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: