New Biography of Florence B. Price by Rae Linda Brown

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.

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Duo Dolce – Summerland: Music for Cello and Piano by Composers of African Descent

 

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

 

Duo 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.

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Works by William Dawson & Ulysses Kay

Title: William Dawson Negro Folk Symphony/Ulysses Kay Fantasy Variations & Umbrian Scene
Artist: ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; Arthur Fagan, cond.
Label: Naxos
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.

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Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris – EarthSeed

 

Title: EarthSeed
Artist: Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris
Label: FPE
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 create EarthSeed.

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Lara Downes & Friends – Some of These Days

Title: Some of These Days 
Artist: Lara Downes & Friends 
Label: Flipside Music 
Formats: CD, Digital 
Release date: April 3, 2020

 

If there were ever an album that captured in music the interconnected nature of the fight for justice across generations, it is pianist and activist Lara Downes’ Some of These Days. Blurring genres, varying instrumentation, and collaborating with other musicians, Downes brings us an album that, track after track, delivers deeply moving and heartfelt performances of spirituals and freedom songs. First conceived in antebellum times as multilayered expressions of sorrow, longing, and joy—psychological coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma of slavery—these songs took on still new meanings when sung one hundred years later by Civil Rights activists, including her Harlem-born African American father and Jewish mother. And evident through Downes, these songs are still speaking to us today.  

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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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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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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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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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Katherine Jolly – Preach Sister Preach

 

Title: Preach Sister Preach
Artist: Katherine Jolly
Label: Navona
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 9, 2019

 

American soprano Katherine Jolly has graced many opera stages over the course of her budding career.  After winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finale in 2006, she went on to perform with the New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Florida Grand Opera, among others. In concert repertoire, Jolly has taken the route of many lyric sopranos, specializing in the repertoire of Bach, Handel and Mozart. On her debut recording Preach Sister Preach, however, she selected three contemporary works by young American composers. The project was undertaken while Jolly was on the voice faculty at the IU Jacobs School of Music (JSOM), and was recorded on the stage of Auer Hall in 2018 and early 2019 by audio engineer D. James Tagg, who is also on the JSOM faculty. Continue reading

The String Queens Self-Titled Debut

 

Title: The String Queens
Artist: The String Queens
Label: Self-released
Format: Digital
Release date: November 25, 2019

 

Renowned for their genre spanning repertoire, the Washington, D.C. based trio The String Queens have been changing the ways audiences engage with classical music. The three women—Kendall Isadore (violin), Dawn Johnson (viola), and Élise Cuffy (cello)—are “school teachers by day and concert performers by night” who have a strong commitment to artistic integrity and music education. Though they might not yet be a household name, you have likely heard TSQ backing artists such as Solange, Janelle Monae, and Jennifer Hudson, as well as Aloe Blacc on his recent video of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” filmed on the grounds of Monticello. The trio has also been featured on concert stages around the world, including Carnegie Hall, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Royal Festival Hall, and Shanghai Grand Theatre. Continue reading

Margaret Bonds – The Ballad of the Brown King & Selected Songs

Title: The Ballad of the Brown King & Selected Songs
Artist: The Dessoff Choirs & Orchestra; Malcolm J. Merriweather, cond.
Label: Avie
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: November 1, 2019

 

The Ballad of the Brown King & Selected Songs, featuring music of composer Margaret Bonds, is a much needed album that will play an important role in bringing Bonds the wider recognition she deserves. A number of renowned artists, stretching from the present day back to Bonds’ lifetime, have recorded Bonds’ shorter compositions including her art songs and spiritual settings, as well as her sole published piece for solo piano, “Troubled Water.” But this performance by The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra—with soprano Laquita Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford, tenor Noah Stewart, and conductor Malcolm J. Merriweather—iis the world-premiere recording of not only The Ballad of the Brown King, but of any large-scale composition by Bonds, as most remain unpublished, much less professionally recorded.

