String Noise – Alien Stories

 

Title: Alien Stories
Artist: String Noise
Label: Infrequent Seams (Dist. Bandcamp)
Formats: CD, Cassette, Digital
Release date: April 2, 2021

 

The New York-based classical avant-punk duo String Noise, featuring violinists Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris, is celebrated for their wide-ranging performances of contemporary music. Since the duo’s founding in 2011, they have added more than 50 new works to their repertoire. Their latest release, Alien Stories, was influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement, which also increased attention on issues of racial equality with the musical realm. In support of Black artists, the duo decided to co-commission, with Carnegie Hill Concerts, new works from five young Black composer-performers based in New York City. These five works are featured on Alien Stories.

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Cha Wa – My People

 

Title: My People
Artist: Cha Wa
Label: Single Lock
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: April 2, 2021

 

Since the late 19th century, Mardi Gras Indians have paraded the streets of New Orleans outside of the gaze of tourists that flock to Bourbon Street. The Mardi Gras Indian community is a group of primarily Black New Orleanians who pay respect to Native Americans through their wardrobe, music, and dialect. The tradition of Mardi Gras Indian krewes is said to have originated to pay tribute to the Native groups that sheltered Black New Orleanians fleeing enslavement. Drawing on this rich heritage, Cha Wa’s My People captures the sounds of Mardi Gras Indian street parades and blends them with other New Orleans influences including the ‘70s era funk of The Meters, brass band music, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, and African-inspired rhythms.

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Jupiter & Okwess – Na Kozonga

 

Title: Na Kozonga
Artist: Jupiter & Okwess
Label: Everloving
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: April 23, 2021

 

Hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jupiter & Okwess makes music that pulls together international musical influences in a stand against global injustice. Their newest release, Na Kozonga, is an explosive and energetic compilation of music featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band horn section, pioneer of Brazilian rap Marcelo D2, and the vocals of American Maiya Sykes and Chilean Ana Tijoux.

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Welcome to the March 2021 Issue

Welcome to the March 2021 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

In celebration of Women’s History Month we’re featuring new releases from female artists including singer-songwriter Valerie June’s eclectic The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers; Prince protégé Judith Hill’s Baby I’m Hollywood; L.A. singer-songwriter and acoustic guitarist Sunny War’s Simple Syrup; blues-rock singer Skylar Rogers’s Firebreather; and scholar Maureen Mahon’s book, Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll.

Classical releases include the Catalyst Quartet’s Uncovered Vol. 1: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor featuring acclaimed clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Stewart Goodyear; and the woodwind quintet Imani Winds’ Bruits featuring guest appearances by soprano Janai Brugger and narrator John Whittington Franklin.

Also featured is composer Adrian Younge’s unapologetic critique of systemic racism on The American Negro, pianist-composer Cameron Graves’ thrash-jazz fusion release Seven, and the London-based fusion group Nubiyan Twist’s Freedom Fables.

Wrapping up this issue is our list of February 2021 Black Music Releases of Note.

Valerie June – The Moon and Stars

 

Title: The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers
Artist: Valerie June
Label: Fantasy
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: March 12, 2021

 

Valerie June’s The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers is an amalgam of genres, referencing 1960s psychedelia, 1980s pop, gospel, Americana, and especially Memphis soul. The connection to Memphis, where June began her career, is evident throughout, from an appearance by Carla Thomas to sessions recorded at Sam Phillips Studio and Royal Studios. Like this album, Memphis is a melting pot of styles, and the instrumentation on The Moon and Stars is just as diverse as its stylistic influences—from lush strings to horns, pedal steel, and banjo. Jointly produced by June and Jack Splash (Alicia Keys, Kendrick Lamar, John Legend), the fourteen tracks of original music have all of the elements necessary to guarantee success.

