June 2018 Releases of Note

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

Blues, Folk, Country
Angelique Francis: Kissed by the Blues (digital)
Charles Lloyd & The Marvels & Lucinda Williams:  Vanished Gardens (Capitol/Blue Note)
John Brim: Detroit to Chicago – Tough Blues of John Brim 1950-1956 (Jasmine)
Lonnie Johnson: Blues Stay Away From Me: Selected Singles 1947-1953 (Jasmine)
Various: Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris (Dust to Digital)
Various: Tribute – Celebration of Delmark’s 65th Anniversary (Delmark)
Various: Rough Guide to Hokum Blues (World Music Network)

Classical, Broadway
Audra McDonald/NewYork Philharmonic: Sing Happy (Decca Gold)
Gurrumul: Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow) (Skinnyfish Music)
Kukuruz Quartet: Julius Eastman Piano Interpretations (Intakt)

Comedy, Spoken Word
Michael Brooks: Watch This   (Wasted Robot)

Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Ashtani: Space, Fire, and Someone (Collective Clearing Frequencies)
Benin City: Last Night (Moshi Moshi)
Big Freedia: 3rd Ward Bounce EP (Asylum)
DJ Spooky: Presents Phantom Dancehall (VP)
Emilie Nana: The Reign of Obsolete Technology EP (BBE)
Magic Drum Orchestra: DNA of Rhythm (Tru Thoughts)
Yuno: Moodie (Sub Pop)

Gospel, Christian
Cortney Richardson: DO It Again (digital)
Cory Ard: The Blackout (digital)
Edwin Hawkins Singers: The Buddah Collection (Retroworld)
Fred Hammond: Best of (RCA Inspiration)
God’s Chosen: S/T (digital) (Dream)
Jasmine Murray: Fearless (Fair Trade)
Lecrae & Zaytoven: Let the Trap Say Amen (digital) (Reach)
Lexi: Just Listen (Motown Gospel)
Na-Tree-Sha: One Step Closer (digital) (WePush Worldwide)
Steven Malcolm: Second City Part 2 EP (Word Ent)
Theotis Taylor: Something Within Me (Big Legal Mess)
Wardlaw Brothers: Stand There (New Day Ent.)

International
Abra Cadabra: Feature Boy EP (No Problem)
Dumi RIGHT: Doing It the Right Way (pH Music)
Jupiter & Okwess: Kin Sonic  (Everloving)
Mike Nyoni & Born Free: My Own Thing (Now Again)
Nsimbi: S/T (Imara)
Pierre Sandwidi: Le Troubadour De La Savane, 1978/1982 (Born Bad)
Professor Rhythm: Professor 3 (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
Samba Toure:  Wande (Glitterbeat)
Various: Listen All Around – Golden Age of Central and East African Music (Dust to Digital)
Various: Disques Debs International An Island Story – Biguine, Afro Latin & Musique Antillaise 1960-1972 (Strut)

Jazz
Adam & Kizzie: Book Of Eedo Vol. 3: Threedo (Ropeadope)
Binker & Moses: Alive in the East (Gearbox)
Black Art Jazz Collective: Armor of Pride (Highnote)
Buster Williams: Audacity (Smoke Sessions)
Byron Miller: Gift Psychobass2 (Byron Miller Studio)
Cyrille Aimée: Live (Mack Ave.)
Dayramir Gonzalez: Grand Concourse (Machat)
Eddie Daniels: Heart of Brazil (Resonance)
Emanative: Earth (Jazzman)
Geoffrey Keezer ft. Gillian Margot: On My Way To You (DL Media)
Gregory Generet & Richard Johnson: Two of a Kind (Afar Music)
Hungry March Band: Running Through with the Sadness (Imaginator)
Javier Santiago: Phoenix (Ropeadope)
JD Allen: Love Stone (Savant)
John Coltrane: Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album     (Impulse!)
Justin Brown:  Nyeusi (digital) (Biophilia)
Kobie Watkins Grouptet: Movement (Origin)
Kris Brownlee: Breathe Night Sessions (Megawave)
Marcus Miller: Laid Black (Blue Note)
Mark Kavuma: Kavuna (Ubuntu Music)
Matthew Lux’s Communication Arts Quartet: Contra/Fact (Astral Spirits)
PJ Morgan: Transparency Project (1DMV Music Group)
R+R=NOW: Collagically Speaking (Blue Note)
Robert E. Person: Classic Covers (digital)
Shamie Royston: Beautiful Liar (Sunnyside)
Sullivan Fortner: Moments Preserved (Impulse!)
Tiffany Austin: Unbroken (Con Alma Music)
Tosin Aribisala: Afrika Rising (Ropeadope)
Water Seed: Say Yeah!! Live at the Blue Nile (Water Seed Music)

