Welcome to the March 2020 Issue

Welcome to the March 2020 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting new releases from female artists across multiple genres and countries.

Virtuosic saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin offers a powerful tribute to Alice and John Coltrane on her newest release Pursuance: The Coltranes; singer/pianist and Prince protégé Kandace Springs honors some of the greatest female vocalists of all time on The Women Who Raised Me; Syleena Johnson offers a timely, soulful ode to womanhood on Woman; jazz vocalist Lulu Fall reflects upon her African heritage on Between Two Worlds; pianist Judith Olson introduces the classical compositions of a noted jazz musician on Urban Counterpoint: The Piano Music of Ed Bland; jazz vocalist La Tanya Hall explores a wide range of musical gems on Say Yes; and Haitian songstress Moonlight Benjamin offers her latest fusion of rock and Afro-Caribbean music on Simido.

New gospel releases include Isaac Carree’s No Risk No Reward and Rev. John Lee Hooker Jr.’s gospel-blues album Testify, while new jazz releases include Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” Film and Brazilian legend Sérgio Mendes’ In the Key of Joy

Wrapping up this issue is a review of the new book by media historian Tim Brooks, The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media: 20th Century Performances on Radio, Records, Film and Television and our list of February 2020 Black Music Releases of Note.

Lakecia Benjamin – Pursuance: The Coltranes

 

Title: Pursuance: The Coltranes
Artist: Lakecia Benjamin
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: March 27, 2020

 

Virtuosic saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin offers a powerful homage to two major jazz figures, Alice Coltrane and John Coltrane, on her newest release Pursuance: The Coltranes. Though her first two albums as a bandleader, Retox (2012) and Rise Up (2018), draw heavily upon soul and funk influences, Pursuance showcases Benjamin’s versatile performance of seminal jazz works from the Coltranes’ repertoire. Covering multiple musical periods across the album’s 13-tracks, Benjamin is supported by a phenomenal multi-generational line-up of over forty artists, including Ron Carter, Gary Bartz, Regina Carter, Jazzmeia Horn, and Brandee Younger, among others. Legendary jazz bassist Reggie Workman, a member of the John Coltrane Quartet in the early 1960s, co-produced the project and is also a featured guest.

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Kandace Springs – The Women Who Raised Me

 

Title: The Women Who Raised Me
Artist: Kandace Springs
Label: Blue Note Records
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: March 27, 2020

 

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs, an up and coming jazz and soul inspired artist, was praised by her late mentor, Prince, who claimed she has a “voice that can melt snow.” That’s just what we need as winter recedes, and Springs doesn’t disappoint on her sophomore release, The Women Who Raised Me.  Produced by Grammy Award winning producer Larry Klein, the album is a rich and complex tapestry that travels back and forth across a century of music, using modern production to bend a conglomerate of songs and musical ideas into a new genre while also honoring dozens of the greatest female vocalists of all time.

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Syleena Johnson – Woman

 

Title: Woman
Artist: Syleena Johnson
Label: eOne Music
Formats: Digital
Release Date: January 31, 2020

 

Singer-songwriter Syleena Johnson’s new album, Woman, is a timely, soulful ode to womanhood as well as a call to action wrapped in deep reflection. Opening with “Woman (intro),” Johnson positions this brief spoken introduction as a centering track that grounds listeners in the journey of empowerment they are about to embark on. Additionally, she guides us through each track with lyrics that illuminate the common threads of strength, resilience, and healing that tie women together.

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Lulu Fall – Between Two Worlds

 

Title: Between Two Worlds
Artist: Lulu Fall
Label: Ropeadope
Format: CD, Digital
Release Date: November 8, 2019

 

Lulu Fall isn’t your typical jazz vocalist – she’s a formally trained singer with a hand in musical theatre productions as well as more traditional musical projects. Her identity as the child of Sengalese and Cameroonian parents – and the resulting inner turmoil of not being American enough for her American peers and not African enough for her African family – is evident in her newest album, Between Two Worlds.

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Judith Olson – Urban Counterpoint: The Piano Music of Ed Bland


Title: Urban Counterpoint: The Piano Music of Ed Bland
Artist: Judith Olson
Label: Cambria
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 7, 2020

 

Urban Counterpoint: The Piano Music of Ed Bland is the second release of the music of the late Chicago composer Ed Bland by Cambria Master Recordings. Bland’s instrumental compositions were the focus of an earlier album, Urban Classical: The Music of Ed Bland (1994). However, the focus of Urban Counterpoint is on Bland’s piano works. Performed and interpreted by pianist Judith Olson, the album explores his genre-blending compositions which incorporate “a broad range of textures and diverse rhythms” from the early 20th-century Western European music canon as well as jazz, gospel, and West African rhythms.

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La Tanya Hall – Say Yes



Title: Say Yes
Artist: La Tanya Hall
Label: Blue Canoe
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: November 8, 2019

 

Versatile jazz vocalist La Tanya Hall began her career touring with the great Harry Belafonte and has since collaborated with other black music icons including Diana Ross, Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, and Patti Labelle. Hall is perhaps best known, however, for her work with Bobby McFerrin. In addition to guest appearances on McFerrin’s recent albums, Hall has been a member of his 12-voice ensemble Voicestra since 2002 where she became adept at performing concerts where “everything is totally improvised.” These skills are clearly displayed on Hall’s latest project, Say Yes, backed by Andy Milne (piano) & Unison Trio (with bassist John Herbert and drummer Clarence Penn).

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Moonlight Benjamin – Simido

 

Title: Simido 
Artist: Moonlight Benjamin
Label: Ma Casa
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 21, 2020

 

Haiti’s high priestess of voodoo rock and roll, Moonlight Benjamin, returns with her latest release, Simido. As with her previous breakout album, Siltane, the lead vocalist performs primarily in her native Creole language, with lyrics that always delve deep into the soul of Haitian culture. Now based in France, Benjamin strives to honor her roots and harness the spiritual power of her homeland. At the same time, she expresses concern that as a woman, she must constantly affirm her existence and command respect. As she states, “It is, unfortunately, an eternal battle for us who are women.”

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Isaac Carree – No Risk, No Reward

 

Title: No Risk, No Reward
Artist: Isaac Carree
Label: Shanachie Ent.
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 20, 2020

 

After a seven year hiatus, Isaac Carree has finally released a new solo project, No Risk, No Reward. According to Carree, the title of the album echoes his mantra: “If you never take risk, you will never get the ultimate reward.” So far Carree’s “no risk, no reward” behavior has landed him at #1 on Gospel Billboard and Gospel Radio charts multiple times, and his new release is likely to follow this path to the top of the charts.

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Reverend John Lee Hooker Jr. – Testify

Title: Testify
Artist: Reverend John Lee Hooker Jr.
Label: Steppin’ Stone
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 14, 2020

John Lee Hooker Jr. grew up in Detroit, Michigan as the son of one of the greatest blues music icons in the world, the late and the great John Lee Hooker (1917-2001). As a bluesman, Rev. Hooker traveled the world performing with musical artists such as B.B. King, Snoop Dogg, Taj Mahal, Lenny Kravitz, Z.Z. Top, Buddy Guy and the late Etta James. After a long and successful career in secular music, Hooker became an ordained minister and is now singing a different tune—the tune of gospel—wrapped in his signature soulful blues sound.

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