Saturday, February 13, 2016

Slam Allen - Feel these Blues

For years, Harrison 'Slam' Allen could be seen fronting the James Cotton Band with his guitar and vocals. For a few years he played on a cruise line (nice work if you can get it). He has returned to the blues scene and has a new recording "Feel These Blues" (American Showplace Music). In addition to his guitar and vocals, Slam is backed by a rock solid band of John Ginty on keyboards, Jeff Andersen on bass guitar and Dan Fadel on drums for a program of 11 originals and a rendition of Prince's "Purple Rain."

There is nothing fancy about Slam Allen with his rocking, B.B. King influenced guitar and his strong vocals. His  vocals strike me as his greatest strength although he is no slouch as a guitarist. The album opens with with the title track with its lament about being hard to find blues on the radio but he will keep laying down these blues playing  guitar while chanting you got to feel these blues. The B.B. King flavored shuffle "The Blues Is Back," another song dealing with the blues as a genre, and is a highlight of this recording with some searing guitar. "All Because Of You" is a solid original whose melody evokes the Gladys Knight hit "My Imagination," while "In September," is a nice slice of country soul with a terrific vocal. There is a funk groove for "35 Miles Outside of Memphis," as Slam sings about about stressful things on his mind but one of them sure ain't his woman, and followed by the intense slow, B.B. King styled blues "World Don't Stop Turning." Another strong straight blues in this vein is "You're Wrong." "Can't Break Away from That Girl" is another solid southern flavored soul performance, similar to some of Johnny Rawls recent recordings.

"Feel These Blues" closes with a lengthy interpretation of "Purple Rain," and one suspects this may have been popular on the cruises fortunate enough to have Slam Allen as an entertainer. Having seen Slam Allen several times, I can attest how entertaining he is performing and this is captured to some extent on this solid recording.

I bought this from Slam but also received a review copy from the record company. Here is Slam Allen in performance

Friday, February 12, 2016

Robert Francis Valentine for Chet Baker

Robert Francis
Aeronaut Records

Singer-songwriter Robert Francis, has a new album "Valentine" where he covers the classic "Chet Baker Sings," which was the late Baker's first vocal recording. The origin for this session came from one night he came by a Wednesday jazz gig that Aeronaut's owner John Mastro organized and sang "a standard "My Funny Valentine" with the house band. A few weeks later he recorded this album with backing from Guitarist John Storie, bassist Tim Emmons, drummer Kenny Elliot and sax man Zane Musa (who are all members of Jeff Goldblum's band The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra). Saxophonist Musa passed away a few weeks after this was recorded.

Francis evokes Baker's low-key, whisky laced vocals without simply imitating Baker. The backing helps contribute to this with Guitarist Storie providing a nice setting and Elliot's adroit use of brushes contributing to the feel of the performances. Francis almost whispers "My Funny Valentine" until he cries "stay little valentine," while his more demonstrative singing on "Time After Time" is complemented by Musa's saxophone, both feathery and robust. Musa adds obligatos on "I Fall In Love Too Easily" and solos with some delightfully old school tenor. His robust tenor sets the plate for Francis' swinging "There Will Never Be Another You."

A particular highlight is "The Thrill Is Gone," with Francis' melancholy vocal echoed by Musa's  sax. I have not heard Francis outside of this recording, and even if stylistically indebted to Baker here, the performances have their own charm. This charm, in part, results from the sympathetic backing, as well as Francis' own vocals, leading to focused, concise performances. This is available as a 10 inch vinyl album and as a digital download from the usual sources.

A publicist provided me with a download of this. Here is Robert performing "Time After Time."

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Lew Tabackin Trio - Soundscapes

A new self-produced recording by the Lew Tabackin Trio, "Soundscapes," is one that certainly merits plenty of attention. Tabackin, whose career spans decades, continues to display remarkable fluency on tenor sax and flute and construct some remarkable improvisations. Tabackin is joined by bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Mark Taylor on this recording that was engineered by Jimmy Katz and mostly recorded at Steve Maxwell's Drum Shop, with the exception of one selection done at Tabackin's basement.

