Title: Dialogues on Race, Volume One Artist: Gregg August Label: Iacuessa/dist. Bandcamp Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: August 21, 2020
An extremely versatile artist, double bassist and composer Gregg August performs and records with groups spanning multiple genres. Currently a member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra, he also performs regularly as a jazz bassist with the JD Allen Trio and Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. In 2009, shortly after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, August was inspired to compose Dialogues on Race, an extended suite for large jazz ensemble, vocalists, strings and narrator. Drawing upon poems by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Marilyn Nelson and other notable American poets, August hoped to “create a musical conversation that would help bring awareness and foster understanding on the issue of race” in support of the nation’s first Black president. Following the premiere at The Jazz Gallery in New York, the work was set aside for a time. But as the political discourse in the U.S. grew increasingly toxic and more Black lives were lost to violence, many of the musicians that premiered Dialogues urged August to revive and record the suite. The result is a stunning achievement that deftly combines jazz, blues, classical and Latin influences with gripping poetic verses to create a provocative work that is even more relevant and necessary today.
Soprano and tenor saxophonist Teodross Avery developed a keen
interest in the music of Thelonious Monk as a teenager, after hearing the acclaimed
jazz pianist’s landmark 1963 album Monk’s
Dream. After repeated listening, Avery says, “It became clear to me that
Monk wanted his complex melodies and harmonies to affect the musicians and the
listeners alike with non-stop swing rhythms…He wanted that swing beat to just
permeate the sound while he delivered his unique sound on top.” Avery went on to
earn a Doctorate in Jazz Studies from the University of Southern California and
along the way performed and recorded with many jazz titans as well as artists
ranging from Leela James and Lauryn Hill to Mos Def and Talib Kweli. But for
his latest project, Avery decided to return to his early fascination with Monk and
take a much deeper dive into the complexities of his music on Harlem Stories: The Music of Thelonious Monk.
Title: Jazz Dance Suites Artist: Charles McPherson Label: Chazz Mack Music Formats: CD, Digital Release date: September 25, 2020
Distinguished alto saxophonist, composer and
McPherson, known for his bebop and bluesy style and
improvisational ingenuity, adds to his plethora of notable works with Jazz
Dance Suites. Inspired and
dedicated to his daughter Camille, a soloist in the San Diego Ballet, McPherson’s
album of ballet music is a fusion of refreshing harmonies and unique lyrical
melodies that wonderfully combine with inventive rhythm and syncopation,
creating a bouncy and vibrant project that is a beautiful compliment to dance.
Title: Give the Drummer Some Artist: Cindy Blackman Santana Label: Copperline Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: September 18, 2020
drummer Cindy Blackman Santana is well-known for her versatility, especially in
the realm of jazz and rock. A member of Lenny Kravitz’s band from 1992-2007,
for the past decade she has been the regular touring drummer for Santana (and
later married Carlos Santana). Heavily influenced by her mentor, the late
drummer Tony Williams who initially rose to fame in the 1960s as a member of
Miles Davis’ group, Cindy has extended and expanded his jazz-rock fusion
legacy. On her new album, Give the Drummer Some, Cindy reaches new
heights, on vocals and percussion, as she collaborates with four of the world’s
top fusion guitarists: Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Kirk Hammett (Metallica),
and Vernon Reid (Living Colour). Produced by Narada Michael Walden, the album
was three years in the making, and the results are no less than spectacular.
Title: Just Coolin’ Artist: Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers Label: Blue Note Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: July 17, 2020
reissue of Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers’ Just Coolin’ is from a 1959 studio album that was never released,
most likely due to the fact that four of the six tracks were included several
months later on a pair of live albums recorded at the legendary jazz club
Birdland in New York City—Art Blakey and
the Jazz Messengers at the Jazz Corner of the World (vols. 1 & 2, later
reissued as a two-CD set.). Consequently, the original studio sessions
comprising this release were shelved and are finally seeing the light of day 60
jazz violinist Regina Carter has a history of releasing music that celebrates Black culture,
whether commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ella
Fitzgerald or her
father’s roots on Southern Comfort. Yet at this pivotal point in history, with the COVID-19 pandemic
surging unabated in tandem with protests and civil unrest, Carter has chosen a
more politically charged theme. Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground is
her urgent message to those who have not taken part in the democratic process,
extolling them to get out and exercise their right to vote. The title, she explains,
speaks to the current state of the nation: “We are living in surreal times…we
have become a divided country of Red vs. Blue, Us vs. Them or Not Our Kind, and
that pot is starting to boil over.” Rest assured, however, that both hope and harmony
are encouraged across the album’s 14 tracks as Carter and her band of jazz
luminaries take the listener on a tour from sea to shining sea.
