Our featured release this month is bassist/composer Gregg August’s Dialogues on Race, an extended suite for large jazz ensemble, vocalists, and strings that draws upon poems by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Marilyn Nelson and other notable American poets. Other jazz releases include Teodross Avery’s tribute album Harlem Stories: The Music of Thelonious Monk; alto saxophonist/composer Charles McPherson’s Jazz Dance Suites; jazz-rock fusion drummer/vocalist Cindy Blackman Santana’s Give the Drummer Some featuring guitarists Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Kirk Hammett, and Vernon Reid; and the never-before-released album Just Coolin’ by Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers.
Also featured is Hearts Town from the R&B duo The War And Treaty; Frederick “Toots” Hibbert’s final album with the Maytals, Got To Be Tough; Philly R&B singer Valvin “V” Roane’s Image a Nation; Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne’s Go, Just Do It!; an expanded reissue of the Curtis Mayfield soundtrack Let’s Do It Again featuring the Staple Singers; and a remastered vinyl edition of Classified by New Orleans keyboardist James Booker.
Title: Dialogues on Race, Volume One Artist: Gregg August Label: Iacuessa/dist. Bandcamp Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: August 21, 2020
An extremely versatile artist, double bassist and composer Gregg August performs and records with groups spanning multiple genres. Currently a member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra, he also performs regularly as a jazz bassist with the JD Allen Trio and Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. In 2009, shortly after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, August was inspired to compose Dialogues on Race, an extended suite for large jazz ensemble, vocalists, strings and narrator. Drawing upon poems by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Marilyn Nelson and other notable American poets, August hoped to “create a musical conversation that would help bring awareness and foster understanding on the issue of race” in support of the nation’s first Black president. Following the premiere at The Jazz Gallery in New York, the work was set aside for a time. But as the political discourse in the U.S. grew increasingly toxic and more Black lives were lost to violence, many of the musicians that premiered Dialogues urged August to revive and record the suite. The result is a stunning achievement that deftly combines jazz, blues, classical and Latin influences with gripping poetic verses to create a provocative work that is even more relevant and necessary today.
Soprano and tenor saxophonist Teodross Avery developed a keen
interest in the music of Thelonious Monk as a teenager, after hearing the acclaimed
jazz pianist’s landmark 1963 album Monk’s
Dream. After repeated listening, Avery says, “It became clear to me that
Monk wanted his complex melodies and harmonies to affect the musicians and the
listeners alike with non-stop swing rhythms…He wanted that swing beat to just
permeate the sound while he delivered his unique sound on top.” Avery went on to
earn a Doctorate in Jazz Studies from the University of Southern California and
along the way performed and recorded with many jazz titans as well as artists
ranging from Leela James and Lauryn Hill to Mos Def and Talib Kweli. But for
his latest project, Avery decided to return to his early fascination with Monk and
take a much deeper dive into the complexities of his music on Harlem Stories: The Music of Thelonious Monk.
Title: Jazz Dance Suites Artist: Charles McPherson Label: Chazz Mack Music Formats: CD, Digital Release date: September 25, 2020
Distinguished alto saxophonist, composer and
McPherson, known for his bebop and bluesy style and
improvisational ingenuity, adds to his plethora of notable works with Jazz
Dance Suites. Inspired and
dedicated to his daughter Camille, a soloist in the San Diego Ballet, McPherson’s
album of ballet music is a fusion of refreshing harmonies and unique lyrical
melodies that wonderfully combine with inventive rhythm and syncopation,
creating a bouncy and vibrant project that is a beautiful compliment to dance.
