Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat Live at the Kessler

Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat
Live at the Kessler
Underworld Records

Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat is a Dallas Texas blues-infused rock and roll and roots band based out of Dallas, Texas. Singer-songwriter and guitarist Suhler and the and have been together over two decades and had four albums on Lucky Seven and two prior ones on underworld while Suhler had a solo acoustic release on Topcat. The band includes Jim Suhler (guitar, vocals), Chris Alexander (bass, vocals), Shawn Phares (keyboards) and Beau Chadwell (drums, percussion). On the new release, "Live at the Kessler" they are joined by Tim Alexander on keyboards and Tex Lovera on cigar box guitar. Heard on these live performances from the Dallas venue are 13 songs that originally appeared on the studio albums, "Panther Burn," "Tijuana Bible," "Bad Ju Ju" and the solo acoustic "Dirt Road," plus two new songs, “Doin’ the Best I Can” and “Reverie.”

There is plenty to like from Suhler's straight-forward, heartfelt vocals along with his strong guitar playing that is crisp and focused, leading one to understand why he plays lead guitar with George Thorogood. His band provides tight, well-paced backing adding to the enjoyment of the songs which range from strong rollicking original blues shuffles like "I Declare" and the rollicking "Scattergun" (with some solid slide guitar); the slide-drenched blues-rock of "Panther Burn"; the gritty rootsy depiction of a border city in "Tijuana Bible"; the wistful bluesy feel of "Deja Blue" (with some Tex-Mex flavored accordion in the backing); the Traveling Wilbury's feel of his celebration of the Gulf Coast in "Texassippi"; and his affectionate tribute to Lightnin' Hopkins, "Po' Lightnin'."

There is not a poor moment in "Live at the Kessler," and so good to hear Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat still doing it so well today.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the September- October 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here is a video of Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat performing.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Fat Babies Solid Gassuh

The Fat Babies
Solid Gassuh
Delmark Records

The Chicago classic jazz band The Fat Babies have a new release from their extensive repertoire that includes more idiomatic renditions of songs from the twenties and thirties. The Fats Babies is comprised of leader Beau Sample on bass; Andy Schumm on cornet; Dave Bock on trombone; Paul Asaro on piano and vocals; Jake Sanders on tenor banjo and guitar; Alex Hall on drums; and John Otto on clarinet and saxophones, the same personnel that were on their first album, "Chicago Hot," accounting for the crisp ensemble sound and assured solos. Unlike that earlier album, the songs here are lesser known songs of the era than those on the earlier album. Like that recording, they inject a definite spirit in their recreations.

Ricky Ricccardi, Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, notes that band soften playing such music get hot as playing "nostalgia" or "museum pieces," but suggests that the appeal of The Fat Babies is that they "treat this music as a living, breathing thing." This is something that is difficult to accomplish while trying to say stylistically true to the recordings that are the source for these performances. A lively rendition of the Luis Russell-Paul Barbarin "Doctor Blues" opening this album is a joyful reaffirmation of the quality of their performancers of these vintage numbers. Schumm, who arranged this music, plays his cornet in the spirit of Bix Beiderbecke like on "Slow River," a lesser known Clarence Williams composition.

In its playing, The Fat Babies generally avoids being 'nostalgic,' and also  being campy, but there are exceptions in the vocals. Pianist Asaro's crooning on "Did You Ever See A Dream Walking?" is appealing with Sanders' guitar adding a nice touch here, although his Ted Lewis styling on "Egyptian Ella," comes off as a bit campy. The spirited rendition of Thomas Morris' "Original Charleston Strut" (with Hall's drumming standing out with his rhythmic accents), and the lively rendition of "Alabamy Bound" (one of the most familiar numbers here), are other standout selections. Also noteworthy is the rendition of Arthur Schutt's "Delirium," which Ricccardi suggests they provide "an almost Bix-meets-Raymond Scott treatment," taking what was originally a unique chart and performing "something surprising, unpredictable and even a little haunting," although I might suggest evocative as the mood engendered.

