Sunday, December 30, 2007

Some outstanding 2007 Jazz Releases

Completing my lists of recordings I found outstanding from 2007 is a list of Jazz. This list includes new and historical releases. I have linked several of the releases to appropriate prior blog entries.

Ahmed Abdullah - Solomonic Quintet - (Silkheart). Strong freebop session
Louis Armstrong - In Scandinavia (Storyville) 4 CDs that include 1933 performances said to be first live jazz recordings. Others date from 1952-1967.
Peter Brotzmann - The Complete Machine Gun Sessions - (Atavistic) Free jazz to cleanse your soul by in these reissued recordings.
Von Freeman - Good Forever (Premonition) Another great session by the great Chicago tenor.
Janine Gilbert-Carter - Live at the 15th Annual FMJS East Jazz Festival (Jazz Karma) She is DC artist and a terrific vocalist at 2006 performance.
Clifford Jordan - Glass Bead Games (Harvest Song) Reissue of legendary Strata East double album by neglected tenor saxophonist with two different quartets. Bassist Bill Lee (Spike's dad) is heard on some of these performances.
King Oliver - Off The Record: The Complete 1923 Jazz Band Recordings (Off the Record -Archeophone). Amazing reissue of legendary recordings. These recordings have never sounded as good as they do here.
Mel Martin/Benny Carter Quintet - Just Friends (Jazzed Media®) Marvelous album of live performances issued to help celebrate centenary of legendary Benny Carter
Frank Morgan - A Night in the Light: Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 3 (HighNote) Recently he passed away and this is stupendous disc.
Houston Person with Bill Charlap - You Taught My Heart to Sing (HighNote)
Quintette Marianne Trudel - Live: Sands of Time (TRUD) Marvelous recording, mostly live by wonderful pianist and composer with a solo track, several trio tracks and her marvelous quintet. (link is to blog entry on her and not review of this disc)
Soul Con Timba - Live at Bohemian Caverns (DEJF) Recorded in DC and a terrific fusion of Latin jazz and hard bop.
Charles Tolliver Big Band - With Love (Mosaic/Blue Note) Superb big band album by trumpeter and composer who made a number of challenging recordings in the sixties and seventies that have never received the acclaim they merited. Hot big band with terrific arrangements and brings fresh approach to Monk's 'Round Midnight.
Various - Gypsy Jazz (Proper) 4CD reissue (with excellent booklet) of Django Reinhardt, his contemporaries, associates others including Baro Ferret, Oscar Aleman, and Stéphane Grappelli.
Bennie Wallace - Disorder at the Border (Enja/Justin Time) Great tribute to Coleman Hawkins by tenor player with superb band.
Larry Willis, Blue Fable (HighNote). Excellent quintet date with bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummer Billy Drummord, with three tracks also having saxophonist Joe Ford and trombonist Steve Davis.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Some Outstanding Blues Reissues of 2007

In a second of three posts here are some reissues of first release of vintage blues and R&B that I believe merits your consideration. I have links to my reviews of the cds on this blog.
Andrew Brown - Big Brown Blues (Black Magic) Magic collection by singer who may superficially be described as in the style of Little Milton.
Johnnie Taylor - Live at the Summit Club (Stax). The Soul Philospher in a great live performance from time of Wattstax with a heavy blues emphasis on material.
Henry Townsend - The Real St. Louis Blues (Arcola) Distinctive acoustic blues by one who performed with Robert Johnson, Lonnie Johnson, Roosevelt Sykes, Walter Davis and others. His minor key piano blues are particularly moving. This label has some really important releases out and I do not believe they have been publicized but they certainly deserve. I became aware of this label last year so even though its a pre-2007 release I am including it.
Various - Bullet Records Blues (SPV Blue). Excellent collection of blues by the likes of Walter Davis and St. Louis Jimmy that was issued on Nashville label.
Various - Bullet Records Rhythm & Blues (SPV Blue). Another of Fred James' compilations of vintage Nashville labels with some great jump blues starting with Wyonnie Harris (with Sun Ra on piano). He has other notable reissues on SRV Blue of the Champion and other labels, but these two on Bullet are musically the finest.
Various - Crescent City Bounce (JSP) Wonderful European public domain 4 CD set of rare New Orleans recordings including great sides by Archibald, Smilin’ Joe, Roosevelt Sykes, Tommy Ridgely, Earl King and others.
Various - Down Home Blues Classics- (2CDS) California & West Coast 48-54 (Boulevard Vintage). Simply stunning downhome blues performances by the likes of KC Douglas, Sidney Maiden, Black Diamond, Little Son Willis, Haskell Sadler, Slim Green and others
Various - Down Home Blues Classics- (2CDS) Memphis & the South (Boulevard Vintage). Another compilation of terrific downhome blues with Willie Love, Willie Nix, Joe Hill Louis, Lightning Slim, Schoolboy Cleve, Big Joe Williams, John Lee, Luther Huff, Dr. Ross and more.
Various - MERCURY RECORDS- (2CDS) The New Orleans Sessions 1950 & 1953 (Bear Family). Expanded compilation that includes early recordings by Professor Longhair and others (including Lee Allen's first recordings as a sideman).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Outstanding New Blues Recordings of 2007

The first of three posts to include CDs that I consider outstanding releases of 2007. This focuses on the blues and soul releases. I have links to reviews posted on this blog.

Carey Bell & Lurrie Bell - Gettin’ Up Live (Delmark) Last recordings of harp icon with son who played DC many times. Also available on DVD.
Lurrie Bell - Let’s Talk About Love (Aria B.G. Records) Excellent disc by Carey's son
Nappy Brown - Long Time Coming (Blind Pig) Excellent disc by veteran singer with DC area's Big Joe Maher on drums
Franklin & Baytop - Searchin’ For Frank - (Patuxent) DC area artists doing terrific acoustic blues
Billy Gibson - Southern Livin’ (Inside Memphis)
ZZ Jill Jr - Goin' To Mississippi (Delta Roots) Great soul blues recording by Chicago based singer
The Holmes Brothers - State of Grace (Alligator) Marvelous album that defis categorization
Marie Knight - Let Us Get Together: A Tribute to Reverend Gary Davis (MC) (Inspired tribute to the legendary fingerpinker)
Frankie Lee - Standing at the Crossroads (Blues Express) One of my favorites singers.
Lady Bianca - Through A Woman's Eyes (Magic-O) Amazing good singer and pianist. Marcia Ball has nothing on her.
Little Milton - The Last Concert - (Juke Joint Media). The last performance a few weeks before he suffered stroke and passed. I have DVD but I believe there is CD of this. I was there.
New Orleans Rhythm Conspiracy -Dancin' Ground (self-produced). Post-Katrina band formed by members of Walter Woilfman Washington's RoadMasters, bassist Jack Cruz and drummer Wilbert 'Junkyard Dog' Arnold along with guitarist George Sartin with Uganda Roberts, Jimmy Carpenter and the Wolfman present on a set of blues, soul-funk and Mardi Gras Indian chants. Marilyn Barbarin and Tyrone Pollard handle the vocals with Brother Tyrone covering Blue Moon Risin', one of my favorite Wolfman Washington recordings (Wolfman and Cruz wrote it) updated for post-Katrina comments.
Nick Moss & the Flip Tops - Play It ‘Til Tomorrow (Blue Bella) Great double album of Chicago blues, one electric in style of Magic Slim and the Teardrops and the other acoustic
John Németh - Magic Touch (Blind Pig)
Darrell Nulisch - Goin’ Back to Dallas (Severn)
Papa Grows Funk - Mr. Patterson's Hat (self-produced) Latest recording by New Orleans and his jamming funk band that includes guitarist June Yamagishi, and drummer Jeffrey 'Jellybean' Alexander
Big Pete Pearson - I’m Here Baby (Blue Witch)
Tad Robinson - A New Point of View (Severn)
Ryan Shaw - This is Ryan Shaw (Columbia) Amazing twenties singer brings Wilson Pickett and others to life
Roscoe Shelton - Save Me (SRV Blue Late veteran Nashville R&B blues shouter
Various - House Rockin’ and Blues Shoutin’!, (Blue Witch)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Trix Stopped Walking


The Trix label was started by Peter Lowry in the 1970s and included field and studio recordings of a number of blues artists who unfortunately are no longer with us. Included were two marvelous Robert Lockwood albums that I believe are in print on Savoy Jazz as The Complete Trix Recordings. Also were equally good recordings, many in the Piedmont tradition and by lesser known but by no means lesser blues performers. The November 1994 Jazz & Blues Report ran my review of three of these albums that were reissued on Muse in the early 1990s but probably only available on ebay or some select mail order specialists such as bluebeatmusic.com. Here is my review from 1994:

Muse Records has released several new Trix reissues on compact disc, as they continue to make available the label’s important documentation of East Coast bluesmen. Like the original four releases, these include reproductions of the original covers and liner notes with an addendum from producer Peter Lowry.