Title: Give the Drummer Some Artist: Cindy Blackman Santana Label: Copperline Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: September 18, 2020
drummer Cindy Blackman Santana is well-known for her versatility, especially in
the realm of jazz and rock. A member of Lenny Kravitz’s band from 1992-2007,
for the past decade she has been the regular touring drummer for Santana (and
later married Carlos Santana). Heavily influenced by her mentor, the late
drummer Tony Williams who initially rose to fame in the 1960s as a member of
Miles Davis’ group, Cindy has extended and expanded his jazz-rock fusion
legacy. On her new album, Give the Drummer Some, Cindy reaches new
heights, on vocals and percussion, as she collaborates with four of the world’s
top fusion guitarists: Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Kirk Hammett (Metallica),
and Vernon Reid (Living Colour). Produced by Narada Michael Walden, the album
was three years in the making, and the results are no less than spectacular.
As the musical tide shifts and conscious rap is once
again foregrounded, The Sharecropper’s Daughter by Sa-Roc is an album that
should be canonized. Lyrically dexterous, this album is Ancestral remembrance,
community healing, and a call to check internalized systems of oppression,
packaged in fifteen phenomenal tracks. From the opening track “EmergencE” stating,
“to heal the spirit, reveal the prison,” to the closing track “Grounded” that provides
the reminder, “I got too much in me for you to take it from me, that’s how I
learned to be free,” The Sharecropper’s Daughter leaves you feeling both
affirmed and called to action.
Title: Safe Space Invader Artist: Paris Label: Guerilla Funk Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: September 25, 2020
One of the most politically
charged rappers to emerge in the 1990s, Paris is perhaps best known for his
militant albums The Devil Made Me Do It and Sleeping with the Enemy.
The latter album, originally scheduled for release prior to the 1992 election
(but withheld by the label), featured the incendiary track “Bush
Killa,” aimed at the incumbent, President George H.W. Bush. Now, prior to
what may be the most contentious election in US history amidst a pandemic and
social unrest, the Bay Area rapper returns with Safe Space
Invader. Released on Paris’ own Guerilla Funk label, there is no one to hold him back and nothing is off
Public Enemy is back! In yet
another pre-election release by socially conscious hip hop icons, What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down is an
explosive album of politically charged tracks from Chuck D, Flavor Flav and DJ
Lord. With collabs from the likes of George Clinton, Ice T, Cypress Hill and Run-DMC,
there’s plenty of nostalgia to arouse the interest of golden age hip hop fans,
as well as tracks addressing contemporary issues, ranging from the Trump
presidency and internet dependency to the killing of Breonna Taylor. Yet
despite addressing weighty social-political topics, the infectious beats and
off-the-charts production give the album a celebratory quality, with tracks
maintaining a high energy level from beginning to end.
One of the most diverse musical collectives in the
country, Free Radicals
includes over 50 musicians that range from 4-year-old attendees of Peace Camp
Houston to 92-year-old vibraphone player Harry Sheppard. These musicians bring
together their varied backgrounds and talents on White Power Outage Volume 1,
a revolutionary album that demands an end to white supremacy in the arts,
culture, and politics.
Named the 2019 Emerging Act of the Year by Americana
Music Association, husband and wife duo Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya
Blount-Trotter are artists to watch out for as they continue to take the music
world by storm. Between their performance at the 62nd Annual GRAMMY
Awards back in January, the release of their newest album Hearts Town in
August, and their spot as an opener on John Legend’s upcoming Bigger Love
2020 Tour (rescheduled for 2021),
The War And Treaty have proven themselves to be a powerhouse R&B duo.
Title: Got To Be Tough Artist: Toots & the Maytals Label: Trojan Jamaica/BMG Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: June 12, 2020
It is hard to imagine a title more fitting for Frederick “Toots” Hibbert’s final album than Got To Be Tough. The legendary Jamaican reggae pioneer, who died at age 77 on September 11, 2020 from COVID-19 related complications, experienced more than his share of hardships. Orphaned at the age of 11, imprisoned in his twenties for possession of ganja, and severely injured during a music festival in 2013 by an inebriated bottle-wielding fan, Toots was a survivor. What was meant to be a comeback album for Toots & the Maytals, the ska and rocksteady collective Toots led for nearly 60 years, instead serves as a poignant tribute to the much beloved musician and his indomitable spirit.
