In honor of Jazz Appreciation Month, we’re highlighting new releases from a wide variety of artists. Included in our selection is the late pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali’s previously unreleased 1965 session Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album; Chicago trumpet player Marques Carroll’s The Ancestors’ Call; New Orleans-born pianist Jon Batiste’s multi-genre, multi-generational We Are; Kansas City-born saxophonist Logan Richardson’s AfroFuturism; jazz-soul organist Dr. Lonnie Smith’s Breathe; Chicago visionary Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble’s NOW; and guitarist Dan Wilson’s Vessels of Wood and Earth.
Other selections include African American folk musician Rhiannon Giddens’ They’re Calling Me Home; vocal legend Merry Clayton’s return to her gospel roots on Beautiful Scars; classical avant-punk duo String Noise’s Alien Stories featuring newly commissioned works from five young Black composers; New Orleans’ group Cha Wa’s tribute to Mardi Gras Indians on My People; and Democratic Republic of Congo group Jupiter & Okwess’s Na Kozonga featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band horn section.
Bud Powell defined bebop piano, then Hasaan Ibn Ali belongs to a group of
pianists, including Thelonious Monk, Elmo Hope, and Herbie Nichols, who devoted
themselves to extending the style into new territories. Or at least he should
be in that group, and quite possibly would be if Atlantic Records had released
this 1965 session as a follow-up to the Max Roach Trio’s Featuring the
Legendary Hasaan LP. It’s a shame bordering on tragedy that Hasaan’s second
and final commercial recording did not see the light of day until now. Had it
been released at the time, it would have fit perfectly alongside the work of
the many bop-rooted musicians who were exploring new paths in composition and
improvisation during this exciting period of music.
Title: The Ancestors’ Call Artist: Marques Carroll Label: JMarq Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: April 16, 2021
Within the musical canon of the genre traditionally known as “jazz,” Chicago’s legacy as birthplace or training ground for some of the genre’s most innovative and technically adept trumpeters is solidified by musicians such as Ray Nance, Louis Armstrong, Lester Bowie, Marquis Hill, and Corey Wilkes. With his stellar debut quintet album, The Ancestors’ Call, Chicago-based trumpeter and composer, Marques Carroll, rightly adds his name to this list.
Title: We Are Artist: Jon Batiste Label: Verve Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: March 19, 2021
Fresh off of winning a Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice Awards
for his score to the animated film Soul, pianist/composer Jon Batiste has released a new album
with similar sensibilities. We Are is a masterful synthesis of musical
styles, most notably those reflecting Batiste’s upbringing in New Orleans
amidst a family dynasty of notable jazz, blues, and R&B musicians. Add to
this mix Batiste’s classical training at Juilliard and his roots in the church,
and you get a musician who is fluent in every major musical genre, all of which
are seamlessly integrated in this album.
Title: AfroFuturism Artist: Logan Richardson Label: Whirlwind Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: March 12, 2021
Kansas City-born saxophonist Logan
Richardson made his debut as a bandleader in 2007 with Cerebral Flow, an
album that reflects his time performing with jazz musicians such as Pat
Metheny, Joe Chambers, Billy Hart, Butch Morris, Stefon Harris and Jason Moran.
Since then, Richardson’s work has become increasingly eclectic, ranging from
performances with the urban jazz supergroup NEXT Collective to his 2018 release
Blues People, which busted through any boundaries limiting what jazz
fusion could aspire to. Now back in Kansas City and sheltering from the
pandemic in an apartment once inhabited by Charlie Parker, Richardson imagines
an even broader universe of sound on his latest project, AfroFuturism.
Title: Breathe Artist: Dr. Lonnie Smith Label: Blue Note Formats: CD, Digital Release date: March 26, 2021
The reigning master of the Hammond B-3 organ, Dr. Lonnie Smith has ruled the soul jazz scene from his keyboard for over five decades. Still a prolific recording artist, the musical icon has just released Breathe, his third album for Blue Note in the last five years, all produced by the label’s president, Don Was. The majority of the tracks were recorded live at the Jazz Standard in New York City in 2017 during Smith’s 75th birthday celebration, in the seemingly long-ago days when one could hang out at a crowded club on the weekends. Fans weary of social distancing can now vicariously join the celebration through album’s eight tracks.
