Lakecia Benjamin – Pursuance: The Coltranes

 

Title: Pursuance: The Coltranes
Artist: Lakecia Benjamin
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: March 27, 2020

 

Virtuosic 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.

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Kandace Springs – The Women Who Raised Me

 

Title: The Women Who Raised Me
Artist: Kandace Springs
Label: Blue Note Records
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: March 27, 2020

 

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.

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Syleena Johnson – Woman

 

Title: Woman
Artist: Syleena Johnson
Label: eOne Music
Formats: Digital
Release Date: January 31, 2020

 

Singer-songwriter Syleena Johnson’s new album, Woman, is a timely, soulful ode to womanhood as well as a call to action wrapped in deep reflection. Opening with “Woman (intro),” Johnson positions this brief spoken introduction as a centering track that grounds listeners in the journey of empowerment they are about to embark on. Additionally, she guides us through each track with lyrics that illuminate the common threads of strength, resilience, and healing that tie women together.

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Lulu Fall – Between Two Worlds

 

Title: Between Two Worlds
Artist: Lulu Fall
Label: Ropeadope
Format: CD, Digital
Release Date: November 8, 2019

 

Lulu Fall isn’t your typical jazz vocalist – she’s a formally trained singer with a hand in musical theatre productions as well as more traditional musical projects. Her identity as the child of Sengalese and Cameroonian parents – and the resulting inner turmoil of not being American enough for her American peers and not African enough for her African family – is evident in her newest album, Between Two Worlds.

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Judith Olson – Urban Counterpoint: The Piano Music of Ed Bland


Title: Urban Counterpoint: The Piano Music of Ed Bland
Artist: Judith Olson
Label: Cambria
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 7, 2020

 

Urban Counterpoint: The Piano Music of Ed Bland is the second release of the music of the late Chicago composer Ed Bland by Cambria Master Recordings. Bland’s instrumental compositions were the focus of an earlier album, Urban Classical: The Music of Ed Bland (1994). However, the focus of Urban Counterpoint is on Bland’s piano works. Performed and interpreted by pianist Judith Olson, the album explores his genre-blending compositions which incorporate “a broad range of textures and diverse rhythms” from the early 20th-century Western European music canon as well as jazz, gospel, and West African rhythms.

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La Tanya Hall – Say Yes



Title: Say Yes
Artist: La Tanya Hall
Label: Blue Canoe
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: November 8, 2019

 

Versatile jazz vocalist La Tanya Hall began her career touring with the great Harry Belafonte and has since collaborated with other black music icons including Diana Ross, Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, and Patti Labelle. Hall is perhaps best known, however, for her work with Bobby McFerrin. In addition to guest appearances on McFerrin’s recent albums, Hall has been a member of his 12-voice ensemble Voicestra since 2002 where she became adept at performing concerts where “everything is totally improvised.” These skills are clearly displayed on Hall’s latest project, Say Yes, backed by Andy Milne (piano) & Unison Trio (with bassist John Herbert and drummer Clarence Penn).

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Moonlight Benjamin – Simido

 

Title: Simido 
Artist: Moonlight Benjamin
Label: Ma Casa
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 21, 2020

 

Haiti’s high priestess of voodoo rock and roll, Moonlight Benjamin, returns with her latest release, Simido. As with her previous breakout album, Siltane, the lead vocalist performs primarily in her native Creole language, with lyrics that always delve deep into the soul of Haitian culture. Now based in France, Benjamin strives to honor her roots and harness the spiritual power of her homeland. At the same time, she expresses concern that as a woman, she must constantly affirm her existence and command respect. As she states, “It is, unfortunately, an eternal battle for us who are women.”

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Isaac Carree – No Risk, No Reward

 

Title: No Risk, No Reward
Artist: Isaac Carree
Label: Shanachie Ent.
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 20, 2020

 

After a seven year hiatus, Isaac Carree has finally released a new solo project, No Risk, No Reward. According to Carree, the title of the album echoes his mantra: “If you never take risk, you will never get the ultimate reward.” So far Carree’s “no risk, no reward” behavior has landed him at #1 on Gospel Billboard and Gospel Radio charts multiple times, and his new release is likely to follow this path to the top of the charts.

