NYSMusic's Andie Chapman writes...... Four-time Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo has often advocated for human rights as she has been a UNICEF ambassador since 2002. Her music is imbued with compassion, and throughout the years she has contributed songs for important causes, such as her contribution song "Leila" for the Enough Project which raised awareness for women's rights in Raise Hope for Congo.
In 2020, the singer and activist recorded the song "How Can I Tell You?" by composers Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty who wrote "Ragtime," "Once on This Island," "Anastasia," and many more notable works. This song was included in a documentary directed and produced by Jeff Kaufman titled Nasrin. Often referred to as the "Nelson Mandela of Iran," Nasrin Sotoudeh fought for human rights in Iran, eventually leading to her arrest in June 2018 for defending women who publicly protested Iran's mandatory hijab law. The government sentenced her to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. Nasrin now has COVID-19 and a heart condition, but even from the confines of prison she has continued to challenge the authorities.
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The Guardian's Dave Gelly writes....August Wilson's 1982 play, and the 2020 Netflix film, are about a lot more than music, but Gertude "Ma" Rainey ("Mother of the Blues") was a real person, and the action takes place around what was a real recording session. Music, and how it's treated, is the basic metaphor here, so music is an important accompaniment to the story. In this case – like the clothes, the cars and the surrounding scene – it must also persuade us that we are in Chicago in 1927. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis has certainly spared no effort in recreating authentic period sounds. Photograph: David Lee/AP
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WBGO'S The Checkout: SIMON RENTNER writes......We've always admired Shai Maestro's fearless approach to music. When he sits down at the piano, especially in an improvisational solo setting, he checks the temperature of a space and lets the music come to him, allowing one idea to flow into another. But he wasn't always that free.
On this episode of The Checkout, Maestro remembers a difficult moment on tour with bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Mark Guiliana - a moment that would shape his career. In the middle of a performance, while playing his tune, the trio took an unexpected detour and he completely freaked out. That meltdown would change his thinking, and approach to music, forever. To hear Maestro tell it, what he became after this experience was more human - which is also the title of his new album, which ECM will release on Jan. 29.
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Following the success of the Busoni The Visionary series, Jeni Slotchiver is humbled to introduce something so intimately close to home. With Southern roots of her own, Ms. Slotchiver's debut ZOHO CD release American Heritage is her homage to the legendary composers preserving American folk music and creating anew. What was once familiar, is reborn.
Spanning 125 years, from Louis Moreau Gottschalk's The Banjo (ca. 1854-5) to Frederic Rzewski's Down by the riverside (1979), American Heritage presents piano compositions by composers of concert music, inspired by the melodies, dance rhythms, harmonic inventions and various stylistic elements evocative of the American experience. Of the eight composers represented, six are of African descent and two of these are women. There are quotes from spirituals, use of the African American pentatonic scale, the African call and response structure popularized in southern church tradition, polyphonic rhythms of jazz, and the rich, sultry harmonies of blues. With the exception of the rich musical heritage of Indigenous people, the largest and most important American folkloric body of work arrived on American shores with the first enslaved African people.
Jazz Weekly's George W. Harris writes....Pianist Jeni Slotchiver gives solo interpretations of music from early to late 20th Century, taking you to a different world of patience and space. While classically trained, Slotchiver has a rich blues touch and a bona fide feel for gospel and folk material. Material ranges from a homespun read of "Swanee River" to the spiritual "Down By The Riverside" as well as the folk classic "Shenandoah" but with an arrangement by Keith Jarret. Parlor moods are presented in a collection of pieces from Harry Thacker Burleigh and the genteel pen of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, on "Union" and "The Banjo" while traditional pieces like "Deep River" and even 1967's "Troubled Water" feel like they've both been drawn from the same well. A journey to another world and world view.
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Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom and bassist Mark Helias come together to create duets discovered in the moment in a way that is rarely heard today with Some Kind of Tomorrow. The long time bandmates, separated by space and time find a way to play in real time with one another and the results are magical. Two master improvisers and composers bring listeners up-close and personal to the first spark of their imaginations at work, recording eleven duet improvisations over the spring, summer, and fall of 2020. The music is raw, authentic, intimate, alive, and unapologetic in its passion. Their sound is deep wood and polished brass recorded with a depth that is hard to describe. They played the music, recorded it, mastered it firsthand and are now making it available to listeners for the first time as a digital download on Bandcamp. Don't miss these fearless jazz explorers as they face the future.
Heard on Fresh Air, here's Kevin Whitehead's piece. LISTEN & READ THE TRANSCRIPT
Shunia is a duo that combines addictive melodies, ancient chants and polycultural rhythms into a sound that feels both new and timeless. Their music captures and conveys deep energies and spirit. The state of "shunia" means stillness, receptivity. Shunia's members, Lisa Reagan and Suzanne Jackson both performed with the Washington National Opera for 20 years before finding continued success in their solo careers. Coming together as Shunia, they combined their influences, inspirations and experiences to create genre-defying music with the power to transform and to connect you to the energy within and around you. It can put you in touch with something as simple as your five senses or as mysterious as the infinite.
