Saturday, July 21, 2018

Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty Tribute to Carey Bell

Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty
Tribute to Carey Bell
Delmark Records

Guitarist and vocalist Lurrie Bell is joined by his siblings Steve on harmonica, Tyson on bass and James on drums and vocals on a tribute recording to their late father, legendary harmonica wizard, Carey Bell. Also present on most of this is Eddie Taylor Jr., whose father had a long association with the elderly Bell. Guests on several tracks are Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, Billy Branch on harmonica and vocals and Sumito 'Ariyo' Ariyoshi on piano. Included are a number of songs associated with Carey, one original from James Bell and one from Billy Branch.

This is one of the better recent blues tribute recordings I have heard as the Bell Dynasty is a real fine band and the sharing of vocals between Lurrie (7), James (3) and Billy Branch (2), adds variety along with the solid vocals. One has to be impressed by Lurrie who opens on a rocking shuffle, Muddy Waters "Gone on Main Street" with Steve displaying his strong harmonica chops while Lurrie tosses in a neat solo. A rollicking take on Little Walter's "I Got To Go," has Musselwhite and Steve Bell both playing with their interplay energizing but Lurrie and Taylor also play to great effect. James Bell shows himself to be a singer of considerable merit on a fine slow original "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize." It is followed by a hot shuffle performance of "Tomorrow Night," while it is Billy Branch I believe who is heard on chromatic harp (with Steve Bell also playing) as well as taking the vocal on another fine slow blues, "So Hard To Be Alone." Branch's own "Carey Bell Was A Friend Of Mine," set to a John Lee Hooker boogie groove showcases the interplay between the two harpists along with Branch's heartfelt singing and lyrics.

James Bell's singing also stands out on terrific performances of "What My Momma Told Me" and "Break It Up," which is given a fresh arrangement from the more familiar versions by Bell and the late Bobby Parker, who had this as a staple of his performances for decades. Among the remaining songs is another superb slow blues "Heartaches and Pain," but the level of these performances is consistently high. In summary, a tribute to Carey Bell full of first-rate Chicago blues.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review has appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). Here is a video of Lurrie Bell and Carey Bell from 2005.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Gus Spenos It's Lovin' I Guarantee

Gus Spenos
It's Lovin' I Guarantee

Gus Spenos is a sax-playing bluesman who plays and sings in the vein of the great blues shouters while also being a top neurologist in Indianapolis. This is his latest recording and he recorded it in Hoboken with a terrific big band that includes Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and Cecil Brooks III on drums. The rest of the rhythm section also includes Brandon McCune on keyboards and Brad Williams on guitar. Others present include Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, Bruce Williams on alto sax, and Jason Marshall on baritone sax. These gentleman along with Gordon, McCune and Williams are heard on solos throughout.

Spenos and his collaborator, Collin DeJoseph, wrote 4 originals and there are 9 covers here. DeJoseph who also played piano did the arrangements. This is solid jump blues that is wonderfully played with plenty of hot horn solos and tight rocking grooves. The originals such as the title track and "Every Tic's Got a Toc," are solid originals in the jump blues tradition while songs covered are not songs that have been covered to death.

Spenos is an adequate, if at times awkward sounding, singer who does invest a lot of spirit in his vocals although he is overshadowed by his inspirations. A the same time, the horns and band are wonderful with Gordon contributing some terrific growling trombone on Jimmy Rushing "Fool's Blues," where the leader takes a one of several terrific booting tenor sax solos here. Guitarist Williams takes a fleet solo on TNT Tribble's "She Walks Right In," followed by Hendrix's blistering trumpet. On Eddie Boyd's "Hush Baby Don't You Cry," Jason Marshall's burly baritone sax is followed by Gordon's gutbucket play while McCune lays down some hot buttered fried soul on the B-3.

Brad Williams opens "Livin' is a Cry" when some T-Bone Walker styled chords and then chords under Spenos tough tenor sax opening on a solid slow original with Gordon's growling obligatos adding plenty to the feel of this performance and is followed by Buddy Johnson's "Lil Dog," a wonderful instrumental that showcases Spenos tenor sax as well as Gordon's gutbucket trombone, Bruce Williams alto sax and Hendrix's sizzling trumpet. Another solid number here is Eddie Mack's "King Loving Daddy." It is a nice jump blues by a lesser known shouter.

The only reservation about this recording is that Spenos is not a compelling singer. However, the excellence of the musical performances here may merit attention from fans of jump blues and classic rhythm'n'blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378) although I have made a few minor changes.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

George Cotsirilos Mostly in Blue

George Cotsirilos 
Mostly in Blue 
OA2 Records 

Originally from Chicago, San Francisco Bay Area guitarist George Cotsirilos has been a member of the area's jazz community for many years. He has performed with a wide variety of artists including jazz fixtures like Eddie Marshall, Mel Martin, Pharaoh Sanders and Mark Levine as well as soul and blues singer Etta James, and Bill Evans bassist Chuck Israels. This is his new quartet CD with a band that includes pianist Keith Saunders, former Cal Tjader bassist Robb Fisher and drummer Ron Marabuto. 