Title: NOW Artist: Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble Label: International Anthem Formats: Digital (CD, LP available July 9, 2021) Release date: April 9, 2021
Following his auspicious 2019 debut, Where Future Unfolds,
Chicago-based multi-media artist/activist Damon Locks and his jazz-based Black Monument Ensemble return with
their latest release, NOW. Featuring six new tracks, this multi-generational
collective of Chicago artists continues their mission of presenting vibrant,
uplifting music and dance that draws “from all facets of the diverse
wellspring of Black artistic excellence.” The new project is also a response to
the group’s previous release: “the future has unfolded and taken a new
and dangerous shape… what happens NOW?’”
Title: Vessels of Wood and Earth Artist: Dan Wilson Label: Brother Mister Productions/Mack Avenue Formats: CD, Digital Release date: April 23, 2021
Grammy-nominated guitarist and composer Dan Wilson’s debut album, Vessels of Wood and Earth, exhibits a rich range of tones and textures. Joined by pianist Christian Sands, bassist Marco Panascia, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and guest vocalist Joy Brown, this incredibly talented band showcases a mastery of musical expression, revealing robust musical perspectives from each and every artist. Produced by bassist, composer, arranger, and Philadelphian jazz icon, Christian McBride, the project is a mix of both original compositions and arrangements of classic songs from the likes of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, assembled to illustrate Wilson’s foundation that is “rooted as much in tradition as it is in moving the music irresistibly forward into the modern world.” The album is the first release on Brother Mister Productions, McBride’s own record label under the Mack Avenue Music Group.
Title: They’re Calling Me Home Artist: Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi Label: Nonesuch Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: April 9, 2021
Acclaimed African American folk musician Rhiannon Giddens and Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi offer their second collaboration, They’re Calling Me Home. Sheltering in Ireland during the pandemic, the two artists decided to draw from traditional folk music of three countries for this project. The album’s title not only speaks to those who are sheltering in place during the pandemic, but also to the metaphorical “call home” or “homegoing” of death, in tribute to those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19.
Title: Beautiful Scars Artist: Merry Clayton Label: Motown Gospel Formats: CD, Digital Release date: April 9, 2021
Vocal legend Merry Clayton embodies the true essence of the words resilience and fortitude. The Grammy Award-winning artist has made a return to her southern Baptist gospel roots with her new album, Beautiful Scars. Co-produced by Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Lou Adler and Grammy Award-winning songwriter, vocalist and instrumentalist Terry Young, Beautiful Scars is a testimony of the hardship that Clayton has endured over her lifetime and in recent years. In 2014, she survived a tragic accident but unfortunately her doctors were forced to amputate both of her legs. In the eye of this storm, when doctors told Clayton she would have to lose her legs, she began to sing. Drawing form the strength of her ancestors and giving praise to God, she persevered despite the new challenges that she would face.
Title: Alien Stories Artist: String Noise Label: Infrequent Seams (Dist. Bandcamp) Formats: CD, Cassette, Digital Release date: April 2, 2021
The New York-based classical
avant-punk duo String Noise, featuring violinists Conrad
Harris and Pauline Kim Harris, is celebrated for their wide-ranging
performances of contemporary music. Since the duo’s founding in 2011, they have
added more than 50 new works to their repertoire. Their latest release, Alien
Stories, was influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement, which also increased
attention on issues of racial equality with the musical realm. In support of
Black artists, the duo decided to co-commission, with Carnegie Hill Concerts,
new works from five young Black composer-performers based in New York City.
These five works are featured on Alien Stories.
