Hundred Watt Heart – Turbulent Times

 

Title: Turbulent Times
Artist: Hundred Watt Heart
Label: Whole Leap
Formats: LP, Digital
Release date: May 24, 2019

 

Hundred Watt Heart’s Turbulent Times is the first solo recording by “Captain” Kirk Douglas from The Roots. Joined by The Roots bassist Mark Kelley, the Hundred Watt Heart is a Black rock power trio rounded out by drummer Ricc Sheridan from the band Earl Greyhound (the three also perform together as The Dust Rays). Given the power trio theme, it is appropriate that this album was recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York. The eight tracks feature excellent songwriting and musicianship that is at times bare-bones rock and roll, and at other times well-produced pseudo-psychedelia. The entire band is first-rate, and Douglas is outstanding both as a vocalist and a guitarist. Perhaps most impressive is Douglas’s restraint as a guitar player. On tracks like “Uma” he demonstrates that he can play at a top-tier level when he wants to, but unlike some other highly technical guitarists, Douglas does not populate the entire album with flashy guitar licks. Continue reading

Black Pumas Self-Titled Debut Album

 

Title: Black Pumas
Artist: Black Pumas
Label: ATO
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: June 21, 2019

 

Already hailed as a breakout band of 2019, the Austin-based duo Black Pumas just dropped their self-titled debut album. The group is the brainchild of Adrian Quesada, former guitarist with the Latin funk band Grupo Fantasma, who began assembling tracks in his studio before seeking a lead singer. Friends connected him with Eric Burton, a California native and recent Austin transplant, whose vocal prowess is rooted in the Black church and honed in musical theater. To say the two musicians hit it off would be an understatement; Burton’s songwriting skills complimented Quesada’s production experience and they shared a musical vision. The duo’s chemistry is apparent on every track, and with the additional of an ace backup band they appear unstoppable, with solid bookings through the end of the year. The opening track and first single, “Black Moon Rising,” provides a taste of their distinctive brand of soul, which draws heavily from the past but is equally grounded in the present: Continue reading

Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber – 20th Anniversary Mixtapes: Groiddest Schizznits Vol. 1-3

 

Title: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes: Groiddest Schizznits Vol. 1-3
Artist: Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber
Label: TruGroid/Dist. CD Baby
Formats: 3 CDs, Digital
Release date: 2019

 

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the acclaimed and renowned experimental soul-jazz-hip hop ensemble, Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber. Founded in 1999 by Village Voice critic, black music scholar and guitarist Greg Tate and co-leader/bassist Jared Michael Nickerson, Burnt Sugar was, and is, a collective of musicians creating music that traverses black music styles, genres, and eras. According to Tate and Nickerson, “Burnt Sugar was originally conceived as a forum for the New York area improvisational musician to compose, record and perform material which reflects the breadth and depth of African diasporan music in the 21st century.” To commemorate their illustrious career, Burnt Sugar recently released their three volume album compilation, 20th Anniversary Mixtapes: Groiddest Schizznits. Continue reading

Little Junior Parker Rocks

 

Title: Rocks
Artist: Little Junior Parker
Label: Bear Family
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 5, 2019

 

Little Junior Parker (1932-1971) is the most recent artist to be featured on Bear Family’s long-running Rocks! series, which focuses on “the best upbeat recordings of seminal roots music artists.” Though Parker’s life “was tragically truncated by a brain tumor,” the blues harpist “had enough time to leave behind a bountiful blues recording legacy that stretched across two decades.” As explained by Bill Dahl, reissue producer and author of the extensive liner notes, Parker released a string of R&B and blues hits for two of the seminal independent labels of the postwar era: Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis and Don Robey’s Houston-based Duke imprint.” Both are represented on this compilation. Continue reading

Pieces of a Man – Made in Pieces

 

Title: Made in Pieces
Artist: Pieces of a Man
Label: Tru Thoughts
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 12, 2019

 

Pieces of a Man (POAM) is a collective of musicians living in Manchester, England  comprised of Pils (Illya Gosling) on keyboards/sax, Mark Parkinson on guitar, Tim Curry on bass, Aden Peets on drums and beats, with lead singer/synth player To!u A¡ay and on talkbox/vocoder and David “DK” Klien on live effects. This is no typical band! Their music can be described as cross-genre, inspired by the likes of Ron Kenoly, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and Israel Houghton. POAM also draws from more modern soul influencers such as D’Angelo, Dwele and Jill Scott “to create immersive, textured soundscapes built with hip-hop, funk and R&B.” Continue reading

