Title: Road Runner
Artist: Ayanna Witter-Johnson
Label: Hill and Gully Records
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 26, 2019
A singer, songwriter, and cellist in a class all her own, Ayanna Witter-Johnson has taken a classic R&B sound and turned it on its head. Born in the UK, Ayanna has been honing her craft for quite some time now, earning music degrees from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Manhattan School of Music. She has worked as a composer and arranger with both Hugh Masekela and the London Symphony Orchestra as well as the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Ayanna has released several EPs—Truthfully Still (2011), Black Panther (2015) and Ella, Reuben & Ay (2018)—and now offers her full-length debut album Road Runner.Continue reading →
Title: A Little Love
Artist: Quiana Lynell
Label: Concord Jazz
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 5, 2019
Born and raised in Tyler, Texas, Quiana Lynell, like so many great singers before her, first began to sing in the church, then later attended Louisiana State University to study classical voice. She quickly found that the classical world didn’t necessarily suit her, and when a friend allowed Lynell to sit in with a blues band, she “learned that singers can have pretty voices and be entertainers.” Since then, Lynell has gone on to perform with such acclaimed artists as Terrence Blanchard, Herbie Hancock, Bilal, Ledisi, and many more. In 2017 she really made her name in jazz by winning the famed Sarah Vaughn International Vocal Competition. Now, Lynell is presenting her debut album. Continue reading →
Title: Alone Together
Artist: Catherine Russell
Label: Dot Time Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 1, 2019
Born and raised in New York City, Catherine Russell comes from an impressive musical lineage. Her father, Louis Russell, worked as band member and music director for the great Louis Armstrong, and her mother, Carline Ray, was a pioneering bassist/guitarist/vocalist and holder of advanced degrees from Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music. With a family like that there is no surprise that Catherine Russell is able to perform with such a level of mastery and expertise. Now, with her seventh studio album, Alone Together, Russell reinvigorates the classic feeling of a vocal jazz album.Continue reading →
Title: Songs of Freedom
Artist: Ulysses Owens Jr.
Label: Resilience Music Alliance
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 15th 2019
Ulysses Owens is one of the most sought after jazz drummers around today, having worked alongside living legends such as Wynton Marsalis, Maceo Parker, Kurt Elling and Christian McBride, with whom he won his first Grammy Award. On top of his outstanding work as a side man, Owens is also making great strides as a band leader, with two studio albums, as well as positive influences in the jazz community through his work as an educator. Now, with the release of his third album, Songs of Freedom, Owens provides his commentary on the American political climate through the songbooks of three female icons of the turbulent 1960s: Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, and Joni Mitchell.Continue reading →
Artist: Vivian Sessoms
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: November 2, 2018
It’s difficult to know exactly where to start when talking about an artist with a resume as expansive and impressive as vocalist Vivian Sessoms. She has earned respect and acclaim throughout the music industry, working with iconic artists such as Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, and Chaka Khan, as well as Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakomoto. Now, with the help of producer Chris Parks, Sessoms presents her first full-length album in over ten years with LIFE.Continue reading →
Title: Don’t Tread On We
Artist: The 1865
Label: Mass Appeal
Formats: Vinyl, Digital
Release Date: January 25, 2019
On April 9th, 1865 the United States Civil War came to an end. Now, over 150 years later, these events have inspired an all-black punk rock band known as The 1865. Describing themselves as “Bad Brains meets Foo Fighters in a black woman’s hair salon for a cup of tea,” the Brooklyn-based band is in a class all their own. With the release of their debut album, Don’t Tread on We, The 1865 explore life in America following the Civil War—a land living in the shadows of the fallen Confederacy.Continue reading →
Christmas just isn’t Christmas without good music to really get you in the spirit! We’re featuring brief reviews of our favorite new holiday releases from PJ Morton, John Legend, Cece Winans, Aloe Blacc, Motown Gospel, and After 7. Our specially curated Black Grooves Christmas Spotify playlist features our favorite songs from these artists and more, providing the perfect soundtrack as you get together with friends and family to celebrate the holidays.Continue reading →
Title: Lean On Me
Artist: José James
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 28, 2018
Minnesota-born jazz singer José James is known for combining aspects of jazz, soul, and hip hop to create his own unique style, which has often been described as a modern Gil Scott-Heron. Over the course of his career, James has released six full-length albums that range in style from typical jazz standards to all original works. Now, with his latest album Lean On Me, James pays homage to one of the most respected artists ever, Bill Withers.Continue reading →