A breakneck tempo rendition of "Maple Leaf Rag," closes "Solid Gassuh," which Riccardi observed would be quite a very high compliment from Louis Armstrong and appropriate to use describing the music herein. If this listener has some reservations about several vocals, there are none about the consistent solid performances by The Fat Babies.

I received my review copy from Delmark Records. Here The Fat Babies perform Jelly Roll Morton.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Little Mike How Long

Little Mike
How Long
Elrob Records

Michael Markowitz, aka Little Mike, has a new set of Chicago-styled blues "How Long," although his usual cohorts, The Tornados are not present. Musically there will be little surprises as Mike brings his harmonica, some piano and vocals to a mix of classic blues and idiomatic originals with varying studio personnel, but stylistically very akin to what he done with the Tornados.

The title song is the J.B. Lenoir classic, although Mike's rendition is reminiscent of that by Pinetop Perkins with whom Mike played with numerous times. The studio band is quite tight behind him, even at a breakneck tempo (perhaps a tad too fast) as on "Smokin'," where he sings about cigarettes gonna kill him and he can't quit no matter how hard he tries. There is a surprising take on the Bobby Timmons hard bop classic "Moanin'," with some twisting harp lines and nice guitar. His brisk shuffle "When My Baby Left Me," is followed by a feverish take of Johnny Young's instrumental "Slam Hammer." Other highlights include a cover of Eddie Taylor's "Bad Boy," where he adds rollicking piano behind his harp and earnest vocal, and the atmospheric "Not What Mama Planned," with some nifty guitar.

In an interview excerpted in the liner notes, Mike describes his blues as "deep, hard hitting and raw." Certainly there is little contrived here, just straight-forward blues that fans of Little Mike will be quite familiar and others will find to their taste.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December issue of the Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here Little Mike is seen with the Tornados.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Woody Shaw - Louis Hayes The Tour Volume One

Woody Shaw - Louis Hayes
The Tour Volume One
High Note

Word of a release of a previously unissued recording by the Louis Hayes-Junior Cook Quintet from a 1976 tour was the cause of great anticipation. Released under trumpeter Woody Shaw's name, that reflects the fact that the late Shaw became subsequently one of the most brilliant trumpeters, composers and band-leaders of the seventies and eighties. Not long after this European tour, saxophonist Cook left and Shaw took over as co-leader with Rene McLean (Jackie's son) replacing him, but with the same rhythm section of the highly under-appreciated pianist, Ronnie Matthews, Stafford James on bass and Louis Hayes on drum making for one of the most formidable rhythm sections of that times. I saw the Hayes-Shaw band at the original downstairs Tralfamadore Cafe in Buffalo in winter 1976-1977 and there is a live recording of the Hayes-Shaw group from Lausanne Switzerland from 1977 available.

That 1977 recording is very good indeed, but this March 19676 recording simply has become my favorite Shaw recording, opening with "Moontrane," which Shaw wrote when he was 18 and had recorded with organist Larry Young. Explosive is an understatement of this performance with Matthews really playing a such a high level, and then listening to James under the Shaw's solo while Hayes pushes things along. Things don't cool at all on Larry Young's "Obsequious," which features Cook's hot playing followed by Shaw along with the astounding rhythm section. Things cool down just so slightly on a terrific rendition of Walter Booker's up-tempo bossa/samba, "Book's Bossa," before the band takes flight again on pianist Matthews' burner "Ichi-ban" (the title track of a studio album the group made). This stellar recording closes with a standard by Bronislaw Kaper, "Invitation," which gets a very personalized interpretation by this group.

Listening to Shaw here one cannot help but be astonished by his ability to compose his ideas at such a fast tempo, the brilliant execution, articulation of his playing and the warmth of his tone. It is why such major trumpeters of today as Brian Lynch and Terrence Blanchard regard Shaw and his legacy so highly. Of course when you add the more than impressive playing of Cook, and the superb rhythm section that characterized what was, in it somewhat brief existence, one of the great jazz groups of seventies. Woody Shaw III, Woody's son contributes the liner notes in the accompanying booklet for this CD release which is available as a pdf file on the iTunes download of this CD (which is where I purchased this). I do not know if the liner notes accompany downloads from other sites. With the superb music here, one hopes that Volume 2 will be coming out shortly, as this music here is that good.

