Jimi Hendrix Experience – Live In Maui

 

Title: Live In Maui
Artist: Jimi Hendrix Experience
Label: Experience Hendrix L.L.C./Sony Legacy
Formats: 2-CD or 3-LP + Blu-Ray set
Release date: November 20, 2020

 

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.

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Prince – Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Ed.

 

Title: Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Ed.
Artist: Prince
Label: Warner
Formats: 8-CD or 13-LP + DVD Box Set
Release date: September 25, 2020

 

Any Prince fan on your holiday gift list would likely be thrilled to receive the new edition of Sign O’ The Times, one of the Prince’s most memorable albums now offered as a super deluxe box set. Featuring 92 tracks across eight CDs plus a DVD and a 120-page illustrated hardcover book with essays by Dave Chappelle, Lenny Kravitz, and various Prince scholars, this set can be considered a bargain. In addition to the original 1987 double album remastered by Bernie Grundman, the other CDs include 63 previously unreleased tracks ranging from single remixes and B-sides to live songs plus a complete concert performance recorded in Utrecht, Netherlands, on June 20, 1987 during the Sign O’ The Times Tour.

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Little Richard – Expanded Editions of Reprise Albums

In a year that has brought many heartbreaking losses, one of the greatest was Little Richard, the undisputed architect of rock and roll who died on May 9, 2020 at the age of 87. Along with his peers, pianist Fats Domino and guitarists Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, Richard secured a place in the rock n’ roll pantheon for Black musicians in the 1950s and managed to hold onto that success for the next 60 years through recordings and live performances. Though a number of compilations have been released in the past that cover his early years with Specialty, OKeh, and Vee-Jay Records, his recordings for Reprise Records in the 1970s have been somewhat neglected. Thanks to the reissue label Omnivore Recordings and producer Cheryl Pawelski, fans can now enjoy expanded CD editions of three of Little Richards’ Reprise releases as well as his 1986 Warner Bros. release, all with new liner notes by Bill Dahl.

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Chubby Checker and the 60th Anniversary of The Twist

 

Title: The Twist
Artist: Chubby Checker
Label: ABKCO
Format: 7” vinyl
Release date: September 25, 2020

 

Sixty years ago, Philadelphia teenager Chubby Checker released his iconic version of “The Twist.” Dropping in the summer of 1960, the single hit the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 on September 24, 1960. Originally a twelve-bar blues song written and released a year earlier by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, it was Checker’s rendition that caught the attention of Dick Clark, who invited him to perform on American Bandstand. The rest, as they say, is history. Checker’s song spurred a worldwide dance craze, eventually earning him a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. In recognition of the 60th anniversary of “The Twist,” ABKCO Records is offering several commemorative releases of Checker’s recordings.

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The Kanneh-Masons – Carnival of the Animals

 

Title: Carnival of the Animals
Artist: The Kanneh-Masons
Label: Decca
Formats: CD, LP, Deluxe CD + Book
Release date: December 18, 2020

 

London’s “young, gifted and classical” Kanneh-Mason family have joined together with friends for a retelling of Camille Saint-Saëns classic children’s suite, Carnival of the Animals, paired with Michael Morpurgo’s Grandpa Christmas. Performers include the four oldest family members who currently study at the Royal Academy of Music—pianist Isata, cellist Sheku, and violinists Braimah and Konya—with their younger siblings including 18-year-old pianist Jeneba, 15-year-old violinist Aminata, and 11-year-old cellist Mariatu. Recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, this album marks the first release to feature all seven of the famous siblings performing together.

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Shemekia Copeland – Uncivil War

 

Title: Uncivil War
Artist: Shemekia Copeland
Label: Alligator
Format: CD, Digital
Release date: October 23, 2020

 

Reigning blues queen Shemekia Copeland delves deep into the divided heart and tarnished soul of America on her latest release, Uncivil War. The follow-up to her 2018 album, America’s Child, Copeland again teams up with Nashville guitarist/producer Will Kimbrough, who casts her signature vocal style into a spellbinding Americana brew. Assisting with this effort is an all-star cast featuring singer-guitarist Jason Isbell, rising young Delta blues guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, lap steel guitarist Jerry Douglas, bluegrass mandolinist Sam Bush, legendary Stax guitarist Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.’s), roots guitarists Duane “King of Twang” Eddy and Webb Wilder, plus The Orphan Brigade on background vocals.

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Benjamin Boone – The Poets Are Gathering

 

Title: The Poets Are Gathering
Artist: Benjamin Boone
Label: Origin
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 16, 2020

 

Composer-saxophonist Benjamin 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, ripped-from-the-headlines” messages.

