Title: Lagos Pepper Soup Artist: Michael Olatuja Label: Whirlwind Recordings Formats: LP, Digital Release date: June 12, 2020
Bassist and composer Michael Olatuja has a unique musical background. Born in London, raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and currently based in New York, he has certainly traversed many continents and engaged with various musical genres across the African diaspora. Olatuja’s third album Lagos Pepper Soup, released eleven years after his Speak (2009) and nine years after The Promise (2011), maintains his unique musical style that blends West African Afrobeats and jazz with the addition of a cinematic touch. According to Olatuja, Lagos Pepper Soup was envisioned as an album that would “fuse this mix of Afrobeat and jazz as if it was a Hollywood film soundtrack.”
Title: Legacy Holder Artist: Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead Label: Vision Ahead Music Formats: CD, Digital Release date: May 15, 2020
Drummer, composer and bandleader Jonathan Barber has accomplished much in his young life. The 30-year-old Hartford, Connecticut native began performing gospel music at an early age at his family church, learning alongside his father who was also a drummer. He later studied at the University of Hartford’s Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz and went on to tour and record with artists such as Pat Metheny, Jeremy Pelt, Wallace Roney, Jennifer Holiday, and Harold Mabern. Shortly after Modern Drummer named Barber as the #1 Up-and-Coming Drummer of 2018, he released his debut album, Vision Ahead. Now Barber returns with his sophomore release, Legacy Holder, featuring his New York-based jazz quintet Vision Ahead.
Title: Live at the Paramount Artist: Ruthie Foster Big Band Label: Blue Corn Music Formats: CD, Digital Release date: May 15, 2020
Ruthie Foster delivers a high-powered performance in Live at the Paramount, her ninth album with Blue Corn Music. Complete with the combination of extraneous noise and high energy that inevitably accompanies a live album, Ruthie Foster delivers a big band set that shows off her well-known voice in a swing setting. Recorded at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, on January 26, 2019, John Mills is the music director and conductor of Foster’s big band, and all of the arrangements for this concert are by Mills and John Beasley.
Title: In Common 2 Artist: Walter Smith III and Matthew Stevens Label: Whirlwind Recordings Formats: CD, LP (limited ed.), Digital Release Date: May 15, 2020
In Common 2 is the much-anticipated second release from tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and guitarist Matthew Stevens. After the noteworthy success of their first collaboration In Common, Smith and Stevens assembled another star-studded cast featuring pianist Micah Thomas, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Nate Smith to perform their original compositions. Smith and Stevens are both at the nexus of the international jazz scene as performers, bandleaders, and composers, having performed and recorded with a wide range of artists including Ambrose Akinmusire, Christian Scott, Esperanza Spalding, and Roy Haynes. Their collaboration produces a high energy, dynamic album that sounds like a band that has been playing together for years.
Title: The Latin Jazz Project Artist: Spanish Harlem Orchestra Label: ArtistShare Formats: CD (limited ed.), Digital Release date: May 22, 2020
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra (SHO) has become a household name for salsa lovers and Latin jazz enthusiasts over the years. Founded in the early 2000s by bandleader Oscar Hernández and producer Aaron Levinson, SHO has accumulated several Grammy nominations and three Grammy Awards for their albums Across 110th Street (2004), Viva La Tradicion (2010), and Anniversary (2018). Known for their “dedication to the sounds of the barrio (Spanish Harlem NYC)” and their “mission to keep the musical legacy of salsa dura (hard salsa) alive,” SHO has become one of the standard representations of the New York style of salsa music.
Title: War Chant Artist: AJOYO Label: Shems Format: Digital Release Date: May 22, 2020
Celebration and protest, traditional and contemporary—Jazz-world ensemble AJOYO’s sophomore album War Chant is filled with seamlessly blended contradictions. Like their self-titled 2015 debut album, War Chant brings high energy, celebratory music, but this time with a social and racial justice aim. Using their own immigration stories as a foundation, the six-member Brooklyn-based group, organized by Tunisian-born saxophonist Yacine Boularès, cultivates empathy and calls for action.
