Richard Thompson – The Mask in the Mirror: A Chamber Opera

 

Title: The Mask in the Mirror: A Chamber Opera
Artist: Richard Thompson (comp.)
Label: Navona
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 8, 2019

 

The Mask in the Mirror, a three-act chamber opera from composer and pianist Richard Thompson, portrays turmoil and tragedy in this dramatization of the courtship and marriage of renowned African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) and author Alice Ruth Moore (1875-1935). Conducted by Stephen Tucker, The Sanaa Opera Project released a recording of The Mask in the Mirror earlier this year. Featuring tenor Cameo Humes in the role of Paul and soprano Angela Owens as Alice, with mezzo-soprano Lindsay Patterson Abdou in several supporting familial roles, The Mask in the Mirror balances man against woman, jazz against classical composition, and society against self in a rise of tension that resolves only with end of their relationship and Paul’s subsequent surrender to tuberculosis. Continue reading

Ensemble Arcadiana – Eleanor Alberga, String Quartets 1, 2 & 3

 

Title: Eleanor Alberga: String Quartets 1, 2 & 3
Artist: Ensemble Arcadiana
Label: Navona
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 14, 2019

 

Jamaican-born British composer Eleanor Alberga has received more attention in the past few years since her piece, Arise, Athena!, opened the final concert of the BBC Proms in 2015. This recording of her string quartets highlights some earlier compositions, in which her modernist sensibilities are at the fore. Alberga utilizes many compositional tools in her vast toolbox to bring drama to three very different works, all composed within an eight-year period from 1993-2001. Working in a combination of modernist and postmodern idioms, Alberga has not forgotten harmonic tension and release and plenty of repetition; this is not to say that her music is conservative, but that it is refreshingly expressive and has an engaging sense of narrative and rhythmic drive, honed from her training as a composer for modern dance.  Continue reading

Ramsey Lewis & Urban Knights – VII

 

Title: VII
Artist: Ramsey Lewis & Urban Knights
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 27, 2019

 

Music industry iconic figure, legendary jazz pianist, and Chicago native Ramsey Lewis has released what is possibly his final album with the Urban Knights, VII, before embarking on his journey into retirement. Since his debut album, Ramsey Lewis and his Gentle-men of Swing (1956), Lewis has been a thriving force in the music industry as a successful artist and radio personality, producing countless record albums, and hosting his Legends of Jazz radio and television series. Along the way he has received three Grammy Awards and five gold records, not to mention recordings and collaborations with major music figures such as Nancy Wilson, Maurice White, Freddie Hubbard, Grover Washington Jr., Oliver Nelson, Benny Golson, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Tony Bennett, among many others. Continue reading

Toronzo Cannon – The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp

 

Title: The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp
Artist: Toronzo Cannon
Label: Alligator
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 20, 2019

 

To the uninitiated, Toronzo Cannon might seem to be a relatively new arrival to the blues scene, but he has been paying his dues for years. A Chicago native who did not begin playing guitar until he was 22, Cannon started out as a sideman for local musicians such as Tommy McCracken and Wayne Baker Brooks, but he has been fronting his own bands since 2003. Cannon’s new release, The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp, is his second album for Alligator Records and follows on the heels of The Chicago Way, voted the best blues album of 2016 by readers of Living Blues magazine. On his newest outing, Cannon is joined by veteran keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, who has performed with Chicago artists such as Buddy Guy and recorded with countless others. Rounding out his rhythm section are Melvin “Pooky Styx” Carlisle on drums and Marvin Little on bass. Continue reading

Lilli Lewis Project – We Belong

 

Title: We Belong
Artist: Lilli Lewis Project
Label: Louisiana Red Hot
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 6, 2019

 

On the Lilli Lewis Project’s newest release, We Belong, the Louisiana-based quintet offers their commentary on the importance of being connected to others, whether that connection is within a community, family or intimate relationship. Led by Lilli Lewis on piano and vocals, the multi-genre jazz, folk, funk and soul band also features Smokey Brown (guitar), Wade Hymel (drums), Ryan Murry (percussion), Ole Oddlokken (sax), Dr. Jimbo Walsh (bass), plus a few special guests. Continue reading

John P. Kee – I Made It Out

 

Title: I Made It Out
Artist: John P. Kee
Label: eOne
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 13, 2019

 

