Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Heavyweights Brass Band This City

The Heavyweights Brass Band
This City
Lulaworld Records

New Orleans Brass Bands has led to a world-wide resurgence of Brass Bands throughout the world. Some remain closer to the roots of their Crescent City inspiration than others. Toronto's Heavyweights bring there own personality to the New Orleans Brass Band sound but they honor their influences with this recording made in New Orleans. The Heavyweights are comprised of John Pittman - Trumpet; Chris Butcher - Trombone; Paul Metcalfe - Tenor Saxophone Tim Richards - Tuba, and Lowell Whitty - Drums with guests including guitarist Kevin Breit and legendary vocalist Jackie Richardson along with bass drum from Joe Lastie of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, baritone saxophone from Roger Lewis of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, trumpet from Ashlin Parker of the Ellis Marsalis Quartet, and vocals from Marla W#alters (Dixon) founder of the Shotgun Jazz Band.

Butcher contributed the opening "Hands Down Lo’," with Lastie on bass drum and Parker adding trumpet on a performance that would be at home on early recordings by the Dirty Dozen, and Rebirth Brass Bands. Also sounding like those modern New Orleans Brass Band is the rendition of  Paul Metcalfe's arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "Tell Me Something Good." Richard's "Two Foot Ticket" takes down the tempo and is as much a feature for Breit's bluesy guitar with the horns providing a background. The band's irresistible second line returns with "I've Got Time For You," that features a terrific barreling tuba solo and then searing trumpet from Pittman and saxophone from Metcalfe.

After a short solo baritone saxophone break from Roger Lewis ("Roger's Intro"), the Heavyweights join in for "Dance Out On the Corner," another number that will get the listeners feet moving with Lewis taking a baritone sax solo full of swagger and substance above the insistent groove Richards and Whitty lay down. Pittman and Metcalfe wail on this and Marla Dixon joins the band in their vocals here. Then there is another driving Brass Band number, "Rosco's Big Hit," with Ashlin Parker adding upper register trumpet fireworks.

The Heavyweights close with Steve Earle's homage to post-Katrina New Orleans, "This City," with Jackie Richardson singing "This City won't wash away. This City won't ever drown... ." It is a marvelous performance, even if sounds like something The Band might have recorded as opposed to the partying and street parade of a New Orleans Brass Band. Still there is plenty to party to as well as listen to on this high-spirited and energetic set of modern Brass Band music.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here The Heavyweights Brass Band perform "Just the Two of Us."

Monday, January 29, 2018

Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers Big Road

Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers
Big Road
Juicy Juju Records/ Vizztone Records

The sophomore album by the Boston-based Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers brings together more small band adaptations of vintage blues classics along with some rock-oriented and world music tinged originals. Along with her vocals, guitar, washboard and percussion, she is joined by her husband Jim Countryman on bass, Matt 'Charles' Prozialeck on harmonicas and Matt 'Charles' Prozialeck on drum kit and percussion.

Harpe is a wonderful singer and a superb traditional blues guitarist who has shown an affinity on for delta blues and Memphis blues, although to these ears, not everything is completely successful here. The opening rendition of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Kokomo," is a solid performance, if too arranged with a tad too much amplification for these ears. Harpe takes credit for "Lonely Leavin' Town," a strong adaptation of some delta blues lyrics followed by a choppy "Big Road Blues," well sung but this writer prefer's Canned Heat's rendition. Canned Heat used an arrangement adapted from Poor Willie Lofton's "Dark Road Blues." The rhythm section on these two tracks come across to these ears as slightly mechanical.

Better to these ears is a marvelous acoustic interpretation of Mississippi John Hurt's "Frankie," with agile, deft guitar, honey vocal and nice supporting harmonica. It is followed by a cover of Slim Harpo "Shake You Hips," that becomes an extended jam and is the longest selection here. John Hurt is also the source for "Casey Jones, another acoustic performance with drums added and once again Prozialeck stands out on harmonica and Harpe sings strongly. A solid band blues "Voodoo Blues," is nicely performed before another adaptation of traditional blues, "Stop and Listen," which is based to some extent on the Mississippi Sheiks classic, follows and is taken at a breakneck clip mixing lyrics from Cannon Jug Stompers' "Viola Lee Blues" with the Sheiks classic.

A terrific acoustic rendition of Randy Newman's "Guilty," is followed by the closing "Gimme That Somethin' Special," a funky jam that displays her impressive guitar playing in a slightly different setting along with more strong singing. "Big Road" is an intriguing mix of material and musical style. There is some very fine music mixed in with interesting, if to these ears less compelling, music. It does certainly merit attention from blues and roots music lovers.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here they perform Lonely Leavin' Town Blues."

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Billy Lester Trio Italy 2016

The Billy Lester Trio
Italy 2016
Ultra Sound Records

Yonkers, NY native Billy Lester recorded this latest recording (not sure if this is his seventh or eighth over 20 years) in Italy after meeting and touring with bassist Marcello Testa and drummer Nicola Stranieri starting in 2014. Lester grew up listening to the likes of Bud Powell, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge while showing an affinity for piano as a young child. He was mentored by Sal Mosca and studied with Lennie Tristano, and he cites these two as his biggest influences. While under Mosca's tutelage, he studied and absorbed aspects of Lester Young's style.

One can certainly hear Tristano's influence in how Lester plays and develops his solos and the arhythmic sense of the rhythm section at times on this program of six originals, but his technique and drive in his playing also evokes Bud Powell's at times. This is a fascinating set of terrific piano trio music. "To Julia," a contrafact of the standard "Body and Soul," on which bassist Testa also solos while Stranieri keeps a fluid pulse going on the lengthiest of the performances here. The driving "Consolidation" is another strong effort by Lester and his trio, but all the music here is of a consistently high level on a superlative CD.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Billy Lester performing.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Tim Armacost Time Being

Tim Armacost
Time Being
Whirlwind Recordings

Saxophonist Tim Armacost, who recently impressed this listener as part of the NYSQ has his Whirlwind Recordings backed by a crackerjack rhythm section of Robert Hurst (double bass), and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums) with David Kikoski (piano) on a few selections. The result is a striking album from start to finish as Armacost comes across as a player with tone and intensity, imagination and drive starting with the opening "Alawain" with a sound that has hints of Coltrane, Hank Mobley and others. This is simply an analogy, but Watts comes across as explosive as Elvin Jones while Hurst is a rock anchoring this performance.

The title track is begins as a smokey lament with Armacost employing an effective vibrato in his dark tone with Watts in a free pulse accenting the sax before a slight shift in tempo and a looser mood before the first of three interlude-type numbers titled in part "Sculpture." Kikoski adds his lyrical touch to "The Next 20," a lovely ballad performance from the quartet with some affecting playing from Armacost. The trio next is heard playing authoritatively on Monk's "Teo," which wonderful solo and responsive backing. Kikoski is also present on "One in Four," an attractive composition that might hint at the classic Coltrane Quartet with Armacost delving in the lower reaches of the tenor with Kikoski's chording and Watts being particularly explosive. Ornette Coleman's poignant "Lonely Woman," has his aching tenor interacting with Hurst's urgent bass lines on a superb interpretation and followed by a solid hard bop original "53rd St. Theme."

"Sculpture #3: All the Things You Could Become in the Large Hadron Collider," finds Kikoski's bebop piano set against the leader's jarring tenor sax as they both solo off the chords of the standard "All the Things You Are," before they reach a harmonious accord. Its is an invigorating and imaginative conclusion to a terrific recording. Armacost is superb as is his stellar band mates on a recording that stands out among even so many excellent recent ones.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a clip of Tim Armacost in performance.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tom Principato and Steve Wolf The Long Way Home

Tom Principato and Steve Wolf
The Long Way Home

Longtime friends and musical associates, guitarist Tom Principato and bassist Steve Wolf, come together for a set of mostly musical duets. Principato is best known as for his blues and roots rock performances with his straight-forward parched singing and nuanced, yet high energy guitar that can run from James Burton styled rockabilly to B.B. King styled blues to electrified gypsy guitar. Wolf has been his long-time bassist but also a familiar anchor to a number of Washington DC based groups. There are others heard on several of the eight songs (six composed by Principato and two by Wolf), but they stay mostly in the background.

The performances have an intimate, conversational feel starting with the opening "I Thought Of You," and then followed with Principato displaying his fluid, jazz chops on "Midnight Groove," with Josh Howell's congas helping propel this sparkling performance with Wolf talking a strong solo as Principato lightly chords behind him. Wolf's "Tres Dias Mas," is a charming Tex-Mex flavored ballad, while Principato's "Very Blue," is a low-key, early in the morning instrumental with him playing in a jazzy vein. There is a Flamenco tinge to the lovely "Mi Solea," while "Back Again & Gone," is a relaxed, country-jazz flavored instrumental with Joe Wells' on drums.

There is plenty of wonderful music on "The Long Way Home," which finds Principato and Wolf playing with restraint, but still showing considerable imagination as well as their considerable musical command.

I received the CD to review from one of the artists. Here is a selection from this recording.

