Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Karl Berger- Jason Kao Hwang Conjure

Karl Berger- Jason Kao Hwang
True Sound Recordings

This is a recording of two major artists of the modern 'free' jazz world. Karl Berger heard on piano and vibes, is a veteran of the new music scene. He has collaborated with numerous legends such as Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, Lee Konitz, Ray Anderson, Dave Holland, and Pharaoh sanders as well as founded the Creative Music Studio. Jason Kao Hwang, heard on violin and viola, is likewise a significant artist having worked with William Parker, Tomeka Reid, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, and Reggie Workman. The present recording is a series of musical duets that were performed without any written scores.

This is very much a recording of musical conversations between the two as opposed to tune based performances. If one is going to use a label, new music might be appropriate. Listening to this dialogue does have its rewards, and these selections might be considered the musical equivalent of two abstract artists collaborating on a painting, alternating in who applies the brush.

Hwang is a fascinating musician who brings forth a variety of colors ranging from cat-like scratches to a cantorial viola solo. Berger plays dark chords on the piano and shimmering tones on the vibraphone. This contrast adds to the fascination of the performances here. This is challenging music, which may not be for everyone. This listener found "Conjure" fascinating and often compelling.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388).

Monday, January 20, 2020

The 44's Twist the Knife

The 44's
Twist the Knife
Ripcat Records

This is the first recording from The Forty Fours in seven years. Bandleader-Guitarist-vocalist Johnny Main spent the past few years rebuilding the 44's. This all-new lineup includes Eric Von Herzen on harmonica, Mike Hightower on bass, and Gary Ferguson on drums. Junior Watson plays guitar on seven of these eight songs that mostly straight, no-nonsense Chicago blues.

Main is a solid guitarist and robust singer, who sometimes sounds like a Howlin' Wolf imitator as on Wolf's "Howlin' For My Darling," and part of Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer." They turn the old Dirty Red classic "Too Many Drivers" into a relaxed, rocking Chicago shuffle. Von Herzen is outstanding on harmonica while Hightower and Ferguson propel this nicely paced performances. The opening instrumental "Cuttin' Up" showcases Main displaying Albert Collins' influence in his tone here. They convert T-Bone Walker's "T-Bone Shuffle" into a nifty Chicago styled blues, "44's Shuffle."

There is a bit of a psychedelic freakout on the rendition of Doyle Bramhall II's "Rosie," which is the only bum selection to these ears. Also, the playing time is only 33 minutes. These points aside, this is still primarily an entertaining collection of straight-forward Chicago-styled blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388). Here is a recent performance by The 44s.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Take 5 With St. James Infirmary

One of the best-known jazz & blues songs associated with the City of New Orleans, St. James Infirmary has been subject to many recordings and interpretations for decades. Artists such as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Chris Thomas King, and many others have recorded it. Also, it has been subject to scholarly study by Robert W. Harwood (and I recommend this volume) going through its origins and its history. Here is a link with more information about this book. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4758997-i-went-down-to-st-james-infirmary

Today's Take 5 is a short playlist of renditions of this classic tune. And I could easily have included another dozen renditions.

We start today's playlist with the great Louis Armstrong. This was not the first recording. That was by Fess Williams under the title of "Gambler's Blues."  This recording is from 1928 and includes the great Earl Hines on piano.

Next, we turn to the great Cab Calloway who recorded it originally in 1930 but also did a 'soundie' of the tune.

Bobby Bland made one of my favorite recordings of this song. It was the flip side of his No. 2 R&B hit "Don't Cry No More." I have included the original recording and not a live performance as he performed an abbreviated version on the videos available. I note that soul-blues singer Geater Davis also did a recording that was modeled on Bland's version.

Chris Thomas King, son of Baton Rouge blues legend Tabby Thomas, is a highly underrated blues performer and so much more. His moving rendition was included as part of 'Rise," his post-Katrina recording. Here he performs it at The Beeches Jazz Festival in Toronto.

We conclude this with a performance by Shamarr Allen who recorded this for his 'Meet Me on Frenchman Street" album.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Sam Fazio Let's Go

Sam Fazio
Let's Go

Chicago-based vocalist Sam Fazio handles a variety of jazz and pop numbers on this new recording, which is produced by Tuck & Patti. Fazio is a singer of warmth who subtly phrases the songs to reveal the nuances of meaning in the lyrics he delivers. For this recording, his core band members of pianist Chris White and guitarist Tom Fitzgerald traveled with him to the San Francisco area. There the three set up shop in Tuck & Patti's home and studio. They were joined on this recording by Michael Peloquin, harmonica; Leon Joyce, drums; James Henry, percussion; Ron Belcher, bass; and Tuck Andress, bass. Fazio sings songs from the Great American songbook, some pop tunes, and originals from his pen and those of Tuck & Patti.