Maya Angelou is revered as one of the greatest and most influential writers in America. Her ability to spin tapestries depicting life in this country, as both an African American woman and as a person fighting for their right to live free, is evident in her best known works such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her books and poetry profoundly shaped American literature as we know it today. When Angelou died on May 28, 2014, President Barack Obama described her as “one of the brightest lights of our time.” Now, with Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs and Songs Without Words, Broadway star Capathia Jenkins and composer Louis Rosen have come together to bring the words of Maya Angelou back to life through music.Continue reading →
Title: The Second Time Around
Artist: Judith Lorick
Label: JLJ International
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 28, 2018
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Judith Lorick has lead a fascinating life. Growing up in a musical home she was handed down a deep love for jazz, fondly remembering her mother regularly playing records from artists like Billy Eckstein, Ella FitzGerald, Nancy Wilson, and so many more. When she initially set out to pursue a career in jazz, Lorick found herself deeply discouraged after a bad audition, and quit performing for 13 years. She eventually moved to Southern California after receiving a major promotion that would make her the VP at a major company, but life in the corporate world failed to satisfy. Realizing that making music was her true passion, she chose to return to music full time. Now, with The Second Time Around, Lorick seeks to tell a story of love lost and then found through ten of her favorite ballads. Continue reading →
Title: What Heat
Label: Real World
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 5, 2018
In the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, Bokanté means “exchange.” I can think of no better name for a band with such a diverse sound and collection of musicians since every song they record features something new and breathtaking. This is especially true in their collaboration with the Metropole Orkest for their sophomore album, What Heat. Continue reading →
Where does one begin when reviewing a talent as astonishing as Cecil McLorin Salvant? Through years of hard work and training, McLorin Salvant has found a way to combine her operatic background with stylistic aspects of legendary singers—from the percussiveness of Ella Fitzgerald, to the creativity of Sarah Vaughn, to the entrancing story telling ability of Billie Holiday and Carmen McCrae. McLorin has crafted a sound all her own, unveiling new aspects of her artistry with every release.Continue reading →
Six legendary men of Take 6 recently released their 11th studio album, Iconic, reminding us exactly why they are not only one of the most influential a cappella or vocal groups, but one of the most influential jazz ensembles of all time.Continue reading →
Although it has been just over 40 years since his death, legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner’s music vibrantly lives on thanks to the record labels who have championed his work. First, Sony Legacy released The Complete Concert By The Sea in 2015 as well asReady Take Onethe following year, both of which received major award consideration. Now the people behind Mack Avenue Records have continued efforts to keep Garner’s memory alive with their new release,
Nightconcert. The title is drawn from Garner’s midnight concert in November 1964 at The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, captured live with an audience of 2000 highly enthusiastic and enraptured people of all ages. This concert recording displays Garner at the height of his career, with eight unique arrangements of classic standards as well as a newly discovered original!
Erroll Garner, was born June 25th, 1923 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He may be best remembered for his composition, “Misty,” which has become a treasured classic for jazz lovers and standard repertoire for every jazz musician to this very day. Beginning his study of the piano at age three, Garner took lessons from a family friend but he was primarily self-taught and remained an “ear-player” his entire life, never learning to read music. By age 11 his career was well on its way as he played piano on Allegheny riverboats and at 14 he began playing with well-known saxophonist Leroy Brown. Garner went on to enjoy a successful career working with other greats like bassist Slam Stewart and bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker on the “Cool Blues” sessions. He also made regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Nightconcert is an instant classic piano trio album as Garner displays his incomparable style and virtuosity. Opening with the Rogers and Hart classic “Where or When,” Garner chooses to begin this and many other songs with elaborate piano introductions, often with the intent of throwing off the audience so they don’t know what song is coming. He seems to have a tendency to play a hemiola in these intros by maintaining a triple meter in the left hand while playing in a duple meter in the right. He makes this especially prevalent later in the album with the song “Night and Day” as he carries this idea from the introduction throughout the rest of the tune. This is indicative of Garner’s overall style—his right hand typically lays back behind the beat as his left hand drives steadily along—often used as a powerful function to begin and end his slick phrases. As the concert continues, Garner jumps between his up-tempo tunes and lush ballads such as “My Funny Valentine” and “Over The Rainbow,” where he enraptures listeners with his thick and unique chord voicing.
