Welcome to our Guide to the week of music, a round-up of music news, media and releases relating to the Band on the Wall program and wider world of music. This week, we look at music dedicated to Martin Luther King and mindful of the civil rights movement, fifty years on from his assassination. We also look at new videos from Bob Reynolds and Skeltr, talk to rhythm guitarist Cory Wong about his new quartet’s flying start and round-up some new music releases.
Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and as such, was a day of great importance in African-American culture and American society. The tireless civil rights campaigner influenced a great number of artists with his nonviolent activism and impassioned, almost sermon-like public speeches. In the wake of his passing, several felt compelled to write music in his honour, sometimes dedicating compositions to him explicitly.
Of the many moving examples, Nancy Dupree’s Docta King, Herbie Hancock’s I Have a Dream and Nina Simone’s Why? (The King of Love is Dead) are three of the most interesting.
Dupree was a school teacher in Rochester, New York and an activist herself. She recorded an album entitled Ghetto Reality with her student choir circa. 1969, teaching them about religion, civil rights and the importance of figures like Dr. King, with a repertoire of purpose-written songs. Herbie Hancock premiered his composition at Berkeley’s Jazz Festival in the aftermath of King’s death, just as Nina Simone did with Why? – dedicating her entire Westbury Music Fair program to Dr. King’s memory. Hancock’s composition is an instrumental effort to encapsulate his spirit, using the “duple meter” for greater rhythmic accessibility and using voicings neither entirely congruous or discordant, to reflect the tension of the time. Simone’s magical opus was by contrast a lyrical dedication to King and his work. Lines like “Turn the other cheek he’d plead, Love thy neighbor was his creed” depict him with truth and beauty in a way that only Simone could.
Here’s a five-track playlist containing those songs and others, to evoke the memory of Dr. King and allow reflection upon his, and these artist’s, great work.
In related news, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture concluded their Women’s History month on Saturday, having paid particular mind to women’s contributions to the civil rights movement. Exhibitions such as A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond shone a light on the figures such as abolitionist Harriet Tubman and activist Angela Davis – two influential women subject to musical dedications on the new Sons of Kemet album Your Queen is a Reptile. Theon Cross, who plays tuba with the group and will join them in returning to Band on the Wall in October, told us last month “For me the new album is about celebrating the women in our history who have made a difference to the world around us and honoring them as queens through music.” Shabaka Hutchings has also written at length about the project on social media. Fifty years on from Martin Luther King’s passing and some of the most significant events of the civil rights movement, it’s clear that individuals active during the era remain influential and relevant present-day society.
The Fearless Flyers – a veritable supergroup built around the core quartet of drummer Nate Smith, Snarky Puppy guitarist Mark Lettieri and Vulfpeck members Cory Wong and Joe Dart – has hit the ground running with their debut project! Despite having been introduced just three weeks ago, the group’s Ace of Aces video has racked up close to 5 million views on social media – a figure telling of Vulfpeck’s ever-increasing reach and popularity.
Discussing the reception to the new project, guitarist Cory Wong stated ‘We’re so stoked’ adding ‘It’s been fun to sit back with a birds eye view of the initial intro email pitching the project to everyone to now seeing the public response to it. It all happened so fast, and that’s the amazing thing of the internet! I love it. It’s so 2018, haha.’
Vulfpeck’s Jack Stratton was chiefly responsible for the production of the eponymous EP – which comfortably exceeded its crowdfunding targets for vinyl production and is available digitally via Bandcamp. ‘This is a side project he had the vision for and had talked about for a while.’ Cory explains. ‘Jack is an amazing producer and vision caster. He can see everyone’s strengths and how they can play together to unify for a singular idea. I helped him with a lot of the logistics like getting all the guys together, and putting together sketches of tunes and song ideas before the sessions. The first email went out to the guys in December and here we are with the album released just a few months later.’
The record arrives at a great time for Cory, having sold out his first Manchester show here at Band on the Wall last month. ‘That was an incredibly special experience for me’ he states ‘because it’s the first time in my life that I visited a city I’ve never been to, and had a sold out crowd there to see MY music! What?!’
Greatly appreciative of the love he received, he adds ‘Band on the Wall is a special venue that had a great energy to the room, so the whole experience overall was incredible.’ It wasn’t all smooth sailing mind, as Cory’s drummer Petar Janjic encountered visa issues ahead of the UK leg of their tour, meaning a sit in had to be swiftly arranged. ‘I had to scramble to find a drummer in the UK who could learn the songs in 36 hours and crush the gig’ Cory explains. ‘Luckily, there’s plenty of great musicians in the UK and I found a drummer in London named Samson Jatto who learned all of the tunes and did an amazing job. It turned the stressful situation into a fun learning experience, and formed a lasting musical bond and friendship that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.’
Despite those difficulties, it was a tremendous show, which also saw Cory collaborating with some of Manchester’s talented young musicians. ‘Another thing that I’ll occasionally do is have a local horn section play with me for my shows, and in Manchester I had a first time experience of a double horn section! I had a horn section from RNCM, and a horn section from University of Salford. It was a blast to meet them the day of the show, run the tunes, and hit it that night! They brought a great energy to the show, and it’s fun to feel some of that new nervous energy of everyone keeping their antennas up for cues and waiting to see what’s going to happen next. It really brings an excitement to the overall atmosphere of the show.’
Cory has solo and Vulfpeck shows in the diary this year as well as plans for to release new studio material. ‘I’m stoked with the material I have so far, and also one of the songs is a collaboration that features UK singer Phoebe Katis. It was my first time collaborating with a UK artist and I’m really excited with how it turned out.’ Keep up with Cory on Facebook and check out the new Fearless Flyers video that has everybody talking, below.
Theon Cross of the aforementioned Sons of Kemet joined and Moses Boyd, Binker Moses and others for an awe-inspiring live rendition of After Tomorrow, released last week by Red Bull Music & Culture. Elsewhere, Snarky Puppy saxophonist Bob Reynolds released a new quartet rendition of Crush – a track first recorded with his Guitar Band – accompanied by a beautifully-crafted live video. Finally, Manchester-based duo Skeltr – who just completed a storming UK tour with U.S. outfit KNOWER, released a new video captured by the Sessions of March crew. Directed by project founder Kris Extance, it is the first of the 2018 sessions to be released and you can find out more about the project here.
Zola Jesus’ Okovi additions, which furthers the tale of her exceptional 2017 LP Okovi with unreleased tracks and remixes, is out today. Denis Jones’ exceptional LP 3333, which is launched at Band on the Wall on 18th April, is also streaming in full and 81-year-old Ghanaian highlife artist Ebo Taylor sees his first collection of new material for Mr. Bongo records hit the shelves, in the form of the Justin Adams-produced LP Yen Ara.
Back catalogue highlights include the deep compilation Mississippi Blues, a collection of Yazoo blues recordings first pressed up in the mid-to-late sixties and a collection of live recordings by 12 string guitar master Robbie Basho, made in Forli, Italy in 1982. The latter provide a great insight into the guitarist’s stagecraft while the former is one of the foremost collections of pre-second world war blues out there.