Hasaan Ibn Ali – Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album

 

Title: Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album
Artist: Hasaan Ibn Ali
Label: Omnivore
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 23, 2021

 

If Bud Powell defined bebop piano, then Hasaan Ibn Ali belongs to a group of pianists, including Thelonious Monk, Elmo Hope, and Herbie Nichols, who devoted themselves to extending the style into new territories. Or at least he should be in that group, and quite possibly would be if Atlantic Records had released this 1965 session as a follow-up to the Max Roach Trio’s Featuring the Legendary Hasaan LP. It’s a shame bordering on tragedy that Hasaan’s second and final commercial recording did not see the light of day until now. Had it been released at the time, it would have fit perfectly alongside the work of the many bop-rooted musicians who were exploring new paths in composition and improvisation during this exciting period of music.

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Marques Carroll – The Ancestors’ Call

 

Title: The Ancestors’ Call
Artist: Marques Carroll
Label: JMarq
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 16, 2021

 

Within the musical canon of the genre traditionally known as “jazz,” Chicago’s legacy as birthplace or training ground for some of the genre’s most innovative and technically adept trumpeters is solidified by musicians such as Ray Nance, Louis Armstrong, Lester Bowie, Marquis Hill, and Corey Wilkes. With his stellar debut quintet album, The Ancestors’ Call, Chicago-based trumpeter and composer, Marques Carroll, rightly adds his name to this list.

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Jon Batiste – We Are

 

Title: We Are
Artist: Jon Batiste
Label: Verve
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: March 19, 2021  

 

Fresh off of winning a Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice Awards for his score to the animated film Soul, pianist/composer Jon Batiste has released a new album with similar sensibilities. We Are is a masterful synthesis of musical styles, most notably those reflecting Batiste’s upbringing in New Orleans amidst a family dynasty of notable jazz, blues, and R&B musicians. Add to this mix Batiste’s classical training at Juilliard and his roots in the church, and you get a musician who is fluent in every major musical genre, all of which are seamlessly integrated in this album.

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Logan Richardson – AfroFuturism

 

Title: AfroFuturism
Artist: Logan Richardson
Label: Whirlwind
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: March 12, 2021

 

Kansas City-born saxophonist Logan Richardson made his debut as a bandleader in 2007 with Cerebral Flow, an album that reflects his time performing with jazz musicians such as Pat Metheny, Joe Chambers, Billy Hart, Butch Morris, Stefon Harris and Jason Moran. Since then, Richardson’s work has become increasingly eclectic, ranging from performances with the urban jazz supergroup NEXT Collective to his 2018 release Blues People, which busted through any boundaries limiting what jazz fusion could aspire to. Now back in Kansas City and sheltering from the pandemic in an apartment once inhabited by Charlie Parker, Richardson imagines an even broader universe of sound on his latest project, AfroFuturism.

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Dr. Lonnie Smith – Breathe

 

Title: Breathe
Artist: Dr. Lonnie Smith
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 26, 2021

 

The reigning master of the Hammond B-3 organ, Dr. Lonnie Smith has ruled the soul jazz scene from his keyboard for over five decades. Still a prolific recording artist, the musical icon has just released Breathe, his third album for Blue Note in the last five years, all produced by the label’s president, Don Was. The majority of the tracks were recorded live at the Jazz Standard in New York City in 2017 during Smith’s 75th birthday celebration, in the seemingly long-ago days when one could hang out at a crowded club on the weekends. Fans weary of social distancing can now vicariously join the celebration through album’s eight tracks.

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Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble – NOW

 

Title: NOW
Artist: Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble
Label: International Anthem
Formats: Digital (CD, LP available July 9, 2021)
Release date: April 9, 2021

 

Following his auspicious 2019 debut, Where Future Unfolds, Chicago-based multi-media artist/activist Damon Locks and his jazz-based Black Monument Ensemble return with their latest release, NOW. Featuring six new tracks, this multi-generational collective of Chicago artists continues their mission of presenting vibrant, uplifting music and dance that draws “from all facets of the diverse wellspring of Black artistic excellence.” The new project is also a response to the group’s previous release: “the future has unfolded and taken a new and dangerous shape… what happens NOW?’” 