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Black Voices Rise: African American Artists at the Met, 1955-1985

 

Title: Black Voices Rise: African American Artists at the Met, 1955-1985
Artists: Various
Format: CD
Label: The Metropolitan Opera
Release Date: September 18, 2019

 

Coinciding with the 2019-20 season’s acclaimed opening production of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and the exhibition Black Voices at the Met, the Metropolitan Opera offers a third blockbuster with Black Voices Rise: African American Artists at the Met. This compilation of performances by Black artists from 1955 to 1985 celebrates the talent and “overdue arrival” of these history-making singers. The album opens with a performance by Marian Anderson, who broke the Met’s color barrier with her debut in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera in 1955. Other featured performers include celebrated stars Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, Kathleen Battle, George Shirley, and Jessye Norman, among others. Black Voices Rise also includes rare excerpts from the Met’s 1985 company-premiere of Porgy and Bess starring Simon Estes and Roberta Alexander. The extensive liner notes by Dr. Maurice Wheeler include a brief history of African American performers at the Metropolitan Opera and the struggle for racial equality, as well as biographies of the singers included in the compilation. All recordings were restored and remastered from the original analog tapes, allowing these voices to triumph yet again. Continue reading

Branford Marsalis featured in Gabriel Prokofiev’s Saxophone Concerto

Title: Gabriel Prokofiev Saxophone Concerto & Bass Drum Concerto
Artist: Branford Marsalis, Joby Burgess, Ural Philharmonic Orchestra
Label: Signum
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: September 27, 2019

 

When Gabriel Prokofiev called Branford Marsalis to see if he had any thoughts on the new saxophone concerto he was about to compose, Branford had one request: “make it melodic.” So Prokofiev took it upon himself to write, as he says, “a classical concerto,” but one that combines his love of jazz with classical elements in a harmonious and syncretic way. Continue reading

Devonté Hynes & Third Coast Percussion – Fields

 

Title: Fields
Artist: Devonté Hynes & Third Coast Percussion
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 11, 2019

 

Devonté Hynes, perhaps better known as R&B artist Blood Orange, has covered a lot of musical ground in his career. He recently released his fifth album, Angel’s Pulse, under his Blood Orange persona, and he previously produced indie rock music under the name Lightspeed Champion. Many of Dev’s fans might be unaware, however, of his love of classical music and his 2018 debut at the Kennedy Center as one of four pianists performing Philip Glass’s 20 Etudes. Now, with the release of Fields, featuring Hynes collaboration with the Chicago-based ensemble Third Coast Percussion, he makes his recording debut as a composer in the classical music world. Continue reading

Wynton Marsalis’s Violin Concerto & Fiddle Dance Suite

 

Title: Violin Concerto in D & Fiddle Dance Suite
Artist: Wynton Marsalis (comp.), Nicola Benedetti, Philadelphia Orchestra
Label: Decca Classics
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 11, 2019

 

Decca Classics has released a remarkable collaboration between Grammy-winning jazz composer Wynton Marsalis and violin virtuoso Nicola Benedetti. Marsalis’s Violin Concerto in D and his Fiddle Dance Suite for solo violin were recently recorded by Benedetti, the former performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Cristian Mǎcelaru. These two works represent new heights in Marsalis’s compositional style as he deftly mixes classical music with other idioms. Continue reading

Richard Thompson – The Mask in the Mirror: A Chamber Opera

 

Title: The Mask in the Mirror: A Chamber Opera
Artist: Richard Thompson (comp.)
Label: Navona
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 8, 2019

 

The Mask in the Mirror, a three-act chamber opera from composer and pianist Richard Thompson, portrays turmoil and tragedy in this dramatization of the courtship and marriage of renowned African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) and author Alice Ruth Moore (1875-1935). Conducted by Stephen Tucker, The Sanaa Opera Project released a recording of The Mask in the Mirror earlier this year. Featuring tenor Cameo Humes in the role of Paul and soprano Angela Owens as Alice, with mezzo-soprano Lindsay Patterson Abdou in several supporting familial roles, The Mask in the Mirror balances man against woman, jazz against classical composition, and society against self in a rise of tension that resolves only with end of their relationship and Paul’s subsequent surrender to tuberculosis. Continue reading

Ensemble Arcadiana – Eleanor Alberga, String Quartets 1, 2 & 3

 

Title: Eleanor Alberga: String Quartets 1, 2 & 3
Artist: Ensemble Arcadiana
Label: Navona
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 14, 2019

 

Jamaican-born British composer Eleanor Alberga has received more attention in the past few years since her piece, Arise, Athena!, opened the final concert of the BBC Proms in 2015. This recording of her string quartets highlights some earlier compositions, in which her modernist sensibilities are at the fore. Alberga utilizes many compositional tools in her vast toolbox to bring drama to three very different works, all composed within an eight-year period from 1993-2001. Working in a combination of modernist and postmodern idioms, Alberga has not forgotten harmonic tension and release and plenty of repetition; this is not to say that her music is conservative, but that it is refreshingly expressive and has an engaging sense of narrative and rhythmic drive, honed from her training as a composer for modern dance.  Continue reading

