Following are additional albums released during May 2020 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.Continue reading
Title: The Latin Jazz Project
Artist: Spanish Harlem Orchestra
Formats: CD (limited ed.), Digital
Release date: May 22, 2020
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra (SHO) has become a household name for salsa lovers and Latin jazz enthusiasts over the years. Founded in the early 2000s by bandleader Oscar Hernández and producer Aaron Levinson, SHO has accumulated several Grammy nominations and three Grammy Awards for their albums Across 110th Street (2004), Viva La Tradicion (2010), and Anniversary (2018). Known for their “dedication to the sounds of the barrio (Spanish Harlem NYC)” and their “mission to keep the musical legacy of salsa dura (hard salsa) alive,” SHO has become one of the standard representations of the New York style of salsa music.Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during March 2020 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.Continue reading
Title: In the Key of Joy
Artist: Sérgio Mendes
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.Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during February 2020 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during January 2020 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during December 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during November 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during October 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Artist: Jefferson St. Parade Band
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: November 4, 2016
On Viral the Bloomington, Indiana based Jefferson St. Parade Band continues to hone their unique mix of musical styles, reaching for a sound that is their own. This new release is one step closer on that journey. JSPB operates as a mobile street/party band complete with horns, a drumline, and backpack amplifiers for their bassist and guitarist. As the band prepares to play their third Mardi Gras set this February, Viral serves a great primer for the uninitiated.
The album begins with “Austin City Unlimited,” which provides a great groove over which the horn section of the band shines. Not to be outdone, the syncopated rhythms of the JSPB drumline are also on display on this great opener. Despite its tongue-in-cheek title, “Most Annoying Song Ever, Gone Viral,” while “different,” is far from annoying. Perhaps the title is referencing a synthesized wind instrument that sounds like a melodica? Regardless, as the track continues, it shifts into an almost prog rock space which was a surprising but a welcome addition to the other genre influences that can be heard on the album—including funk, crunk, soul, and world music.
“Easy Dub,” which is a King Tubby cover, allows JSPB’s drumline to shine and comes across very well, with almost a jammy, zoned out vibe. That track is followed by the standout, “Jazz Bastard,” which sees the band really blending as a unit in a fashion that I would imagine translates well to their live performances. This track, in particular, features some great guitar work.
Viral finds the Jefferson St. Parade band still growing and finding new ways to incorporate their wide musical influences while continuing to hone in on what may eventually be known as “their” sound.
Reviewed by Levon Williams
Title: Tek A Ship
Artist: Fidel Nadal
Label: Pelo Music
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: November 20, 2015
In his native Argentina, Fidel Nadal is one of the most famous Afro-Argentine artists in popular music. Nadal’s success began with his band, Hasta Los Muertos—a punk outfit that was popular throughout Latin America in the early 1990s. Since 2001, he has crafted a solo career with a strong focus on reggae music.
In addition to his connection with Argentina, Nadal dialogues with the African Diaspora. Born to Afro-Argentine activist parents—his father was a filmmaker and mother a professor of anthropology—the musician’s Pan-African consciousness and Argentine identity blend throughout the newest of his seventeen albums, Tek A Ship.
For this effort, Nadal traveled to Kingston, Jamaica—the birthplace of reggae—to work with the legendary mastering engineer and producer, Bobby Digital. Joined by a host of Jamaica’s best reggae musicians, Tek A Ship is a groove-heavy performance with solid production. Nadal’s duet with reggae star Jah Thunder on “Ackee Tree” best represents the musician’s dual identities. Backed by a chunky rhythm and sunny melody, Nadal sings:
Soy Argentino/I am Argentine
El (Jah Thunder) es Jamaicano/He (Jah Thunder) is Jamaican
La verdad es que los dos somos Africanos/But the truth is that we are both Africans
But not all on Tek a Ship takes a tone of unified affirmations. The album’s opening track, “Confusion,” speaks of troubled times with images of violence, racism, and destruction from the United States, Chile, Nepal, and Jamaica. Despite the theme of things falling apart, Nadal remains musically focused and rhythmically poised throughout the track.
Much like Paul Gilroy theorized “the ship” in his seminal work The Black Atlantic, Nadal sings of taking a ship back to Ethiopia to see Haille Selassie on the album’s title track. Themes of Rastafarianism are central to Tek A Ship, and appear in “Vinimos para Ganar” (“We Come to Win”) and “Blessed is the Man.”
Throughout Tek A Ship, Nadal shows that the vibrations, melodies, and rhythms of his reggae are a vehicle to connect his identities and socially-conscious ideology. Lucky for our moving bodies and satisfied ears, we can be along for the ride.
Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach
Title: Canto América
Artist: Michael Spiro/Wayne Wallace, La Orquesta Sinfonietta
Format: CD, MP3
Release Date: February 12, 2016
Canto América is the newest release from longtime collaborators Michael Spiro (percussion) and Wayne Wallace (trombone), both accomplished musicians and faculty at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. As listeners familiar with these musicians’ reputations would rightfully expect, the duo’s La Orquesta Sinfonietta is a well-rehearsed, spot on band that plays with both fire and nuance.
Formidable instrumentalists in their own right, Spiro and Wallace let their own monster chops take a backseat to the excellent arrangements that are this album’s chief currency. Perhaps the most compelling thing about Canto América is the ensemble’s fluidity between the conventional Latin jazz ensemble (rhythm section, horns, and auxiliary percussion) with the less typical strings that comprise much of La Orquesta Sinfonietta, employed as an integral part of the ensemble rather than a saccharine sweetener. Spiro and Wallace situate this stylistic move in what they call the “genre inclusiveness” of Cuban music, noting in the voluminous 16-page liner notes that classical, jazz, and folkloric music are all equally understood and practiced by the island nation’s working musicians. This group’s attempts at genre inclusiveness succeed spectacularly, largely due to the strong ensemble arrangements.
Fans of the standard repertoire will be pleased to see the inclusion of a Latin-flavored version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” and the standard “Afro Blue” which, as the explanatory material included with each tune notes, was written by percussionist Mongo Santamaria, rather than by John Coltrane, who made it most famous. The duo’s original compositions and arrangements of traditional tunes are also excellent—-they draw heavily on Latin jazz’s African musical characteristics, pulling heavily upon Yoruba imagery (“El Caldero De Ogun” and “Ochun’s Road”) and employing complicated polyrhythmic structures in their intricate original material (“Hispaniola” and ”El Medico,” the latter of which features a rhythmic solo by Wallace, “the Doctor” himself).
Overall, Canto América is a compelling exploration of neglected territory in Latin jazz, informed by scholarship about the African diaspora. This release isn’t all smarts, though–it’s also fun to listen and (perhaps more importantly) dance to.
Reviewed by Matthew Alley