American Songwriter's NADIA NEOPHYTOU writes......To press play on Shunia's new album of chants is to allow a wave of calm and relaxation to wash over one's whole self. For Lisa Reagan and Suzanne Jackson, who've known each other for 30 years, sharing the gift that's been a major part of their lives with others is the reason they began recording together as the duo Shunia in the first place. "Music in and of itself is such a powerful medium," Reagan tells American Songwriter. "It is the language of our humanity and our souls. We know these mantras are tried and true, and we have personally been chanting them for years."
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WFMT: Chicago 's Candice Agree writes....From the age of 3, CBS News political correspondent Ed O'Keefe toiled at a keyboard-not in typing, as unintended preparation for his 13 years at the Washington Post, but in studying classical piano in Delmar, a suburb of Albany, NY. Although he loved playing, his interest in current events and politics pulled him into a journalism career. No stranger to Chicago, in 2008, O'Keefe was in Grant Park the night that Barack Obama was elected president. O'Keefe, 37, is about to become a fixture in the White House press room, as he will cover the Biden administration for the TV network he joined in 2018. But he has never left his first passion far behind. He shared some musical memories with us before taking on his new assignment at CBS News as Senior White House & Political Correspondent. Photo courtesy CBS News)
READ Candice Agree's Q&A with Ed O'Keefe.
An ensemble that attracts rave reviews and sell-out crowds at prestigious venues everywhere from Vienna to New York, the sensational SIGNUM saxophone quartet are now set to present their first Deutsche Grammophon album.
As part of the organization's ongoing efforts to bring recorded music to audiences the world over, and especially during the COVID-19 crisis, Philharmonia Baroque Productions unexpectedly releases the live audio recording of Handel's Saul, the award-winning performances from April 2019, led by Handelian expert and outgoing PBO Music Director Nicholas McGegan. With an all-star cast featuring rising star countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen as David, alongside the Orchestra & Chorale, this June 5 digital-only release marks the 14th on Philharmonia's recording label, and Nicholas McGegan's final recording with the ensemble he has led for 35 years.
Philharmonia Baroque Productions to release pioneering recording of commissions by Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw. The collection features song cycle with Anne Sofie von Otter and a major work for chorus and orchestra with Avery Amereau & Dashon Burton
This April, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (PBO) breaks new ground as a pioneer in bridging new music with old instruments-as PBO announces a collection of commissioned works composed by GRAMMY- and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw. "PBO& Caroline Shaw", the 12th release on the Philharmonia Baroque Productions label, coincides with the launch of the "PBO&" imprimatur, created to record and showcase vital contemporary composers who are committed to composing for the unique sounds of period instruments. The recording will be released on April 3 and reflects the range and versatility of Philharmonia's programming with music spanning the 18th to the 21st centuries.
Handel's late-career oratorio Joseph and his Brethren, though popular during Handel's day, eventually became one of the composer's most neglected large-scale works. As such, Joseph had only been recorded once before Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale decided to take it on for its latest recording project, the 11th on the Philharmonia Baroque Productions label. With a cast of early music specialists led by noted Handelian Nicholas McGegan, PBO makes a strong case for Joseph to regain its place among Handel's most often-performed oratorios such as Samson, Judas Maccabaeus, and Israel in Egypt.
The formidable cast includes the award-winning Philharmonia Chorale led by Bruce Lamott; mezzo-soprano Diana Moore as Joseph; tenor and GRAMMY nominee Nicholas Phan as Simeon and Judah, two of Joseph's brothers; soprano Sherezade Panthaki as Asenath, daughter of the high priest; and baritone Philip Cutlip as Pharaoh and Reuben, Joseph's eldest brother. Phan, who will sing the title role in Handel's Judas Maccabaeus during PBO's 2019/20 season, gives dramatic depth to the character of Simeon, who undergoes remarkable development, from fierce and tortured to pious and sympathetic, worthy of Joseph's tears. The character of Asenath, originally portrayed by French soprano Élisabeth Duparc, for whom the title role in Semele was created, has several dazzling arias, particularly "Prophetic raptures swell my breast" in Part III. They are executed with show-stopping gusto by Panthaki.
In order to appease the somewhat provincial tastes of King Louis XV, composer Jean-Philippe Rameau and his librettist Voltaire altered the original version of Le Temple de la Gloire, and for centuries it was lost. The manuscript was discovered-at the University of California, Berkeley's Jean Hargrove Music Library and was brought to the attention of conductor Nicholas McGegan. For decades, maestro McGegan dreamed of reviving the original work-a dream realized in April 2017 through a partnership between Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Cal Performances at UC Berkeley, Centre de musique de Versailles in France and New York Baroque Dance Company.