Thursday, November 26, 2015

Charlie Haden & Gonzalo Rubalcaba Tokyo Adagio

When Charlie Haden had become confined to home when too ill to travel from the effects of post-polio syndrome, he started listening to tapes of his previous concerts and discovered the performances he had made with the Cuban pianist, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, at the Blue Note in Tokyo in 2005. The music was such that he wanted it released, and along with Jean-Phillippe Allard his producer from Impulse! and Universal Music France, they made the selections that appear on “Tokyo Adagio” (Impulse!) ready for release.

Haden and Rubalcaba had met in Havana in 1986 where his group played on a Havana Jazz Plaza Festival on the same night as Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and Haden quickly became a major supporter of the pianist, urging Bruce Lundvall of Blue Note Records to sign him. He joined Haden, along with drummer Paul Motian at the 1989 Montreal Jazz Festival, and the music was issued as part of Haden’s “The Montreal Tapes” series. They would collaborate in concert and on recordings a number of more times, including the six songs (sequenced by Haden) the pair performed over four nights in Toyko that are presented here.

Rubalcaba is a marvelously gifted pianist with stunning technique and touch that goes with the keen musical intelligence he manifests throughout these duets, which display the empathy he and Haden had in these intimate and lyrical performances, opening with Martin Rojas’ lovely ballad “En La Orilla Del Mundo (The Edge of the World).” Haden’s love of movie music is displayed in the romanticism that permeates their rendition of the Johnny Mercer-David Raskin composed “My Love and I,” with Haden more prominent in the performance with the first solo (accented by the pianist’s chords) followed by more remarkable, and beautiful playing from Rubalcaba.

Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave” (first recorded in 1958), is taken at a bit more spirited tempo, and after Haden’s strong solo, Rubalcaba’s wonderful playing brings out the melodic delight of Coleman’s composition as he does on Haden’s own “Sandino,” whose title commemorates the Nicaraguan revolutionary leader where he is able to mix lines played at high velocity with several bars played in a more stately manner while providing a feeling of calmness, even through the most rhythmically stirring passages. After a lovely rendition of “Solamente Una Vez (You Belong To My Heart),” Agustîn Lara’s bolero, “Tokyo Adagio” concludes with Rubalcaba’s lovely ballad, “Transparence,” on which Haden provides the last musical utterance with a musical figure after the pianist’s ending.

Ned Sublette, in his appreciation in the liner booklet, observes the sense of calm about the music heard here and the enchanting performances here certainly are in accord with this. The booklet also provides Rubalcaba’s memories of Haden and these performances, and has  recollections of Haden’s widow, Ruth Cameron-Haden who notes Haden’s love of the slow movements in classical pieces (leading to the album title), his going to Tokyo to perform despite starting to experience the effects of post-polio syndrome, and the production of this recording. Listeners should be grateful that Haden was insistent about having the music on “Tokyo Adagio” released after he had passed on. It is a recording full of beauty, spirit and heart characteristic of Charlie Haden’s remarkable career.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363).  Here is a performance of Charlie Haden & Gonzalo Rubalcaba from an earlier album.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pete Magadini's Bone Blues

Bones Blues” under the leadership of drummer Pete Magadini, is a strong mainstream Sackville Records session that is being rereleased by Delmark who acquired the Sackville catalog not that long ago. Magadini anchored a piano trio that included one of Canada’s most gifted pianists, Wray Downes on what was his first recording session and bassist Dave Young would later play with Oscar peterson. Added to this trio is tenor saxophonist Don Menza who brings a relaxed, melodic quality here to go with his oft sinewy attack.

The straight-ahead date opens with a swinging rendition of “Old Devil Moon” with Menza blasting off as the rhythm section pushes him along deftly before Downes exhibits with his fluid, precise playing why he was so highly regarded followed by a short solo from the leader. Menza gets really going on Miles Davis’ “Freddie Freeloader” from the legendary “Kind of Blue” recording, and his fervent solo is followed by Downes fresh twist on the theme. Menza’s marvelous way with a ballad is exhibited on a lovely “Poor Butterfly,” with the trio providing nice understated support. Young’s bass joins Menza to state the theme of Miles Davis’ “Solar” and his emphatic playing helps propel this swinging rendition. There is also lovely renditions of Benny Golson’s “I Remember Clifford,” and Dave Young’s wistful “What a Time We Had,” which showcases Young’s strong playing. Menza contributed the title track which is a solid medium tempo blues from Menza’s pen and followed by an alternate take of ““Freddie Freeloader.”

Throughout “Bones Blues” Menza is robust and tender as appropriate, and the trio of Magadini, Downes and Young are terrific in their backing and their own playing. It simply is a wonderful recording of swinging, straight-ahead jazz.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review appeared in the September-October 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 356). Here is Pete Magadini with Jim Galloway and Dick Wellstood doing some classic jazz.

Here is Don Menza.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Daniel Smith Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues

The bassoon is an instrument that is associated with classical music and it is out of the classical music world that Daniel Smith has emerged into the jazz world. I was not familiar with him until I received his new Summit Records’ recording “Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues” which is his 5th jazz recording (and 2nd apparently to focus on the blues).

He is backed on this by a solid rhythm section of Robert Bosscher-Piano/Arranger, Michael O’Brien-Bass, and Vincent Ector-Drums. There are also guest artists Ron Jackson-Guitar, Efrat Shapira-Violin, Neil Clarke-Latin Percussion, Greg ‘Organ Monk’ Lewis-Jazz Organ, and Frank Senior-Vocalist. They handle a program of blues (and blues-associated numbers that include Jimmy Forrest’s “Night Train”; Charles Mingus’ “Better Get Hit In Your Soul” Jimmy Smith’s “Back At The Chicken Shack”; Ray Charles’ "What’d I Say"; and “Hallelujah I Love Her So”: Sonny Rollins’ “Blue Seven”; Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues”: Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues”; and Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’.”

I have no issue with Smith’s technical command of what is a somewhat cumbersome instrument to play, much less swing. The issue is the bassoon has a sour sound to these ears which may limit its audience. This is not to say that there is some very intriguing playing, including from those of Smith’s rhythm section as well as his guest artists. I find Shapira’s violin quite engaging and the unison parts of her and Smith provide more comfortable listening. She certainly makes distinctive contributions to “Night Train” and Senor Blues” for example. On the latter number, pianist Bosscher has a nice break.

Senior adds some vocals to a couple of Ray Charles numbers with O’Brien taking a nice bowed solo on “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” while Lewis’ adds greasy Hammond B-3 to “Back to the Chicken Shack” and “C Jam Blues,” on which guitarist Jackson sparkles with his crisp, clean fretwork. Smith is brave to handle the challenges of the Mingus and Rollins compositions and his playing on a lesser known Nat Adderley composition “Hummin’” is fascinating with some bluesy single note playing from Jackson and the rendition of Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’” is also is also engaging with significant contributions from Jackson and Shapira along with a tight solo from O’Brien.

The reservations about this recording lie in the bassoon’s sonority that makes listening to “Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues” a challenge, despite the high level of musicianship as the novelty of a jazz bassoon may wear off for some. This might be best sampled a few tracks at a time.

A publicist provided my review copy. This review appeared in the September-October 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 356). Here is a video of Smith captured in performance.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hank Mowery Has Excuses Plenty

About Hank Mowery's 2013 recording "Account To Me" (Old Pal) I observed that Mowery was a strong blues voice that is showcased on a most entertaining recording. It is a description equally applicable to his latest recording "Excuses Plenty" (Blue Bella Records). Backed by his band "The Hawktones" with Mowery on harp and vocals; Troy Amaro on guitar; Chris Corey on keyboards; Patrick Recob on bass and backing vocals and John Large on drums and percussion. Also are a number of guest appearances including guitarists Mike Morgan and Doug Deming; bassist Larry Taylor; and harmonica wizard Dennis Gruenling, providing extra musical depth to the solid playing here.

Mowery kicks off this album with an original "Anna Lee" that is a nice dose of bluesy rock and roll (think Chuck Berry meets Kid Thomas). His sharp-toned harp mixed with his straight-forward vocals delivered with conviction is backed by rollicking piano and some kick-ass guitar. It is followed by the sober "I Don't Want to Know" with a restrained, thoughtfully played guitar solo by Claude Nine. The title track has effective trebly guitar from Amaro and some soulful harp playing from the leader followed by "Walk With Me," a Blasters styled rocker with terrific harp. "One and Only" is a terrific Jimmy Rogers' styled shuffle with more Mowery harp as he trades licks with guitarist Mike Morgan. "Cry For Me" is not the soul classic but an original with a swampy rock accents and greasy fafisa sounding organ from Corey. "Would You Still Love Me on a Rainy Day" is played with considerable restraint including Mowery's softly delivered vocal with Dennis Gruenling taking the superb harp solo here with Deming soloing on guitar. A cover of William Clarke's "Telephone Is Ringing" opens with some explosive Deming guitar and has explosive harp playing by Gruenling and Mowery as well as a tough vocal (sounding like he is singing through his harp mike).

Its another strong set of performances by Mowery who sands out as a songwriter, singer and instrumentalist backed by a tight band and some superb guests. The marvelous music on "Excuses Plenty" certainly should appeal to fans of traditional post-war blues as well as roots rock enthusiasts.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Hank Mowery and the Hawktones in performance.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett and Dave Wilcox are Guitar Heroes

Stony Plain has a release that will certainly enliven the listening of guitar geeks, "Guitar Heroes." The album brings forth a performance from the Vancouver Island MusicFest by guitar legends James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett and Dave Wilcox backed by the keyboards of Jon Greathouse, the bass of Will MacGregor, and the drums of James Harrison Smith. Doug Cox, Artistic Director of the Festival discusses in the liner notes how this performance came together which I will leave for your eyes.

James Burton first came to notice on Dale Hawkins' early recordings including "Susie Q", before hooking up with Rick Nelson and then Elvis Presley. Albert Lee is best known to me as a country picker (an extension of Burton's chicken scratching style) who spent time with Emmy Lou Harris, Eric Clapton and Rodney Crowell. Amos Garrett was with Ian & Sylvia, Maria Muldaur, Paul Butterfield's Better Days and Bonnie Raitt while Dave Wilcox was also with Ian and Sylvia, Maria Muldaur, Nashville North, and The Ian Tyson (TV) show. This gives a sense of their roots but the music extends here to blues, rockabilly and jazz.

Lee and Wilcox handle most of the vocals in a most credible fashion. Certainly no issue about Lee's rendition of Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right (Mama)" that was Elvis' first single and the contrast between the switching leads and other guitarists providing support is delightful. Greathouse handles the vocal on "Susie Q" with Wilcox taking the first lead followed by Burton, Garrett and Lee, with Greathouse also soloing. It should be noted that both of these performances are little more than 5 minutes and allow each to display there licks and tricks but no one takes long self-indulgent solos. "Sleepwalk" is a showcase for Garrett's multiple string bending and tonal command followed by a lively rockabilly rendition of Ray Charles "Leave My Woman Alone," with Lee's affable vocal and some instrumental sparks, particularly the trading of licks between Lee and Greathouse for the first break and between Lee and Burton to ride out this 7 minute plus romp that seems shorter.

The opening of Jimmy Rogers "You're the One" sounds like they are about the hit "Honky Tonk" before Wilcox leads the  into a straight blues vein as he delivers a vocal a bit more forcibly than Rogers did before then calling on Burton to take the first solo, and after singing another verse introduces Lee. It is refreshing these gentleman handle this blues from the standpoint of country musicians and listening to their use of tone as well as their picking is a delight. Herbie Mann's recording "Comin' Home Baby" was a standard warmup track of blues bands in the sixties and the quartet of guitarists provide a lively rendering here. Wilcox's guitar introduces "Flip, Flop and Fly" which he sings and on which Lee is exceptional on. An instrumental renditions of the atmospheric "Only the Young" and a swampy rockabilly take on "Pork Salad Annie," are followed by a Wilcox original, "Bad Apple," the only forgettable performance him.

I know of the closing "Country Boy" from the Ricky Skaggs recording and the terrific video which was filmed in part in the New York subway system, but was not aware that Lee was one of the song's writers. It is a terrific number to close this performance. Lee may not have the range of Skaggs as a singer, but ably sings as well as takes listeners for a ride with some stunning playing here, with Greathouse and Wilcox also getting to take crisp breaks. This closes a terrific recording on a invigorating manner. "Guitar Heroes" captures four terrific guitarists on a festival performance where there mutual admiration meshes with often astonishing playing. Country roots and rock fans will find much listening joy here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "Susie Q" from this recording.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Ronnie Earl - Father's Day

Ronnie Earl has becoming somewhat prolific the past few years on the recording front and his latest album with his band, The Broadcasters, "Father's Day" is on Stony Plain. He is backed by Lorne Entess on drums, Dave Limina on keys and Jim Mouradian on bass with vocalists Diana Blue and Michael Ledbetter enlivening a number of tracks. Blue has been on recent recordings by Earl, while Ledbetter (a distant relative of Leadbelly) is best known for his role with Nick Moss' excellent band. This group is augmented by saxophones and guitar.