Title: Freedom Artist: Javier Nero Label: Outside In Music Formats: CD, Digital Release date: August 7, 2020
The winner of multiple prestigious jazz trombone
competitions and recipient of a Ph.D. from Frost School of Music at the
University of Miami, Dr. Javier Nero appears
more than ready to present his debut solo album, Freedom. The title, he
explains, reflects the very essence of jazz, as well as “the beauty that can be
created by learning from and appreciating disparate cultures.” Nero draws upon
his own multi-cultural ancestry and extensive training as a jazz and classical
musician, as well as his experience as a member of the Haitian band Klass, to seamlessly
incorporate elements of multiple genres across the 12 tracks of the album.
Joining Nero in the ensemble are Tom Kelley (sax/flute), Melvin Butler
(tenor/soprano sax), Jean Caze (trumpet/flugelhorn), Tal Cohen (piano), Dion
Kerr (bass) and Aaron Kimmel (drums).
Title: Color of Noize Artist: Derrick Hodge Label: Blue Note Formats: CD, MP3 Release date: June 26, 2020
Bassist and composer Derrick Hodge has worked with some of
the best, performing on GRAMMY award winning albums by Robert Glasper (as a
founding member of the Robert Glasper Experiment) and Terence Blanchard, producing
projects with Quincy Jones, and writing/recording with a wide range of other artists
across multiple genres, from Kanye West, Q-Tip, and Andre 3000 to Jill Scott,
Sade, and Kirk Franklin. Hodge’s innovative arrangements also played an essential
role in the powerful performances by Nas and Maxwell with the National Symphony
Orchestra, and Common with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Now, on his latest
project and his third release for Blue Note Records, Hodge seeks to bridge the
divide between urban, jazz and classical music with his new concept album, Color
Title: Still I Rise Artist: Derrick Gardner & the Big dig! Band Label: Impact Jazz Formats: CD, Digital Release date: July 10, 2020
Trumpeter Derrick Gardner has gathered together friends and family to form a new ensemble that makes its debut on his latest release, Still I Rise. Christened the Big dig! Band, after co-leader Steve Kirby’s bi-monthly jazz publication dig! magazine, the 18-piece big band performs contemporary music composed and arranged by Gardner while retaining the classic feel of the swing era. In addition to Derrick, an alumnus of the Count Basie Orchestra and the Harry Connick Jr. Big Band, the group also features his brother, trombonist Vincent Gardner, who currently serves as artistic director of the Jazz Houston Orchestra. Other world class musicians from across North America include saxophonists Mark Gross (Duke Ellington Orchestra), Greg Gatien, Rob Dixon, Tristan Martinuson and Ken Gold; trumpeters Bijon Watson (Gerald Wilson Jazz Orchestra), Jeff Johnson, Curtis Taylor and Andrew Littleford; trombonists Joel Green, Anthony Bryson and Bill Green; with pianist Zen Zadravec, bassist Luke Sellick, guitarist Kasey Kurtz and drummer Curtis Nowosad heading up the rhythm section.
Title: Walk With Me Artist: Mike Burton Label: Mike Burton Co. Formats: CD, Digital Release date: August 14th, 2020
native of Jackson, Mississippi, saxophonist Michael
affinity for music was nurtured at an early age by his mother, a singer with
the Mississippi Mass Choir, and father, a tenor saxophonist. Burton honed his
craft at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music under the tutelage of the renowned
David Baker, and as a member of the IU Soul Revue, an ensemble that examines and performs
Black popular music. Since
completing his master’s degree in Jazz Studies, Burton has toured with major artists
ranging from Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, Patti LaBelle and Anita Baker to New
Edition, PJ Morton, and blues singer Willie Clayton. He has also played
keyboards and saxophone on many of Tyler Perry’s stage and film productions.
Burton’s vast experience is reflected in his third studio album, Walk With Me. Co-produced by Burton and
Atlanta-based multi-instrumentalist Jelani Jackson, the album features
collaborations from artists such as PJ Morton, Sho Baraka, Jeff Bradshaw,
Melvin Jones, Len’i McKinney and Paula Champion.