Latin
Cuban Beats All Stars: Levantate (Timba)
Dos Santos: Logos (International Anthem)
Harold Lopez-Nussa: Un Día Cualquiera (Mack Ave.)

R&B, Soul
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: The Midnight Hour (Linear Labs)
Danie Ocean Band: Love Won’t Let Me Fail (Winding Way)
Dee Brown: Remembering You (Innervision)
Jorja Smith: Lost & Found (FAMM)
Kadhja Bonet: Childqueen (Fat Possum)
Kenny Latimore: Never Too Busy: The Anthology (Soulmusic)
Kirkland Project: We Shall Overcome (digital)
Love Unlimited: Singles 1972-75 (Mercury)
Love Unlimited Orchestra: 20th Century Records Singles 1973-79 (Mercury)
Neyo: Good Man (Motown)
Pat Powell: About Time (digital) (Bamboozle Music)
The Beginning of the End: Funky Nassau: Definitive Collection (Strut)
Tower of Power: Soul Side of Town  (Artistry Music)
Vicktor Taiwò: Joy Comes in Spirit (Innovative Leisure)

Rap, Hip Hop
Canibus: Full Spectrum Dominance (ThatsHipHop)
03 Greedo: God Level (Alamo)
Allan Kingdom: Peanut Butter Prince (digital) (First Gen.)
Cool-Aid: BRWN (Akashik )
Black Thought: Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 (digital) (Human Re Sources)
Bump J: I Don’t Feel Rehabilitated (Goon Squad Ent.)
Chief Keef: Ottopsy EP (digital) (RBC)
Dizzy Wright: Don’t Tell Me It Can’t Be Done (digital EP)
DJ Harrison: Stashboxxx (Ropeadope)
Drake: Scorpion (digital) (Republic)
E-40: Gift of Gab (digital)
Eligh: Last House on the Block (Empire)
Freddie Gibbs: Freddie (digital) (Empire)
Freeway: Think Free (digital) (Roc Nation)
Gorillaz: The Now Now (Parlophone)
Gunplay: Active (digital)(Empire)
IAMDDB: Flight Mode Vol. 4 (digital) (Union IV)
Stalin: Tears of Joy 2 (Livewire)
Jacquees: 4275 (digital) (Cash Money)
Jay Rock: Redemption (Top Dawg/Interscope)
Jedi Mind Tricks: The Bridge & the Abyss (Enemy Soil)
Kanye West: Ye (digital) (Def Jam)
Kanye West & Kid Cudi: Kids See Ghosts (digital)  (Def Jam)
Lil Scrappy: Confident (X-Ray)
Locksmith & Apollo Brown:  No Question (Mello Music Group)
Michael Christmas: Role Model (Fool’s Gold)
Migos & DJ Smoke: Migology (Wagram)
Mo Cash: Closest Man 2 God (digital)
Nas: Nasir (digital)
nobigdyl: Solar (Capital Christian)
Phresher: PH (digital) (Empire)
Ras Kass: Van Gogh (digital)
Rico Nasty: Nasty (digital)(Atlantic)
Slum Village: Lost Scrolls 2 (Ne’Astra Music Group)
The Carters: Everything Is Love (digital) (Tidal)
Trae That Truth: 48 Hours Later (ABN)
Various: Superfly (Soundtrack) (Epic)
Various: Uncle Drew (Soundtrack) (RCA)
Various: Boombox 3: Early Independent Hip Hop, Electro & Disco Rap (Soul jazz)
Various: Don’t Get Caught (Soundtrack)(Shot)
Various: Jermaine Dupri Presents So So Def 25 (Sony)
Waka Flocka Flame: Salute Me Or Shoot Me 4 (Bricksquad)
Youngboy Never Broke Again: Until Death Call My Name: Reloaded (digital)