Pastor John P. Kee releases yet another spirit filled, “fire baptized,” sanctified and funk-tified album. I Made It Out, Kee’s debut on the eOne Music label, is actually his 26th album release. Building upon the legacy of Kee’s rich musical career that began with his 1987 debut, Yes Lord, his new project features popular gospel artists such as Zachardi Cortez on the hit single “I Made It Out” and Micah Stampley on “Created to Worship.” The album also features the Instagram singing sensations and industry up and comers, Samoht and Ashley Jayy. Continue reading

Brooklyn Funk Essentials – Stay Good

 

Title: Stay Good
Artist: Brooklyn Funk Essentials
Label: Dorado
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 20, 2019

 

Brooklyn Funk Essentials may not be based in Brooklyn anymore, but they sure haven’t given up on the funk. Founded over twenty years ago by Lars “Lati” Kronlund, BFE and its lineup have gone through many shifts over the years. Just before forming the band, Lati released the club anthem “Where Love Lives” with Alison Limerick. Now, for the band’s latest album, the creative relationship between Lati and Alison has been rekindled—with the addition of four other musicians—and BFE has given new life to the projects the duo was working on in the 90s. Continue reading

Vaneese Thomas – Down Yonder

 

Title: Down Yonder
Artist: Vaneese Thomas
Label: Segue
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 23, 2019

 

The long spanning, successful career of Vaneese Thomas is no surprise given her background—the daughter of legendary R&B musician and entertainer Rufus Thomas and the sister of “Memphis Queen” Carla Thomas and keyboardist Marvell Thomas, Vaneese has certainly carried on her family’s musical legacy. In her own style, Vaneese has captured the rich heritage of Memphis soul and R&B while infusing it with gospel, blues, and jazz influences from her lived experiences. In her latest project, Down Yonder, Thomas returns to her southern roots for a soul-stirring album that is at times both heart wrenching and joyous. Continue reading

Black Swans – First Recordings of Black Classical Artists

 

Title: Black Swans
Artist: Various
Label: Parnassus
Format: CD
Release date: August 23, 2019

 

As many readers are no doubt aware, Black Swan was the first major record label in the country to be owned and run by African Americans for the exclusive promotion of Black artists. Founded in 1921 during the Harlem Renaissance by publisher Harry Pace, the company also involved other luminaries: a young Fletcher Henderson served as recording director and de facto accompanist, William Grant Still was hired as composer/arranger, and W.E.B. DuBois was an early investor. At a time when white-owned labels were developing “race” series and limiting Black artists to recording blues, jazz, and gospel music, Black Swan expanded its catalog to include classical singers and instrumentalists, documenting the performance practices of a phenomenal group of concert artists. Now, almost 100 years later, Black Swan classical 78s are very rare and most have never been reissued! This groundbreaking new compilation, Black Swans, includes the first recordings of black classical artists from the label’s short-lived 7100 operatic series, in addition to other rarities. Continue reading

The House Guests – My Mind Set Me Free

 

Title: My Mind Set Me Free
Artist: The House Guests
Label: Shake It
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: August 23, 2019

 

The new compilation from Cincinnati’s Shake It Records, My Mind Set Me Free: The House Guests Meet the Complete Strangers & Bootsy, Phelps & Gary, features nine tracks from a collective of rhythm section instrumentalists and artists who briefly performed together as the House Guests in 1971, but are best known by other names. Initially formed as the Cincinnati-based R&B band, the Pacemakers, when performing with James Brown they became the Original JB’s. After they left Brown, the group toured as the House Guests until they were persuaded by George Clinton to form the new rhythm section for Funkadelic in 1972. Under Clinton, they helped lay the foundation for P-funk, fusing the music with “dimensions from cosmic jazz, fusion [and] acid rock.” Another side project included the group Complete Strangers, and a few years later, Bootsy’s Rubber Band. Collectively, the House Guests/Complete Strangers are considered some of pioneers and progenitors of the airtight polyrhythmic sound that is funk. Continue reading

Wynton Marsalis’s Swing Symphony

Title: Wynton Marsalis’s Swing Symphony
Artist: Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, David Robertson, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Label: Blue Engine
Formats: Digital (Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Amazon, Tidal, and from jazz.org)
Release date: July 1, 2019

 

Trumpeter, bandleader, educator, Pulitzer Prize winner, symphonist—Wynton Marsalis has run the gamut of musical accomplishments, both as a musician and as a composer. This release, one of four albums appearing this year, is the premiere recording of Marsalis’s Swing Symphony (Symphony No. 3), first written in 2010. The work “traces the evolution of the swing rhythm from ragtime to this very moment in order to unite diverse instrumental techniques, musical personalities, song forms, dance grooves, and historic eras.” Drawing inspiration and musical material from the past, Marsalis has telescoped over a century of jazz into an hour, deftly performed here by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under the baton of David Robertson. Continue reading

