Tuesday, February 18, 2020

RIP Henry Gray

Henry Gray at the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Just got word that blues pianist and singer Henry Gray passed away at the age of 95. The Louisiana native was part of the vibrant Chicago blues scene from the late 1940s to 1968 including spending 12 years as pianist with Howlin' Wolf. In addition to the Wolf, Gray worked and recorded with such other artists as morris Pejoe, Jimmy Rogers, Junior Wells, and Jimmy Reed.

In 1968, he returned to Louisiana where he became part of the Baton Rouge blues scene. He had recorded while in Chicago, but after returning to Louisiana, he recorded a number of songs and albums under his own name. I believe his first recordings after his return to Louisiana were as part of a Louisiana Blues anthology for Arhoolie records. This would lead to a number of recordings for a variety of labels.

In 2015, reviewing a Henry Gray album that Bob Corritore put together I wrote:

"Gray has been overshadowed by Pinetop Perkins amongst his contemporaries in general recognition, and while folks might argue on who is the stronger pianist, Gray, although an untrained singer, is more forceful and displays more personality, as reflected on his impassioned singing on the title track (most associated with Jimmy Rogers). But he certainly captures the spirit of shouter Grant Jones’ “Let’s Get High” and Hot Lips Page “They Raided The Joint.” On several tracks, he provides strong support behind some legendary figures including Robert Lockwood, Jr. on “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” and Nappy Brown on a superb rendition of “Worried Life Blues” that was a signature song of Gray’s major piano influence, Big Maceo. Dave Riley tackled “Ride With Your Daddy Tonight” while John Brim sings “That Ain’t Right.” Lowell Fulson’s “Trouble Blues” features one of Gray’s top vocals here with Bob Margolin adding slide guitar while Tail Dragger adds some color commentary to the rollicking “Boogie Woogie Ball.”"

Here is a link to an obituary for Henry Gray. Here is a video of Henry performing with Kid Ramos and others in a video celebrating the late Floyd Dixon.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Ginetta's Vendetta Pocketful Of Cool

Ginetta's Vendetta
Pocketful Of Cool
Kickin Wiccan Music

Pocket trumpeter, vocalist, and composer, Ginetta Vendetta, leads a quintet on a solid set that might be superficially labeled 'hard bop.' The title of this CD "Pocketful Of Cool" is a pun on the fact that she plays the compact pocket trumpet, but the music is far from compact. She is joined here by four top-notch players: Danny Walsh: tenor saxophone, Jon Davis: piano, Eric "The Big O" Halvorson: drums, and Belden Bullock: bass. They are heard on seven covers (two also presented in alternate takes) and two originals that evoke such classic bands as Cannonball Adderly, Miles Davis, and Horace Silver.

Ms. Vendetta is a lyrically based trumpet, at times evoking Miles Davis' haunting sound as on her original "All Choke & No Slide." and other places the warmth of Nat Adderly and Clark Terry, as on the Jobim classic, "Corcovado." The and is superb backing her with bassist Bullock providing an anchoring ostinato bass figure for Horace Silver's "African Queen," a number on which Halvorson also shines with his crisp, varying attack. Saxophonist Walsh is a robust post-Coltrane player, whether playing wonderfully in a ballad mode as on the two takes of "Come Rain or Shine" where Vendetta plays with a mute, or in a more energized manner on "African Queen." With Halvorson and Bullock laying down a Latin groove, Vendetta and Walsh (sounding more like Hank Mobley than Coltrane) shine on Charlie Parker's "My Little Suede Shoes." Vendetta's trumpet here has a definite charm with her mix of moans and slurs, while Davis takes a thoughtful, deft, and concise solo.

Perhaps the high point is a dynamic performance of Nat Adderly's "Work Song," which displays more of Walsh's powerful playing and maybe Davis' most potent piano solo. Here, Vendetta quotes "Straight No Chaser" as the horns trade fours with Halvorson. In addition to the charm of Vendetta's trumpet, she impresses as a singer with her arrangement of Little Willie John's classic "Fever." Her adaptation is more influenced by Peggy Lee's rendition, as reflected in her sultry approach and Davis' understated, nimble playing. Walsh takes a short, robust solo on this number and also on the other vocal, "Black Coffee."

