Friday, September 21, 2018

John Clifton Nightlife

John Clifton
Rip Cat Records

California based Harmonica player and singer (and sometimes guitarist) John Clifton brings together a solid blues-rockabilly mix with touches of rockabilly and soul on "Nightlife." He is backed by Scott Abeyta on guitar, Matt Moulton on bass, either John Shafer or Roman Rivera on drums and Bartek Szopinski on piano or B-3.

The program consists of choice covers and interesting originals. Clifton impresses as a vocalist in the straight-forward manner suggestive of Phil Alvin of The Blasters opening with a hot take of Charlie Musselwhite's "Strange Land," as well as the hot rock and roll of his original "Brand New Way To Walk," with guitarist Abeyta showcasing some slashing rockabilly-tinged, playing.

A cover of Little Walter's "Long As I Have You," is a solid performance full of some explosive harmonica with Szopinski's accompaniment outstanding. Muddy Waters' "Still a Fool" is treated to a solid rendition with a slight distortion of his vocal contributing to the moody version here. It should be noted that Clifton has played and toured with Muddy's son, Big Bill Morganfield, playing on Morganfield's recording "Blood Stains On The Wall." The title track is a brief rocker that is not the familiar Willie Nelson classic. There also is a solid interpretation of Leiber, Stoller and Otis' "Last Clean Shirt."

A moody instrumental, "Swamp Dump," has nice understated, well thought out guitar and harmonica solos. Some spicy chromatic harmonica opens another instrumental, "How About That," that finds Clifton in a Little Walter mode with a sizzling jazzy single note guitar solo and a brief drum solo. "Wild Ride" is a sprite duet between Clifton's acoustic harmonica playing and Szopinski's piano.

The album closes with its longest performance, a terrific slow blues, "Every Now and Then." It has a heartfelt vocal and strong playing from everybody. The rhythm section, whether Shafer or Rivera on drums, bassist Moulton, and pianist Szopinski, is splendid throughout this strong recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378) although I have made some minor edits. Here John Clifton performs "How About That."

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Jonathan Kreisberg & Nelson Veras

Jonathan Kreisberg & Nelson Veras
New For Now

This is a marvelous collection of duets between electric guitarist Kreisberg and Veras who plays a nylon string acoustic guitar. One can marvel at the technical mastery of each as well as their own lyrical attacks, but the interplay of each, where one might take the lead while the other comps, is also worthy of appreciation. The album opens with three originals the Kreisberg penned, and delight whether listening to Veras' chords backing Kreisberg's deft lead runs or Kreisberg lightly placing chords as Veras dazzles. Then there is the charm of "Every Person is a Story" with Veras' almost harp-like picking before Kriesberg's near bell-like single note runs.

Monk's "Bye-Ya" seems amenable to a number of approaches and the two here display as they playfully take the twists and turns of Monk's tune. Veras opens an intriguing version of Milton Nascimento's "Milagre Dos Peixes," with his tender playing. The two ably convey the poignancy of Charles Mingus' musical eulogy for Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," with Kreisberg carefully laying out the theme along with embellishments and improvisation.

Similar pleasure is provided to renditions of lesser-known songs by Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter where the two delight listeners with the nuanced playing, their well-conceived solos, and accompaniment. These superb duets result in a mellifluous and exquisite recording. For more information, check out

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here the two are seen and heard performing "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat."

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Spanish Harlem Orchestra Anniversary

Spanish Harlem Orchestra
15 Anniversary

The title of the latest recording from the celebrated Latin jazz and salsa band is that it celebrates the Spanish Harlem Orchestra's 15th year. After decades of session work, composing, arranging and producing, bandleader Oscar Hernández was approached by producer Aaron Levinson in 2000 about the idea of assembling and recording a Latin jazz orchestra. The result was "Un Gran Dia en el Barrio," the 2002 debut recording which received a Grammy nomination for Best Salsa Album and a Latin Billboard Award for Salsa Album and led to Hernández and SHO touring and wowing audiences. They have won two Grammy Awards in the years since and continue to dazzle audiences.

