Welcome to the May 2020 Issue

Welcome to the May 2020 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture. 

This month we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the great horn-driven funk band Tower of Power with a review of their 30th album, Step Up

In the category of string music, we’re featuring African American fiddler Jake Blount’s first solo album, Spider Tales, and the album L.E.S. Douze Volume 2 from Le String Noise, a group featuring fiddler and vocalist Louis Michot of Lost Bayou Ramblers, violinists Pauline Kim and Conrad Harris of String Noise, and cellist and vocalist Leyla McCalla, of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Our Native Daughters. 

Jazz releases include drummer Jonathan Barber’s sophomore album, Legacy Holder; tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III & guitarist Matthew Stevens follow-up project, In Common 2; the Spanish Harlem Orchestra’s Latin Jazz Project; the Ruthie Foster Big Band’s Live at the Paramount; and the Brooklyn-based jazz-world music ensemble AJOYO’s sophomore album War Chant.    

Blues releases include Reverend Shawn Amos & The Brotherhood’s Blue Sky, and a celebration of Chicago electric blues with Alex Dixon (son of Willie Dixon) on The Real McCoy.  

The reissue of the month is the new compilation from Archeophone Records, At the Minstrel Show: Minstrel Routines from the Studio, 1894-1926, that includes examples of three complete minstrel shows, some featuring songs by African American composers and performers, with authoritative liner notes by Tim Brooks. Wrapping up this issue is our list of April 2020 Black Music Releases of Note
  

Tower of Power – Step Up

 

Title: Step Up  
Artist: Tower of Power  
Label: Artistry/Mack Avenue   
Formats: CD, LP, Digital  
Release date: March 20, 2020

 

After 50 strong years of music making, Tower of Power is back with their 30th album, Step Up. Known for their wall of sound horn-driven funk, the multi-instrumentalist ensemble has been performing and creating music since the late 1960s under the direction of bandleader and tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo. A Detroit native, Castillo moved to Oakland, CA where he met baritone sax player Stephen “Doc” Kupka, and they formed a band that would soon become known as Tower of Power. After famous concert promoter Bill Graham heard the group perform at the Fillmore in 1970, he signed them to his label and their debut album, East Bay Grease, was released that same year.  

Continue reading

Jake Blount – Spider Tales

 

Title: Spider Tales 
Artist: Jake Blount 
Label: Free Dirt   
Formats: CD, LP, Digital 
Release date: May 29, 2020 

 

Jake Blount has teamed up with a group of talented, young, and mostly queer folk musicians to assemble a thoroughly moving and often harrowing collection of songs by Black and indigenous folk musicians. Blount is a rising star in the folk scene, becoming the first Black person to make the finals at the prestigious Appalachian String Band Music Festival (better known as Clifftop), and the first to win in the traditional band category. Three years later, he placed first in the banjo contest, playing three tunes from Black banjoists including Dink Robert’s “Roustabout,” which appears on Spider Tales, Blount’s first full solo album.  

Continue reading

Le String Noise – L.E.S. Douze Volume 2

 

Title: L.E.S. Douze Volume 2 
Artist: Le String Noise 
Label: Nouveau Electric 
Formats: CD, Digital 
Release date: April 17, 2020 

 

The Stone is a Lower East Side experimental music venue that has no bar and allows no speaking – the music is the sole focus. It was in this environment that artist-in-residence Louis Michot and the three other members of Le String Noise recorded their latest release, L.E.S. Douze Volume 2. The ensemble is a collaboration between fiddler and vocalist Louis Michot of Lost Bayou Ramblers, violinists Pauline Kim and Conrad Harris of String Noise, and cellist and vocalist Leyla McCalla, alumna of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Our Native Daughters.  

Continue reading

Reverend Shawn Amos & The Brotherhood – Blue Sky

 

Title: Blue Sky 
Artist: Reverend Shawn Amos & The Brotherhood 
Label: Put Together Music 
Formats: CD, LP, MP3 
Release date: April 17, 2020 

 

Self-proclaimed blues preacher Shawn Amos returns to his Americana, singer-songwriter roots on his latest album, Blue Sky.  Since his 2018 release, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down, Amos shifted his home base to Texas and has been touring nonstop with a faithful band of compatriots. Designated The Brotherhood, this group includes drummer Brady Blade (Dave Matthews, Indigo Girls), bassist Christopher “CT” Thomas (Norah Jones, Macy Gray), and Amos’s longtime guitarist Chris “Doctor” Roberts. Collaborating with additional friends and family, Rev and The Brotherhood traverse spiritual and emotional territory littered with heartbreak, displacement and redemption.