Reggae
Alborosie: Unbreakable: Alborosie Meets The Wailers United (VP)
Culture: Remembering Joseph Hill (VPAL Music)
Jah9: Field Trip (digital) (VP)
Rebelution: Free Rein (Easy Star)

Body Count – Bloodlust

Blodlust
Album: Bloodlust

Artist:  Body Count

Label: Century Media

Release date: March 31, 2017

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

 

 

Anytime Ice-T is involved with an album, you can bet it’s going to make musical headlines. Bloodlust, the newest offering from the metal band Body Count, definitely does that and then some. The first single, “No Lives Matter,” generated attention for the title alone after its pre-album release on February 17th, but combined with front man Ice-T’s reputation for political music, the song literally explodes in all directions at once. Will Putney, the producer for the band’s 2014 release Manslaughter, returns to assist with this project. Commenting on the album title, Ice T explains, “Bloodlust is part of the human makeup…but we know there are consequences.” Never ones to shy away from presenting what they feel are facts, Ice-T and Body Count have been offering their commentary on modern society via the platform of heavy metal since the early 1990s.

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Much like their previous works, Body Count provides its fan base with a solid dose of the rock sound, complete with driving beats comprised of thick bass, percussion cadences and vigorous vocals. Each track offers unique juxtaposing surprises—from the abrupt silences within “Black Hoodie” to Ice-T’s explanation for the album at the front of “Raining In Blood/Postmortem 2017.” If you recognize sounds reminiscent of the ‘80s band Slayer, then you know your metal. The single “All Love is Lost” features Max Cavalera, a Brazilian singer and songwriter who has worked with Tom Araya of Slasher on past Soulfly collections. Dave Mustaine, thrash metalist currently leading Megadeath in addition to claiming status as original lead guitarist for Metallica, lends his seriously sick talents to the first song, “Civil War.” Rounding out the featured spots is Lamb of God’s D. Randall Blythe, adding a hardcore punk backdrop to Bloodlust’s “Walk With Me.”

Is Bloodlust an album that should be part of everyone’s collection? It depends on one’s musical taste, but it should be on everyone’s radar due to its social commentary. Pushing past the hype, the dark sounds and the seemingly endless abyss of emotion reveals a gritty, unflinching stare into the world we all know exists; one few of us are brave enough to address in such a public manner. Offering no real solutions but a few explanations of why it is what it is, Ice T and his band accomplish what they do best—forcing us to confront the monster from under the bed, in the hope we can all better understand exactly how to defeat it.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

Billy Ocean – Here You Are: The Music of My Life

Billy Ocean

Album: Here You Are: The Music of My Life

Artist:  Billy Ocean

Label: Legacy Recordings

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: July 21, 2017

 

 

Riding on the success of the 2016 European 2-disc compilation, Here You Are: The Best of Billy Ocean, Legacy Recordings has just issued a stateside version of Billy Ocean’s self-reflective collection, Here You Are: The Music of My Life. Featuring 10 new performances and 5 long-standing favorites, Ocean provides an audio window through which listeners can view his musical inspirations during his 45+ years as a Grammy award winning R&B artist. Ocean’s current 15-track release coincides with his first set of US tour dates in over 20 years—as one of the featured headliners on the 2017 Replay America Festival.

The title track of the album, “Here You Are,” written by Billy Ocean and Barry Eastmond, is a testament to the various musical influences that have stirred Ocean’s creativity over the decades. The song is captivating—a steady, rhythmical rocking ballad back-dropped against the classic sound of Ocean’s signature croon—and is sure to become a strong staple for his fans. True to the album’s subtitle, Ocean provides covers of the music that has most affected his development as an artist followed by five of his biggest chart-toppers. The iconic “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke and Mike Pinder’s “A Simple Game” resonate with, as Ocean states, “everyone waiting for a change…every generation transcending the barriers of colour,” such as himself, who have “lost the concept of life as a spiritual thing, like who we are, what we are, and what we were meant to be.” Bob Marley’s influence is noted as well, through covers of his single “Judge Not” and the well-known “No Woman, No Cry” recorded by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Ocean’s rendition of “It Was a Very Good Year,” written by Ervin Drake, is easily the most resonant song on the album. As he lulls, “But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of my years, and I think of my life like vintage wine,” one can’t help but toast Ocean’s own impact upon the music industry through his mega-hits that conclude the disc: “Caribbean Queen 9 (No More Love on the Run),” “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going,” “ Suddenly,” and “There Will be Sad Songs (to Make You Cry).”

