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."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Freddy Cole's Singing the Blues

There is an appealing weariness in Freddy Cole’s treatment of a Bobby Bland recording “This Time I’m Gone For Good,” that is on  his new High Note album, “Singing the Blues,” On this release, Cole handles classic blues themes and some originals that also include mournful ballads. Simply singing here, he is accompanied by John Di Martino on piano, Harry Allen on tenor sax, Randy Napoleon on guitar Elias Bailey on bass and Curtis Boyd on drums with Theresa Hightower sharing vocals on two of the eleven songs.

Derrick Lucas’ liner notes note that the music on this recording reflects the era in which Cole grew up that was “the final generation of African-Americans to view the blues as their own popular music and culture,” and the renditions contained “reflect the elegance of the blues represented by Charles Brown, Percy Mayfield, Amos Milburn and Ivory Joe Hunter and of course, Freddy’s brother Nat.”

It is 50 years ago when Freddy Cole recorded his first album that contained a rendition of Freddie Spruell’s “Muddy Water Blues.” His current rendition begins this CD in a very appealing manner. A real highlight is the rendition of “Goin’ Down Slow,” which reflects the Oliver Nelson-Stanley Turrentine rendition of the song that is set to the groove of Percy Mayfield’s “River’s Invitation.” Allen’s marvelous tenor sax and Napoleon’s fleet guitar evokes memories of Charles Brown’s terrific 1990s group with the late Clifford Solomon and Danny Caron. Another song that captures this ambiance is brother Nat’s “My Mother Told Me” with terrific short solos from Allen and Napoleon.

Cole’s relaxed vocal is matched with Theresa Hightower’s vivacious one of “All We Need Is a Place” about getting it on to snuggle and more. Cole penned the original blues that lends the album its title as he warns this girl she will be singing the blues one of these mornings, she will be miserable and while he won’t be happy, Freddy will feel great. “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men” is a moody lament about sad young men drifting through their lives while growing. Allen’s tenor adds to the melancholy of the performance.

Steve Allen’s “An Old Piano Plays the Blues” closes this album with Allen’s tenor again complementing Cole’s mournful vocal along with a deftly played solo from Di Martino. Freddy Cole’s “Singing the Blues” indeed captures the sophisticated eloquence of the blues of late forties and early fifties. Not simply Freddy Cole’s fans, but fans of the late Charles Brown and his contemporaries should enjoy this recording of late night blues and ballads.

I received my review copy from High Note Records.  Here Freddy Cole is performing Muddy Water Blues.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Charles Davis For the Love of Lori

With a six decade career that includes associations with such iconic artists as Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sun Ra, Ben Webster, Kenny Dorham, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, Illinois Jacquet, Freddie Hubbard, Johnny Griffin, Ahmad Jamal, John Coltrane, Clifford Jordan, Cedar Walton, Sam Jones, Billy Higgins and countless others, Charles Davis has not recorded as frequently as a leader as his talent as a saxophonist, composer and arranger merited. Perhaps best known as a baritone saxophonist, he is on tenor sax on his new recording “For the Love of Lori” (Reade Street Records). On this session he is joined by a superb band that includes pianist Rick Germanson; trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, trombonist Steve Davis; bassist David Williams and drummer Neil Smith.

The Lori, on the beautiful title track, is his late wife Lori Samet-Davis who passed away and the beautiful ballad is one way of his coping with the loss. His wife’s passing was not the only loss Davis suffered as his long-time musical collaborator, Cedar Walton, was supposed to be on this recording but passed away prior to the September 2013 recording date so Rich Germanson replaced him while Walton’s long-time bassist Williams helps anchor this album along with the marvelous drummer, Neil Smith.

The wonderful opening selection “Beques” displays the authority of the ensemble, whether soling or playing as an ensemble. Davis’ arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” provides a lazy feel and after Davis states the theme on tenor, Magnarelli mades judicious use of a mute before Steve Davis masterful solo which is one of the album’s many pleasures. Julian Priester’s “Juliano” is a bright swinger as Steve Davis swings gruffly followed by Magnarelli’s forceful trumpet that segues into the leader’s robust tenor as the rhythm section pushes the performance along (Germanson takes a well conceived solo as well). It is followed by the leader’s salute to Kenny Dorham, “KD” that spotlights Magnarelli’s lyrical and driving playing.

