Sarah Elizabeth Charles transitions to Stretch Music/Ropeadope with New Album 'Free of Form'

Sarah Elizabeth Charles transitions to Stretch Music/Ropeadope with New Album 'Free of Form'

By Robert Gluck - #trrnews

Sarah Elizabeth Charles - photo

Vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles is not just another young artist claiming to make a difference in our unsettled world. She is making a difference, not only with her music, but in teaching roles in conjunction with various organizations.

Charles talks the talk and she walks the walk. Walking with her may transform the way you think and feel about what's going on around us.

Known for her past recordings with Truth Revolution, Inner Dialogue (2015) and Red (2012), Charles’ newest record, Free of Form, released this month on the Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah's Stretch label/ Ropeadope, shows another side of her personality.

Sarah Elizabeth Charles - "Red" album cover

Sarah ELizabeth Charles - "Inner Dialogue" album cover

“I grew up singing in church and studying at the Community Music School in Springfield. I heard from people my whole life that my voice is so calming and so sweet. I take it as a compliment when people say they've put Red on at night to help them calm down and to end their day. On Inner Dialogue there is a tinge of aggressiveness within the context of my quiet intensity that is reflective of my personality. Up until Inner Dialogue the music I was writing was very much reflective of who I was day to day as a person. It was a journey of exploration, my curiosities, life and death, my family history, love and loss. It was very soul-baring.” Free of Form is quite different.

Charles played Free of Form for her father on a busy long drive they were taking together, and she says his first response was an exhale with a grunt. “I pressed him for what that meant and he said, ‘I know it’s you, but it’s so different, it’s another you‘. I think this is true.”

Sarah Elizabeth Charles - free of form

Charles started writing songs for Free of Form in 2013-14. One of her new songs, played by NPR to preview her new album, was a direct response to the homicide of Eric Garner in 2014. She also has other songs on the record that are written in response to mass incarcerations, race relations (and, as she says, “the healing that still needs to happen in our country“), a response to issues around addiction, and responses to violence in general.

Simply, the new songs on Free of Form are Charles’ response to the world she saw when she turned outward.

“When I turned outward those two paths--teaching artist Sarah and the performing and recording artist Sarah--fused together and I began drawing my inspiration from the world around me but also more specifically those experiences,” Charles says. “This album is as much a musical statement as a social commentary. A lot of artists are turning outward right now and we’re seeing the value in it. What we historically call jazz music has always reflected, in different times, the society and social landscape that surrounds it. That has been one the staples of the genre and this time is no different.”

The genre known as jazz has indeed changed, and the Stretch movement is a big part of that change. According to an article “Stretch, BAM and the Future of Jazz(2011)”, posted on the All About Jazz website and written by John Beaty, the mission of the Stretch movement is change.

“In our mission statement we were acknowledging that jazz was not only dead but that that word didn't aptly describe the music we play,“ Beaty wrote. “We started Stretch for all the amazing young musicians who are coming out of college that don't play or relate to swing, and will probably not go on to play jazz, nor perform live within the current music landscape. Simply put, Stretch is instrumental hip hop/rock played by true virtuoso instrumentalists.”

How did Charles get involved in the Stretch movement?

“I originally got connected with Christian Scott through Luques Curtis. I released my first two albums with Truth Revolution Records and I’m originally from Springfield, Massachusetts so I grew up shadowing Luques and Zaccai Curtis and other musicians. I remember watching Luques and Zaccai playing. Later on we connected in New York. Luques was on the road with Christian Scott and he played some of Red for Christian. Christian and I didn’t know each other before then. This is around 2013-14.”

After Luques played some of Charles’ music for Christian, Scott enjoyed it and he wanted to work with Charles. She was unsure whether this collaboration would ever happen.

“When it came time to record Inner Dialogue I was searching for a producer and my initial conversation with Christian came back into my head. I was thinking about Christian’s music and where it was heading,” Charles says.

"When I talked to Christian about producing Inner Dialogue, he seemed to very quickly recognize a kindred spirit in me and I noticed the same with him. When he said no to producing the record I was quiet and taken aback a bit,” Charles recalls. “Then he said I was already producing my own music, but he’ll co-produce with me. He said I already had a vision and I knew what I wanted."

Sarah Elizabeth Charles - photo

Charles says the interesting thing about Scott’s sound and her sound, at that time, is that they were different in many ways.
“His music was primarily instrumental at that point and my music is vocal music. But the aesthetics we were both playing with seemed to work. I was getting into Haitian folklore and those types of rhythms and incorporating my own thing on some of those classic folk pieces. He was beginning to delve into his calling, his inspiration that’s been in him a long time, that stems from his culture of African American and Native American.”
Both Scott and Charles allowed themselves to be inspired by the music of their childhoods growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s.
“As a result of that cultivating, and inviting various electronic elements and stylings, and exploring in the context of trap and effects pedals, the music began to evolve,” Charles says. “Stretch music is something a bit broader. I don’t necessarily see it as just what Christian’s music is. The great thing about Stretch music is it’s not just that. It allows for us who grew up in the 80s and 90s and studied the traditions of what we call jazz music to also be inspired by soul and hip hop and Nirvana and all sorts of things we were listening to growing up. It allows for us to cultivate what the next sound will be. Even in the context of Stretch music therefore there are sub-genres of Stretch music.”
What’s next for Charles?
“I’m looking forward to the release of Free of Form, touring, recording, teaching, and to continuing collaborations and projects pushing music forward, as well as continuing to collaborate with Christian and digging deeper into what Stretch music’s identity is going to be.”
--Robert Gluck is the author of On The Spirit Trail: One Man's Journey Into Nature & Art available at