"Pocketful Of Cool" is Ginetta Vendetta's 5th album as a leader. With a terrific band and an engaging, varied program, she has put out quite a pocketful of musical gems.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of recording "All Choke & No Slide."

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Take 5 With Clark Terry

December 14, 2020, is the centennial of the birth of the late Clark Terry. Terry was one of the premier jazz trumpeters of the post bebop era who played and recorded with so many giants. how many folks had substantial stints with Count Basie and Duke Ellington? Also, he was with Thelonious Monk for a period, led a group with Bob Brookmeyer as well as led his own Big Bad Band. And he had an irrepressible personality. Today we have a short playlist of him.

First up, we feature him with Quincy Jones, who was a good friend of Clark. Clark is on fluegelhorn for "Moanin'."

Next up is Clark and his Big Band Live in 1974.

Here is Clark with Duke Ellington along with Ray Nance, Shorty Baker, and Cat Anderson.

Next up is "Stardust," from a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert.

Finally, we close with Clark's classic blues, "Mumbles."

Friday, February 14, 2020

Sugar Blue Colors

Sugar Blue
Beeble Music

Richard Whiting, better known as Sugar Blue, is amongst the most astonishing musicians in the blues genre. "Colors" is his latest album and an exciting, imaginative romp in the blues and related genres. With Rico McFarland on guitar and others including John B. Gayden or Ilaria Lantieri on bass, and Brady Williams or Yan Bodhoo on drums, and Damiano Della Torre on keyboards, Sugar Blue is heard on a smorgasbord of music.

Sugar Blue is a virtuoso on the harmonica s evident on the opening, "And the Devil Too," a high energy salute to Bo Diddley with a passionate vocal and astonishing harp playing that explores the full tonal range of the instrument. Not as obviously electrifying, but equally brilliant is his acoustic harp playing on his song about the original Lone Ranger "Bass Reeves," or "We'll Be Alright." The latter number is sung with Africa Riz, a Soweto, South Africa youth choir.

His vocals have a clarity, a clean diction, and warmth that perhaps contrasts with his instrumental virtuosity. Still, he pours everything into a startling cover of The Beatles' "Day Tripper." Max DeBernardi's superb fingerpicking guitar and Washboard Chaz's percolating percussion provide the backdrop to the delightful "Good Ole Days." Singing through his harp mike, he delivers a strong vocal on "Man Like Me," where he tells his lover of she didn't make him feels so good, Sugar Blue wouldn't feel bad. This song has another outstanding harmonica solo. With McFarland's terrific guitar, he delivers a straight-forward blues performance that also is a rebuttal on toxic masculinity. On this song, he sings about needing a blue pill, and if he gets down, he may need help getting up. Then there is a wistful ballad, "Shanghai Sunset," where he pays homage to this vibrant city. Guest Ling Bo solos on the sheng, an ancient Chinese reed instrument with an organ-like quality.

"Colors" is a superb recording that transcends merely being a blues recording. It has first-rate backing, fresh and memorable songs along with Sugar Blue's heartfelt vocals and imaginative, virtuoso musicianship. The result is an extraordinary recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388). The published review has several errors including capitalization issues which have been corrected here. Here is a preview for this recording.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Judy Wexler Crowded Heart

Judy Wexler
Crowded Heart
Jewel City Jazz

This is the fifth album by Judy Wexler and is an effort to present "jazz standards for the 21st century," an anthology of ten timeless modern jazz compositions by contemporary songwriters. The album is arranged by piano great Alan Pasqua (who co-produced this with Wexler). It features a band comprised of some of the finest, first-call musicians in Southern California including Alan Pasqua piano, melodica, whistling; Larry Koonse guitar; Josh Johnson alto sax; Bob Sheppard alto flute; Darek Oles bass; Steve Hass drums; Aaron Serfaty percussion; and Stefanie Fife cello.

When Wexler first conceived of this project, she reached out to jazz historian Ted Gioia, author of "The Jazz Standards," for advice. He told her that jazz stays alive and becomes more than a history lesson or museum piece when a modern composition is embraced and recorded by many vocalists. Gioia himself states that this recording is a joy to listen to and commends "their astuteness in finding and featuring outstanding songs by current-day jazz composers." Some of these composers are Luciana Souza, Larry Klein and David Batteau; Richard Galliano; Kurt Elling; Gregory Porter; Fred Hersch; Norma Winstone; Alan Broadbent; Georgia Mancio; René Marie; Enrico Pieranunzi, Lorraine Feather; Larry Goldings, and Alan Pasqua.

Wexler has a delightful, sometimes dreamy voice that conveys joy and heartbreak with her swing, phrasing, clear diction, and sweet-tone. This is clear on the opening "Circus Life" (from Sousa, Klein, and Batteau), with the supple backing, including Koonse's guitar, which adds a samba-tinge, Pasqua's understated support, and whistling, and Wexler's overdubbed second vocal part. Then there is the charm of her vocal that expresses the longing inherent in Galliano and Elling's "Parisian Heartbreak." Pasqua's melodica solo adds to the allure of this performance. Then there is her rendition of the title track about a relationship ending as she realizes it is time to part which is delivered with style.

While I enjoy Wexler's interpretation of Gregory Porter's "Painted on Canvas" with Josh Jackson's sonorous alto sax, and Pasqua's ingenious arrangement, her mellifluous vocal is overshadowed by Porter's original. Bob Sheppard's alto flute adds to the allure of "The Last Goodbye," another song of remembrance and longing. Then there is Wexler's unabashed romanticism singing René Marie's "Take My Breath Away," with a stunning Koonse acoustic guitar solo. In a program of mostly ballads, the gentle swing of "I Took Your Hand," is a nice change of pace.

Pasqua collaborated with Kirk Elling and Philip Edward Galdston in writing "And We Will Fly" with the dreaming vocal supported by the lovely backing with Fife's cello adding color along with another choice acoustic guitar solo. It closes a beautiful, first-rate vocal jazz recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "The Last Goodbye" from this CD.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Shuffle Demons Crazy Time

Shuffle Demons
Crazy Time
Stubby Records

The Toronto-based Shuffle Demons have just issued their 9th album and first studio CD in 6 years. This three-sax, bass, and drum band has been together 35 years. They play ten new compositions here. The current group is Richard Underhill - alto & baritone saxophones, lead vocals; Stich Wynston - drums, percussion, backing vocals; Kelly Jefferson - tenor saxophone, backing vocals; Matt Lagan - tenor saxophone, backing vocals; and Mike Downes - bass, backing vocals. Two original members, Mike Murley - tenor saxophone and Jim Vivian - bass, return to play on 5 of the ten tracks. Underhill composed nine of the ten songs while Jefferson penned one.

The music here is funky and groove-oriented with the melodies usually stated through uniform horn lines. The individual musicians, including the bass and drums, have their spotlight. There are stunning solos such as by Underhill and Lagan during the opening "Cat Walk," as Downes' bass anchoring the groove. Underhill raps on societal issues on "Have a Good One," as the horns riff in support. There is the stirring "Wandering Heart" with more excellent tenor sax and the driving topical "Crazy Time," as Underhill raps-sings about living in these crazy times. There is also an unusual blues, "Even Demons Get the Blues," on which Mike Downes contributes a steady bass ostinato and solo. It is possibly Kelly Jefferson, the tune's composer, who provides a wailing tenor sax solo here. More of a bluesy groove can be heard on the closing "Blue Chameleon," with more gutbucket tenor sax, perhaps from Mike Murley.

One can not ignore just how crucial bassists Downes and Vivian, along with drummer Wynston are to the success of the music here. Wynston is an especially exciting drummer playing with explosiveness at times. While there is a dance quality to this music, there is also plenty of substance in the various solos. "Crazy Time" is a lively recording with plenty of musical substance.

