Friday, October 09, 2015

Marcia Ball The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man

Marcia Ball has a new Alligator Records recording, “The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man,” that will certainly delight listeners with her gulf coast musical gumbo. Ms. Ball and her vocals and piano are supported here by her band of Don Bennett on bass, Damien Llanes on drums, Michael Schermer on guitar and Thad Scott on tenor sax with Kaz Kazanoff, Delbert McClinton, and Terrence Semien among those heard on this Tom Hambridge production for her 6th album for Alligator.

Marcia Ball’s Crescent City-rooted rollicking piano and her honey-laced soulful singing will certainly be familiar on this program on mostly Ball originals (the only cover being Hank Ballard’s “He’s The One”). The title track about two characters of a traveling carnival show gets things started with its buoyant romp. Ball’s sense of humor is exhibited on “Clean My House” set up by a second line groove, while “Just Keep Holding On” is a lovely swamp pop-styled ballad followed by the infectious party groove of “Like There’s No Tomorrow.”

There is plenty of soul heard in Ball’s delivery of “He’s the One,” while Terrence Semien’s accordion and harmony vocal adds a zydeco accent to Ball’s message of folks trying to pay bills and simply scrape by on “The Squeeze Is On.” “Human Kindness” is another message song urging us to show some empathy and open up hearts to our fellow man. McClinton adds harmonica behind Balls’ easy rocking shuffle where she says don’t cry about her shuffles because Marcia “Can't Blame Nobody But Myself.”

The closing “The Last To Know” is a blues about looking back and people seeing what they want to see which a hint of “Nobody Knows You When You Are Down Out” in its melody. Its a wonderfully, played and sung recording. “The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man” delights with Ball’s strong talents as a singer and pianist who also displays her gift as a songwriter. With her excellent band and guests, she has produced another fabulous recording of party grooves mixed with messages of love and hope.

I received my copy from Alligator Records. This review appeared in the November-December 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 357). Here is Marcia Ball in performance doing the title track.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Chick Corea and Bela Fleck Two

What at first sight might seem like an unlikely pairing of talents, Chick Corea and Bela Fleck, developed into one of the most musical collaborations. Both are major talents on their instrument; Corea on piano and keyboards and Fleck on the banjo. It was Corea who recruited Fleck for an album "The Enchantment" and now Concord has just issued a double CD, "Two," taken from a variety of performances from their eight years of touring together which includes songs from that album and others.

The two perform a variety of songs from both performers' pen on the over two hours of music to be heard. There is plenty of Corea's romanticism and the strong Spanish flavor of his music mixed with Fleck's remarkable banjo playing that goes far beyond his early days in the New Grass Revival. Listening to the exuberance and exhilaration of their musical conversations starting with Corea's flamenco-infused "Senorita," one is struck by the sheer joy and fun they are having without losing the focus of what they are playing. Listening to Fleck here, I might suggest it is not far removed from those Brazilian mandolin players who played such a significant role in 'choro' music, and certainly his mix of banjo runs which slapped notes while Corea dances on the keyboard. In contrast "Waltze For Abby" is a lovely ballad Fleck wrote for his wife during which Corea's restraint and use of silence during much of this merits attention.

The pair's interpretation of the Latin classic "Brazil" opens with a dreamy prelude hinting at the musical theme before the tempo heats up and \ Corea plays the theme with Fleck coloring it and then improvising as Corea imaginatively comps before taking his own spirited lead. Another ballad, "The Enchantment," contrasts with its measured and sober playing and there is a lovely performance of French composer Andre Dutilleux's "Prelude En Berceuse (From Au Gré Des Ondes)" followed by the unusual twist and turns in their handling of Corea's "Children's Song No. 6," the longest performance here. While it is over 14 minutes, the inventiveness of the two sustain one's attention throughout with the performance becoming more spirited as it progresses.

The closing rendition of Corea's iconic "Armando's Rhumba," may be relatively brief, but ends this recording on a strong, euphoric manner that was deservedly received with great enthusiasm. "Two" is one a several extraordinary recent recordings by Corea in a very short time and one has no doubt there will be more superb outings featuring him in the near future. This also will enhance Bela Fleck's well deserved reputation as well.