John the Martyr Self-Titled Debut Album

 

Title: John the Martyr
Artist: John the Martyr
Label: Plus One
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: June 14, 2019

 

It’s becoming a familiar story: young soul music enthusiast encounters a seasoned elder who hasn’t performed professionally for years, and invites him or her to front a band. In this instance, the band is the ten-piece rock and soul group John the Martyr, and the elder is none other than 70-year-old Harlem soul singer Bill Hudson, who had been earning extra cash performing with a doo-wop group in the New York subway. Now, just two years after their formation, John the Martyr has released its eponymous debut album to wide acclaim. You may have already heard their first single, “Crossing the Line,” which is brimming over with a youthful enthusiasm tempered by the gravitas of Hudson’s vocals that reflect the septuagenarian’s lived experience: Continue reading

Alan Evans – Nothing To Say

 

Title: Nothing To Say
Artist: Alan Evans
Label: Vintage League Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: May 24, 2019

 

Don’t let the title fool you—Alan Evans has plenty to say on his solo debut album. Steeped in psychedelic rock and funk, Nothing To Say finds Evans stepping out from behind his drum kit and away from his acclaimed funk/jazz trio Soulive. The album’s ten original tracks were written, recorded, and produced over the past four years by Evans and released on his Vintage League Music label. In addition to laying down the drum tracks, the singer and multi-instrumentalist performs all vocals as well as guitar, bass, keys and percussion. Joining Evans on this outing are guitarists Danny Mayer and Ryan Hommel, who doubles on pedal steel, with Darby Wolf, Kris Yunker, Beau Sasser, and brother Neal Evans (Soulive) filling in on Moog, organ, piano and Mellotron. This keyboard centric mix is heavy on the organ, creating a soulful yet funky feel throughout, but includes enough stellar guitar solos to rock hard. Continue reading

Cole Williams – Believe

 

Title: Believe
Artist: Cole Williams
Label: Louisiana Red Hot
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 31, 2019

 

After making a name for herself as a vocalist and percussionist with the Brooklyn-based quintet Pimps of Joytime and contributing background vocals for numerous artists, Cole Williams decided she was ready for a reboot. The Jamaican-American singer-songwriter and self-described “punk empress” relocated to New Orleans in 2015 and formed the Cole Williams Band, then set out to invoke an “African Rock Revolution.” Her new solo album, Believe, offers eleven original tracks all written, produced, and performed by the talented Williams. From the distorted soul of “Opposites ATTRACT” to the electro/hip hop vibe of “Turn Up,” the album gets off to a righteous start. Other highlights include the densely packed soundscape of the manifesto “Single Black FEmelle,” the good vibes of “Get High,” and the cautionary tale of “Sin City.” The album closes on a high note with the mid-tempo title track, “BeLieVe,” featuring jazzy, multilayered vocals over a punchy horn section on this affirmative song about love and relationships.  Though Believe is more experimental, free flowing, and synth heavy than Williams’ previous efforts, the album should still strike a chord for fans of her unique blend of rock and soul music. Continue reading

Aaron Whitby – Cousin From Another Planet

 

Title: Cousin From Another Planet
Artist: Aaron Whitby
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 21, 2019

 

British producer, composer, songwriter, and keyboardist Aaron Whitby has worked with many legendary rock and funk musicians, including the late Walter ‘Junie’ Morrison (Ohio Players), George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic) and Vernon Reid (Living Colour). On his debut solo album, Cousin From Another Planet, Whitby crash lands on Earth to create a masterful fusion of jazz, rock and funk brewed in the cosmos of the 1970s. Assisting with the creation of his “percolating, stimulating and motor-booty activatin’” music (as described by Greg Tate in the liner notes), is Charlie Burnham (violin), Keith Loftis (tenor sax), Fred Cash (electric bass), Gary Fritz (percussion), and Rodney Homes (drums). Other denizens of this universe include three goddesses of rock, punk, and soul: singers Lisa Fischer, Tamar Kali, and Whitby’s longtime collaborator Martha Redbone. Continue reading

Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers – Bon Ton

 

Title: Bon Ton
Artist: Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers
Label: Louisiana Red Hot
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 24, 2019

 

Dubbed the “Jimi Hendrix of the accordion” by Rolling Stone magazine, Dwayne “Dopsie” Rubin is a master of the “blood pumping zydeco” that seeps from the heart of Louisiana’s bayous on a hot summer night. Known for playing his accordion like a guitar, Dopsie’s fiery style incorporates elements of rock, funk, and R&B as well as the more traditional zydeco learned at the knee of his father, the late Alton Rubin Sr. (a.k.a. Rockin’ Dopsie). On his latest release, Bon Ton, Dopsie definitely ushers in summer with some good times and great music. His backing band, The Zydeco Hellraisers, features Paul Lafleur on washboard, Brandon David on guitar, Tim McFatter on sax, Dion Pierre on bass, and Dondrell Fleming on drums. Together they perform a synthesis of the blues, rhythm and blues, and traditional Cajun music that comprise the zydeco tradition. Continue reading

Los Coast – Samsara

 

Title: Samsara
Artist: Los Coast
Label: New West Records
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: June 14, 2019

 

Austin, Texas based band Los Coast has made a name for themselves on the local scene as an exciting and inventive young band. On their debut album, Samsara, Los Coast delivers a blend of pop and soul inspired tracks that incorporate the band’s distinctive grooves and infectious energy. Continue reading

Oumar Konate – I Love You Inna

 

Title: I Love You Inna
Artist: Oumar Konate
Label: Clermont Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: July 5, 2019

 

The music of Oumar Konate can be heard every weekend in the nightclubs, concert halls, and festival stages of Mali. The Malian superstar’s fifth album, I Love You Inna, is a reflection of the mood of the young people in his country. Sometimes overjoyed and sometimes angry, the songs on the album range from slower love songs and upbeat dance anthems to guitar-driven rock songs and ballads. On “Koima Djine” and “Ni Tchilla Sibara,” this rock-inspired vibe comes through in the commanding instrumentals of guitarist Khaira Arby, bassist Dramane Toure, and drummer Makan Camara. Konate’s vocals on these songs are especially powerful and hard-hitting, a departure from his more mellow vocals on other tracks. I Love You Inna offers some “desert rock” for your summer soundtrack with masterful performances from these Mailian musicians. Continue reading

Stewart Goodyear – Gershwin & Goodyear

 

Title: Gershwin & Goodyear
Artist: Stewart Goodyear
Label: Orchid Classics
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 7, 2019

 

Young pianist Stewart Goodyear already has several accolades. Described as “a phenomenon” by the Los Angeles Times, he has performed with leading orchestras in North America, Europe, and Asia. In addition to his success as a performer, recording classical repertoire standards such as Beethoven’s piano sonatas and Diabelli Variations and piano concertos by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, and Grieg, among others, Goodyear is also an accomplished improviser and composer. This new recording allows him to showcase both sets of talents, with a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in its original jazz band orchestration paired with Goodyear’s own Piano Sonata and his suite for piano and orchestra, Callaloo. He is accompanied by Chineke!, an orchestra founded in 2015 to give career opportunities to young Black and minority ethnic performers in Europe. The group’s founder, Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, stated that her “aim is to create a space where [Black and minority ethnic] musicians can walk on stage and know that they belong, in every sense of the word.” For this recording, the musicians perform under the baton of celebrated Black conductor and pianist, Wayne Marshall. Continue reading

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet – The Rhythm of Invention

 

Title: The Rhythm of Invention
Artist: Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet
Label: Patois Records
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: June 7, 2019

 

Trombonist Wayne Wallace does it again with his latest jazz album, The Rhythm of Invention. Released three years after his Canto América (2016), the new release features the established Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet and maintains the harmonious sounds of Canto’s chamber orchestra. The Rhythm of Invention includes 10 tracks of original compositions and arrangements of jazz and Latin jazz classics. Continue reading

Jordon Dixon – ON!

