Welcome to the February 2020 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture. In honor of Black History Month, we’re featuring projects that explore the Black experience, from Emancipation to the Civil Rights Movement to the present.
Additional classical recordings include London-based Chineke! Orchestra’s Spark Catchers featuring works by six of the UK’s leading Black and minority ethnic composers, and British cello sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s new release, Elgar. Additional jazz recordings include Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis’s tribute to The Music of Wayne Shorter, and John Bailey’s Can You Imagine?, commemorating Dizzy Gillespie’s 1964 campaign for president.
Paul Moravec’s 2017
oratorio, Sanctuary Road, is a
modern take on the classical oratorio form, portraying stories from the
Underground Railroad rather than Biblical content. The libretto by Mark
Campbell interprets slave narratives collected and published in 1872 in The Underground Railroadby William Still (1821–1902) of Philadelphia, a “conductor” who aided many
fugitive slaves including his older brother. Some of the song texts are
literal, as when Still interviews an escapee he has sheltered, but at other
times more poetic, consisting of single words or phrases joined together to
portray the collective experience of the enslaved who escaped to
freedom. The oratorio’s title, however, was inspired
by the modern concept of “Sanctuary City,” bringing contemporary resonance to
the composition. The sixteen movement work for five soloists, chorus and
orchestra was commissioned by Jody Spellun, a member
of the Oratorio Society
of New York, and this live recording captures the
world premiere performance at Carnegie Hall by the OSNY Chorus and Orchestra
under the baton of Kent Tritle.
Christian McBride’s The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons is a tribute to four renowned African Americans: Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. According to McBride, this album is meant as “a clear-eyed yet optimistic look at where our society has come from and where it is hopefully headed.” The four narrators who portray these icons include poet and author Sonia Sanchez as Rosa Parks, actor Wendell Pierce as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., actor Vondie Curtis-Hall as Malcolm X, and actor Dion Graham as Muhammad Ali. They are supported by a phenomenal cast of vocalists and instrumentalists such as Alicia Olatuja (vocals), Steve Wilson (saxophone), Freddie Hendricks (trumpet), Terreon Gully (drums), among many others. These artists coalesce into a spectacular fusion of jazz, gospel, funk, and Afro-Cuban rhythms.
The songs and spoken excerpts that comprise Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom were performed live during the Atlanta Music Festival in 2016 at Ebenezer Baptist Church and Glenn Memorial Auditorium at Emory University. The Atlanta Music Festival was first created in 1910 after the Atlanta Race Riots and revived in 2001 by Pastor Dwight Andrews. The purpose of the festival at its inception was to introduce the world to renowned African American concert musicians. The music featured on Bound for the Promised Land does not disappoint and holds true to the original mission of the festival, with works by Dorothy Rudd Moore, T. J. Anderson, Duke Ellington, John Carter and Adolphus Hailstork. Guest artists include the late soprano Jessye Norman, who performs on four songs, tenor Timothy B. Miller, and narrators Taylor Branch and Rev. Robert M. Franklin, Jr.
Acclaimed Grammy-winning bassist, composer and bandleader Ben Williams’ newest album, I AM A MAN, is a sociopolitically charged project that strives to “show the world the complexity of our humanity as Black American men.” With help from producer and sound designer Brian Bender, the album boasts a humid and hazy sound that recalls neo-soul albums released by The Roots, Erykah Badu, Bilal, and D’Angelo. Williams sings lead on the majority of songs, in addition to playing the electric and acoustic bass. Joining him is an amazing lineup comprised of keyboardist Kris Bowers, guitarist David Rosenthal, tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Marcus Strickland, percussionist Bendji Allonce, trumpeter Kenyon Harrold, flutist Anne Drummond, and drummers Jamire Williams and Justin Brown.
Saxophonist, composer and band leader Will Boyd pays tribute to spirituals, hymns, and
freedom songs on his album, Freedom,
Soul, Jazz. The project was released to coincide with Juneteenth celebrations,
which are holidays observed among Black communities as a de facto independence day
commemorating the abolition of slavery and a first step toward inclusion in the
greater American dream. Regarding his motivation for the project, Boyd
explained, “I wanted to do my part to move the movement forward,”
referring to the advancement of Black people in a post slavery society.
Title: Spark Catchers Artist: Chineke! Orchestra & Chorus Label: NMC Formats: CD, Digital Release date: January 17, 2020
Royal Academy of Music professor and double
bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku
has a laudable mission: championing change and celebrating diversity in
classical music. Through her Chineke!