Title: It Is What It Is Artist: Thundercat Label: Brainfeeder Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release Date: April 3, 2020
Electric bassist and singer/songwriter Thundercat, aka Stephen Lee Bruner, has released his fourth studio album, It Is What It Is. Executively produced by Bruner and Flying Lotus, the project features collaborations from artists such as Childish Gambino, Lil B, Kamasi Washington, Ty Dolla $ign, BADBADNOTGOOD, Louis Cole, and comedian/rapper Zack Fox. The new album is the follow-up to Thundercat’s ambitious Drunk (2017), which cemented his genre-defying reputation and provided an evolutional framework for It Is What It Is, which continues the versatile artist’s experimentation with sound and compositional technique.
Vocalists have played a notable role in the history of jazz, including women such as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughn, who collectively defined vocal artistry in the ongoing jazz tradition. Ella 100: Live at the Apollo! showcases the continuing role of today’s artists, vibrantly celebrating the 100th birthday of another legendary jazz vocalist, Ella Fitzgerald. This recording of the Ella Fitzgerald tribute concert on October 22, 2016, transports you to the stage of the Apollo Theater in New York City, the site of Ella’s performing debut in an amateur contest when she was only seventeen years old. The selections are drawn from Ella’s recording legacy, which extends from her first recording with Chick Webb’s Orchestra on June 12, 1936 for Decca Records to her final complete album recorded for Pablo Records on March 20 & 22, 1980. This represents a span of 44 years, which is truly remarkable for any artist.
While there are no surviving recordings of New Orleans cornetist Buddy Bolden, a leading figure in the early development of what would come to be known as jazz music, Grammy award-winning trumpeter Derrick Shezbie attempts to recreate Bolden’s band and music in his most recent release, The Ghost of Buddy Bolden. Shezbie is one of the primary trumpet players on the national scene performing original New Orleans jazz music; his sound and style have often been compared by critics to Louis Armstrong. As well as having full command of earlier styles, Shezbie also masterfully blends a range of different genres which are exemplified in his performances with the funky Rebirth Brass Band, and on his debut album Spodie’s Back (1994), which mixes New Orleans styles with more modern jazz bop influences. For this most recent record, Shezbie teamed up with historian Charles Tolman to recreate the atmosphere and conditions under which Bolden would have produced a recording. Shezbie even went on the streets of New Orleans, in the same manner as Bolden, to recruit other African American musicians for his group, ultimately joining forces with clarinetist Louis Ford, guitarist Carl Leblanc, bassist Chris Severin, trombonist Revert Andrews, and drummer Jerry Anderson.
Title: Inside Rhythmic Falls Artist: Aruán Ortiz Label: Intakt Formats: CD, Digital Release date: March 20, 2020
Many artists are known for expressing their cultural identity through music, but the issue most grapple with is how to articulate their own cultural experiences while also evoking the musical traditions of the people. For pianist and composer Aruán Ortiz, the answer lies in the culturally relevant storytelling abilities of the artist. His newest release, Inside Rhythmic Falls, aims to capture “the symphony of everyday life” in his birthplace, the Oriente Province of Cuba, while telling the story of the people and his Afro-Cuban heritage. Joined by legendary drummer Andrew Cyrille, percussionist Mauricio Herrera, spoken word artist Marlène Ramírez-Cancio and narrator Emeline Michel, Ortiz utilizes the changüí by substituting guitar for his piano in the guitar-and-drum music style, while “reconstructing and reconfiguring” the musical aesthetics to uplift the Afro-Cuban voices that were historically repressed, silenced and/or “hidden.”
A rising star on the international jazz scene, South African pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini is a member of the band Shabaka and the Ancestors and was recently featured on the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s musical celebration, “The South African Songbook.” Nduduzo makes his Blue Note recording debut this month with Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds. The album is deeply rooted in the music and ritual practices of his homeland in KwaZulu Natal, with additional inspiration provided by legends of South African jazz including his mentor, the late Bheki Mseleku, and pianist Abdullah Ibraham. It was through Nduduzo’s exposure to American jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, however, that enabled him to develop a style of playing that “could mirror or evoke the way my people danced, sung, and spoke.” Retaining those nuances and connecting his improvisations to more profound elements of divination and healing, known as uBungoma, Nduduzo’s unique vision is communicated throughout the 11 original tracks.
