Thursday, April 22, 2010

RIP Bunchy Johnson

I just got the new OffBeat, the JazzFest Bible edition and came across the obituary for drummer Bunchy Johnson. I may have heard he had died, but it was not until I saw his picture in OffBeat, that I realized he was the exuberant drummer who I saw playing with Jeremy Davenport at JazzFest several times.

He played with a who's who of New Orleans musicians including Dave Bartholomew, Allen Toussaint, Johnny Adams, Deacon John, Irma Thomas, Doctor John, and James Booker. He was an important part of Deacon John's Jump Blues project. Deacon John (quoted in OffBeat) remembers "Bunchy was the kind of guy that lit up the room when he walked in." I just remember the exuberance he brought to his music.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Otis Taylor's Gripping Clovis People

A new recording by Otis Taylor has become an event. He has produced some of the most original and intriguing of new artists associated with the blues with unusual musical settings and deep lyrical themes. He is one of the few blues artists to have DownBeat award 5 stars this century, and other publications have similarly given his music great acclaim. His music has been labelled trance blues, but it has precedent in the similar blues of John Lee Hooker (thinking about his slow dirges from early in his career as well as the swirling similar style of Robert Pete Williams. There are other examples in modern jazz as well as contemporary composed music (think of Steven Reich) that makes use of repetition musical elements and a droning sound.

Taylor’s most recent release is “Clovis People Vol. 3” (Telarc) and continues in the genre-busting vein of his earlier recordings. The title of the disc refers to the civilization known as the Clovis people, who walked the earth briefly about 13,000 years ago and then mysteriously disappeared. There have been only four or five sites of them found by anthropologists and one was recently located a 100 yards or so from Taylor’s home. "That's amazing to me," says Taylor. "There have only been four or five sites like this found all over the country. That means these people probably walked on my property. I went back to my musical past with these songs. That’s why I called it Volume 3. There really is no Volume 1 or 2. My music only goes back about ten years, but there's something about reaching back to an earlier time and revisiting the stories of the past from a new perspective that I find compelling."

For this volume he is joined by guitarist Gary Moore, who has been on previous recordings, pedal steel guitarist of the Campbell Brothers, cornetist Ron Miles and Taylor’s daughter, Cassie Taylor while he himself employs a variety of instruments and textures. The musicians are like paints, embellishing on the underlying groove with a burst of electric guitar or smear from a cornet enhancing the mood. Taylor’s vocals carry the same emotional weight as a field holler, as on the opening “Rain So Hard,” as he she describes his woman walking out after discovering his lies as it rained and snowed so hard while it sounds like a sitar being plucked as Miles adds a repeated trumpet riff to add to his repeated single note picking. “Little Willie,” opens with keen crying pedal steel as Taylor relates the story of Little Willie going to school and the “bad boys came and took his life away” leaving his mother to cry with the simple, emphatic accompaniment to Taylor’s haunting vocals . In contrast “Lee and Arnaz,” has a bit of a folk feel with the accompaniment (fiddle contrasting with Moore’s electric guitar commentary), with a message that there is no color there is no difference. The remaining of the album illustrates these same qualities. The music is mesmerizing, the songs powerful and the vocals by Taylor intimate, yet haunting. The result is another collection of thoroughly original and compelling performances from Otis Taylor.

For FTC purposes, I received my review copy from the publicist for the recording company.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New John Jackson CD coming out

I found out this past weekend that Smithsonian Folkways will be issuing a CD of live performances by John Jackson, one the DC area's masters of Piedmont Blues. The performances were compiled from his performances at Smithsonian events over many years. I am hopeful that some of the duets with his son James as well as with the great Doc Watson are among the performances included.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Ain't It Nice to Have Karen Carroll CD Back In Print

Chicago blues singer Karen Carroll was 39 when Delmark issued her second album for the label in 1997, “Talk to the Hand,” which has been just re-released by the label. She is the daughter of vocalist Jeanne Carroll and goddaughter of guitarist George Freeman. She was associated with the late Professor Eddie Lusk and a major influence on her was Donny Hathaway. She was backed on this session by a band including the keyboards of Russell Purifoy and Walter Scott’s guitar on a program of originals and some covers ranging for less obvious choices like Left Dizz’s “Ain’t It Nice,” to the overly familiar, “Sweet Home Chicago.”

