Thursday, June 30, 2011

Demetria Taylor's Bad Girl Entertaining Debut

Delmark brings us another new CD by a Chicago blues woman, this time one whose family has deep blues roots. Demetria Taylor is the daughter of the late Eddie Taylor and her brothers Eddie Jr., Larry and Tim have previously established themselves in the blues world. With the release of her “Bad Girl,” Demetria is set to make her mark on this world as well. She is joined by her brother Eddie Jr. and Shun Kibuta on guitars; Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards; Greg McDaniel on bass and Pookie Styx (great name) on drums with guest appearances from Big Time Sarah, Billy Branch and Eddie Shaw.

For her first album there is a pretty diverse set of tunes but is in part a homage to the folks she was raised on. In certain cases like her medley of
I’m a Woman w/ “Hootchie Coochie Woman, and Voodoo Woman (with Eddie Shaw adding his growling sax), her indebtedness to Koko Taylor is clear although she doesn’t project as strongly as the late Chicago blues queen did. Her raspy voice really suits Magic Sam’s All Your Love, with her brother adding some nice guitar, while both Shaw’s sax and Branch’s harmonica (terrific solo in the Walter Horton vein) contribute to the title track, a nice swinging shuffle remake of her father’s Bad Boy, with once Eddie Jr. shining in his solo.

When You Leave, Don’t Take Nothing, taken from an Artie ‘Blues Boy” White recording, is a solid slow blues where she tells her man who has his suitcase and about to leave because not a damn thing belongs to him with terrific sax and Shaw adding some atmosphere with his sax. Its followed by a terrific rendition of Nora Jean Bruso’s shuffle Goin’ Back To Mississippi, with more strong playing from Eddie Jr., Shaw and Purifoy on piano. The band really cooks on this track.

Billy Branch returns to add his harp to
Big Boss Man, with the tempo taken a bit too fast, but with Shaw back she turns a superb vocal on Luther Allison’s Cherry Red Wine, as she worries about her baby, caressing the lyric. I dare say her vocal may top Allison’s original while her brother is stellar. Eddie Jr. contributed I Can’t Take It No More, a derivation of Messin’ With the Kid, followed by a remake of Trying To Make a Living. While these are well played, Demetria Taylor doesn’t have as much vocal presence on these songs. The album closes with two Willie Dixon songs, Little Red Rooster and Wang Dang Doodle, which she shares with Big Time Sarah. These are enjoyable, although not remarkable, performances, with Billy Branch contributing some nice harmonica and Eddie doing a nice Hubert Sumlin imitation on the latter number.

Demetria Taylor’s
Bad Girl has excellent performances along with some that show her potential. She states she intends to do originals on her next album and display a bit more versatility on her next recording, and after this promising debut will have many waiting to see how it turns out.

I received my review copy from Delmark.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jeff Fairbanks' Project Hansori's Mulberry Street Has Fresh Big Band Sounds

Trombonist and composer Jeff Fairbanks was inspired by the convergence of cultures in New York City, especially around Mulberry Street where Little Italy intersects with Chinatown.He notes that in the south end of this street, some “Chinese-run funeral parlors, while conducting Buddhist ceremonies, maintain the Western brass band tradition established by their previous Italian operators. As a player in the brass band, my interest was caught by this unique and unlikely blend of cultures.” It is this blending of Asian (Chinese and Korean) and Western musical traditions that is the heart of the Fairbanks’ Project Hansori, a big band that explores his efforts at a musical fusion. “Hansori” is Korean for “one sound,” and Fairbanks’ ensemble attempts to bring distinct parts together in an original way on an new BJU Records release Mulberry Street. With his band is a special guest, Fred Ho on baritone sax, but the players are unfamiliar to these ears.

The opening selection is one of two he hasn’t composed,
San Ma Da, by Jae-Hoon Park, is a Korean church hymn about the fall harvest, and Fairbanks makes an impressive solo statement followed by Remy Le Bouef’s slippery soprano and Linda Oh’s impressive bass. Fairbanks’ sophisticated arrangements adds atmosphere and texture for the lively performance. Woodside Story opens with Chinese flavor in the reeds (flute and clarinet) along with Chinese percussion before becoming a spirited performance incorporating the Chinese musical figures within the swinging big band performance with John Yao buzzing on trombone and Michael Webster on tenor sax constructing a marvelous solo.

Hoping For Hope is based on a certain rhythmic pattern in Korean Samulnori (“four objects sound”) music with Fairbanks stating the theme first against Francesca Han’s piano effectively making use of repetition, with the scoring of mostly clarinets against the brass very appealing here and guitarist Sebastian Noelle effectively working off the percussive center of this number with the horns playing building into a rhythmic frenzy. Han Oh Baek Nyeon/ 500 Years is a quartet rendition of an old Korean folk song with Fairbanks trombone along with Rami Selo on gayageum, Heun Choi Fairbanks on cello and Yosun Yoo on percussion with the cello expressing a somber tone reinforced by Jeff Fairbanks trombone. Bi Bim Bop is built on the spoken rhythm of the title and a 12-tone row that is constantly twisted and recycled to considerable effect.

The core of this disc is the marvelous
Mulberry Street Suite, which, as noted, was inspired by the brass bands at Chinese-run funeral parlors. At certain funerals, both Western and traditional Chinese bands perform “often playing songs against each other in a tradition of using music to scare away evil spirits.” The suite is Fairbanks attempt to create “an abstract impressionism of these experiences.” Part 1: Entrance and Funeral March. is solemnly played as Han’s piano rings the tempo of a brass band entering the home and playing a dirge with a brief soprano sax interlude with Jason Wiseman trumpet solo exploiting the middle range.

