Brent Birckhead – Birckhead

 

Title: Birckhead
Artist: Brent Birckhead
Label: Revive Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 22, 2019

 

Saxophonist Brent Birckhead has earned a name for himself over the past decade as a dynamic improviser and maverick woodwind artist. After gigging around his hometown of Baltimore and Washington, DC, where he earned a masters in music from Howard University, he served a stint as a member of Lauryn Hill’s touring band. Now on the faculty of Morgan State University, Birckhead has graced the stage with musicians ranging from Bilal, Wale and Nas to funk bass legend Larry Graham and many jazz greats. All of these influences come together on his debut album, Birckhead, featuring ten of his original compositions. The saxophonist is joined on this project by Corey Wallace on trombone, Samir Moulay on guitar, and the three regular members of his quartet—Mark Meadows on piano and Rhodes, Romeir Mendez on bass, and Carroll Dashiell III on drums. Continue reading

Eric Dolphy – Musical Prophet

 

Title: Musical Prophet
Artist: Eric Dolphy
Label: Resonance
Formats: 3-CD, 3-LP, Digital
Release date: January 25, 2019

 

A must for any serious jazz collector, Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions is a three disc set that includes Eric Dolphy’s 1963 albums, Conversations and Iron Man, newly remastered in high-resolution mono transferred from the only extant master tapes. Though these two albums have been reissued multiple times over the years (often on budget labels), Resonance Records has upped the ante with bonus tracks and remarkable audio clarity. The third disc offers 85 minutes of previously unissued material recorded during the same sessions on July 1 and 3, 1963, with producer Alan Douglas at Music Maker’s Studios in New York City. About six months later, Dolphy laid down tracks for the avant-garde masterpiece, Out to Lunch!, his final studio recording before his untimely death in Berlin on June 29, 1964. Consequently, Musical Prophet offers additional insight into Dolphy’s musical headspace and creative output during the last year of his life. Continue reading

On the Corner Live! The Music of Miles Davis

Title: On the Corner Live! The Music of Miles Davis
Artist: Various
Label: Ear Up
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 1, 2019

 

Recorded live in Nashville in 2015, On the Corner Live!: The Music of Miles Davis features five top artists reimagining the music of Davis, sans trumpet. Rather than duplicating the tracks on Davis’s 1972 jazz fusion album On the Corner, the musicians have selected various tunes from the Miles Davis catalog. The mastermind behind this project is saxophonist Jeff Coffin, who brought in Dave Leibman, soprano and tenor saxophonist on the original album and a member of Davis’s band from 1970–1974. Joining Coffin and Leibman is Nashville session musician James DaSilva on guitar, the amazing Victor Wooten on electric bass, Chris Walters on keyboards, and Chester Thompson (Weather Report, Genesis) on drums. As one might expect, this band displays some crazy synergy. Continue reading

A Day in the Life: Impressions of Pepper

 

Title: A Day in the Life: Impressions of Pepper
Artist: Various
Label: Verve/Impulse!
Formats: CD, LP, Vinyl
Release date: November 30, 2018

 

The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released in the summer of 1967, was an experimental concept album that fused elements of psychedelia, vaudeville, avant-garde, and Western and Indian classical music into an art rock masterpiece.  Verve’s new compilation, A Day in the Life: Impressions of Pepper, calls upon some of today’s hottest young jazz musicians to reinterpret all 13 tracks of the groundbreaking album. Continue reading

Eme Alfonso – Voy

 

Title: Voy
Artist: Eme Alfonso
Label: Self-released
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 22, 2019 (U.S.)

 

Rising Cuban star Eme Alfonso grew up performing keys and vocals in her parent’s Latin GRAMMY nominated fusion band, Sintesis. In 2008, Afonso embarked on a solo career while also serving as artistic director of the Havana World Music Festival. She has since released three albums, acclaimed for their unique blend of Afro-Cuban jazz, funk, and Latin soul. Alfonso’s latest album, Voy, continues to defy genre boundaries while also expanding her presence on the world stage, including a recent showcase at SXSW. Continue reading

Ron Jackson – Standards and Other Songs

 

Title: Standards and Other Songs
Artist: Ron Jackson
Label: Roni Music/Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 8, 2019

 

