Sessionheads United is proud to announce the release of Curtis Nowosad’s latest album. The 31-year-old Canadian native emerges as a powerful musical force for social justice on a groundbreaking self-titled jazz and blues-driven collection that illuminates past and present American history while creating some profound history of its own. Nowosad’s decision to self-title his third album as a bandleader stemmed from a desire to share his deep core identity with audiences. In doing so, Nowosad offers five stunningly poignant original compositions alongside arrangements of three thematically related pieces: “Home is Where the Hatred Is” by Gil Scott-Heron, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” by Skip James, and “See Line Woman” by Nina Simone. The group includes Duane Eubanks (trumpet), Braxton Cook (alto sax), Andrew Renfroe (guitar), Jonathan Thomas (piano, Fender Rhodes, organ) and Luke Sellick (bass). Guests include Corey Wallace (trombone), Matthew Whitaker (organ) and vocalists Michael Mayo and Brianna Thomas. Marc Cary, who co-produced the album with Nowosad, guests on Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer and synth.
The notable precision and stunning interplay on this release stems from the explosive and intuitive chemistry of his NY-based ensemble that has held court in NYC everywhere from Smalls, Fat Cat and Rockwood Music Hall to The Jazz Standard and full week residencies at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The Harlem Sessions is a jam session based out of Smoke Jazz Club started by producer Marc Cary that invites musicians, poets, artists, philosophers and dancers to build and explore a new common repertoire with original ensemble arrangements. A key player in galvanizing this fresh and dynamic sense of cultural awareness, drummer/composer Curtis Nowosad was on hand anchoring the groove every week during the gathering’s first years. His renowned ensemble was birthed from the collaborative playing-ground that these sessions created.
With four of five original compositions on this album being named after notable activists of the past and present, this album unapologetically focuses on social justice. Taking cues from history and from the human rights atrocities of present-day, the intensity of Nowosad’s compositions stem from the genuine intentionality behind them. Nowosad’s funk/hardbop tinged arrangement of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home is Where the Hatred Is” starts this album off on a high. Reharmonized and arranged as an instrumental, this fiery take on the Scott-Heron classic sets the tone for the rest of the album. “The Water Protectors” is dedicated to the Standing Rock Sioux and all other indigenous people in the U.S., Canada and worldwide who are fighting for their rights to exist without encroachment. This track demonstrates Nowosad’s facility in arranging, with horn and vocal harmonies accenting the beautifully modern melody performed by guitarist Andrew Renfroe. The track features a virtuosic lyric-less improvisation by vocalist Michael Mayo and a fantastic solo by the esteemed Braxton Cook on alto sax. Vocalist Brianna Thomas brings the burning soul-blues angles and edges to “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and “See Line Woman,” the latter of which features a masterfully unpredictable synth solo from Marc Cary.
Ranging from lilting and simmering gospel to fiery bebop to an electric piano, organ and affected saxophone jam, “Never Forget What They Did to Fred Hampton” reflects both the forward thinking, socially conscious vision and the violent chaos that beset the Black Panther movement. “The music is very personal to me. I have gained a lot of insight living in Harlem for the past 5 1/2 years, and as a European-descended practitioner of Black American Music, I feel it is my duty to approach this music and these themes in a respectful, earnest and serious manner. I also feel that as I have made the transition from being an ‘outsider looking in’ (being from Canada) to an ‘insider looking out,’ so to speak, I have a unique perspective that I have chosen to express with this album.”
“I recorded my first two albums in my hometown of Winnipeg,” Curtis says, “with a band made up of my former teachers from the University of Manitoba. Those works were geared towards my growth as a musician and gaining a deeper knowledge of jazz. Stylistically, the new one is definitely a departure from those, yet is a much better reflection of who I am and the themes and issues that matter to me. It’s more important to me than just, ‘here are some new songs.’ These social issues were always simmering in my mind, and I was very vocal about them among the people I know and love, but it took a while before I was able to convey my feelings musically.
Understanding the world from Curtis’ perspective will no doubt prompt listeners not only to enjoy some of the most inventive, hard-hitting jazz they’ve heard in a long time, but also to start Googling and brushing up on their social history.
More about Curtis Nowosad:
Curtis laid the foundation for this current release with two previous critically acclaimed collections, his debut The Skeptic & the Cynic (which spent two weeks at #1 on the Canadian Jazz charts and featured Grammy-nominated pianist Taylor Eigsti) and the WCMA-winning and JUNO-nominated Dialectics (Cellar Live), which made DownBeat Magazine’s “Best of 2015” list, reached #3 on the CMJ jazz charts and spent ten weeks on the JazzWeek charts. The Skeptic & the Cynic was comprised mostly of cover songs by Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, Black Star and 2Pac, along with two originals. Recorded in Winnipeg in 2014 after Curtis’ first year at Manhattan School of Music, Dialectics featured mostly original music along with arrangements of compositions by Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter and the jazz standard “I Remember You.”
Derived from liner notes written by Jonathan Widran