 

Title: ON!
Artist: Jordon Dixon
Label: Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 7, 2019

 

A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tenor-saxophonist Jordon Dixon relocated to Washington, D.C. a few years ago after concluding an 11-year career as a musician with the U.S. Marine Corps. Since that fortuitous decision, he has become a fixture on the local scene. On his sophomore release, ON!, Dixon also has an opportunity to flex his muscles as a composer, presenting nine original tracks in a variety of styles. He is joined by other D.C. stalwarts including pianist Allyn Johnson (who engineered and co-produced the album), bassist Herman Burney, and drummer Carroll “C.V.” Dashiell, III. Continue reading

Kirk Franklin – Long Live Love

 

Title: Long Live Love
Artist: Kirk Franklin
Label: Fo Yo Soul/RCA Inspiration
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 31, 2019

 

Kirk Franklin, aka “your uncle, your nephew and your brotha,” released his 12th album Long Live Love, moving gospel music another step forward with its “radical messages.” In many ways, Franklin’s new project mirrors the contemporary sound of his earlier releases such as The Nu Nation Project (1998), the soundtrack to Kingdom Come (2001), and Hero (2005). Songs like “Strong God,” a response to the current state of the world and the need for change, continue Franklin’s inclination to address social issues and is one of the album’s highlights. He also offers uncanny inspiration through tracks such as “Favor/Grace” and “Spiritual,” encouraging listeners to continue living despite what they may have done in their past and sending the message that no matter how you’ve gone astray, “You’re the reason why God made grace.” The lead single, “Love Theory,” perhaps best sums up Franklin’s concept for the album: “one of the weapons to defeat fear is love.” As he shouts at the beginning of the track, “make your next chapter your best chapter!” Continue reading

Various Artists – Putumayo Presents World Peace

 

Title: Putumayo Presents World Peace
Artist: Various Artists
Label: Putumayo World Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: June 14, 2019

 

Putumayo World Music, the record label known for its joyful compilations of international music, has released its newest project, World Peace. Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s historic “peace speech” of 1963 that eased Cold War tensions, World Peace draws upon the speech’s themes of ending excessive militarism and “making the world safe for diversity.” Continue reading

Various Artists – Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

 

Title: Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Artist: Various
Label: Smithsonian Folkways
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: May 10, 2019

 

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival’s new box set, Jazz Fest, is a grand 50th anniversary celebration. Curated by Jazz Fest and Smithsonian Folkways, this compilation includes 50 tracks culled from live performances—one song for each year of the festival’s existence—as well as announcements intermixed throughout the collection. The set features prominent New Orleans artists like Allen Toussaint, Kermit Ruffins, Irma Thomas, Professor Longhair, Trombone Shorty, Dr. John, Stanley Joseph Dural Jr. (a.k.a Buckwheat Zydeco), The Zion Harmonizers, Big Freedia, and The Neville Brothers, and many others, all while exploring the Fair Grounds as a space where music genres such as traditional New Orleans jazz, blues, zydeco, Cajun, and bounce music converge to create a unique and rich experience. Continue reading

Mavis Staples – We Get By

 

Title: We Get By
Artist: Mavis Staples
Label: ANTI
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 24, 2019

 

Living legend and vocal powerhouse Mavis Staples’ twelfth studio album, We Get By, features eleven tracks written and produced by Ben Harper. Harper was able to capture the voice and the spirit of Staples by creating pieces that speak to who she is now and has always been—an advocate for change and for humanity. Continue reading

Jamila Woods – Legacy! Legacy!

 

Title: Legacy! Legacy!
Artist: Jamila Woods
Label: Jagjaguwar
Formats: CD, LP, Cassette, Digital
Release date: May 10, 2019

 

Chicago native and Brown University graduate Jamila Woods has released yet another impactful album that both celebrates Black culture and humanity. Legacy! Legacy! “highlights legendary artists of color, spanning disciplines, genres, and decades—[including] Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Frida Kahlo, Eartha Kitt, Miles Davis, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.” Woods honors each of these artist as ancestors, giving praise to them for being examples of how to unapologetically navigate life as a person of color. She also uses their lives and works as a way to discuss black life with an emphasis on Black feminism, Black identity, Black relationships, Black Rage, self-love and other sociopolitical issues found in Black communities. Continue reading

Wynton Marsalis – Bolden: Music from the Original Soundtrack

 

Title: Bolden: Music from the Original Soundtrack
Artist: Wynton Marsalis
Label: Blue Engine
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: April 19, 2019

 

The name Charles “Buddy” Bolden should be a familiar one for many jazz fans and aficionados. Bolden, a New Orleans cornet player, is “ranked among the most influential yet obscure figures in the pantheon of American music,” according to jazz clarinetist and historian Dr. Michael White. Known for developing a style of music that blended Black sacred and secular musical aesthetics (melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic ideas), European dance music, marching-band, and Caribbean folk styles, Bolden laid the foundation and was a progenitor for what we refer to today as jazz music. Although none of his recordings or compositions are extant, we have an understanding of what the cultural and musical environment was like during that period. Continue reading

