Welcome to the February 2020 Issue

Welcome to the February 2020 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture. In honor of Black History Month, we’re featuring projects that explore the Black experience, from Emancipation to the Civil Rights Movement to the present.

Composer Paul Moravec’s Sanctuary Road is a powerful oratorio based on the writings of William Still (1821–1902), a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Jazz musician/composer Christian McBride’s The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons is a tribute to Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom captures a live performance from the Atlanta Music Festival. Will Boyd’s Freedom, Soul, Jazz commemorates Juneteenth emancipation celebrations. Ben Williams’ I AM A MAN was inspired by the 1968 Memphis sanitation worker’s strike. Jubilee Showcase features 36 performances from the ground breaking civil rights era gospel television series.

Additional classical recordings include London-based Chineke! Orchestra’s Spark Catchers featuring works by six of the UK’s leading Black and minority ethnic composers, and British cello sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s new release, Elgar. Additional jazz recordings include Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis’s tribute to The Music of Wayne Shorter, and John Bailey’s Can You Imagine?, commemorating Dizzy Gillespie’s 1964 campaign for president.

With Mardi Gras approaching, we’re highlighting two New Orleans related releases: Delfeayo Marsalis & The Uptown Jazz Orchestra’s Jazz Party and the new compilation The Meters: Gettin Funkier All The Time: Complete Josie/Reprise/Warner Recordings 1968-1977.

With a nod to Valentine’s Day and themes of love, there’s jazz trumpeter Jeremy Pelt’s The Art of Intimacy Vol. 1, gospel artist Renee Spearman’s I Love Him, and the classic soul compilation You’re Not Gonna Hurt Me (A Valentine’s Day Kiss Off). Other featured albums include Fight the Fight from Jamaican reggae artist Mortimer and Amazones Power from the pan-African supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique. Wrapping up this issue is our list of January 2020 Black Music Releases of Note.

Paul Moravec’s Sanctuary Road: An Oratorio Based on the Writings of William Still

 

Title: Sanctuary Road
Artist: Oratorio Society of New York; Kent Tritle, cond.
Label: Naxos American Classics series (8.559884)
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 10, 2020

 

Paul Moravec’s 2017 oratorio, Sanctuary Road, is a modern take on the classical oratorio form, portraying stories from the Underground Railroad rather than Biblical content. The libretto by Mark Campbell interprets slave narratives collected and published in 1872 in The Underground Railroad by William Still (1821–1902) of Philadelphia, a “conductor” who aided many fugitive slaves including his older brother. Some of the song texts are literal, as when Still interviews an escapee he has sheltered, but at other times more poetic, consisting of single words or phrases joined together to portray the collective experience of the enslaved who escaped to freedom. The oratorio’s title, however, was inspired by the modern concept of “Sanctuary City,” bringing contemporary resonance to the composition. The sixteen movement work for five soloists, chorus and orchestra was commissioned by Jody Spellun, a member of the Oratorio Society of New York, and this live recording captures the world premiere performance at Carnegie Hall by the OSNY Chorus and Orchestra under the baton of Kent Tritle.

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Christian McBride – The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons

 

Title: The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons
Artist: Christian McBride
Label: Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: February 7, 2020

 

Christian McBride’s The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons is a tribute to four renowned African Americans: Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. According to McBride, this album is meant as “a clear-eyed yet optimistic look at where our society has come from and where it is hopefully headed.” The four narrators who portray these icons include poet and author Sonia Sanchez as Rosa Parks, actor Wendell Pierce as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., actor Vondie Curtis-Hall as Malcolm X, and actor Dion Graham as Muhammad Ali. They are supported by a phenomenal cast of vocalists and instrumentalists such as Alicia Olatuja (vocals), Steve Wilson (saxophone), Freddie Hendricks (trumpet), Terreon Gully (drums), among many others. These artists coalesce into a spectacular fusion of jazz, gospel, funk, and Afro-Cuban rhythms.

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Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom

 

Title: Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom   
Artist: Various
Label: Albany
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: January 10, 2020

 

The songs and spoken excerpts that comprise Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom were performed live during the Atlanta Music Festival in 2016 at Ebenezer Baptist Church and Glenn Memorial Auditorium at Emory University. The Atlanta Music Festival was first created in 1910 after the Atlanta Race Riots and revived in 2001 by Pastor Dwight Andrews. The purpose of the festival at its inception was to introduce the world to renowned African American concert musicians. The music featured on Bound for the Promised Land does not disappoint and holds true to the original mission of the festival, with works by Dorothy Rudd Moore, T. J. Anderson, Duke Ellington, John Carter and Adolphus Hailstork. Guest artists include the late soprano Jessye Norman, who performs on four songs, tenor Timothy B. Miller, and narrators Taylor Branch and Rev. Robert M. Franklin, Jr.

