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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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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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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Duo Dolce – Summerland: Music for Cello and Piano by Composers of African Descent

 

Title: Summerland: Music for Cello and Piano by Composers of African Descent
Artist: Duo Dolce
Label: MSR Classics
Formats: CD, Streaming
Release date: January 30, 2020

 

Duo Dolce, featuring cellist Kristen Yeon-Ji Yun and pianist Phoenix Park-Kim, has assembled a satisfying collection of pieces by composers of African descent on their recent release, Summerland. This album is a follow up to Deep River: Music for Violin and Piano by Composers of African Descent, released by Park-Kim and violinist Merwin Siu in 2016. Most of the pieces chosen for Summerland reflect the lyrical side of classical music, with winding, twisting harmonies and long, sustained melodies.

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Michael R. Jackson – A Strange Loop (Original Cast Recording)

 

Title: A Strange Loop (Original Cast Recording) 
Artist: Michael R. Jackson (composer/lyricist) 
Label: Yellow Sound 
Formats: CD, Digital 
Release date: September 27, 2019 

 

Last month, Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop was honored with the tenth Pulitzer Prize for Drama ever awarded to a musical. Described as a meditation on universal human fears and insecurities, A Strange Loop is clearly not your average musical. Based on cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstaedter’s philosophical idea of “the self as merely a collection of meaningless symbols mirroring back on their own essences in repetition until death” (from the liner notes), the musical is a self-referential exploration of Jackson’s experiences in New York striving to become a respected musical theater writer, struggling with his inner contradictions and what it means to be a fat, black, queer writer.  

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Jake Blount – Spider Tales

 

Title: Spider Tales 
Artist: Jake Blount 
Label: Free Dirt   
Formats: CD, LP, Digital 
Release date: May 29, 2020 

 

Jake Blount has teamed up with a group of talented, young, and mostly queer folk musicians to assemble a thoroughly moving and often harrowing collection of songs by Black and indigenous folk musicians. Blount is a rising star in the folk scene, becoming the first Black person to make the finals at the prestigious Appalachian String Band Music Festival (better known as Clifftop), and the first to win in the traditional band category. Three years later, he placed first in the banjo contest, playing three tunes from Black banjoists including Dink Robert’s “Roustabout,” which appears on Spider Tales, Blount’s first full solo album.  

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Ensemble Arcadiana – Eleanor Alberga, String Quartets 1, 2 & 3

 

Title: Eleanor Alberga: String Quartets 1, 2 & 3
Artist: Ensemble Arcadiana
Label: Navona
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 14, 2019

 

Jamaican-born British composer Eleanor Alberga has received more attention in the past few years since her piece, Arise, Athena!, opened the final concert of the BBC Proms in 2015. This recording of her string quartets highlights some earlier compositions, in which her modernist sensibilities are at the fore. Alberga utilizes many compositional tools in her vast toolbox to bring drama to three very different works, all composed within an eight-year period from 1993-2001. Working in a combination of modernist and postmodern idioms, Alberga has not forgotten harmonic tension and release and plenty of repetition; this is not to say that her music is conservative, but that it is refreshingly expressive and has an engaging sense of narrative and rhythmic drive, honed from her training as a composer for modern dance.  Continue reading