Foundation, Nwanoku nurtures new
generations of talent by commissioning works and supporting music education
programs including a youth orchestra. Her flagship group, the Chineke! Orchestra, was founded in 2015 and is comprised of Black and Minority Ethnic
(BME) classical musicians working in the UK and Europe. The orchestra recently
won the inaugural Royal Philharmonic Society
for filling the stage with BME artists, drawing a far more diverse audience to
concert halls, and “restoring BME composers past and present to their rightful
place amongst those we regularly revere.” These achievements are showcased on
the Chineke! Orchestra’s latest album, Spark Catchers. Featuring works by six of the UK’s
leading BME composers, the performances (except where otherwise noted) are led
by African American conductor Anthony Parnther, music director of the
Southeast Symphony in Los Angeles and the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra.
Title: Elgar Artist: Sheku Kanneh-Mason, London Symphony Orchestra Label: Decca Classics Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: January 10, 2020
London-born cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason rose to prominence in the UK after winning the BBC Young Musician Award in 2016 and received international attention for his performance at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018. A member of the remarkably talented Kanneh-Mason family, 20-year-old Sheku has often performed with his six brothers and sisters, all classically trained musicians between the ages of 10-23. His debut album,Inspiration, was released in 2016 on the prestigious Decca Classics label (his sister, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, is also signed to Decca). On his sophomore album, Elgar, Sheku performs Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, plus several short chamber pieces by Elgar and other composers. As a testament to the number of people inspired by the young musician, Elgar is already a best seller, making Kanneh-Mason the first classical musician to break into the Top 10 of the UK album charts in over 30 years, a position currently shared with grime star Stormzy.
Title: The Music of Wayne Shorter Artists: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Wayne Shorter Label: Blue Engine Formats: CD, Digital Release Date: January 31, 2020
Shorter, one of the most prominent saxophonists and musical figures of our
time, hardly needs an introduction. He is an 11-time Grammy Award winner,
Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and holds an extensive discography which
includes over twenty albums as a bandleader.
For this special album, Shorter teams up with the Jazz at Lincoln Center
Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis to present The Music of Wayne Shorter.
Title: Can You Imagine? Artist: John Bailey Label: Freedom Road Formats: CD, Digital Release date: January 20, 2020
You Imagine? is the second album from New York
Bailey, who conceptualized the project around
one of the fantastical “what ifs” of jazz: What if Dizzy Gillespie won his
unlikely and somewhat jesting bid for president in 1964? What if Dizzy had made
Miles Davis head of the CIA and Duke Ellington the Secretary of State? Would
we, as a nation, be more compassionate and empathetic to our fellow humans?
Though the campaign may have been in jest, Dizzy raised serious issues on the
campaign trail during one of the most volatile periods of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Art of Intimacy, Vol. 1 is the perfect album for Valentine’s Day season. Jazz trumpeter Jeremy Pelt takes us on a journey through songs expressing tenderness and endearment, while also performing less commonly known standards with his trio. Accompanied by pianist George Cables and bassist Peter Washington, Pelt “pours some old wine into new bottles” as he explores romantic classics like “Always on My Mind” and “I’ll Never Stop Loving You,” and sentiments of love on songs like “I’ve Just Seen Her,” “I’ll Never Stop Loving You,” and “While You Are Gone.” Also included is Pelt’s original composition “Love Is Simple,” and “Little Girl Blue,” a song mostly associated with Nina Simone’s 1958 debut album. Jazz journalist Michael J. West writes, “the snapshot on display here makes no bones about its terms of engagement…If Pelt and company are successful, this music might have you practicing the art of intimacy on your own.” The Art of Intimacy, Vol. 1 is a must have for all you lovers out there!
Title: Jazz Party Artist: Delfeayo Marsalis & Uptown Jazz Orchestra Label: Troubadour Jass Formats: CD, Digital Release date: February 7, 2020
Prominent jazz trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis returns with his seventh studio album, Jazz Party, featuring his electrifying Uptown Jazz Orchestra (UJO). Arriving three years after Marsalis’ Kalamazoo (2017) and UJO’s Make America Great Again! (2016), Jazz Party weaves together “modernized twists on New Orleans songbook gems and musical traditions, and swinging, groove-infused homages to the contributions of modern jazz masters.” The album includes original compositions and arrangements by Marsalis and others, while portraying the high-spirited character of UJO’s live performances at the Snug Harbor in New Orleans. Also featured are guest artists such as vocalist Tonya Boyd-Cannon (semi-finalist on The Voice), drummer Joe Dyson Jr., pianist Kyle Roussel, and saxophonist Roger Lewis (original member of UJO and co-founder of the Dirty Dozen Brass).