Jazzmeia Horn – Love and Liberation

 

Title: Love and Liberation
Artist: Jazzmeia Horn
Label: Concord Jazz
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 23, 2019

 

On her stunning 2017 debut, A Social Call, singer-songwriter and bandleader Jazzmeia Horn demonstrated a maturity that belied her age, deftly fusing jazz vocal techniques of the ‘50s and ‘60s with R&B and gospel music while also issuing a call for social responsibility and change.  Horn’s sophomore album, Love and Liberation, continues in a similar vein, featuring eight original songs that reflect her personal mantra: An act of love is an act of liberation, and choosing to liberate—oneself or another—is an act of love.”  Joining her on the album are drummer/vocalist Jamison Ross who, like Horn, is a past winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition, as well as special guest pianist Sullivan Fortner. All three were raised within the Southern Baptist church, allowing their shared lived experiences and gospel roots to permeate the tracks. Other backing musicians include pianist Victor Gould (Horn’s regular accompanist), tenor saxophonist Stacey Dillard, trumpeter Josh Evans, and bassist Ben Williams. Continue reading

James Carter Organ Trio – Live From Newport Jazz

 

Title:  Live From Newport Jazz
Artist: James Carter Organ Trio
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 30, 2019

 

Saxophone virtuoso and Detroit native James Carter just released his Blue Note label debut, James Carter Organ Trio: Live From Newport Jazz. This album arrives nine years after the last album with his organ trio, At the Crossroads (2011), and his acclaimed orchestral collaboration with composer Roberto Sierra on Caribbean Rhapsody (2011). Carter’s recording of his live performance at the 2018 Newport Jazz festival explores the music of gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt from the perspective of Carter’s soul jazz, funk and R&B organ trio. Joined by longtime band members, Hammond B-3 organist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Alexander White, Carter takes us through an “exercise in musical transformation,” or as he says, “a willful attempt to urbanize Gypsy jazz, if you will.” Continue reading

Jon Batiste – Anatomy of Angels

 

Title: Anatomy of Angels
Artist: Jon Batiste
Label: Verve
Formats: CD, MP3, LP
Release date: August 2, 2019

 

Louisiana-born pianist and composer Jon Batiste returns with his newest release, Anatomy of Angels. The album includes song selections from his six-night residency at the Village Vanguard in New York City in the fall of 2018, and features a talented supporting group of musicians: saxophonists Tivon Pennicott and Patrick Bartley, trumpeters Giveton Gelin and Jon Lampley, percussionist and drummer Louis Cato, percussionist Nêgah Santos, drummer Joe Saylor, and guest vocalist Rachael Price. The five-track album demonstrates Batiste’s extensive knowledge of jazz performance aesthetics and pianistic capabilities, all while capturing the spontaneity of jazz musicians improvising in the moment. Continue reading

Saul Williams – Encrypted and Vulnerable

 

Title: Encrypted and Vulnerable
Artist: Saul Williams
Label: Pirates Blend
Release Date: July 18, 2019
Formats: Streaming, Vinyl

 

Consider hacking into a deeper examination of the senses—visuality, audiology, tactility. Consider hacking into an observation of the world around us—geographically, temporally, contextually. Consider hacking into a scrutinization of socio-political issues—technology, leakology, trackology.

Consider hacking.

With his most current album, Saul Williams encourages us to do just that.  Self-produced Encrypted and Vulnerable is the second in a three-part series, preceded by 2016’s MartyrLoserKing, but more importantly, Williams’ work is one more piece in a much larger metaphysical puzzle. The MartyrLoserKing project —a 3-part multi-media compilation of albums, a musical film and an upcoming graphic novel focuses on governmental surveilling and silencing of global activists through the medium of Afrofuturistic performance. Of his current self-titled spoken word release, Williams describes it as “simultaneously a personal and intimately optimistic takedown on struggle, defiance, awareness, aloneness, and a takedown of heteronormative capitalistic patriarchal authoritarian politics in topics ranging from love, technology, religion, war, to migration.” Continue reading

Raphael Saadiq – Jimmy Lee

 

Title: Jimmy Lee
Artist: Raphael Saadiq
Label: Columbia
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: August 23, 2019