The Guitar Shorty of Alone In His Field (Trix 3306) is a different individual than David “Guitar Shorty” Kearney, who currently records for Black Top. Born John Henry Fontescue, he was a North Carolina native when Lowry located him there in Elm City. While he recorded for Savoy in 1952, his recordings (as Hootin’ Owl) were not released. When discovered in Elm City, he was living in pretty poor conditions, but little of that could be heard in his ebullient recordings, which show influences including Blind Boy Fuller and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Like Bukka White he could create blues spontaneously with unusual twists, occasionally scatting as on Boogie, Now. A limited, and not completely apt reference point would be describing Guitar Shorty as an East Coast Jesse Thomas, but that only partially suggests his wonderful and totally unique music which employs his own unique tuning. Lowry mentions that there is more material from this gentleman who died in 1975. This is an album that anybody seriously interested in acoustic or older blues must get.

Compared to Guitar Shorty, Henry Johnson may come across as conventional on his album, Union County Flash (Trix 3304), but that doesn’t take away from the fact he was an excellent artist. On an album of originals, and his own unique adaptations of traditional blues, Johnson emerges as a facile fingerpicker (his playing on Crow Jane stands up well to Carl Martin’s classic 78), as well as a capable player of bottleneck using a knife on the exhilarating John Henry. Peg Leg Sam adds his rough-edged country blues harp on the house party number Boogie, Baby and My Dog’s Blues, a slow blues. Rufe’s Impromptu Rag is a delightful instrumental which mixes a bit of blues, gospel, ragtime and country. Playing in a variety of settings and tunings, Henry Johnson remains another long gone master of the Carolina blues tradition, and it is hard to believe it’s been two decades since he passed away. Acoustic blues of this level is far rarer to find today.

Rufe appears on a couple of tracks on Peg Leg Sam’s Medicine Show Man (Trix 3302). His real name was Arthur Jackson and he lost his right leg below the knee while riding the freights. As the album title states, Peg Leg Sam played medicine shows. Sonny Terry provides an obvious reference point as Sam comes out of the same basic musical tradition, plays in a similar, but not derivative, fashion, and sings in a similar husky style. In addition to Henry Johnson’s two accompaniments, four tracks feature’s Baby Tate’s nimble guitar, while Ode to Bad Bill and Born in Hard Luck are narratives, adding diversity to a mix of folk songs and Piedmont blues from the Blind Boy Fuller school. In addition to an unusual treatment of the old folk song Reuben, Sam has two spectacular features for his vocals and harp playing, his treatment of Lost John, and Peg’s Fox Chase. His harmonica pyrotechnics certainly will impress the most jaded listener. Certainly this is a must for those who enjoy rural blues harmonica playing.

Omar Sharriff's modern piano blues

The career of pianist Omar Sharriff demonstrates that talent and originality does not necessarily result in success. One of the most distinctive blues pianists, an evocative vocalist, and a songwriter whose lyrics capture the bittersweet reality of modern urban life, it may be Sharriff’s refusal to compromise his beliefs, or the rawness of his blues, that led to his relative lack of recordings, or commercial success in music. Black Widow Spider, his 1994 release on the Have Mercy label mixed striking versions of classic blues with powerful originals. Fingers of Fate is a splendid piano boogie, while Seven Years of Torture depicts his years living in Clovis, a town full of rednecks and fruit growers, and a very bad romance. In contrast, Fire of Fury features his rap with a forceful commentary on the Rodney King beating and the Los Angeles riots. He personalizes Ray Charles’ Greenbacks, and the Joe Williams-Count Basie classic recording Smack Dab in the Middle, reworked almost like Don’t Start Me To Talkin’ with harp. His choice of covers shows him not bound by categories but his version of All Across the Watchtower is spoiled by messy blues-rock guitar. Sharriff is a fascinating pianist who mixes jazz, gospel and other idioms with the blues. Saxophonist Steve Ghundi is a first rate player whose accompaniments and solos are thoughtful, and responsive to Sharriff’s lead. This was an important album by an major, under recorded artist. I checked and the Have Mercy website lists this as available. It would be worth checking the website for order info.
This is revised version of the review from October 1994 Jazz & Blues Report.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mercy Dee's Troublesome Blues

It was back in the early 1990s that Arhoolie made available its 1961 recordings by Texas pianist-singer Mercy Dee Walton Troublesome Mind. Mercy Dee, who died in 1962, was one of the more distinctive performers and lyricists of the postwar blues. You may not have heard his Specialty recording, One Room Country Shack, but are likely familiar with other recordings of the song (Including Buddy Guy) and will have a sense of the powerful lyrical imagery conveyed (“People, I sitting here a thousand miles from nowhere. Here in my one room country little shack,”). The album includes a remake of it along with several songs employing the same melody as well as also possess distinctive and equally compelling lyrics like Have You Ever Been Out In The Country. While not as extroverted a showman as other Texas born pianists who moved to the West Coast such as Amos Milburn and Little Willie Littlefield, Mercy Dee played crisply and thoughtfully. On the slow pieces he plays a spare bass while playing authoritatively with his right hand. He certainly could barrelhouse with the best of them as on Mercy’s Shuffle or the rocking Red Light, with his clever use of rhymes in the tradition of What’d I Say. Mercy Dee's straightforward vocals mixed with his lyrical imagery and solid piano (backed by among others K.C. Douglas and Sidney Maiden) packed a real punch. This is a first rate reissue.

(This is rewritten from my original review which appeared in the February 1992 Jazz & Blues Report.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Witherspoon Goes TO KC


Mosaic Records has a well deserved reputation for superb boxed sets of many different giants of jazz. In recent years they have started new series of reissues including Mosaic Select, three CD sets by various artists (often underlooked) and most recently Mosaic Singles that makes available out-of-print classic albums.
Among the most recent releases in the Mosaic Singles series is a classic 1957 recording by Jimmy Witherspoon with Jay McShann and His Band, Goin’ to Kansas City Blues. Originally on RCA, I believe this has been on CD but undoubtedly deleted. Mosaic has made available the entire album with three other recordings from the sessions that had been issued on a French vinyl reissue. Opening up with Jumpin’ the Blues from the pen of McShann and Charlie Parker, Witherspoon handles other McShann classics as Hootie Blues and Confessin’ the Blues, along with Until the Real Thing Comes Along, the classic ballad made famous by Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy and the immortal celebration of a legend of KC night life by Joe Turner-Pete Johnson, Piney Brown Blues. Witherspoon contributed a couple of originals, Rain is Such a Lonesome Sound and Blue Monday. He shines throughout backed by the swinging big little band McShann led. Others on the session included Kenny Burrell on guitar, Hilton Jefferson on alto sax, Seldon Powell on tenor sax, Al Sears or Hayward Henry on baritone sax, Emmett Berry or Ray Copeland on trumpet, J.C. Higginbotham on trombone, Gene Ramey on bass and Mousey Alexander on drums. Stereo masters were found for all but two of the thirteen songs heard here. This is a most welcome reissue and available directly from Mosaic at http://www.mosaicrecords.com.

