Charenee Wade is not one to hold back or let fear stand in her way. The first artist ever to enter two Thelonious Monk Vocal competitions, she walked away from the second one in 2010 with instant buzz and second place to her new friend Cecilé McLorin Salvant. Now is the time for Wade’s star to rise. Known for expert vocal improvisational ability and her seriously swinging groove, Wade evokes a classic jazz sound akin to Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughan, two of her musical touchstones. With her Motéma debut, Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson (June 23), she pays tribute to another inspiration, the socially conscious poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron, and confirms that she too plans to use her artist platform thoughtfully.
The first full-length album tribute to Scott-Heron and his musical collaborator Brian Jackson by a woman artist, Offering is arresting in just how timely Scott-Heron’s messages are today and how perfectly Wade delivers them through her savvy arrangements and intimate jazz interpretations. While she has earned many accolades – first runner-up in New York’s Jazzmobile Vocal competition; a participant in Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program; a feature on NPR’s Song Travels; a starring role in the off-Broadway show Café Society and in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Salute to Betty Carter – she may surprise people with this authentic tour de force.
Wade embodies Scott-Heron’s poems deeply and with a pathos that belies her age. Her singing is effortless and inventive on the opening title track, and with her lithe voice floating around the poet’s timeless words, we are invited into her invocation. Indeed “Song of the Wind” feels like a sacred exchange between the past and present and a testament to the peace we’re still seeking today. “A Toast to The People” showcases her excellent storytelling ability and subtle vocal prowess. On “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” she and the band throw down the gauntlet both in terms of the powerful message and jazz chops on display.
Like Scott-Heron, Wade believes that we are the ones right now who must commit to social consciousness and to just action, as she makes plain in “Ain’t No Such Thing As A Superman,” which she mines for its jazz, blues and soul elements. The call to action continues in the next selection, “Essex/Martin, Grant, Byrd and Till,” as the story and names recited by actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner could be exchanged today with those of Martin, Brown, Garner and sadly, many more. Wade goes into a slow burn on “Western Sunrise” and the poignant track, “The Vulture (Your Soul and Mine).” Her finesse with language, intervals, dynamics and emotive ability is on brilliant display in “Peace Go With You Brother.” The closing song “I Think I’ll Call It Morning” signals that hope is always what drives positive change.
Produced by Grammy-nominated music industry veteran and Sirius XM personality Mark Ruffin, the recording features notable guest stars and a stellar band comprised of Brandon McCune on piano; Dave Stryker on guitar; Lonnie Plaxico on bass; and Alvester Garnett on drums. Wade’s labelmate, saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, sits in on “Essex/Martin,” as does Marcus Miller on bass clarinet and actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner on spoken word. Another spoken word guest is bassist Christian McBride, who opens “Peace Go With You Brother.” The great vibes player Stefon Harris is featured on six selections. Wade’s first international release follows on the recent publication of a biography on Scott-Heron by Marcus Baram called “Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of A Man.”
Wade gives ample evidence on this remarkable debut as to why she is one of the most exciting, distinctive and bold young musical talents on the rise today. A native of Brooklyn, she began singing at age 12 and fell under the spell of Sarah Vaughan. Wade attended LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts and earned her music degree from Manhattan School of Music. One of four artists selected for the Dianne Reeves Young Artist workshop at Carnegie Hall, she was first runner-up at the 2006 New York City Jazzmobile Vocal Competition, which also featured Gregory Porter, whom Motéma launched into global stardom. The entire jazz industry has passionately embraced Wade including Wynton Marsalis, who features her regularly at Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC); Christian McBride, who mentored her at his Jazz Aspen Academy; and labelmate Rufus Reid, who selected her for his Grammy-nominated album, Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project. Wade has performed with Bobby Sanabria, Aaron Diehl, Oran Etkin, Robert Glasper and MacArthur Fellow and choreographer Kyle Abraham among others and at venues and festivals worldwide including Montreux and Spoleto. This year she is touring in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s national presentation, Ladies Sing the Blues.
A singer, composer, arranger and educator, Wade is a professor at the Aaron Copland School at Queens College and was just recently appointed to Peabody Institute. Following the Monk competition in 2010, she self-released Love Walked In, which earned her the NPR Song Travels feature. With Offering, Wade continues walking in love and using her art to raise our consciousness.