String Noise – Alien Stories

 

Title: Alien Stories
Artist: String Noise
Label: Infrequent Seams (Dist. Bandcamp)
Formats: CD, Cassette, Digital
Release date: April 2, 2021

 

The New York-based classical avant-punk duo String Noise, featuring violinists Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris, is celebrated for their wide-ranging performances of contemporary music. Since the duo’s founding in 2011, they have added more than 50 new works to their repertoire. Their latest release, Alien Stories, was influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement, which also increased attention on issues of racial equality with the musical realm. In support of Black artists, the duo decided to co-commission, with Carnegie Hill Concerts, new works from five young Black composer-performers based in New York City. These five works are featured on Alien Stories.

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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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Imani Winds – Bruits

 

Title: Bruits
Artist: Imani Winds
Label: Bright Shiny Things
Format: CD, Digital
Release Date: February 5, 2021

 

The acclaimed Grammy®-nominated woodwind quintet Imani Winds have released their latest studio album, Bruits. Composed of the talented artists Brandon Patrick George (flute), Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe), Mark Dover (clarinet), Jeff Scott (French horn), and Monica Ellis (bassoon), Imani Winds delivers a provocative commentary on the issues that have, and continue to, plague our country. Elucidated by the metaphorical title, “Bruits,” a medical term for an abnormal sound generated by blood flow through an obstructed artery, this album utilizes three inspiring works to describe our ongoing social and political climate, reflecting on the turmoil and strife within our country in an effort to bring about beneficial change before the damage becomes irreparable. Additional featured performers on the album include Grammy® award-winning pianist Cory Smythe, Metropolitan Opera National Council & Operalia award-winning soprano Janai Brugger, and scholar and narrator John Whittington Franklin.

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Will Liverman – Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers

 

Title: Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers
Artist: Will Liverman
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 12, 2021

 

From the 2020 recipient of the Marian Anderson Vocal Award comes the album Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers. Baritone Will Liverman and pianist Paul Sánchez perform art songs by Black composers, including the world-premier recording of Two Black Churches by Shawn E. Okpebholo.

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Janinah Burnett – Love the Color of Your Butterfly

Title: Love the Color of Your Butterfly
Artist: Janinah Burnett
Label: Clazz
Formast: CD, Digital
Release Date: February 12, 2020

World-renowned soprano Janinah Burnett, known for her performances on Broadway as well as the Metropolitan Opera, is releasing her debut studio album, Love the Color of Your Butterfly. Classical operatic themes combine with a multitude of styles, such as jazz, blues, and spirituals, coming together to showcase both Burnett’s incredible versatility as well as the influences that shaped her into the talented and expressive musician she is today: “When the time came for me to make a body of work that represented my deepest artistic desires, I took an inventory of my musical influences and creations and came up with a concept that blended my past with my present.”

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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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New Biography of Florence B. Price by Rae Linda Brown

Title: The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price
Author: Rae Linda Brown
Publisher: University of Illinois Press (Music in American Life series)
Formats: Book (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Release date: June 22, 2020

 

The Heart of a Woman is the first full-length biography on Florence B. Price, the renowned African American composer. Based on Dr. Rae Linda Brown’s 1987 Ph.D. dissertation on Price, the author sadly did not live to see her expanded book published before succumbing to cancer in 2017.

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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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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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Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris – EarthSeed

 

Title: EarthSeed
Artist: Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris
Label: FPE
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: June 26, 2020

 

They say that great minds think alike, and that seems to be the case with the new collaborative album between renowned composers Nicole Mitchell and Lisa E. Harris. The pair met at the New Quorum Composers’ Residency in New Orleans and were drawn together by a shared interest in celebrated author Octavia E. Butler, one of the best known African American writers in science fiction. Together, the two musicians took inspiration from Butler’s legacy of Afrofuturistic novels to create EarthSeed.

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Summer 2020 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during June, July and August 2020 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

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May 2020 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during May 2020 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.  

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Lara Downes & Friends – Some of These Days

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.  

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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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