Welcome to the May 2021 Issue

Welcome to the May 2021 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re featuring two new classical releases: British Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga’s Wild Blue Yonder, and the chamber opera dwb (driving while black) by composer Susan Kander and librettist/soprano Roberta Gumbel. Also, Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen’s posthumous album, There Is No End, featuring rappers from across the African diaspora.

Jazz releases this month include vocalist Nnenna Freelon’s exploration of grief and healing on Time Traveler; saxophonist Vincent Herring’s Preaching to the Choir; the Noah Haidu, Buster Williams and Billly Hart trio’s Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett; drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.’s Big Band ensemble debut on Soul Conversations; Berta Moreno & Afro-Jazz Soul Project’s Tumaini; vocalist Dee Daniels’ gospel jazz project The Promise; and Introducing Kendall Carter featuring the rising jazz organist from Kentucky. 

Also featured this month is New Orleans bassist George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners laying down some heavy funk on Crying for Hope; veteran folk musician Reggie Harris’s On Solid Ground; and the late jazz violinist Billy Bang’s collaboration with Vietnamese musicians on Lucky Man. Wrapping up this issue is our list of April 2021 Black Music Releases of Note.

Eleanor Alberga, Ensemble Arcadiana – Wild Blue Yonder

 

Title: Wild Blue Yonder
Artist: Eleanor Alberga, Ensemble Arcadiana
Label: Navona
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 23, 2021

 

In unsettling times, Eleanor Alberga’s new release of contemporary chamber music feels like an aesthetic introduction to the new normal of discomfort, anxiety, and fleeting moments of absolute beauty. Although the pieces on the album were composed and recorded over a twenty year period by the Jamaican-born British composer and pianist, they are held together by a common theme of dreams and exploring the unknown. These dreams are not necessarily comforting, but rather an exciting journey through dream logic, full of slow fades, abrupt changes, and constant transformations of small motives and traditional harmonies that leave you feeling as if you are discovering a new territory, but with vaguely familiar landmarks.

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Susan Kander, Roberta Gumbel – dwb (driving while black)

 

Title: dwb (driving while black)
Artist: Susan Kander, Roberta Gumbel
Label: Albany
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 15, 2021

 

dwb (driving while black) is a chamber opera with a few modern twists. Composer Susan Kander and librettist/soprano Roberta Gumbel join to tell the story of a loving Black mother who anxiously watches her son grow. She battles with his increasing desire for independence and her fear for his safety. Each scene features the vocalist and accompanying instruments, sung from the perspective of the mother. Progressively, we see her interact with her son in the car at different stages in his maturity. Interjecting the scenes are bulletins performed by a singer, cellist, and percussionist that represent the “dangerous world beyond the Mother’s control.”

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Tony Allen – There Is No End

 

Title: There Is No End
Artist: Tony Allen
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 30, 2021

 

One could not ask for a more powerful posthumous album than Tony Allen’s There Is No End. The legendary Nigerian-born Afrobeat drummer and former musical director of Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70 group died last April at the age of 79. In the past two decades, Allen had become known for his eclectic collaborations, seamlessly moving from jazz to highlife, and funk to hip hop and electronica. Such is the case with this new release, featuring the Afrobeat elder engaging with younger singers and rappers who represent the full spectrum of the African diaspora including Sampa the Great, Danny Brown, Lava La Rue, and more.

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Nnenna Freelon – Time Traveler

 

Title: Time Traveler
Artist: Nnenna Freelon
Label: Origin
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 21, 2021

 

Like many over the past couple of years, jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon has been confronting grief. The singer’s beloved husband and partner of 40 years, Philip Freelon, passed after a long battle with ALS, shortly before the pandemic caused millions of untimely deaths and left bereaved families across the globe in mourning. Freelon’s new album, Time Traveler, was created through this lens of suffering, grief and loss. Recorded both before and after her husband’s transition, the singer hopes the album “offers compassion and hope for the places in life that feel hard” and calls the project “my soul’s gift to myself, my husband and the universe.”

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Vincent Herring – Preaching to the Choir

 

Title: Preaching to the Choir
Artist: Vincent Herring
Label: Smoke Sessions
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 30, 2021

 

After a bout with coronavirus left lingering side effects as well as a dearth of paying gigs, saxophonist Vincent Herring was no longer certain about his long range prospects as a musician. Thankfully, as both his health and performance opportunities began to rebound, Herring was inspired to undertake a new project, Preaching to the Choir, that “delivers a sermon of optimism and hope to the jazz faithful, aided by as fervent a congregation as a swing disciple could pray for: pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Johnathan Blake.”

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Noah Haidu, Buster Williams, and Billy Hart – Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett

 

Title: Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett
Artist: Noah Haidu, Buster Williams and Billy Hart
Label: Sunnyside
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 7, 2021

 

An emotional concert by Keith Jarrett at Carnegie Hall on February 15, 2017, became a pivotal moment in pianist-composer Noah Haidu’s trajectory. No one in the audience could have predicted that they were witnessing the final performance of the legendary jazz pianist, who later suffered a pair of debilitating strokes that forced his retirement. Haidu decided to change the focus of his planned trio album with jazz elders Buster Williams (bass) and Billy Hart (drums), resulting in Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett. Set to release the day before Jarrett’s 76th birthday, the tribute album focuses on original compositions by Haidu, Williams and Hart that give a nod to the musical interactions of the famed Jarrett/DeJohnette/Peacock trio without trying to recreate or interpret performances of the past.