Released just in time for Mardi Gras, this new box set
celebrates the kings of New Orleans funk, otherwise known as The Meters. Featuring guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist
George Porter, Jr., keyboardist/vocalist Art Neville, and drummer Joseph
“Zigaboo” Modeliste, The Meters combined street rhythms with second line vibe
and fatback drums to create their own unique, laidback style. Compared to James
Brown’s hard driving, frenetic performances, The Meters just let the good times
roll through the Big Easy accompanied by a funky backbeat. Produced by SoulMusic’s
David Nathan, Gettin’ Funkier All The Time takes listeners on a journey
through The Meter’s eight studio albums recorded between 1968-1977, their non-album
singles and bonus tracks issued on previous
compilations, plus a few surprises thrown in like beads along the parade route.
In other words, this set has it all.
Title: Fight The Fight Artist: Mortimer Label: Easy Star Records Format: CD, LP, Digital Release Date: November 15, 2019
Kingston, Jamaica native Mortimer’s Fight the Fight has already made a
splash in the reggae world, debuting at #3 on the Billboard Reggae Chart and at
#1 on the iTunes Reggae Chart. The six track EP, made in collaboration with
Grammy-nominated producer Winta James, is a masterpiece of live musicianship
featuring top-notch production and emotive lyricism.
Title: I Love Him Artist: Renee Spearman Label: JDI Formats: CD, Digital Release Date: June 7, 2019
Billboard-charting gospel singer/songwriter/producer Renee Spearman has
worked in the gospel music recording industry for over three decades and
continues to champion her genre. After “standing in the shadows” for many years
as a background vocalist for numerous popular music artists including Gladys
Knight and Yolanda Adams, Spearman’s solo career took off in 2012 with the
release of her successful debut album, Whoa
to Wow!, which reached #4 on the Billboard gospel album charts. Her recent
release, I Love Him, is yet another
Title: Jubilee Showcase Artist: Various Label: Time-Life Music Formats: Digital Release date: January 17, 2020
Chicago was the birthplace of two of the earliest gospel music television series. The half hour syndicated show TV Gospel Time aired on NBC Sunday mornings from 1962-1965, and a 2-DVD set of selected programs was released in 2010 under the title Soul of the Church. Now, ten years later, Time-Life Music is releasing “36 raw, live performances” from the more famous Emmy® Award winning series, Jubilee Showcase. Created and hosted by Sid Ordower, a Jewish civil rights and labor activist, Jubilee Showcase aired on ABC’s Chicago affiliate, WLS Channel 7, from 1963 to 1984. These programs introduced gospel music and Black culture in general to a much broader audience during the peak years of the Civil Rights Movement.
Title: Amazones Power Artist: Les Amazones d’Afrique Label: Real World Formats: CD, Vinyl, Digital Release Date: January 24, 2020
The pan-African supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique are back with Amazones Power, the sequel to their widely acclaimed 2017 debut, Republique Amazone. Formed in 2014 by three Malian music stars and social change activists, the group has been known for their fearless confrontation of women’s oppression and inquality through music. On Amazones Power, Les Amazones d’Afrique brings together 16 talented West African musicians that are committed to feminist activism.
Not feeling the love this Valentine’s Day? Are you experiencing a relationship that has gone sour? Let the sisters set you free! You’re Not Gonna Hurt Me was compiled “to empower women to kiss off those men that don’t treat them with the utmost respect they deserve.” Featuring 15 classic soul tracks “performed by powerful women with powerful voices delivering a powerful message,” this album “serves as a scathing anti-Valentine’s Day card.” Included are songs such as ‘You’re the Dog (I Do the Barking Myself)” by Irma Thomas, “Lot More of Me Leaving (Less of Me Coming Home)” by Ruth Brown, and “Divorce Decree” by Doris Duke, plus gems by lesser known artists like “I’m Moving On” by Chyvonne Scott and “Casanova (Your Playing Days Are Over)” by Ruby Andrews. All tracks have been newly re-mastered for this release.
Classical releases include soprano Katherine Jolly’s Preach Sister Preach featuring the works of three young American composers, and the Washington, DC based ensemble The String Queens with their self-titled debut EP. Jazz releases include two tribute albums: saxophonists Vincent Herring, Bobby Watson, Gary Bartz on Bird at 100 celebrating the centennial of Charlie Bird Parker, and trumpeter Kenyatta Beasley’s Frank Foster Songbook celebrating the late saxophonist and composer.