This is a strong, straight-ahead set of mostly blues-tinged performances with Cotsirilos having contributed six of the eight numbers. Cotsirilos is a marvelous guitarist in the vein of Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Kenny Burrell and the like and his swinging, fluid, inventive, single note inventions are complemented by the backing rhythm section with pianist Saunders also outstanding.

Highlights include the lively title track that opens the CD; the tribute to Wes Montgomery "Wes Side Blues," where he evokes the guitar legend; a lovely Brazilian-tinged performance on the standard "I Wish I Knew," that has a brief unaccompanied guitar opening; a peppy rendition of the Benny Harris bebop classic "Crazeology"; and the late evening mood engendered on "Lights Out." 

Cotsirilos notes that the idea was "to present the music much as one would hear it in live performance … ." The performances were recorded at a single session in first or second takes, and on the evidence of the superior performances here, Cotsirilos and his band is a group I would love to hear live if I had the chance.

I received my review copy from a publicist.This review appeared originally in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). If you visit and click music, you can hear 5 full tracks, including two from this album (the quartet tracks). Here is George Cotsirilos performing live.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Adrean Farrugia & Joel Frahm Blued Dharma

Adrean Farrugia & Joel Frahm
Blued Dharma

The well respected saxophonist Frahm and the Canadian pianist Farrugia have been musical compatriots since 2008 as part of various groups of drummer (and publicist Ernesto Cervini). As Cervini observes in his liner notes for this release, the two display a very sympathetic relationship playing off each other, almost like they are finishing off each other's sentences, on these intimate, duet performances.

The performances of five Farrugia originals and two standards (there are two performances of "Cherokee") display charm as well as considerable musical vision and inspiration. Farrugia's title track is a lovely composition with Frahm on soprano saxophone as both build their solos upon Farrugia's alluring melody. Then there are the two very different takes of "Cherokee," with the two taking apart and reconstructing the classic Ray Noble melody in each case.

Frahm imbues his tenor sax with a sensuous tone that hints at Ben Webster on a lovely ballad "For Murray Gold," while Farrugia's introduction to the standard "Nobody Else But Me," has a Monkish flavor, before his precise accompaniment to another lovely Frahm tenor saxophone solo, It is followed by Farrugia own choice solo here with his mix of arpeggios and well-placed chords. Farrugia's "Cool Beans" sounds like a contrafact to John Coltrane's "Equinox," and is a spirited blues duet with more excellent tenor sax by Frahm along with Farrugia's tasteful, inventive solo.

This piano-saxophone duet recording by Adrean Farrugia and Joel Frahm is a superb display of the musical magic from these two close musical collaborators.

Received as a download from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). I have made minor revisions to the published review. Here the two are playing together as part of Ernesto Cervini's excellent group, Turboprop.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Keeshea Pratt Band Believe

Keeshea Pratt Band

Based in Houston, the Keeshea Pratt Band was the winner of the Blues Foundation's 2018 International Blues Challenge. In addition to the ear-grabbing vocals of Ms. Pratt, a Mississippi native, this band consists of Music Director, Bassist and Vocals, Shawn Allen; Brian Sowell (Lead Guitar & Vocals); Dan Carpenter (Saxophone); Misaki Nishidate (Trumpet); James Williams III (Trumpet); and Nick Fishman (Drums), while Kid Andersen, Bob Welsh and Little Terry Rogers are among those present.

Pratt really is a terrific singer with a big voice but also her phrasing and her sense of dynamics sets her apart from many singers today. "Make It Good" opens this marvelous album and the horns help lend her pleading vocal a classic soul vibe, "Have a Good Time Y'al" is a joyous reworking of "Let the Good Times Roll," followed by Shawn Allen's "I'm in the Mood," where she is in the mood to sing the blues as she works so hard during the day and now it is the time to play. The music here employs the arrangement B.B. King employed for "The Thrill Is Gone." Again she sings sensationally with the band providing first-rate support and there is a nice guitar solo.

"Its Too Late" is a terrific slow blues again with the horns adding brassy punctuation before her emphatic singing about wanting a real man but getting herself a boy. There is a nice understated piano solo on this. After the New Orleans second line groove of "Shake Off These Blues," with some shattering trumpet, as well as some hot sax and piano solos, there is a rollicking shuffle "Home To Mississippi," with acoustic slide guitar and down home harmonica as Pratt sings about going to the place she first calls home and where folks sing the blues from the king of the blues to the king of rock and roll.

"Monkey See, Monkey Do" is a superb slow blues with the horns adding emphasis and she tells her lover, every time you go creeping, Keeshea goes sees a friend and while her lover hangs with Jane she is with Tarzan. She delivers another powerful vocal on this strong original song with guitarist Sowell adding his instrumental voice along with the horns. The title track opens with electric slide and then the horns before she sings the lyric about believing in one's dreams and if one is going to believe in anything, believe in oneself. It is simply a commanding performance on a recording full of them.

