Saturday, December 10, 2016

Wynonie Harris - Don’t You Want To Rock?

Wynonie Harris 
Don’t You Want To Rock? 
The King & Deluxe Acetate series 
Ace Records 2-CD set UK Import 

Wynonie Harris, the great blue shouter known as “Mr. Blues,” is the subject of a superb double-CD reissue on the English Ace label which the label describes on its website as “23 of the R&B superstar’s seminal King sides in best-ever sound, plus an entire CD of alternates, all mastered from fresh transfers from the original acetates.” These are Harris’ first recordings for the Cincinnati based King Records label and find him backed by Dexter Gordon, Hot Lips Page, Tom Archia and many others with songs that would become classics, including his cover of Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” heard with an alternate take and a breakdown take. There are the big band renditions of Louis Prima’s “Oh Babe!” and the Ruth Brown hit “Teardrops From My Eyes,” bawdy numbers like “She Just Won’t Sell No More,” and “I Like My Baby’s Pudding,” and the humor of “Grandma Plays the Numbers.” There is a lavish booklet with session-by-session annotation that comes with this. It is probably this writer’s favorite blues reissue of 2015. 

 I purchased this and it was published the the 2015 Jazz & Blues Report Gift Guide (downloadable from website as a pdf file that includes 2016 Gift Guide and Gift Guides from prior years).  Here is the Wynonie Harris recording of  "Grandma Plays the Numbers."

Friday, December 09, 2016

Big Harp George Wash My Horse In Champagne

Big Harp George
Wash My Horse In Champagne
Blues Mountain Records

A follow-up to his widely acclaimed "Chromaticism," Big Harp George (Bisharat) has another superb album featuring his swinging acoustic chromatic playing and natural unforced vocals full of feeling and humor. Recorded at Kid Andersen's Greaseland Studios, Kid supplies bass or guitar on much of this with Chris Burns on keyboards and Raja Kawar on drums. Little Charlie Baty is on guitar for 7 of the 13 selections while Kedar Roy adds bass to 5 tracks and horns are present on 6 songs.

It is hard to single out any specific song as they are generally wonderfully played and sung. Andersen's guitar runs stick out on the amusing "Road Kill," while the title track has, interesting lyrics, an intriguing groove along with Baty's flamenco tinged acoustic guitar before some chromatic harp magic. This selection illustrates how some old school, real deal blues players can make something fresh and contemporary without rocking out. Then he evokes some 40's Slim & Slam jive with the peppy "Cool Mistake," "followed by a terrific slow blues "My Bright Future" whose tune is suggestive of the classic moody West Coast Blues, "Black Night."

The first track with horns is the easy swinging "I Ain't the Judge of You," and beside more clever lyrics, there is a terrific sax solo from Michael Peloquin and jazz-tinged guitar from Baty. The blues ballad, "I Wasn't Ready," is a delightful musical cousin of "Since I Feel For You," with more fine playing by Peloquin and Baty (the interplay of Peloquin and Big Harp George at the beginning is noteworthy, Baty's solo is terrific, while the leader's own horn like phrasing and tone is stunning). A terrific jumping blues, "If Only," stands out with more clever word play and some solid piano.

"Mojo Waltz" is a terrific instrumental with Peloquin on baritone sax (and overdubbed other saxes and Mike Rinta's trombone) that help frame some more startling harmonica, guitar (this time from Andersen) and a trombone solo. Another instrumental, "Size Matters," swings and there is some judicious use of the chromatic's lower register on this while the closing "Justice is My Time," is a superb track with just Andersen's bass providing the backing.

With "Wash My Horse In Champagne" Big George Harp again has another winner of a recording. The mix of strong songs, a terrific band, solid singing and fabulous harmonica results in the stellar music here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 366). Here is a video clip from his CD release show for this CD.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Our Thing Manhattan Style

Our Thing
Manhattan Style

The group, Our Thing, is a collaboration between guitarist Roni Ben-Hur whose roots are in Tunisia and Israel, bassist Santi Debriano who was born in Panama and grew up in Brooklyn, and percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca whose roots are in Brazil and their latest effort is "Manhattan Style (Jazzheads). In the publicity materials for this release, mention is made of 'home' as a theme underlying the album whether in the originals from the trio or the covers of compositions from Ellington, Coleman and Jobim.

The music here is breezy, uplifting, reflective and exuberant. Ben-Hur's "Home" opens on an exhilarating fashion as he exhibits marvelous technique and tone displayed before solos from Debriano and then Da Fonseca on an scintillating opening track. Ornette Coleman's mid-tempo blues, "The Blessing," is another vehicle for Ben-Hur to showcase his touch, tone and musical sense that evokes Wes Montgomery and Grant Green to these ears before another taut Debriano solo while the trio's rendition of Jobim's "Polo Pony," further evidences their sophisticated interplay, with the deft support of Ben-Hur's wonderful playing. Ellington's "African Flower" just may be the diamond of this recording of many musical jewels, as Da Fonseca uses mallets and percussion to accent Ben-Hur as he states the theme with a marvelous Arco solo from Debriano the centerpiece. The sober, melancholic tone of Debriano's "Imaginary Guinea" reflects it being composed during the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Its title is a reference to Vodun, whose followers in Haiti believe that Guinea is where their ancestors reside and that they will be reunited with them there in death. Guinea also represents Africa.

This superb recording closes with the lively title track that Da Fonseca composed after seeing Freddie Hubbard at the Blue Note in the 1980s where Hubbard was was “playing his butt off.” This selection opens with Ben-Hur's vibrant lead before Da Fonseca takes an explosive solo. "Manhattan Style" is simply terrific.

I received a download of this from the record company.This review appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here is a video clip of the three.


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Deb Ryder Grit Grease & Tears

Deb Ryder
Grit Grease & Tears
Bejeb Music

Deb Ryder impresses right off the back with "It Ain't Gonna Be Easy," the opening track of her third album, "Grit Grease & Tears." As she shouts on this hot jumping blues, it ain't gonna be easy but its gonna be a helluva lot of fun, and that is what this album is, a helluva lot of fun. Ryder cites Etta James and Koko Taylor, and she has captured not only the powerful approaches they employed, but also their expressive abilities and nuanced aspects of their singing. Add to this her abilities as a songwriter (she contributed all the songs here) and the production of Tony Braunagel, Johnny Schell's engineering, and a fine studio band including her husband Rick on bass, Braunagel on drums, Schell on guitar, Mike Finnigan on keyboards with Kirk Fletcher adding guitar to half the twelve songs, Albert Lee to one and harp added by Pieter Van Der Pluijm or Bob Corritore, and one has some hard hitting blues and rocking R&B.

Deb Ryder has a presence that the musicians enhance throughout the variations in mood and songs. Sugaray Rayford duets with her on a funky blues "Get a Little Steam Up," while the guitars of Schell and Fletcher and Van Der Pluijm's harmonica create a swampy feel for the powerful title track where she prays for a miracle as "you can't try anymore and I can't cry anymore," as she sings about being "a moth to your flame," with the band adding an insistent backing. It is followed by "Sweet Mary Anne," a song recalling the summer of 1968, and sweet Mary Anne who everyone loved but who wanted to leave that town with crisp, punchy horns from Jim Sublett and Darrell Leonard adding to the flavor of this retro-soul rocker, while "Lord Knows I Do," is a terrific slow blues with some scintillating B.B. King styled guitar set against a stop-time accompaniment. The consistency of the performances here is noteworthy including the "River's Forgiveness," with Schell's guitar and Corritore's harp adding to the flavor of this moody performance contrasting with the frenzied boogie of "Prisoner of War," but even at this tempo, Ryder's vocal does not sound hurried or rushed.

The easy rocking shuffle "Right Side of the Grass" closes this recording. Special kudos to Finnigan's keyboards and Braunagel's solid drumming throughout this strong latest striking effort from Deb Ryder, who certainly has more than fulfilled the promise of her excellent earlier recordings.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here is a promotional video for this recording.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Cory Henry The Revival

Cory Henry
The Revival
GroundUP Music

A member of the celebrated Snarky Puppy, Cory Henry has been filmed and recorded at Brooklyn's Greater Temple of Praise on a mostly solo performance on the Hammond B-3, for a new album "The Revival." Henry performs mostly solo on a program of old gospel classics, rhythm and blues, jazz and soul. he is joined on the recording by drummer James Williams and his godfather, Bishop Jeffrey White, who sings on one song.

The gospel element is predominant among the songs selected for this performance opening with A simple rendition of "Lord's Prayer" where he is pulling out all the stops (pun intended) as this stately performance builds in intensity. In contrast to the sober opener, "He Has Made Me Glad (I Will Enter His Gates)," is a more spirited and ebullient performance, but both pieces illustrate his masterful use of dynamics and tone. After a sober "Precious Lord," with Williams adding some accents, Bishop Jeffrey White sings powerfully on another old gospel classic, "Old Rugged Cross." After a playful "NaaNaaNaa," with Williams on tambourine and the audience having fun singing the title track, there is a lively devotional number, "That is Why I’m Happy," followed by the fun (and audience clapping) of "If You’re Happy (and you know it)." Coltrane's "Giant Steps" opens in somewhat restrained manner but the heat builds with Henry's marvelous improvisation. After a musical deconstruction and reconstruction of "Yesterday," the performance closes with the exultation of "I Want to Be Ready."

