context and style of early folk and arranged spirituals. While The Spirituals Database is in its nascent phase, it is a valuable resource for those looking to hear and learn more about this timeless expression.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review July 1st, 2015

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