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.”
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.”
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.
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
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.
Kendall Carter is making a name for himself throughout the Midwest as a jazz organist, recognized for his mastery of the Hammond B3 as well as the SK-2 and A100 models. A recent graduate of the Jamey Aebersold Jazz Studies Program at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, Carter earned a master’s degree in jazz composition and arranging, which he puts to good use on his solo debut release, Introducing Kendall Carter. Accompanying him on this trio project is guitarist Dave Stryker and Indianapolis drummer Kenny Phelps, two musicians who have performed with the organist at local clubs and jazz festivals.
Title: Lucky Man Artist: Billy Bang Label: BBE Music Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release Date: May 14, 2021
Forty years after the end of the Vietnam War, jazz
violinist and Vietnam veteran Billy
bravely returned to the country in 2008 to find some closure for his still
lingering trauma. This time armed with a violin instead of a rifle, Bang was
followed by documentary filmmakers as he embarked on a deeply personal and
musical journey that led him to collaborate with musicians throughout the
country. The resultant film
and album, Lucky Man,
marks the third in a trilogy of works by Bang that confronted his past and
explored the musical traditions of Vietnam.
Bud Powell defined bebop piano, then Hasaan Ibn Ali belongs to a group of
pianists, including Thelonious Monk, Elmo Hope, and Herbie Nichols, who devoted
themselves to extending the style into new territories. Or at least he should
be in that group, and quite possibly would be if Atlantic Records had released
this 1965 session as a follow-up to the Max Roach Trio’s Featuring the
Legendary Hasaan LP. It’s a shame bordering on tragedy that Hasaan’s second
and final commercial recording did not see the light of day until now. Had it
been released at the time, it would have fit perfectly alongside the work of
the many bop-rooted musicians who were exploring new paths in composition and
improvisation during this exciting period of music.
Title: The Ancestors’ Call Artist: Marques Carroll Label: JMarq Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: April 16, 2021
Within the musical canon of the genre traditionally known as “jazz,” Chicago’s legacy as birthplace or training ground for some of the genre’s most innovative and technically adept trumpeters is solidified by musicians such as Ray Nance, Louis Armstrong, Lester Bowie, Marquis Hill, and Corey Wilkes. With his stellar debut quintet album, The Ancestors’ Call, Chicago-based trumpeter and composer, Marques Carroll, rightly adds his name to this list.
Title: We Are Artist: Jon Batiste Label: Verve Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: March 19, 2021
Fresh off of winning a Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice Awards
for his score to the animated film Soul, pianist/composer Jon Batiste has released a new album
with similar sensibilities. We Are is a masterful synthesis of musical
styles, most notably those reflecting Batiste’s upbringing in New Orleans
amidst a family dynasty of notable jazz, blues, and R&B musicians. Add to
this mix Batiste’s classical training at Juilliard and his roots in the church,
and you get a musician who is fluent in every major musical genre, all of which
are seamlessly integrated in this album.
Title: AfroFuturism Artist: Logan Richardson Label: Whirlwind Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: March 12, 2021
Kansas City-born saxophonist Logan
Richardson made his debut as a bandleader in 2007 with Cerebral Flow, an
album that reflects his time performing with jazz musicians such as Pat
Metheny, Joe Chambers, Billy Hart, Butch Morris, Stefon Harris and Jason Moran.
Since then, Richardson’s work has become increasingly eclectic, ranging from
performances with the urban jazz supergroup NEXT Collective to his 2018 release
Blues People, which busted through any boundaries limiting what jazz
fusion could aspire to. Now back in Kansas City and sheltering from the
pandemic in an apartment once inhabited by Charlie Parker, Richardson imagines
an even broader universe of sound on his latest project, AfroFuturism.
Title: Breathe Artist: Dr. Lonnie Smith Label: Blue Note Formats: CD, Digital Release date: March 26, 2021
The reigning master of the Hammond B-3 organ, Dr. Lonnie Smith has ruled the soul jazz scene from his keyboard for over five decades. Still a prolific recording artist, the musical icon has just released Breathe, his third album for Blue Note in the last five years, all produced by the label’s president, Don Was. The majority of the tracks were recorded live at the Jazz Standard in New York City in 2017 during Smith’s 75th birthday celebration, in the seemingly long-ago days when one could hang out at a crowded club on the weekends. Fans weary of social distancing can now vicariously join the celebration through album’s eight tracks.