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Ben Williams – I AM A MAN

 

Title: I AM A MAN
Artist: Ben Williams
Label: Rainbow Blonde
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 7, 2020

 

Acclaimed Grammy-winning bassist, composer and bandleader Ben Williams’ newest album, I AM A MAN, is a sociopolitically charged project that strives to “show the world the complexity of our humanity as Black American men.” With help from producer and sound designer Brian Bender, the album boasts a humid and hazy sound that recalls neo-soul albums released by The Roots, Erykah Badu, Bilal, and D’Angelo. Williams sings lead on the majority of songs, in addition to playing the electric and acoustic bass. Joining him is an amazing lineup comprised of keyboardist Kris Bowers, guitarist David Rosenthal, tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Marcus Strickland, percussionist Bendji Allonce, trumpeter Kenyon Harrold, flutist Anne Drummond, and drummers Jamire Williams and Justin Brown.

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Will Boyd – Freedom, Soul, Jazz

 

Title: Freedom, Soul, Jazz
Artist: Will Boyd
Label: Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: July 12, 2019

 

Saxophonist, composer and band leader Will Boyd pays tribute to spirituals, hymns, and freedom songs on his album, Freedom, Soul, Jazz. The project was released to coincide with Juneteenth celebrations, which are holidays observed among Black communities as a de facto independence day commemorating the abolition of slavery and a first step toward inclusion in the greater American dream. Regarding his motivation for the project, Boyd explained, “I wanted to do my part to move the movement forward,” referring to the advancement of Black people in a post slavery society.

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Chineke! Orchestra & Chorus – Spark Catchers

 

Title: Spark Catchers
Artist: Chineke! Orchestra & Chorus
Label: NMC
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 17, 2020

 

Royal Academy of Music professor and double bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku has a laudable mission: championing change and celebrating diversity in classical music. Through her Chineke! Foundation, Nwanoku nurtures new generations of talent by commissioning works and supporting music education programs including a youth orchestra. Her flagship group, the Chineke! Orchestra, was founded in 2015 and is comprised of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) classical musicians working in the UK and Europe. The orchestra recently won the inaugural Royal Philharmonic Society Gamechanger Award for filling the stage with BME artists, drawing a far more diverse audience to concert halls, and “restoring BME composers past and present to their rightful place amongst those we regularly revere.” These achievements are showcased on the Chineke! Orchestra’s latest album, Spark Catchers. Featuring works by six of the UK’s leading BME composers, the performances (except where otherwise noted) are led by African American conductor Anthony Parnther, music director of the Southeast Symphony in Los Angeles and the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra.

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Sheku Kanneh-Mason – Elgar

 

Title: Elgar
Artist: Sheku Kanneh-Mason, London Symphony Orchestra
Label: Decca Classics
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: January 10, 2020

 

London-born cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason rose to prominence in the UK after winning the BBC Young Musician Award in 2016 and received international attention for his performance at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018. A member of the remarkably talented Kanneh-Mason family, 20-year-old Sheku has often performed with his six brothers and sisters, all classically trained musicians between the ages of 10-23. His debut album, Inspiration, was released in 2016 on the prestigious Decca Classics label (his sister, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, is also signed to Decca). On his sophomore album, Elgar, Sheku performs Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, plus several short chamber pieces by Elgar and other composers. As a testament to the number of people inspired by the young musician, Elgar is already a best seller, making Kanneh-Mason the first classical musician to break into the Top 10 of the UK album charts in over 30 years, a position currently shared with grime star Stormzy.

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Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – The Music of Wayne Shorter

 

Title: The Music of Wayne Shorter
Artists: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Wayne Shorter
Label: Blue Engine
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: January 31, 2020

 

Wayne Shorter, one of the most prominent saxophonists and musical figures of our time, hardly needs an introduction. He is an 11-time Grammy Award winner, Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and holds an extensive discography which includes over twenty albums as a bandleader.  For this special album, Shorter teams up with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis to present The Music of Wayne Shorter.

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John Bailey – Can You Imagine?

 

Title: Can You Imagine?
Artist: John Bailey
Label: Freedom Road
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 20, 2020

 

Can You Imagine? is the second album from New York trumpeter John Bailey, who conceptualized the project around one of the fantastical “what ifs” of jazz: What if Dizzy Gillespie won his unlikely and somewhat jesting bid for president in 1964? What if Dizzy had made Miles Davis head of the CIA and Duke Ellington the Secretary of State? Would we, as a nation, be more compassionate and empathetic to our fellow humans? Though the campaign may have been in jest, Dizzy raised serious issues on the campaign trail during one of the most volatile periods of the Civil Rights Movement.

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