This was an iTunes purchase as mentioned in the review. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 368). Here is a video of this group with Joe Henderson in place of Junior Cook from 1976.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Terry Hanck Band From Roadhouse To Your House Live!

The Terry Hanck Band
From Roadhouse To Your House Live

Two years after The Terry Hanck Band's last release, VizzTone has issued a new live recording by them "From Roadhouse To Your House Live!," recorded at the California State Fair by Chris 'Kid' Andersen. the band consists of Hanck on saxophone and vocals, guitarist Johnny ‘Cat’ Soubrand, bassist Tim Wager and drummer Butch Cousins, with special guest Jimmy Pugh on keyboards. About their last album, "Gotta Bring It On Home To You," I noted the range of music from lively R&B, straight blues, swamp blues and pop and if anything, they continue in this vein on what must have been quite a performance for those at the Fair that day.

Hanck is quite a congenial vocalist with a bit of grizzle whose robust saxophone with a mix of King Curtis yackety-yak with Junior Walker honking. Wager and Cousins provide a solid foundation with Pugh (who also gets to display his Hammond B-3 sound on the opening track, Hanck's "Good Good Rockin' Going On," an updating of "Good Rockin' Tonight," on which Soubrand tears off one of his blistering solos. Some yackety-yak sax opens the rollicking cover of T.V. Slim's "Flatfoot Sam," with Pugh's boogie-infused piano leading into a crisp guitar break. Hanck's "Junior's Walk," is the leader's tribute to the Motown legend while Soubrand's tremolo on Chuck Willis' "Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Baby Leaves You," gives the performance the feel of some of Little Willie John's recordings. Hanck's "Smilin' Through My Tears," is an appealing swamp pop-styled ballad with a booting sax solo.

The remainder of this performance is equally varied and entertaining including a cover of Louis Jordan's "Ain't That Just Like A Woman," which opens with Hanck playing Cleanhead Vinson's "Kidney Stew" followed by a bit of "Chattanooga Choo Choo," before launching into the Jordan song. This is followed by a cover of Tyrone Davis' classic "Can I Change My Mind" (there is also a nice rendition of "Slip Away" here). Dave Spector's "Octavate'n," is an instrumental with Soubrand featured and pulling out all the stops. Hanck's original, "Peace of Mind," is evocative of some of Magic Sam's recordings and Soubrand's guitar evokes Sam here.

"From Roadhouse To Your House Live!" captures the engaging and strong blues, R&B and rock of the Terry Hanck Band in very strong form.

I received from my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here Terry in performance.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cafe Society (Soundtrack)

Cafe Society (Soundtrack)
Sony Classical

A soundtrack to the new Woody Allen film of the same name, "Cafe Society" is a curious collection of a number of new performances of classic songs by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks mixed with several from classic 78s. 8 of the 15 songs (selected by Allen) were composed by Rogers and Hart, and the other songs mostly are classics of the American songbook. I have not seen the film so make no comment on it .

The personnel for Giordano and his group includes Giordano on bass, Chris Flory or Vinny Raniola on guitar, Mark Shane on piano and Christopher Gelb on drums. What is surprising is the lack of horns in the band and while the crisply played performances may be delightful, if the movie is supposed to conjure up swing music that was featured at the actual Cafe Society, Barney Josephson's pioneering club that was the first racially integrated nightclub in the United States. The Nighthawks come across almost as a gypsy jazz band with the music not bearing relationship to what was played by the Boogie Woogie Trio, Billie Holiday, Hazel Scott, Lena Horne, Al Casey, Eddie Barefield, and the likes. A vocal by Kat Edmondson backed by The Nighthawks on Rogers & Hart's "Mountain Greenery" has charm but far removed from Holiday singing "Strange Fruit."