Title: NOW Artist: Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble Label: International Anthem Formats: Digital (CD, LP available July 9, 2021) Release date: April 9, 2021
Following his auspicious 2019 debut, Where Future Unfolds,
Chicago-based multi-media artist/activist Damon Locks and his jazz-based Black Monument Ensemble return with
their latest release, NOW. Featuring six new tracks, this multi-generational
collective of Chicago artists continues their mission of presenting vibrant,
uplifting music and dance that draws “from all facets of the diverse
wellspring of Black artistic excellence.” The new project is also a response to
the group’s previous release: “the future has unfolded and taken a new
and dangerous shape… what happens NOW?’”
Title: Vessels of Wood and Earth Artist: Dan Wilson Label: Brother Mister Productions/Mack Avenue Formats: CD, Digital Release date: April 23, 2021
Grammy-nominated guitarist and composer Dan Wilson’s debut album, Vessels of Wood and Earth, exhibits a rich range of tones and textures. Joined by pianist Christian Sands, bassist Marco Panascia, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and guest vocalist Joy Brown, this incredibly talented band showcases a mastery of musical expression, revealing robust musical perspectives from each and every artist. Produced by bassist, composer, arranger, and Philadelphian jazz icon, Christian McBride, the project is a mix of both original compositions and arrangements of classic songs from the likes of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, assembled to illustrate Wilson’s foundation that is “rooted as much in tradition as it is in moving the music irresistibly forward into the modern world.” The album is the first release on Brother Mister Productions, McBride’s own record label under the Mack Avenue Music Group.
Title: The American Negro Artist: Adrian Younge Label: Jazz Is Dead Format: CD, Digital Release date: February 26, 2021
In the wake of social
unrest and political trauma, composer Adrian Younge, like many before him, has
now become part of a canon of musical and literary expression that will likely live
on for generations. Younge’s new album, The
American Negro, offers 26 tracks of message songs and soulful instrumentals
interjected with Younge’s spoken word treatise on racism in America. Through the
album, he “dissects the chemistry behind blind racism, using music as the medium to
restore dignity and self-worth [of Black people]… It should be evident that
any examination of black music is an examination of the relationship between
black and white America. This relationship has shaped the cultural evolution of
the world and its negative roots run deep into our psyche.”
Title: Seven Artist: Cameron Graves Label: Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: February 19, 2021
Cameron Graves initially achieved acclaim as a member of the West Coast Get Down, a collective of L.A. jazz
musicians that includes Kamasi Washington and Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner. More
recently he has performed and recorded with fusion pioneer Stanley Clarke, who
has served as a mentor to the younger musician. Releasing his widely acclaimed debut
album Planetary Princein 2017,Graves now returns with his own brand of
progressive jazz on Seven. Referring to his new style as thrash-jazz,
Graves draws upon his jazz and classical studies as well as his love of Living
Colour, Meshuggah, and other heavy metal bands to create a stunningly inventive
jazz-rock fusion that will blast you into another galaxy.
Title: Freedom Fables Artist: Nubiyan Twist Label: Strut Format: CD, LP, Digital Release date: March 12, 2021
Since their formation in 2009 at the Leeds College of
Music, Nubiyan Twist
has gone on to sell out major concerts and collaborate with iconic musicians
like Ghanaian highlife king Pat Thomas and pioneering Afrobeat drummer Tony
Allen. The London-based collective is known for their captivating and unique
blending of jazz, Afrobeat, and highlife music with electronic touches. Nubiyan
Twist’s much-anticipated third album, Freedom Fables, builds on the
group’s past success with the new feature of rising star vocalists.
Title: Let My People Go Artist: Archie Shepp & Jason Moran Label: Archieball Formats: Digital Release date: February 5, 2021
A living legend in jazz, saxophonist Archie Shepp’s six decade career is
notable not only for expanding the cannon towards avant-garde and free jazz,
but also for the socially conscious and Afrocentric themes of his albums. Five
years ago, he met pianist-composer Jason
Moran backstage at Belgium’s JazzMiddelheim Festival, and the two have
performed together on many stages since that auspicious occasion. In addition
to Moran’s many albums and soundtracks, the 2010 MacArthur “Genius” Grant
awardee is also known for groundbreaking productions with his wife, Alicia Hall
Moran, including Two
Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration. Shepp and Moran’s new
album, Let My People Go, seems like a natural progression for these two
musicians who both actively promote an appreciation for Black history through
Title: Live Artist: R+R=NOW Label: Blue Note Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: February 12, 2021
Musical giant Robert Glasper is one of the music industry’s heavy hitters that just can’t miss. The Houston native, who became most iconic during the development of the neo soul and late hip hop music era, has had the pleasure of touching numerous projects and performing with countless artists over the past three decades including the likes of Bilal, Yassin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), Jill Scott and many others. Glasper has also been awarded multiple Grammy and Emmy awards for his contribution to both music and film. His latest project, R+R=NOW Live, is yet another addition to his substantial legacy.