Title: Not There Yet Artist: Chicago Yestet Label: Tiddlywinks Music/Dist. CD Baby Formats: CD, Digital Release date: March 27, 2020
Formed in 2008 by bandleader and trombonist Joel Adams, the 13-piece horn-heavy Chicago Yestet draws from a wide range of genres ranging from big bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s to the sharp-edged political-leaning soul of Donny Hathaway, James Brown, and Marvin Gaye. With the addition of vocalist Maggie Burrell and spoken word artist Keith Harris, the ensemble also incorporates contemporary hip hop influences and socially conscious messaging. On the group’s third release, Not There Yet, they perform eight highly original tracks composed or arranged by Adams, with lyrics contributed by the vocalists.
Title: Collusion Artist: The Session Label: Bubble Bath Formats: CD, Digital Release date: August 16, 2019
Straight outta New Orleans, The Session is a jazz quartet of young musicians who were schooled by several of the city’s legendary elders, such as Ellis Marsalis, Germaine Bazzle, and Dr. John. While their focus is on more contemporary aspects of jazz, they respect the genre’s historical traditions, with various members performing regularly at Preservation Hall and with Jason Marsalis’ Vibraphone Quartet. The group’s third album, Collusion, was released just before Donald Trump was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and, as the title confirms, is the group’s most political statement to date. Throughout the 10 tracks, quartet members Steve Lands (trumpet), Jasen Weaver (bass), Andrew McGowan (piano), and Darrian Douglas (drums) explore their “politically-fueled reflections on our country’s current climate,” while also expanding their own range as they each contribute original tunes for the album.
Title: Sings Tribute to Alberta Hunter Live! Artist: Alicia Crowe Label: Spitslam/Dist. MVD Formats: LP, Digital Release date: February 7, 2020
Jazz vocalist Alicia Crowe offers a sweet send-up to the legacy of the great Alberta Hunter with her new album. Recorded live on November 14, 2018, during her Alberta Hunter Tribute show at the Triad Theater in New York City, Crowe is backed by Takaaki Otomo on piano, Noriko Ueda on bass, and George Gray on drums. Covering many of Hunter’s greatest hits, from “My Castle’s Rockin’” to “Handyman,” Crowe presents a musical portrait of one of the great vocal performers of the twentieth century.
Title: Pursuance: The Coltranes Artist: Lakecia Benjamin Label: Ropeadope Formats: CD, Digital Release Date: March 27, 2020
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.
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.
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).
Documentarian Stanley Nelson re-introduces us to the late and great jazz trumpeter extraordinaire Miles Davis on the album Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool,”a Film by Stanley Nelson. Davis’ extensive music career spanned over forty years, culminating in eight Grammy Awards, over thirty Grammy nominations, over fifty albums, plus collaborations with major jazz luminaries such as Billy Eckstine, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter, among many others. Using spoken and musical selections from the Grammy-nominated soundtrack from his documentary, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, Nelson provides a concise musical account of Davis’ evolution. Listeners have an opportunity to reflect on his seminal recordings, beginning in the late 1940s all the way to his mid-1980s comeback with Tutu (1986), while soundbites interspersed between tracks by music icons such as Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath, Gil Evans, Carlos Santana, and Marcus Miller further illuminate Davis’ career.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Title: Can You Imagine? Artist: John Bailey Label: Freedom Road Formats: CD, Digital Release date: January 20, 2020
You Imagine? is the second album from New York
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.
The Art of Intimacy, Vol. 1 is the perfect album for Valentine’s Day season. Jazz trumpeter Jeremy Pelt takes us on a journey through songs expressing tenderness and endearment, while also performing less commonly known standards with his trio. Accompanied by pianist George Cables and bassist Peter Washington, Pelt “pours some old wine into new bottles” as he explores romantic classics like “Always on My Mind” and “I’ll Never Stop Loving You,” and sentiments of love on songs like “I’ve Just Seen Her,” “I’ll Never Stop Loving You,” and “While You Are Gone.” Also included is Pelt’s original composition “Love Is Simple,” and “Little Girl Blue,” a song mostly associated with Nina Simone’s 1958 debut album. Jazz journalist Michael J. West writes, “the snapshot on display here makes no bones about its terms of engagement…If Pelt and company are successful, this music might have you practicing the art of intimacy on your own.” The Art of Intimacy, Vol. 1 is a must have for all you lovers out there!
