Lauren Lee’s The Queen of Cups

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s May 2021 review for New York City Jazz Record.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, composer Lauren Lee began to rethink and reconstruct songs meant for her trio, gathering freshly composed repertoire and old songs, which manifest on her third album, The Queen of Cups. This solo vocal and piano album consists of half original music and half reimagined standards that stem from Lee’s intricate imagination and distinct compositional style. One of the most enticing components is the esoteric title. This mystical tarot card archetype is that of a being who wades deeply within her emotions and flows in the watery depths of her empathic and caring behavioral projections.

The Queen of Cups sits on a throne reigning alone, which lends insight into the metamorphosis of trio music into a solo effort. Lee performs her sparse pieces, personal lyrics and unique scatting technique with confidence and quietly crisp production. Opener “Cognition” offers rich piano, which rings and sonically glows against voice. Lee does not sing lyrics, but instead creates romantically somber melodies. Continue reading “Lauren Lee’s The Queen of Cups”

Feminist Jazz Journalism, Now! Part 3: Speculative Futures & New Jazz Journalism

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s April 2021 essay for Jazz Journalists Association.

The implementation of feminist theory into the art of jazz criticism is a rational and logical step towards broadening the language and perception of jazz.

For far too long, the voices and gatekeepers of the jazz journalistic realm have embodied the overwhelming dominance of straight, white*, Western, traditionalist males whose navigation through the jazz musical community has resulted in the silencing, diminution, commodification, and cultural appropriation of a Black American art form. White men have dominated the jazz criticism field since the genre’s inception.

White male jazz journalists would argue that the tradition they have overtaken (jazz) has celebrated and supported Black jazz musicians, but this is simply not the case. Not enough has been done in the stretch of nearly a century to address the history of racism, sexism and anti-gay sentiments that plagued early jazz criticism (dominated by white men) and directly combatted the validity and power that jazz musicians had attained through sheer artistic expression, talent and musical innovation.

In her paper “The White Reception of Jazz in America,” (African American Review Vol. 38, No. 1, Spring 2004) Maureen Anderson wrote ”From 1917 to 1930 white America was forced to realize that a new form of music, jazz, rising on radio airwaves and appearing in clubs worldwide, was here to stay. At the same time, articles analyzing, judging, appraising, and condemning jazz flooded into publication . . . Motivated by political and racial concerns, many jazz critics during the Harlem Renaissance publicized their dislike of jazz music in order to express their dislike for African Americans.”

She continues, “In striving to analyze and to understand the concepts of jazz music, white critics often hid behind black stereotypes in order to explain the increased fascination the world had with jazz. As magazines first began to recognize jazz, between 1917 and 1920, critics’ principal aim appeared innocently enough to be asking what, exactly, jazz was. Yet, delving deeper into the language of early articles, one soon discovers that the explanations of jazz are also the signs of aggression by white critics . . .” Continue reading “Feminist Jazz Journalism, Now! Part 3: Speculative Futures & New Jazz Journalism”

Feminist Jazz Journalism, Now! Part 2: A solution-based analysis

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s March 2021 essay for Jazz Journalists Association.

I’ve previously posed several questions regarding the relevance and presence, or lack thereof, of the feminist voice and women’s lens in jazz criticism. Engaging in an introspective and theoretical discourse with the jazz community and within ourselves as writers is one of the most important activities one can do in order to create a framework for impactful and lasting change.

Nonetheless, it would be irresponsible to leave this conversation floating in a realm of thoughtful ideology, without offering some form of solution-based analysis that would assist in creating concrete opportunities for growth, inclusiveness and advancement. These proposed solutions are nothing more than building blocks for writers, editors, publishers, and thinkers to consider in formation of their own ideas and tactics to create more equality within the jazz criticism community.

Before going on, I have one more question to express: Is it the responsibility of male writers and gatekeepers to lead the change we all seem to agree is needed? Or should it be women writers who organize themselves to create the environment in which we want to work and operate?

I believe the answer is both.

Feminist organizing, as with any movement, takes experience and humane strategies. Not everyone has the background needed to bring marginalized people together to create change, but those that do should utilize the knowledge we have in our community-oriented toolboxes to support those who are willing to learn and contribute. Continue reading “Feminist Jazz Journalism, Now! Part 2: A solution-based analysis”

Feminist Jazz Journalism, Now!

 

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s March 2021 essay for Jazz Journalists Association.

Feminism is a school of thought that vehemently fights for equality within the binary gendered society, along with intersections of race and LGTBQ communities, demanding that justice be served through the uplifting of women. Therefore: Is it a feminist act for a woman to simply attempt to express her voice in an acutely male-dominated jazz criticism community? Or is it only truly feminist when a woman embeds feminist theory into her jazz writing or chooses to solely write about women jazz musicians and composers?

With the overwhelming disparity in the number of women compared to men who grace the pages of traditional jazz publications and mainstream media, many questions yearn to be considered.

If there were more women writing about jazz, would a new collective tone arise over the status quo that male journalists have cultivated throughout the history of jazz criticism and documentation? Will the experience of navigating socio-political environments steeped in sexist cultural standards, deeply engrained societal pressures and emotionally fraught artistic landscapes offer virtually unexplored perceptions and observations that could potentially create a new and fresh voice in jazz journalism? Continue reading “Feminist Jazz Journalism, Now!”