Certainly, this latest recording will wow listeners with contributions from all the members of this exciting band (with Randy Brecker a guest on one selection). Unquestionably, the opening "Esa Nena" by vocalist Marco Bermúdez and conga player George Delgado gets this very hot recording off. There is plenty of heat, although at a more relaxed tempo on "Yo Te Prometo," with a volcanic trumpet break and crisp solo while the latin percussion trio of Delgado, Luisito Quintero on timbales and Jorge González provide the hot rhythmic percolation with the vocalists of Bermúdez, Carlos Cascante and Jeremy Bosch do their spirited singing while Mitch Frohman's baritone along with Gerardo 'Jerry' Madera's bass helps anchor the performance along while Hernández is superb whether as part of the rhythm section or his imaginative soloing.

Other tracks to note highlight include a couple from Hernández, "Goza El Ritmo" and "Somos Uno," with the latter features some brilliant Randy Brecker trumpet, as well as a lyrical solo from the leader. One could easily discuss all of the other performances as the Spanish Harlem Orchestra dazzles throughout with their vibrant music that will thrill dancers and listeners on a terrific recording.

I received my copy from Artistshare as a participant. This review appeared in the September-October 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 380) although I have made minor stylistic edits. Here they perform "Somos Uno" live.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Bill O'Connell Jazz Latin

Bill O'Connell
Jazz Latin
Savant Records

Pianist O'Connell scores with his latest release with selections from his excellent trio, with Lincoln Goines on electric bass and Bobby Ameen on drums, with whom he played with as part of the Dave Valentin Band. Guests here include Randy Brecker, Craig Handy, and Conrad Herwig. The eleven selections include seven originals and cover a range of styles and instrumentation.

The disc opens with a celebratory salute to the 44th President, "Obama Samba" with all three soloing. There is a solid, hard swinging rendition of the Cole Porter standard "Just One of Those Things," before O'Connell switches to electric piano with Craig Handy joining in for "It's OK," followed by the trio paying respects to their late leader Valentin on winsome reflective interpretation of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." Goines sounds excellent on this. Next is a ballad that slowly builds its tempo, "Goodbye My Friend." On this Randy Brecker employs the lower register of his trumpet. After a very appealing piano solo, Daniel Carillo adds some excellent guitar.

Flautist Andrea Brachfeld enhances "Quicksand," with is percolating groove and skittering electric piano, while "Tip Toes" is a Monk influenced original with interesting intervals and chording with some of O'Connell's most inspired playing. With Conrad Herwig adding his trombone, O'Connell provides a latin arrangement for a dazzling reinvention of Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz." Ameen's drumming is most noteworthy here, along with an appropriately heated trombone solo from Herwig.

A tribute to his mother, "Mom's Song" includes some hauntingly beautiful guitar from Carillo along with O'Connell's moving piano. Carillo is also heard on the jazz waltz interpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Zingaro." The brief, galloping original "What Is This," brings to a close this outstanding recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here is "Puttin' on the Ritz," from "Jazz Latin."

Monday, September 17, 2018

Willie Jackson Chosen By the Blues

Willie Jackson
Chosen By the Blues

Savannah, Georgia based Willie Jackson is a full-throated blues shouter backed by a solid, efficient band. On this self-produced release he is backed by Jon Willis on bass, Dillon Young on guitar, Paxton Eugene on drums and Ace Anderson on harmonica. This is an EP with 6 straight-forward originals with a definite down-home flavor from Jackson's brawny baritone that is full of humor, his lyrics and the simple backing, especially Anderson's atmospheric harmonica.