Black Swans – First Recordings of Black Classical Artists

 

Title: Black Swans
Artist: Various
Label: Parnassus
Format: CD
Release date: August 23, 2019

 

As many readers are no doubt aware, Black Swan was the first major record label in the country to be owned and run by African Americans for the exclusive promotion of Black artists. Founded in 1921 during the Harlem Renaissance by publisher Harry Pace, the company also involved other luminaries: a young Fletcher Henderson served as recording director and de facto accompanist, William Grant Still was hired as composer/arranger, and W.E.B. DuBois was an early investor. At a time when white-owned labels were developing “race” series and limiting Black artists to recording blues, jazz, and gospel music, Black Swan expanded its catalog to include classical singers and instrumentalists, documenting the performance practices of a phenomenal group of concert artists. Now, almost 100 years later, Black Swan classical 78s are very rare and most have never been reissued! This groundbreaking new compilation, Black Swans, includes the first recordings of black classical artists from the label’s short-lived 7100 operatic series, in addition to other rarities. Continue reading

Fort Smith Symphony – Florence Beatrice Price Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4

 

Title: Florence Beatrice Price Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4
Artist: Fort Smith Symphony
Label: Naxos American Classics
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 11, 2019

 

Born in segregated Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887, Florence Price attended the New England Conservatory when local schools refused to admit her, studying composition with George Whitefield Chadwick. Although she returned to Arkansas for a time, she and her daughters moved to Chicago in 1927 due to increased racial violence in Little Rock. There, she met prominent members of the Chicago’s African American arts scene such as Estelle Bonds, whose daughter, Margaret Bonds, became one of Price’s students. Though primarily known today as a composer of songs, notably “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” and “Songs to the Dark Virgin” popularized by Marian Anderson, Price was also the first African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed her Symphony No. 1 at the World’s Fair in 1933). Unfortunately, many of her works were largely forgotten after her death, with major conductors like Serge Koussevitzky declining to program her symphonies. In fact, several of her works, including the Fourth Symphony recorded here, were thought to be lost until the manuscripts were rediscovered in a house in St. Anne, Illinois. This symphony was never performed during Price’s lifetime, and is instead receiving its premiere on this CD. Continue reading

Stewart Goodyear – Gershwin & Goodyear

 

Title: Gershwin & Goodyear
Artist: Stewart Goodyear
Label: Orchid Classics
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 7, 2019

 

Young pianist Stewart Goodyear already has several accolades. Described as “a phenomenon” by the Los Angeles Times, he has performed with leading orchestras in North America, Europe, and Asia. In addition to his success as a performer, recording classical repertoire standards such as Beethoven’s piano sonatas and Diabelli Variations and piano concertos by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, and Grieg, among others, Goodyear is also an accomplished improviser and composer. This new recording allows him to showcase both sets of talents, with a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in its original jazz band orchestration paired with Goodyear’s own Piano Sonata and his suite for piano and orchestra, Callaloo. He is accompanied by Chineke!, an orchestra founded in 2015 to give career opportunities to young Black and minority ethnic performers in Europe. The group’s founder, Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, stated that her “aim is to create a space where [Black and minority ethnic] musicians can walk on stage and know that they belong, in every sense of the word.” For this recording, the musicians perform under the baton of celebrated Black conductor and pianist, Wayne Marshall. Continue reading

Demarre & Anthony McGill – Winged Creatures

 

Title: Winged Creatures and Other Works for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra
Artist: Demarre McGill, Anthony McGill
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 10, 2019

 

This is not the first time brothers Demarre and Anthony McGill have recorded together on the Chicago-based Cedille label—an earlier album, Portraits (2017), with pianist Michael McHale showcased works for flute, clarinet, and piano trio. In their new release, the McGill brothers emphasize their orchestral roots with four works for flute, clarinet, and orchestra. The album features two world premiere recordings: African American composer Michael Abels’ titular Winged Creatures and Joel Puckett’s Concerto Duo, each commissioned by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO) for the McGill brothers. Both Demarre and Anthony are principal performers with some of the top orchestras in the country (Demarre as principal flutist with the Seattle Symphony and Anthony as principal clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic) and their musicianship is clear throughout this recording. Both performers have a beautiful fluidity to their tones and incredibly precise technique—they are masterfully in synch in terms of timbre, intonation, and timing. They are also wonderfully supported by the CYSO led by Music Director Allen Tinkham; it is easy to forget that the orchestral musicians are not professionals themselves. Continue reading