The title refers in part to Ronnie's reconciliation with his own father, but also indirectly relates to his rendition of a number of songs associated with a couple of his deep musical influences, Otis Rush and Magic Sam. Ledbetter handles many of the vocals here including a couple of covers of Rush numbers, "It Takes Time" and "Right Place Wrong Time," both of which are in the vein of Rush's recordings. Earl's original, "Higher Love" is a strong shuffle with horns adding to its flavor, a first-rate vocal duet between Ledbetter and Diane Blue, while Earl comes across as a cross between Rush and Kenny Burrell here.

Blue provides a nice vocal on Magic Sam's "What Have I Done Wrong" and if Earl's chording evokes Sam's original, his playing is more like Rush interpreting Sam. There is spectacular string-bending on this. Similar comments could directed on the rendition of "Every Night About This Time," a Magic Sam adaptation of Fats Domino's song with Ledbetter forcefully delivering the lyrics. Earl and Ledbetter co-authored the title track with its lyrics of making peace and forgiveness. Ledbetter's vocal and Earl's biting guitar make for a most moving performance. A brooding version of Brook Benton's "I'll Take Care of You" features more stunning guitar as well as Diane Blue's soulful vocal.

Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'" is a tip to Earl's jazz interests, followed by Ledbetter's vocal on "All Your Love," before closing as Diane Blue takes to church on Georgia Tom Dorsey's classic "Precious Lord." Earl is stunning, oft spectacular and the Broadcasters are typically in excellent form as they provide the apt, never rushed or frantic, backing. Limina's keyboards are especially worth saluting with a few choice organ solos, while guitarist Nicholas Tabarias solos on two of the 13 songs. In contrast to most his recent recordings which have been instrumentally focused, "Father's Day," showcases Earl accompanying two excellent vocalists for a wonderful recording for fans of various blues flavors.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in slightly different form in the September-October 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 362). Here Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters perform "Blues For Otis Rush."

Friday, November 20, 2015

Humphrey Lyttelton's In Canada

Delmark has another re-release on CD taken from the Sackville label, Humphrey Lyttelton's "In Canada." This was recorded in 1983 during the English jazz pioneer's second visit to Canada with the trumpeter and clarinetist backed by Jim Galloway on saxophones and clarinet, the highly underrated Ed Bickert on guitar, Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. While initially heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong, Lyttelton matured and his repertoire had extended to into what was in a style the late Stanley Dance referred to as mainstream, reflecting the influences of Basie, Ellington, and Buck Clayton in addition to Armstrong.

Swing, not trad jazz, is the center of these eight Lyttelton compositions opening with "It's a Thing," with the leader playing muted trumpet after Bickert's sprite guitar helps set the lively mood with Galloway's soprano suggestive of Johnny Hodge's alto, and the three trade fours towards the end. Nothing fancy about the Ellington evoking "Sprauncy," with the leader perhaps taking a nod towards Cootie Williams with his muted while playing in unison with Galloway's baritone sax as Swainson took a crisp bass solo. The peppy and playful "Squiggly" contrasts with a lazy blues groove on "Looking For Turner." One can hear some evidence of Armstrong's influence on Lyttelton's open trumpet on "Lady Jekyll and Mistree Hyde," a nicely paced performance with more marvelous soprano from Galloway. "Leisure World" is a fine blues with Galloway on baritone, with Bickert's chords and single note runs and the rhythm duo of Swainson and Clarke delivery their steady, swinging support.

No claim of musical innovation is made about the swinging jazz heard on "In Canada," It is a simple, straight-ahead, wonderfully played recording that provides plenty of  sounds to sit back, listen and enjoy.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review appeared orioginally in the May-June 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 360). Here is a live recording (audio) of Humphrey in a more trad mode doing Benny Moten's "South."