American soprano Katherine Jolly has graced many opera stages over the course of her budding career. After winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finale in 2006, she went on to perform with the New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Florida Grand Opera, among others. In concert repertoire, Jolly has taken the route of many lyric sopranos, specializing in the repertoire of Bach, Handel and Mozart. On her debut recording Preach Sister Preach, however, she selected three contemporary works by young American composers. The project was undertaken while Jolly was on the voice faculty at the IU Jacobs School of Music (JSOM), and was recorded on the stage of Auer Hall in 2018 and early 2019 by audio engineer D. James Tagg, who is also on the JSOM faculty.Continue reading →
Title: The String Queens
Artist: The String Queens
Release date: November 25, 2019
Renowned for their genre spanning repertoire, the Washington, D.C. based trio The String Queens have been changing the ways audiences engage with classical music. The three women—Kendall Isadore (violin), Dawn Johnson (viola), and Élise Cuffy (cello)—are “school teachers by day and concert performers by night” who have a strong commitment to artistic integrity and music education. Though they might not yet be a household name, you have likely heard TSQ backing artists such as Solange, Janelle Monae, and Jennifer Hudson, as well as Aloe Blacc on his recent video of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” filmed on the grounds of Monticello. The trio has also been featured on concert stages around the world, including Carnegie Hall, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Royal Festival Hall, and Shanghai Grand Theatre.Continue reading →
Title: Black Hole Rainbow
Artist: Devon Gilfillian
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: January 10, 2020
A Philly-born musician who was weaned on his father’s vintage soul records, Devon Gilfillian is now a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and bandleader who is currently making waves on the touring circuit. Recently signed to Capitol Records, Gilfillian kicks off the New Year with the release of his debut album, Black Hole Rainbow. With inspirations from the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., and Wu-Tang Clan, Devon has created his own distillation of the soul sound, forming a collection of incredibly powerful and stirring tracks. Produced by Grammy award winner Shawn Everett, the album dissects the multiple levels of love and its effects on all parties involved. “The theme of the record is pulling yourself out of a dark place and learning how to love yourself, and getting back up and learning from your mistakes,” Gilfillian says. “It’s about falling in love, falling out of love, and then learning how to love yourself; picking yourself up and really figuring out what matters in your life, and to never stop hustling.” The tracks were recorded with a wide variety of gear, including vintage equipment and analog boards, resulting in an album with a daring collision of eras, styles, and genres.Continue reading →
Title: Poetry in Motion
Artist: The Soul Rebels
Label: Rebelution Music Group/Artistry Music/ Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 25, 2019
New Orleans based ensemble The Soul Rebels was formed in the early ‘90s by drum majors from HBCUs such as Southern, Grambling, and Texas Southern University. Percussionists Derrick Moss and Lumar LeBlanc, who first met as members of Harold Dejan’s Young Olympia Brass Band, decided they wanted to play the rap music they were hearing on the radio while also respecting the long tradition of the New Orleans brass bands and marching bands they had played in growing up. Now an eight member brass/jazz/hip hop powerhouse, The Soul Rebels include LeBlanc (snare drum) and Moss (bass drum), in addition to Marcus Hubbard (trumpet), Erion Williams (saxophone), Paul Robertson (trombone), Julian Gosin (trumpet and MC), Manuel Perkins Jr. (sousaphone) and Corey Peyton (trombone and MC). For their latest album, Poetry in Motion, The Soul Rebels started with the premise “no genre is off limits for us,” and concluded with twelve tracks that sound contemporary and hip. Their New Orleans rhythms and Black college band attitude combined with rap lyrics and rhymes will make you move your feet and get out of your seat.Continue reading →
Two time Grammy award winner and hip hop artist Speech Thomas and his band Arrested Development have spent the past few decades touring the world, seeking out opportunities to address social and racial justice issues. Since the release of their triple platinum debut album, 3 Years, 5 Month & 2 Days in the Life of (1993), they have created many different projects and facilitated opportunities for various communities. The documentary 16 Bars, currently screening on the film festival circuit, is the fruition of one of the most ground breaking projects they have released yet. The film follows the journey of Thomas and his band members as they work with inmates at the Richmond City Jail to produce written and recorded narratives about the complex issues of the criminal justice system, including the social and economic effects it has on the families these men were taken away from. In the words of Speech Thomas, “these men are behind bars… but their voices have to be heard.”Continue reading →