Ayanna Witter-Johnson – Road Runner

 

Title: Road Runner
Artist: Ayanna Witter-Johnson
Label: Hill and Gully Records
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 26, 2019

 

A singer, songwriter, and cellist in a class all her own, Ayanna Witter-Johnson has taken a classic R&B sound and turned it on its head. Born in the UK, Ayanna has been honing her craft for quite some time now, earning music degrees from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Manhattan School of Music. She has worked as a composer and arranger with both Hugh Masekela and the London Symphony Orchestra as well as the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Ayanna has released several EPs—Truthfully Still (2011), Black Panther (2015) and Ella, Reuben & Ay (2018)and now offers her full-length debut album Road Runner. Continue reading

Rachel Barton Pine – Blues Dialogues

 

Title: Blues Dialogues
Artist: Rachel Barton Pine
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 19, 2018

 

In 1997, violinist Rachel Barton Pine presented her landmark album, Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th & 19th Centuries, on the Cedille Records label. Released 21 years later, Blues Dialogues is the most recent culmination of Pine’s ongoing research into music by Black composers. Going beyond the confines of Western classical music, her new project features twelve works that draw upon the African American experience and more specifically, blues idioms, which the violinist claims is her “second-favorite genre of music.” This is certainly a fitting sentiment for a Chicago native, especially one who has polished her blues chops by jamming with two local legends—Son Seals and Sugar Blue. Continue reading

Alyson Cambridge and Nicole Cabell – Sisters in Song

 

Title: Sisters in Song
Artists: Alyson Cambridge and Nicole Cabell
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 21, 2018

 

Sisters in Song represents the first collaboration between world-renowned American sopranos Alyson Cambridge and Nicole Cabell. The pair met nearly two decades ago in the Chautauqua Institution’s Summer Voice Program where they became fast friends, colleagues, and—for lack of a better phrase—sisters in song. As both Cabell and Cambridge are in-demand sopranos, their paths have continued to cross in their professional and personal lives. In the liner notes for the album, the two write that they “both had the desire to create an album together that allowed us to show our various musical sides and voices in harmony.” Continue reading

Thomas Hampson and Kuang-Hao Huang – Songs from Chicago

 

Title: Songs from Chicago
Artist: Thomas Hampson, baritone; Kuang-Hao Huang, piano
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 14, 2018

 

Songs from Chicago, performed by one of America’s leading baritones, Thomas Hampson, is a collection of art songs from composers associated with mid-twentieth century Chicago. Though five composers are featured in this project (including Ernst Bacon and Louis Campbell-Tipton), of particular interest to our readers are the works by African American composers Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, as well as John Alden Carpenter—all of whom draw upon the poems of Langston Hughes. Continue reading

Alicia Hall Moran – Here Today

 

Title: Here Today
Artist: Alicia Hall Moran
Label: dist. by CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: December 21, 2017

 

Multifaceted mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran, who recently starred in the national tour of the Tony Award-winning production of Porgy and Bess, has embarked on a variety of significant projects over the past few years. Her critically acclaimed staged concert work, Black Wall Street, follows a path from Oklahoma and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 to New York’s Wall Street—which not coincidentally traces her own family’s journey.  Continue reading

Brussels Philharmonic – Terence Blanchard: Music For Film

film

 

Title: Terence Blanchard: Music For Film

Artist: Brussels Philharmonic

Label: Silva Screen Records

Formats: CD, Digital

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, is set to open on August 10th. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prix, the work has already received positive reviews. Composer and jazz musician Terence Blanchard’s soundtrack for the film has yet to be released, but his previous film compositions can give an idea of what the score might sound like.

Released in late 2017, Terence Blanchard: Music for Film spans his film work from the 1992 Malcolm X to 2015’s Chi-Raq, performed here by the Brussels Philharmonic under the direction of Dirk Brossé as part of the Film Fest Gent’s series of film composer spotlights. Like the upcoming BlacKkKlansman, many of Blanchard’s works presented on this album, including music from Malcolm X, 25th Hour, and When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, have been in collaboration with director Spike Lee. The collaboration has proven fruitful for Blanchard, who has said that Lee always encourages him to write music that could be successful on its own.