Wes Montgomery – Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings

 

Title: Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings
Artist: Wes Montgomery
Label: Resonance
Formats: 2-CD set, Limited Ed. LP, Digital
Release date: April 26, 2019

 

Resonance Records has made yet another miraculous discovery, extending its documentation of legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery’s early career and sharing the results with us.  I had the great pleasure of contributing reviews of this company’s two earlier releases that set the stage for the wonderful performances captured on this new release, One Night in Indy and In the Beginning.  For those readers with ties to Indiana, it is worth noting that this release was prepared with assistance of a number of notable artists and scholars, among them David Baker, Duncan Schiedt, Jamey Aebersold, Royce Campbell, and John Edward Hasse.  They, along with others, attempted to identify the musicians who accompanied Wes.  Some possibilities are also identified  in the photographs included in the comprehensive notes that accompany this release. Visible there are Larry Ridley, Melvin Rhyne, David Baker, David Young, Pookie Johnson, Buddy and Monk Montgomery, Carroll DeCamp, and Hal Grant.  But despite their collective wisdom, specific personnel cannot be conclusively linked to each recorded performance. But no matter, the results are consistently musical, reflecting creativity at the highest possible level.  Sound quality proves the considerable care taken in preparing these invaluable recordings. Both the solos and collective interplay among the musicians are clearly captured, bringing the listener right into the spirit of each performance. Continue reading

Theo Croker – Star People Nation

 

Title: Star People Nation
Artist: Theo Croker
Label: Sony Masterworks
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: May 17, 2019

 

Jazz trumpeter Theo Croker continues the success of his two most recent releases—Afro Physicist (2014) and Escape Velocity (2016)—with his ambitious new project, Star People Nation.  The genre-defying album is Croker’s personal exploration of “the everyday rituals of blackness,” fusing elements of African percussion, American jazz, Caribbean reggae and more to reflect the plurality of his identity and Afrodiasporic experiences. As the title suggests, Star People Nation draws upon legends of extraterrestrials that came to Earth, encapsulated in a poem by Justin Emeka (from the liner notes): “Somewhere there’s a star child, gazing in the sky/On the verge of madness, but not really knowing why/They are reaching for a dream, that was poisoned with a lie/They are searching for a song, that might teach them how to fly/Play the songs of a star nation.” Perhaps this is a continuation of Croker’s fascination with Afrofuturists, but whatever the case may be, he never flags in his quest to expand our musical horizons. Continue reading

The Last Poets – Transcending Toxic Times

 

Title: Transcending Toxic Times
Artist: The Last Poets
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: May 10, 2019

 

The Last Poets are at it again with their latest album, Transcending Toxic Times. Released just a year after their 50th anniversary album, Understand What Black Is (2018), and a few months after Understanding What Dub Is (2019), this funk oriented album is fused with elements of jazz, R&B, rock and percussive rhythmic grooves. As with previous efforts, there are also socio-cultural messages that comment on the conditions of African American lived experiences. The album brings together the original members—Baba Donn Babatunde, Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassanall—along with producer and bass guitarist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, for what is likely the “definitive Last Poets album.” Continue reading

Demarre & Anthony McGill – Winged Creatures

 

Title: Winged Creatures and Other Works for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra
Artist: Demarre McGill, Anthony McGill
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 10, 2019

 

This is not the first time brothers Demarre and Anthony McGill have recorded together on the Chicago-based Cedille label—an earlier album, Portraits (2017), with pianist Michael McHale showcased works for flute, clarinet, and piano trio. In their new release, the McGill brothers emphasize their orchestral roots with four works for flute, clarinet, and orchestra. The album features two world premiere recordings: African American composer Michael Abels’ titular Winged Creatures and Joel Puckett’s Concerto Duo, each commissioned by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO) for the McGill brothers. Both Demarre and Anthony are principal performers with some of the top orchestras in the country (Demarre as principal flutist with the Seattle Symphony and Anthony as principal clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic) and their musicianship is clear throughout this recording. Both performers have a beautiful fluidity to their tones and incredibly precise technique—they are masterfully in synch in terms of timbre, intonation, and timing. They are also wonderfully supported by the CYSO led by Music Director Allen Tinkham; it is easy to forget that the orchestral musicians are not professionals themselves. Continue reading