This is an edited version of my review that first appeared in Jazz & Blues Report. www.jazz-blues.com.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Robert Lighthouse's Blues For New Orleans

Robert Lighthouse is a Swedish native (real name Palinic) who settled in the Washington DC area about two decades ago and has established himself as an important part of the blues scene in the Mid-Atlantic. he has busked on the streets and played a variety of clubs. His regular weekday gig at the late club City Blues was a local institution. Today he plays a solo gig weekly at a club Chief Ike’s Mambo Room, and plays band gigs with his trio at various bars and clubs. Wayne Kahn, a champion of D.C.’s music scene recorded Robert and issued Lighthouse’s first album, Drive-Thru Love, which received considerable local and international acclaim. Now he has issued on his Right on Rhythm label, the follow-up album of location recordings, Deep Down in the Mud, which includes solo selections recorded at Chief Ike’s and band cuts recorded at D.C.'s Zoo Bar (The Oxford Tavern located across from the National Zoo). Robert has developed a distinctive style from a variety of influences including Muddy Waters, Dr. Ross and several others so that when he does Robert Johnson’s Last Fair Deal Gone Down and Preachin’ the Blues, his attack lacks the more percussive approach of Johnson and most imitators, and has a more flowing approach that is evocative of Furry Lewis. His original Stuck in the Mud and Dr. Ross’ Turkey Leg Woman are fine performances in a style suggestive of Dr. Ross, although his rendition of Cat’s Squirrel, Dr. Ross’ treatment of the Catfish Blues theme also shows a bit of Muddy Waters influence. The title track is not a blues, but a protest social commentary song about Katrina and the government’s inadequate response. The trio cuts include Lighthouse’s laconic rendition of Elmore James’ Red Hot Mama, totally reworking the melody, a nice cover of Magic Sam’s All Your Love, an understated treatment of Wolf’s Meet Me in the Bottom and an unusual piece of funk, a rendition of George Clinton’s Red Hot Mama. Lighthouse also has an attraction to Jimi Hendrix's music and included is a take on Spanish Castle Magic, but this somewhat lengthy rock performance I found somewhat less compelling than some of his prior Hendrix covers. Still, overall this album is an impressive follow-up release and illustrates why he maintains a loyal following in the DC area. This can be purchased at www.rightonrhythm.com or cdbaby.com

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Al King's lyrical magic


Al King has been gone for several years but he produced a small body of blues recordings that endure because of his wonderful sober singing (often in bands with the likes of Johnny Heartsman playing on sessions) and his marvelous lyrics.

Here are some lyrical fragments:

From My Name Is Misery

I don't have no money
And I can't even pay my rent
If you put a money dog on my trail
He wouldn't even scratch a scent

Or how about his The Thrill is Gone (melody from Things I Used to Do)

The thrill is gone
The thrill I used to have for you
The thrill is gone
The thrill I used to have for you
Now you're beggin' me to take you back
Lord, but ain't a darn thing I can do

There was a reissue of all of Al King's recordings, including his most famous song, Think Twice Before You Speak. Unfortunately it and a new album by him I believe are both out-of-print and he shortly passed on. Pea-Vine has a reissue West Coast Modern Blues 1960's Vol. 3 that includes 8 tracks by Al King along with selections by Willie Headen and King Solomon. The notes may be in Japanese, but the liner booklet dos include lyrics in English and while expensive (It is an import after all), the music, especially by Al King, is first rate. I believe it is available from bluebeatmusic.com.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Nick Moss's Invigorating Chicago Blues


Writing about Nick Moss & the Flip Tops, Bill Dahl notes that they simultaneously preserve and advance the Chicago blues tradition. “Yet youthful vitality and imagination thunders from their sound, boding well for their future and that of the idiom itself.” Listening to the double CD by this group, Play It ‘Til Tomorrow (Blue Bella) one quickly realizes that this isn’t faint praise. There are two discs. One is an electric recording while the other disc is an acoustically oriented unplugged one. What is most striking is how strong the ensemble playing is throughout. The Flip Tops are a band whose whole is much more than the sum of the individual parts. At work listening to this, this writer first thought this was a Magic Slim disc I had purchased. Then I looked and realized it was Moss & the Flip Tops. Like Magic Slim & the Teardrops, Nick Moss & the Flip Tops have a tight sound and get a similar chugging rhythmic groove going. Also Moss’ stinging guitar evokes the playing of Jimmy Dawkins. Eddie Taylor Jr. guests on several tracks, while Moss handles the vocals. He also plays some harp in addition to guitar, with the Flip Tops backing him throughout. The Flip Tops are: Willie Oshany (ex-Legendary Blues Band) on keyboards (bass for a few tracks), Gary Hundt on bass (guitar for several tracks) and Bob Carter on drums. Moss is heard mostly on originals that sound like they are covers of unissued Chess or Vee-Jay recordings as well as interpretations of Luther ‘Georgia Snake Boy’ Johnson’s Woman Don’t Lie, Lefty Dizz’s Bad Avenue (sounding like Magic Slim on an uptempo reworking of this) and Floyd Jones’ Rising Wind. Its refreshing to hear a band handle this material so well and so-idiomatically and without any showboat guitar gymnastics. The acoustic disc is equally good as Hundt adds harp and mandolin and the original material suggests Muddy, Jimmy Rogers and Tampa Red. Barrelhouse Chuck guests on one of these tracks as well. This is among the best new releases I have heard in 2007 and most highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wynonie Shouts the Blues, Sun Ra plays them

Fred James has been putting out a number of collections of classic rhythm and blues recordings from Nashville on the German SRV Blue label. Bullet Records Rhythm & Blues is the second reissue in this series of the important Nashville label. It focuses more on jump blues and blues shouters. It opens with four selections by one of the greatest shouters, Wynonie Harris, and in addition to his vocals, these recordings include the first recordings of pianist Herman ‘Sonny’ Blount (better known as Sun Ra). These recordings may have also had Mr. Harris on drums. A few years later Mr. Blount would be leading a band in Chicago and emerge with his unique and influential big band. While these recordings will be of historical interest for that fact, there is plenty more here for fans of jump blues and blues shouters. Fred James speculates that its tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate’s band backing Max Bailey whose tune includes an exhortation to the troops on Drive Soldiers Drive. Alto saxophonist Sherman Williams’ selections feature pianist-shouter Skippy Brooks who would later be a mainstay in Nashville for Excello. He is heard strongly singing six strong tracks including Baby Don’t You Want to Go, a reworking of Kokomo Blues, a song that was the model for Sweet Home Chicago. Two tracks by The Bobby Plater Orchestra feature members of Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra backing a young Rufus Thomas, while Doc Wiley’s two tracks include a hot jump instrumental and the more philosophical Play Your Hand with Wiley’s strong piano and a nice vocal. A few cuts are more in the vein of Mills Brothers styled harmony, and fill out what is an exceptional reissue that will be of special interest to fans of blues shouters.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Live Magic From Etta Jones & Houston Person