Though each film presented has its own unique sound, the tracks are connected by a strong presence of trumpet, calling back to Blanchard’s own career as a jazz trumpeter. Many also make use of jazz idioms, most notably the two tracks from When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006). Although he calls New Orleans home and this film is a documentary describing the destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Blanchard intentionally stays away from traditional New Orleans jazz. Instead, he explains that he wanted to create a more universal sound to appeal to a wider audience and the musical themes he created do just that, blending jazz with incredibly emotive melodies depicting the tragedy and despair of the city’s residents. The “Levees” track is particularly successful, combining a soulful trumpet line with descending, dissonant string patterns.

Another film directed by Spike Lee, 25th Hour, received much critical acclaim; Blanchard’s score was nominated for several awards, including the 2003 World Soundtrack Award and Golden Globes. Telling the story of a drug dealer’s last 24 hours of freedom before he is sent to jail, the music is haunting and memorable. Heavier on strings, particularly solo cello, than many of his other films, it features twisting musical themes above persistent ostinato patterns. Still, it is not without Blanchard’s signature jazz inflections, as the third track on the album, “Playground,” embraces a traditional lounge-style piano along with the lusher string sound and solos present in the other selections.

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Some selections, such as the suite from Inside Man (2006) and the opening title music of Miracle at St. Anna (2008), lean less on Blanchard’s jazz background and instead seem to be reminiscent of earlier film music styles like the compositions of James Horner. Tracks on this album from both films make use of a more militaristic style, emphasizing repetitive snare drum lines underneath epic brass and string melodies.

Two comedies, Bamboozled (2000) and She Hate Me (2004), showcase other sides of Blanchard’s work. The former’s biting satire and pointed social commentary are offset by a more somber, restrained musical theme. In contrast, the selections from She Hate Me are a bit less serious, incorporating several jazz styles including references to bebop, fusion, and cool jazz.

Blanchard’s skill in composing for a wide range of genres shines through the tracks presented in this album. His masterful usages of thematic material, blending of styles, and jazz inflections make this an incredibly rewarding listen. Blanchard’s score for BlacKkKlansman is sure to deliver the same exciting interplay of styles.

Reviewed by Emily Baumgart

Erroll Garner – Nightconcert

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Title: Nightconcert 

Artist: Erroll Garner

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: July 13, 2018

 

 

Although it has been just over 40 years since his death, legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner’s music vibrantly lives on thanks to the record labels who have championed his work. First, Sony Legacy released The Complete Concert By The Sea in 2015 as well as Ready Take One the following year, both of which received major award consideration. Now the people behind Mack Avenue Records have continued efforts to keep Garner’s memory alive with their new release,

Nightconcert. The title is drawn from Garner’s midnight concert in November 1964 at The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, captured live with an audience of 2000 highly enthusiastic and enraptured people of all ages. This concert recording displays Garner at the height of his career, with eight unique arrangements of classic standards as well as a newly discovered original!

Erroll Garner, was born June 25th, 1923 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He may be best remembered for his composition, “Misty,” which has become a treasured classic for jazz lovers and standard repertoire for every jazz musician to this very day. Beginning his study of the piano at age three, Garner took lessons from a family friend but he was primarily self-taught and remained an “ear-player” his entire life, never learning to read music. By age 11 his career was well on its way as he played piano on Allegheny riverboats and at 14 he began playing with well-known saxophonist Leroy Brown. Garner went on to enjoy a successful career working with other greats like bassist Slam Stewart and bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker on the “Cool Blues” sessions. He also made regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Nightconcert is an instant classic piano trio album as Garner displays his incomparable style and virtuosity. Opening with the Rogers and Hart classic “Where or When,” Garner chooses to begin this and many other songs with elaborate piano introductions, often with the intent of throwing off the audience so they don’t know what song is coming. He seems to have a tendency to play a hemiola in these intros by maintaining a triple meter in the left hand while playing in a duple meter in the right. He makes this especially prevalent later in the album with the song “Night and Day” as he carries this idea from the introduction throughout the rest of the tune. This is indicative of Garner’s overall style—his right hand typically lays back behind the beat as his left hand drives steadily along—often used as a powerful function to begin and end his slick phrases. As the concert continues, Garner jumps between his up-tempo tunes and lush ballads such as “My Funny Valentine” and “Over The Rainbow,” where he enraptures listeners with his thick and unique chord voicing.

Garner’s playing is unlike any others and simply hearing his live performance on Nightconcert is a truly unique experience—from his iconic groans that can be heard on every record, to his astounding skill and mastery over the piano. Great thanks must be extended to those at Mack Avenue Records for releasing yet another historical recording that keeps Garner’s body of work alive for a new generation.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin