Friday, April 10, 2015

In the Mix” (Jazzhaus Records) is Bernard Allison’s first studio in six years and certainly is a good one. Bernard produced this and is backed by a tight band of George Moye on bass, Mario Dawson on drums and Mark ‘Muggie’ Leach on keyboards with Bruce McCabe adding piano to two selections and Jose Ned James adding sax to four tracks. Bernard wrote five originals and the others are interpretations of songs from Colin James, Freddie King, Tyrone Davis and two from his late father, Luther Allison.

What impresses is both the strength and restraint Bernard displays throughout whether playing a blues-infused rocker by Colin James, “Five Long Years,” that opens this CD, or the marvelous relaxed shuffle rendition of his dad’s “Move On The Hood” with his lean, muscular slide guitar that here. “Call Me Mama,” co-written with his mother, is a terrific soulful number with marvelous sax from James and a vocal that suggests that Allison would have considerable appeal on the soul-blues circuit even without a guitar. The rendition of Tyrone Davis’ “I Had It All The Time” certain reinforces this observation. Set against a lazy Jimmy Reed shuffle groove, “Something’s Wrong,” is a terrific blues performance again with wonderful slide and terrific playing by the band with McCabe adding some rollicking piano here. “Set Me Free” is an original that sound like a classic Chicago blues from the late 70s and 80s. The album ends with a terrific rendition of “Moving On Up” which was one of his father’s first recordings.

In the Mix” is a terrific recording that displays the breath and maturity of Bernard Allison’s music.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Bernard with bis late father, the legendary Luther Allison.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Benny Turner's "Journey"

Benny Turner has has a distinguished career playing bass and anchoring the bands of his brother, the legendary Freddie King; another Chicago blues legend Mighty Joe Young, and the late Queen of New Orleans, Marva Wright (with whom this writer best knows him). Additionally he pioneered playing bass behind gospel acts and played with the likes of Dee Clark. He has just issued his third recording (the first this writer has heard) as a leader, “Journey” on Nola Blue.

One often looks beyond a sideman who may sing a couple or two opening numbers before bringing on the main act. However, from the first notes of “Breakin’ News,” one quickly becomes aware of the authority Turner brings as a vocalist, not simply a strong bass player who anchors a band. With the handsome production, solid shuffle groove, brassy horn arrangements (from Turner and saxophonist Jason Mingledorff), Marc Stone’s guitar and effective use of backing vocals he convincingly delivers his lyrics about the relationship being over and “ain’t no more crying.” The mood turns down home on “Don’t You Ride My Mule” with Sunpie Barnes adding his harp and Charles Moore rhythm guitar, while Turner’s regular drummer Jeffrey ‘Jellybean’ Alexander lays down the groove and Josh Paxton adds the keyboards here in lieu of Turner’s regular collaborator Keiko Komaki who plays on most of the recording. On other selections, Derwin “Big D” Perkins is on rhythm guitar.

Other selections display Turner’s way with a word in addition to his singing including the reflective “How I Wish” as he sits in his rocking chair wishing his woman was here with him and the topical “What’s Wrong With the World Today” that touches on issues of homelessness, violence and other matters as Turner sings that “We need love” on this closing track. Another number that should resonate is the soulful ballad “Worn Out Woman” with its theme of a woman’s work never being done, getting the kids on the bus and then dust the house. Turner even takes up the guitar and kazoo for the relaxed, down-home instrumental “My Mother’s Blues.” with twin keyboards and Alexander playing lightly on bass drum and cymbal.

The variety and strength of material, the strong work by the band and Benny Turner’s heartfelt and persuasive vocals make “Journey” a gem of a recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Benny Turner in performance at the 2013 French Quarter Festival in new Orleans.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Junior Mance Jubilation

Delmark’s acquisition of the Canadian Sackville label continues to make available some wonderful recordings covering the whole spectrum of jazz. Among the latest releases to get back into circulation is a live solo piano recording from the wonderful Junior Mance, “Jubilation” (Sackville). Mance, who established himself with Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderly and the two tenor team of Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis and Johnny Griffin, had been working leading his own trios and also in duos in New York from the 1960s on when he was recorded at Toronto’s The Montreal Bistro in September, 1994.

Jubilation” was originally released in 1996 and likely will be new to most ears. In a program ranging from Hoagy Carmichael, Ellington and Strayhorn, W.C. Handy, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, Dizzy Gillespie and Cole Porter, Mance throughout showcases his considerable and ability in mixing gospel and blues roots with florid Tatum-esque runs. The title track is a particularly exhilarating performance, but his touch and tenderness is shown on a rendition of “Georgia On My Mind.”

Mance gets playful on “Lady Be Good,” while his take on “All the Things You Are” is a high point on this exceptional release. Mance also puts his own stamp on a marvelous take of the venerable “St. Louis Blues,” as well as on “Birks Works,” while he invests a morose tone to “Lover Man.” “What Is Thing Called Love” starts in a reflective manner before Mance turns his interpretation into a stride-rooted romp. This track exhibits the wide ranging musical imagination mixed with his formidable technique making “Jubilation” such a delightful recording.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is Junior Mance doing "Jubilation" in 1959.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Brandon Santini Live & Extended

Brandon Santini has been establishing himself as one of the new blues harmonica hotshots. With his band of Timo Arthur guitar, Nick Hearn on bass and Chad Wirl on drums, the Memphis-based Santini was recorded in July 1014 performing at Le Petit Imperial de Québec as part of Festival D’été Du Québec and his rousing performance can be heard on “Live & Extended” (VizzTone).

Santini’s formidable fat, wet harmonica sound is present throughout with his no-holds barred attack. At the same time, the performances are straight blues. He may be high energy but that does not mean he has rocked out and his sense of dynamics is terrific. He has chosen intriguing covers and solid idiomatic originals. His vocals are solid and the band provides solid support whether taking us  down in the alley or rocking a nice shuffle.

From the opening moment of his hot take of James Cotton’s "One More Mile” to the closing encore number “Come On Everybody,” Brandon Santini lays down  driving harmonica blues and forceful singing. “This Time Another Year,” with its chugging rhythm and some of guitarist’s Arthur best  playing is a terrific track as he sings about maybe being in Chicago or down south in Tennessee. Then he takes down the tempo on “Elevate Me Mama” which again sports some strong harp. After the nice groove of an original “Evil Woman” we hear a fresh, rockabilly tinged reworking of Walter Horton’s “Have a Good Time.”

Other choice covers include the funky groove to recast Slim Harpo’s "Got Love If You Want It,” and Frank Frost’s “My Back Scratcher,” with its mix of a lazy groove and Santini’s extroverted vocal and harp. Then there is his hot shuffle “No Matter What I Do,” and the breakneck tempo of “I Wanna Boogie With You.” Listening to this terrific recording one gets a sense of just how exciting he is live. “Live & Extended” certainly whets this listener’s appetite to see him live.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. Here is Brandon Santini performing "Evil Woman" at another Festival. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Lisa Mills Says I'm Changing

Gulf Coast chanteuse Lisa Mills refers to herself as "a blue-eyed-soul singer armed with a guitar" who speaking about her music says "If anything, I would refer to what I do as American Southern roots music.” Her new release "I'm Changing" (MillsBluz Records) is mostly a re-constructed version of tracks Lisa originally recorded and released in 2005. For this updated release she employed groundbreaking producer Trina Shoemaker, the first woman to win the Grammy Award for album engineering. Her backing musicians include guitarist Rick Hirsch and drummer T. K. Lively of Wet Willie fame; guitarist Corky Hughes and bassist Ian Jennings. Lisa notes “There are two fully re-recorded tracks on the album, ‘Take My Troubles" and "Tell Me," and three new [original] songs." While she thought she would have to redo vocals on other songs, Trina Shoemaker's mixing resolved many issues so only two songs needed to be totally redone.

