Sunday, February 26, 2017

David Wise Till They Lay Me Down

David Wise
Till They Lay Me Down

"Till They Lay Me Down" is a debut of multi-instrumentalist and composer David Wise. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Wise went to Oberlin College as well as the Oberlin Conservatory of Music where he studied under Gary Bartz. Now Resident in Los Angeles, he regularly plays with the quartet featured on this: Bruce Forman, guitar: Alex Frank, bass; and Jake Reed, drums, while he is on baritone and tenor sax here. Also on this session are special guests Jason Joseph, Laura Mace, Josh Smith, Mitchell Cooper, Glenn Morrissette, R.W. Enoch, Amy K. Bormet, and Mikala Schmitz.

In his liner notes, Wise quotes Gary Bartz "If I'm locked into a category, I'm in a room with walls around me.But music is the universe.' This explains the variety of the performances here that open with a jazzy piece of soul "What More Could One Man Want?" sung by Jason Joseph, with Amy K.Bormet adding electric piano and horns fill the backing with an strong sax break and a fiery blues-rock styled guitar solo from Josh Smith. His quartet is augmented by a cellist for his lovely ballad written for his grandmother "Sylvia," which is where he emerges as a marvelous ballad player with a feathery tone while Forman's chording adding nice accents. It is followed by a lengthier performance, a lovely interpretation of the standard, "Here's That Rainy Day," dedicated to his grandfather with most of his playing being the middle register of the tenor and with Forman adding a fleet, lyrical solo.

"Home" is another ballad that Forman introduces before a ruminative Wise solo with lovely chording by Forman with soft backing from the rhythm. A most unusual selection is the traditional Jewish Yom Kippur prayer "Kol Nidre" that is played on the baritone, and then followed by the title track, a low-key, moody blues performance. "Lullaby" is an aptly titled short performance. It is followed by the closing tracks , "Life is But a Song," starts as a dreamy song which he sings over his saxophone with cello added to the quartet, transitioning into an upbeat celebration well he tells us how happy life is. It is a buoyant end to a recording full of warm saxophone and fresh, simple melodies. David Wise impresses on his debut.

I received my review copy from a publicist. His website is This review appeared in the Jnauary-February Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 370). Here is a video of David Wise performing.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ted Hawkins The Next Hundred Years

Ted Hawkins
The Next Hundred Years

The release of a new Ted Hawkins album on David Geffen’s label is a surprising one for a major label, and has gotten Hawkins coverage on CNN. The LA street singer’s Rounder albums have just been issued on compact disc. He might be described as acoustic folk-soul or Sam Cooke unplugged. The Next Hundred Years has a country feel from the backing on most songs which are mostly originals dealing with the vagaries of human relationships. The opening Strange Conversation relates to a phone conversation where his baby tells him that his next lover is going to be the blues. His lyrics have a force because of their simplicity and slight naivete. In addition to the originals, there is a stirring cover of John Fogerty’s Long As I Can See the Light. This is a captivating release at the intersection of southern soul and country.

This review originally appeared in the September 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 194). I likely received a review copy from either the publication or the record company. This appears to be either  available new and/or used, or as a download. Here is Long As I Can See The Light.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Jazz Loves Disney

Jazz Loves Disney

A new album offers jazz interpretations of songs associated with Disney Movies. **Jay Newland produced this album of mostly big band orchestral settings (including strings) for jazz vocals that was arranged and directed by Rob Mounsey. Such vocalists as Gregory Porter, Jamie Cullum, Melody Gardot, and Stacey Kent, lend their talents to this project that brings forth songs from such films as "Cinderella," "Lady and the Tramp," "The Jungle Book," "101 Dalmatians" and others.

Jamie Cullum gets things of with the playful "Everybody Wants To Be a Cat," with Mounsey's arrangements handsomely providing the setting for the first part before the band and Cullum erupts into a quasi Dixieland frenzy. Melody Gardot lends a smoky and sultry flavor to "He's a Tramp," with strings adding a lush, but not syrupy feel, with a marvelous saxophone solo. Stacey Kent is delightful singing in French, "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo," followed by Gregory Porter delivering a dreamy "When You Wish Upon A Star."

