"The Jazz Foundation of America is an organization that helps the world of American jazz in a variety of ways. As with all sectors, the jazz world has not been spared by the Covid-19 pandemic. The daily consequences are often dramatic for many musicians. 7 major jazz labels (Blue Note Records, Concord Music Group, Mack Avenue Music Group, Nonesuch Records, Universal Music Group, Verve Label Group and Warner Music Group) have decided to join forces and offer this compilation, from which all profits will be donated to this emergency fund."Jazzmania, 01-2-2022
In the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement achieved its greatest moments, gifted bassist and composer Christian McBride was not yet born. As a child in the 1970s, he learned the history of the movement in school, but due to a quirk of fate – his grandmother’s fortunate propensity for saving old things – he found another source of information that spoke to him on a more emotionally accessible level than history books.
“When I was a kid, I used to spend hours looking at old copies of Ebony and Jet magazines that my grandmother saved,” he says. “To read contemporaneous writings by black writers about events and people who were my history – our history – that was absolutely fascinating to me. It was the greatest gift my grandmother could have given to me.”
That gift played a major role in the creation of The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons, McBride’s stunning masterpiece about “the struggle,” which is now a 20 year-long, continuously evolving project. The work combines elements of jazz, gospel, big band, swing, symphony, theater and dramatic spoken word, in a clear-eyed yet optimistic look at where our society has come from and where it is hopefully headed.
Born in Philadelphia, McBride was a gifted musical prodigy who soaked up influences from every direction. At the tender age of 17, he was recruited by saxophonist Bobby Watson to join his group, Horizon. During the 1990s, he proceeded to work with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Pat Metheny, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard and Chick Corea as well as major pop and rock stars like Sting, Paul McCartney, James Brown and Celine Dion. His abilities were also coveted by the classical music world, including opera legends Kathleen Battle and Renee Fleming.
In 1998, a musical commission from the Portland (Maine) Arts Society set in motion what would eventually become a major part of his life’s work. The only stipulation for the commission was that it had to include a choir. “At that time, I called it a musical portrait of the Civil Rights Movement,” Christian says. “I thought about those times and decided that rather than try to write a history of the movement, I wanted to evoke its spirit and feeling.”
With his illustrious career that includes hallmark stints with Miles Davis, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, as well as a heralded career as a solo artist that began more than 30 years ago, Kenny Garrett is easily recognized as one of modern jazz’s brightest and most influential living masters. And with the marvelous Sounds From The Ancestors, the GRAMMY® Award-winning Garrett shows no signs of resting on his laurels.
Kenny Garrett’s latest release, Sounds From The Ancestors, is a multi-faceted album. The music, however, doesn’t lodge inside the tight confines of the jazz idiom, which is not surprising considering the alto saxophonist and composer acknowledges the likes of Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye as significant touchstones. Similar to how Miles Davis’ seminal LP, On the Corner, subverted its main guiding lights – James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone – then crafted its own unique, polyrhythmic, groove-laden, improv-heavy universe, Sounds From The Ancestors occupies its own space with intellectual clarity, sonic ingenuity and emotional heft.
“The concept initially was about trying to get some of the musical sounds that I remembered as a kid growing up – sounds that lift your spirit from people like John Coltrane, ‘A Love Supreme’; Aretha Franklin, ‘Amazing Grace’; Marvin Gaye, ‘What’s Going On’; and the spiritual side of the church,” Garrett explains. “When I started to think about them, I realized it was the spirit from my ancestors.” Indeed, Sounds From The Ancestors reflects the rich jazz, R&B, and gospel history of his hometown of Detroit. More important though, it also reverberates with a modern cosmopolitan vibrancy – notably the inclusion of music coming out of France, Cuba, Nigeria and Guadeloupe.
“It’s Time to Come Home,” a sauntering yet evocative Afro-Cuban modern jazz original, kicks off the album. Garrett’s melodic passages, marked by capricious turns and pecking accents, signals a “call to action” for kids around the world to come home after playing outside all day. This incarnation reflects his experiences playing with iconic Cuban pianist and composer Chucho Valdés. Garrett then pays tribute to the late, great trumpeter and composer Roy Hargrove with the dynamic “Hargrove,” a bracing original that evokes the namesake’s mastery of reconciling hard-bop’s intricate harmonic and interactive verve with late-20th century hypnotic R&B grooves and hip-hop bounce. The song also references John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, which accentuates both the earthy and spiritual nature of Hargrove’s music and Garrett’s saxophone virtuosity.
Traces of the Black American church also surge through “When the Days Were Different,” a warm mid-tempo original. “The idea was to take it back to the church,” Garrett explains. “It reminds me of being at a gathering with family and friends having a good time eating, drinking and spending quality time together.”