Title: The Democracy! Suite Artist: Wynton Marsalis, The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet Label: Blue Engine Formats: Digital Release date: January 15, 2021
After the ambitious critique of social and
political divisiveness in last year’s The
Ever Fonky Lowdown, Wynton Marsalis returns to his affable, tuneful self
with The Democracy! Suite, an album with a message that promotes
optimism in the future of democracy while acknowledging the struggles of recent
history. With a few exceptions in his career, Marsalis is a conservative in
jazz, though that doesn’t make his music any less enjoyable to listen to, and The Democracy! Suite is a solid
collection of perfectly swung tunes given life by players at the top of their
game. Using a common argument from Marsalis, jazz itself is taken as a metaphor
for democracy, a way of keeping us all together, working for unity while
recognizing our individuality.
Like most artists, trumpeter and composer Gabriel Alegría and members of his Afro-Peruvian
Sextet have been profoundly affected by the pandemic. But thanks to their
“determined fans and a poem-gone-viral,” the group has been able to persevere
in the face of adversity. The result is their new concept album, Social
Distancing, a “musical memoir (& protest)” based on artistic
collaborations inspired by the 2020 pandemic as well as issues of social
justice that have surfaced over that past year. “Every sound and rhythm,” says Alegría, “is an attempt to
guide you safely away from the confusion” into the band’s safe space:
Afro-Peruvian jazz music.
Jazz ensembles fronted by a vocalist and trumpeter in equal roles are far and few between, and that’s a major part of the charm of Sounds of A&R. Led by April May Webb (vocals) and Randall Haywood (trumpet and flugelhorn), who are musical partners as well as partners in life, the duo calls to mind the classic pairing of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Rounding out this family affair are two of Webb’s siblings—Jacob Webb on bass and Nathan Webb on drums—plus guitarist Charlie Sigler, pianist James Austin, and harpist Riza Printup. On their impressive third studio album, Questions Left Unanswered, S.O.A.R. offers a mix of new arrangements of romantic classics and bold, fresh originals that speak to contemporary issues.
One of the most essential parts of the holiday season is the music we listen to with our family and friends. This year, we especially need to come together to celebrate (virtually or in person), so we’re offering our list of the most comforting and inspiring holiday albums that have been released over the past few months. Included are brief reviews of our top six holiday albums of 2020, including releases from Leslie Odom Jr., Warren Wolf, the original cast of Hadestown, Amber Weekes, Lynda Randle, and Pentatonix. Also included is a list of honorable mentions, since there were too many amazing albums released this holiday season to cover in depth. Although this Christmas and holiday season may be a bit different from what most of us are used to, we hope these new music selections will help make this Christmas feel just as special as the last.
can be no dispute: Ella Fitzgerald is one of the elite vocalists in the history
of jazz. In my opinion, Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes, presents one of the
most enjoyable concert recordings in her career. Accompanied by Paul Smith on piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks on
bass and Stan Levey on drums, the rhythm section provides a solid foundation
for Ella’s creative and intensely personal performance – absolute perfection.
This is a newly discovered treasure. Verve first released Ella in Berlin
(1960) on LP from a concert on February 13, 1960, then Ella Returns to
Berlin (1991) on CD from a concert on February 11, 1961, but overlooked,
until now, this third performance in Berlin from her concert on March 25, 1962.
The stereo sound mix, remastered from the original tapes, closely captures Ella’s
voice, giving listener’s the impression they are sitting right in front of her
in the auditorium.
Title: Weekend In London Artist: George Benson Label: Provogue/Mascot Format: CD, LP Release Date: November 13, 2020
For the first time in 30 years, 10-time Grammy winning
guitarist and vocalist George
Benson has released a live recording highlighting his favorite
hits and improvisational skills. Weekend In London, which harkens back
to his groundbreaking 1978 Weekend in LA, pays homage to many of the
guitarist’s career peaks that effortlessly fused jazz, R&B and pop.