Title: Jazz Party Artist: Delfeayo Marsalis & Uptown Jazz Orchestra Label: Troubadour Jass Formats: CD, Digital Release date: February 7, 2020
Prominent jazz trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis returns with his seventh studio album, Jazz Party, featuring his electrifying Uptown Jazz Orchestra (UJO). Arriving three years after Marsalis’ Kalamazoo (2017) and UJO’s Make America Great Again! (2016), Jazz Party weaves together “modernized twists on New Orleans songbook gems and musical traditions, and swinging, groove-infused homages to the contributions of modern jazz masters.” The album includes original compositions and arrangements by Marsalis and others, while portraying the high-spirited character of UJO’s live performances at the Snug Harbor in New Orleans. Also featured are guest artists such as vocalist Tonya Boyd-Cannon (semi-finalist on The Voice), drummer Joe Dyson Jr., pianist Kyle Roussel, and saxophonist Roger Lewis (original member of UJO and co-founder of the Dirty Dozen Brass).
Title: Poetry in Motion
Artist: The Soul Rebels
Label: Rebelution Music Group/Artistry Music/ Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 25, 2019
New Orleans based ensemble The Soul Rebels was formed in the early ‘90s by drum majors from HBCUs such as Southern, Grambling, and Texas Southern University. Percussionists Derrick Moss and Lumar LeBlanc, who first met as members of Harold Dejan’s Young Olympia Brass Band, decided they wanted to play the rap music they were hearing on the radio while also respecting the long tradition of the New Orleans brass bands and marching bands they had played in growing up. Now an eight member brass/jazz/hip hop powerhouse, The Soul Rebels include LeBlanc (snare drum) and Moss (bass drum), in addition to Marcus Hubbard (trumpet), Erion Williams (saxophone), Paul Robertson (trombone), Julian Gosin (trumpet and MC), Manuel Perkins Jr. (sousaphone) and Corey Peyton (trombone and MC). For their latest album, Poetry in Motion, The Soul Rebels started with the premise “no genre is off limits for us,” and concluded with twelve tracks that sound contemporary and hip. Their New Orleans rhythms and Black college band attitude combined with rap lyrics and rhymes will make you move your feet and get out of your seat.Continue reading →
Title: Bird at 100
Artists: Vincent Herring, Bobby Watson, Gary Bartz
Label: Smoke Sessions
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: November 29, 2019
Saxophone legends Vincent Herring, Bobby Watson, and Gary Bartz present a tribute to Charlie Parker with their new release Bird at 100, which marks the 100 year anniversary of Charlie Parker’s birthday. Described as an “alto saxophone summit,” the album is a homage to the musical legacy left by Parker and contains a compilation of Parker’s tunes, popular standards, and new compositions. Recorded live over three days in late August and early September 2019 at the Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in New York City, the rhythm section features members of Herring’s regular quartet: David Kikoski (piano), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), and Carl Allen (drums).Continue reading →
Title: Frank Foster Songbook
Artist: Kenyatta Beasley Septet
Label: Art Vs Transit
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 9, 2019
Trumpeter and composer Kenyatta Beasley’s tribute album, Frank Foster Songbook, celebrates his late mentor, the noted tenor and soprano saxophonist, composer and arranger Frank Benjamin Foster III. Recorded live over the course of two evenings at Brooklyn’s Jazz 966 club in 2013, this two-disc album captures the dynamic musical interactions between Beasley and his ensemble with guest appearances by Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), Mark Whitfield (guitar), Carla Cook (vocals), and Eric Wyatt (tenor saxophone). Beasley includes eleven songs covering a wide range of Foster’s original compositions.Continue reading →
That special time of year has come around again, filling everyone with holiday cheer. But nothing has the ability to spread Christmas spirit quite like music does. Following are brief reviews of what we believe to be the best holiday albums so far this year, featuring releases from Keb’ Mo’, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, The McCrary Sisters, Elijah Blake, Jonathan Butler, and Mariah Carey. We hope these selections provide the perfect soundtrack for everyone’s holiday season.Continue reading →
I could open this review with a clinical statement: This set presents virtually all of Nat Cole’s earliest recordings prior to his long association with Capitol Records, a relationship that provided the foundation to establish his wide recognition as one of the most important vocalists in the tradition of the Great American Songbook. Yet, I prefer a more emotionally connected view: Hittin’ the Ramp presents Nat King Cole’s earliest recordings, showing how he discovered, step by step, a pathway that permitted his remarkable talents to be heard and loved by a worldwide audience. Both views are correct, but only the second reflects the challenges a talented African American artist faced in building a reputation and, with it, the economic base necessary to support a sustainable full time career during the WWII era.Continue reading →