Title: My People Artist: Cha Wa Label: Single Lock Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release Date: April 2, 2021
Since the late 19th century, Mardi Gras Indians have
paraded the streets of New Orleans outside of the gaze of tourists that flock
to Bourbon Street. The Mardi Gras Indian community is a group of primarily
Black New Orleanians who pay respect to Native Americans through their wardrobe,
music, and dialect. The tradition of Mardi Gras Indian krewes is said to have originated
to pay tribute to the Native groups that sheltered Black New Orleanians fleeing
enslavement. Drawing on this rich heritage, Cha Wa’s
My People captures the sounds of Mardi Gras Indian street parades and
blends them with other New Orleans influences including the ‘70s era funk of
The Meters, brass band music, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, and African-inspired rhythms.
Title: Na Kozonga Artist: Jupiter & Okwess Label: Everloving Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release Date: April 23, 2021
Hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jupiter & Okwess makes
music that pulls together international musical influences in a stand against
global injustice. Their newest release, Na Kozonga, is an explosive and
energetic compilation of music featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band horn
section, pioneer of Brazilian rap Marcelo D2, and the vocals of American Maiya
Sykes and Chilean Ana Tijoux.
Classical releases include the Catalyst Quartet’s Uncovered Vol. 1: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor featuring acclaimed clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Stewart Goodyear; and the woodwind quintet Imani Winds’ Bruits featuring guest appearances by soprano Janai Brugger and narrator John Whittington Franklin.
Also featured is composer Adrian Younge’s unapologetic critique of systemic racism on The American Negro, pianist-composer Cameron Graves’ thrash-jazz fusion release Seven, and the London-based fusion group Nubiyan Twist’s Freedom Fables.
Valerie June’s The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for
Dreamers is an amalgam of genres, referencing 1960s psychedelia, 1980s pop,
gospel, Americana, and especially Memphis soul. The connection to Memphis,
where June began her career, is evident throughout, from an appearance by Carla
Thomas to sessions recorded at Sam Phillips Studio and Royal Studios. Like this
album, Memphis is a melting pot of styles, and the instrumentation on The
Moon and Stars is just as diverse as its stylistic influences—from lush
strings to horns, pedal steel, and banjo. Jointly produced by June and Jack
Splash (Alicia Keys, Kendrick Lamar, John Legend), the fourteen tracks of
original music have all of the elements necessary to guarantee success.
Title: Baby I’m Hollywood Artist: Judith Hill Label: Regime Music Group Formats: CD, Digital Release date: March 5, 2021
Many may be familiar with Grammy-winning artist Judith Hill through her work with
Michael Jackson, or any number of other artists ranging from Josh Groban,
Stevie Wonder and John Legend to the late Andraé Crouch. Hill was also one of
the featured backup singers in the Academy Award winning documentary 20 Feet
From Stardom (2013), and that same year she made it to the finals on The
Voice. Yet despite these successes and a debut album co-produced by Prince,
the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is still struggling in her
pursuit of a career in music. Hill’s new project, Baby
I’m Hollywood, speaks to the highs and lows of life in the spotlight,
and so much more.
Title: Simple Syrup Artist: Sunny War Label: Org Music Format: LP, Digital Release Date: March 26, 2021
Following a captivating NPR Tiny Desk performance and
an acclaimed album in 2019, Sunny
became an artist to watch for fans of acoustic roots music. Since then, the
L.A.-based singer and guitarist has certainly kept busy, founding a Los Angeles
chapter of the nonprofit Food Not Bombs, marching for BLM protests, and
recording her newest album, Simple Syrup.
Title: Firebreather Artist: Skylar Rogers Label: CD Baby (distrib.) Formats: CD, Digital Release date: January 29, 2021
With a sound that draws comparisons to Etta James and Koko
Taylor, Chicago-born vocalist Skylar
Rogers is a relatively new force on the blues scene. After the success of
her debut EP, she began touring nationally in 2019 and dropped her first single
last year. Now Rogers tears into her first full-length album, Firebreather,
with a powerful blast of energy that fuels her unique blend of “soul rockin’ blues.”