The opening track "Better Than This/ I Don't Need You Anymore" grabbed the attention of this listener. With Hirsch's uncluttered guitar lead and a backing that evokes classic Muscle Shoals, Mills vocals ring true. This song with lyrics of leaving a cheating man is followed by another strong performance, "I Don't Want to Be Happy" ("I just want to be with you"). Again kudos to the backing whose direct, uncluttered backing lets the full warmth of her singing to be felt and appreciated. 

"I Need a Little Sunshine," co-written with bassist Jennings, is another display of her soulful vocals, while the title track has a country-folk flavor with Pat Murphy's fiddle being prominent. The pace changes with "Eyes So Blue" an expression of love set to a joyful reggae groove. This may not be the musical highpoint, but it may be this writer's favorite selection. There are a couple gospel numbers including an a cappella rendition of her original "Tell Me,” and Rev. Robert Wilkins' "Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down," with Corky Hughes on resonator guitar. "Rain in the Summertime" is a folk-flavored performance where she is backed only by her own acoustic guitar.

"I'm Changing" closes with a marvelous interpretation of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." Lisa Mills is an extraordinary singer and also songwriter and with the backing provided and the production supplied by Trina Shoemaker, she has provided a superb recording that should appeal to a wide range of listeners.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This CD has been out a few months and I apologize for not reviewing it earlier. I remember enjoying it when I first head it and when listening to it a couple days ago I knew I had to write about it. Here she is seen performing "I'm Changing."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sixth Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Stands Up For Real Jazz

Paul Carr
The Sixth Annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival returns Presidents’ Day Weekend to the Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel & Executive Meeting Center, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland 20852. Put on by the Jazz Academy of Music, the motto of Mid-Atlantic Festival is “Standing Up For Real Jazz.” In this vein, the focus is on hard, swinging jazz with a number of national headliners mixed in with some of the finest musicians in the Washington DC area. The featured performers for this year include vocalists Tierney Sutton, Allan Harris and Carmen Lundy and instrumentalists including trumpeter Sean Jones; saxophonists James Carter, Jimmy Greene, Craig Handy and Marcus Strickland; bassist Rufus Reid; trombonists Delfaeyo Marsalis; and pianists Kenny Barron, Ellis Marsalis and Patrice Rushen. Local jazz favorites include vocalists Sharon Clark and Janine Gilbert-Carter; saxophonist Paul Carr; pianist Eric Byrd, and vibraphonist Warren Wolf. Performances are held both on the Ronnie Wells Main Stage as well as smaller club settings.

Sharon Clark
Friday night, February 13, the Ronnie Wells Main Stage opens with tenor saxophonist Paul Carr, head of the Jazz Academy of Music, and a marvelous player leading a group with vocalist Sharon Clark. Clark, arguably DC’s leading female jazz singer. Writing in the New York Times, Stephen Holden wrote that she “evokes not Holiday but rather a less operatic Sarah Vaughan fused with the more animated side of Shirley Horn, a singer who also liked to take her time. Ms. Clark’s voice is rich, her phrasing unfussy, her jazz embellishments minimal.” They will be followed by another terrific singer Tierney Sutton, with trumpeter Sean Jones closing the evening with his group.

Main Stage activities resume late morning Saturday February 14 with the Mid-Atlantic "Jazz Voice"--Vocal Competition with six semi-finalists competing for a $2000 Grand Prize. Shortly afterwards an afternoon session features DC drummer Samuel Prather and Groove Orchestra with the marvelous vocalist Christie Dashiell. They are followed by Chelsey Green and the Green Project, led by the talented violinist. Saturday Evening’s Main Stage performance opens with a Tenor Saxophonist Summit with three of today’s most compelling tenor players: James Carter, Craig Handy and  Marcus Strickland. After their set, vocalist Allen Harris will captivate the audience followed by Ellis Marsalis and son Delfaeyo, on The Last Southern Gentleman Tour.

Craig Handy
Sunday on the Main Stage, Vuyo Sotashe, the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Vocal Jazz Competition winner, opens the afternoon show followed by the great bassist and composer Rufus Reid leading his Quartet. Craig Handy and Second Line Smith closes the session. Handy’s latest project mixes New Orleans grooves with a tribute to the great organist Jimmy Smith.