I received my review copy from the record label. Here is a clip of the two in performance.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Rob Stone Gotta Keep Rollin’

It has been several years since Rob Stone had a splendid album of post-war Chicago-styled harmonica blues and VizzTone has just issued “Gotta Keep Rollin’.” Certainly with the presence of Chris James and Patrick Rynn with whom Stone played together and with Sam Lay, one can expect strong playing and support. Others here include Willie Hayes on drums and Dave Maxwell on piano with appearances by Eddie Shaw, John Primer and Henry Gray.

Certainly the mood is established with the opening shuffle “Wait Baby” followed by the rendition of “Wonderful Time” with Stone’s harp channeling the first Sonny Boy Williamson as opposed to Little Walter with Maxwell playing bouncy piano as James takes a sprite solo. It is as much a joy to listen to Primer’s’ guitar as Rynn and Hayes rocking a crisp shuffle groove supporting Stone’s straight-forward singing on “Lucky 13.”

Shaw adds his immediately recognizable tenor sax to “Anything Can Happen,” with a clever lyric and rollicking backing. “She Belongs to Me” is a nice rendition of a Jazz Gillum number (not the Magic Sam song) with a menacing lyric as Stone threatens to cut this gent if he fools around with Stone’s woman. Billy ‘the Kid’ Emerson’s “Move Baby Move” is a rocker with an original lyric set to a groove of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake Rattle and Roll,” while “Strollin' With Sasquatch” is a nice relaxed instrumental on which Stone showcases his fat, controlled tone.

Henry Grey is present on “Wired and Tired,” a rocking performance that suggest the late sixties Muddy Waters band recordings with Mojo Buford and followed by a nice reworking of Blind Willie McTell’s “Cold Winter Day” with choice John Primer guitar. James’ employment of a slight echoey tremolo to his playing adds to the spirit of the rendition of Lonesome Sundown’s “It's Easy When You Know How.”

I said about Stone’s last album “Back Around Here” (Earwig), “Stone treats the idiom as not simply history, but as a living tradition to be celebrated.” Stone’s strong performances and the wonderful band on “Gotta Keep Rollin’” provide us with another terrific Chicago blues recording.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. My review of his earlier album appeared in 2010. This review priginally appeared in the January-February 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358). Here is a clip of Rob performing.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Jackie Payne I Saw The Blues

It has been too long since most of us have heard from Jackie Payne, which is remedied by a new CD on Blue Dot Records, "I Saw The Blues." Payne first came into prominence with a recording on Jetstream led to him joining the Stax Revue. Moving to the West Coast he was featured with Johnny Otis for 15 years. Then he recorded for JSP before starting a partnership with Steve Edmondson which led to three more terrific recordings and a Blues Music Award for Soul Blues Album of the year. Now, nearly a decade later, he returns with this soul blues gem recorded and mixed by Kid Andersen who also plays as part of backing group that includes guitarist Anthony Paule, keyboardists Lorenzo Farrell and Bob Welsh, harmonica player Aki Kumar, trombonist Ed Early; trumpeter Jeff Lewis; and tenor saxophonists Frankie Ramos, Jack Sanford and Eric Spaulding.

Payne contributed six originals for a terrific urban blues recording with a heavy dose of Texas and Muscle Shoals in feel. Think about those terrific recordings Payne made with Steve Edmondson, those by Frankie Lee or the stunning Frank Bey-Anthony Paule recordings. Payne was in terrific voice when he made these sides showing little evidence of having aged since he first recorded decades ago. The brassy backing and Welsh's piano sets the mood for Payne's delivery on "Back To Normal," a moody number from J Barnett, C. Whitsett and Dan Penn as he displays his power and vocal dynamics and Andersen takes a crisp solo break. The title song by Payne has autobiographical references with Payne singing about being born in Georgia and in New Orleans saw the blues again. Farrell and Kumar taking solo breaks here. Payne's woman acts real strange on "Full Moon Blues," a Payne-Paule original with Paule adding slide guitar along with Kumar's harmonica to provide a down home feel.

"When the Blues Comes Knockin'" is a Texas to West Coast shuffle with Andersen taking the guitar lead as Payne warns listeners that the blues will try to persuade you he is your best friend. Billy Ray Charles' "Wife, Woman, Hootchie" is a terrific Malaco styled blues that sounds like it was recorded in Muscle Shoals, while "Kicking Back With the Blues" has a laid back groove with Paule on the guitar lead while Early's trombone is spotlighted on a superb performance. "Six Million Dollar Man" is a tough blues with Payne shouting that he has love, more than one can stand, and "if love was money, I would be a Six Million Dollar Man." I would not be surprised to see this number covered by other singers, but they would have to go far to come close to Payne's original. "Rock Me With a Steady Roll" is a superb slow blues suggestive of the Pete Johnson-Big Joe Turner classic "Cherry Red," with more fine down-in-the-alley trombone as well a terrific tenor sax solo from Eric Spaulding.

"I Saw the Blues" closes with a superb extended rendition of Ollie Nightingale's hit "I'll Drink Your Bathwater Baby," concluding an hour's worth of varied blues and soul, superbly sung and terrifically played. This is one of the best recent blues recordings this writer has heard. Jackie suffered a major stroke in 2014 which held up production and release of this recording, and while recovering is still unable to sing. We wish him well and a benefit will be held for him at Biscuit & Blues in San Francisco on May 31. I am sure there will be ways for those who cannot make it there can support him.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 360).  Here is Jackie singing with Steve Edmondson some years ago.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Anne Mette Iversen’s Double Life So Many Roads

Anne Mette Iversen’s Double Life
So Many Roads
BJU Records

Danish born bassist, composer and leader Anne Mette Iversen leads Double Life which is comprised of her own Quintet comprised of John Ellis on saxophone, Peter Dahlgren on trombone; Danny Grissett on piano and Otis Brown III on drums; and 4Corners, a string quartet comprised of Tine Rudloff on violin; Sarah McClelland on violin; Anne Soren on viola; and Mats Larsson on cello.

In her brief notes, she states she wants to have the music speak for itself: "Its conception and realisation has been a long journey. Along the road I had many ideas about how to present it to you: which story to tell you, which words to describe it with and which pictures to paint in your head. In the end, I rejected them all to let the music speak for itself, and, hopefully, to leave space for it to become your own personal journey.” In line with the above, she has eschewed titles for the parts of her recording and simply refers to them as Chapters. For this recording, we have a solo bass prologue followed for four chapters and then a brief epilogue.

Iversen’s bass solo enables her to provide an underlying motif that the strings, her and Ellis first state with the strings spotlighted with Ellis’ soprano sax providing a counterpoint to them which has the full ensemble restating the theme before Dahlgren takes lead on the remainder of the first chapter backed by the quintet with the strings providing additional musical shading on a performance with a pastoral feel. It it illustrative of Iversen’s adeptness at integrating strings into a swinging jazz performance and not simply being a sweet background.

The strings help set the transition to the second chapter that opens with very invigorating playing by Grissett accompanied by Iversen’s firm bass and Brown’s driving drumming before the horns enter. Ellis takes a fiery solo which is followed by the gruffer sound of Dahlgren on trombone. If the first chapter is a pastoral stroll down a rural roadway, Chapter two takes us to a busy interstate with the strings accenting the hard bop including Brown’s drum solo. After Brown’s solo, the music segues into an interlude from the string quartet before the entire ensemble rides this piece out with the voicing of Dahlgren and the strings prominent.

Chapter Three opens in a languid vein with the strings and Dahlgren up front while Brown’s light touch enhances the mood. Ellis takes a lovely solo exhibiting his marvelous tone, followed by Iversen taking a solo with the strings, especially cellist Larsson, providing counterpoint, leading to a lovely solo trombone segment. The tempo rackets up with the strings adding to the heat with spirited interaction among themselves and the quintet.