Garner’s playing is unlike any others and simply hearing his live performance on Nightconcert is a truly unique experience—from his iconic groans that can be heard on every record, to his astounding skill and mastery over the piano. Great thanks must be extended to those at Mack Avenue Records for releasing yet another historical recording that keeps Garner’s body of work alive for a new generation.
One of the most sought-after songwriters in the business, Priscilla Renea now offers her own solo project, Coloured. Growing up in Vero Beach, Florida, music has always been a mainstay in Renea’s life. As explained in an interview with Rolling Stone, her mother and grandmother loved to sing and her father played the trumpet. After writing her first song at the age of eight, Renea’s mother gave her a note book to write in and eventually she received a guitar from her father and taught herself to play. By the age of 16, Renea became a YouTube sensation, setting her on a path to become one of today’s greatest writers with songs you know and love such as “Timber,” by Kesha and Pit Bull, Charlie Puth’s “River”, and “California King Bed” performed by Rhianna. With Renea’s own album Coloured, we get to truly hear her voice as she tells her own story.
Renea describes her new album as, “a big gumbo of everything that’s happening in my life,” and explains it was created when she spent a few months in Nashville in 2016 with her friend and colleague Brett James. While in Nashville, she attended a performance of the Grand Ole Opry, discovering there were only two photos of black artists on display backstage—Chuck Berry and Darius Rucker. Taking this as a challenge, Renea was inspired to create Coloured, a very unique album with a style all its own she calls “country soul,” seamlessly combining a classic Nashville sound with R&B and hip hop in a manner she describes as “unapologetically black.”
Coloured begins with the song, “Family Tree.” Opening up with a guitar progression that is just so stereotypically country it sounds like you could be listening to a Dolly Parton album, Renea enters and quickly shows her versatility as vocalist. Though she maintains a country “twang” throughout, it doesn’t take long for her to knock you back with her robustly gritty voice, showcasing vocal prowess and control reminiscent of powerhouses like Etta James.
Throughout the remainder of the album you can hear other spectacular tracks like, “Gentle Hands,” a fun upbeat song with a driving trap beat, followed by the gorgeous track, “Heavenly,” where Renea plays more to her R&B sensibility. She actually brings these songs together in one storytelling music video:
With songs like “You Shaped Box,” “If I Ever Loved You,” and “Different Color,” Renea incorporates a reggae feel, blurring the line between genres as she tells stories of love, not only love of family or a significant other, but love of oneself.
Having made such a name for herself as a songwriter, Priscilla Renea is clearly just gearing up to shock the world with her own vocal talents, and Coloured is only the beginning.
Born and raised in Hollywood, Florida, Javen P. Campbell is the 12th child in a family of 13. His career in the music industry began in 1999 after he was signed with Crowne Records. Since then, Javen has made a name for himself in many facets of the Christian music and entertainment industry—as a vocalist, songwriter, and actor. He is also a well-known television personality, hosting Now Living on the Christian network TBN and The Gospel MusicExperience alongside Tye Tribbet. Recently Javen released his 6th album, Grace, with contributions from current gospel icons like Tye Tribbet, Tim Bowman Jr., and Johnny Rez.
Featuring eight songs written by Javen over the years, as well as an arrangement of the classic hymn “Amazing Grace,” Grace is beautifully produced from start to finish. The album combines harmonic, instrumental, and rhythmic aspects of Christian pop and classic gospel as well as new production techniques and rhythms from music of the African diaspora such as dancehall and hip hop.