Title: Image a Nation Artist: Valvin “V” Roane Label: BBE Music Format: Digital Release date: October 2, 2020
Philadelphia R&B/soul singer, songwriter and producer Valvin “V” Roane is making his return with Image a Nation, his first full-length project with Barely Breaking Even (BBE Music) in 15 years. In collaboration with production partners Jontae Slade, Andre Capers and Yameen Allworld, V creates an album that colorfully illustrates the changes in the world around us through both the lyrical and melodic structures within the project.
Usually thought of as a blues musician,
is too versatile as a player to be bound within any one genre. Now 75 years old,
Wayne has been paying his dues for a long time, and that level of experience is
evident on Go, Just Do It! Playing
like a seasoned veteran—always playing the right notes, and always in the
groove—it is obvious why Wayne has been inducted into the Boogie Woogie Piano
Hall of Fame in Cincinnati. On this latest release he is joined by veteran
personnel, such as former B. B. King bassist Russell Jackson and a rhythm
section rounded out by Joey DiMarco on drums and Yuji Ihara on guitar, both of
whom have played with the Canadian act Boogie Patrol. Harmonica ace Sherman
“Tank” Doucette plays on “They Call Me the Breeze,” and Wayne is joined by Grammy
winner Diane Schuur on a cover of Percy Mayfield’s “You’re in for a Big
Surprise.” A horn section consisting of Jerry Cook on sax and Vince Mai on
trumpet rounds out some of the other notable personnel on the record.
Title: My Soul Says Yes Artist: Chicago Mass Choir Label: New Haven Formats: CD, Digital Release date: July 31, 2020
truly no sound like that of the gospel mass choir and the Chicago Mass Choir embodies the very spirit and
essence of this tradition. With thrilling heart thumping, hand clapping, foot
stomping songs, the choir takes you back to the “old time way,” to quote the
late Bishop G.E. Patteson (former presiding Bishop of the Church of God in
Christ denomination). My Soul Says Yes,
the choir’s 17th album release, continues this legacy through their creation of
songs that further their mission of giving back to their community and the
Rev. Juan D. Shipp was the force behind many Black gospel recordings emanating from Memphis, Tennessee in the 1970s. A pastor at the Greater Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church, Shipp also had a gospel radio show on K-WAM, where he spun gospel quartet records as “Juan D.” Believing that “local artists deserve a better sound,” he formed a relationship with Clyde Leoppard, a former Sun Studio drummer who owned Tempo Recording Studio in downtown Memphis. Shipp began recording and releasing professional quality singles for many local and regional gospel groups on his own small boutique label, D-Vine Spirituals. Soon business was booming, and he spun off a secondary label, JCR, for up-and-coming artists who wanted to press a record but didn’t make the D-Vine cut. Seventeen of these tracks are featured in The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1, which was produced by Rev. Shipp.
Title: Just Coolin’ Artist: Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers Label: Blue Note Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: July 17, 2020
reissue of Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers’ Just Coolin’ is from a 1959 studio album that was never released,
most likely due to the fact that four of the six tracks were included several
months later on a pair of live albums recorded at the legendary jazz club
Birdland in New York City—Art Blakey and
the Jazz Messengers at the Jazz Corner of the World (vols. 1 & 2, later
reissued as a two-CD set.). Consequently, the original studio sessions
comprising this release were shelved and are finally seeing the light of day 60
Title: Classified Artist: James Booker Label: Rounder/Craft Formats: LP Release date: July 31, 2020
As part of Rounder Records’ 50th anniversary celebration, Craft Recordings is offering this remixed and remastered vinyl reissue of Classified, an unjustly overlooked 1982 release by New Orleans keyboardist James Booker, the iconoclastic disciple of the legendary Professor Longhair. On this record Booker performs an eclectic variety of songs, including tunes by R&B legends like Titus Turner, Fats Domino, and Lloyd Price. But he also covers “Hound Dog” (the Leiber & Stoller classic made famous by Big Mama Thornton and later by Elvis), the jazz standard “Angel Eyes,” the 1926 pop standard “Baby Face,” as well as the country classic “King of the Road” and two originals, particularly the scintillating “Three Keys” that concludes the record. Yet in spite of these disparate song sources, it all comes out sounding like Booker thanks to his inimitable musical talent and force of personality.