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Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band – Soul Conversations

 

Title: Soul Conversations
Artist:  Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band
Label: Outside in Music
Format: CD, Digital
Release date: May 7, 2021

 

Drummer and composer Ulysses Owens Jr. is a name to remember in the world of music. Renown for his work with artists such as Christian McBride, Wynton Marsalis, Gregory Porter and Kurt Elling, Owens has also had the opportunity to engage in academic roles, teaching jazz at Juilliard and during residences at other institutions such as the Park Avenue Armory Conservancy and the world-renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church. His new release, Soul Conversations, is the recording debut of his new 19-piece UOJ Big Band, a multigenerational, multi-gender and multi-ethnic ensemble that continues Owens’ tradition of mastery in jazz as culture.

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Berta Moreno – Tumaini

 

Title: Tumaini
Artist: Berta Moreno
Label: Tiger Turn
Format: Digital
Release Date: April 30, 2021

 

Following her experience volunteering with children in the Kawangware region of Kenya, Madrid-born, New York-based saxophonist and composer Berta Moreno was inspired to create music that fused her own jazz background with the traditional African styles of the region. Tumaini, her sophomore album, takes listeners on an uplifting and joyous tour of Kenya as Moreno reflects on her time in Kawangware.

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Dee Daniels – The Promise (Deluxe Edition)

 

Title: The Promise (Deluxe Edition)
Artist: Dee Daniels
Label: Cellar Music Group 
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: May 7, 2021

 

Dee Daniels sounds like many artists wrapped together in one package as she draws from jazz, classical and gospel music with her smooth inspirational voice. A force of spiritual bliss and freedom, Daniels’ vocal style was first molded in her stepfather’s Baptist church choir in Oakland, California. From these gospel roots she has continued her musical growth, becoming fluent in multiple genres and sharing the beautiful sound of her voice around the world. Daniels’ new release, The Promise, combines both the sacred and secular aesthetic of her artistry as she reflects on her current moment in life and battle with breast cancer. Upon learning about her condition in 2014, Daniels’ initial response was to remain calm: “I knew in my heart that I was about to embark on a journey that would lead me to the answer.” 

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Introducing Kendall Carter

 

Title: Introducing Kendall Carter
Artist: Kendall Carter
Label: Lladnek Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 30, 2021

 

Kendall Carter is making a name for himself throughout the Midwest as a jazz organist, recognized for his mastery of the Hammond B3 as well as the SK-2 and A100 models. A recent graduate of the Jamey Aebersold Jazz Studies Program at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, Carter earned a master’s degree in jazz composition and arranging, which he puts to good use on his solo debut release, Introducing Kendall Carter. Accompanying him on this trio project is guitarist Dave Stryker and Indianapolis drummer Kenny Phelps, two musicians who have performed with the organist at local clubs and jazz festivals.

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George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners – Crying for Hope

 

Title: Crying for Hope
Artist: George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners
Label: Controlled Substance Sounds Labs/Color Red.
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: March 26, 2021

 

Bassist George Porter Jr. is best known as one of the founding members of The Meters, the seminal funk band that combined New Orleans street rhythms with a second line vibe and fatback drums to create their own unique, laidback style. After several decades performing with The Meters (later renamed The Funky Meters) and working as a session musician, Porter decided to form his own band in 1990.  Now, 30 years later, George Porter Jr. & The Runnin’ Pardners offer their latest release, Crying for Hope, that lays down 12 tracks of heavy funk amidst themes of social justice.

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Reggie Harris – On Solid Ground

 

Title: On Solid Ground
Artist: Reggie Harris
Label: Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 16, 2021

 

Veteran folk musician Reggie Harris reflects on the current political and social climate in his new release, On Solid Ground. A descendant of a Confederate general and one of his slaves, Harris says his story also “includes aspects of my journey as a Black male growing up in Philadelphia during the ‘50s and ‘60s; pushed into integrating schools and neighborhoods which forced me to learn to live between two worlds using music as a foil to become a bridge-builder.”   He draws upon these experiences across the album’s 13 tracks, many of which harken back to the freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement.  

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Billy Bang – Lucky Man

 

Title: Lucky Man
Artist: Billy Bang
Label: BBE Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: May 14, 2021

 

Forty years after the end of the Vietnam War, jazz violinist and Vietnam veteran Billy Bang bravely returned to the country in 2008 to find some closure for his still lingering trauma. This time armed with a violin instead of a rifle, Bang was followed by documentary filmmakers as he embarked on a deeply personal and musical journey that led him to collaborate with musicians throughout the country. The resultant film and album, Lucky Man, marks the third in a trilogy of works by Bang that confronted his past and explored the musical traditions of Vietnam.

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Welcome to the April 2021 Issue

Welcome to the April 2021 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

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.

Wrapping up this issue is our list of March 2021 Black Music Releases of Note.

Hasaan Ibn Ali – Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album

 

Title: Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album
Artist: Hasaan Ibn Ali
Label: Omnivore
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 23, 2021

 

If 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.

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Marques Carroll – The Ancestors’ Call

 

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.

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Jon Batiste – We Are

 

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.

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Logan Richardson – AfroFuturism

 

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.

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Dr. Lonnie Smith – Breathe

 

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.

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Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble – NOW

 

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?’” 

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Dan Wilson – Vessels of Wood and Earth

 

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.

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Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi – They’re Calling Me Home

 

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. 

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Merry Clayton – Beautiful Scars

 

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.

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