Other songs include a soulfully sung blues ballad, "Can't Stop Now," before another superb slow blues "So Bad Blues," that was recorded live, concludes this outstanding debut recording. Keeshea Pratt is a superb singer, with an excellent band, and they have produced an exceptional recording that is as good as any recent contemporary blues recording this writer has recently heard.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review has appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). Here is the Keeshea Pratt Band at the International Blues Challenge.

I have been letting this blog slide for a bit, but pleased to return to activity with a review of a CD that really impressed me as you will have read.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Rockie Charles
Born For You
Orleans Records

A most pleasant surprise is this reissue of the late New Orleans based soul singer's 1996 release. Nicknamed "The President of Soul" after a 1970s recording released on his own label, he returned to recording when Carlos Ditta contacted him after seeing an ad Charles had placed, resulting in this recording. Outside of Smokey Greenwell's harmonica and Jerry Embree's tenor sax, none of the players on this session backing Charles' guitar and vocals is a name I remember. They do a fine job in backing Charles on his eleven originals here.

This was a marvelous soul session with a bit of country flavor in the vein of some of Joe Tex's recordings although Charles' voice is suggestive of Al Green. The album opens in a solid vein with his emotive yearning vocal on the lament "Born For You," with the smoldering heat in his vocal while Embree's tenor sax adds a mournful riff over the understated backing. "Old Black Joe," is a marvelous half-talking piece of story telling in the Joe Tex manner. Greenwell's harmonica adds to the atmosphere of another lament "Oh My Darling, Look What You're Doing to Me," as he sings about wanting to move but his body does not seem able. Another song with a Joe Tex feel is "Something Is Wrong With Our Love," with his plead to find a way out of this with solid idiomatic horn playing. Festis Believe in Justice." There is more of Memphis feel with the chugging rhythms of "I Need Your Love so Bad, I'm About to Loose My Mind," while there is also a fine holiday song, "I Just Called to Wish You a Merry Christmas" (and a Happy New Year."

With steel guitar added to the backing, Charles' lyrical skills are herd on the catchy ""Born For You," was a most welcome return for Rockie Charles which led to a variety of Jazz Fest, Ponderosa Stomp and other performances over the next decade. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform a couple times prior to his passing away in 2010. The soulful performances on this most welcome re-release, are gems of down-home, understated, southern soul.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 376) although I have corrected the year of Rockie Charles' death year as 2010 (the review had 2007). Here is Rockie Charles from an in-store appearance at the Louisiana Music Factory in 2007.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Hilary Gardner & Ehud Asherie The Late Set

Hilary Gardner & Ehud Asherie
The Late Set
Anzic Records

I have not been to Mezzrow, the intimate Greenwich Village club but from what I understand about this small, listening jazz venue, the duo collaboration between vocalist Gardner and pianist Asherie sounds like the type of performance that is featured there. In fact, the credits include special thanks to Spike Wilner, Mitch Borden and Mezzrow, and the cover photographs were taken there.

This is a delightful, informal tour through the American songbook by the two with Gardner's, strong, tuneful alto, along with the clarity in enunciation matched by Asherie's nuanced, often restrained by deft, congenial accompaniment and solos. Another thing that stands out is the fact that the songs are not particularly well known songs except for "After You've Gone," and "Make Someone Happy."

The program opens with a couple of Al Dubin and Harry warren collaborations, "Shadow Waltz," and "Sweet and Slow." The former number opens with a stately piano chorus before Gardner starts her vocal, showcasing her nuanced phrasing and dynamics with a delightful, spare piano solo. It is followed by the unhurried,"Sweet and Slow," where she encourages her partner to take his time while the band is moaning low as Asherie is exquisite in his accompaniment with a late-night, bluesy feel.

After a wistful take on a lesser known Rodgers and Hart number, "A Ship Without a Sail," comes a remarkable rendition of a song going back to the twenties, "After You've Gone." This performance begins as a slow lament with light piano and plaintive vocal and then halfway through Asherie picks up the tempo and gives a propulsive accompaniment as Gardner sings defiantly about he will be the one suffering "after I've gone" with a superb stride piano solo.

"After You've Gone" is a performance that stands out on this mostly lovely program that also includes the cute "I've Never Seen Snow" from Harold Arlen and Truman Capote; the fetching rendition of Irving Berlin's "I Used to Be Color Blind"; the ebullient interpretation of Rodgers and Hart's "Everything I've Got"; the heartfelt, precious "Make Someone Happy"; and a captivating, reflective "Seems Like Old Times" (by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo). Gardner's wonderful singing and Asherie's marvelous piano results in a delightful recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 376). Here is a video of the two at Small's in New York City doing "Autumn in New York."