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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Regina Carter Freedom Band – Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground

 

Title: Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground
Artist: Regina Carter Freedom Band
Label: Tiger Turn
Format: Digital
Release date: July 31, 2020

 

Virtuoso jazz violinist Regina Carter has a history of releasing music that celebrates Black culture, whether commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald or her father’s roots on Southern Comfort. Yet at this pivotal point in history, with the COVID-19 pandemic surging unabated in tandem with protests and civil unrest, Carter has chosen a more politically charged theme. Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground is her urgent message to those who have not taken part in the democratic process, extolling them to get out and exercise their right to vote. The title, she explains, speaks to the current state of the nation: “We are living in surreal times…we have become a divided country of Red vs. Blue, Us vs. Them or Not Our Kind, and that pot is starting to boil over.” Rest assured, however, that both hope and harmony are encouraged across the album’s 14 tracks as Carter and her band of jazz luminaries take the listener on a tour from sea to shining sea.

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Javier Nero – Freedom

 

Title: Freedom
Artist: Javier Nero
Label: Outside In Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 7, 2020

 

The winner of multiple prestigious jazz trombone competitions and recipient of a Ph.D. from Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, Dr. Javier Nero appears more than ready to present his debut solo album, Freedom. The title, he explains, reflects the very essence of jazz, as well as “the beauty that can be created by learning from and appreciating disparate cultures.” Nero draws upon his own multi-cultural ancestry and extensive training as a jazz and classical musician, as well as his experience as a member of the Haitian band Klass, to seamlessly incorporate elements of multiple genres across the 12 tracks of the album. Joining Nero in the ensemble are Tom Kelley (sax/flute), Melvin Butler (tenor/soprano sax), Jean Caze (trumpet/flugelhorn), Tal Cohen (piano), Dion Kerr (bass) and Aaron Kimmel (drums).

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Derrick Hodge – Color of Noize

 

Title: Color of Noize
Artist: Derrick Hodge
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: June 26, 2020

 

Bassist and composer Derrick Hodge has worked with some of the best, performing on GRAMMY award winning albums by Robert Glasper (as a founding member of the Robert Glasper Experiment) and Terence Blanchard, producing projects with Quincy Jones, and writing/recording with a wide range of other artists across multiple genres, from Kanye West, Q-Tip, and Andre 3000 to Jill Scott, Sade, and Kirk Franklin. Hodge’s innovative arrangements also played an essential role in the powerful performances by Nas and Maxwell with the National Symphony Orchestra, and Common with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Now, on his latest project and his third release for Blue Note Records, Hodge seeks to bridge the divide between urban, jazz and classical music with his new concept album, Color of Noize.

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Derrick Gardner & the Big dig! Band – Still I Rise

 

Title: Still I Rise
Artist: Derrick Gardner & the Big dig! Band
Label: Impact Jazz
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: July 10, 2020

 

Trumpeter Derrick Gardner has gathered together friends and family to form a new ensemble that makes its debut on his latest release, Still I Rise. Christened the Big dig! Band, after co-leader Steve Kirby’s bi-monthly jazz publication dig! magazine, the 18-piece big band performs contemporary music composed and arranged by Gardner while retaining the classic feel of the swing era. In addition to Derrick, an alumnus of the Count Basie Orchestra and the Harry Connick Jr. Big Band, the group also features his brother, trombonist Vincent Gardner, who currently serves as artistic director of the Jazz Houston Orchestra. Other world class musicians from across North America include saxophonists Mark Gross (Duke Ellington Orchestra), Greg Gatien, Rob Dixon, Tristan Martinuson and Ken Gold; trumpeters Bijon Watson (Gerald Wilson Jazz Orchestra), Jeff Johnson, Curtis Taylor and Andrew Littleford; trombonists Joel Green, Anthony Bryson and Bill Green; with pianist Zen Zadravec, bassist Luke Sellick, guitarist Kasey Kurtz and drummer Curtis Nowosad heading up the rhythm section.