Mahon’s Black Diamond Queens: African
American Women and Rock and Roll is a chronological collection of case studies
of African American women’s contributions to rock from 1953–1984, and, simultaneously,
a feminist critique of the forces that have prevented African American women
from enjoying more success in the rock world. Mahon, an associate professor at
New York University, demonstrates that African American women and their music were
foundational to the rock genre, and that their contributions have continued to
be a driving force in the development of rock over time. These women, however, have
found success to be elusive, due to barriers of genre expectations, gender expectations,
racial expectations, and record industry marketing.
Great performances and recordings of their
work can go a long way in helping solidify the reputation of any composer. The
GRAMMY Award-winning Catalyst
Quartet is working to use their immense
talent to highlight chamber music by composers who may have been overlooked
because of their race or gender with a new series of recordings, titled Uncovered. Volume One, featuring early
works by Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, promises an exceptional
project, bringing the incredible playing of a top-tier string quartet to finely
The acclaimed Grammy®-nominated woodwind quintet Imani Winds have released their latest
studio album, Bruits. Composed of the talented artists Brandon Patrick
George (flute), Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe), Mark Dover (clarinet), Jeff Scott (French
horn), and Monica Ellis (bassoon), Imani Winds delivers a provocative
commentary on the issues that have, and continue to, plague our country. Elucidated
by the metaphorical title, “Bruits,” a medical term for an abnormal sound generated
by blood flow through an obstructed artery, this album utilizes three inspiring
works to describe our ongoing social and political climate, reflecting on the
turmoil and strife within our country in an effort to bring about beneficial
change before the damage becomes irreparable. Additional featured performers on
the album include Grammy® award-winning pianist Cory Smythe, Metropolitan Opera
National Council & Operalia award-winning soprano Janai Brugger, and
scholar and narrator John Whittington Franklin.
Title: The American Negro Artist: Adrian Younge Label: Jazz Is Dead Format: CD, Digital Release date: February 26, 2021
In the wake of social
unrest and political trauma, composer Adrian Younge, like many before him, has
now become part of a canon of musical and literary expression that will likely live
on for generations. Younge’s new album, The
American Negro, offers 26 tracks of message songs and soulful instrumentals
interjected with Younge’s spoken word treatise on racism in America. Through the
album, he “dissects the chemistry behind blind racism, using music as the medium to
restore dignity and self-worth [of Black people]… It should be evident that
any examination of black music is an examination of the relationship between
black and white America. This relationship has shaped the cultural evolution of
the world and its negative roots run deep into our psyche.”
Title: Seven Artist: Cameron Graves Label: Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: February 19, 2021
Cameron Graves initially achieved acclaim as a member of the West Coast Get Down, a collective of L.A. jazz
musicians that includes Kamasi Washington and Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner. More
recently he has performed and recorded with fusion pioneer Stanley Clarke, who
has served as a mentor to the younger musician. Releasing his widely acclaimed debut
album Planetary Princein 2017,Graves now returns with his own brand of
progressive jazz on Seven. Referring to his new style as thrash-jazz,
Graves draws upon his jazz and classical studies as well as his love of Living
Colour, Meshuggah, and other heavy metal bands to create a stunningly inventive
jazz-rock fusion that will blast you into another galaxy.
Title: Freedom Fables Artist: Nubiyan Twist Label: Strut Format: CD, LP, Digital Release date: March 12, 2021
Since their formation in 2009 at the Leeds College of
Music, Nubiyan Twist
has gone on to sell out major concerts and collaborate with iconic musicians
like Ghanaian highlife king Pat Thomas and pioneering Afrobeat drummer Tony
Allen. The London-based collective is known for their captivating and unique
blending of jazz, Afrobeat, and highlife music with electronic touches. Nubiyan
Twist’s much-anticipated third album, Freedom Fables, builds on the
group’s past success with the new feature of rising star vocalists.