Highly Recommended Album and New York/L.A. Appearances: THINGS ARE LOOKING UP (Queen Esther)

Post image for Highly Recommended Album and New York/L.A. Appearances: THINGS ARE LOOKING UP (Queen Esther)

by Tony Frankel on March 13, 2024

in CD-DVD,Concerts / Events


The press release says, “Armed with original songs, formidable vocal chops and a powerhouse of a band, Queen Esther uses her Southern roots to create a sound she calls Black Americana.” But I call her latest album Things Are Looking Up simply the coolest jazz around. It’s a scintillating mix of original songs and lost classics from Lady Day (yes, Billie Holiday), backed up by some super-cool jazz musicians in trio and quartet. It drops April 9, 2024 on her label EL Recordings (thanks to an admin publishing deal with Bug Music, now BMG) and it’s 12 tracks of heaven.

The bouncy “Blow, Blossoms” that opens this gift bag is a nifty swinger with great piano playing by Jeremy Bacon. Then there’s the cover of “Having Myself a Time” with gentle growling and perfect diction. Dreamy. And get ready for immediately accessible originals, such as the bluesy “Flashin’ in Front of My Eyes” by Lenny Molotov. And Rodgers and Hart’s “Glad to Be Unhappy” is something you lean into, as her unforced, natural tone just lingers in the air, as it does in the ballad “I’ll Look Around.” The title song by the Gershwins, “Things Are Looking Up,” cements Queen as an original, genuine singer who never has to use vocal pyrotechnics to be heard. And I love the way she bites off consonants like Cécile McLorin Salvant. She has self-released two singles and seven albums, including Things Are Looking Up and the upcoming alt-Americana Blackbirding (drops March 2025).

Speaking of Blackbirding, if you’re in the NY area in April, I offer three engagements below (she’ll also be doing jazz + Black Americana at The BroadStage in Santa Monica with guitarist Jeff McLaughlin on May 11, 2024). Queen Esther’s work in New York City has led to prolific collaborations in neo-vaudeville, alt-theater, various alt-rock factions, (neo) swing bands, trip-hop DJs, spoken word performances, jazz combos, jam bands, numerous blues configurations, original Off-Broadway plays and musicals, experimental music, art noise and performance art. She refines her skills with performances in the city as she writes, produces and releases jazz and Black Americana albums.

Queen Esther performing at The Symphony Space on January 25

On Monday April 8, 2024, she’ll be in the Vanguard Gala at Joe’s Pub honoring Angélique Kidjo.

Then on April 11, 2024 — as part of Uncharted Concert Series at the Greenwich House Music School — you’ll hear goodies from Blackbirding, which she created as a reclamation-driven soundtrack of alt-Americana songs while living on the Gettysburg battlefield during an All Media Artist Residency at Gettysburg National Military Park, through the National Park Service. This album serves as a requiem for the Antebellum South, Reconstruction and the Black folk who lived through it. Ultimately, they begin the work of unraveling the reason why America’s Civil War has never really ended.

From April 18-20, 2024, she’ll perform at the WP Theater in Blackbirding, a solo show steeped in lost history, ephemera, ghost stories and folklore, storytelling and original reclamation driven Americana – it’s a requiem for America’s neverending Civil War and the promise of Reconstruction, tangled in a Southern Black feminist vernacular. Accompanied by the great banjoist/guitarist Ayodele Maatheru (Paradise Square, Shuffle Along, Lackawanna Blues), the show will be directed for the Pipeline PlayLAB Festival by Lorna Ventura.

You can pre-order Things Are Looking Up at Bandcamp or other services.

Things Are Looking Up
Queen Esther, vocalist

Jeremy Bacon TrioJeremy Bacon, piano
Shawn Balthazor, drums
Thomson Kneeland, bass

Queen Esther and her QuartetJeremy Bacon, pianoHilliard Greene, double bassJeff McLaughlin, electric guitar
Warren Smith, drums

1. Blow, Blossoms (L. Molotov/S.D. Hinds) 3:20
2. Having Myself a Time (L. Robin/R. Rainger) 2:55
3. Detour Ahead (L. Carter/H. Ellis/J. Frigo) 6:19
4. Flashin’ in Front of My Eyes 4:22
5. Gold Standard 3:28
6. Glad to Be Unhappy (R. Rodgers/L. Hart) 5:10
7. Clean Blue Flame 6:13
8. I’ll Look Around (G. Cory Jr/D. Cross) 3:19
9. Things Are Looking Up (G. Gershwin/I. Gershwin) 2:40
10. Big Stuff (L. Bernstein) 2:47
11. Paris on the Moon 4:27
12. If the Moon Turns Green (B. Hanighen/P. Cates) 3:15
Songs written by Lenny Molotov (Microscopic Lighthouse, ASCAP) except where indicated

album cover photo by Stephen Rosen

Queen Esther’s creative output musically is the culmination of several critical Southern elements, not the least of which are years of recording and touring internationally as frontwoman for several projects with her mentor, harmolodic guitar icon James “Blood” Ulmer, including a stint in his seminal band, Odyssey. Raised in Atlanta, GA, and embedded in Charleston, SC’s Lowcountry – a region with African traditions and Black folkways that span centuries and constantly inform her work – Harlem-based producer, vocalist, songwriter, musician and performer Queen Esther uses her Gullah roots as a touchstone to explore cultural mores in America, deconstructing well-worn historical narratives while creating a reclamation-driven soundscape.

Leave a Comment