It was—and is—a very good career for Billy Ocean. Here You Are: The Music of my Life bestows proof of just that.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the July 2017 Issue

July 2017 Black Grooves small
Welcome to the July 2017 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month’s issue kicks off with an overview of releases from the recent PBS series American Epic and American Epic Sessions, plus new releases from pioneers of rap and rock: Jay-Z’s 4:44 and the late Chuck Berry’s final album, Chuck.

 

In honor of Leontyne Price’s 90th birthday, we’re featuring Decca’s new deluxe edition of her 1961 recording of Verdi’s Aida. Also under classical music is string trio Hear in Now’s new project Not Living In Fear.

Jazz, R&B and funk releases include Bokanté’s world music influenced Strange Circles, New Jersey neo-soul artist SZA’s debut studio album CTRL, Philly smooth jazz duo Pieces of a Dream’s Just Funkin’ Around, a Stax 60th anniversary vinyl reissue of the soundtrack to Melvin Van Peeble’s landmark film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and the compilation More From the Other Side of the Trax: Volt 45rpm Rarities 1960-1968.

Gospel releases include Anita Wilson’s Sunday Song, the Como Mamas sophomore album Move Upstairs, Acrobat’s The Alberta Hunter Collection 1921-1940, and Steven Malcolm’s self-titled Christian rap debut.

Wrapping up this issue is Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi’s Piedmont blues tribute album Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train, and our listing of June 2017 Releases of Note.

Welcome to the May 2017 Issue

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

This month we’re featuring Parking Lot Symphony by New Orleans artist Trombone Shorty and the new Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’ collaborative project Tajmo. Other jazz and blues releases include flutist Nicole Mitchell’s Afrofuturist inspired album Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds commissioned by Chicago’s Museum of Modern Contemporary Art, the Jeff Lorber Fusion’s latest smooth jazz release Prototype, the Afro-Cuban/Canadian jazz/electronica band Battle of Santiago’s La Migra, a reissue of Abdullah Ibrahim’s (aka Dollar Brand) avant-garde solo piano suite Ancient Africa, and Early in the Moanin’ by The Soul of John Black (aka Fishbone guitarist John Bigham).

Albums influenced by rap, rock and soul include Chicago MC K’Valentine’s debut Here for a Reason, JC Brooks’ cinematic Neon Jungle, Jose James’ Love in A Time of Madness, the “soultronic production group” Columbia Nights’ first full length project In All Things, and the Pete Rock and Smoke Dza collaboration Don’t Smoke Rock.

Wrapping up this issue is our list of April 2017 New Releases of Note.

Morgan Heritage – Strictly Roots

Morgan Heritage
Title: Strictly Roots

Artist: Morgan Heritage

Label : CTBC

Formats : 2-CD deluxe edition, MP3

Release date: December 9, 2016

 

Family acts in music have always been huge: The Osmonds, Sylvers, Five Stairsteps, Isleys, Carpenters, and of course The Jackson 5/The Jacksons—who recently marked their 50th anniversary. Morgan Heritage is a family act and I’m willing to bet that you’ve never heard of the group. MH is Jamaica’s answer to the J5. Made up a five siblings, their father is reggae singer Denroy Morgan, who had a big hit in 1981 with the single “I’ll Do Anything.”

First released in 2015, Strictly Roots is the band’s 10th studio album and the first on their own label CTBC, which stands for Cool To Be Conscious (they recorded for the label VP during much of their success, but felt it was time to move on). After winning a Grammy Award in the Best Reggae Album category in 2016, the group decided to release a 2-CD deluxe edition, which celebrates the album’s success with previously unreleased tracks and remixes.

The original album (Disc 1) was comprised of twelve tracks in which Morgan Heritage takes the listener through peaks and valleys. In the song “So Amazing,” Morgan Heritage steps away from traditional roots and goes for a more top 40 sound. “So Amazing” could easily be played on a CW series:

In reggae, one always pay homage to Jah and Morgan Heritage sticks with tradition. In “Child of Jah” (feat. Chronixx) they explain the part Jah plays in reggae music and rastas to those who don’t know. On “Light It Up,” featuring Jo Messa Marley, they chant “this is reggae music.” Can’t do reggae without a Marley. After all, Robert Nesta Marley is the godfather of reggae. “Rise and Fall,” which discusses the cycle of life, has the typical drum & bass sound you hear in reggae.