Javen opens the album explaining his understanding of the word grace, and how the term speaks to his faith. Stating he has come to understand grace as “God’s love, power, and strength,” he explains one must trust in these things to truly have access to God’s power and favor: “Grace is not something you do/but something you receive.” Immediately following this powerful introduction is the gorgeous title track duet, “Grace”, featuring Margaret Bell. This compelling song showcases a classic modern gospel sound accompanied by magnificent backing vocals as the absolutely awe-inspiring voice of Margaret Bell takes total command of the song. An acoustic version of this song in Spanish by artist Johnny Rez, closes the album, as well, providing an artful compliment to not only Bell but the entire collection of worship tunes.
Javen is a spectacular artist and vocalist with such a warm and smooth tone remnant of artists like Smokie Norful and Sam Cooke, but from time to time he is a slightly outshined, vocally, by the artists he features. This is especially apparent in his duets, such as “Grace” with Margaret Bell, and “You Lift Me Up” with Christina Bell. However, this takes nothing away from the album—if anything it shines a light on the brilliance of Javen as a songwriter. Another stand-out track is the song “Fresh Oil,” originally released on Javen’s 2013 album, Worship In the Now, and re-recorded as a duet with Na’sha Watkins for Grace. “Fresh Oil” is an absolutely stunning song just perfect for the smooth stylings and timbre of both Javen and Watkins as they offer their prayer lyrics: “Fresh Oil from Heaven cleanse my heart/Holy Spirit I call, from you I don’t want to part”. This song is extremely soothing while maintaining the capacity to bring you to tears.
Grace is a wonderful and eclectic album with a perfect marriage of songs and artists. It is an offering that will touch and uplift your soul, leaving you feeling renewed and blessed.
In 2014 a video went viral of a young man singing the modern hymn, “I Won’t Complain,” in his high school cafeteria. That young man was Summerville, South Carolina native Kelontae Gavin. Within two years he was signed to Tyscot Records and his first original single, “Higher,” topped at #30 on the gospel charts. Now the 19-year-old Kelontae Gavin has released his debut album, The Higher Experience.
Recorded live at Fresh Start Church in Atlanta, The Higher Experience opens with the choir singing a gorgeous a capella rendition of the Donnie McClurkin song, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” just one of many beautiful and complex arrangements on this album written by Tyscot producer Marquis Boone. As the album proceeds we are graced with other gorgeous tracks such as “There’s No One Like You” and the title track, “No Ordinary Worship,” which just rose to #16 on the Billboard Gospel Charts.
Of particular note about the production of this song, as well as others on the album, is the precision and quality of the backing vocals. For a live recorded gospel album this actually makes them feel slightly over-produced. This is a very small critique but it stands out because of the passion and raw emotion behind Gavin’s delivery. With the background vocals so clean, Gavin’s passion feels somewhat unsupported.
There are many aspects of Gavin’s performance that stand out. Despite his age, he is extremely adept at his vocal style, song delivery and aptitude as well as his ability to minister. These talents are on display throughout the songs, as well as in breaks between songs such as “Ministry Moment,” where Gavin delivers messages about trusting in God with the execution and confidence of a pastor over twice his age.
Gavin has an electrifying old school sound, reminiscent of the smooth tenor of artists like Sam Cooke, but also with the gritty roar of Clarence Fountain that most would not expect from an artist this young. When hearing Gavin’s dynamic vocal ability and just the overall power and emotion behind his voice, no one could ever guess that he’s still a teenager. The Higher Experience is phenomenal and great kick off to what will hopefully turn into a very lucrative career for Kelontae Gavin.
Raised in Houston, Texas, drummer Reggie Quinerly attended Houston’s High School of the Performing and Visual Art. He’s just one of the many successful musicians who graduated from this school, including renowned jazz artists like Eric Harland, Chris Dave, and Robert Glasper. Quinerly continues to grow and evolve as an artist, as demonstrated by his 2012 debut album, Music Inspired by Freedmantown, and his second release, Invictus, in 2015. On both albums, Quinerly featured vocalists on at least one or two tracks, which is somewhat common for jazz instrumentalists.