She is more of a moaner than a shouter as on the opening West Side blues by Lefty Dizz, although Walter Scott’s buzz saw guitar here grates. Her original, “I’m Glad,” with nice punchy horns, is much better as she delivers the vocal with an appropriate bittersweet delivery and Scott’s guitar is much more palatable here with fleet, jazzy phrasing. Another Carroll original, “Don’t Make Me Wait,” is a soulful ballad in the vein of such seventies artists as Hathaway with nice piano from Purifoy. “Tired of Being Mistreated,” is a rocking gospel-based rave with backing vocal as she sings about her man mistreating her. I am not sure who J. Williams, the composer of “Can’t Fight the Blues” is, but Carroll conveys the desolation the lyrics (set to a melody similar to Ray Charles “I Believe”) convey. Hathaway sounds like an inspiration on “I Need a Friend,” while the title track (melodically evoking “Someday Baby”), tells the man he can talk to the hand but the face does not understand, with short effective solos from Scott and Purifoy. Carroll is able to capture the sassy, sultriness of Nina Simone’s “Do I Move You,” while able to handle the wistful melancholy of Dorothy Moore’s smash, “Misty Blue.” She added little to the overly recorded, “Sweet Home Chicago,” but her reworking of “How Blue Can You Get,” does show her interpretative powers. Still the most interesting selection is her original, “Neked J Blues.” This long talking blues showcases her storytelling ability as she talks about herself and some of the things she did to help spark things at the home front, including buying a negligee (Neked J)) and getting the bed ready for when her man gets home. The closing “Please Come Back Home,” closes this disc with an unexpected country twist.

This writer may have reviewed this when it first came out, but those reviews may be on the pages of a dusky blues society newsletter. there is a definite low-key feel to much of this and while there are a few missteps, this is an enjoyable disc worthy of re-release.

For FTC regulations purposes, this was sent to me by Delmark.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Maurice Brown's HipBob Blend Delights

Trumpeter Maurice Brown, according to his website biography was “Raised in south Chicago, Maurice was awarded a full music scholarship to Northern Illinois University upon graduating from Hillcrest High School. After winning first place in the esteemed National Miles Davis Trumpet Competition, Maurice found new flavor in the heart of Louisiana, …” He continued he studies at Southern University where he was part of the Jazz Program led by the late clarinet player and composer, Alvin Batiste. While living in New Orleans, he recorded his debut CD, “Hip to Bop,” and established himself in the New Orleans scene, playing regularly at Snug Harbor. He also has done a wide variety of session work working with hip hop artists, queen of soul, and contemporary jazz including recordings by Musiq Soulchild, Aretha Franklin, Roy Hargrove, Kendra Ross, Ernest Dawkins, Fred Anderson and George Freeman. Currently he lives in New York, and has just issued his second CD as a leader, “The Cycle of Love,” (Brown Records).

Derek Douget, on tenor with Derek, was on Maurice’s earlier CD and also studied in new Orleans although under the University of New Orleans Jazz Program under Ellis Marsalis’ leadership. The rest of the quartet is pianist Chris Rob, drummer Joe Blaxx and bassist Solomon Dorsey, none of whom were on the earlier album. Of this album, Brown notes that the music here is his interpretation of the “different stages we go through in our quest for true happiness.” He does elaborate for each tune here, but I will let you discover his comments for himself.

Drummer Blaxx opens “Fly By Night,” with a hip hop groove, before Ron lays down a chord and Dorsey starts a bass figure with the two coming to state the melody with a stop-time stutter added. It exhibits some of the playfulness and melodic qualities that characterize this recording. Douget and Brown both have marvelous tones, with Brown having a bright, lyrical sound but certainly get dig in and get a stinging tone as necessary. Pianist Rob also exhibits a lyrical tone to his playing. “Good Vibrations,” illustrates Brown’s ability to write material which should appeal to those with more of a smooth jazz tastes, but his playing here certainly will not put to asleep those whose tastes are more straight-ahead.

Its hard not to tap one’s feet or simply smile listening to Brown. One of my favorite tracks is “Time Tick Tock,” built around a Blaxx’s clock-like groove with Rob’s repeated piano riff that echoes the groove as the two horns engage in a call and response with each other before Brown takes off on his solo which elaborates on some of the melodic figures he had been passing back and forth with Douget. “Lovely,” is a ballad with some elegant sounding playing with Brown adding a mute for his solo. Echoes of the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid-sixties can be heard by the performance, “The Connection,” and the disc closes on the upbeat “Reflections.”

The Cycle of Love” is allruing and I have listened to it repeatedly the past few weeks. Shortly after receiving my review copy, I learned he was playing at the Kennedy Center’s K.C. Jazz Club backed by the quintet on the disc with the exception of a different bassist. There, before an audience that included Dr. Billy Taylor and pianist George Cables, Brown played a number of tunes from this, several from “Hip to Bop,” and gave the Errol Garner classic “Misty” a superb interpretation. Watching him perform, one sees the exhilaration he has in performing as he will stand on the side dancing along, swaying, twirling his trumpet and encouraging his band members. The performance certainly delighted all there.

The Cycle of Love”is available from, Louisiana Music Factory, and other sources as well as can be downloaded. Maurice Brown will be performing the first weekend at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, but both and Derek Douget will be performing in a variety of groups and likely also at some evening appearances at clubs while JazzFest is taking place. I certainly hope to cross their paths while I am in New Orleans for the second weekend of JazzFest. His website is

For purposes of FTC regulations, i received my review copy from Brown Records.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Siegel, Massé & Kinham's Marvelous Tribute to Johnny Mercer

Fresh impressions can be misleading and when I first heard the CD by JaLaLa several months ago, it did not leave a strong impression. Turning back to it after several months, I react quite differently as it was truly one of the musical delights of 2009.

JaLaLa is a female vocal trio of Janis Siegel, Laurel Massé, and Lauren Kinham. Siegel is a long-time member of Manhattan Transfer while Masse was a founding member of that celebrated vocal group. Kinham is a member of the New York Voices. The three got together to do a celebration of the music of Johnny Mercer, The Old Mercer Magic (Dare Records) which opens with the lively “Spring, Spring, Spring,” followed by a marvelous reworking of “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” which starts as if it was an Aretha Franklin alternate of “Chain of Fools,” before the trio tear into it as the band shifts to a New Orleans street funk groove with a terrific Lee Soloff trumpet solo.

Jeepers Creepers” features some dazzling vocalese from Siegel as well as a nifty guitar solo from Frank Vignola, while, Kinham delivers a buoyant “My Shining Hour,” transformed into a bossa nova. “Accentuate the Positive” playfully opens with a klezmer clarinet and a bit of as revival meeting before the three launch into their melodious harmony with a bouncy backing, lovely clarinet, keen steel guitar and some downhome fiddling, giving it a slight country tinge. “Dream” conjures up a World War II vocal trio such as the Andrew Sisters with simple guitar chord accompaniment.

I’m Old Fashioned” is a marvelous feature for Massé backed solely by bassist David Finck, while Kinham scats her way on “Riding on the Moon,” with pianist Yaron Gershovsky standing out as well as trumpeter Soloff playing with a mute. There is a playfulness throughout as well as an obvious love of Johnny Mercer. Also splendid is the medley of “Moon River” and “Moon Country,” which opens with Vignola’s guitar laying out the soft rhythm for Massé’s lovely vocal, before Siegel and Kinham join for “Moon Country,” with some steel guitar embellishments added, again displaying some original touches that they have brought to this marvelous tribute to one of the grand masters of American song. It should be readily available at various online stores (amazon, itunes, etc.) and better stores.

For FTC purposes, the review copy was sent me by the publicity firm handling this release.

Long John Hunter's Welcome Return To CD

Its been decades since Long John Hunter was swinging from the rafters at the Lobby Bar in Juarez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso. While he made some tough singles for small labels in the southwest such as Yucca in New Mexico including “El Paso Rock,” which became a staple of rocker’s Bobby Fuller’s performances as well. In 1993 Spindletop issued his first full album, “Ride With Me,” which led to him getting known outside of the Lone Star State and New Mexico. The label and Long John later was picked up by Alligator who issued two more excellent discs by Hunter, “Border Town Legend” and Swinging From the Rafters.” With Alligator he was united with long-time friend Phillip Walker and Lonnie Brooks for the “Lone Star Shootout,” recording. There was an album shared with his brother Tom “Blues Man” Hunter, “One Foot in the Texas” (Doc Blues). Since then he moved to Phoenix, Arizona area and while having some ‘heart work,” and no longer can swing from the rafters, but still playing his music and Dennis Walker, best known as Robert Cray’s producer has produced his latest recording, “Looking For A Party” (Blues Express).

For the recording, Walker put together a band of Jim Pugh, keyboards; Richard Cousins, bass; Alan Mirikitani, rhythm guitar; Lee Spath, drums and cowbell; and a horn section. The songs are all originals, although Long John only is credited with co-writing the title track. Grace Jones Hunter (his wife) is credited with co-writing a couple of songs. Walker and/or guitarist Mirikitani have contributed to all of the 11 tracks. There is a mix of material covering a range of moods and themes from the light title track to “Beggar Man,” a straight blues given a slightly mysterious feel lent by Pugh’s keyboards with Hunter’s back porch delivery with his grainy voice quite appealing. In fact what is evident is just how good he still sings and plays. “Looking For My Baby” has a Crescent City groove with some cowbell for punctuation with a typically nice guitar solo for Hunter whose use of space and silence is a model for many who tend to overplay. “I Know a Man,” is a heartfelt gospel number co-authored by his wife with a soulful flavor to the performance that benefits from the restrained accompaniment. The other song she helped write, “You Are My Love,” is a sincerely sung blues ballad. “Apple of My Eye,” is a nice rocking shuffle with a lyric of having been through hard times and bad luck but his woman is the apple of his eye, while another late night blues, “Greener Pastures,” has among the better lyrics here.

Compared to some of Hunter’s earlier recordings, the most of the lyrics seem generic, and lack the quirkiness and distinctiveness of the best of Hunter’s earlier recordings such as “Crazy Love,” or “Dream of the Devil.” This is not to say that these are bad performances or terrible songs, because that couldn’t be further from the truth as they are robust. Still, this is a worthwhile disc that reminds us fortunately that Long John Hunter is still around and playing his distinctive music. May you be lucky enough to have him visit a club or festival near you.

For the FTC, I got the review copy of this from Blues Express but I had purchased this prior to that by download.