Inaugural Oscar Peterson International Jazz Festival to Honor Norman Granz Legacy

The Inaugural Oscar Peterson International Jazz Festival takes place during the weekend of February 16 - 18, 2018 with venues are in the historic Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and nearby City of St. Catharines in the Niagara Wine Country. Spearheaded by Artistic Director, the celebrated jazz pianist Renee Rosnes, the world’s first (and only!) jazz festival bearing the name of Canada’s greatest jazz artist will honor and celebrate the great pianist's legacy of excellence. This Festival is not intended to simply present concerts in tribute to Oscar Peterson, but rather to truly present jazz, showcasing the rich history and the future of the music Oscar loved. In addition to Artistic Director Rosnes, the festival is led by Artistic Producer Kelly Peterson, and Executive Producers Christine Mori and Alexis Spieldenner of Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts.

Cecile McLorin Salvant performing "John Henry." 

The 2018 Festival will be dedicated to Norman Granz, celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth. “Impresario, record producer, civil rights activist, and founder of Jazz at the Philharmonic, Norman Granz is arguably the most important non-musician in jazz history," said Kelly Peterson, noting his use of jazz concerts to attack racial discrimination. Jazz at the Philharmonic (“JATP” as it was known) was a series of all-star jam-session-style concerts that began in 1944 when Granz presented a concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles. The first to present jazz in concert halls, giving it the same respect as classical music, he made it a contractual obligation for there to be no segregation in the concert venues, leading the charge against discrimination long before the Civil Rights Movement began. Granz himself said, “The whole reason for Jazz at the Philharmonic was to take it to places where I could break down segregation and discrimination.”

Jimmy Greene's performing "Beautiful Life” with Javier Colon singing on The Meredith Vieira Show. This was the title track of his Grammy nominated album hich is dedicated to his late daughter, Ana Marquez-Greene, one of the victims of the Dandy Hook School Shootings. 

Friday night, February 16, they will present an International All-Star "Jazz at the Philharmonic" with multiple GRAMMY Award and Jazz Poll winners, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Greene, Michael Dease, Benny Green, Christian McBride, and Kenny Washington. They will be performing in a JATP style program at the Festival’s all-star opening night event at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, in St. Catharines. Saturday afternoon, the historic 1792 St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake will be the venue for screenings on Saturday afternoon of two documentaries produced by Norman Granz (one of which, "Jammin’ the Blues," was nominated for an Oscar), as well as a JATP concert film. Tad Hershorn, jazz archivist and Granz biographer, will moderate, along with Jacques Muyal, long-time associate of Granz.

The Christian McBride Trio of a few years ago, with pianist Christian Sands on piano and Ulysses Owens on drums.
Saturday evening will bring a Gala affair to Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake with Double Portrait, the piano duo of the Festival’s Artistic Director Renee Rosnes, the 5-time JUNO Award-winning pianist, and GRAMMY Award-winning pianist Bill Charlap. The post-concert Gala Reception includes hors d'oeuvres by Chef Horne of Canoe Restaurant, Stratus wine, and Soma chocolate. The Festival concludes on Sunday at Stratus Vineyards with its grand finale, featuring Canadian artists Carol Welsman, Kevin Turcotte, Mike Murley, Robi Botos, Dave Young, and Jim Doxas in another Jazz at the Philharmonic-style concert. Sunday afternoon’s event will also feature the premiere presentation of the newly created Canadian Jazz Master Awards.

Carol Welsman seen performing "Fly Me To The Moon."

The Festival's website is https://www.opjazzfest.org/ and the email address is info@opjazzfest.org. They are on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/opijf, the twitter feed is @opjazzfest and the instagram link is @oscarpetersonjazzfest.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Chris Daniels And The Kings (together with Freddi Gowdy Blues With Horns Vol 1

Chris Daniels And The Kings (together with Freddi Gowdy
Blues With Horns Vol 1
Moon Voyage Records

The Colorado based Chris Daniels And The Kings brings together a touch of rock to their soul-blues mix. Both guitarist and vocalist King and vocalist Gowdy are cancer survivors, but still bringing it decades after they first started. The Kings are in their 33rd year while Gowdy's career goes back to the 1960's. The mood of this is funky, horn driven rhythm and blues as a cross between Memphis and New Orleans.

One of King's influences is Little Feet and its evident on the opening "Sweet Memphis" with guest Sonny Landreth's slide guitar (Calvin 'Bones' Jones takes most of the lead guitar on this album). The next number, a homage to age-old juke joints and down-home blues, "Fried Food/Hard Liquor," has Gowdy's authoritatively joining in the vocal after the instrumental breaks from harp (Clay Kirkland who is not credited on the album), guitar runs and sax on a performance with an arrangement that evokes Steely Dan. Gowdy himself co-penned the James Brown styled, "Get Off the Funk," and takes the terrific vocal on Sam Cooke's "Soothe Me," followed another strong performance on the Bobby Bland classic "Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)." There are a couple of solid Johnny 'Guitar' Watson covers ably sung by Daniels, "Baby's In Love With The Radio," and "You Can Stay But That Noise Must Go," with the latter influenced by Walter 'Wolfman' Washington's rendition. Daniels captures the humor of Elvin Bishop's "Can't Even Do Wrong Right," while Gowdy channels Buddy Miles on a blues-rock take on Miles' classic "Them Changes," with everybody joining in on this jam.