The opening performance, John Lewis' "Afternoon in Paris," immediately sets the tone with the authority and imagination of Tabackin's playing. The robustness of his playing along with the exemplary support by Kozlov and Taylor, and the trio's interplay, makes this and the entire album stand out. Particularly impressive selections include Tabackin's blues "Bb Where It's At" opening as a percussion supported duet between Tabackin and Kozlov that features the leader's marvelous improvisation with Taylor's accents on snare and cymbals adding to the performance's flair. Three selections feature Tabackin on flute of which his fat, wet playing on the standard "Yesterday's," stands out. Tabackin was a regular poll winner in the eighties and his playing on this and the rest of this recording illustrate why. Then there is a spellbinding interpretation of Billy Strayhorn's "Daydream."

When listening to a trio recording by a tenor saxophonist, one is reminded of legendary Sonny Rollins' "Live at the Village Vanguard." While not exclusively devoted to Tabackin on tenor, "Soundscapes" can stand the comparison and stands out as a superb hard bop trio recording.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is an extended excerpt of the Lew Tabackin Trio performing in Japan.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Clare Fischer - Out of the Blue

Brent Fischer has been busy preserving and perpetuating his father's legacy since the legendary Clare Fischer passed away in 2012. "Out of the Blue" is the latest Clavo Records release of previously unissued old and new recordings by the pianist, composer and arranger with his original keyboards supported by his son and producer Brent who provided arrangements and played Percussion Instruments and Bass; Peter Erskine or Mike Shapiro on drums, and Denise Donatelli & John Prolux -providing vocals for "Out of the Blue."

This recording contains several of Fischer's original compositions along with seven jazz and Brazilian standards. Son Brent's notes in the attached booklet provide a context for this posthumous release as well as details each of the selections. Listening to this a number of times one notices a stately elegant quality to Clare Fischer's piano on the opening "Love's Walk,' with Peter Erskine and Brent accompanying him. What also one notices is the articulation and the fascinating development of the musical themes. He employed an electric keyboard for "Tema Do Boneco De Palha (Theme Of The Straw Doll)," one of several Brazilian performances here, and he makes use of the instruments tonality in constructing the performance here and at the same time retain the relaxed, uncluttered feel of his piano.

"When You Wish Upon A Star / Someday My Prince Will Come" is a marvelous solo piano feature where he finds common threads between the two songs. "Starbright" is another fascinating performance with his electric keyboard suggesting a vibraphone at times. "Cascade Of The Seven Waterfalls," is another Brazilian delight, while the title track features the vocals of Donatelli and Prolux adding both horn-like lines and scatting against the trio backing. "Millbrae Walk," inspired by the late Cal Tjader, again has the leader evoking vibes on his keyboards on this lively performance which is followed by a haunting solo rendition of the Jobim-Gilbert-De Moraes penned "Amor Em Paz." Johnny Hodges' "Squatty Roo," is a delightful, sprightly duet between father and son and then followed by an introspective, poetical reading of Django Reinhardt's lovely "Nuages." Again it sounds like vibes being (along with piano) played on a highly energized performance of Fischer's "Novelho," with a bass solo and trading fours with the drummer followed by some lively piano. The closing medley of Brazilian classics "Carnaval / A Felicidade / Samba De Orpheu," further displays his ability to bring out an emotive quality of each note.

In the notes, Brent Fischer hints at more musical delights from his father. Certainly "Out of the Blue" will whet the musical appetite for these.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is some vintage Clare Fischer.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ronnie Earl And Friends

Ronnie Earl
And Friends
Telarc 83537

1- All Your Love; 2 - Rock Me Baby; 3 - I'll Take Care of You/ Lonely Avenue; 4 - Mighty Fine Boogie/ 5 - One More Mile/ 6 - Bad Boy/ 7 - Twenty-five Days/ 8- No More/ 9- Last Night/ 10 - New Vietnam Blues/ 11 - Marie/ 12 - Blue and Lonesome/ 13 -Looking Good. 68:17

Earl, g; Dave Maxwell, p (exc-13); Jimmy Mouradian, b (exc-3, 10, 13); Levon Helm, d (exc. -13); Luther 'Guitar Junior' Johnson, -1, 6 vcl, g; Kim Wilson, vcl, hca - 2, 5, 8, 9, 12; James Cotton, hca - 4, 5, 8; Irma Thomas, vcl -3, 10; Michael 'Mudcat' Ward, b -3, 10; Paul Marrochello, g -10; Tim 'Juice' O'Connor, g -10. Woodstock, NY. Oct. 30, 31 and Nov. 1, 2000.