The collaborations between the late vocalist Etta Jones and saxophonist Houston Person produced so much musical magic that ended with she passed in 2001. HighNote has just issued, Don’t Misunderstand, a 1980 live recording from a New York City club, Salt Peanuts, that will delight the pair’s many fans. Jones’ vocal career started in Buddy Johnson’s Big Band before joining Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines. Later she hooked up with Prestige Records and in 1968 first recorded with tenor saxophonist Person, a musical relationship that would last over thirty years with many albums for Muse and HighNote before she passed. On this live recording they are backed by Sonny Phillips on organ and Frankie Jones (no relation to Etta) on drums. The gritty soul-jazz setting was a second home for Person, who first was heard from in Johnny ‘Hammond’ Smith’s combo. The recording opens with with a fine rendition of Blue Monk by Person. Ms. Jones is first heard on the title track, a wonderful ballad the late Gordon Parks wrote, and she has a blue teardrop in her off-the-beat delivery. The groove picks up a bit as Jones delivers Exactly Like You at a medium walking tempo with a fine solo by Person, with more of the same on Ain’t Misbehavin’. Her contribution to this ends with a lesser known number I Saw Stars. The disc then has three instrumentals that showcase Person’s ballad and blues playing with his take on Milt Jackson’s Bluesology being particularly wonderful. Phillips shines on the B-3 on I’m Glad There is You, while on Bluesology he gets on down to church. Don’t Misunderstand is a disc that will be enjoyed by fans of soul-organ jazz, soulful jazz tenor sax and one of the great jazz vocalists of the past several decades.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Plenty of Life in Fathead's Horns

The High Note Recordings by David ‘Fathead’ Newman certainly add to his considerable body of work that has been recorded over six decades. There are the tenor solos he added to Zuzu Bollin’s Texas R&B guitar boogies, and his standout work with Ray Charles’ band in the late fifties as well as many albums under his name including some for Atlantic while with Charles’ Band. Life is his latest disc and produced by Newman & Houston Person, Newman is the only horn on this date, playing alto, tenor and flute. Others on this session are Steve Nelson on vibes, David Leonhardt on piano, Peter Bernstein on guitar, John Menegon on bass and Yoron Isreal on drums. Its a session of classic songs and standards from the lovely opening ballad, Girl Talk, with some rhapsodic tenor to the closing rendition of John Coltrane’s, Naima. John Hicks Life is a brisk waltz with Newman switching to flute is the only song that is not a ballad. Other numbers on which Newman displays his fluency on the flute are I Can’t Get Started, and What a Wonderful World, the latter number being a wonderful interpretation of a song best associated with Louis Armstrong as he improvises off the lyrics, an approach that characterizes his tenor playing on Alfie and his alto sax on Autumn in New York. Other highpoints include lovely renditions of Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday, and John Coltrane’s lovely Naima. Pianist Leonhardt provided the arrangements including the pleasing voicings he provides Newman’s horn along with the piano, guitar and vibes that enhance the performances. Newman comes off as a ballad master with a terrific band here. Certainly a wonderful disc to relax and listen too, although some might have wished a couple more numbers had been included with a brisker tempo.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ernest Withers


Its been several weeks since a giant in the world of photography passed. Memphis photographer Ernest Withers was best known for his documentation of the civil rights movement, but this was simply part of documenting the daily live of his fellow African-Americans in Memphis, at work, play, social events and more. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal's obituary says it simply Photographer with a great heart had 'burning desire to shoot pictures'. In comments to the obituary, Photographer Jef Jaisun quotes Dick Waterman on Withers, "No amount of tribute could possibly reach the appreciation that is due to this modest man."

Fortunately several excellent books of his made his marvelous work available. The Memphis Blues Again: Six Decades of Memphis Music Photographs contains many remarkable images of people like Howling Wolf, Esther Phillips, and B.B. King. Negro League Baseball presents images of such greats as Satchel Paige, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and numerous others. These are books the continue to give me great pleasure. Negro League Baseball is I believe the only book currently in print.

There was a brief mention of Withers' death October 30 on Mike Johnston's blog The Online Photographer along with some other photo news items. The comments about Mr. Withers center on the photo of him with several cameras. Oddly no one commented on Withers' photography. Given Mike Johnston's interest in music (especially jazz), he could have mentioned this aspect of Mr. Withers body of work, especially the marvelous The Memphis Blues Again.

For a sampling of his work check out the website of his exclusive agent PanOpticon Gallery.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sleepy John's Electric Chicago Blues


Sleepy John Estes was one of the great blues poets and vocalists whose prewar recordings were highly influential on the likes of John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson and others. A creative lyricist who often spun songs from his own experiences, his crying vocals (and rudimentary guitar playing) backed by the vocalised harmonica of Hammie Nixon and the mandolin of Yank Rachell produced numerous classic songs that became part of the blues repertoire, such Diving Duck Blues, Drop Down Mama, and Everybody Oughta Make a Change. Rediscovered in the sixties, Estes had a revived career recording and performing world wide, producing several excellent albums for Delmark. Delmark’s reissue, On the Chicago Blues Scene, makes available for the first time on CD an album originally released as Electric Sleep, a play on the psychedelic recordings of Muddy and Howling Wolf, although this was simply presenting Estes in a Chicago blues setting with a backing band that included Sunnyland Slim on piano, Jimmy Dawkins on guitar, Carey Bell on harp, Odie Payne on drums and various bassist including Earl Hooker. Koester recalls seeing Estes participate in a jam in Europe with Hubert Sumlin, Rice ‘Sonny Boy Williamson’ Miller, Sunnyland Slim and others and able to sing with such modernists and a few years later cut an album in that vein and with the sympathetic backing by a band that does a fine job in backing Estes who could sometimes not be easy to follow. The vocals are marvelous as can be expected and its a joy to hear familiar Estes songs take on a fresh sound and here the music played with such joy and soulfulness. Recommended.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Son Seals' Blues Journey

Frank ‘Son’ Seals was arguably the most important discovery of Alligator Records and its chief honcho, Bruce Iglauer. Such albums as The Son Seals Blues Band, Midnight Son and Live and Burning are among the finest blues of the past four decades. Son Seals passed away in 2004 and his friend Peter Carlson has produced a documentary just issued on DVD, A Journey Through the Blues: The Son Seals Story (VizzTone), which will appeal to his many fans and will hopefully introduce others to this marvelous artist and person. The centerpiece of the documentary is interview footage of Son along with Bruce Iglauer, members of Son’s family, Koko Taylor, Dr. John and others set against footage of Son in performance, although the soundtrack for the documentary is taken from his recordings. Son’s early days in Arkansas, growing up in a home that served as a juke, learning drums and then guitar and the move to Chicago which led to his being discovered by Alligator are discussed here as well as an overview of his music and performances. There is footage (without sound) of his terrific nineties band that included saxophonist Red Groetzinger among others. Its a nicely done, although short bio-doc of him that is well put together. Also included are three live concert performances of Son from three different events that display how powerful a performer he was, although these are taken from after 2000 and it would have been nice to have included footage of his earlier bands (assuming such exists with sound). Also the three performances are a little under 1/2 hour. Maybe a European tv show of Son with his great band with Lacey Gibson and A.C. Reed will show up. Son was one of this writer’s favorite performers and I miss him as does anyone who got to meet and talk to him. I simply wish there was more than provided here on a well done video.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Satan and Adam's NYC Street Smart Blues

Satan and Adam were a fascinating duo, bringing together veteran guitarist Sterling Magee and young harmonica player Adam Gussow. From working the streets of Harlem, New York City to touring festivals worldwide, the two first appeared on disc on the Flying Fish recording, Harlem Blues. I refer you to Adam Gussow's most recent book, Journeyman’s Road (University of Tennessee Press) for the recent developments in their lives since the duo split although with other fascinating discussions in this recommended volume of articles. Here is my review from the June, 1992 Jazz & Blues Report of Harlem Blues.

"Harlem Blues
is the debut of Satan and Adam, the combination of veteran guitarist Sterling McGhee (a veteran of King Curtis’ and other groups), and harp player Adam Gussow. The two can be found playing the streets near the Apollo, and the combination of Satan with his flamboyant (and oft-times unpredictable) guitar playing (while playing hit-hat cymbals, tambourines and a wooden kickboard with Adam’s fluent, jazzy harp. This isn’t polished music, but there is a lot of exuberance in Satan’s hoarse shouted singing, and they take several blues standards like Down Home Blues, C.C. Rider and Sweet Home Chicago and totally rearrange them, while also tackling a bit of Ellingtonia Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, with Adam taking a strong solo. Adam in the liner notes describes Satan as “Robert Johnson reborn as Parliament Funkadelic,” and it gives a sense of the excitement they generate. This music may not get very pretty, but it is quite gritty. Recommended."