The Subdudes' John Magnie on piano joins King on acoustic guitar and harpist Kirkland on the closing "Rain Check," with a back door porch feel. This low-key number contrasts to the strong, horn-driven, soul-funk-blues of the rest of this recording.

Strong vocals, first-rate material and an excellent backing make for some fine listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here they are performing.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dial & Oatts - Rich DeRosa -The WDR Big Band

Dial & Oatts - Rich DeRosa -The WDR Big Band
Rediscovered Ellington
Zoho Music

Produced in cooperation with the maestro's family. His nephew, Steven James, notes that "In 1979, my mother, Ruth Ellington, and I wanted to record and archive all of the Tempo Music catalogue. This included compositions by my uncle, Duke Ellington, and many of his musical associates. We hired Garry Dial to do this job. I am thrilled, that after 38 years, Garry has revisited the more obscure tunes of Duke Ellington."

The trio of Garry Dial - piano, arranger; Dick Oatts - soprano sax, alto sax, flute, arranger and Rich DeRosa - conductor, arranger, big band orchestration undertook this task, but in a manner that did not try to simply recreate the Ellington sound and try to bring something original in a manner that the Duke did when approaching the classical repertoire as he did with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, stating "Rediscovered Ellington is presented in the same respectful manner. To continue Ellington’s legacy, we resurrected these compositions with our perspective through personalized arrangements. Although a few of them suggest a “tip of the hat” to Duke’s sound, most of these renditions showcase how quality music may be transformed into something new and refreshing while respecting the original essence of its composer. We hope you enjoy these compositions in this context."

For example the opening "Hey Baby," was originally recorded for Victor in 1946, and is a mid-tempo swinger with some sterling solos from Oatts (soprano sax), Paul Heller (tenor sax), Dial (piano) and Johan Hörlen (alto sax) as well as has multicolored shout sections from the brass section, especially heard at the closing section. "Let The Zoomers Drool," is Ellington-Hodges composition with a bluesy feel, superb Dial piano solo along with trombonist Shannon Barnett, with the Oatts-DeRosa arrangement here providing a definite Ellington Band flavor and Oatts alludes to Jonny Hodges with his alto sax towards the end. There is a pensive ballad, "I Like Singing" from a musical "Saturday Laughter" that was written with lyricist Herbert Martin, that has a lush orchestral setting and solos from Dial and Oatts (on alto sax).

The composer and arranger Onzy Matthews worked with the Duke in the late 1960s and early 1970s and likely composed most of "Just A Gentle Word From You Will Do." While probably performed live, this is the first recording of this composition with its straight-ahead melody recast (by Oatts and DeRosa) across the horn and reed sections and in addition to Dial's lively piano, there is delightful flute from Oatts and spirited, if a tad blustery, trombone by Ludwig Nuss. There are no known recordings of either "Introspection," or "Kiki." The former number is an uptempo swinger that is far from introspective and displays the Big Band's marvelous playing along with outstanding solos from Oatts and.trombonist Andy Hunter. The latter number is a jaunty showcase again for the precision and command of The WDR Big Band along with pianist Dial, Karolina Strassmeyer on alto sax, Jens Neufang's riveting baritone sax solo, and John Marshall who takes blazing trumpet solo (and what marvelous timbre he has) on another performance with a definite Ellington tinge to it.

"Love Came" is a lovely ballad that was issued first on Bob Thiele's Red Baron label (it may have been recorded in 1965 but I do not believe it was issued until a few years later), and this is a quiet, reflective performance. It is followed by "KCOR," likely one of the latter compositions of Ellington, opening in a introspective fashion before enlivened by the full band and Oatts impassioned soprano sax solo. The closing ballad, "I Must Be Mad," has wonderful interplay between Oatts on alto sax and Dial on piano, with the full band entering midway through this lovely closing number.

One might question such the approach of recasting material, that was either rare (that is had a brief public life with Ellington) or unheard, away from an Ellingtonian sound, yet one would be hard-pressed to fault any of the performances here. The trio with the celebrated The WDR Big Band, have provided strong, fresh big band performances of the lesser known, but not lesser in quality works of Duke Ellington on an important and enthralling recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375).