I am not familiar with China Moses whose rendition of the Lil Green classic "Why Don't You Do Right," is patterned on Peggy Lee's famous rendition, with the bass very prominent in the backing. I am also not familiar with Raphael Gualazzi but he delights on the latin rhumba groove of "I Wanna Be Like You." He and Melody Gardot duet on the peppy "The Bare Necessities." The Rob Mounsey Orchestra is featured on " A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes," opening with some atmospheric muted trumpet to play the lyrics.

Hugh Colman's vocal on "You've Got A Friend In Me" is suggestive of Harry Connick without being imitative. I found Anne Sila sort of out of place with her pop-flavored styling on "Let It Go," while Laika's romanticism sounds matched well with "Once Upon A Dream." Nikki Yanofsky delightfully transforms "Someday My Prince Will Come" into French on "Un Jour Mon Prince Viendra," while The Hot Sardines, only the only track without the Mounsey Orchestra, closes this thoroughly delightful recording with a spirited "I Wanna Be Like You."

I received a download from a publicist. This review appeared in the January-February 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 370).  Here is a sample of the album.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Scott Ramminger Do What Your Heart Says To

Scott Ramminger
Do What Your Heart Says To
Arbor Lane Music

What a pleasure it is to have a new CD from Mid-Atlantic saxophonist-singer-songwriter Scott Ramminger that is full of the bluesy, roots-rock gumbo with a heavy dash of New Orleans flavor. Backing Ramminger is a Crescent City studio band of David Torkanowsky on keyboards; Shane Theriot on guitar; George Porter on bass; and Doug Belote on drums, with Roland Guerin replacing Porter and Johnny Vidacovich replacing Belote on two tracks. Trombones and trumpet with Ramminger provide a full horn section and there are guest vocalists supporting Scott that include Tommy Malone, Bekka Bramlett, Francine Reed, The McCrary Sisters, Janiva Magness and Roddie Romero (who plays accordion on one track).

Scott writes good songs, full of humor and a perspective on the affairs of the heart and sings in an appealing, natural, rustic style. He also adds fluent, idiomatic big-toned sax to these selections backed by the stellar rhythm section. The album gets off with a New Orleans funk groove of "Living Too Fast" as he tells his tale about this woman with brains, looks and the like who poured his bottle into the ocean, cigarettes in the trash, coming to the conclusion Scott was living too fast (with Malone adding harmony), and while on May 1 he thought she was the one, by Labor Day she had extinguished all his fun with a booting sax solo and some New Orleans piano from Torkanowsky. With Bekka Bramlett adding support, "Someone New To Disappoint," is a nice hard rock number with Scott as someone who won't be changed so he is looking for someone else to disappoint. On the title track Scott deals with being battered by a lover, and sometimes instead of using one's brain, one should "Do What Your Heart Says To," with him taking another booting sax solo followed by Torkanowsky with some idiomatic Crescent City piano and Francine Reed on backing vocal.

Scott's has taken a beating and has not slept since she left and he's "Hoping That The Sun Won't Shine," with Bekka Bramlett supporting his vocal and Scott playing baritone as well as tenor sax on this blue ballad. "Winter Is Always Worse" is a strong slow performance that opens with some sizzling guitar from Theriot while "Get Back Up," with Guerin and Vidacovich, gets into a funk groove as he sings about getting back up when dealing with life throws at you while The McCrary Sisters add vocal backing and a short trombone break is followed by some deep in the gut baritone sax, guitar and chicken fried organ. Janiva Magness guests backing Scott on the easy rocking shuffle "It's Hard To Be Me," as Scott sings about his trouble and coming up with these lies and make up stories to hold on to a love.

"Off My Mind" is another solid slow blues while "My Girl For Life," is a swamp pop styled ballad. Roddie Romero's accordion lends a Tex-Mex accent to the rock and roll groove of "Stubborn Man," with honking sax, brief blistering guitar, and hot piano to take this  and the album to a rollicking close. Like he has done on his excellent prior recordings, Scott has produced some seriously entertaining music with plenty of substance. He writes real good songs, is a most engaging singer and a strong saxophonist who backs himself with some stellar players. The result is another helping of real fine musical gumbo.