On the rhythmically intrepid “For Art’s Sake,” Garrett pays homage to two legendary drummers – Art Blakey and Tony Allen. Bruner concocts a stuttering rhythm that alludes to both modern jazz and Nigerian Afrobeat, while Bird adds polyrhythmic fire with his circular conga patterns.
Drums and percussion are again highlighted vividly on the swift “What Was That?” and “Soldiers of the Fields/Soldats des Champs.” The former finds Garrett in quintessential form as he navigates through a thicket of torrential polyrhythms and a jolting harmonic bed with the steely determination and dexterity associated with Coltrane and Jackie McLean. The latter is a magnificent two-part masterpiece that integrates martial beats, Guadeloupean rhythms and a haunting cyclical motif on which Garrett crafts pirouetting improvisations that dazzle with their initial lithe grace and increasing urgent wails. Garrett explains that “Soldiers of the Fields/Soldats des Champs” is a tribute to the legion of jazz musicians who fought to keep the music alive. “They’re the first ones to get hit and shot at in the line of fire on the fields of justice. ‘Soldats des Champs’ is also a tribute to the Haitian soldiers who fought against the French during the Haitian Revolution.”
The leader’s love for Afro-Cuban jazz returns on the dramatic title track, which begins with Garrett playing a slow melancholy melody on the piano before the music gives way to a soul-stirring excursion, filled with passionate vocal cries from Trible and moving Yoruban lyrics from Pedrito, paying respect to Orunmila, the deity of wisdom. “It’s about remembering the spirit of the sounds of our ancestors – the sounds from their church services, the prayers they recited, the songs they sang in the fields, the African drums they played and the Yoruban chants,” Garrett says. The album closes as it opens with “It’s Time to Come Home,” this time Garrett uses his saxophone as a rhythmic instrument to have a conversation with the percussionist without the vocal accompaniment.
The world first learned of the incredible vocal artistry of Cécile McLorin Salvant when she won the prestigious 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. In just under the span of a decade she has evolved from a darling of jazz critics and fans, to a multi-GRAMMY® Award winner, to a prescient and fearless voice in music today.
In life and in music, McLorin Salvant’s path has been unorthodox. The child of a French mother and Haitian father, she was raised in the rich cultural and musical mix of Miami. She began formal piano studies at age five and started singing with the Miami Choral Society at age eight. Growing up in a bilingual household, she was exposed to a wide variety of music from around the world through her parents wide-ranging record collection. While jazz was part of this rich mix, her adolescent and teenage years were focused on singing classical music and Broadway. Following her desire to study abroad, she enrolled in college (Aix-en-Provence in the south of France) to study opera and law. Ironically, it was in France that McLorin Salvant began to really discover the deep roots of jazz and American music, with the guidance of instructor and jazz saxophonist, Jean-François Bonnel. Bonnel’s mentoring included bringing McLorin Salvant stacks of CDs, covering the work of jazz and blues legends as well as its lesser-known contributors. Working through these recordings, McLorin Salvant began building the foundation needed to thrive and occupy a special place in the august company of her predecessors.
Three years later, McLorin Salvant returned to the US to compete in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. On the urging of her mother she entered the contest, but with little sense of what was awaiting her. The expatriate American jazz singer from France, surprising everyone (herself included), took top honors in the jazz world’s most demanding competition. An illustrious panel of judges – Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Kurt Elling, Patti Austin and Al Jarreau – noted her impeccable vocal technique, innate musicality, and gifts as an interpreter of popular song. “She brought down the house,” reported the Washington Post. Yet, as music critic Ann Midgett observed, “Her marathon is just beginning.”
Since 2010, McLorin Salvant has soared to the top of the music world, garnering praise and gathering awards. “She has poise, elegance, soul, humor, sensuality, power, virtuosity, range, insight, intelligence, depth and grace,” announced Wynton Marsalis. “You get a singer like this once in a generation or two.” She has been honored with top spots in DownBeat’s critic’s polls in the categories of “Jazz Album of the Year” and “Top Female Vocalist.” NPR Music has awarded her “Best Jazz Vocal Album of the Year” and “Best Jazz Vocalist.” Her debut album, WomanChild (2013), received a GRAMMY® nomination. And her following releases, For One to Love (2015) and Dreams and Daggers (2017), both won GRAMMY® Awards for “Best Jazz Vocal Album.”