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Reverend John Lee Hooker Jr. – Testify

Title: Testify
Artist: Reverend John Lee Hooker Jr.
Label: Steppin’ Stone
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 14, 2020

John Lee Hooker Jr. grew up in Detroit, Michigan as the son of one of the greatest blues music icons in the world, the late and the great John Lee Hooker (1917-2001). As a bluesman, Rev. Hooker traveled the world performing with musical artists such as B.B. King, Snoop Dogg, Taj Mahal, Lenny Kravitz, Z.Z. Top, Buddy Guy and the late Etta James. After a long and successful career in secular music, Hooker became an ordained minister and is now singing a different tune—the tune of gospel—wrapped in his signature soulful blues sound.

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Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool”


Title: Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool”
Artist: Miles Davis
Label: Columbia/Legacy
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 21, 2020

 

Documentarian Stanley Nelson re-introduces us to the late and great jazz trumpeter extraordinaire Miles Davis on the album Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool,” a Film by Stanley Nelson. Davis’ extensive music career spanned over forty years, culminating in eight Grammy Awards, over thirty Grammy nominations, over fifty albums, plus collaborations with major jazz luminaries such as Billy Eckstine, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter, among many others. Using spoken and musical selections from the Grammy-nominated soundtrack from his documentary, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, Nelson provides a concise musical account of Davis’ evolution. Listeners have an opportunity to reflect on his seminal recordings, beginning in the late 1940s all the way to his mid-1980s comeback with Tutu (1986), while soundbites interspersed between tracks by music icons such as Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath, Gil Evans, Carlos Santana, and Marcus Miller further illuminate Davis’ career.

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Sérgio Mendes – In the Key of Joy

 

Title: In the Key of Joy
Artist: Sérgio Mendes
Label: Concord
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 21, 2020

 

Several names come to mind when discussing the early progenitors of bossa nova and Latin-pop music, but one individual stands out for his musical contributions. That individual is none other than composer, arranger, vocalist, and pianist extraordinaire Sérgio Mendes. Known for his “infectious spirit of joy” and his style that blends together “classic Brazilian, jazz, and pop sounds,” Mendes’ albums and collaborations have always been at the cutting-edge of Latin music.

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Paul Moravec’s Sanctuary Road: An Oratorio Based on the Writings of William Still

 

Title: Sanctuary Road
Artist: Oratorio Society of New York; Kent Tritle, cond.
Label: Naxos American Classics series (8.559884)
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 10, 2020

 

Paul Moravec’s 2017 oratorio, Sanctuary Road, is a modern take on the classical oratorio form, portraying stories from the Underground Railroad rather than Biblical content. The libretto by Mark Campbell interprets slave narratives collected and published in 1872 in The Underground Railroad by William Still (1821–1902) of Philadelphia, a “conductor” who aided many fugitive slaves including his older brother. Some of the song texts are literal, as when Still interviews an escapee he has sheltered, but at other times more poetic, consisting of single words or phrases joined together to portray the collective experience of the enslaved who escaped to freedom. The oratorio’s title, however, was inspired by the modern concept of “Sanctuary City,” bringing contemporary resonance to the composition. The sixteen movement work for five soloists, chorus and orchestra was commissioned by Jody Spellun, a member of the Oratorio Society of New York, and this live recording captures the world premiere performance at Carnegie Hall by the OSNY Chorus and Orchestra under the baton of Kent Tritle.

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Christian McBride – The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons

 

Title: The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons
Artist: Christian McBride
Label: Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: February 7, 2020

 

Christian McBride’s The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons is a tribute to four renowned African Americans: Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. According to McBride, this album is meant as “a clear-eyed yet optimistic look at where our society has come from and where it is hopefully headed.” The four narrators who portray these icons include poet and author Sonia Sanchez as Rosa Parks, actor Wendell Pierce as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., actor Vondie Curtis-Hall as Malcolm X, and actor Dion Graham as Muhammad Ali. They are supported by a phenomenal cast of vocalists and instrumentalists such as Alicia Olatuja (vocals), Steve Wilson (saxophone), Freddie Hendricks (trumpet), Terreon Gully (drums), among many others. These artists coalesce into a spectacular fusion of jazz, gospel, funk, and Afro-Cuban rhythms.