I received a download to review from a publicist.  Here is a video of the Shuffle Demons performing at the 2018 Panama Jazz Festival.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Emilio Solla Tango Jazz Orchestra Emilio Solla Tango Jazz Orchestra

Emilio Solla Tango Jazz Orchestra
Puertos: Music from International Waters
Avantango Records
In 1986, Astor Piazolla praised Argentine-born and NY-based pianist and composer Emilio Solla's first band, Apertura, who was praised by Astor Piazzolla himself as providing some of the most interesting new sounds in the Buenos Aires scene. Today, with eleven CDs as a bandleader and more than forty as arranger/ producer, Solla is considered one of the most outstanding and personal voices in Tango-jazz, as the fusion of modern Argentine tango and folk with jazz and other contemporary music styles is generally known.

He continues to tour Europe with his Barcelona's based quintet, Emilio Solla & Afines while working as a free-lance arranger and pianist in different projects in NY. He leads a 9- piece orchestra, La Inestable de Brooklyn, and in November 2014, his first symphonic work had its World Premiere at the Palau de la Musica, during the Barcelona Jazz Festival and its US Premier at the Chicago Symphony Hall by the Chicago Sinfonietta. In 2018, he started composing for his brand-new project, the Tango Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece big band using a bandoneon, using his blend of Latin American sounds and jazz, The result is the recording which is inspired by the fact that traveling by water has been a principal pathway of migration. Tracing these routes of migration doesn't just yield insights into our collective history but also our musical one, which we explore from the collisions of different countries and civilizations. As Solla observes having lived in the port cities of Buenos Aires and New York, "Both are integral to unique forms of music: jazz and tango. Foreigners made these port cities home and, in turn, made their place in the world." He began writing and arranging music that invoking this theme of the role of ports in a cultural collision.

The performers on this recording include Alejandro Aviles (soprano, alto, piccolo, flute), Todd Bashore (alto, flute, clarinet), Tim Armacost (tenor, alto flute, clarinet), John Ellis (tenor, soprano, clarinet, flute), Terry Goss (baritone, bass clarinet), Alex Norris (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jim Seeley (trumpet, flugelhorn), Brad Mason (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jonathan Powell (trumpet, flugelhorn), Noah Bless (trombone), Mike Fahie (trombone), Eric Miller (trombone), James Rodgers (bass trombone), Julien Labro (bandoneon, accordina), Emilio Solla (piano, conductor), Pablo Aslan (double-bass), and Ferenc Nemeth (drums). There are guest percussionists Samuel Torres (congas on track 1), Arturo Prendez (percussion on track 2), and Franco Pinna (bombo legüero on track 6). Arturo O'Farrill (piano on track 2) and Edmar Castañeda (harp on track 6) are special guests,

What stands out about this recording is how gorgeous Solla's compositions and arrangements with the transitions in tempos and mood within all these performances. There is the energy of the opening "Sol La, al Sol" with standout tenor sax and trombone solos, as well as the interplay between the horn sections along with crisp rhythmic backing. There is the bop-Latin fusion of "Chacafrik", with inspired alto sax along with Solla's fresh, piano, with the rhythm section supporting the superlative horn section. The lovely "La Novena" showcases Labro's marvelous organ-like soloing on the bandoneon as well as Terry Goss' burly baritone sax, both set against the stormy atmospheric setting.

"Four For Miles" provides a showcase for the brass with open-ended trumpet and trombone interplaying with muted brass and the energetic reeds with Labor weaving his lines in and out. This composition showcases the trumpeters who initially display plenty of fire exchanging choruses before transitioning to a muted trumpet's smoldering heat. Again, Solla's orchestration is sublime. Edmar Castañeda plucking of the harp provides a different flavor to "Allegrón," as he duets with Franco Pinna on the bombo legüero, with the horns adding accents and musical colors to his remarkable playing. This exceptional session concludes with an unusual blues composition, "a" again displaying the imagination and ingenuity of the leader with outstanding trombone, trumpet and baritone sax solos over the leader's comping along with some superb ensemble sections.

With the inspired compositions and arrangements, exquisite ensemble playing and inspired solos, Emilio Solla's "Puertos: Music from International Waters" is among the most compelling big band recordings of recent years.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is a performance of "La Novena."