Betty Carter – The Music Never Stops

 

Title: The Music Never Stops
Artist: Betty Carter
Label: Blue Engine/Jazz at Lincoln Center
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 29, 2019

 

The Music Never Stops is the never-before-released live recording of the late, and great, Betty Carter’s 1992 performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Known for her awe-inspiring scat improvisation and creative lyricism, Carter has without a doubt been one of the most influential jazz singers in American history. Her career spanned several decades, and in the past she collaborated with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Ray Charles, among many other prominent figures. Continue reading

Camilla George – The People Could Fly

 

Title: The People Could Fly
Artist: Camilla George
Label: Ubuntu Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: December 7, 2018

 

Nigerian born jazz saxophonist and composer Camilla George, who is based in the UK, released her debut jazz album, Isang, in 2017. Just one year later she follows up with her sophomore project, The People Could Fly. Drawing its inspiration and title from a book of African folktales, the album weaves these narratives with blues, jazz, 6/8 rhythms, and funk in a way that is both brilliant and imaginative. According to George, “my mother used to read these stories as a child and I have always been fascinated by them and really wanted to explore them further.” Continue reading

Ulysses Owens Jr. – Songs of Freedom

 

Title: Songs of Freedom
Artist: Ulysses Owens Jr.
Label: Resilience Music Alliance
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 15th 2019

 

Ulysses Owens is one of the most sought after jazz drummers around today, having worked alongside living legends such as Wynton Marsalis, Maceo Parker, Kurt Elling and Christian McBride, with whom he won his first Grammy Award. On top of his outstanding work as a side man, Owens is also making great strides as a band leader, with two studio albums, as well as positive influences in the jazz community through his work as an educator. Now, with the release of his third album, Songs of Freedom, Owens provides his commentary on the American political climate through the songbooks of three female icons of the turbulent 1960s: Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, and Joni Mitchell. Continue reading

Alicia Olatuja – Intuition: Songs From The Minds of Women

 

Title: Intuition: Songs From The Minds of Women
Artist: Alicia Olatuja
Label: Resilience Music Alliance
Formats: CD, Digital
Release: February 22, 2019

 

The newest release from acclaimed vocalist, composer, and arranger Alicia Olatuja celebrates noted female composers in a collection of reinterpretations entitled Intuition: Songs from the Minds of Women. Olatuja, who showcased her vocal talent for millions during the second inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama, picked songs for Intuition that encompass a wide variety of themes, genres, and perspectives in an effort to celebrate the diversity of women’s musical expression. 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

Wadada Leo Smith – Rosa Parks: Pure Love

 

Title: Rosa Parks: Pure Love
Artist: Wadada Leo Smith
Label: TUM
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 15, 2019

 

Wadada Leo Smith—trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and improviser—is an acclaimed creative artist known for his music and his writings. His musical style, which he denotes as “Creative Music,” is inspired by social and political issues from the past and present that broadly affect the world we live in. One large work after another has been pouring out of Smith over the last decade, often with a social, political or environmental agenda attached, such as America’s National Parks and Ten Freedom Summers. Continue reading

Mark Lomax, II – 400: An Afrikan Epic

 

Title: 400: An Afrikan Epic
Artist: Mark Lomax, II
Label: self-released
Formats: Digital
Release Date: January 23, 2019

 

As we start a new year and look forward to the months ahead, it’s important to look back and reflect on the past. Although not a positive milestone, 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade. Drummer, composer, and educator Dr. Mark Lomax, II used this anniversary as inspiration for 400: An Afrikan Epic, his magnificent 12 album cycle that tells the story of Black America. Continue reading

Marcus Strickland Twi-Life – People of the Sun

 

Title: People of the Sun
Artist: Marcus Strickland Twi-Life
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 9, 2018

 

How do you describe an album that crosses musical boundaries and provides socially conscious lyrics, all while sonically tracing the African Diaspora from the past to present as a way to express one’s identity? Words like ‘cutting-edge’ and ‘innovative’ come to mind, but perhaps ‘thought-provoking’ best captures the mission of saxophonist Marcus Strickland’s latest release, People of the Sun. Continue reading

Vivian Sessoms – LIFE

 

Title: LIFE
Artist: Vivian Sessoms
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: November 2, 2018

 

It’s difficult to know exactly where to start when talking about an artist with a resume as expansive and impressive as vocalist Vivian Sessoms. She has earned respect and acclaim throughout the music industry, working with iconic artists such as Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, and Chaka Khan, as well as Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakomoto. Now, with the help of producer Chris Parks, Sessoms presents her first full-length album in over ten years with LIFE. Continue reading

Etienne Charles – Carnival: The Sound of a People, Vol 1

 

Title: Carnival: The Sound of a People, Vol 1
Artist: Etienne Charles
Label: Culture Shock Music
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: March 22, 2019

 

T’is the season for Carnival! Anyone familiar with the carnival season knows that the beginning of the year starts with many festive celebrations on Caribbean islands. Of course, one cannot talk about Caribbean carnival without mentioning Trinidad and Tobago. Known for its festive and colorful displays, Trinidad and Tobago carnival is where the community comes together to celebrate its cultural heritage in the present. Native Trinidadian jazz trumpeter, composer, and arranger, Etienne Charles offers his newest release, Carnival: The Sound of a People, Vol 1, as a homage to this long-lasting tradition. Although, Charles’ previous albums—Culture Shock (2006), Kaiso (2011), and Folklore (2009), among others—also draw on elements of Trinidadian music, his new project explores the very heart of Carnival, with compositions grounded in aural soundscapes recorded in local communities by Charles and his team. Continue reading