“Celebrate Life” may be Morgan Heritage’s best track on this album. Again, Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” had to play a major part. “Celebrate the life you love / Celebrate the life you live,” Peetah Morgan & Grampson sing on lead vocals. If the group wanted to get crossover appeal, this would be the track to do it.

Disc 2 includes 3 additional versions of “Light It Up,” plus the pop-oriented “Come Fly” featuring the Celtic punk band Flogging Molly and the more traditional “Lion Order,” among others.

Morgan Heritage has won respect from the reggae community worldwide. Now that they are independent on CTBC, I expect them to take some risks and open it up. After all, they’re royalty. One Love.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

January 2017 Releases of Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the December 2016 issue of Black Grooves

Welcome to the December 2016 holiday issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re featuring an Overview of Holiday Music with new releases from Andra Day, Leslie Odom Jr., Bob Baldwin, Kenny Lattimore, R. Kelly and Big Freedia.  Our Recent Books on Music Recommended for Holiday Giving include biographies of Charles Wright (Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band), New Orleans jazz legend Danny Barker, soul icon Curtis Mayfield, and EW&F’s Maurice White, as well as Ben Westoff’s Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap and Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader.

New releases include Common’s Black America Again, Solange’s A Seat at the Table, Dom Flemons & Martin Simpson’s Selection of Ever Popular Favourites, the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra’s Basically Baker Vol. 2 (a tribute to David Baker), Trevor Weston Choral Works performed by Trinity Wall Street and Julian Wachner, and the DVD and OST album Miss Sharon Jones.

Reissue projects include Dust-to-Digital’s book/CD Washington Phillips & his Manzarene Dreams, the Bear Family box set Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup – A Music Man Like Nobody Ever Saw, the two CD compilation Best of Proverb & Gospel Corner Records: 1959-1969, the complete recordings of Otis Redding: Live at the Whisky A Go Go, a remastered and expanded edition of the Isley Brothers’ Go For Your Guns, and two classic Blind Boys of Alabama reissues in expanded editions – the holiday album Go Tell It on the Mountain and their 2005 release Atom Bomb.

 Wrapping up this issue is the 2017 Blues Images Calendar/CD set 24 Classic Blues Songs from 1920s Vol. 14 and our list of November 2016 Releases of Note.

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

delfeayo
Title: Make America Great Again!

Artist: Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra

Label: Troubadour Jass Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Wadada Leo Smith – America’s National Parks

wadada-leo-smith
Title: America’s National Parks

Artist: Wadada Leo Smith

Label: Cuneiform

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 14, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Brian Lefresne

clipping. – Splendor & Misery

clipping
Title: Splendor & Misery

Artist: clipping.

Label: Sub Pop

Formats: CD, LP, Cassette, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by N. A. Cordova

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

Mahalia Jackson – Moving On Up a Little Higher

mahalia-jackson
Title: Moving On Up a Little Higher

Artist: Mahalia Jackson

Label: Shanachie/Spirit Feel

Formats: CD

Release date: September 30, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

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

After 7 – Timeless

after-7-timeless
Title: Timeless

Artist: After 7

Label: Entertainment One

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 14, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Levon Williams

Timothy Bloom – The Beginning

timothy-bloom
Title: The Beginning

Artist: Timothy Bloom

Label: Beyond the Sky Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 23, 2016

 

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

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

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

Reviewed by Allie Martin

Muddy Magnolias – Broken People

muddy-magnolias
Title: Broken People

Artist: Muddy Magnolias

Label: Third Generation

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: October 14, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

Ashleigh Smith – Sunkissed

asleigh-smith
Title: Sunkissed

Artist: Ashleigh Smith

Label: Concord Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 19, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Jennie Williams

Unlocking the Truth – Chaos

unlocking-the-truth
Title: Chaos

Artist: Unlocking the Truth

Label: self-release

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 17, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Levon Williams

Joshua Breakstone: The Cello Quartet – 88

joshua-breakstone
Title: 88

Artist: Joshua Breakstone: The Cello Quartet

Label: Capri Records Ltd.