Ron Jackson, an alum of the Berklee School of Music, is a master of the six, seven, and twelve string guitars. After living as an expat musician in Paris in the 1980s, Jackson returned to New York where he is very active on the local jazz scene. In addition to teaching guitar at Jazz at Lincoln Center and The New School, he has also performed in the pit orchestra for Broadway shows such as Shuffle Along, and Bring In `Da Noise, Bring In `Da Funk. Jackson cites a wide range of musical influences, ranging from rock guitarist Jimmy Page to jazz guitarists George Benson and Pat Metheny, and both of those sides and more are represented on Jackson’s latest project, Standards and Other Songs. Performing with Jackson are the two other members of his trio, bassist Nathan Brown and drummer Darrell Green. Continue reading

The Lightmen Plus One – Energy Control Center

 

Title: Energy Control Center
Artist: The Lightmen Plus One
Label: Now-Again
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 18, 2018

 

Thanks to Now-Again Records, producer Eothem Alapatt, and author Lance Scott Walker, the story and recordings of drummer Bubbha Thomas and his spiritual jazz group, The Lightmen Plus One, are receiving new interest. A native of Houston’s Fourth Ward during the era of segregation, Thomas decided to hit the road in the early ‘60s and tour with an R&B backing band. Upon his return to Houston, his interests shifted to jazz as well as community activism, education and journalism. Thomas developed a powerful voice as editor-in-chief of the grassroots newspaper Voice of HOPE, and founded Houston’s Summer Jazz Workshop which continues to this day. In 1970, his newly-christened The Lightmen Plus One ensemble released their debut album, Free As You Wanna Be, on George Nelson’s Judnell label. Energy Control Center, released in 1972 on Thomas’s short-lived label, Bubbha’s Lightnin’ Records, is considered the group’s masterpiece. Continue reading

Leo Bud Welch – The Angels in Heaven Done Signed My Name

 

Title: The Angels in Heaven Done Signed My Name
Artist: Leo Bud Welch
Label: Easy Eye Sound
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: March 8, 2019

 

Mississippi bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch’s musical talents were recognized at a very young age when he first learned to play blues guitar. By the time he was a teenager, Welch could be also be found at the local Baptist church performing gospel music. His dedication to both sacred and secular music remained strong throughout his life. He played at local juke joints, opening for the likes of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker, and also appeared on the regional television show Black Gospel Express. But the life of a professional musician eluded Welch, who was a lumberjack by trade in the northern Mississippi hill country. That all changed when his debut gospel album, Sabougla Voices, was released in 2014 when Welch was 82, followed a year later by the secular album, I Don’t Prefer No Blues. Welch’s discovery as an octogenarian steeped in traditional blues and gospel music propelled him to a world stage where he came to the attention of Dan Auerbach, who produced this project. Continue reading

The Dream Is You: Vanessa Rubin Sings Tadd Dameron

 

Title: The Dream Is You: Vanessa Rubin Sings Tadd Dameron
Artist: Vanessa Rubin
Label: Nibur
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 22, 2019

 

Cleveland native Vanessa Rubin is a self-described jazz vocalist who “enjoys timeless melodies and exquisite vocal forms as well as embracing stories lesser told.” On her new album, The Dream Is You: Vanessa Rubin Sings Tadd Dameron, her mission is to highlight well known, obscure, and new lyrical works of composer/arranger/pianist Tadd Dameron. A fellow Clevelander, Tadd Dameron (1917-1965) was an influential arranger/composer and pianist during the bop era of the 1940s and ‘50s, writing charts for the likes of Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, and Sarah Vaughan. For the past 25 years, Rubin has included Dameron’s songs in her repertoire, and now presents the first all-vocal recording of his music. Continue reading

Damien Sneed – We Shall Overcome

 

Title: We Shall Overcome
Artist: Damien Sneed
Label: LeChateau Earl
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 18, 2019

 

Conceived as a celebration of the 35th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Damien Sneed’s We Shall Overcome is an album steeped in the African American experience. In honoring Dr. King, Sneed chose to follow in the footsteps of artists that “have used their platform to proclaim songs of protest and reconciliation in response to the main issues in our homes, schools, government, nation and the world abroad.” The multi-talented pianist, vocalist, composer and arranger effortlessly crosses genres, delivering a cohesive 18-track collection that pays homage to civil rights anthems, Negro spirituals, classical composers, and iconic jazz, soul, and gospel musicians. This should come as no surprise from one who has worked with artists ranging from Jessye Norman and Lawrence Brownlee to The Clark Sisters, Richard Smallwood, Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis, and Stevie Wonder, to name just a few. Continue reading