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Dan Wilson – Vessels of Wood and Earth

 

Title: Vessels of Wood and Earth
Artist: Dan Wilson
Label: Brother Mister Productions/Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 23, 2021

 

Grammy-nominated guitarist and composer Dan Wilson’s debut album, Vessels of Wood and Earth, exhibits a rich range of tones and textures. Joined by pianist Christian Sands, bassist Marco Panascia, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and guest vocalist Joy Brown, this incredibly talented band showcases a mastery of musical expression, revealing robust musical perspectives from each and every artist. Produced by bassist, composer, arranger, and Philadelphian jazz icon, Christian McBride, the project is a mix of both original compositions and arrangements of classic songs from the likes of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, assembled to illustrate Wilson’s foundation that is “rooted as much in tradition as it is in moving the music irresistibly forward into the modern world.” The album is the first release on Brother Mister Productions, McBride’s own record label under the Mack Avenue Music Group.

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Adrian Younge – The American Negro

 

Title: The American Negro
Artist: Adrian Younge
Label: Jazz Is Dead
Format: CD, Digital
Release date: February 26, 2021

 

In the wake of social unrest and political trauma, composer Adrian Younge, like many before him, has now become part of a canon of musical and literary expression that will likely live on for generations. Younge’s new album, The American Negro, offers 26 tracks of message songs and soulful instrumentals interjected with Younge’s spoken word treatise on racism in America. Through the album, he dissects the chemistry behind blind racism, using music as the medium to restore dignity and self-worth [of Black people]… It should be evident that any examination of black music is an examination of the relationship between black and white America. This relationship has shaped the cultural evolution of the world and its negative roots run deep into our psyche.”

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Cameron Graves – Seven

 

Title: Seven
Artist: Cameron Graves
Label: Artistry Music/Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 19, 2021

 

Pianist-composer Cameron Graves initially achieved acclaim as a member of the West Coast Get Down, a collective of L.A. jazz musicians that includes Kamasi Washington and Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner. More recently he has performed and recorded with fusion pioneer Stanley Clarke, who has served as a mentor to the younger musician. Releasing his widely acclaimed debut album Planetary Prince in 2017,Graves now returns with his own brand of progressive jazz on Seven. Referring to his new style as thrash-jazz, Graves draws upon his jazz and classical studies as well as his love of Living Colour, Meshuggah, and other heavy metal bands to create a stunningly inventive jazz-rock fusion that will blast you into another galaxy.

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Nubiyan Twist – Freedom Fables

 

Title: Freedom Fables
Artist: Nubiyan Twist
Label: Strut
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: March 12, 2021

 

Since their formation in 2009 at the Leeds College of Music, Nubiyan Twist has gone on to sell out major concerts and collaborate with iconic musicians like Ghanaian highlife king Pat Thomas and pioneering Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen. The London-based collective is known for their captivating and unique blending of jazz, Afrobeat, and highlife music with electronic touches. Nubiyan Twist’s much-anticipated third album, Freedom Fables, builds on the group’s past success with the new feature of rising star vocalists.

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Archie Shepp & Jason Moran – Let My People Go

 

Title: Let My People Go
Artist: Archie Shepp & Jason Moran
Label: Archieball
Formats: Digital
Release date: February 5, 2021

 

A living legend in jazz, saxophonist Archie Shepp’s six decade career is notable not only for expanding the cannon towards avant-garde and free jazz, but also for the socially conscious and Afrocentric themes of his albums. Five years ago, he met pianist-composer Jason Moran backstage at Belgium’s JazzMiddelheim Festival, and the two have performed together on many stages since that auspicious occasion. In addition to Moran’s many albums and soundtracks, the 2010 MacArthur “Genius” Grant awardee is also known for groundbreaking productions with his wife, Alicia Hall Moran, including Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration. Shepp and Moran’s new album, Let My People Go, seems like a natural progression for these two musicians who both actively promote an appreciation for Black history through music.