Friday, November 02, 2007

Ruf's Corrects Its Promotion of Luther Allison's Underground

Post: Updated November 7. Ruf has updated its website discussing Underground, supplementing its original release notes and suggesting a recording date of 1967-1968. When I drafted the original blog entry, the release notes were what is labeled the original release notes after Rien Wisse's updated release notes. The fact that Ruf acknowledged and corrected the error it is quite commendable. below is my original post as of November 2

Ruf Records has issued a CD of Luther Allison, Underground. In the release notes on the website it is stated:

"The discovery and release of Luther Allison's 1958 debut recording represents a blues find that surfaces with all the excitement of some long forgotten historical document. After sitting for 50 years in the home of Luther's wife, Fannie Allison, Luther's son Bernard unearthed these monumental recordings to show the music world the portrait of this artist as a young man."

Later, Art Tipaldi closes these notes,"One researcher note. The first tune here is titled "Hide Away." Research shows that Freddie King took portions of "Hide Away" from Hound Dog Taylor instrumental and that King didn't record that song until 1960. Could this then be the first recorded version of "Hideaway"? Gentlemen, start your search engines."

A sticker on the CD that I saw in a store states that these are 1958 recordings and never previously issued. This not true. First of all these recordings were previously issued and sold. I know because I bought a vinyl lp from Luther in 1971 called Underground with the 8 tracks that have been reissued. It was sold by Luther as if it was bootleg (I suspect he was still under contract to Delmark). The simple album label stated it was produced by Bobby Rush. Unissued. I suggest not.

The suggested 1958 recording date (the date taken from a Bobby Rush recollection) does not stand up to simple scrutiny. Nice fantasy to suggest that it might be the first recording of Hideaway, but one of the songs on this disc, the cover of the Ricky Allen classic, Cut You Loose, was not recorded until around 1963 (Allen did not even arrive in Chicago until 1960) so that if you want to suggest this is the earliest recording of Hideaway, then you also have to make the incredible claim that Luther made the first recording of Cut You Loose as well.

I suggest this was recorded between 1968 and 1970, after Luther's Delmark album was issued. It might have been intended primarily as a demo to be shopped to a bigger label which Luther also sold at gigs. Three of the eight songs on this were redone on Luther's 1972 Motown debut, Bad News is Coming, and Freddy King's The Stumble is on the Motown instead of Hideaway. I point out that no one should not be surprised that Allison performed and recorded King's instrumentals as he took over King's Chicago bar gig when the Texas Cannonball started touring because of the success of his classic Federal Recordings.

On the Post-War Blues List on Yahoo, Klaus Kilian first observed that "Cut You Loose" was recorded after 1958. He stated "Apparently Bobby Rush remembered the date wrong and [Ruf] took his word. However, anybody listening to the music who knows anything about the development of postwar blues should be able to realise that these tracks couldn't be from 1958. I mean, "Don't Start Me Talkin'" with a funk beat? "Cut You Loose" recorded years before Ricky Allen's 45? And with the exact same arrangement Luther did for Motown a little later?"

It will be interesting to see how many reviewers parrot the release notes. I would not be surprised to see a number reviewers out there get this wrong.

Added on November 7:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lurrie Bell Talks About Love


Son of the legendary Carey Bell, its somewhat astonishing to realize that Lurrie Bell has been playing the blues for thirty odd years since being a founding member of the Sons of the Blues with Billy Branch and Freddie Dixon. The years have seen him work with the likes of his father, Eddie Clearwater, Koko Taylor and others while starting with the aptly titled Mercurial Son for Delmark which developed a following by astute blues enthusiasts and jazz-blues critics. Fighting personal demons, his partner Susan Greenberg, an artist, photographer and mother of their daughter, helped him find his way, but this year has been a hard one with her death followed shortly by his father’s passing, ironically around the time of the Delmark CD/DVD Getting Up Live, by Carey & Lurrie. Other recent work by him, including on the Delmark CD/DVDs by Tail Dragger and Mississippi Heat displayed his strong, distinctive playing, able to mix some of Hubert Sumlin’s quirky unpredictable style with some classic West Side guitar evoking Otis Rush, he has a wonderful disc on Aria B.G. Records, Let’s Talk About Love.

Produced by Matthew Skoller, Lurrie is backed by a band that includes Anthony Palmer on rhythm guitar, Felton Crews on bass, and Kenny smith on drums, joined on tracks by Sidney James Wingfield or Johnny Iguana on piano or organ; and Billy Branch of Matt Skoller on harp. Its a solid band that provides a solid foundation for Lurrie to deliver a varied and highly entertaining set. Mostly comprised of covers, I would be hard pressed to name a single song that will be familiar to many. The disc opens with a title track a West Coast swinger by singer-composer Al King, followed by Willie Dixon’s Earthquake and Hurricanes (on which Billy Branch adds his harp. The former is a solid modern urban blues, while the latter comes off as a solid Chicago blues performance. Andrew Brown’s pleading West Side Chicago Blues You Ought to Be Ashamed is winningly delivered with typically strong guitar before Lurrie takes on Pops Staples Why (Am I Treated So Bad), contributing some atmospheric guitar. He acoustically tackles J.B. Lenoir’s Feeling Good, with Jimmy Johnson adds a backing vocal. Little Richard’s slow blues Directly From My Heart to You, is most evocative of Otis Rush with strong guitar and soulful singing. Producer Skoller adds strong harp to the rendition of Willie Dixon’s Chicago is Loaded With the Blues. Adding in songs from Hip Linkchain, Smokey Smothers, and Willie Williams, Bell shows just how soulful a singer he has become as well as an strong guitarist with a lean, distinctive sound that lets the music breathe as opposed to attacking a solo with a sledgehammer style. The band is marvelously unobtrusive in backing him, providing wonderful grooves that never sound hurried or rushed. I would be hard-pressed to name an album by Lurrie Bell not worth hearing, but the strength of his playing and natural, heartfelt singing here makes Let’s Talk About Love, highly recommended.

Friday, October 26, 2007

An interesting take on Ike Turner

I've know Gaye Adegbalola for about two decades now, when I saw Saffire - the Uppity Blues Women performing at venues in the Washington DC area. With them and on her own she has produced some wonderful music and recordings as well as mentors and teaches singing and songwriting to up and coming performers.

I came across a article on Ike Turner that I think more folk need to now about. Ike was no angel and was a drug-addict and wife-beater, but he has served his time. he was a monster yet still was a musical innovator and appears to have turned his life around. Gaye's article on Ike certainly is thought provoking.

What's Love Got To Do With It 

Friday, October 19, 2007

Big Brown's Blues


There have been so many examples of blues artists who produced a small number of recordings whose recordings were highly prized by those who heard them but never reach the more general acclaim that their music deserves. Its been over twenty years since singer-guitarist Andrew Brown passed away after recording some excellent 45s, several tracks for Alligator’s Living Chicago Blues series and two superb albums for Dutch Labels that I do not believe have been issued on CD. The Dutch Black Magic label has made almost all of Brown’s recordings available (the issued Alligator tracks excluded) on a wonderful limited edition reissue, Big Brown Blues. Packed in a book sized package, the contents of the two discs include his issued 4s for the U.S.A, 4 Brothers and Brave label and a pair of unissued titled from Brave; two unissued songs from the sessions used for the Living Chicago Blues series; the contents of his Black Magic and Double Trouble CDs and three demos recorded at Andrew’s basement. The booklet contains a bio from Bill Dahl and producer Dick Shurman’s recollections of Andrew and his music. As Shurman observes, “Musically, Andrew was accomplished, powerful, soulful and versatile.”
Influences on Brown include B.B. King, Lowell Fulson and T-Bone Walker, but in listening to these, his music struck me as very similar to that of the late Little Milton, which is evident in the wonderful treatment of Milton’s Losing Hand that is the first track on the second disc. It is more a matter of similarities in the voices and common influences. Like Milton, Brown was not only a fleet guitarist, but also a wonderful songwriter. Magic Sam covered Brown’s USA 45, You Better Stop, but there are any number of strong modern urban blues with sophisticated lyrics, sung with heart, while his guitar playing embellished, not overwhelmed, his vocals. He moves from a rocking shuffle like No More Talking to the blues ballad Your Love is Important to Me, then taking up a funk groove on Mary Jane. Dick Shurman had him cover some songs on the two albums with Tin Pan Alley, perhaps the best known song that he makes his own, but other songs covered include his terrific take on James ‘Thunderbird’ Davis’ Blue Monday, Joe Tex’s I Want to Do (Everything For You), and a Bobby Bland classic, Lead Me On. A few numbers are a bit more directed towards the straight soul market, but are also delivered so convincingly.
Having Brown’s two albums and even a 4 Brothers 45, I am delighted to have this wonderful reissue available by a person who should be much better known among a broader range of blues fans. His ‘mellow’ blues styling is akin to such other neglected past blues masters Mighty Joe Young and Fenton Robinson and is better than a lot of what is purported to be blues today. This is a limited edition and I recommend checking the better mail order specialists like BlueBeat Music to get this gem while you can. It is also available directly from Black Magic Records.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Roscoe Shelton's Soulful Legacy


Fred James has played a substantial role in documenting and getting recognition for Nashville's R&B scene. One of the artists whose careers Fred James helped to revive was Roscoe Shelton who passed away in 2002. Originally Shelton was on the Excello label for whom he made many fine blues and soul recordings, many of which were his own songs. Later he recorded for Sound Stage 7 where he had two national hits, appeared on the legendary The !!!!Beat TV show and then found himself burned out. He did record some for local labels and performed in local clubs and then semi-retired from music, working at a medical hospital. James recorded fellow Excello artist Clifford Curry in 1992 for an Italian label, and Curry told him many of his label mates were still around, leading to Shelton's career being revived which led to albums on Blue Moon, Appaloosa, Black Top and Cannonball (with Earl Gaines). "Save Me", the present set, is comprised of recordings from a variety of dates. One is a duet with Mary Ann Brandon is from her album "R.O.A.D.", while a track with Earl Gaines is an alternate of what appeared on Cannonball. A terrific singer that grew up in the Church (he was once a member of the Fairfield Four), he was very at home with the blues. Highlights include the terrific title track, the cover of Ivory Joe Hunter's "Blues at Midnight," the shuffle, "Why Didn't You Yell Me (For So Long)," and the belly-bumping blues, "Think It Over." Not a bad track here as Shelton never received the recognition his talents and music deserved. Highly recommended.

This is slightly edited version of review that appeared in Jazz & Blues Report

Friday, October 12, 2007

Frank Morgan keeps Bop Flame Burning Brightly

One of several saxophonists that was labeled the next Bird, Frank Morgan notes that was the worst thing to happen to him as it was something no one could live up to and then having three decades of adversity including addiction and prison. Since he has returned to the scene the mid-eighties with a string of excellent recordings for Contemporary, he has certainly re-established himself as a superior player in the tradition of Parker. HighNote has issued A Night in the Light: Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 3 with a marvelous band including pianist George Cables, bassist Carmen Lundy and drummer Billy Hart. I have not heard the earlier two volumes but based on the performances. No surprises in the repertoire, with four of the songs staples of Charlie Parker’s repertoire, Confirmation, Half Nelson, Hot House and Billie’s Bounce, along with On Green Dolphin Street and It’s Only a Paper Moon. These are songs Morgan has been playing for decades but familiarity does not make these performances sound routine. There is plenty of full-bodied playing here with a marvelous rhythm section and while Morgan may take these in a more relaxed fashion than Bird would have 55 years ago, Morgan’s playing is quite satisfying. Certainly nice that he has aged so gracefully and continues to enliven us with this disc.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Nappy Brown returns


Its been a decade since Napoleon Brown Goodson Culp, better known as Nappy Brown, last had a new recording out. Thanks to producer Scott Cable, Brown has a terrific new recording available on Blind Pig, Long Time Coming. Helping on this new recording is a terrific band that includes guitarists Bob Margolin, Junior Watson and Sean Costello, keyboardist Jim Pugh, bassist Mookie Brill, saxophonist and harpist John Nemeth, and drummer Big Joe Maher. There is a mix of new versions of some of the songs most associated with Nappy Brown (Don’t Be Angry and The Right Time (which Ray Charles made famous as Night Time is the Right Time) along with a nice selection of material that range from hot jump blues like the opening Keep On Pleasin’ You to the more downhome feel of Walter 'Lightning Bug' Rhodes Aw Shucks Baby, You Were a Long Time Coming and the Little Walter classic Who. Aw Shucks Baby is the one track not from this session as it was from a performance at the Phoenix, Arizona club, The Rhythm Room. Brown's voice sounds like he has lost little over the years, comparing his renditions of Aw Shucks Baby and The Right Time with renditions on a 1991 Ichiban album by him. The new versions benefit from a much crisper band that adds more punch to the proceedings. I know Margolin has performed with Nappy over the years, but special mention must be made of Big Joe Maher’s drumming. Maher anchored the band that backed Nappy Brown in 1991 DC Blues Festival, and besides his own swing based jump blues, has been a sought after drummer for touring acts as diverse as Earl King, Johnny Adams, James ‘Thunderbird’ Davis, and Jimmy ‘T-99’ Nelson. Maher’s playing playing is consistently in the pocket. The foundation of Maher's drums and the electric bass of Mookie Brill is one reason the music here sounds so crisp and vigorous. There is plenty of terrific guitar throughout and Nappy is in real good voice, whether employing a stuttering shouting vocal on Don’t Be Angry, handling a ballad, Give Me Your Love, or singing with faith on the closing, Take Care of Me. One would be hard pressed to find any recording by Nappy as good as this one since his classic Savoy recordings. Highly recommended. For those in the Washington DC area, Nappy Brown appears at the State Theatre in Falls Church, November 2.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

At last a recording from Eleanor Ellis


Born near New Orleans, Eleanor Ellis heard the blues blasting out of the radio, but it was when working at the Tulane University Jazz Archive that she began to take seriously playing music. She played a variety of music there including bluegrass, old-time and country. A few years later she settled in the Washington DC area where she continues to reside today and her focus was directed on the blues as she became acquainted with some of the area’s musical elders who became her role model and friends. She first chauffeured Flora Molton, the DC area street singer and later started playing with her. Then in 1987 she toured Europe with Flora and local Piedmont legend Archie Edwards. Later she got into video production and produced the marvelous video Blues Houseparty, filmed at John Jackson’s home and featuring Jackson, his wife Cora, Archie Edwards, John Cephas, Phil Wiggins, Flora Molton, Larry Wise, and John Dee Holeman. During this time she was amongst those who founded the DC Blues Society, and after Archie Edwards passed away, helped found the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Society.

Throughout this time she has performed, often with others such as when she accompanied Flora or participated in performances given by members of the Archie Edwards Barbershop folk. Recently a CD of her with William Lee Ellis and Andy Cohen was issued that is available on cdbaby.com. She recorded a CD that she only sold at performances and finally has a new CD by herself on Patuxent Records, Comin’ a Time that hopefully will let folk outside of DC know about this musical treasure. The 18 songs are pretty varied in their source and contain few songs that should be overly familiar. Thankfully there are no Robert Johnson covers although there are several renditions of Memphis Minnie songs along with a couple each from Skip James and John Estes and songs associated with Tommy Johnson, Henry Thomas, Bull City Red and Lottie Kimbrough. She is joined by a number of musical friends including guitarists Neil Harpe and Mike Baytop, pianist Judy Luis-Watson and harmonica players Jay Summerour, Phil Wiggins and Pearl Bailes.

The disc opens with a John Hurt song that was filtered through Hurt’s disciple, Archie Edwards, Take Me Back Baby, which Eleanor adds her own touch to the pensive lyric along with her gently rolling guitar. Sleepy John Estes' Diving Duck was recorded at Archie Edwards’ Barbershop with Mike Baytop on harp and the late Richard Thomas on bones with a driving accompaniment behind Eleanor’s emphatic vocal. Ellis makes no effort to emulate Skip James’ ethereal style for Cypress Grove or Special Rider, as she delivers these songs in a sober fashion. Judy Luis-Watson adds a touch of barrelhouse flavor for 61 Highway, a song that suggests the toughness of Memhis Minnie that is evident also on Ellis’ strong interpretations of Minnie’s In My Girlish Days, Me and My Chauffeur, and What’s The Matter With the Mill, where Neil Harpe joins her for a delightful vocal duet. Harpe also does a duet with her on The Panic Is On, with its still timely and critical observations on things going. Sun’s Gonna Shine One Day, one of Flora Molton’s truth songs is updated from its Vietnam war era origins to a timeless message of things getting better some day with Phil Wiggins adding his sympathetic harmonica accompaniment. Another favorite track is her rendition of Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues, one of the true blues hits of the late twenties and early thirties. Eleanor is a marvelous singer and guitarist who delivers the performances in a natural manner that contrsts with the sometimes studied approach of some celebrated acoustic blues performers. This release was many years in the making and well worth the wait, and can be obtained from Patuxent Records at www.pxrec.com.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Arthur Alexander's Final Chapter

Arthur Alexander was a sixties soul singer whose recordings of Anna and You Better Move On were covered by the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. However despite his influence he had left the music scene by 1980 and driving a bus and working with disadvantaged kids in Cleveland. In the early 1990s he recorded Lonely Just Like Me for Electra/Nonesuch as part of the short-lived American Explorer series. Sessions with some who had accompanied him in the sixties such as Dan Penn, Donnie Fritts and Reggie Young were joined by (among others) Gary Nicholson and Jim Spake for the original album which led to critical acclaim, an appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air and the a concert appearance in Nashville, which sadly did him in as he was checked into a hospital and a few days later passed on.

HackTone has just issued an augmented reissue of the album, Lonely Just Like Me: The Final Chapter that reissues the original LP with his performance from Fresh Air, hotel demos of several songs and a live performance of Anna at New York’s Bottom Line. Even today the subtle country-soul of Alexander appeals with his sober, melancholy performances. The studio album had him redo his Sally Sue Brown, along with twelve other performances. One thing about the studio performances is how akin to country music his songs and performances were starting with the opening If It’s Really Go to Be This Way, as well as Lonely Just This Way and Every Day I Have to Cry. If he had not died so prematurely, one can imagine him on CMT doing duets with the likes of a Marty Stuart. The Fresh Air performance includes some interviews and a bit more stripped down backing for Go Home Girl, You Better Move On, and Every Day I Have to Cry. Demos include an intriguing rendition of Neil Diamond’s Solitary Man, before his reprising of Anna. I would not call him one of the great soul singers in the manner of a Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett or James Carr, but his understated delivery does soulfully deliver these performances. Recommended.

Thi review originally appeared in the September 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (www.jazz-blues.c0m)

Monday, September 17, 2007

A magical evening at the Duke Ellington Festival



Last Thursday, September 13, I saw a wonderful intimate performance by vocalist Roberta Gambarini and pianist Hank Jones as part of the 3rd Duke Ellington Jazz Festival in Washington DC. This performance which included wonderful interpretations from the American songbook (including Duke Ellington's Come Sunday, Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life and others). One highpoint was her performance of Sunny Side of the Street based on Dizzy Gillespie's recording with Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins. She scats like Ella, does some vocalese and has such a pure voice that is an instrument like the voice was for Ella. The most sterling moment was Irving Berlin's Supper Time written for a thirties review. Written for Ethel Waters, it is a song about a woman waiting for her husband who won't be home for supper because he's been lynched. A very simple, straight-forward delivery that was quite moving. As one might expect, Hank Jones was marvelous as an accompanist. They have a duet album coming out, so keep an eye for it.

BTW, they answered some Q's and A's from the audience and one member of the audience came with her mother who had suang with Hank at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo in the fifties. hank spent a lot of time in Cleveland and Buffalo in those years. And after his night was done he would catch Art Tatum at some other Buffalo venue. Chicken wings were invented later at the Anchor Bar.

Hank also accompanied Marilyn Monroe when she sang Happy Birthday to President Kennedy. He is the older brother of the late drummer Elvin and late trumpeter-composer Thad. Quite a family and he was quite funny in addition to being a marvelous pianist.

Recommended listening-
Roberta Gambarini - Easy to Love
Hank Jones as part of The Great Jazz Trio (with his late brother Elvin)

Ron

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Congrats to 15 years of The Rhythm Room

Phoenix’s The Rhythm Room as developed a reputation as a blues room in part due to the efforts of Bob Corritore. Blue Witch Records has issued a lively celebration of its 15 years, House Rockin’ and Blues Shoutin’!, with 14 strong live performances for the Rhythm Room’s stage. This is scheduled to be released in September, 2007. Its a nice range of performances that give an indication of the breadth and eclecticism of real deal blues that play there including performances by the Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Manish Boys, Long John Hunter, Floyd Dixon, Big Pete Pearson, Henry Gray, Sonny Rhodes, Paul Oscher, Chief Shabuttie Gilliame w Johnny Dyer and Henry Gray, Robert Lockwood, Jr, Louisiana Red and Billy Boy Arnold. There are any number of highlights here and no poor tracks. The three Thunderbirds tracks are each with different personnel supporting Kim Wilson including Troy Gonyea’s guitar backing him on Jimmy Rogers’ Goin’ Away Baby, and the Little Walter styled harp romp, Horsin’ Around, while Kid Ramos, Kirk Fletcher and horns provide support for the New Orleans groove of Rich Woman. Finis Tasby gravelly vocals graces The Manish Boys fine Lonesome Bedroom, while Long John Hunter is heard solo on Long John’s Country Blues. Piano blues will enjoy Floyd Dixon’s jumping Please Don’t Go while Henry Gray’s Henry’s Houserocker is a solid shuffle with Kid Ramos’ guitar helping propel the boogie woogie feature. Sonny Rhodes playing lap steel guitar interprets one of the lesser known Elmore James numbers, My Bleeding Heart, while Paul Oscher is marvelous on guitar, harp and vocals on That’s It. The delightful performances come to a close with Billy Boy Arnold’s take on an old Sonny Boy Williamson recording (which actually dates back to pianist Charlie Spand) which is retitled and credited to Arnold, Two Drinks of Wine. It is the same song junior Wells did as Early in the Morning. One can’t think of a better salute to this blues room than the compilation of fine recordings here and Blue Witch is to be thanked for this collection. May the Rhythm Room celebrate another 15 years.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Kermit Ruffins Lively Night at Vaughan's


From the days when he was probably the most visible member of Rebirth Brass Band, Kermit Ruffins has been playing his trumpet and singing with the idea that jazz can entertain as well as be art. Having reestablished, after Katrina, his long-standing gig at Vaughan’s in New Orleans, his newest recording was recorded in performance there, Live at Vaughan’s (Basin Street). What can one say except this an exuberant collection of performances that should bring a smile to most as he and his quartet handle standards like World on a String and Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?, along with second line gems like Palm Court Strut and Kermit’s Tremé Second Line, and his jazzifying R&B classics like Sly Stone’s If You Want Me to Stay. Ruffins’ band of Richard Knox on keyboards (he has an excellent organ solo on World on a String); Derrick Freeman on drums and vocals and Kevin Morris on electric bass is augmented on several tracks by Roderick Paulin on saxophone and Corey Henry on trombone (both heard on Kermit’s Drop Me Off in New Orleans), Neshia Ruffins (Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans), and others. The most obvious influence on Ruffins is Louis Armstrong which is reflected throughout his playing and vocals. While there is a traditional jazz base to the performances, they are enlivened by a dose of second-line R&B flavoring making for lively, swinging and danceable performances like the Palm Court Strut or Ruffins’ Hide the Reefer (‘because he comes the creeper’), that frankly will bring a smile to the listener, but after listening it will hit you that Kermit Ruffins can really play, like his very fiery solo on the Sly Stone classic.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Max Roach 1924-2007

The headline in the New York Times website the afternoon of August 16 said it all. As Peter Keepnews' wrote," Max Roach, a founder of modern jazz who rewrote the rules of drumming in the 1940’s and spent the rest of his career breaking musical barriers and defying listeners’ expectations, died early today in Manhattan. He was 83."
Anyone playing drums stands in his musical shadow. An innovator who never stood musically still. As I write this Columbia University's WKCR is doing a Max Roach marathon in his memory thorugh next Wednesday August 22 where you can experience a musical legacy that few in American musical history can equal. You can listen on the internet by visiting WKCR's website is www.wkcr.org. The link for Peter Keepnews obituary is Max Roach.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fathead Newman's Straightahead "Cityscape"


David ‘Fathead’ Newman has certainly come a long way from his initial appearance on wax, a session by Texas Blues Man, Zuzu Bollin (and Newman played on Bullin’s rediscovery album decades later). Best known for his fat sound while a member of Ray Charles legendary band in the late fifties and early sixties, Newman has had a distinguished career since leaving Charles and continues to perform and record showing little diminution in his music. A relatively recent HighNote release, Cityscape, has him on tenor, alto and flute,leading a septet which includes his rhythm section of David Leonhardt on piano, John Menegon on bass and Yoron Isreal on drums. They are joined by Howard Johnson on baritone, Benny Powell on trombone and Winston Byrd on trumpet and flugelhorn. The notes observe that the septet format recalls the classic Ray Charles band of the fifties that Newman was part of, although a comparison that perhaps raises false expectations as this band is more of a straight Hard Bop aggregation that does not have the tight sound of Charles’ legendary band. There is a nice mix of material including originals as well as standards such as the opening rendition of the theme from the James Bond movie, Goldfinger, Billy Strayhorn’s lovely A Flower is a Lonesome Thing and It Was a Very Good Year, that most associate with Frank Sinatra. Goldfinger is an attractive but hardly startling feature for Newman who sounds stronger on flute with a bit of Mid-Eastern flavor for the lively Pharoah’s Gold, with Howard Johnson providing an arrangement of the 5/4 Claude Johnson theme, while Newman’s tenor caresses the Strayhorn classic with the muted horn riffs of the others adding atmosphere. Bassist Menegon contributed the walking blues, Bu Bop Bass, with Johnson opening with some strong choruses before Fathead takes over on tenor with some insinuating playing. Howard Johnson’s original, Here Comes Sonny Man, has Newman on alto on a number that sounds like it could have been written as a theme for a seventies TV show. Newman returns to tenor on a romantic It Was a Very Good Year, which suggests that in his golden years, Newman still remains an authoritative player. Another flute feature is Newman’s original, Flankin’, dedicated to his wife’s late mom where he is backed just by his rhythm trio. While the septet here perhaps lacks the tightness and authority that Ray Charles Band had, this is a strong set of straight-ahead straight-ahead jazz that should please many.

The Mannish Boys Strong Retro-Blues


Delta Groove has issued a new release from The Mannish Boys, Big Plans. A smorgasbord of blues players and styles, the main featured players are vocalists Finis Tasby and Johnny Dyer with support from the likes of guitarists Frank Goldwasser (Paris Slim), and Kirk Fletcher, pianist Leon Blue, bassist Tom Leavey and drummer Richard Innes with guest appearances from Jody Williams, Rick Holmstrom, Mitch Kashmar, Rob Rio and Larry Taylor. There is a mix of covers and originals that are well played and performed. Certainly its a delight to hear the West Coast blues singing of Tasby whose world-weary sound adds to the appeal of his reworking Long John Hunter’s Border Town Blues, while I Get Worried, is a moody late night T-Bone Walker blues with Kid Ramos laying in crisp T-Bone guitar runs, and Roy Hawkins’ Why Do Things Happen to Me? is a charged rendition of the great West Coast singer who had the original The Thrill is Gone. Chicago singer Bobby Jones handles an original shuffle by bassist Leavey, Mary Jane, with producer Randy Chortkoff adding some Jimmy Reed-ish, high register harp, along with a moody reworking of Howlin’ Wolf’s Memphis recording, California Blues, into a slow-drag blues with Fletcher taking lead on guitar and Kashmar adding some choice harp. Johnny Dyer covers Muddy Waters’ recording, Just to Be With You, and its well played if adding little to the original, while Leon Blue does Homesick James’ Got to Move, with Goldwasser adding solid slide in the Homesick James vein as Leon Blue tinkles the ivories and delivers a strong vocal, again modeled on James’ original, and Jody Williams recreates his Groan My Blues Away, with an amiable if unspectacular vocal, but his vocal on Chortkoff’s Young & Tender, is more compelling against the atmospheric backing he receives. In contrast, Chortkoff’s rendition of his Mine All Mine has too busy an accompaniment and a weak vocal (certainly in comparison to the other performers here). Even if much of this hardly original, it is delight to hear this done so well at a time with bluesy rock is seen by some as an innovation. While hardly essential, few blues lovers will have any complaints to acquiring this disc.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Marie Knight's loving tribute to Rev. Gary Davis


Fans of Sister Rosetta Tharpe may be familiar with the name Marie Knight whose alto could be heard with Tharpe’s soprano and guitar on such records as Up Above My Head, I Hear Music, and Didn’t It Rain. Knight, who had her own gospel hit with Gospel Train, was located and participated in MC Records highly praised tribute to Tharpe, Shout, Sister, Shout, and is now featured on a stunning new MC records release, Let Us Get Together: A Tribute to Reverend Gary Davis. Produced by Larry Campbell, who played lead guitar and other instruments in Bob Dylan’s Band from 1997-2004 but has played with numerous acts such as Paul Simon and Willie Nelson. Campbell in the early 1970’s became obsessed with Rev. Gary Davis’ music and as he shows on this release, is a marvelous guitarist in the Piedmont finger style approach. His guitar is the foundation for Knight who still remains a vigorous vocalist that invests her renditions of Lord I Feel Like Goin' On, I Belong To The Band, Samson & Delilah, I Am The Light Of This World, 12 Gates, and Death Don't Have No Mercy, with such fervor. Perhaps her range is diminished a tad with age but her phrasing and delivery belies her age. Five selections are solo including Lord I Feel Like Goin’ On and Samson and Delilah, while several, including I Am the Light of the World, have a backing band that may get occasionally messy but do not detract from the exuberance and celebration. Catherine Russell contributes an effective backing vocal here while Kim Wilson adds harmonica in addition to the rhythm to Twelve Gates to The City, and Death Don’t Have No Mercy. The latter track is the recording’s longest and Knight is compelling on this spellbinding performance that is perhaps the highlight of a truly excellent disc. In addition, there is a short Quicktime video which gives Marie Knight a chance to tell us about herself and she is as vivacious as in her performances. Gary Davis’ memory is served well by this disc that is also a reminder that the magnificent Ms. Knight is alive and very well. One of the best discs in any genre this writer has heard this year.