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Judith Hill – Baby I’m Hollywood

 

Title: Baby I’m Hollywood
Artist: Judith Hill
Label: Regime Music Group
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 5, 2021

 

Many may be familiar with Grammy-winning artist Judith Hill through her work with Michael Jackson, or any number of other artists ranging from Josh Groban, Stevie Wonder and John Legend to the late Andraé Crouch. Hill was also one of the featured backup singers in the Academy Award winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom (2013), and that same year she made it to the finals on The Voice. Yet despite these successes and a debut album co-produced by Prince, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is still struggling in her pursuit of a career in music. Hill’s new project, Baby I’m Hollywood, speaks to the highs and lows of life in the spotlight, and so much more.

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Sunny War – Simple Syrup

 

Title: Simple Syrup
Artist: Sunny War
Label: Org Music
Format: LP, Digital
Release Date: March 26, 2021

 

Following a captivating NPR Tiny Desk performance and an acclaimed album in 2019, Sunny War became an artist to watch for fans of acoustic roots music. Since then, the L.A.-based singer and guitarist has certainly kept busy, founding a Los Angeles chapter of the nonprofit Food Not Bombs, marching for BLM protests, and recording her newest album, Simple Syrup.

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Skylar Rogers – Firebreather

 

Title: Firebreather
Artist: Skylar Rogers
Label: CD Baby (distrib.)
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 29, 2021

 

With a sound that draws comparisons to Etta James and Koko Taylor, Chicago-born vocalist Skylar Rogers is a relatively new force on the blues scene. After the success of her debut EP, she began touring nationally in 2019 and dropped her first single last year. Now Rogers tears into her first full-length album, Firebreather, with a powerful blast of energy that fuels her unique blend of “soul rockin’ blues.”

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Maureen Mahon – Black Diamond Queens

 

Title: Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll
Author: Maureen Mahon
Publisher: Duke University Press
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle
Release date: October 9, 2020

 

Maureen Mahon’s Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll is a chronological collection of case studies of African American women’s contributions to rock from 1953–1984, and, simultaneously, a feminist critique of the forces that have prevented African American women from enjoying more success in the rock world. Mahon, an associate professor at New York University, demonstrates that African American women and their music were foundational to the rock genre, and that their contributions have continued to be a driving force in the development of rock over time. These women, however, have found success to be elusive, due to barriers of genre expectations, gender expectations, racial expectations, and record industry marketing.

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Catalyst Quartet – Uncovered Vol. 1, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

 

Title: Uncovered Vol. 1, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Artist: Catalyst Quartet, with Stewart Goodyear and Anthony McGill
Label: Azica
Formats: Digital
Release date: February 5, 2021

 

Great performances and recordings of their work can go a long way in helping solidify the reputation of any composer. The GRAMMY Award-winning Catalyst Quartet is working to use their immense talent to highlight chamber music by composers who may have been overlooked because of their race or gender with a new series of recordings, titled Uncovered. Volume One, featuring early works by Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, promises an exceptional project, bringing the incredible playing of a top-tier string quartet to finely selected repertoire.

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Imani Winds – Bruits

 

Title: Bruits
Artist: Imani Winds
Label: Bright Shiny Things
Format: CD, Digital
Release Date: February 5, 2021

 

The acclaimed Grammy®-nominated woodwind quintet Imani Winds have released their latest studio album, Bruits. Composed of the talented artists Brandon Patrick George (flute), Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe), Mark Dover (clarinet), Jeff Scott (French horn), and Monica Ellis (bassoon), Imani Winds delivers a provocative commentary on the issues that have, and continue to, plague our country. Elucidated by the metaphorical title, “Bruits,” a medical term for an abnormal sound generated by blood flow through an obstructed artery, this album utilizes three inspiring works to describe our ongoing social and political climate, reflecting on the turmoil and strife within our country in an effort to bring about beneficial change before the damage becomes irreparable. Additional featured performers on the album include Grammy® award-winning pianist Cory Smythe, Metropolitan Opera National Council & Operalia award-winning soprano Janai Brugger, and scholar and narrator John Whittington Franklin.

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Adrian Younge – The American Negro

 

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.”