Format: CD

Release Date: October 21, 2016

 

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

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

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

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Quincy Jones – Live In Ludwigshafen 1961


Title: Live In Ludwigshafen 1961

Artist: Quincy Jones

Label: SWR-Jazz Haus

Formats: CD, digital

Release date: March 25, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

Josh White – Josh At Midnight (LP reissue)

josh-white
Title: Josh At Midnight

Artist: Josh White

Label: Ramseur Records

Formats: LP

Release date: August 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Fine

 

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

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

Artists: Various

Label: Analog Africa

Formats: CD, LP, digital

Release date: May 27, 2016

 

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

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

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

Reviewed by Tom Fine

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – Live in Cuba

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Title: Live in Cuba

Artist: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Label: Blue Engine Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 21, 2015

 

It is perhaps Dizzy Gillespie who is most often credited with introducing Cuban influences into the mainstream jazz repertoire, in large part through his signature Afro-Cuban tunes such as “A Night in Tunisia,” “Manteca,” and “Things to Come.”  An energetic version of the last of these is included on Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s latest release Live in Cuba, and perhaps best exemplifies the aim of this particular release from the house band at Lincoln Center, an institution that benefited greatly from Gillespie’s involvement at its inception, even naming their signature nightclub “Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.”  The first release by Blue Engine records, Lincoln Center’s in-house label, the 2-disc set Live in Cuba calls attention to the relationships between jazz and Cuban music and documents an historic set of concerts made possible by President Obama’s easing of travel restrictions between the US and Cuba.

This set contains both new compositions as well as recordings of tunes by household names in jazz, including Gillespie and Duke Ellington.  Several numbers beg listeners’ close attention, including “2/3’s Adventure,” composed and arranged by the orchestra’s bassist Carlos Henriquez and which alternates between Afro-Cuban rhythms and medium-up swing, showcasing the skills of pianist Dan Nimmer, trumpeter Marcus Printup, and Henriquez as they blow at various moments throughout the course of the complex arrangement, which features several shout choruses and abrupt changes in the song’s rhythmic propulsion.  Drummer Ali Jackson’s beautiful arrangement of the Latin standard “Como Fue” is also included, with legendary Cuban pianist and singer Bobby Carcasses leading the band on vocals.  Another highlight of this 2-disc set is “Limbo Jazz,” a medium-tempo number by Duke Ellington, featuring trumpeter Ryan Kisor providing muted trumpet punctuation and a laid-back solo on the Latin-tinged number, and a bebop-inflected solo by baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley.

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Live in Cuba is a compelling document of the loosening of trade restrictions between Cuba and the US, as well as a compelling case study of the continuing vitality of Afro-Cuban jazz.  The wealth and quality of the arrangements on these discs are certainly up to the high standards of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and this album is a thoroughly enjoyable set by one of the top big bands in the world.

Listen on Spotify here.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Dâm-Funk – Invite the Light

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Title: Invite the Light

Artist: Dâm-Funk

Label: Stones Throw

Format: CD, MP3 Vinyl

Release Date: September 4, 2015

 

 

Pasadena, California-based musician and producer Dâm-Funk returns with the announcement of his newest solo project Invite the Light, to be released September 4th on Stones Throw Records. There is no doubt that Dâm-Funk is a powerful asset to the label. His production perfectly fits within the label’s current stable of artists while at the same time extending the broad musical diversity of Stones Throw’s offerings. It is possible to hear the manipulation of textures and beats which Stones Throw artists tend to be fond of on the track “Acting”, which features the cosmic vocals of pop surrealist Ariel Pink. By interspersing old school beats with futuristic sounds, atmospheres, melodies, and harmonies on cuts like “She Lights Me Up,” Dâm-Funk channels many of the artists who have influenced his approach to production.