He can be a clever lyricist as in his use of a fishing metaphor on "I'll Throw You Back," as he tells his woman she may think she's hot but wait till Willie gets her in his frying pan. Then when his woman isn't fulfilling her duties, he starts looking for someone else as she got caught "Sleepin' on the Job," and don't work here anymore. Guitarist Young takes perhaps his best solo here. Nothing earth-shattering perhaps, but Jackson does bring much passion to his performances.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here is "Big Boned Woman," from this album.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Jim McNeely & the Frankfurt Radio Big Band Barefoot Dances and Other Visions

Jim McNeely & the Frankfurt Radio Big Band
Barefoot Dances and Other Visions
Planet Arts Recordings

This is another collaboration between an American jazz musician and a European Radio Big Band. McNeely has worked with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band over several years and this CD is a suite of seven scenes he conjured up. He notes that a couple of compositions imagine the return of great musicians no longer with us. Other compositions begin with a chamber-size vision before the whole band develops the performance. McNeely conducts the big band on this recording which he himself states "is truly a collaboration between the members of the band and myself."

The opening track, "Bob's Here" is dedicated to one of McNeely's mentors, the trombonist, and composer Bob Brookmeyer. It begins with an interchange between the rhythm section and brass before the punchy horns start working against the drums. This is followed by Christian Jasko's swirling bass trombone solo and the bluesy guitar of Martin Scales with McNeely's scoring framing these fiery solos. Peter Reiter's solo piano calmly opens "Black Snow" before the rhythm section enters to warm things and has a lovely Martin Auer flügelhorn solo. The festive "Barefoot Dances" was inspired by a Matisse painting with a spirited Günter Bollmann trombone solo over drums followed by a spirited full band section leading to Hans-Dieter Sauerborn's twisting, dancing soprano sax solo. Special mention of drummer Jean Paul Höchstädter's playing throughout this performance.

"A Glimmer of Hope" is in McNeely's words about "optimism struggling to survive in an ocean of darkness." Rainer Haute's baritone sax engages in a conversation with Peter Fell's trombone of Peter Fell followed by Manfred Honetschläger's reflective bass trombone playing. A tribute to the pioneering arranger Don Redman, "Redman Rides Again," McNeely notes Redman wrote fantastic clarinet trios, and opens with a prelude spotlighting Axel Schlosser on flugelhorn set against cascades of sounds before the main body of the piece which includes a swinging actual clarinet trio before a virtual trio of Oscar Leicht and his harmonized clarinet. Then he takes us "Falling Upwards" with a couple tenor sax solos and then a brighter take on one of the themes from "A Glimmer of Hope," before rousing tenor sax from Steffen Weber.

McNeely describes "The Cosmic Hodge-Podge," as "a vision of a cosmic soup where galaxies are replaced by blocks of sound," with sections playing against each other along with some hot solos including Axel Schlosser on trumpet. This stirring performance closes a terrific big band recording with wonderful compositions played superbly.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here Jim McNeely talks about his collaboration with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Eliane Elias Music from Man of La Mancha

Eliane Elias
Music from Man of La Mancha
Concord Records

This new release from Elias was a 1995 recording resulted from the request of Mitch Leigh, composer of the Music for the legendary musical, who loved her album playing the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim and wanted her to similarly arrange and produce a recording of the musical's music. This led to the present recording, originally produced for Leigh's private enjoyment and now with the cooperation of his family finally made available to the public on Concord.

There are two sessions represented. One with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette and the other with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Satoshi Takeishi with percussionist Manolo Badrena on all but one of the nine songs heard. Many will be more familiar with Elias as a singer, but starting with the opening "To Each His Dulcinea," she displays a crisp, fluid and imaginative attack with the adept accompaniment provided. There is the reflectiveness of "Dulcinea" with some superb playing by Gomez and DeJohnette's use of brushes and the lively swing of "What Does He Want of Me," with her romanticism matched by the light, complementary backing. Elias' touch is more emphatic on "I'm Only Thinking of Him," while DeJohnette opens "Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)," with a crisp rhythmic figure, echoed by Gomez before Elias enters ruminatively. With Johnson and Takeishi, she provides a Brazilian flavor for a memorable, driving interpretation of the musical's most famous song, "The Impossible Dream."

Concord is to be thanked for helping arrange for the release of this superb piano jazz recording that allows us to appreciate a side of Eliane Elias talent that gets overshadowed by her fine vocal jazz recordings.

I received my review copy from Concord Records. I have made minor changes from my review that originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378).  Here is an interview with Eliane Elias talking about the history of this recording.