Although Benson has played at some of the biggest venues in the world during
his acclaimed six-decade career, this newest release features his performance
at London’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, an intimate 250-seat venue with
exceptional acoustics that has been hosting the world’s most influential jazz
musicians since 1959.
Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band
Years of Louis Armstrong is the second biography of the famous trumpeter from Louis
Armstrong scholar and enthusiast Ricky Riccardi. Where Riccardi’s first
biography focused on Armstrong’s later years, Heart Full of Rhythm paints a portrait of Louis Armstrong as a
popular performer in the years between 1929 and 1947.
Boone continues his fascination with poetry and jazz on his latest album, The Poets Are Gathering. The Cal State
University Fresno professor, who has released two previous collections devoted
to this pairing, notes that jazz and poetry have been inextricably linked since
the Harlem Renaissance. Following the tradition of artists such as Langston
Hughes and Charles Mingus, who collaborated on the album Weary Blues (1958), Boone’s new project features eleven acclaimed
poets—including Black poets Tyehimba Jess, Patrick Sylvain, Patricia Smith, and
Donald Brown, II—who narrate their own works. Boone, who performs on soprano
and alto sax, leads the various backing ensembles, featuring contributions from
guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Corcoran Holt, and drummer
Ari Hoenig. Recorded over the last three years, the content reflects the
political and social turmoil of the present, providing “up-to-the minute,
Title: America the Beautiful Artist: Kahil El’Zabar Label: Spiritmuse Formts: CD, LP, Digital Release date: October 23, 2020
musician and composer Kahil El’Zabar, former chairman of the legendary AACM
(Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) collective, is also
known as a pioneer of spiritual jazz. A master multi-percussionist and
instrumentalist, El’Zabar founded the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble in 1973, the
Ritual Trio a decade later, and other ensembles including JUBA Collective, the
Kahil El’Zabar Quartet, and more recently the Ethnics featuring Nona Hendryx.
His new release, Kahil El’Zabar’s America the Beautiful, was inspired by
music he scored for Daryl Roberts’s award-winning three-part documentary series,
America the Beautiful (2007-2014). Joining El’Zabar on these selections
are a number of notable Chicago musicians, including cellist Tomeka Reid,
trumpeter Corey Wilkes, alto saxophonist Dennis Winslett, and the late baritone
saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, to whom this recording is dedicated.
Title: Live from the Prison Nation Artist: Alonzo Demetrius Label: Onyx Productions Formats: CD, Digital Release date: October 16, 2020
On his debut album, Live
from the Prison Nation, trumpeter Alonzo
Demetrius strives for an educational as well as a musical experience.
Expressing a sense of urgency, he hopes to inspire listeners into taking action
against the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). A recent graduate of the Berklee
Global Jazz Institute Masters Program, Demetrius conceived of this project
while taking classes that dealt with the social and political significance of
activism for musicians. His website
not only delves into the thoughts behind each track, but also offers ‘conversation
starters’ that provide discussion questions and workshops
to facilitate the development of community action plans. Backing him on this
project is his band, The Ego, featuring tenor saxophonist Yesseh
Furaha-Ali, pianist Daniel Abraham Jr., bassist Benjamin Jephta, and drummer
Brian Richburg Jr.
Title: 25 Years Artist: Edward Simon Label: Ridgeway Records Formats: CD, Digital Release date: October 9, 2020
In celebration of a quarter century of inventive and trailblazing
music, Venezuelan-born pianist, composer and bandleader Edward Simon has
released two-disc career retrospective 25
Years. This project is a collection that celebrates his 50th
birthday, featuring tracks from thirteen of Simon’s albums that span from
1995-2018. Featuring collaborations with members of the SFJAZZ Collective and
other brilliant musicians such as tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, altoist David
Binney, bassists Scott Colley, John Patitucci and Ben Street, drummers Brian
Blade and Adam Cruz, and vocalists Luciana Souza, Lucia Polito, Genevieve
Artadi, and Gretchen Parlato, this is a self-curated album that uses jazz to
reflect the variety of musical styles that Simon has grown comfortable with
over his career, from Latin American folk and popular idioms to Afro-Latin
rhythms and European classical forms.