Title: Black, Brown, and Beige Artist: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis Label: Blue Engine Formats: Digital Release Date: March 6, 2020
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra captures and invokes the spirit of Duke Ellington with their release of Ellington’s masterwork, Black, Brown and Beige. The album is a live recording from a performance at the Rose Theater in 2018 with special guests Brianna Thomas (voice) and Eli Bishop (violin). Originally composed for the first of Ellington’s annual concerts in Carnegie Hall and premiered on January 23, 1943, the epic work is considered a seminal musical composition of the 20th century and in Ellington’s words, “is a parallel to the history of the American Negro.” While some parts of the suite were revised and recorded by Ellington after the premiere, the full-length version of the 1943 concert was not released until 1977, three years after his death. Now the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis imbues new life into Ellington’s jazz symphony with a modern interpretation of the complete work that’s full of creative colors and intensities.
Trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire is known for extending the margins of jazz, presenting sonically diverse albums that reflect upon the complexity of Black life in America. Such was the case with his 2018 release, Origami Harvest, which deftly wove together genres and socially conscious themes. Akinmusire describes his new release, on the tender spot of every calloused moment, as a quartet album “that studies the blues in a contemporary context.” Though primarily a jazz musician, Akinmusire adeptly taps into the blues of life in America, blowing through his trumpet with “the breath of a black man who’s seen the best and worst of the country.” Accompanying Akinmusire on this project, which features eleven of his highly original compositions, are his long-time bandmates: pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown.
One of the most intriguing projects of the year, Ocean Bridges is a collaboration between Washington, DC hip hop artists/producers Damu the Fudgemunk (aka Earl Davis) and MC Raw Poetic (aka Jason Moore), and Moore’s uncle, the illustrious jazz elder Archie Shepp. The album’s title signifies “a re-establishing of the connection between young and old in their general community.” As Moore explains: “I began writing down the parts in my head that could tell a story, a Black American story, that would expand across the ages, a story from my grandfather to my uncle, from my mother to me. We bridged the gaps of time, culture and struggle and made an album I always dreamt of—Ocean Bridges.” Entirely improvised, the eleven tracks also bridge genres, creatively blending live music and spoken word, jazz and hip hop in a manner that maintains the spontaneity of their vision.
Title: Lagos Pepper Soup Artist: Michael Olatuja Label: Whirlwind Recordings Formats: LP, Digital Release date: June 12, 2020
Bassist and composer Michael Olatuja has a unique musical background. Born in London, raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and currently based in New York, he has certainly traversed many continents and engaged with various musical genres across the African diaspora. Olatuja’s third album Lagos Pepper Soup, released eleven years after his Speak (2009) and nine years after The Promise (2011), maintains his unique musical style that blends West African Afrobeats and jazz with the addition of a cinematic touch. According to Olatuja, Lagos Pepper Soup was envisioned as an album that would “fuse this mix of Afrobeat and jazz as if it was a Hollywood film soundtrack.”
Title: Legacy Holder Artist: Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead Label: Vision Ahead Music Formats: CD, Digital Release date: May 15, 2020
Drummer, composer and bandleader Jonathan Barber has accomplished much in his young life. The 30-year-old Hartford, Connecticut native began performing gospel music at an early age at his family church, learning alongside his father who was also a drummer. He later studied at the University of Hartford’s Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz and went on to tour and record with artists such as Pat Metheny, Jeremy Pelt, Wallace Roney, Jennifer Holiday, and Harold Mabern. Shortly after Modern Drummer named Barber as the #1 Up-and-Coming Drummer of 2018, he released his debut album, Vision Ahead. Now Barber returns with his sophomore release, Legacy Holder, featuring his New York-based jazz quintet Vision Ahead.
Title: Live at the Paramount Artist: Ruthie Foster Big Band Label: Blue Corn Music Formats: CD, Digital Release date: May 15, 2020
Ruthie Foster delivers a high-powered performance in Live at the Paramount, her ninth album with Blue Corn Music. Complete with the combination of extraneous noise and high energy that inevitably accompanies a live album, Ruthie Foster delivers a big band set that shows off her well-known voice in a swing setting. Recorded at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, on January 26, 2019, John Mills is the music director and conductor of Foster’s big band, and all of the arrangements for this concert are by Mills and John Beasley.