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Kahil El’Zabar – America the Beautiful

 

Title: America the Beautiful 
Artist: Kahil El’Zabar
Label: Spiritmuse
Formts: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 23, 2020

 

Chicago 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.

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Alonzo Demetrius – Live from the Prison Nation

 

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.

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Lafayette Gilchrist – Now

 

Title: Now
Artist: Lafayette Gilchrist
Label: Lafayette Gilchrist Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 2, 2020

 

Baltimore-based composer and jazz pianist Lafayette Gilchrist offers a new double album, Now, that’s brimming over with his signature genre-spanning tunes. Though his recordings over the past decade have featured larger ensembles, for this project Gilchrist returns to the more intimate trio format with bassist Herman Burney and drummer Eric Kennedy. Addressing topics that range from the state of race relations and daily struggles faced by many within and beyond the city of Baltimore, to the more romantic aspects of love and life, the music reaches deep into the heart and soul of the community and the nation as a whole.

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Elder Charles Beck – Your Man of Faith

 

Title: Your Man of Faith
Artist: Elder Charles Beck
Label: Gospel Friend/dist. City Hall Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: November 20, 2020

 

Elder Charles D. Beck, born in 1902 in Mobile, Alabama, was a self-taught musician who covered a variety of instruments including drums, trumpet, saxophone, vibes, piano, and organ. A member of the large African American Pentecostal denomination, Church of God in Christ, he was influenced by the performance style of another well-known church member, the early gospel singer and pianist Arizona Dranes. After cutting his first recordings on the OKeh label in 1930 (a year after Dranes’ final OKeh session), Beck became an ordained COGIC minister and briefly moved to Chicago, where he met Thomas A. Dorsey, before permanently relocating to Buffalo, New York. Known as the singing evangelist and one of the most accomplished sanctified musicians of his generation, Beck released many recordings and also spread the gospel far and wide through weekly radio broadcasts of his sermons and live performances at churches across the U.S.

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Gregg August – Dialogues on Race

 

Title: Dialogues on Race, Volume One
Artist: Gregg August
Label: Iacuessa/dist. Bandcamp
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: August 21, 2020

 

An extremely versatile artist, double bassist and composer Gregg August performs and records with groups spanning multiple genres. Currently a member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra, he also performs regularly as a jazz bassist with the JD Allen Trio and Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. In 2009, shortly after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, August was inspired to compose Dialogues on Race, an extended suite for large jazz ensemble, vocalists, strings and narrator. Drawing upon poems by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Marilyn Nelson and other notable American poets, August hoped to “create a musical conversation that would help bring awareness and foster understanding on the issue of race” in support of the nation’s first Black president. Following the premiere at The Jazz Gallery in New York, the work was set aside for a time. But as the political discourse in the U.S. grew increasingly toxic and more Black lives were lost to violence, many of the musicians that premiered Dialogues urged August to revive and record the suite. The result is a stunning achievement that deftly combines jazz, blues, classical and Latin influences with gripping poetic verses to create a provocative work that is even more relevant and necessary today.

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Teodross Avery – Harlem Stories: The Music of Thelonious Monk

 

Title: Harlem Stories: The Music of Thelonious Monk
Artist: Teodross Avery
Label: WJ3
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 18, 2020

 

Soprano and tenor saxophonist Teodross Avery developed a keen interest in the music of Thelonious Monk as a teenager, after hearing the acclaimed jazz pianist’s landmark 1963 album Monk’s Dream. After repeated listening, Avery says, “It became clear to me that Monk wanted his complex melodies and harmonies to affect the musicians and the listeners alike with non-stop swing rhythms…He wanted that swing beat to just permeate the sound while he delivered his unique sound on top.” Avery went on to earn a Doctorate in Jazz Studies from the University of Southern California and along the way performed and recorded with many jazz titans as well as artists ranging from Leela James and Lauryn Hill to Mos Def and Talib Kweli. But for his latest project, Avery decided to return to his early fascination with Monk and take a much deeper dive into the complexities of his music on Harlem Stories: The Music of Thelonious Monk.

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Cindy Blackman Santana – Give the Drummer Some

 

Title: Give the Drummer Some
Artist: Cindy Blackman Santana
Label: Copperline
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 18, 2020

 

Virtuoso drummer Cindy Blackman Santana is well-known for her versatility, especially in the realm of jazz and rock. A member of Lenny Kravitz’s band from 1992-2007, for the past decade she has been the regular touring drummer for Santana (and later married Carlos Santana). Heavily influenced by her mentor, the late drummer Tony Williams who initially rose to fame in the 1960s as a member of Miles Davis’ group, Cindy has extended and expanded his jazz-rock fusion legacy. On her new album, Give the Drummer Some, Cindy reaches new heights, on vocals and percussion, as she collaborates with four of the world’s top fusion guitarists: Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Kirk Hammett (Metallica), and Vernon Reid (Living Colour). Produced by Narada Michael Walden, the album was three years in the making, and the results are no less than spectacular.