This is not to say there is anything bad about the new performances. Pianist Shane has a deft touch displayed nicely on the ballad "Manhattan" and the sprite treatment of "My Romance," the latter of several tracks where Flory distinguishes himself. Of note is the YeraSon trio's marvelous rendition of "The Peanut Vendor," followed by a restrained rendition of "Out of Nowhere" by Conal Fowkes on piano, Brian Naepka on bass and John Gill on drums. Fowkes' spirited stride-rooted piano does delight on "This Can't Be Love," a performance that perhaps captures the actual Cafe Society spirit. Still the musical highlight of this album is an alternate take of the Count Basie classic, "Taxi War Dance" with some marvelous Lester Young, while Benny Goodman's "I Didn't Know What Time It Is," also notable.

The music on this soundtrack is quite congenial and listenable although not as exciting or passionate as might have been found at the actual Cafe Society where Barney Josephson persuaded Lena Horne to stop singing "When Its Sleepy Time Down South."

I received a review download from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the November-December  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here is a trailer for the movie that I now realize has to do with a Hollywood venue, and not the legendary Greenwich Village venue. Not sure if it would have affected my review of the quality of the music although I would not have made some of the references contained here.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Jim Self and The Tricky Lix Latin Jazz Band !Yo!

Jim Self and The Tricky Lix Latin Jazz Band
Basset Hound Music

What a wonderful new release by tuba player Jim Self and The Tricky Lix Latin Jazz Band. The title "!Yo!" is a translation of self, and the release is a terrific latin jazz recording unusually anchored by Self's Tuba (and on two selections the Fluba, a big tuba sized flugelhorn). Self is a long-time studio musician who can be heard on over 1500 movie scores (his tuba projected those galactic tones as the Voice of Mothership in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”). he has also done a variety of projects and this release is his 13th album. For this, he has brought together a “who’s who” of young West Coast Latin Jazz Musicians (most of whom are on the great Poncho Sanchez Band). Foremost is trombonist/composer/arranger Francisco Torres who produced, wrote or arranged much of the music. The other players (mostly from the great Poncho Sanchez band) are Ron Blake: Trumpet/Flugelhorn; Rob Hardt: Tenor and Soprano Saxes/Flute; Andy Langham: Piano; Rene Camacho: String Bass; Joey De Leon: Timbales, Batá, Shekere; Giancarlo Anderson: Congas and George Ortiz: Bongos.

Evident on the opening mambo by Eddie Cano "Cal's Pals," dedicated to the great Cal Tjader, is the marvelous arrangements that are fluently played with marvelous solos from trumpeter Blake, Self on tuba, Hardt on tenor sax and De Leon on Timbales. The music is bright, lively and bouncy resulting in an infectious performance that is characteristic of the entire recording. The classic "Poinciana," has the ensemble's seamless rendering of Curt Berg's arrangement to frame the leader's solo. In addition to the warmth of the horns, the mix of rhythm with the horns lends such a relaxed feel to this very charming performance. Even when the groove is kicked up a notch, as on Torres' mambo, "For Charlie," there is an relaxed, yet exhilarating quality as Torres on trombone and Self on tuba play a duet before each solos. Self's own "Encognito," is a slow cha-cha with Blake's trumpet solo followed by Self on fluba.

Torres' "Sweetest Blue" is a spicy Afro-Cuban number with a delightful tropical groove, with a choice soprano sax solo from Hardt, an intricate piano solo from Langham and a Batá solo by De Leon and followed by the calmness of his lovely "Quiero Liegar," with Self playing the melody before some gorgeous trombone and piano. Self composed the title track which is a cheerful, and lovely, cha cha. An invigorating interpretation of Tito Puente's "Old Arrival," with a robust trombone solo and the three percussionists trading eights is followed by the closing track, Clare Fischer's "Morning," with an arrangement by Bill Cunliffe and solos by Rob Hardt on flute and Self on Fluba, after which Stanley the Bassett Hound howls to end this latest Basset Hound recording.

"!Yo!" is a complete listening delight. Like New Orleans Brass bands, and Howard Johnson and Gravity (also known as the horns of Taj Mahal's Tuba Band), Jim Self's performances on tuba exhibit imagination and fluidity that far transcend any novelty, and with the superb ensemble and arrangements here, has provided an album of Latin jazz easy to listen to and full of joy.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here is a track from "!Yo!"