Charenee Wade, for her debut release on Motema Music, took a bold leap by recording her interpretation of the music of Gil Scott-Heron, titled “Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson.” She is the first woman artist to record a complete album tribute to the poet and his music collaborator.
July 8, Wade will celebrate her CD release party at the Jazz Standard (116 E. 27th St. and Park Avenue South). There will be two shows, at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
“Gil Scott-Heron makes me think about the responsibility and power of the artist to raise social consciousness,” said Wade. “Imagine if more artists used their platforms to positively shift consciousness like he and artists of his day did.”
Singing and arranging the poetry and music of Heron and Jackson was not easy. Heron was a revolutionary poet. His words flew through listeners’ ears like silver bullets packed with burning truths, striking cerebral craniums to move toward activism and an uncanny ability to detect conservative wolves through the mist.
As one listens to “Offering,” it becomes evident Wade’s vocal interpretations are effortless. She takes Heron’s 11 poems on a swinging jazz journey. Her reconstructions are just as spirited as Heron’s message, which, in light of today’s events, are just as relevant as they were during the 1970s.
The recording opens with the title track “Offering,” a mid-tempo bluesy tune featuring vibraphonist Stefon Harris. The track “Song of the Wind” feels like a sacred exchange between the past and present, a testament to the peace we are still seeking today.
On “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” Wade takes it up a notch, moving from serene emotional vocals to a lively, high-powered soul, jazz-funk-oriented story. “Ain’t No Such Thing as Superman” is another high-powered funk message, with Wade showing off her impressive scatting skills.
Heron called himself a “bluesologist,” and his Midnight Band was a swinging unit of jazz, blues and inspired neo-soul. Heron wasn’t really a singer. Although he had a big voice like a street baritone, he recited his poetry with a syncopated cadence on the fringes of bebop. His pioneering sound would later be called hip-hop.
For this CD, Wade is supported by her abled band, featuring pianist Brandon McCune, guitarist Dave Stryker, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, drummer Alvester Garnett and alto saxophonist Lekecia Benjamin (label mate) and special guests vibraphonist Stefon Harris, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Christian McBride (spoken word) and bass clarinetist Marcus Miller.
The cut “Essex/Martin, Grant, Byrd & Till” opens with a mystic John Coltrane-ish flow. The spoken word by Jamal Warner, sadly enough, could very well be replaced with the names of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown or Eric Garner.
As Wade uses her platform for social consciousness, she follows in the tradition of Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln. This album is just as important as Max Roach’s “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite” (Candid, 1960) with Abbey Lincoln.
Jazz vocalist Wade began singing at 12 and learned from such jazz influentials as Carmen Lundy and Christian McBride. Her voice easily runs the scales, moving from emotional, heartfelt ballads to distinctive sharp notes, scatting, belting out the funk like Dee Dee Bridgewater or being a storyteller similar to Lincoln or Shirley Horn.
Her impressive technique landed her first runner-up in the 2010 Thelonious Monk Competition. She followed this success with her debut album, “Love Walked In.”
Wade has been featured in many configurations, from jazz trios to big band and the conservatory’s 100-piece Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra. She has performed at Festival du Riou and the Montreaux Jazz Festival and toured Russia with the Oleg Butman Trio, playing such venues as Le Club in Moscow.
Wade is a singer, composer and arranger who received her degree from the Manhattan School of Music. She was included in Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead Program, in which she performed her original music at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. She was selected as a member of the Dianne Reeves Young Artist Workshop at Carnegie Hall and the first runner-up in the Jazzmobile Vocal Competition.
Wade chooses her projects wisely. Before this recording, she joined the bassist, composer and arranger Rufus Reid on his album “Quiet Pride,” a suite dedicated to the pioneering Black visual artist, sculpturer and civil rights activist Elizabeth Catlett.
Wade formerly performed weekly in the West Village at Zinc Bar, perfecting her craft. Lately, she has appeared at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, the Jazz Gallery (known for hiring artists who have a progressive take on the music) and venues in the tristate area. She is currently a professor at the Aaron Copland School of Music (Queens College).
“Gil Scott-Heron inspires me to do my own thing, to not be afraid to say what I want to say,” said Wade. For information about Jazz Standard reservations, call 212-576-2232