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Paris – Safe Space Invader

 

Title: Safe Space Invader
Artist: Paris
Label: Guerilla Funk
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 25, 2020

 

One of the most politically charged rappers to emerge in the 1990s, Paris is perhaps best known for his militant albums The Devil Made Me Do It and Sleeping with the Enemy. The latter album, originally scheduled for release prior to the 1992 election (but withheld by the label), featured the incendiary track “Bush Killa,” aimed at the incumbent, President George H.W. Bush. Now, prior to what may be the most contentious election in US history amidst a pandemic and social unrest, the Bay Area rapper returns with Safe Space Invader. Released on Paris’ own Guerilla Funk label, there is no one to hold him back and nothing is off limits.

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Public Enemy – What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down

 

Title: What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down
Artist: Public Enemy
Label: Def Jam
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 25, 2020

 

Public Enemy is back! In yet another pre-election release by socially conscious hip hop icons, What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down is an explosive album of politically charged tracks from Chuck D, Flavor Flav and DJ Lord. With collabs from the likes of George Clinton, Ice T, Cypress Hill and Run-DMC, there’s plenty of nostalgia to arouse the interest of golden age hip hop fans, as well as tracks addressing contemporary issues, ranging from the Trump presidency and internet dependency to the killing of Breonna Taylor. Yet despite addressing weighty social-political topics, the infectious beats and off-the-charts production give the album a celebratory quality, with tracks maintaining a high energy level from beginning to end.

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Various Artists – The Last Shall Be First: The JCR Records Story

 

Title: The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1
Artist: Various
Label: Bible & Tire
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 18, 2020

 

Rev. Juan D. Shipp was the force behind many Black gospel recordings emanating from Memphis, Tennessee in the 1970s. A pastor at the Greater Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church, Shipp also had a gospel radio show on K-WAM, where he spun gospel quartet records as “Juan D.” Believing that “local artists deserve a better sound,” he formed a relationship with Clyde Leoppard, a former Sun Studio drummer who owned Tempo Recording Studio in downtown Memphis. Shipp began recording and releasing professional quality singles for many local and regional gospel groups on his own small boutique label, D-Vine Spirituals. Soon business was booming, and he spun off a secondary label, JCR, for up-and-coming artists who wanted to press a record but didn’t make the D-Vine cut. Seventeen of these tracks are featured in The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1, which was produced by Rev. Shipp.

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The Staple Singers – Let’s Do It Again

 

Title: Let’s Do It Again
Artist: The Staple Singers
Label: Omnivore
Formats: CD
Release date: June 5, 2020

 

In June, the reissue label Omnivore released four expanded editions of classic albums by the Staple Singers, including Family Tree (1977), produced by former Chi-lite Eugene Record; Unlock Your Mind (1978), produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett at Muscle Shoals; and Pass It On (1976), produced by Curtis Mayfield. The fourth release was another Curtis Mayfield production—the soundtrack to the 1975 film, Let’s Do It Again, which featured an all-star cast led by Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Ossie Davis and Jimmie Walker. Recorded three years after Mayfield’s critically acclaimed soundtrack for Superfly, Let’s Do It Again used many of the same personnel from his Curtom house band: Mayfield on lead guitar, Joseph “Lucky” Scott on bass, and Master Henry Gibson laying down the funky conga and bongo parts. The album represented the Staple Singers’ first post-Stax Records release, and features five songs and three instrumentals that Mayfield composed for the film.

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Works by William Dawson & Ulysses Kay

Title: William Dawson Negro Folk Symphony/Ulysses Kay Fantasy Variations & Umbrian Scene
Artist: ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; Arthur Fagan, cond.
Label: Naxos
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 16, 2020

 

Whether intentional or not, Naxos picked an opportune time to release this recording featuring works by two very prominent 20th century African American composers—William Levi Dawson (1899-1990) and his somewhat younger contemporary, Ulysses Simpson Kay (1917-1995). As a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, at least a portion of white America is finally addressing gaps in their knowledge of Black history, having come of age at a time when the historical narrative and education system was (and is) unquestionably white-washed. At the same time, many university music departments and libraries have begun the process of re-examining the Western classical music canon in an attempt to decolonize syllabi and collections. This new release on Naxos American Classics series is certainly a very welcome addition to those efforts. Though most of these works have been released commercially in the past, the most recent of these recordings was issued nearly 20 years ago.

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