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Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom

 

Title: Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom   
Artist: Various
Label: Albany
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: January 10, 2020

 

The songs and spoken excerpts that comprise Bound for the Promised Land: Songs and Words of Equality and Freedom were performed live during the Atlanta Music Festival in 2016 at Ebenezer Baptist Church and Glenn Memorial Auditorium at Emory University. The Atlanta Music Festival was first created in 1910 after the Atlanta Race Riots and revived in 2001 by Pastor Dwight Andrews. The purpose of the festival at its inception was to introduce the world to renowned African American concert musicians. The music featured on Bound for the Promised Land does not disappoint and holds true to the original mission of the festival, with works by Dorothy Rudd Moore, T. J. Anderson, Duke Ellington, John Carter and Adolphus Hailstork. Guest artists include the late soprano Jessye Norman, who performs on four songs, tenor Timothy B. Miller, and narrators Taylor Branch and Rev. Robert M. Franklin, Jr.

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Ben Williams – I AM A MAN

 

Title: I AM A MAN
Artist: Ben Williams
Label: Rainbow Blonde
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 7, 2020

 

Acclaimed Grammy-winning bassist, composer and bandleader Ben Williams’ newest album, I AM A MAN, is a sociopolitically charged project that strives to “show the world the complexity of our humanity as Black American men.” With help from producer and sound designer Brian Bender, the album boasts a humid and hazy sound that recalls neo-soul albums released by The Roots, Erykah Badu, Bilal, and D’Angelo. Williams sings lead on the majority of songs, in addition to playing the electric and acoustic bass. Joining him is an amazing lineup comprised of keyboardist Kris Bowers, guitarist David Rosenthal, tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Marcus Strickland, percussionist Bendji Allonce, trumpeter Kenyon Harrold, flutist Anne Drummond, and drummers Jamire Williams and Justin Brown.

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Will Boyd – Freedom, Soul, Jazz

 

Title: Freedom, Soul, Jazz
Artist: Will Boyd
Label: Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: July 12, 2019

 

Saxophonist, composer and band leader Will Boyd pays tribute to spirituals, hymns, and freedom songs on his album, Freedom, Soul, Jazz. The project was released to coincide with Juneteenth celebrations, which are holidays observed among Black communities as a de facto independence day commemorating the abolition of slavery and a first step toward inclusion in the greater American dream. Regarding his motivation for the project, Boyd explained, “I wanted to do my part to move the movement forward,” referring to the advancement of Black people in a post slavery society.

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Chineke! Orchestra & Chorus – Spark Catchers

 

Title: Spark Catchers
Artist: Chineke! Orchestra & Chorus
Label: NMC
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 17, 2020

 

Royal Academy of Music professor and double bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku has a laudable mission: championing change and celebrating diversity in classical music. Through her Chineke! Foundation, Nwanoku nurtures new generations of talent by commissioning works and supporting music education programs including a youth orchestra. Her flagship group, the Chineke! Orchestra, was founded in 2015 and is comprised of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) classical musicians working in the UK and Europe. The orchestra recently won the inaugural Royal Philharmonic Society Gamechanger Award for filling the stage with BME artists, drawing a far more diverse audience to concert halls, and “restoring BME composers past and present to their rightful place amongst those we regularly revere.” These achievements are showcased on the Chineke! Orchestra’s latest album, Spark Catchers. Featuring works by six of the UK’s leading BME composers, the performances (except where otherwise noted) are led by African American conductor Anthony Parnther, music director of the Southeast Symphony in Los Angeles and the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra.

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Sheku Kanneh-Mason – Elgar

 

Title: Elgar
Artist: Sheku Kanneh-Mason, London Symphony Orchestra
Label: Decca Classics
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: January 10, 2020

 

London-born cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason rose to prominence in the UK after winning the BBC Young Musician Award in 2016 and received international attention for his performance at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018. A member of the remarkably talented Kanneh-Mason family, 20-year-old Sheku has often performed with his six brothers and sisters, all classically trained musicians between the ages of 10-23. His debut album, Inspiration, was released in 2016 on the prestigious Decca Classics label (his sister, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, is also signed to Decca). On his sophomore album, Elgar, Sheku performs Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, plus several short chamber pieces by Elgar and other composers. As a testament to the number of people inspired by the young musician, Elgar is already a best seller, making Kanneh-Mason the first classical musician to break into the Top 10 of the UK album charts in over 30 years, a position currently shared with grime star Stormzy.

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Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – The Music of Wayne Shorter

 

Title: The Music of Wayne Shorter
Artists: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Wayne Shorter
Label: Blue Engine
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: January 31, 2020

 

Wayne Shorter, one of the most prominent saxophonists and musical figures of our time, hardly needs an introduction. He is an 11-time Grammy Award winner, Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and holds an extensive discography which includes over twenty albums as a bandleader.  For this special album, Shorter teams up with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis to present The Music of Wayne Shorter.

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