McLorin Salvant is a singer whose unique style demonstrates a keen sense of the history of jazz and American music. Among her peers she is unique in the breadth and depth of her repertoire. She fearlessly performs songs from jazz’s roots in minstrel shows and ragtime, like Bert William’s “Nobody” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Murder Ballad.” She digs deep into blues queens like Bessie Smith and Ida Cox, bringing out the mix of jubilation and sorrow that is at the core of the blues. She sings from both the center and the periphery of the Great American Songbook, unearthing forgotten songs while offering fresh interpretations of well-known standards and enlivening Broadway gems with jazzy accents. Beyond the borders of American music, she also is an expert interpreter of Francophone chansons and cabaret numbers, tracing the influence of jazz across the globe, and retracing her own personal path as a musician from America to France and back again. If that weren’t enough, McLorin Salvant is also a gifted composer whose moving additions to the repertoire reflect her unique perspective on love, life, and womanhood.
Her gifts as an artist are rooted in her intensive study of the history of American Music and her uncanny ability to curate its treasures for her audience. Her albums are explorations of the immense repository of experience and feeling that abound in popular song. She understands the special role of the musician to find and share the emotions and messages in music that speak to our past, present and future. “I am not interested in the idea of relevance,” she explains. “I am interested in the idea of presence. I want to communicate across time, through time, play with time.”
All of McLorin Salvant’s study, training, creativity, intelligence, and artistry come together in her voice. The sound of her voice, to borrow a phrase, “contains multitudes.” It covers the gamut from breathy to bold, deep and husky to high and resonant, limpid to bluesy, with a clarity and richness that is nearly unparalleled. When she first burst onto the jazz scene, many listeners were struck by her ability to recall the sound of Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughan, or Betty Carter. Yet with each new album, McLorin Salvant’s voice has become more her own, more singular. While conjuring the spirits of the ancestors, her references are controlled, focused, and purposeful. Her remarkable vocal technique never overshadows her rich interpretations of songs both familiar and obscure.
Critics praise McLorin Salvant’s gifts as an interpreter of popular song. “The marvel of Cécile McLorin Salvant is the complexity of her point of view as an artist,” writes David Hajdu in the pages of The Nation. “Like most jazz and cabaret singers, she works in a milieu that is essentially interpretive…But she chooses her material so astutely, and interprets it so adroitly, that the songs come across like the personal expression of an idiosyncratic individual with an utterly contemporary sensibility.” She inhabits the inner life of a lyric, shading them with subtle, often ironic poignancies through the use of vocal inflections, improvisations, varied phrasing, and articulation. Fred Kaplan of the New Yorker praises her “emotional range” and her ability to “inhabit different personas in the course of a song, sometimes even a phrase – delivering the lyrics in a faithful spirit while also commenting on them, mining them for unexpected drama and wit." In McLorin Salvant’s own words, “I think there is a lot of room for improvisation and surprise while still singing the lyric, and when that is successfully done it can express a great deal of emotion and reveal the different layers in the music and in the text all at once.”
Onstage, her persona is often compared to that of an actress. But, as McLorin Salvant notes, “jazz would not be what it is without its theatrical origins, vaudeville, and minstrel shows.” Through her selection of repertory and brilliant interpretations, she “plays with time,” making the musical past speak to our contemporary world. Her unflinching performance of songs from the minstrel tradition, such as Bert William’s “Nobody,” challenge us to think harder about race in America today. Her ironic, even sinister, rendition of songs like “Wives and Lovers” explore the complex intertwining of sex, gender and power. Her blues numbers are bawdy and vibrant, melancholic and forlorn, insistent and emancipatory. She sings of the ecstasy and agony of love, of jubilation and dejection, of desire and being desired, of fearlessness and fragility. “I want to get as close to the center of the song as I can,” McLorin Salvant explains. “When I find something beautiful and touching I try to get close to it and share that with the audience.” Immersed in the song and yet completely in control, McLorin Salvant brings her immense personality to the music – daring, witty, playful, honest and mischievous.
Each new recording by McLorin Salvant reveals new aspects of her artistry. WomanChild and For One to Love established her style, her command, and interpretive range. Dreams and Daggers is a work that highlights her fresh and fearless approach to art that transcends the conventional – live and in the studio, with a trio and with a string quartet, standards and original compositions – held together by a vocal delivery that cuts against the grain, ever deepening, intensifying and nuancing the lyrics.
The Jazz Foundation of America is an organization that helps the world of American jazz in a variety of ways.
As with all sectors, the jazz world has not been spared by the Covid-19 pandemic. The daily consequences are often dramatic for many musicians. 7 major jazz labels (Blue Note Records, Concord Music Group, Mack Avenue Music Group, Nonesuch Records, Universal Music Group, Verve Label Group and Warner Music Group) have decided to join forces and offer this compilation, from which all profits will be donated to this emergency fund.
...a colorful musical spectrum. Very nice...
it would all be meaningless if the music didn’t deliver. It should come as no great surprise that it does.