For her just released album “Time Traveler” (Origin Records), singer/songwriter Nnenna Freelon has compiled some of the most traveled R&B ballads and effortlessly turned them into her own intimate heartfelt love story. This recording is most significant, serving as Freelon’s outlet to help her ongoing grieving process after the death of her husband of 40 years, renowned architect Phil Freelon (who led the design of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture), who passed away after his battle with ALS in 2019. Within six months, her sister, Dr. Debbie Pierce, passed away from cancer.
“I chose songs that made a real impact on us. When I was young experiencing new love and the excitement of possibilities,” said Freelon. “Now, 40 years later, it means something different now that my husband has passed. I never thought of these songs as mourning but it was a lot of comfort in singing them in my present circumstances. It helped me to understand and reflect on songs my husband and I related to.”
Freelon has enhanced her sultry jazz vocals with a soulful timbre that dances on bluesy melodies, penetrating the album’s 11 gems.
This registered timbre is yet another tool for Freelon’s vocal arsenal that hopefully we will hear more of. The cut “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” opens with Freelon’s enticing vocals accompanied by sweet strumming guitar rhythms. The Stylistics “Betcha By Golly, Wow” takes on a new coat with Freelon’s interpretation moving with a definitive fiery tenor saxophone kicking in the background. Take note of her tantalizing Marvin Gaye Medley: “If This World Were Mine,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
“There was pride associated with the voices of Valerie Simpson, Tammy Terrell and Marvin Gaye. Songs like ‘If This World Were Mine’ were nuggets in the Motown catalogue that traveled through time to bring me to my present,” noted Freelon. The singer penned the title track for her husband. It opens with her husband’s voice from a voice message. “Before he died and could still speak, he left me all these voice messages that I didn’t find until he had passed,” said Freelon. “I feel he left me notes for a time when I really needed them. Just a little taste of my beloved.” For this track Freelon said, “It was an improvisational moment. I just asked the musicians to play and bring their lost loved ones into the studio but they went far beyond that.”
Some of the incredible musicians on the album are saxophonist Kirk Whalum, drummers E.J. Strickland and Adonis Rose, bassist Noah Jackson and guitar bassist Gerald Veasley. “I am very proud being able to pull such a generous group of musicians together. It was difficult during COVID-19, but it came together.”
“Time Traveler” is Freelon’s first album in a decade. She was touring and performing concerts but once her husband was diagnosed, he became her most important commitment. “Once he passed, I wasn’t sure if I had a voice to sing through my grief, but another piece of authenticity was created.”
Before starting her new podcast called “Great Grief,” Freelon was keeping a daily journal. “When my husband and sister passed, I was flooded with feelings and ideas that kept me up at night,” she says. “So I started talking into my phone mic; after my girlfriend heard it, she suggested I start the podcast. I am not offering advice. I am a storyteller and singer and I speak about how I feel but I may break out in song, acapella or with piano. I hope like the album people can just sit down and reflect about our grief. I am so grateful it’s been so well received. It’s not sad, it’s a safe place to explain what we are feeling.”
You can visit the website at greatgrief.com.
As for her new look, the Massachusetts native commented, “This brown skin gal can show a whole lotta styles and it’s all good.”
The Django is the new jazz club on the block in Manhattan’s Tribeca located at 2 6th Avenue at The Roxy Hotel.
The subterranean jazz club, with its vaulted ceilings and exposed brick walls, was modeled after the boites of Paris. The venue consists of two cocktail bars, an open dining space, and a stage for live performances with a state-of-the-art Meyer Sound system. The Django is open Tuesday-Saturday 7 p.m. until late.
Since October the downtown jazz club became the new residency for the Grammy award winning Mingus Big Band (every Tuesday night) playing the music of the iconic composer, bassist and bandleader Charles Mingus (1922-’79). The Jazz Workshop (the Mingus organization) revived its weekly celebration that will run through December. Having the big band back in the Apple is a big deal recognizing the long jazz tradition instilled during his days with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Herbie Hancock. His archives were acquired by the Library of Congress, a first for jazz, and a first for a Black composer.
Comprised of a revolving family of musicians, the 14-piece Mingus Big Band has a long history in the New York jazz community. It performed Thursday nights from 1991 to 2004 at Fez under Time Cafe in New York City, and later weekly at Joe’s Pub and Iridium.
More recently Mingus Mondays were celebrated for nearly 12 years at Jazz Standard, halted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the club’s December 2020 closing.
Boris Kozlov, the band’s bassist and music director, said, “We are so lucky to be sharing Mingus’ music and playing live at The Django. We are thrilled to reconnect with our audience in this beautiful venue as we gear up for Mingus’ centennial celebration in April 2022.”
For a complete schedule, visit the website thedjangonyc.com.