Following are additional albums released in February 2021 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.Continue reading
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.
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.Continue reading
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.”Read more
Title: Let My People Go
Artist: Archie Shepp & Jason Moran
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.Continue reading
Title: Love the Color of Your Butterfly
Artist: Janinah Burnett
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.”Continue reading
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.Continue reading
Title: The Democracy! Suite
Artist: Wynton Marsalis, The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet
Label: Blue Engine
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.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
Title: One Night In Miami… (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: January 15, 2021
Academy Award winning actress and director Regina King recently released the ground-breaking film adaptation of One Night in Miami. Based on a play by Kemp Powers (who also wrote the screenplay), the plot is a dramatization of what might have happened during a 1964 meeting between Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammed Ali), Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Jim Brown. The basis of this meeting called by Malcolm X was to discuss the different paths that these men were taking and to both praise and critique their efforts in the ongoing fight for equality. While the specifics of the meeting are fictitious, many of the events surrounding the plot actually happened: Cassius Clay changing his name to Mohammed Ali and joining the Nation of Islam; Sam Cooke releasing his iconic song “A Change is Gonna Come;” Jim Brown ending his football career to become an actor; and Malcolm X’s constant surveillance by the FBI prior to his assassination on February 21,1965.Continue reading
JUNO Award-winning singer-songwriter Dominique Fils-Aimé expresses her eclectic interpretation of soul music in her latest album, Three Little Words. Produced, arranged, and mixed by the acclaimed producer Jacques Roy, this project combines a multitude of sounds, themes, and cultures, creating a album that is both powerful and thought-invoking. The 15 tracks feature heartwarming melodies, inspired lyrics, and beautiful arrangements that provide a window into Fils-Aimé’s soul while also seeking to enrich the soul of the listener. Scheduled to release during Black History Month, the album is the final installment in the artist’s trilogy exploring the roots of African American musical culture.Continue reading
Chicago’s venerable Alligator Records is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and to kick off the festivities the blues label is shining the spotlight on Selwyn Birchwood, a “new generation blues artist.” Building upon his widely acclaimed 2017 album, Pick Your Poison, Birchwood’s new release, Living in a Burning House, is his third project for the label. Across the 13 original tracks of the album, the Florida native demonstrates his phenomenal technique on both six-string and lap steel guitar, as well as his exceptional talent as a singer-songwriter and storyteller.Continue reading
Bluesman Alabama Slim of Vance, Alabama was poised for a late-in-life breakout with a scheduled appearance at the 2020 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Although the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Slim is moving forward with the release of his new solo project, The Parlor. On the album, the 82-year-old performer dives deep into the soulful blues that he grew up listening to in the South.Continue reading
Title: Right Now
Artist: Willie Jones
Label: The Penthouse/Empire
Release Date: January 22, 2021
A native of Shreveport, Louisiana, a 26-year-old Willie Jones has crafted a genre-bending sound that captures his Southern roots and incorporates the other diverse musical influences that he loves. On his debut album, Right Now, he secures his place as a next generation country artist, joining the small but growing roster of Black artists who are revolutionizing the genre by deftly adding contemporary elements of hip hop and R&B.Continue reading
Grammy-nominated Zydeco artist Corey Ledet pays homage to his family and musical heritage on his latest release, Corey Ledet Zydeco. This is Ledet’s 14th album since releasing his full-length debut (3 Years 2 Late) in 2004, and features the multi-talented artist performing on vocals, accordion, drums, and washboard. Ledet’s unique style is influenced by multiple genres including early jazz, be-bop, blues, and traditional Creole music, as well as by musicians of Zydeco past and present.Continue reading
Title: The Ska from Jamaica
Label: Doctor Bird; Dist. Cherry Red
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: December 18, 2020
While working in the vast Trojan Records archive in London, Jamaican music specialist Laurence Cane-Honeycutt discovered the production master for an unissued 1966 compilation, The Ska from Jamaica. The 12 tracks, recorded in Jamaica from 1964-1966, were produced by Lindon Pottinger and featured many of era’s leading musicians, including the Maytals. Released in August 2020 by Trojan Records as a Record Store Day special vinyl limited edition, the album is now available as an expanded two-CD set produced by Cane-Honeycutt, with 47 additional tracks. Most of these were culled from 7” singles released on Rita and Benny King’s UK-based Ska Beat label, which was sold to Trojan in 1971, but other tracks were never released in the UK and are quite rare.Continue reading
Title: A Capella Black Gospel: Look How the World Has Made a Change, 1940-1969
Label: Narroway/Dist. City Hall Records
Release date: November 2020
This recent gospel compilation from Swedish producer and collector Per Notini is a three disc, 84 track set focused exclusively on a capella singing without any instrumental accompaniment. Featuring many well-known quartets such as the Fairfield Four and Soul Stirrers as well as lesser known artists, the set traces stylistic changes over a thirty year period, concluding in 1969 before the ‘contemporary’ gospel era. These groups created some of the most inventive and progressive African American vocal music of the post-war period, which had a profound effect on later R&B and soul artists, not to mention artists across all other genres.Continue reading
Following are additional albums released December 2020 and January 2021 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.Continue reading
Due to the COVID-19 related delay of IU’s Spring 2021 semester, the January and February issues of Black Grooves will be combined and published during Black History Month. Stay tuned…
Welcome to the December 2020 Holiday Edition of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.
