Welcome to the November 2018 Issue

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

This month we’re featuring three new jazz releases including trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest, drummer Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings, and the eponymous debut album from Christian McBride’s New Jawn.

In honor of Bill Withers’ 80th birthday, two artists have released tributes to the legendary singer-songwriter: José James’ Lean On Me and Anthony David’s Hello Like Before: The Songs of Bill Withers. The late soul singer Charles Bradley is remembered on the posthumous release Black Velvet, while the late Ohio funk musician Roger Troutman is honored on Zapp VII Roger & Friends.

Broadway star Capathia Jenkins and composer Louis Rosen offer their new project Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs, while baritone Thomas Hampson’s Songs From Chicago features works by composers Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, and John Alden Carpenter—all based on poems by Langston Hughes. Gospel music releases include Brent Jones’ Open Your Mouth and Say Something and the Soweto Gospel Choir’s Freedom.

Alternative rock and blues projects include Blood Orange’s Negro Swan, Black Joe Lewis’ The Difference Between Me and You, and Cedric Burnside’s Benton County Relic. Rap albums include Masta Ace & Marco Polo’s A Breukelen Story, and the self-titled release from Ill Doots that blends funk, jazz and hip hop. Wrapping up this issue is the Burkina Faso group Baba Commandant & the Mandingo Band’s Siri Ba Kele and our list of October Black Music Releases of Note.

Blood Orange – Negro Swan

 

Title: Negro Swan
Artist: Blood Orange
Label: Domino
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: August 24, 2018

 

Negro Swan, British singer-songwriter Devonté Hynes’ fourth studio album under the moniker Blood Orange, follows Hynes’ stream of consciousness as he explores blackness, gender and sexuality, mental illness, and queerness. In a press release for Domino Records, Hynes said his newest album “is an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of color.  A reach back into childhood and modern traumas, and the things we do to get through it all.” Continue reading

Lonnie Holley – MITH

 

Title: MITH
Artist: Lonnie Holley
Label: Jagjaguwar
Formats: CD, LP, Cassette, Digital
Release date: September 21, 2018

 

MITH represents visual artist Lonnie Holley’s third recorded album, following his debut Just Before Music (2012) and Keeping a Record of It (2013). Similar to his other releases, MITH challenges the notion of boundaries. As Matt Arnett writes in his liner notes essay, Holley’s music often defies “easy, and sometimes even not-so-easy, characterization and classification.” Holley himself writes the following about issues of classifying his work through typical musical genre systems: “All those terms they’ve called me—outsider, folk, visionary, self-taught—they’ve clung to me like an ill-fitted suit.”  Continue reading

Jerry Quickley – (american) Fool

quickley

 

Title: (american) Fool

Artist: Jerry Quickley

Label: Temporary Whatever

Formats: Digital (MP3, FLAC, etc. available via Bandcamp)

Release date: February 16, 2018

 

Jerry Quickley is no stranger to taking risks and producing avant-garde depictions of his experiences. During his career as a performance poet, scholar and journalist, he has been a visiting fellow at Stanford University, where he developed his groundbreaking theatrical work Through the Looking Glass.  He served as foreign correspondent for Pacifica Radio Networks in Iraq, which laid the foundation for the documentary Beats for Bagdad; his project Whistleblower (commissioned by Philip Glass) debuted in Europe at the Amsterdam Dance Event in 2016; and he wrote and produced the film Vampire Wars (2016), a fictional account of post-Civil War America. Quickley currently hosts a Los Angeles radio show, This Is Happening, discussing contemporary politics, arts and culture.

His latest offering, (american) Fool, is a collaboration with Los Angeles rapper and beatmaker Busdriver, who is also the producer. Two other L.A. musicians, Mike Ladd and Jevin Lamar, add their own flair to selected tracks. Quickley’s MO is raw from beat one of the album’s first single, “Colonist.” The song is multi-representative from the perspective of two brothers, during the mid-colonizer period, who theorize on their positionality within the system. As he states to Alex Albert Ross of Noisey, “Initially I conceived it as a duet between two brothers, both colonial soldiers, who were filled with regret at the horror of their work, writing old school snail mail letters to each other, from vastly different spear tip points of some horrific global colonial operations. But after my first verse, it takes a turn and goes somewhere else with the martyrs, big and small. Then Mike Ladd comes in with his verses and they take the track even farther out in some ways. But in the end I think that maybe, somehow, we might have accomplished a drunken time travel version of my initial idea of a conversation between two brothers, both trapped and being used as spear tips in a colonial nightmare.”

YouTube Preview Image

Other offerings, such as “Passenger” and “A.I.,” showcase Quickley’s masterfully crafted storytelling. He spins lyrical, mystical tracks addressing some of the most socially conscious issues relevant to modern day. Not to be missed is the short narrative, “Prep School,” featuring Jevin Lamar, who discloses the all-too-familiar story of discrimination within the educational system. While Lamar offers no solutions, the track still impacts through its gritty honesty.