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Cameron Graves – Seven

 

Title: Seven
Artist: Cameron Graves
Label: Artistry Music/Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 19, 2021

 

Pianist-composer 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 Prince in 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.

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Nubiyan Twist – Freedom Fables

 

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.

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Welcome to the January and February 2021 Issue

Welcome to the January-February 2021 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture. In honor of Black History Month, we’re featuring projects that explore the Black experience across multiple musical genres.

Baritone Will Liverman presents music from Black composers on Dreams of a New Day, composer Joseph C. Phillips Jr. explores racial injustice in his new opera The Grey Land, and jazz legend Archie Shepp collaborates with Jason Moran on Let My People Go.

Other jazz selections include soprano Janinah Burnett’s Love the Color of Your Butterfly, Robert Glasper’s R+R=NOW ensemble Live, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet’s timely The Democracy! Suite; Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet’s Social Distancing, and the vocalist/trumpet duo Sounds of A&R on Questions Left Unanswered.

Other new releases include composer-musicians Terence Blanchard and Leslie Odom Jr. on One Night in Miami Original Motion Picture Soundtrack; Canadian artist Dominique Fils-Aimé’s Three Little Words; blues artist Selwyn Birchwood’s Living in a Burning House and Alabama Slim’s The Parlor; genre-blending country artist Willie Jones’ Right Now; and Louisiana Creole artist Corey Ledet’s Zydeco.

Wrapping up this issue are the compilations The Ska from Jamaica and A Capella Black Gospel: Look How the World Has Made a Change, 1940-1969, plus our list of December 2020-January 2021 Black Music Releases of Note.

Will Liverman – Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers

 

Title: Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers
Artist: Will Liverman
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 12, 2021

 

From the 2020 recipient of the Marian Anderson Vocal Award comes the album Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers. Baritone Will Liverman and pianist Paul Sánchez perform art songs by Black composers, including the world-premier recording of Two Black Churches by Shawn E. Okpebholo.

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Numinous – The Grey Land

 

Title: The Grey Land
Artist: Joseph C. Phillips Jr., Numinous, Rebecca L. Hargrove
Label: New Amsterdam 
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: November 20, 2020

 

Towards the end of 2020, after a tumultuous year of reckoning with racial injustice, Joseph C. Phillips Jr. released an album of his stirring hour-long multimedia “monoopera,” The Grey Land. The opera traces Black sorrow after the countless deaths of African Americans at the hand of the police through the lens of an anonymous Black mother considering the future of her young child. Unease, bleakness, and sorrow saturate this music, but they are balanced by moments of calm, joy, and the beauty of everyday life, as Philips also reminds us of the still throbbing hope of a land “where the beautiful promise of happiness, liberty, and life may yet manifest true to finally include her family too.”

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Archie Shepp & Jason Moran – Let My People Go

 

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 music.

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Janinah Burnett – Love the Color of Your Butterfly

Title: Love the Color of Your Butterfly
Artist: Janinah Burnett
Label: Clazz
Formast: CD, Digital
Release Date: February 12, 2020

World-renowned soprano Janinah Burnett, known for her performances on Broadway as well as the Metropolitan Opera, is releasing her debut studio album, Love the Color of Your Butterfly. Classical operatic themes combine with a multitude of styles, such as jazz, blues, and spirituals, coming together to showcase both Burnett’s incredible versatility as well as the influences that shaped her into the talented and expressive musician she is today: “When the time came for me to make a body of work that represented my deepest artistic desires, I took an inventory of my musical influences and creations and came up with a concept that blended my past with my present.”

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R+R=NOW – Live

 

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.

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Wynton Marsalis & The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet – The Democracy! Suite

 

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.

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Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet – Social Distancing

 

Title: Social Distancing
Artist: Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet
Label: Saponegro/Tiger Turn
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 29, 2021

 

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.

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Sounds of A&R – Questions Left Unanswered…

 

Title: Questions Left Unanswered…
Artist: Sounds of A&R
Label: Soaring
Format: CD, Digital
Release date: January 22, 2021

 

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.

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