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R+R=NOW – Live

 

Title: Live
Artist: R+R=NOW 
Label: Blue Note
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: February 12, 2021

 

Musical giant Robert Glasper is one of the music industry’s heavy hitters that just can’t miss. The Houston native, who became most iconic during the development of the neo soul and late hip hop music era, has had the pleasure of touching numerous projects and performing with countless artists over the past three decades including the likes of Bilal, Yassin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), Jill Scott and many others. Glasper has also been awarded multiple Grammy and Emmy awards for his contribution to both music and film. His latest project, R+R=NOW Live, is yet another addition to his substantial legacy.

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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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Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet – Social Distancing

 

Title: Social Distancing
Artist: Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet
Label: Saponegro/Tiger Turn
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 29, 2021

 

Like most artists, trumpeter and composer Gabriel Alegría and members of his Afro-Peruvian Sextet have been profoundly affected by the pandemic. But thanks to their “determined fans and a poem-gone-viral,” the group has been able to persevere in the face of adversity. The result is their new concept album, Social Distancing, a “musical memoir (& protest)” based on artistic collaborations inspired by the 2020 pandemic as well as issues of social justice that have surfaced over that past year. “Every sound and rhythm,” says Alegría, “is an attempt to guide you safely away from the confusion” into the band’s safe space: Afro-Peruvian jazz music.

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Sounds of A&R – Questions Left Unanswered…

 

Title: Questions Left Unanswered…
Artist: Sounds of A&R
Label: Soaring
Format: CD, Digital
Release date: January 22, 2021

 

Jazz ensembles fronted by a vocalist and trumpeter in equal roles are far and few between, and that’s a major part of the charm of Sounds of A&R. Led by April May Webb (vocals) and Randall Haywood (trumpet and flugelhorn), who are musical partners as well as partners in life, the duo calls to mind the classic pairing of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Rounding out this family affair are two of Webb’s siblings—Jacob Webb on bass and Nathan Webb on drums—plus guitarist Charlie Sigler, pianist James Austin, and harpist Riza Printup. On their impressive third studio album, Questions Left Unanswered, S.O.A.R. offers a mix of new arrangements of romantic classics and bold, fresh originals that speak to contemporary issues.

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December 2020 – January 2021 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released December 2020 and January 2021 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.

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Ella Fitzgerald – Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes

 

Title: Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes
Artist: Ella Fitzgerald
Label: Verve
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 2, 2020

 

There can be no dispute: Ella Fitzgerald is one of the elite vocalists in the history of jazz. In my opinion, Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes, presents one of the most enjoyable concert recordings in her career. Accompanied by Paul Smith on piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass and Stan Levey on drums, the rhythm section provides a solid foundation for Ella’s creative and intensely personal performance – absolute perfection. This is a newly discovered treasure. Verve first released Ella in Berlin (1960) on LP from a concert on February 13, 1960, then Ella Returns to Berlin (1991) on CD from a concert on February 11, 1961, but overlooked, until now, this third performance in Berlin from her concert on March 25, 1962. The stereo sound mix, remastered from the original tapes, closely captures Ella’s voice, giving listener’s the impression they are sitting right in front of her in the auditorium.

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George Benson – Weekend In London

 

Title: Weekend In London
Artist: George Benson
Label: Provogue/Mascot
Format: CD, LP
Release Date: November 13, 2020

 

For the first time in 30 years, 10-time Grammy winning guitarist and vocalist George Benson has released a live recording highlighting his favorite hits and improvisational skills. Weekend In London, which harkens back to his groundbreaking 1978 Weekend in LA, pays homage to many of the guitarist’s career peaks that effortlessly fused jazz, R&B and pop. Although Benson has played at some of the biggest venues in the world during his acclaimed six-decade career, this newest release features his performance at London’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, an intimate 250-seat venue with exceptional acoustics that has been hosting the world’s most influential jazz musicians since 1959.

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