Pennal Johnson – Pickup Groove

 

Title: Pickup Groove
Artist: Pennal Johnson
Label: Hitman
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: December 7, 2018

It’s beautiful when you discover a new artist. Pennal “PJ” Johnson—a bass player, writer, and entrepreneur from Chicago—has actually been on the scene for a while now. In addition to a couple of holiday projects, he has released two well-regarded albums: Cissy Strut (2016) and Conversations: Live in Chicago (2016). Johnson’s talent has backed up artists such as Kurt Carr, Abraham Laboriel and the late Andraé Crouch, yielding respect from jazz and gospel audiences alike. Pickup Groove is Johnson’s latest CD, which includes studio versions of several tracks featured on Conversations. Again, if you are new to the artist, you’ll immediately hear why the bassist’s work is praised. Continue reading

Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith, and Bill Frisell – Lebroba

 

Title: Lebroba
Artists: Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith, and Bill Frisell
Label: ECM
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: November 2, 2018

 

November brought a new collaboration from three of the all-time greatest avant-garde jazz musicians: Andrew Cyrille (drums), Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet) and Bill Frisell (guitar). The trio’s album, Lebroba, takes its title from a contraction of the three musicians’ birthplaces: Leland (Mississippi), Brooklyn, and Baltimore. This is certainly a fitting title for a record featuring a fusion of three musicians’ unmistakable styles. It’s also fitting that the album was released on the ECM label, which has long been a flagship of progressive jazz and which has issued landmark recordings featuring each member of this trio.  Continue reading

James Francies – Flight

 

Title: Flight
Artist: James Francies
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

Though only 23-years-old, pianist and composer James Francies has been very active on the music scene, performing with prominent jazz artists like Stefon Harris, Pat Metheny, and Eric Harland, as well as hip-hop and R&B artists Common, Lauryn Hill, The Roots, and Bilal, among others. His new 11 track Blue Note debut album, Flight, provides an array of orchestrations drawing on elements of jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and electronic-sounding qualities. With a supportive cast of first-rate musicians—saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Mike Moreno, vibraphonist Joel Ross, bassist Burniss Travis II, drummers Jeremy Dutton and Mike Mitchell, and vocalists YEBBA, Kate Kelsey-Sugg and Chris Turner—Francies takes the listener on a musical journey filled with vibrant grooves intermixed with lush harmonic textures. 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

The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles

 

Title: The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles
Label: ECM
Format: 21-CD box set
Release date: November 30, 2018

 

The Art Ensemble of Chicago has a storied place in the history of jazz and avant-garde music. An offshoot of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the AEC formed in 1969 and is now on the cusp its 50th anniversary. In celebration of that milestone, ECM Records has assembled this limited edition 21-CD box set showcasing all of the albums they released with these “standard bearers of Great Black Music.” Continue reading

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.

Ambrose Akinmusire – Origami Harvest

 

Title: Origami Harvest
Artist: Ambrose Akinmusire
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: October 12, 2018

 

World renowned trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire recently released his fourth album with Blue Note, Origami Harvest. Originally a project commissioned for curators Judd Greenstein (Manhattan’s Ecstatic Music Festival) and Kate Nordstrum (St. Paul’s Liquid Music Series), Akinmusire was asked, “What’s the craziest idea you have?” Responding to the curators request, he presented a “project about extremes (masculine/feminine, high/low art, passivity/aggression, free improvisation/controlled calculation, American ghettos/American affluence, hip hop/classical), putting things that are seemingly opposite right next to each other.” Continue reading

Christian McBride – New Jawn

 

Title: Christian McBride’s New Jawn
Artist: Christian McBride
Label: Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, MP3, LP
Release date: October 26, 2018

 

Just one year after his Grammy Award winning album Bringin’ It, Christian McBride returns with his newest project, Christian McBride’s New Jawn. The album features his chordless quartet—formed during McBride’s annual two-week residency at the Village Vanguard in December 2015—which includes trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, drummer Nasheet Waits, and McBride on bass. Continue reading

Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings

 

Title: Universal Beings
Artist: Makaya McCraven
Label: International Anthem
Formats: CD, LP. Digital
Release date: October 25, 2018

 

Jazz drummer Makaya McCraven could not possibly have predicted that the release date of his new album, Universal Beings, would coincide with a week of domestic terrorist acts fueled by racism, anti-semitism, and anti-immigration hysteria. Though his album’s “all-encompassing message of unity, peace & power” would be welcome at any time, it is particularly transformative at this moment as a reminder of our shared humanity and the need to bridge cultural divides. Continue reading

José James – Lean On Me

 

Title: Lean On Me
Artist: José James
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 28, 2018

 

Minnesota-born jazz singer José James is known for combining aspects of jazz, soul, and hip hop to create his own unique style, which has often been described as a modern Gil Scott-Heron. Over the course of his career, James has released six full-length albums that range in style from typical jazz standards to all original works. Now, with his latest album Lean On Me, James pays homage to one of the most respected artists ever, Bill Withers. Continue reading