Title: Let’s Do It Again Artist: The Staple Singers Label: Omnivore Formats: CD Release date: June 5, 2020
In June, the reissue label Omnivore released four expanded editions of classic albums by the Staple Singers, including Family Tree (1977), produced by former Chi-lite Eugene Record; Unlock Your Mind (1978), produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett at Muscle Shoals; and Pass It On (1976), produced by Curtis Mayfield. The fourth release was another Curtis Mayfield production—the soundtrack to the 1975 film, Let’s Do It Again, which featured an all-star cast led by Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Ossie Davis and Jimmie Walker. Recorded three years after Mayfield’s critically acclaimed soundtrack for Superfly, Let’s Do It Again used many of the same personnel from his Curtom house band: Mayfield on lead guitar, Joseph “Lucky” Scott on bass, and Master Henry Gibson laying down the funky conga and bongo parts. The album represented the Staple Singers’ first post-Stax Records release, and features five songs and three instrumentals that Mayfield composed for the film.
The Heart of a Woman is the first full-length biography on Florence B. Price, the renowned African American composer. Based on Dr. Rae Linda Brown’s 1987 Ph.D. dissertation on Price, the author sadly did not live to see her expanded book published before succumbing to cancer in 2017.
Dolce, featuring cellist Kristen Yeon-Ji Yun
and pianist Phoenix Park-Kim, has assembled a satisfying collection of pieces
by composers of African descent on their recent release, Summerland.
This album is a follow up to Deep River:
Music for Violin and Piano by Composers of African Descent, released by
Park-Kim and violinist Merwin Siu in 2016. Most of the pieces chosen for Summerland
reflect the lyrical side of classical music, with winding, twisting harmonies
and long, sustained melodies.
Whether intentional or not, Naxos
picked an opportune time to release this recording featuring works by two very
prominent 20th century African American composers—William Levi
Dawson (1899-1990) and his somewhat younger contemporary, Ulysses Simpson Kay
(1917-1995). As a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, at least a portion
of white America is finally addressing gaps in their knowledge of Black history,
having come of age at a time when the historical narrative and education system
was (and is) unquestionably white-washed. At the same time, many university
music departments and libraries have begun the process of re-examining the Western
classical music canon in an attempt to decolonize syllabi and collections. This
new release on Naxos American Classics series is certainly a very
welcome addition to those efforts. Though most of these works have been released
commercially in the past, the most recent of these recordings was issued nearly
20 years ago.
Title: EarthSeed Artist: Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris Label: FPE Format: CD, LP, Digital Release Date: June 26, 2020
They say that great minds think alike, and that seems
to be the case with the new collaborative album between renowned composers Nicole Mitchell
and Lisa E. Harris.
The pair met at the New Quorum Composers’ Residency in New Orleans and were
drawn together by a shared interest in celebrated author Octavia E. Butler, one
of the best known African American writers in science fiction. Together, the
two musicians took inspiration from Butler’s legacy of Afrofuturistic novels to
jazz violinist Regina Carter has a history of releasing music that celebrates Black culture,
whether commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ella
Fitzgerald or her
father’s roots on Southern Comfort. Yet at this pivotal point in history, with the COVID-19 pandemic
surging unabated in tandem with protests and civil unrest, Carter has chosen a
more politically charged theme. Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground is
her urgent message to those who have not taken part in the democratic process,
extolling them to get out and exercise their right to vote. The title, she explains,
speaks to the current state of the nation: “We are living in surreal times…we
have become a divided country of Red vs. Blue, Us vs. Them or Not Our Kind, and
that pot is starting to boil over.” Rest assured, however, that both hope and harmony
are encouraged across the album’s 14 tracks as Carter and her band of jazz
luminaries take the listener on a tour from sea to shining sea.