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After numerous collaborations, Invite the Light is Dâm-Funk’s first solo album in nearly 6 years. The influence of the collaborative processes in which Dâm-Funk has participated during the past several years is apparent through the impressive diversity he offers as the album’s guiding concept: “the awareness of funk.” So, it’s not surprising that funk-master Junie Morrison (perhaps best known from his work with the Ohio Players or his participation with the P-Funk collective in the late 1970s) opens the album with an intriguing introduction on “The Secrets of Funk,” heralding this album as “The spearhead of the revolution and the nearly forgotten school of groove formerly known to us as the funk” which “will cause an evolutionary leap in consciousness and in the message of the funk itself.” And Dâm-Funk definitely knows how to deal with the P-Funk legacy, as is keenly illustrated by HowUGetFu*kAround, what may be heard as the descendent of “Flashlight,” a kind of proto-g-funky-hip-hop. This style has been Dâm-Funk’s bread and butter since Adolescent Funk, the series of demos and home recordings he made between 1988 and 1992. Following George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog,” “The Acceptance” uses a recording trick similar to the one Clinton employed that “intended for the bass and the handclaps to be abnormally loud”[1] in order to produce the danceable beat that drives both tracks.

To further explore the techniques that Dâm-Funk uses when constructing his beats, one may simply look at the “phat bassline” on Just Ease Your Mind, which meshes perfectly with the signature flow of Snoop Dogg, with whom Dâm-Funk previously collaborated on 2013’s 7 Days of Funk. Other tracks are notable not only for their all-star cast of featured artists but also for how they demonstrate Dâm-Funk’s adroit beatmaking skills, as with two versions of “I’m Just Tryna’ Survive,” offering a “party version” as well as the original, with both sporting distinctly different raps by Q-Tip. This type of juxtaposition also occurs again with the modern/retro track “Floating on Air” featuring the surprising duo of Flea and Computer Jay.

In short, Invite the Light represents a convergence of many different sounds and textures, creating a pleasant and even astonishing whole when considered as a full package. What binds all of these disparate influences together? Funk, of course. So, as Clinton would say, sit back, relax and “give up the Funk!”

Reviewed by Guillaume Dupetit

[1] See “Dam Funk Interviews George Clinton: It’s A Beautiful Stink!” by Nathan Morse on L.A. Record website, http://larecord.com/interviews/2014/08/31/dam-funk-interviews-george-clinton-parliament-funkadelic. August 31st, 2014.

 

Ginger Johnson and His African Messengers – African Party

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Title: African Party

Artist: Ginger Johnson and His African Messengers

Label: Freestyle

Formats: CD, MP3, Vinyl

Release date: June 22, 2015

 

The reissue of Ginger Johnson and His African Messengers‘ 1967 album, African Party, tells you why Ginger Johnson was a key figure in the foundation of an African-influenced music style, later called Afrobeat. Starting with the opening track “I Jool Omo,” which highlights the combination of multi-layered percussion, jazz horn lines, and lyrics in a Yoruba dialect, this album clearly displays the sounds Ginger adopted during his career in London, such as traditional West African drums and Afro-Cuban style.

Born in Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria in 1916, George Folunsho Johnson (nicknamed “Ginger”) was orphaned and raised by his older sister who reputedly introduced him to classical music as well as traditional African sounds. Joining the Nigerian navy at the age of 18, Ginger soon made his first trip to Britain. After the end of World War II, he settled in London and became an Afro-Cuban percussionist, quickly making a huge impact on the London music scene. From the late-1940s and onward, he performed and recorded with brilliant London-based artists, including British saxophone legend Ronnie Scott and the Edmundo Ross Orchestra. Not only famous as a percussionist of the jazz and Latin bands of the day, Ginger Johnson was also known as a vibrant host of African and Caribbean musicians, young Fela Kuti among them. It was during such a period of the heyday of African music in London that Ginger formed his own band, Ginger Johnson and His African Messengers, and recorded African Party. Following is the album trailer/mini documentary:

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As heard in track 5, “Talking Drum,” each track in the album is prompted by lively rhythmical percussion of West-African and Caribbean origins. Yet, overlaid melodies of saxophones, trumpet, and flute provide the danceable elements of Afro-Cuban jazz.

Besides his role as a musician, Ginger was a music educator, TV personality, and owner of the Iroko Country Club in North London. It is also notable that he performed with renowned rock bands, including Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones. Now 40 years from his death in 1975, African Party is the first remastered reissue of Ginger’s recordings. This reissue will lead you to Ginger’s vital sound in the 1960s London, which was the precursor to Afrobeat.

Reviewed by Masatomo Yonezu