For his third album, Words To Love, Quinerly composed music and lyrics for each track, creating an album entirely of songs. Enlisting up and coming male and female jazz vocalists to help him get his message across, Quinerly showcases the talents of Chicago-born Milton Suggs and Brooklyn’s own Melanie Charles. The two vocalists trade off song for song, telling a story of the many facets of love. They are backed by a renowned rhythm section including Orrin Evans on piano, Ben Wolfe on bass, and of course, Quinerly on drums. Also, four tracks on the album feature the well-known alto saxophone player, Jaleel Shaw.
It’s clear when you listen to Quinerly that he’s a straight ahead jazzer. The album includes a very nice mixture of modern jazz song forms and melodies with an obvious nod to older styles like hard bop, which can be found in Quinerly’s harmonic choices as well as the rhythmic feels he chooses to employ. Also, Quinerly’s education and influence from great jazz drummers, like Max Roach and Tony Williams, can be clearly heard. This is especially apparent in certain songs on the album like “Love’s Ferris Wheel,” sung by Charles, which is meant to be a nod to songwriters like Cole Porter or Rogers & Hart, even including a rubato verse prior to the 32-bar chorus. Quinerly lays down a great drum solo on this tune, but for an album lead by a drummer it would’ve been nice to include more opportunities for him to show off. Also, at times Words to Love can feel a little stagnant, since almost every tune is either slow to mid-tempo. A couple of faster tunes or just another high energy drum solo could’ve helped to give the album some shape.
Quinerly was inspired to create Words to Love because of his increased interest in jazz singers, specifically Lou Rawls. After hearing Rawls’ 1966 recording of “A Shadow of Your Smile,” he became enamored with jazz vocals, adding singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Betty Carter to his playlist.
Quinerly also wanted to explore love and all of its varieties and chose to open the album with his tune “Until I Met You,” pertaining to the search for love and falling in love. Shortly after is “Still Frames,” which speaks about the love of memories and times past. Then, of course, there is the gorgeous title track, “Words to Love,” which is easily the most moving song on the album. Charles’ light yet present vocals float over the combo, leading into a wonderful alto saxophone solo by Jaleel Shaw, before they come together, intertwine and share the space of the song as they enter into the final verse.
Words to Love has a very classic hard bop feel created by Quinerly’s straight ahead approach to composition. Though perhaps not as adventurous as his previous albums, Words To Love is an amazing album that keeps the traditions of jazz alive.
Growing up in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, Lakecia Benjamin moved away from home at the young age of 14 to attend La Guardia High School of Music & Art, where she got her start playing jazz. Since then, Benjamin has become one of the most sought after saxophonists in the music industry, playing with jazz giants like Clark Terry and Reggie Workman as well as arranging and leading the horn sections of superstars like Macy Gray, Alicia Keys, and even Stevie Wonder. Now, as she releases her third album, Rise Up featuring her group Soul Squad, Benjamin reminds us once again of her prowess as a songwriter and band leader.
Benjamin uses this album to send a message about moving through life’s many challenges, opening with the funky title track “March On,” which begins with a quote from Les Brown: “You can either live your dreams or live your fears.” This song features a fun and motivational rap from Benjamin as well as a powerful vocal from jazz singer China Moses. “March On” speaks towards the idea of moving through the obstacles life puts in your way, with the lyric: “We March On to find victory / We March On to find the peace we seek / We March On to reclaim our being / We March On! We March On! We March On!”
“Take Back” is another truly spectacular track. Though entirely instrumental, this jazz fusion tune is meant to convey a story of taking back control over your life and reclaiming your destiny. With its driving rock groove and catchy and rhythmic horn riff you can’t help but move with the music.
Rise Up includes other phenomenal new original songs from Benjamin, including “Cornbread,” “Survivor” and “On The One.” It’s such a fun album that it’s sure to appeal to a wide range of jazz and soul fans alike.