In keeping with the season, we’re starting off with our list of the Best New Holiday Albums, featuring releases from Warren Wolf, Lynda Randle, Amber Weekes, Leslie Odom Jr., Pentatonix, and the Hadestown cast, plus honorable mentions.
Special editions and box sets include Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s, vol. 18 ( 2021 calendar + CD); Bob Marley 75th Anniversary releases (books and box sets); Jimi Hendrix Experience Live In Maui from 1970 (2-CD + DVD); Prince’s Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition (8CD+DVD or 13LP+DVD); the new documentary Chuck Berry: The Original King Of Rock; Little Richard’s 1970s Reprise albums in expanded editions; new releases celebrating Chubby Checker and the 60th anniversary of “The Twist”; the compilation from Stax’s 1970s-era gospel subsidiary Gospel Truth: The Complete Singles Collection; the CD release of the Staple Singers’ box set Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection (7-CDs); Evelyn “Champagne” King: RCA Albums 1977-1985 (8-CD box set); the funk group Con Funk Shun compilation Confunkshunizeya: The Mercury Anthology (2 CDs); the Sade box set This Far (6-LP vinyl); Beyonce’s groundbreaking 2018 Coachella festival performance packaged as Homecoming: The Live Album (4-LP set); and London’s young Kanneh-Mason family performing a new version of Carnival of the Animals (deluxe ed. book + CD).
Other new releases include Ella Fitzgerald: The Lost Berlin Tapes; George Benson’s Weekend in London; and the book Heart Full of Rhythm: Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong.
Wrapping up this issue is our list of November 2020 Black Music Releases of Note.
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.
The Blues Images team strike a resonant chord again this year with their annual blues calendar and CD package. The wall calendar, featuring a historic advertisement for Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Pneumonia Blues” on the cover, displays additional photographs and graphical artwork that help bring to life the classic Pre-War blues classics included on this year’s audio selections. Beautiful photographs of Peg Leg Howell, Bertha Henderson, Ramblin’ Thomas, Victoria Spivey, and Blind Boy Fuller will help pass the months of 2021 as the calendar’s pages are turned, including a stand-out photo of Lead Belly and Martha Promise on their wedding day in the month of July.Continue reading
Fans of Bob Marley will have no shortage of Marley-related releases to choose from this holiday season. In December, UMC/Island will release The Complete Island Recordings, a new 11CD box set featuring all nine Bob Marley & The Wailers studio albums recorded for Island Records as well as two live albums (Live! and Babylon By Bus). The set spans a decade, beginning with 1973’s Catch A Fire and concluding with 1983’s Confrontation, a posthumous album released two years after Marley’s death. Additionally, on November 20, Universal is reissuing the same 11 albums and the compilation album Legend on vinyl as half-speed mastered editions. A third set of these albums, which are being pressed at the legendary Tuff Gong International headquarters in Kingston, will also be released on vinyl on December 11. The Tuff Gong set features the original Jamaica-recorded version of Catch A Fire, which is without overdubs, longer fades, and two extra tracks from the sessions.Continue reading
Rarely a year goes by without a new release from the Hendrix archives and 2020 is no exception. This year’s offering, Live In Maui, features both the audio and video documentation of the “Rainbow Bridge Vibratory Color/Sound Experiment” concerts performed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in Hawaii on July 30, 1970, plus a new documentary and liner notes that chronicle the story behind the making of the film Rainbow Bridge. As is the case with the majority of these posthumous releases, the results are a mixed bag. For most Hendrix fans, however, there is likely enough new, high quality content to warrant the purchase of this three disc set. First and foremost, there’s the music, a remarkable live performance previously available only on bootlegs, offered here in superb sound, newly restored and mixed by Eddie Kramer and mastered by Bernie Grundman.Continue reading