Rachel Winder Finds ‘Freedom’ in the Midst of Struggle

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s March 2021 feature for CapitalBop.

On a chilly, clear-skied February morning in Baltimore City, the young composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Rachel Winder was holed up in the Moose House Recording Studio, delegating out musical tasks as she glided from the vocal booth to the engineering room. Standing over her recording engineer’s shoulder, she offered thoughts and suggestions for slight enhancements to her new single, “Freedom,” out Friday. Sharp and attentive, Winder listened closely while he filled out the low end to the track and added atmospheric elements to the vocals, like a billowing reverb and sensuously haunting echoes of delay.

Each room in the studio was inhabited by a handful of young Black musicians, all there to play on Winder’s new album. During breaks, she chatted with her social media manager, while awaiting the arrival of a videographer who would be gathering preliminary shots for the song’s music video. Her team was calm and in good spirits, and the energy in the studio felt communal and productive.

Known as Ray to friends and collaborators, Winder has a kind and patient bearing, yet she was clearly in command of the several cogs revolving around her, stewarding the process of musical manifestation with quiet confidence and decisiveness. “We make sounds out of what we are,” she said as she prepared to go into the booth to lay down vocal ornamentations. Continue reading “Rachel Winder Finds ‘Freedom’ in the Midst of Struggle”

Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci’s End of Softness

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s March 2021 review for New York City Jazz Record’s Women’s History Month Issue.

The surreal, apocalyptic musical offering End of Softness is the second collaboration between vocalist Amirtha Kidambi and sound artist Lea Bertucci. The album is comprised of carefully woven musical shards from their debut album Phase Eclipse and a live performance the duo reworked and retexturized in order to create this new collection of darkly-themed songs.

End of Softness is an artistic illustration of the end of days and patriarchal-induced confusion and decimation erected and produced during Kidambi and Bertucci’s personal isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be assumed that the stark collaborative readjustment was a deeply embedded source of inspiration as the tracks are heavily coated with sounds of empowered desperation, resulting in a kind of freedom that can only be earned through perseverance and ingenuity during this time of global loss. Continue reading “Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci’s End of Softness”

Nubya Garcia’s Source

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s November 2020 review for New York City Jazz Record.

British tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia continues to emerge as a significant voice with her leader debut SOURCE. This sensuous collection is admirably played by Joe Armon-Jones (piano), Daniel Casimir (bass) and Sam Jones (drums), produced by Garcia and Kwes, the latter working with notable artists like Solange and Bobby Womack. This combination of musicians and producers is sonically compatible and gels well on an intuitive level as well as technically. Garcia is an imaginative storyteller, SOURCE a reflection of her swirling inner world of familial history, highs and lows of attaining well-earned prestige and personal struggles of grief while experiencing the world through an Afrodiasporic lineage and lens. Continue reading “Nubya Garcia’s Source”

Sevens: Alice Coltrane – Transfiguration (Live, 1976)

FJR founder, Jordannah Elizabeth’s 2013 review for Aquarium Drunkard.

It’s been noted that 1976’s “Transfiguration” is a culmination, and a sort of completion of the body of work Alice Coltrane had been building since 1967. The title track from the eponymous live album (not released until 1978) was purposely titled to mark the beginning of Coltrane’s spiritual based compositional phase where she strictly composed Hindu inspired chants and meditation music. Strong and entrancing, “Transfiguration” is perhaps most importantly a free jazz piece that contains absolutely no bells and whistles, and no Hare Krishna title or lyrics. It’s just Coltrane on piano and organ, Reggie Workman on bass and Roy Haynes on drums, giving the audience at UCLA in Los Angeles an opportunity to hear what Coltrane was naturally working with. Continue reading “Sevens: Alice Coltrane – Transfiguration (Live, 1976)”

Billie Holiday and the First Hundred Days

President Biden has made new promises to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racial divides which can undoubtedly result in releasing a new season of reassurance to the ailing and marginalized community in Harlem World and countless regions in American society, but there should be a level of patience and skepticism within our collective mind. Yes, an era of chaos, abuse, sabotage, and dishonesty has ended since the swearing-in of new power and Biden wants speaking honestly about the healing of our hearts and minds, but he can never truly understand the trauma of oppression and the terror that has been bestowed upon us as a people. Kamala Harris understands, but we must wait and see if she and the president can create solid policies that will withstand a possible entrance of a conservative administration that historically arrives after the reign of a Democrat president. Continue reading “Billie Holiday and the First Hundred Days”

Equal At Last? Women In Jazz, By The Numbers

Originally published on NPR Music. Authors: Lara Pellegrinelli, Shannon J. Effinger, Jordannah Elizabeth, Kira Grunenberg, Rachel Horn, Georgia Sebesky, and Natalie Weiner.

In the 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, five of the top 10 new releases were recordings led or co-led by women artists — a startling 50%. In fact, it is the largest number of projects led by women in the top 10 since the annual poll began 14 years ago, surpassing 2018, when women comprised a third of those rankings.

That would seem to be good news for a musical community that has been frustratingly slow to embrace women musicians. Women in jazz have traditionally been singers, a role that allows them to be dismissed as entertainers who are not fundamental to jazz as “serious” art. Few female instrumentalists — or, for that matter, composers, arrangers and bandleaders — have become part of the music’s story, one that stretches back to the late 19th century. Continue reading “Equal At Last? Women In Jazz, By The Numbers”