Charles Davis warmth, strength and lyricism as a ballad player is evident on the title track while Smith’s drumming is wonderful in adding embellishments under the solos and the ensemble portions. In addition to his wonderful playing, Germanson contributed the arrangement for the first-rate hard bop rendition of Cedar Walton’s “Cedar’s Blues,” which also allows him to stretch out with the first solo over Williams walking bass line and Smith’s subtle rhythmic accents. The closing “I'll Be Seeing You” is a nicely paced and wistful rendition of this standard.

From the loss of his soul mate and a close friend, Charles Davis has found the strength to bring together the excellent band and music that makes “For The Love of Lori” such a delightful and marvelous hard bop recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Charles Davis in performance.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold

Produced by Duke Robillard, Billy Boy Arnold’s new Stony Plain recording “The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold” has him performing songs he has long loved along with originals, early R&B songs, blues/jazz standards and some rare soul gems. Arnold’s vocals and harmonica are backed by Robillard’s guitar and band with Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira’s drums with a horn section of regular Robillard associates Rich Lataille, Mark Earley and Doug Wooverton.

Arnold can be an effective vocalist but with some exceptions, including a compelling West Side Chicago blues-styled remake of B.B. King’s “Worried Dream” (with some great Robillard guilt), and the classic Chicago blues shuffle groove of Arnold’s original “What’s on the Menu Mama,” most of this is simply pleasant. Arnold’s use of harp on an old Mack Rice soul classic “Coal Man” gives it a different flavor, but his limited range and simple vocal style doesn't render a strong impression on the old Eddie Miller classic “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” or “Nat Adderly’s “Work Song” (with Oscar brown’s lyrics). These are not bad performances, but there are many better recordings of “Muddy Water” (thinking Lou Rawls and Carmen Bradford) and Gregory Porter has placed his stamp on “Work Song.”

There is a nice variety of material and Duke has provided solid settings for Arnold’s singing with solid playing by all including nice slide guitar from Duke on “99 LBs.”  Bears plays some rollicking piano on ”Muddy Water,” and displays a jazzy touch on “St. James Infirmary.” Arnold adds nice harp throughout in his distinctive style and the ensemble give a touch of Southern Soul in the backing for the remakes of “Coal Man” and Joe Tex’s still relevant topical song “A Mother’s Prayer.” They also do a solid job in backing Arnold on a nicely done Ray Charles cover, “Don’t Set Me Free” 

The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold" is an enjoyable recording with a couple of stand-out selections.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is Billy Boy from several decades ago strongly singing a Jimmy McCracklin classic.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chris Smither Is Still On The Levee

Still on the Levee” (Homunculus Music/Mighty Albert) is a double disc retrospective of Chris Smither’s 50 odd year career in new June 2013 recordings. Smither is a singer-songwriter whose performances and songs have a Dylanesque flavor as well as deep blues roots in his direct finger style guitar playing. As Charlie Hunter, his former co-manager observes, Smither’s guitar style is 1/3 Mississippi John Hurt, 1/3 Lightnin’ Hopkins and 1/3 himself.

The two CDs cover a pretty wide range of songs by Smither and display his position as a significant composer and lyricist. There is the wistfulness of "Song of Susan" to a fine original blues "Another Way To Find You" that evokes Robert Johnson riffs with a heartfelt vocal and strong harmonica backing. Allen Toussaint adds his piano to "Train Home" that lends a slightly different flavor behind Smither's vocal as he waits for a train to take him home.

Smither's gravelly vocals have a restrained quality that adds to the appeal. "Lola" is a bluesy folk number with exceptional lyrics and restrained rollicking piano backing. "Shillin' For the Blues,” which features members of Morphine, has interesting backing including softly recorded baritone sax by Dana Colley. Loudon Wainwright III joins Smithers on the lively "What They Say."

With his world weary vocals and the deft, but restrained, accompaniment, it is no wonder that Smither's "Can't Shake These Blues" Produced by David Goodrich (who plays on much of this), “Still on the Levee” is a recording that showcases this remarkable singer-songwriter as he considers some of his favorite and most memorable songs.

I received this from a publicist. Here he performs in concert "Love You Like a Man."