Quickley is no fool, American or otherwise. He clearly knows how to bring together a diverse collection of topics, dropping them against Busdriver’s driving beats, and turning them into a creative project to be methodically analyzed over and again. With each play of (american) Fool, Jerry Quickley’s message resonates more poignantly than ever before. In times like these, music with that ability is nothing less than a work of true art.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

The Lonely Ones

Title: The Lonely Ones

Artist: Aceyalone

Label: Decon

Catalog No: DCN69

Release Date: March 31, 2009

Aceyalone is one of the godfathers of West Coast underground hip hop. As a member of Freestyle Fellowship and the larger Project Blowed collective, he helped establish a musical movement that countered the force of the popular California gangsta rap scene in the early 1990s. His first two solo releases, 1995’s All Balls Don’t Bounce and 1998’s A Book of Human Language, are considered classics and influenced a whole generation of underground lyricists. Aside from his solo work, Aceyalone has been a member of two notable groups, The A-Team (with Abstract Rude) and Haiku D’Etat (with Abstract Rude and Micah 9). The Lonely Ones is a Decon Records release and finds Acey somehow treading even newer waters.

This concept album finds Ace One rapping over 1950s-60s R & B/doo wop breakbeats. To further set the atmosphere, Acey includes skits set in an intimate night club, where he introduces songs in front of a live audience. All production is handled by frequent collaborator Bionik and manages to achieve stylistic diversity while maintaining the theme. There are many standout tracks on the CD including “Lonely Ones,” “Can’t Hold Back,” the masterful “The Way it Was,” and the fiery “Power to the People.” As usual, Aceyalone shines as he incorporates these older styles without ever sounding unconfident or corny. The album is appropriately ten tracks deep and thirty minutes long, ending before the theme wears thin.

Following is the official music video for “The Way It Was” featuring Bionik, courtesy of Decon Records, directed by Jason Goldwatch:

With The Lonely Ones, Aceyalone secures his status as the king of concepts. Only a select few could pull off an album like this and Aceyalone manages to sound completely fresh while pulling from elder styles. Becomes he has spent his entire career in the underground, Acey’s contribution to hip hop music and culture has been grossly overlooked. It is unfortunate that artists who consistently push the limits of hip hop have failed to get their deserved respect. Thankfully, Aceyalone and the like continue to produce creative music for those audiences willing to listen. The Lonley Ones by Aceyalone is a must have for Ace One fans and hip hop fans looking for a different sound.

Posted by Langston Collin Wilkins

Falling off the Lavender Bridge

Title: Falling Off the Lavender Bridge
Artist: Lightspeed Champion
Label: Domino Records
Catalog No.: DNO 154
Release date: February 5, 2008

Falling off the Lavender Bridge is the solo debut of Lightspeed Champion, aka Devonte “Dev” Hynes, formerly of the English indie band Test Icicles. It’s difficult to know what to make of Hynes in his Lightspeed persona, named for a comic book character he created in high school. His visual style treads somewhere between hipster cool and ridiculous geek enough to make one wonder how seriously to take him, and how seriously he takes himself. At first glance, song titles such as “Devil Tricks for a Bitch” and “All to Shit,” both seem to suggest a harder sound and aggressive vocal style, but strangely, Lavender Bridge inhabits a country-infused rock soundscape dominated by slide guitar and acoustic strings beneath Hynes’s slightly detached croon. Perhaps this is because Hynes left London and traveled to Omaha to record the album, but it establishes that what you see is not what you hear on this record.

This cognitive dissonance between words and music, and the ironic humor that emerges from it, is the crux of Lightspeed Champion’s quirky style. Most of the songs on the album deal with the various heartaches and the awkwardness of relationships gone awry, and the music virtually always conveys an entirely different emotional message than the lyrics. The most pop-oriented number on the album, “Galaxy of the Lost,” details an uncomfortable and drunken first meeting, scored to an upbeat guitar and piano-driven rock groove. “Devil Tricks for a Bitch” details the growing bitterness of waiting on a phone call that never comes, sung intimately with only a pizzicato string quartet as backup. In “Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk,” Hynes sings of the disorientation felt in the wake of a breakup (“My drawings are starting to suck / my best friends are all listening to crunk / I feel like the world’s gone crazy”) to a swingy country accompaniment punctuated by a jazzy clarinet. The whole album sounds easy enough on a single passive listen, but repeated hearings gradually reveal the high degree of craft and intricacy of the instrumental arrangements. Coupled with the quixotic lyrics, this makes for a compelling indie rock album, appropriately fresh, endearingly dorky, and often indescribable.

Video clip:

An introduction to Lightspeed Champion (from Domino Records, includes interview clips and live performance footage):

Posted by Ann Shaffer