Jeanne Lee with Ran Blake – The Newest Sound You Never Heard

 

Title: The Newest Sound You Never Heard
Artist: Jeanne Lee with Ran Blake
Label: A-Side (dist. CD Baby)
Formats: 2-CD set, Digital
Release date: January 25, 2019

 

In 1962, African American singer Jeanne Lee (1939-2000) and pianist Ran Blake set the jazz world on its ear with their landmark debut album, The Newest Sound Around. The duo’s unorthodox interpretations were a result of their wide-ranging influences including film noir, the avant-garde, free jazz, blues, spirituals, gospel, and more. The two continued to collaborate throughout much of the ‘60s, including European tours in 1966 and 1967.  During one of those tours, Lee met German jazz musician Gunter Hampel, whom she later married.  From that point forward, most of Lee’s work was based overseas, hence she is not as well-known in the U.S. as she should be. That may well change with the release of The Newest Sound You Never Heard, compiled from recordings captured during the 1966 and 1967 European tours by Belgian radio and television station VRT. The previously unreleased tracks on this two-disc set nearly double the amount of available recordings from this unique duo. Continue reading

Rachel Barton Pine – Blues Dialogues

 

Title: Blues Dialogues
Artist: Rachel Barton Pine
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

In 1997, violinist Rachel Barton Pine presented her landmark album, Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th & 19th Centuries, on the Cedille Records label. Released 21 years later, Blues Dialogues is the most recent culmination of Pine’s ongoing research into music by Black composers. Going beyond the confines of Western classical music, her new project features twelve works that draw upon the African American experience and more specifically, blues idioms, which the violinist claims is her “second-favorite genre of music.” This is certainly a fitting sentiment for a Chicago native, especially one who has polished her blues chops by jamming with two local legends—Son Seals and Sugar Blue. Continue reading

The Gospel According to Malaco: Celebrating 75 Years of Gospel Music

 

Title: The Gospel According to Malaco: Celebrating 75 Years of Gospel Music
Artist: Various
Label: Malaco Music Group
Formats: 8 CD box set, Digital
Release date: February 28, 2019

 

Founded by Tommy Couch and Mitchell Malouf in 1968, the Malaco Music Group of Jackson, Mississippi has been “making black music for black people” for 50 years.  World renown for their many iconic Southern soul and rhythm and blues releases and one of the last truly independent labels, Malaco has been called “The Last Soul Company.” However, Malaco has also amassed the largest black gospel catalog in the world. The company began releasing gospel records in the 1970s, but their purchase of the Savoy, Apollo, and Atlanta International labels extended the catalog back to the 1940s. This places Malaco in the perfect position for their ambitious 50th anniversary project, The Gospel According to Malaco: Celebrating 75 Years of Gospel Music. The eight disc anthology covers the history of gospel from the post-WWII-era to the present, through 100 recordings by gospel music’s greatest artists, quartets and choirs. Continue reading

Eric Gales – The Bookends

 

Title: The Bookends
Artist: Eric Gales
Label: Provogue
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 8, 2019

 

Virtuoso blues-rock guitarist Eric Gales may not be a household name, but he’s been described by his peers as one of the best guitar players in the world. A former child prodigy, Gales was signed to a record label at the age of 16 and has since recorded 15 solo albums. Along the way he’s recorded with many other artists, and also performs alongside bassist Dug Pinnick (King’s X) and drummer Thomas Pridgen (Mars Volta) in the formidable black rock power trio Pinnick Gales Pridgen. Gales’ new release, The Bookends, may be his greatest accomplishment to date. While blues and rock may represent the bookends, the project also embodies “everything in between” from pop, jazz, and funk to gospel. Continue reading

Salif Keita – Un Autre Blanc

 

Title: Un Autre Blanc
Artist: Salif Keita
Label: Naïve/Believe
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 1, 2019

 

Hailed as the ‘Songbird’ and ‘Golden Voice of Africa,’ Malian singer Salif Keita has been sharing his art with the world for 50 years—performing with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Vernon Reid, and Esperanza Spalding. His journey, however, has not been easy. Born with albinism, Keita was banished from his village at an early age due to superstitions surrounding his skin color. Finding kindred spirits among the griots, he quickly rose to prominence as a musician, but was forced to flee the country during the civil unrest of the 1970s and eventually settled in Paris. Now, Salif Keita concludes his illustrious recording career with his 14th studio album, Un Autre Blanc (Another White). Continue reading