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Laraaji – Sun Piano

 

Title: Sun Piano
Artist: Laraaji
Label: All Saints
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: July 17, 2020

 

Long before he became known as a pioneering Afro-Transcendentalist and ambient music icon, Laraaji (aka Edward Larry Gordon) spent his youth playing gospel music in a New Jersey church. After majoring in piano and composition at Howard University in the 1960s, Laraaji’s journey led to stints as a busker, mystic, laughter meditation practitioner, and leader of the fusion band The Winds of Change, before finding his true calling as a multi-instrumentalist performer and composer of “space age soul hymns” and “cosmic zither jams.” His 1980 release, Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, on Brian Eno’s renown Ambient series, brought significant international exposure. Over the past forty years, Laraaji has primarily continued in the same vein, releasing a large body of recordings to facilitate meditation and spiritual awakening. His latest project, however, is a significant departure. On Sun Piano, Laraaji comes full circle, returning to church to record a series of more classical and jazz-oriented solo piano miniatures.

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Mourning [A] BLKstar – The Cycle

 

Title: The Cycle 
Artist: Mourning [A] BLKstar 
Label: Don Giovanni 
Formats: Limited ed. CD, LP, Digital 
Release date: May 5, 2020 

 

The Cleveland, Ohio-based funk and soul collective Mourning [A] BLKstar is a “multi-generational, gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture dedicated to servicing the stories and songs of the apocalyptic diaspora.” Boldly confronting themes of racism, oppression, and injustice, the group’s albums reflect the reality of living in a world that is all too frequently hostile to people of color. Their previous release, The Garner Poems (2018)was a eulogy to Eric Garner and the many other victims of police brutality past and present. M[A]B’s new double album, The Cycle, is yet another epic and thought-provoking addition to the group’s catalog. Set as an 18 movement song cycle featuring vocalists James Longs, Kyle Kidd and LaToya Kent, the group envisions the work as “a humble addition to the long legacy of James Baldwin’s adage of the artist as witness.” 

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Ambrose Akinmusire – on the tender spot of every calloused moment

 

Title: on the tender spot of every calloused moment 
Artist: Ambrose Akinmusire 
Label: Blue Note 
Formats: CD, Digital, LP  
Release date: June 5, 2020 

 

Trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire is known for extending the margins of jazz, presenting sonically diverse albums that reflect upon the complexity of Black life in America. Such was the case with his 2018 release, Origami Harvest, which deftly wove together genres and socially conscious themes. Akinmusire describes his new release, on the tender spot of every calloused moment, as a quartet album “that studies the blues in a contemporary context.” Though primarily a jazz musician, Akinmusire adeptly taps into the blues of life in America, blowing through his trumpet with “the breath of a black man who’s seen the best and worst of the country.” Accompanying Akinmusire on this project, which features eleven of his highly original compositions, are his long-time bandmates: pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown. 

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Damu the Fudgemunk, Archie Shepp & Raw Poetic – Ocean Bridges

 

Title: Ocean Bridges 
Artist: Damu the Fudgemunk, Archie Shepp & Raw Poetic 
Label: Redefinition 
Formats: Digital (via Bandcamp), LP (tba) 
Release date: May 22, 2020 

 

One of the most intriguing projects of the year, Ocean Bridges is a collaboration between Washington, DC hip hop artists/producers Damu the Fudgemunk (aka Earl Davis) and MC Raw Poetic (aka Jason Moore), and Moore’s uncle, the illustrious jazz elder Archie Shepp. The album’s title signifies “a re-establishing of the connection between young and old in their general community.” As Moore explains: “I began writing down the parts in my head that could tell a story, a Black American story, that would expand across the ages, a story from my grandfather to my uncle, from my mother to me. We bridged the gaps of time, culture and struggle and made an album I always dreamt of—Ocean Bridges.” Entirely improvised, the eleven tracks also bridge genres, creatively blending live music and spoken word, jazz and hip hop in a manner that maintains the spontaneity of their vision. 

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Wendy Moten – I’ve Got You Covered

 

Title: I’ve Got You Covered
Artist: Wendy Moten
Label: Radio Eye Music
Format: Digital
Release date: February 12, 2020

 

Memphis native Wendy Moten grew up singing in her father’s church and listening to her idols Aretha, Stevie, Marvin, and Dionne. After a successful solo career as an R&B artist in the 1990s, scoring a major hit with the power ballad “Come On In Out of the Rain,” Moten moved to Nashville where she became a highly regarded session and backing vocalist across all genres. Naturally, she was also immersed in country music. Over the past two decades, she has toured with Faith Hill & Tim McGraw (2005-2018), Martina McBride (2014-2016), and most recently Vince Gill, while also making her own debut at the Grand Ole Opry in 2019. After considering a country project for several years, Moten has finally released I’ve Got You Covered, a welcome addition to the very limited number of albums by Black female artists in country music.

