Welcome to the September 2020 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.
We’re back from a summer hiatus to celebrate Classical Music Month with a review of the new biography on composer Florence B. Price, The Heart of a Woman, by Rae Linda Brown. Classical music recordings include Duo Dolce’s Summerland: Music for Cello and Piano by Composers of African Descent; and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony performing William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony and Ulysses Kay’s Fantasy Variations and Umbrian Scene.
Jazz releases this month include flutist/composer Nicole Mitchell and soprano Lisa E. Harris’s EarthSeed, based on the Afrofuturistic novels of Octavia E. Butler; Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground by the Regina Carter Freedom Band; trombonist Javier Nero’s debut album Freedom; bassist/composer Derrick Hodge’s concept album Color of Noize; trumpeter Derrick Gardner’s Still I Rise with the Big dig! Band; saxophone legend Maceo Parker’s Soul Food: Cooking with Maceo; saxophonist/keyboardist Mike Burton’s cross-genre project Walk With Me; and Sun Piano by ambient music icon Laraaji.
Popular music releases include soul-rock musician Fantastic Negrito’s Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?; London artist L.A. Salami’s The Cause of Doubt & A Reason to Have Faith; the collective Austin Musicians for Transformative Justice’s call for social justice on No More Silence Vol. 2; Billy Ocean’s 70th birthday celebration One World; R&B diva Brandy’s b7; French-Caribbean bassist, singer and producer Adeline’s Intérimes; R&B superstar Teyana Taylor’s The Album; the late blues musician Frank Bey’s final release All My Dues Are Paid; and Chris Jasper’s For the Love of You which revisits some of The Isley Brothers’ hits.
World music releases include Mutation from the Parisian Afrobeat group Les Frères Smith, and the eponymous release from the Afro-Colombian group Ghetto Kumbé.
Wrapping up this issue is our list of Summer 2020 Black Music Releases of Note covering additional releases from June, July and August.
Title: The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price
Author: Rae Linda Brown
Publisher: University of Illinois Press (Music in American Life series)
Formats: Book (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Release date: June 22, 2020
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.
Title: Summerland: Music for Cello and Piano by Composers of African Descent
Artist: Duo Dolce
Label: MSR Classics
Formats: CD, Streaming
Release date: January 30, 2020
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.
Title: William Dawson Negro Folk Symphony/Ulysses Kay Fantasy Variations & Umbrian Scene
Artist: ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; Arthur Fagan, cond.
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 16, 2020
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.
Artist: Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris
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
Title: Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground
Artist: Regina Carter Freedom Band
Label: Tiger Turn
Release date: July 31, 2020
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.
Artist: Javier Nero
Label: Outside In Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 7, 2020
The winner of multiple prestigious jazz trombone
competitions and recipient of a Ph.D. from Frost School of Music at the
University of Miami, Dr. Javier Nero appears
more than ready to present his debut solo album, Freedom. The title, he
explains, reflects the very essence of jazz, as well as “the beauty that can be
created by learning from and appreciating disparate cultures.” Nero draws upon
his own multi-cultural ancestry and extensive training as a jazz and classical
musician, as well as his experience as a member of the Haitian band Klass, to seamlessly
incorporate elements of multiple genres across the 12 tracks of the album.
Joining Nero in the ensemble are Tom Kelley (sax/flute), Melvin Butler
(tenor/soprano sax), Jean Caze (trumpet/flugelhorn), Tal Cohen (piano), Dion
Kerr (bass) and Aaron Kimmel (drums).
Title: Color of Noize
Artist: Derrick Hodge
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: June 26, 2020
Bassist and composer Derrick Hodge has worked with some of
the best, performing on GRAMMY award winning albums by Robert Glasper (as a
founding member of the Robert Glasper Experiment) and Terence Blanchard, producing
projects with Quincy Jones, and writing/recording with a wide range of other artists
across multiple genres, from Kanye West, Q-Tip, and Andre 3000 to Jill Scott,
Sade, and Kirk Franklin. Hodge’s innovative arrangements also played an essential
role in the powerful performances by Nas and Maxwell with the National Symphony
Orchestra, and Common with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Now, on his latest
project and his third release for Blue Note Records, Hodge seeks to bridge the
divide between urban, jazz and classical music with his new concept album, Color
Title: Still I Rise
Artist: Derrick Gardner & the Big dig! Band
Label: Impact Jazz
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 10, 2020
Trumpeter Derrick Gardner has gathered together friends and family to form a new ensemble that makes its debut on his latest release, Still I Rise. Christened the Big dig! Band, after co-leader Steve Kirby’s bi-monthly jazz publication dig! magazine, the 18-piece big band performs contemporary music composed and arranged by Gardner while retaining the classic feel of the swing era. In addition to Derrick, an alumnus of the Count Basie Orchestra and the Harry Connick Jr. Big Band, the group also features his brother, trombonist Vincent Gardner, who currently serves as artistic director of the Jazz Houston Orchestra. Other world class musicians from across North America include saxophonists Mark Gross (Duke Ellington Orchestra), Greg Gatien, Rob Dixon, Tristan Martinuson and Ken Gold; trumpeters Bijon Watson (Gerald Wilson Jazz Orchestra), Jeff Johnson, Curtis Taylor and Andrew Littleford; trombonists Joel Green, Anthony Bryson and Bill Green; with pianist Zen Zadravec, bassist Luke Sellick, guitarist Kasey Kurtz and drummer Curtis Nowosad heading up the rhythm section.
Title: Walk With Me
Artist: Mike Burton
Label: Mike Burton Co.
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 14th, 2020
native of Jackson, Mississippi, saxophonist Michael
affinity for music was nurtured at an early age by his mother, a singer with
the Mississippi Mass Choir, and father, a tenor saxophonist. Burton honed his
craft at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music under the tutelage of the renowned
David Baker, and as a member of the IU Soul Revue, an ensemble that examines and performs
Black popular music. Since
completing his master’s degree in Jazz Studies, Burton has toured with major artists
ranging from Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, Patti LaBelle and Anita Baker to New
Edition, PJ Morton, and blues singer Willie Clayton. He has also played
keyboards and saxophone on many of Tyler Perry’s stage and film productions.
Burton’s vast experience is reflected in his third studio album, Walk With Me. Co-produced by Burton and
Atlanta-based multi-instrumentalist Jelani Jackson, the album features
collaborations from artists such as PJ Morton, Sho Baraka, Jeff Bradshaw,
Melvin Jones, Len’i McKinney and Paula Champion.