Willie J. Laws Jr. – Black Maria

 

Title: Black Maria
Artist: Willie J. Laws Jr.
Label: Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 10, 2018

 

Self-described as “The Prophet of Funky Texas Blues,” guitarist Willie J. Laws offers an eclectic fusion of the blues with sounds native to the Gulf Coast region, including Zydeco, R&B, a twang of country, a little Tex-Mex Tejano/Conjunto, and a dollop of funk. Honed over 25 years of performing with his own band, as well as the Tejano band Los Texmaniacs, Laws’ playing style is American roots music at its best. On his latest album, Black Maria, Laws (on rhythm/lead guitar and vocals) is joined by his longtime band members—Bruce Mattson (keyboards/organ), Osi Brathwaite (drums), and Malcolm Stuckey (bass)—who helped pen the ten original tracks on this recording. Continue reading

Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne – Inspired by the Blues

 

Title: Inspired by the Blues
Artist: Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne
Label: Stony Plain
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 28, 2018

 

Veteran blues musician Kenny Wayne might have been raised as a preacher’s kid, but when he found himself “turning from the Lord’s work to the Devil’s music,” the “Blues Boss” was born. Well-known for his flamboyant zoot suits, boogie-woogie piano playing, and affinity for the classic jump blues of Amos Milburn and Louis Jordan, Wayne strives to keep all of these styles alive. As the septuagenarian states, “That’s classic stuff. And I’m at that classic age, so it all works out.”  On his 10th release, Inspired by the Blues, Wayne and his band are joined by several special guests, including legendary Chicago harmonica player Billy Branch, guitarist Duke Robillard, and B.B. King’s long-time bassist Russell Jackson. Continue reading

Henry Townsend – Mule

 

Title: Mule
Artist: Henry Townsend
Label: Omnivore Recordings
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: December 14, 2018

 

Hailed as one of the last of the original St. Louis pre-war blues musicians, the late Henry “Mule” Townsend was equally skilled on piano and guitar. His distinctive string snapping style drew heavily upon his Mississippi Delta roots as well as the ragtime and jump blues of his adopted city of St. Louis. Townsend, who began his recording career in 1929 for Columbia Records, holds the distinction of the only blues artist to have recorded during every decade from the 1920s to the 2000s. He accompanied many of the great blues musicians over the years, including Roosevelt Sykes, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Robert Nighthawk. In 1980, the Nighthawk Records label out of St. Louis wanted to honor Townsend with an album worthy of his “unique genius,” and “thus secure for him the recognition that an artist of his stature and historical importance deserves.” The result was the “improvised” solo album, Mule, which highlights Townsend’s vocal and keyboard skills. Assisting musicians include another country blues legend, Yank Rachell, on mandolin and guitar, as well as guitarist Norman Merritt and Henry’s son, Vernell Townsend, who adds vocals on several songs. Continue reading

Roscoe Robinson – Turn Right and Go Straight

 

Title: Turn Right and Go Straight
Artist: Roscoe Robinson
Label: Abkco
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 29, 2018

 

Born in 1928, singer-songwriter Roscoe Robinson recently cut two new tracks in celebration of his 90th birthday. The longtime resident of Birmingham, Alabama, has performed with several significant gospel groups, including the Highway QC’s back when Sam Cooke was a member, as well as the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Blind Boys of Mississippi. Like Cooke, Robinson also crossed over into secular music, gaining recognition as a soul singer in the 1960s with several charting hits, and later releasing recordings on the Atlantic, Fame, Paula, and Sound Stage 7 labels. Continue reading

Various Artists – Sissle & Blake’s Shuffle Along of 1950

 

Title: Sissle & Blake’s Shuffle Along of 1950
Artist: Various
Label: Harbinger
Format: CD, MP3
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

Two of the most famous early African American composers, vaudeville stars and recording artists—Indianapolis-born Noble Sissle (1889-1974) and Baltimore native Eubie Blake (1887-1983)—began their careers during the ragtime era. Joining Lt. James Reese Europe’s famous 369th U.S. Infantry “Hell Fighters” Band during WWI, they helped to promote an appreciation of Black popular music throughout the U.S. and Europe, especially the new genre known as “jazz.” After the war they experienced a number of successes, but none so great as their landmark musical Shuffle Along. Based on a comedy routine by their vaudeville colleagues Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, who wrote the book, the musical opened in New York in 1921 with Blake leading the orchestra from the keyboard. Though not the first Black show on Broadway (Bob Cole’s minstrelsy themed A Trip to Coontown and Will Marion Cook’s more progressive Clorindy both debuted in 1898), Shuffle Along became one of the most successful Broadway musicals of the era, drawing audiences with its swinging jazz melodies and “hot rhythms.” Continue reading

Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label

 

Title: Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label
Artist: Various
Label: Numero Group
Formats: CD, 2-LP, Digital
Release date: March 23, 2018

 

This exploration of Cleveland’s Saru label, released earlier this year, is another fine addition to Numero’s Eccentric Soul series featuring lost gems from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Due to its fascinating connections to Ohio funk, the Saru compilation is also one of our favorites. Label owner Chuck Brown set up a management team that included Bobby Massey, one of the original members of the O’Jays, and Calvin Simon, an original member of the Parliaments with George Clinton, and later the Parliament-Funkadelic collective. These two influential staff members assembled talent for the backing bands and also produced and performed on many of the sessions. Continue reading

Theotis Taylor – Something Within Me

 

Title: Something Within Me
Artist: Theotis Taylor
Label: Big Legal Mess
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: June 29, 2018

 

Gospel singer and pianist Theotis Taylor was born in 1920 in Fitzgerald, Georgia and grew up singing in the local Baptist church where his father was a deacon. In 1946 he joined the Georgia Harmoniers but went solo five years later, performing in churches throughout the South and cutting several singles for the Pitch label out of Savannah (he’s featured on the 2010 compilation, The Pitch/Gusman Records Story).  In 1977, a representative of the American Folklife Center visited Taylor at his home in Fitzgerald to record a short interview for the South-Central Georgia Folklife Project, which also features an impromptu performance. Taylor was still in fine voice at this time, and it was just two years later that he recorded tracks for a debut album. Apparently, the project that was never commercially released and the master tapes were recently given to the Music Maker Relief Foundation and remastered for this album.  Continue reading

Imamu Amiri Baraka – It’s Nation Time – African Visionary Music

 

Title: It’s Nation Time – African Visionary Music
Artist: Imamu Amiri Baraka
Label: Motown/UMe
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: November 16, 2018

 

At the beginning of the Black Power Era, Motown Records joined other labels in producing politically oriented albums that addressed issues of critical concern to Black America (e.g., see our previous review of the book, Listen Whitey). Motown established a subsidiary label for this project in 1970, and released a total of eight albums and one single on their new Black Forum label. The rarest of these Black Forum albums—virtually unavailable for the past 46 years—is Amiri Baraka’s It’s Nation Time – African Visionary Music, released in 1972. In a surprise move with little fanfare, the album has now been reissued on vinyl. Continue reading

Chic – The Chic Organization 1977-1979

 

Title: The Chic Organization 1977-1979
Artist: Chic
Label: Atlantic/Rhino
Formats: 5-CD, 6-LP box set
Release date: November 23, 2018

 

There’s no better way to experience the late ‘70s disco era than this new box set celebrating the music of Chic and its co-founders, Nile Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards. Included are the group’s first three albums—Chic (1978), C’est Chic (1978) and Risqué (1978)—plus Sister Sledge’s iconic album We Are Family (1979), the first project Rodgers and Edwards wrote and produced for another artist. The final disc in the set features singles, including the 7” and 12” releases of Chic’s chart topping hits such as “Le Freak,” which was recently added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, and “Good Times,” one of the most-sampled songs in music history (used in Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.”) All tracks have been newly remastered from the original Atlantic stereo tapes by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios. The accompanying booklets includes essays by Toure and Paul Morley; however, the vinyl edition features more extensive liner notes. Continue reading

Staple Singers – For What It’s Worth: Complete Epic Recordings 1964-1968

 

Title: For What It’s Worth: Complete Epic Recordings 1964-1968
Artist: Staple Singers
Label: Cherry Red
Formats: 3-CD box set
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

Given the immense popularity and historical importance of the Staple Singers, it’s hard to believe that some of their albums have not been reissued on CD. This new box set from the UK label Cherry Red offers the first-ever retrospective of the Staple Singers’ recordings for Epic. The six albums released by Epic between 1964-1968, featured in their entirety on this set, include Amen (1965), Freedom Highway (1965), and Why (1966), plus the CD debuts of Pray On (1967), For What It’s Worth (1967), and the always timely What The World Needs Now Is Love (1968). Continue reading