The opening song is "Pure Imagination" by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. White's understated accompaniment provides the foundation for Fazio's delivery of the lyrics. The selection also is a showcase for Peloquin's harmonica accompaniment and solo. Fazio's warmth and nuanced phrasing is quite evident starting here. The spare setting is followed by the effervescent "Let's Go," composed by Fazio, guitarist Fitzgerald, and Patty Cathcart Andress." Joyce's drums and Henry's percussion help propel his swinging performance along with concise solos from White and Fitzpatrick.

Other intriguing performances include the reflective rendition of Patti's "Reverie," and a perky "S'Wonderful," both with Chris White's thoughtful, restrained backing. Then there is a standout interpretation of Tom Waits' "Downtown Train." Fitzgerald's guitar and Peloquin's harmonica provide the foundation for a performance that displays Fazio's interpretive skills. Tuck Andress' bass provides the backing for a straight-forward reading of "Eleanor Rigby," while Fitzgerald's guitar provides the support for an energetic vocal on "Teach Me Tonight." Fitzgerald leads a small combo that provides a Latin-tinged backing for "Do You Want To Dance."

Sam Fazio's marvelous singing and the understated backing he receives results in a thoroughly captivating recording.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388). Here is a video of Sam Fazio performing.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Dave Specter Knows The Blues From the Inside

Dave Specter
Blues From the Inside
Delmark Records

This latest recording by the veteran Chicago blues artist Dave Specter is the first to sport his vocals, in addition to his ingenious, twisty guitar and songwriting. He has a number of musicians supporting him, including Brother John Kattke on keyboards and vocals, Harlan Terson on bass, Marty Binder on drums, and the Liquid Soul Horns on three selections. Also, Jorma Kaukonen guests on guitar for two tracks.

Specter wrote 11 of the 12 songs (some with Bill Britcha) opening with the title track with its more memorable lyrics about various hardships and paying the dues and playing the blues. It is one of three selections on which he sings, and if not a great singer, he sings quite credibly. His guitar playing is terrific as his band gets a nicely paced shuffle groove together. Specter and Britcha also wrote the lively "Ponchatoula Way," with its Crescent City groove that Kattke takes the soulful vocal on. There are some tempo shifts. Still, it is fascinating listening to Specter builds his solos as the horns riff. Kattke, on piano, also solos here. Kattke also takes a soulful vocal on "March Through the Darkness," a number with a Muscle Shoals feel, with Tad Robinson and Devin Thompson providing the vocal backing. Of course, Specter dazzles again on guitar with his taste and solo construction with Kattke soloing on the organ.

"Sanctifunkious" is a funky instrumental in the manner of a classic Meters recordings. Another instrumental is the Latin-flavored "Minor Shout," that sounds inspired by Santana. Like his playing throughout this recording, Specter's playing is sterling, full of unexpected, imaginative twists with his thoughtful, uncluttered attack. Jorma Kaukonen adds guitar to "How Low Can One Man Go?" with Specter delivering a convincing partially talking vocal with the two trading guitar lines. He also wrote the lyrics to "The Blues Ain't Nothing," a gem of an uptown blues with another first-rate vocal from Kattke and superlative guitar from Specter and then Kaukonen. Sarah Marie Young sings the gospel-blues ballad from Bill Britcha, "Wave's Gonna Come." Britcha plays acoustic guitar on this song while Specter's fretwork accents her superb, gospel-rooted vocal.

An atmospheric instrumental "String Chillin'" closes another recording from Specter that is wonderfully recorded and has excellent material, some first-rate singing, and outstanding playing. It is another notable addition to Specter's body of recordings.

I received my review copy from Delmark Records. This review appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388). Here is a video of "How Low Can One Man Go?"

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Jerome Jennings Solidarity

Jerome Jennings
Iola Records

 Drummer Jerome Jennings may be best known as a member of Christian McBride's band. He has quite a resume. This includes playing on many recordings that I have heard by such artists as Christian Sands, Jazzmeia Horn, Hillary Gardner, Ernestine Anderson, and Houston Person. As a leader, this is his second album showcases his writing. He has assembled for this recording its core unit of trumpeter Josh Evans, tenor and soprano saxophonist Stacy Dillard, trombonist Andrae Murchison, pianist Zaccai Curtis, and Jennings's friend and mentor, legendary bassist Christian McBride. There are also special guests, including saxophonist-flutist Tia Fuller, tenor saxophonist-vocalist Camille Thurman, bassist Endea Owens, and percussionist Carlos Maldonado. The eleven tunes performed include seven originals and four covers that are imaginatively arranged. In his liner notes, he provides comments on each of the selections, including how he was inspired by various subjects. He observes, "This album documents my journey in educating myself and trying to understand the struggles of the most vulnerable people in our society."

Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop" opens with a hip-hop flavor and provides a showcase for the three horns as well as Jennings' crisp, economical, and energetic playing. The first of his originals, "Recy's Lament," is a sober, blues-infused composition inspired by the case of the rape of a Black woman by six white men on her way home from church. The women would later press charges with help from Rosa Parks. While Jennings provides a loping groove, Curtis, Murchison, Dillard, and McBride provide solos to match the gravity conveyed by this composition. Then there is "Marielle (For Marielle Franco)," A Brazilian Black activist against injustice who was assassinated in 2018. There is plenty of fire in this performance with a heated groove, and spirited solos from Evans, Curtis, Fuller, and percussion from Jennings and Maldonado.

The title track opens with the leader's volcanic playing on "a statement of allyship with those most vulnerable in our society." It is followed by McBride developing the four-bar ostinato at its heart before the full band joins in on a highly charged performance with Murchison and Curtis outstanding. One also notes Jennings' excellent scoring of the ensemble horn parts here, which is a backdrop for Jennings volcanic playing for the last several measures of this superb performance. Camille Thurman sings on Jennings' arrangement of "I Love Your Smile," a hit for Shanice in 1991. After Jennings' remarkable solo performance "Heart," is a superb rendition of Woody Shaw's "Three Muses," that captures the feel of Shaw's own groups. Dillard, Evans, and Curtis are quite inspired here. Of the remaining selections, one moving selection is "Convo With Senator Flowers." It is set against his drum accompaniment presents her passionate speech against a proposed "Stand Your Ground" law in Arkansas.

The album closes with a beautiful rendition of Perry Como's theme, "You Are Never Far Away From Me." Both Christian McBride (who I believe is playing arco) and Endea Owens are on bass, and Curtis takes a lovely solo. Jennings is a superb leader drummer and composer who has produced this outstanding recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a rendition of "Bebop," with Jerome Jennings on drums.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Alan Rosenthal Elbow Grease

Alan Rosenthal
Elbow Grease
Street of Stars Records

While classically brained, pianist-composer Alan Rosenthal has become immersed in the New York jazz scene. The brother of author David Rosenthal (author of "Hard Bop"), he is a pianist of some reputation. This new mainstream jazz release has him joined by various combinations of musicians including Alan Chaubert - trumpet; Patience Higgins - tenor sax; Peter Brainin - soprano and tenor sax; Scott Reeves - trombone; Bill Ware - vibes; Brian Glassman - bass; John Loehrke - bass; Steve Johns – drums; and Mike Campenni - drums.

Rosenthal composed 8 of the 9 compositions performed in various configurations. The disc opens with a thoughtful, measured solo performance, "Another Sky." It is followed by "Up The Kazoo," a bright, bouncy sextet with striking riffing horns set against a marching groove. Ware's vibes add attractive colors in the ensemble before his solo with the leader lightly comping under him. Bassist Glassman is also showcased here.

Five of the 9 tunes are performed by a piano trio of Rosenthal, Glassman, and Campenni. "Blue J" is a charming piece that shows the close interplay between the three, as well as reveals Rosenthal's skillful touch and ability to construct intriguing, intricate solo. The energetic "Drop Me Here" exhibits the subtle shifts in timbre and dynamics of his approach. Bassist Glassman is more prominent in his supporting role on "Guitar Knee," on which Campenni's understated, but skillful percussion adds to this performance.

Two selections have a quartet of saxophonist Peter Brainin, bassist Loehrke, and drummer Johns. "Monk Over Marrakesh," places the spotlight on Brainin on both soprano and tenor sax and bassist Loehrke with the leader's skeletal accompaniment. "Dextrously" is a strong hard-bop number with robust tenor sax propelled by the rhythm section. Rosenthal's solo here is one of the highlights of the recording. The one cover is the trio's performance of Jerome Kern's "They Didn't Believe Me," with Rosenthal quoting "Fascinating Rhythm" and other standards in his rendition.

Alan Rosenthal plays with both "Elbow Grease" and thoughtful restraint on a marvelously played and very engaging piano jazz release.

I received my review copy from a publicist.