 

Raphael Saadiq, the extraordinarily talented singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer, is known for his genre-spanning solo albums as well as his collaborations with the likes of Solange, Mick Jagger, D’Angelo and the band Lucy Pearl. Before becoming a solo artist, Saadiq was a member of Sheila E.’s band, playing the bass at the age of 18 on Prince’s Parade Tour. He would later join the dynamic R&B band Tony! Toni! Toné! as the primary lead singer, bassist and producer. On Jimmy Lee, Saadiq’s fifth studio album, he has created a deeply personal and passionate project. Named after his oldest brother who died from a drug overdose, Jimmy Lee is also dedicated to Saadiq’s three other siblings who tragically passed away due to murder, drug addiction and suicide. While the album may be full of lament, it is also full of life, love and celebration. Continue reading

Louis Armstrong – Live in Europe

 

Title: Live in Europe
Artist: Louis Armstrong
Label: Dot Time (DT8015)
Formats: CD, LP
Release date: September 27, 2019

 

Louis Armstrong created magic throughout his career. One of many remarkable phases occurred when he began touring and recording with the All Stars, featuring Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines, in 1947.  The recordings on Live in Europe include performances from two European tours made by Louis Armstrong in 1948 and 1952, a period where he was associated with Decca Records. By 1952, Teagarden and Hines were no longer performing with this group, so the personnel changed. Continue reading

Battle of the Blues: Chicago vs Oakland

 

Title: Battle of the Blues: Chicago vs Oakland
Artist: Various
Label: Delta Roots
Format: CD, Digital
Release Date: August 2, 2019

 

Drummer, songwriter, and producer Twist Turner has worked for nearly six years on his latest project, Battle of the Blues: Chicago vs Oakland. Not only did this certified blues man write 11 original tracks and play the drums for the album, but he also mixed and produced it for his own label, Delta Roots Records. According to Turner, the project was originally inspired by his desire to “produce a recording of the unknown and underappreciated blues men and women of the Bay Area.” Oakland, an often-overlooked focal point of the West Coast blues and jazz scenes, was Turner’s home for six years. After relocating to Chicago, however, Turner expanded the project to also highlight seasoned blues artists from both of his home cities. Continue reading

Americus Brass Band’s Tribute to James Reese Europe

 

Title: Tribute to James Reese Europe’s Harlem Hell Fighters’ Band
Artist: Americus Brass Band
Label: Cambria Master Recordings/Naxos
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 19, 2019

 

The full title of this fantastic project is self-explanatory: The Americus Brass Band Pays Tribute to James Reese Europe’s Harlem Hell Fighters’ Band on the 100th Anniversary of the Pathé Recordings. At the dawn of the 20th century, Jim Europe was making a name for himself on the musical stages of New York as a talented pianist, composer and conductor, later leading the famed Clef Club Symphony Orchestra as well as his own group, James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra. In mid-1916, Europe’s life changed course when he was asked to lead an all-black regiment band on the eve of WWI. After sailing to France in January 1918, Europe’s group quickly became the most acclaimed band in the army. Renaming themselves the “Hell Fighters” (after the Black soldiers of the 369th Regiment), they toured France, thrilling both American and French audiences with their performances of the syncopated music newly designated as “jazz.” At the close of WWI in February1919, Europe’s Hell Fighter’s Band returned to a hero’s welcome in New York and one month later entered the recording studio. Continue reading

Fort Smith Symphony – Florence Beatrice Price Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4

 

Title: Florence Beatrice Price Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4
Artist: Fort Smith Symphony
Label: Naxos American Classics
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 11, 2019

 

Born in segregated Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887, Florence Price attended the New England Conservatory when local schools refused to admit her, studying composition with George Whitefield Chadwick. Although she returned to Arkansas for a time, she and her daughters moved to Chicago in 1927 due to increased racial violence in Little Rock. There, she met prominent members of the Chicago’s African American arts scene such as Estelle Bonds, whose daughter, Margaret Bonds, became one of Price’s students. Though primarily known today as a composer of songs, notably “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” and “Songs to the Dark Virgin” popularized by Marian Anderson, Price was also the first African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed her Symphony No. 1 at the World’s Fair in 1933). Unfortunately, many of her works were largely forgotten after her death, with major conductors like Serge Koussevitzky declining to program her symphonies. In fact, several of her works, including the Fourth Symphony recorded here, were thought to be lost until the manuscripts were rediscovered in a house in St. Anne, Illinois. This symphony was never performed during Price’s lifetime, and is instead receiving its premiere on this CD. Continue reading