This is an all star session led by guitarist Ronnie Earl on Telarc. Those heard on this include Luther’ Guitar Junior’ Johnson, Levon Helm, David Maxwell, Irma Thomas, James Cotton and Kim Wilson for a program of blues mostly performed in the Chicago blues vein. While several recent albums have displayed Earl’s very interesting fusion of jazz and blues, this album marks a return to a straight blues setting.   Earl is joined by an excellent band that includes piano from Dave Maxwell and drums by Levon Helm of The Band.  Vocals are shared by Kim Wilson, Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson and Irma Thomas. In addition to several tracks featuring both of their harmonicas, there is a harmonica duet by Wilson and Cotton.

Dave Maxwell strongly evokes the spirit of Otis Spann on his feature "Marie." Two instrumentals serve to spotlight Earl, one being the short closing rendition of Magic Sam’s "Lookin’ Good." Luther Johnson contributes a top notch version of Magic Sam’s "All Your Love." Irma Thomas does a wonderful rendition of Bobby Bland’s "I’ll Take Care of You," which segues into Ray Charles’ "Lonely Avenue."  Her other vocal is "New Vietnam Blues," a updating of Junior Wells’ recording, "Viet Cong Blues," reflecting the social changes of the past three decades.  Kim Wilson shines as a vocalist on "Rock Me Baby" and James Cotton’s "One More Mile," one of the titles that have both Cotton and Wilson on harmonica.

There is terrific playing throughout, whether the interplay between the harmonicas of Cotton and Wilson on "Mighty Fine Boogie," Earl’s evocation of Mel Brown and Buddy Guy on the Irma Thomas vocals, and Maxwell’s consistently solid piano. There are a couple places where Earl’s playing strikes one as a bit busy (particularly "All Your Love"), but his playing never overwhelms the vocal. And Earl quite capably plays the supportive role on the tracks with Cotton and Wilson, adding some nice fills. This is quite an enjoyable blues album.

This review was written for Cadence from who I wrote this review in 2001. I have inserted paragraph breaks. Here is Luther 'Guitar Jr." Johnson and Ronnie Earl performing together.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016



1 - Blue ‘n’ Boogie/ 2 - Stringin’ the Jug/ 3 -God Bless the Child/ 4 - Autumn in New York/ 5 - Ugetsu/ 6 - Bye Bye Blackbird. 68:03.

Ammons, ts exc. 4 & 5; Stitt, ts -1, 2, 6, as -4; Cedar Walton, p; Sam Jones, b; Billy Higgins, d. Baltimore, MD. June 24, 1973.

This is a welcome addition to the available collaborations between Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Recorded during a performance for The Left Bank Jazz Society, it features some good spirited tenor wailing by the pair who each also have a solo feature. For a location recording the sound is more than acceptable, especially for the time recorded although the rhythm section is a bit down in the mix. The terrific rhythm section of Walton, Jones and Higgins is featured on Walton’s “Ugetsu.” Ammons has some intonation problems opening on “Blue n Boogie” that dissipate as he warms up before Stitt takes his turn exhibiting a lighter tone and a bit less gut bucket in his solo before they start trading choruses and quoting pop tunes and blues. Zan Stewart notes that “Stringin’ the Jug” should be titled “String and the Jug” reflecting Ammons nickname for Stitt, and the performance is taken at a torrid tempo which provides little problem for the pair. Ammons has a bluesy reading of “God Bless The Child” that stays pretty true to the melody in contrast to Stitt’s reworking of the melody in “Autumn in New York,” with the alto accentuating the difference in his tone and attack on this day. After the trio’s superb performance of “Ugetsu”, Ammons and Stitt close out on a lengthy, medium tempoed, “Bye Bye Blackbird,” which provides a solid ending to a solid document of what surely was a terrific day to have been in Baltimore.

I likely received a review copy from Cadence for whom this review was written. While not from this album, here are Jug and Sonny doing "Blues Up and Down."


Monday, January 25, 2016

Staying Warm With The Cool Sounds of Albert Collins

I live near Washington DC and like many on the East Coast from the DC area to New York City we got hit with a Snowzilla of a Blizzard.Still having Cabin Fever, I thought I might warm folks up with some Albert Collins, after all he did get the nickname "The Iceman," and known for his cool sound.

Here is Albert Collins with Duke Robillard and Debbie Davies doing Frosty

Here is Albert Collins Ice Pickin' live when A.C. Reed was in his band

As Albert tells the Ladies, he's their Iceman.

Here is Avalance

And here Albert is like many of us Snowed In

This weather may give one a Cold Cold Feeling

But Don't Lose Your Cool