This is an engaging recording that illustrates Iversen’s adroit blending of the string quintet with a jazz ensemble for varied, and captivating, recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the Anne Mette Iversen Quintet in performance.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Coco Montoya Songs From the Road

The latest in Ruf Records “Songs From the Road” series is by Coco Montoya. The series of live recordings seeks to capture typical performances and in this case Montoya was recorded over two-nights at Seattle’s Triple Door with Jim Gaines in the house to produce it. Montoya is supported by Brant Leeper on keyboards, Nathan Brown on bass and Rena Beavers on drums. Leeper and Beavers also contribute backing vocals.

14 sons are spread over the two CDs clocking in at just under 2 hours and provide a retrospective of his career. Fans of Montoya undoubtedly will enjoy this with his husky singing and guitar playing. There is a fair amount of Albert Collins’ influence heard whether on the opening song, Collins’ “I Got a Mind To Travel” or Montoya’s original “Love Jail” that he wrote for Collins but Collins never recorded. Leeper’s keyboards contributes to this flavor and he certain adds both support and additional musical coloring (as well as provides several strong solos) while the rhythm section of Brown and Beavers kept a nice relaxed groove going.

One strength of the recording is the pace of the performance. The musical never sounds hurried or frenzied and the groove is solid whether handling a slow blues, a blues-infused rock song or the driving rendition of “Fannie Mae.” While having a somewhat limited vocal range, Montoya sings well and delivers his vocals with a lot of heart. The only fault might be the length of some of the performances which might not sustain interest listening at home as much as they pleased the Triple Door crowd. That is inherent in the nature of Ruf’s documentation of these performances which serves to capture Coco Montoya on a representative performance. Coco Montoya’s “Songs From the Road" certainly accomplishes this purpose quite well.

I received from Ruf Records or a publicist. I have made a few minor changes from the review which appeared in the January-Fenruary 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358). Here is a video of Coco performing I Got a Mind To Travel.”

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Hans Theessink & Terry Evans - True & Blue

While not previously aware of the collaboration between the Dutch blues-roots veteran Hans Thessink and the Mississippi born gospel-rooted vocalist Terry Evans, the new release by the two “True & Blue” (Blue Groove) is a live recording from the Metropol in Vienna, Austria that certainly will be of interest to fans of the pair in a blues-anchored roots music program.
Included are covers of songs associated with such legends as Memphis Slim, J.B. Lenoir, Chuck Berry, Leadbelly, Wilson Pickett and Robert Johnson with original songs from Thessink. 

The blend of Theessink’s baritone and Evans’ gospel-rooted tenor (with falsetto) and the interplay between their guitars is full of charm that infuses the performances starting with a spirited folk-blues original “Demons,” followed by a rendition of “Mother Earth” where one can hear Robert Johnson’s influence on Theessink’s guitar accompaniment for his vocal as Evans adds embellishments. Evans takes the vocal lead on the standard ”Glory of Love,“ which is based on Big Bill Broonzy’s rendition with wonderful fingerstyle guitar as the two trade leads and Evans scats. 

Evans wrote “Gotta Keep Moving” with Bobby King and Ry Cooder, and features some clean, crisp slide along with some fine singing. Theessink adds some rack harmonica on the lively rendition of Leadbelly’s “Bourgeois Blues,” which is followed by a folk-funk rendition of Wilson Pickett’s ”Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You.“ 
The two cover of Robert Johnson’s ”Cross Road Blues“ with a hot interpretation inspired from the original and not the rock rendition by Cream. They do a lively cover of Chuck Berry’s ”Maybelline," with lively slide guitar and  country finger-picking. Another standout track is the boogie rendition of J.B. Lenoir’s “Talk To Your Daughter.” “Shelter From the Storm” is an appealing folk-ballad that Theessink’s laconic baritone provides some of its appeal. 

True & Blue” appeals with the obvious empathy Theessink and Evans have for each other, which is manifested through this most enjoyable live recording.

 I received my review copy from a publicist. The review appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 361) and I have made a few minor edits.  Here are the two in concert performing "Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You.“