A publicist provided me with the review copy. Here is a video of Scott performing at a CD release party.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason

Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason
Edited by Toby Gleason
New Haven: Yale University Press
2016: 328 pp

This is a companion to the recently published "Conversations In Jazz; The Ralph Gleason Interviews," which was transcripts of interviews with jazz musicians by the late journalist and television host. The present volume is a compilation of newspaper articles and reviews, liner notes, essays for scholarly publications and the like including some of his writings for Rolling Stone that Ralph Gleason co-founded. Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner provides the foreword here and Paul Scanlon provides an introduction. The book is organized into four parts. The lengthiest is devoted to jazz and blues followed by one on folk, pop and rock. After a part on comedy the book concludes with a part on politics and culture.

Gleason may be the only person to interview Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, B.B. King, and Hank Williams. Yes Hank Williams, several months before his early passing. I have no doubt that the portion of the book devoted to music will be of the greatest interest to many. The very first piece is on jazz and blues entitled "Jazz: Black Art/ American Art," with a condensed distillation of the music's history along with blues folk like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy waters, B.B. King and others along with brief mentions of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Lester Young, John Coltrane and others.This 1969 essay won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for Excellence in Music Journalism. Other essays on jazz and blues include his liner notes to Jimmy Witherspoon "At the Monterey Jazz Festival," John Coltrane "Ole Coltrane," Billie Holiday "The Golden Years Volume 2," B.B. King "Completely Well" and Miles Davis "Bitches Brew." There is an article on the San Francisco Jazz Scene of the Time, a review of Louis Armstrong playing the Claremont Hotel, appreciations of Johnny Hodges after he passed, and Ben Webster from Rolling Stone , and lengthy appreciations of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington after they had died.

The part on folk, pop and rock opens with liner notes on The Limeliters, a review of Joan Baez in concert, an article previewing a Pete Seeger appearance, a review of the incomparable Odetta in concert, several pieces on Bob Dylan (who Gleason was an early advocate of) including a 1964 concert review, early article on The Beatles, liner notes to the first Jefferson Airplane album, his appreciation of Hank Williams that includes quotes from the Oakland, California interview he did six months before Williams passed away, liner notes to Simon and Garfunkel's "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme." and consideration of San Francisco as the American Liverpool. I wish I had Gleason's ability to so concisely (and so clearly) describe his musical subject and what is on the recording or the significance of the performance. And whether talking about jazz or folk and rock, he provides  insights about the subject one may not have had.

For the part on comedy there are brief pieces on Dick Gregory, Jonathan Winter, and Bill Cosby before a lengthy biographical essay on Lenny Bruce that served as liner notes for a Fantasy album of Bruce's comedy and social commentary. The Politics and Culture part has pieces on the Free Speech Movement, Hippie Culture, Music and social change of the time, and related matter of the times including his opposition to President Nixon. Gleason was what we call a progressive voice today and while some of his observations may be time bound, one can imagine how he would write about today's world.

Ralph Gleason was only 57 when he passed in 1975 and his centenary is in 2017. This and the companion volume of jazz interviews seems like the proper way to celebrate what he left us. Highly recommended.

I purchased this.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Michael Blanco Spirit Forward

Michael Blanco
Spirit Forward
Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records

"Spirit Forward" the title of bassist-composer Michael Blanco's new album, is a bartending term for a type of cocktail made with strong spirits (like the Manhattan or Martini) that seeks to highlight and enhance the flavor of the base spirit, not to mask its flavor. Blanco states, "When choosing Spirit Forward for the album title, I had this definition in mind and how it relates to my music. It's a good metaphor for how strong musical personalities can come together and create a dynamic unit, while still maintaining their individuality." This refers to the Michael Blanco Quartet featuring John Ellis (tenor saxophone), Kevin Hays (piano) and Clarence Penn (drums). He also observed "I like the idea that the act of releasing an album of original music is akin to putting your 'spirit forward' out into the world, as well as the way the word spirit can be used to mean motion (like 'spirit away'), so Spirit Forward also means forward motion and continuing progress."