Avery R. Young – Tubman

 

Title: Tubman
Artist: Avery R. Young
Label: FPE
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: July 19, 2019

 

Chicago poet and musician Avery R. Young’s new release, Tubman, is promoted as a soundtrack to his first volume of poetry, neckbone: visual verses (Northwestern University Press, June 2019), and serves as a platform for extending and exploring the book’s many interwoven themes through music. Accompanied by his group, De Deacon Board, Young’s brilliant cross-genre album dedicated to Harriet Tubman certainly stands on its own merits. The provocative tracks frequently delve into socio-political commentary, while Young’s musical palette is deeply rooted in the Delta—“the blues, the gospel, that swamp type of rock ‘n’ roll.” As one might expect from this poet, other influences include The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron, as well as ‘70s soul musicians such as Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding, the Black church, and the Black Arts Movement. Plus funk, lots of funk! Continue reading

Avery Sharpe – 400: An African American Musical Portrait

 

Title: 400: An African American Musical Portrait
Artist: Avery Sharpe
Label: JKNM Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 1st, 2019

 

From the arrival of the first slave ships in Jamestown, VA in 1619 to the present, Africans in the diaspora have retained the common African belief that life, religion and music are one. Jazz bassist Avery Sharpe’s new project, 400: An African American Musical Portrait, embodies the very essence of this concept. Sharpe pays homage to the continent of Africa and to African diasporic ancestors as he commemorates the 400 years since Africans were brought to America. Continue reading

Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble – Where Future Unfolds

 

Title: Where Future Unfolds
Artist: Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble
Label: IARC
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: June 14, 2019

 

Recorded live last November at the Red Bull Music Festival in Chicago, Damon Locks’ new release with his 15-piece Black Monument Ensemble may quite literally capture Where Future Unfolds. This forward looking project began as a sound collage piece incorporating samples from Civil Rights era speeches and grew into an epic, avant-garde oratorio. While the album can’t capture the full spectacle of the live performance with dancers from Move Me Soul, the recording still conveys the powerful message of Locks’ music. Likely influenced by the theatricality of Sun Ra and the aesthetics of The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Locks’ magnum opus also bears some resemblance to albums released during the Black Power and Black Arts Movement eras. This is clear from the opening “Statement of Intent/Black Monument Theme,” which is primarily a spoken word piece over the African-rooted percussion of Arif Smith and Dana Hall. The dense lyrics conclude with the call to action: “So we choose our next move / The time is now, it has always been / Respond anew / Pass the guard and get through, because some things never change.” Continue reading

Charnett Moffett – Bright New Day

 

Title: Bright New Day
Artist: Charnett Moffett
Label: Motéma Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 21, 2019

 

Bright New Day is the newest album by bass player extraordinaire, Charnett Moffett. Released just two years after his Music From Our Soul (2017), Bright New Day is his seventh album with Motéma Music and sixteenth album as front man and bandleader. Moffett’s remarkable resume includes performances and recordings with jazz luminaries such as Ornette Coleman, Tony Williams, Mulgrew Miller, Wallace Roney, Brandford and Wynton Marsalis, and Stanley Jordan, among others. His album features a great supporting cast which includes guitarist and founder of Motéma Music Jana Herzen, drummer Mark Whitfield Jr., keyboardist Brian Jackson, and violinist Scott Tixier. Continue reading

Soul Brass Band – Levels

 

Title: Levels
Artist: Soul Brass Band
Label: Independent
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: July 19, 2019

 

The Soul Brass Band, under the leadership of front man Derrick Freeman, just released their newest album Levels. Before founding this New Orleans-based brass band, Freeman—a virtuoso percussionist, vocalist, and pianist—performed with Kermit Ruffins as well as other notable bands like Mass Hysteria and Coolbone. Levels mixes the sounds of the brass band with soul, R&B, and hip hop, and includes lyrics that uplift and encourage people to ‘keep on pushin’ and enduring through the different spheres of life. The title track, “Levels,” as well as “How Far We Come” and “Ease on Down The Road” all articulate this positive mentality that stimulate and elevate one’s consciousness. Musically speaking, the album maintains a consistent level of high spirited energy throughout. From the lush and crisp harmonies in the horns to dynamic head-bopping grooves in the rhythm section, Levels certainly creates the perfect party atmosphere for all listeners. Continue reading