Continue reading

Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead – Legacy Holder

 

Title: Legacy Holder 
Artist: Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead 
Label: Vision Ahead Music 
Formats: CD, Digital 
Release date: May 15, 2020 

 

Drummer, composer and bandleader Jonathan Barber has accomplished much in his young life. The 30-year-old Hartford, Connecticut native began performing gospel music at an early age at his family church, learning alongside his father who was also a drummer. He later studied at the University of Hartford’s Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz and went on to tour and record with artists such as Pat Metheny, Jeremy Pelt, Wallace Roney, Jennifer Holiday, and Harold Mabern. Shortly after Modern Drummer named Barber as the #1 Up-and-Coming Drummer of 2018, he released his debut album, Vision Ahead. Now Barber returns with his sophomore release, Legacy Holder, featuring his New York-based jazz quintet Vision Ahead.  

Continue reading

Ruthie Foster Big Band – Live at the Paramount

 

Title: Live at the Paramount 
Artist: Ruthie Foster Big Band 
Label: Blue Corn Music 
Formats: CD, Digital 
Release date: May 15, 2020 

 

Ruthie Foster delivers a high-powered performance in Live at the Paramount, her ninth album with Blue Corn Music. Complete with the combination of extraneous noise and high energy that inevitably accompanies a live album, Ruthie Foster delivers a big band set that shows off her well-known voice in a swing setting. Recorded at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, on January 26, 2019, John Mills is the music director and conductor of Foster’s big band, and all of the arrangements for this concert are by Mills and John Beasley.  

Continue reading

Walter Smith III and Matthew Stevens – In Common 2

 

Title: In Common 2 
Artist: Walter Smith III and Matthew Stevens 
Label: Whirlwind Recordings 
Formats: CD, LP (limited ed.), Digital 
Release Date: May 15, 2020 

 

In Common 2 is the much-anticipated second release from tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and guitarist Matthew Stevens. After the noteworthy success of their first collaboration In Common, Smith and Stevens assembled another star-studded cast featuring pianist Micah Thomas, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Nate Smith to perform their original compositions. Smith and Stevens are both at the nexus of the international jazz scene as performers, bandleaders, and composers, having performed and recorded with a wide range of artists including Ambrose Akinmusire, Christian Scott, Esperanza Spalding, and Roy Haynes. Their collaboration produces a high energy, dynamic album that sounds like a band that has been playing together for years.  

Continue reading

Spanish Harlem Orchestra – The Latin Jazz Project

 

Title: The Latin Jazz Project 
Artist: Spanish Harlem Orchestra 
Label: ArtistShare 
Formats: CD (limited ed.), Digital 
Release date: May 22, 2020 

 

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra (SHO) has become a household name for salsa lovers and Latin jazz enthusiasts over the years. Founded in the early 2000s by bandleader Oscar Hernández and producer Aaron Levinson, SHO has accumulated several Grammy nominations and three Grammy Awards for their albums Across 110th Street (2004), Viva La Tradicion (2010), and Anniversary (2018). Known for their “dedication to the sounds of the barrio (Spanish Harlem NYC)” and their “mission to keep the musical legacy of salsa dura (hard salsa) alive,” SHO has become one of the standard representations of the New York style of salsa music.  

Continue reading

Alex Dixon – The Real McCoy

 

Title: The Real McCoy 
Artist: Alex Dixon 
Label: Dixon Landing Music 
Formats: CD, LP, Digital 
Release date:  March 24, 2020 

 

If electric Chicago blues is your bag, Alex Dixon’s The Real McCoy offers the real deal. The grandson of Willie Dixon, Alex represents the younger generation of Chicago blues royalty and carries on the family tradition as a talented producer, bassist, and pianist. His family also actively works to preserve the history of the genre in the Windy City through the Blues Heaven Foundation, located in the historic Chess Records building. Sharing his love of this history is precisely what Dixon set out to accomplish with his new project: “We were trying to go for authenticity, and I wanted to showcase some of the things that I learned from my grandfather and make the album I’ve always wanted to do.” Joining Dixon in this endeavor are two blues harpists – Sugar Blue and Steve Bell, son of famed harmonica wizard Cary Bell – and other assisting musicians including Lewis “Big Lew” Powell on vocals, Melvin Taylor and Gino Matteo on guitar, and Alvino Bennett on drums. 

Continue reading