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Unique Quartette – Celebrated, 1895-1896

 

Title: Celebrated, 1895-1896 
Artist: Unique Quartette 
Label: Archeophone 
Formats: 10-in. Vinyl EP, Digital 
Release date: May 29, 2020 

 

The Unique Quartette, a pioneering African American vocal group founded and led by Joseph M. Moore, holds the distinction of being the first black quartet to record commercially. According to newspaper accounts, the group was actively performing in the Northeast by the mid-1880s and remained quite popular until disbanding around 1899. The quartet made its first recordings in December 1890 for the New York Phonograph Company, intended for playback on coin-slot phonograph machines. Two of their early wax cylinder recordings were issued in 2005 on Archeophone Records’ GRAMMY-winning two-disc compilation, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1891–1922, which bears the title of the book by Tim Brooks. In his chapter devoted to the Unique Quartette, Brooks’ concluded: “Were it not for the few, fragile brown wax cylinders that have survived from the early and mid-1890s, we would know little of a style of black quartet singing that was polished, engaging, and highly popular in its day.”1  Archeophone’s new release, Celebrated, 1895-1896offers the opportunity to hear six exceedingly rare and expertly restored cylinders by the Unique Quartette, all but one revealed for the first time in nearly 125 years. 

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Goldman Thibodeaux and the Lawtell Playboys – La Danse à St. Ann’s

 

Title: La Danse à St. Ann’s 
Artist: Goldman Thibodeaux and the Lawtell Playboys 
Label: Nouveau Electric 
Formats: CD, Digital 
Release date: May 29, 2020 

 

Living legend Goldman Thibodeaux, a mainstay at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for over 20 years, is one of the last musicians performing in the traditional French Creole country style known as “La La.” Now 87-years-old, Thibodeaux’s mixed Cajun-Creole roots reach back to early 20th century Louisiana, when as a young boy he saw the great Amédé Ardoin (1898–1942) perform at a local house party. One of the most revered Creole musicians in Louisiana and an early recording artist, Ardoin’s Afro-Creole accordion style paved the way for zydeco music back in 1920s and inspired Thibodeaux to take up the accordion. By 1966, he was playing with the Lawtell Playboys, a group originally founded in 1946 by Bébé and Eraste Carriere (aka Les Frères Carrière) and kept alive by several generations of family members. Now the leader of the group, Goldman Thibodeaux and the Lawtell Playboys present their latest album, La Danse à St. Ann’s

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Reverend Shawn Amos & The Brotherhood – Blue Sky

 

Title: Blue Sky 
Artist: Reverend Shawn Amos & The Brotherhood 
Label: Put Together Music 
Formats: CD, LP, MP3 
Release date: April 17, 2020 

 

Self-proclaimed blues preacher Shawn Amos returns to his Americana, singer-songwriter roots on his latest album, Blue Sky.  Since his 2018 release, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down, Amos shifted his home base to Texas and has been touring nonstop with a faithful band of compatriots. Designated The Brotherhood, this group includes drummer Brady Blade (Dave Matthews, Indigo Girls), bassist Christopher “CT” Thomas (Norah Jones, Macy Gray), and Amos’s longtime guitarist Chris “Doctor” Roberts. Collaborating with additional friends and family, Rev and The Brotherhood traverse spiritual and emotional territory littered with heartbreak, displacement and redemption.

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Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead – Legacy Holder

 

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.  

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Alex Dixon – The Real McCoy

 

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. 

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Various Artists – At the Minstrel Show: Minstrel Routines from the Studio, 1894-1926

 

Title: At the Minstrel Show: Minstrel Routines from the Studio, 1894-1926 
Artist: Various 
Label: Archeophone 
Formats: CD, Digital 
Release date: March 13, 2020 

 

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 Showfeatures 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 ShowBefore 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. 

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Dom Flemons – Prospect Hill: The American Songster Omnibus

 

Title: Prospect Hill: The American Songster Omnibus 
Artist: Dom Flemons 
Label: Omnivore 
Format: 2-CD set, Digital 
Release date: February 28, 2020 

 

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 Over originally released on vinyl as a 2015 Record Store Day premiumand 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.   

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Nduduzo Makhathini – Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds

 

Title:  Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds 
Artist: Nduduzo Makhathini 
Label: Blue Note 
Formats: CD, Digital 
Release date: April 3, 2020 

 

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. 

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Chicago Yestet – Not There Yet

 

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.  

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