Saxophonist Ellis has been a long-time friend and musical collaborator with Blanco, whereas the pianist Hays and drummer Penn (who I am most familiar with) are more recent additions to his group. And the band did a number of dates in 2015 working out on these compositions before actually going into the stdio resulting in this imaginative and intriguing recording. This is suggested by the first composition, "The Mystic Chord" which Blanco observes "The Mystic Chord is a six-note chord used by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, and believed by Scriabin to have mystical properties. While practicing at home one day, I discovered that I could create a bass line with an interesting 6/4 groove by spelling out this chord one note at a time." The resulting melody has a "funky, lopsided quality," and the quartet explores the possibilities of this chord with Ellis' tenor providing a fluid, light sound.

"Notes From the Underground" was inspired by the Cornelia Street Cafe, and employs a low-register piano/bass counter-melody hat offsets Ellis' tenor at several points as well as impresses with his own solo. Blanco notes that so many of his favorite jazz clubs are basement rooms, hence the double entendre of the title. "Song Without Words" is a pretty number where the quartet displays its lyricism with Hays displaying his nice touch here, while the swinging title track evokes some classic 70s hard bop compositions with Hayes, Ellis and the leader stretching out. Then there is a quirky blues "Last Stable Orbit," (title is astronomical term that denotes" last orbit possible before an object (planet, spaceship, etc) gets sucked into a black hole.") with Ellis on soprano sax with a bit of squeal in his tone. A Neal LaBute play is the source of the tile for "Reasons To Be Pretty," a slow number opening with Ellis, again on soprano sax setting the mood before Hays takes a beautiful solo. Penn's cymbals play, whether with brushes or sticks, merits mention here, but is expectedly superb throughout.

Blanco's prior two albums have both garnered considerable praise. Listening to "Spirit Forward," one can understand why. There is so much to enjoy on this sparkling recording. Here is Michael Blanco and John Ellis with a different rhythm section.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hard Swimmin' Fish True Believer

Hard Swimmin' Fish
True Believer

Acme Blues Company, a former Northern Virginia group that included harmonica player and vocalist Waverly Milor, once described themselves as 'Industrial Strength Blues." Such a description might be applied to Milor's present group, Hard Swimmin' Fish, also based in Northern and Central Virginia. Its other members are Demian Lewis on guitar, banjo and vocals, Randy Ball on bass, and Jason Walker on drums and percussion. On their latest self-produced album, they are supported by the organ of John Sharrar on one selection.

On their website, they describe themselves, "Hard Swimmin’ Fish is an ensemble deeply rooted in the traditions of American music. Our down home roots sound pilfers from the best that early American music has to offer including blues, jazz, funk and swing, and churn it all up into a spicy brew that is familiar yet uniquely our own." Listening to this latest release, one is struct by the blues center of the performances and the impressive ensemble playing that overshadows the instrumental solos which are quick and to the point.

The tenor of their sound is set with the insistent, machine-like groove of the opening title song as Milor gruffly delivers the lyrics of being a true believer tied to the stake with his overdubbed harmonica adding feel of the performance. Plenty of grit follows on "Five Years Hard Labor," with its chugging rhythm and his being let go from his job for his five years of hard labor and having his woman walk out the door. "Come Together" is not the Beatles number, but a Lewis original with him laying down some hot acoustic slide guitar set against a tight groove. Covers include a straight, rocking treatment of Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' For My Darling"; an atmospheric reworking of Little Willie John's classic "Need Your Love So Bad," with one of the nicest vocals on this and organ from Sharrar; and a warp speed rendition of the classic Ray Charles stomp "Mess Around."

A traditional gospel number, "Don't Let the Devil Ride" which segues into "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down,"closes out this latest release that perhaps exhibits why Hard Swimmin' Fish has been developing a following around Northern and Central Virginia and parts of Maryland.

Received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here Hard Swimmin' Fish perform "True Believer."