Sunday evening’s final Main Stage session opens with one of this writer’s favorite vocalists, Janine Gilbert-Carter backed by a trio that includes pianist Eric Byrd with a saxophonist to be named. Carter brings plenty of warmth and a touch of Dinah Washington to a varied selection of material. Next is  tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene whose backing group includes the legendary Kenny Barron on piano and will focus on music from Greene's latest album, “Beautiful Life” on Mack Avenue Records. Greene is a masterful saxophonist with a robust tone and this recording is part of his ongoing grieving process at the sudden and tragic loss of his 6-year old daughter, Ana Marquez-Greene, who fell victim to the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murder in Newtown, CT. After this performance, vocalist Carmen Lundy will close out the Main Stage with the great Patrice Rushen on piano and keyboards.
Marcus Strickland

Throughout the festival, there will be plenty of music in the MAJF Club and the MAJF Juke Joint rooms. Friday night the Marcus Strickland Quartet performs two sets in the MAJF Club while David Cole will be laying down blues in the Juke Joint. Saturday shows in the MAJF Club include the Terry Koger Sextet, vocalist Chad Carter, and the great drummer Winard Harper, while Memphis Gold will be in the Juke Joint. Sunday evening Shirletta Settles, Anthony Compton, and Sarah McKenzie are among the MAJF Club room performers while Anthony “Swamp Dog” Clark will be blowing his harmonica and shouting the blues in the Juke Joint.

Additionally there will be free performances in the Hotel Atrium including Big Band and Combo competition performances. There will also be interviews with a number of the artists and workshops for students that are led by some of the performers. One can see how packed the weekend will be. For more information with fuller artist biographies, information on accommodations and tickets along with special features on several of the performances visit,

Monday, December 15, 2014

Buddy Tate Is A Texas Tenor

Buddy Tate was both a band mate of, and successor to, fellow Texas tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans. Both had played together in Troy Floyd’s Band and when Evans passed away at a young age, Tate was called to replace him in the Count Basie Band. Like Evans, Tate had a big sound drenched in the blues and like Evans, his playing contrasted with Lester Young. His playing was typical of what has become known as the Texas Tenor sound which includes such other masters as Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb. After leaving Basie in 1949, Tate had a lengthy career leading his own Celebrity Club band in Harlem as well as extensively touring Europe. By the time the Sackville album, that Delmark recently reissued “Texas Tenor,” was recorded in 1978, many artists would travel as single artists and hook up with local rhythm sections. In the present case, Tate was hooked up with the terrific rhythm section of pianist Wray Downes, bassist Dave Young and drummer Pete Magadini for a session of ballads and standards.

This is a wonderful date full of swing and some marvelous ballad playing. The opening tunes “June Night” and “Someday Sweetheart” are swinging renditions of numbers that were popular in Tate’s youth. The latter number was recorded by Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver, although Tate’s version is more modern rhythmically than the versions by those pioneering jazz artists. “If You Could See Me Know” is a wonderful rendition of Tadd Dameron’s ballad displaying the warmth and tenderness generally characteristic of Tate with the rhythm section providing a light touch. The rhythm is hotter on the fine rendition of “I’ll Remember April,” with Downes adding some nice latin accents.

Tate is heard on clarinet on a bluesy take on “Georgia on My Mind,” followed by some somewhat breathy tenor on “Alone Together.” His swinging, nuanced tenor throughly delights on “Bye Bye Blackbird,” where his swinging, nuanced playing thoroughly delights. This Delmark reissue of the Sackville release includes two previously unissued selections, a lovely rendition of the Ellington-Strayhorn collaboration “Isfahan” (Tate evokes later day Ben Webster here), and “Lullaby of the Leaves” which provides another example of his clarinet playing with a woody, bluesy flavor.

Supported by a rhythm section, Tate is terrific throughout the marvelous “Texas Tenor.”

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is Tate doing the classic ballad "Blue and Sentimental."