"The Revival" is a wonderful display of Cory Henry's masterful B-3 playing, sometimes mesmerizing but always full of fervor and humor.

I received as a download from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367).  Here Cory Henry is performing "NaaNaaNaa."


Monday, December 05, 2016

Conversations In Jazz; The Ralph Gleason Interviews

Conversations In Jazz; The Ralph Gleason Interviews
Edited by Toby Gleason
Foreword and Introductory Notes by Ted Gioia
New Haven: Yale University Press
2016:276 + xvi pages

It has been several decades since Ralph Gleason passed away. Gleason was a pioneering jazz and music journalist, host of a legendary television show "Jazz Casual," and one of the founders of "Rolling Stone" magazine. "Conversations In Jazz; The Ralph Gleason Interviews" brings together interviews Gleason conducted in the early 1960s, the time he was producing the "Jazz Casual" series, although these interviews were conducted at home, separate from the conversations he had with performers on that show, with the exception of the one with Duke Ellington.

As Ted Gioia observes in his Foreword, these interviews take place at a most interesting period of time as 1959 saw the release of so many classic jazz recordings. John Coltrane is interviewed at the time he is stepping forth as a leader, while Sonny Rollins was interviewed a few weeks before he took his sabbatical from playing while Philly Joe Jones is interviewed during the most productive time of his career and the conversation with Bill Evans was less than a year after "Kind of Blue" and when he was working with his most influential trio.

These conversations are quite fascinating. For example Coltrane notes he had only played in three big bands as of 1961 (Dizzy Gillespie, King Kolax and Jimmy Heath), that one thing he likes about being the only horn in his own group is that he likes to play long, that he plays different tempos with different horns, how he went about writing tunes, and various thoughts relating to playing in clubs or concerts. His interview with Quincy Jones opens with Gleason asking why can't they record a big band so it sounds like the big band does live, before getting into the issues with running a big band, contrasting what he will be doing with Count Basie and other points such as touring Europe. With Dizzy Gillespie, Gleason explores at first how Dizzy first heard jazz and his development as a musician.

Gleason interviewed all four members of the Modern Jazz Quartet opening with John Lewis who provided a history of the MJQ along with some of the lessons learned as they developed their 'quiet' mode of jazz. Milt Jackson recalled his experiences as well a discussed challenges playing with the MJQ as opposed to other settings while discussing some of his other recording projects. Percy Heath tells about growing up with other musicians in the family, not adopting the bass until after coming back from the Service is own while Connie Kay recalls playing with Lester Young replacing Roy Haynes and then starting with the MJQ when Kenny Clarke left the group. A couple common threads are in the four interviews here such as how the nature of the MJQ restricted what they played. It is fascinating to read the thoughts of all four (and their acknowledgement of their common ties to Dizzy Gillespie).

Other chapters are devoted to Sonny Rollins, Philly 'Joe; Jones, Bill Evans, Horace Silver, Duke Ellington, Les McCann and Jon Hendricks. The discussions of how they started, influences, what motivates what they play and like, made for intriguing conversations and fascinating reading. This is an invaluable addition to the jazz literature. There is no index which is the only flaw in this wonderful volume.

I purchased this. Here is a video clip from "Jazz Casual" of Ralph Gleason speaking.


Sunday, December 04, 2016

Ernestine Anderson Swings The Penthouse

Ernestine Anderson
Ernestine Anderson Swings The Penthouse

With the recent passing of the wonderful singer, Ernestine Anderson, the release in 2015 of "Ernestine Anderson Swings The Penthouse" should not be overlooked. This live performance comes from a 1962 Seattle performance long before Carl Jefferson added her to his Concord Records artist roster when Ray Brown had been championing her. Of course when this was recorded she had already worked with Johnny Otis, toured with Lionel Hampton, recorded with Gigi Gryce and recorded an album in Scandinavia that was licensed to Mercury. She was at the first Monterey Jazz Festival, named DownBeat's New Star Jazz Singer and recorded other albums for Mercury.

Of course her early career is overshadowed by her later day career in terms of the quantity of her recordings. But here, backed by a sterling trio of pianist Dick Palombi, bassist Chuck Metcalf and drummer Bill Richardson, she brings a vibrancy to a number of standards with her own swinging delivery, impeccable phrasing and vocal dynamics making for terrific renditions of such timeless classics as "You Make Me Feel So You," "On Green Dolphin Street," Little Girl Blue," "Just in Time," "This Can't Be Love," "There Will Never Be Another You," and "Honeysuckle Rose." There is no poor tracks here as she is completely in control of the material and the trio swings hard backing her.

Ernestine Anderson certainly swung The Penthouse back when this is recorded, but the music is still fresh and vibrant and this is a wonderful addition to her recorded legacy.

I purchased this. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here she is in Europe in 1967 singing Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'."