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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