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: The Real McCoy Artist: Alex Dixon Label: Dixon Landing Music Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: March 24, 2020
If electric Chicago blues is your bag, Alex Dixon’s The Real McCoy offers the real deal. The grandson of Willie Dixon, Alex represents the younger generation of Chicago blues royalty and carries on the family tradition as a talented producer, bassist, and pianist. His family also actively works to preserve the history of the genre in the Windy City through the Blues Heaven Foundation, located in the historic Chess Records building. Sharing his love of this history is precisely what Dixon set out to accomplish with his new project: “We were trying to go for authenticity, and I wanted to showcase some of the things that I learned from my grandfather and make the album I’ve always wanted to do.” Joining Dixon in this endeavor are two blues harpists – Sugar Blue and Steve Bell, son of famed harmonica wizard Cary Bell – and other assisting musicians including Lewis “Big Lew” Powell on vocals, Melvin Taylor and Gino Matteo on guitar, and Alvino Bennett on drums.
Those who have read Tim Brooks’ new book, The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media: 20th Century Performances on Radio, Records, Film and Television, will no doubt be interested in this new release from Archeophone Records. The two disc set, At the Minstrel Show, features 51 selections recorded in the studio from 1894-1926 and represents the first compilation to deal authoritatively with the minstrel genre as a whole. While Brooks discussed most of these recordings at length in his book, he also penned an extensive essay and track-by-track liner notes in the 56-page illustrated booklet accompanying At the Minstrel Show. Before delving further into the content, it should be noted that some of the performances on this set contain racially derogatory language. From a scholarly perspective, however, these recordings provide the earliest aural documentation for those studying the genre.
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.
Welcome to the April 2020 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture. We believe it is more important than ever to support artists during this critical period as livelihoods are jeopardized due to the pandemic. Though our workflow has also been disrupted and we do not have access to some of the new releases we planned to feature, we hope the music included in this issue will lift spirits and provide entertainment while the majority of the country is sheltering at home.
Multi-instrumentalist and music historian Don Flemons, otherwise known as “The American Songster” and co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, has become one of the foremost experts and practitioners of African American folk music traditions. Flemons garnered a Grammy nomination and multiple awards for his last solo project, Black Cowboys(2018). Now Flemons is offering his first compilation, Prospect Hill: The American Songster Omnibus, which includes his Prospect Hill solo album from 2014, the EP What Got Overoriginally released on vinyl as a 2015 Record Store Day premium, and a new collection of twelve previously unissued instrumental tracks he’s pulled together under the title The Drum Major Instinct. If you didn’t score copies of these records when they first dropped, you should definitely pick up this nicely packaged two-disc set with extensive liner notes by Flemons and Vania Kinard and evocative tintype photographs by Timothy Duffy.
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.
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: Take a Look in the Book Artist: The Legendary Ingramettes Label: Virginia Folklife Records Formats: CD, Digital Release date: March 20, 2020
Born July 4, 1930 on Mulholland’s Plantation in Coffee County, Georgia, Maggie Ingram worked in the cotton and tobacco fields with her parents as sharecroppers. She began playing the piano and singing in church at an early age and fell in love with gospel music. Later, she formed the quintet known as Sister Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes, a singing group that became sought after for appearances throughout the South. In 1961 Maggie moved her family to Richmond, Virginia, where she became known as the “gospel queen of Richmond.” Regrettably, Maggie passed away in 2015, but the group still presses onward in her absence.
Title: No Beginning No End 2 Artist: José James Label: Rainbow Blonde Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: March 6, 2020
José James’ No Beginning No End 2, a sequel to his 2013 Blue Note debut album, resurrects the eclecticism audiences first fell in love with. Back then, the singer-songwriter was transitioning from Verve Records to Blue Note, and the new release finds James shifting to his own Rainbow Blonde label. ”There’s this beautiful cycle that’s happening again,” James explains. “This essence of it is what I wanted to get back — the idea of courage, freedom, real quality music that’s made without boundaries but still had a cohesive quality. That’s what I did on the first (No Beginning No End), and this one feels the same way.” With No Beginning No End 2, James pays homage to a multitude of musicians who inspired him.
Title: The Anthology Artist: Omar Label: Freestyle Format: CD, Digital Release date: January 31, 2020
London-born neo-soul singer Omar Lye-Fook MBE, known as the “Godfather of UK Soul,” has now been recording for 35 years. A musical prodigy, by the age of five he was learning to play the drums from his studio musician father and went on to study other percussion instruments as well as piano, trumpet and bass guitar, eventually matriculating at the Guildhall School of Music. Omar’s debut single, “Mr. Postman,” was released on his father’s Kongo label in 1985, and his debut album, There’s Nothing Like This, followed in 1990. From that point forward Omar’s career took off, and before long he was recognized not only as a uniquely talented singer and multi-instrumentalist fluent in multiple genres, but also as a composer, arranger, and producer. All of Omar’s talents are showcased on his new two-disc set, TheAnthology, which includes hits from the past three decades along with a few lesser known and previously unreleased tracks.
Title: We No Be Machine Artist: ONIPA Label: Strut Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release Date: March 20, 2020
In Akan, the ancient language of the Ashanti people of Ghana, ONIPA means “human.” The Ghanaian group’s debut album adheres closely to this meaning with the title We No Be Machine. Formed through a collaboration between longtime friends K.O.G. and Tom Excell, the London-based duo is bringing African-inspired grooves to European and American audiences.
After six extremely successful years as lead singer of the influential gospel quartet, the Soul Stirrers, Sam Cooke left the group in 1957 to embark on a solo career. Becoming one of the first gospel stars to go pop, Cooke’s gospelized-pop template paved the way for soul music. Just six weeks after recording his final session with the Soul Stirrers, Cooke released his first single under his own name, “You Send Me.” Not only did he manage to crossover on his first attempt, he took the pop music world by storm while also landing at #1 on the R&B charts. Over the next three years, Cooke released a quick succession of albums on the Keen label. All are faithfully remastered and reproduced with original album covers in this 5-CD box set, which includes excellent liner notes by Michael Corcoran, rare photos from the Keen archives, and complete session details.
Welcome to the March 2020 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting new releases from female artists across multiple genres and countries.
Virtuosic saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin offers a powerful tribute to Alice and John Coltrane on her newest release Pursuance: The Coltranes; singer/pianist and Prince protégé Kandace Springs honors some of the greatest female vocalists of all time on The Women Who Raised Me; Syleena Johnson offers a timely, soulful ode to womanhood on Woman; jazz vocalist Lulu Fall reflects upon her African heritage on Between Two Worlds; pianist Judith Olson introduces the classical compositions of a noted jazz musician on Urban Counterpoint: The Piano Music of Ed Bland; jazz vocalist La Tanya Hall explores a wide range of musical gems on Say Yes; and Haitian songstress Moonlight Benjamin offers her latest fusion of rock and Afro-Caribbean music on Simido.
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.