Part 11: Scaring Away Evil Spirits with Joyful Sounds, has a contrasting mood after the initial incorporation of Chinese folkloric sounds and percussion as well as scoring soprano saxophones to suggest the oboe-like suona. Fred Ho takes a short baritone sax solo at the beginning while Erica Van Kleist takes a lengthier solo interlude on alto sax that is rooted in the lower register of the instrument followed by mesmerizing interplay between the various band sections. Part III: Releasing Grief is a portrayal of moments in a Chinese funeral of releasing all their grief. Fred Ho enters unaccompanied before the full band comes in playing both Buddhist and Christian hymns with Ho taking a lengthy solo reaching deep down as well as adding squeaks and squalls set against Fairbanks somewhat dramatic scoring. “Part IV: The Send-off, with a trombone solo by Mark Miller at the beginning, evokes the part of a funeral where the casket is brought outside several bands play simultaneously. To achieve this effect the band is split into five separate ensembles near the end playing separate melodies. It serves as a dazzling coda, not simply to the suite, but the album.

The composition,
Mulberry Street was commissioned by the BMI Foundation Charlie Parker Composition Prize with other grant support for the project. With Mulberry Street, the Jeff Fairbanks Hansori Project has produced a fresh and stellar big band recording that has brought together various musical traditions for a fresh and dazzling musical experience that is likely to be among this listener’s best of 2011. Highly recommended.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for the recording.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jeff Golub's Tribute to Three Blues Kings

Veteran of tours with Rod Stewart, and Billy Squier as well as spending time in the James Montgomery band, Jeff Golub has distinguished in recent years as a jazz guitarist. His most recent album has him heading back to the blues with a tribute recording The Three Kings (Entertainment One), a tribute to Albert, B.B., and Freddie King. As he states, "When you look at the modern blues and rock vocabulary, it's almost impossible for anyone to play something that doesn't reflect their influence somehow. Featured on this disc is Henry Butler on keyboards and vocals, who co-produced it with Golub, Andy Hess on bass, and Josh Dion on drums, percussion and vocals. Special guests include Sonny Landreth and Robben Ford, while others in the studio include Chris Palmaro on Hammond B3, and horns and synth strings are heard as well.

There is a mix of covers and some originals that make for an entertaining collection of performances. Butler helps things start with the opening rendition of
Let The Good Times Roll, and Born Under a Bad Sign, both solidly sung by Butler, but modeled on the recordings by B.B. and Albert respectively. Golub's instrumental "I Plain Sight, enables him to escape the shadows of both while also allowing Landreth to add a sharp slide guitar solo. Help the Poor, is not an overly familiar part of B.B.'s repertoire and Dion takes a fine vocal with a fresh arrangement. It is followed by Freddie King's instrumental Side Tracked, with Robben Ford adding a solo on a nice rendition with some nice twists in the backing.

Oh Pretty Woman, sounds slowed down slightly from Albert King's original and has a fine vocal from Butler with solid guitar and followed by a hot shuffle rendition Every Day I Have the Blues, with Dion taking another fine vocal. After Golub's hot solo, Butler takes a rollicking piano solo. Then a couple more of Freddie King's songs are tackled with Butler singing Have You Loved a Woman, and Dion on I'm Tore Up. with Golub's hard-edged guitar sounding like a mix of Freddie and Albert in his very solid playing."Freddie's Midnite Dream, a Sonny Thompson penned instrumental from his Cotillion recordings follows, and its lazy feel contrasts with many of King's better known instrumentals with Golub varying in intensity against the light background.

Stumblin' Home is an original instrumental based on The Stumble with nice use of the lower range. Butler wrote the original Three Kings with his celebration of Albert, Freddie and B.B., with a slight New Orleans funk rhythm and punchy horns to support Golub's driving guitar. The disc closes with an instrumental rendition of The Thrill Is Gone, but one is surprised to see that B.B. is credited as composer of the Rick Darnell and Roy Hawkins penned classic (and Hawkins 1951 original made the R&B charts). Golub's playing is pretty solid with judicious use of sustain along with Butler’s jazzy piano.

The Three Kings is a very enjoyable collection of blues performances. While most of the disc is comprised of covers, they are not slavish copies although most will be overshadowed by the originals. Drummer Josh Dion was a revelation as a vocalist on his three selections and the originals stand out in the set of solid blues performances.

My review copy was provided by a publicist.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lively Cajun Country Revival Is Right Musical Combination

It was blues researchers with eclectic tastes such as the late Mike Leadbitter, one of the forces behind Blues Unlimited, and Arhoolie Records’ Chris Strachwitz, that helped generate my enthusiasm for zydeco and cajun music while in college. Clifton Chenier’s music provided a bridge that led to an Arhoolie album by Lawrence Walker, and then the Hackberry Ramblers, and then mail order purchase of Cleveland Crochet, Joseph Falcon, The Balfa Brothers, Nathan Abshire, Joel Sonnier and Belton Richard. I could not understand the lyrics but the crying fiddle, the propulsive accordion, the heartfelt cries and yells and the lovely waltzes and driving two-steps enthralled me.

And then younger musicians like Michael Doucet and Beausoleil and Steve Riley helped keep the tradition alive while reinvigorating it as they revived obscure older tunes and wrote contemporary songs. More recently younger bands like The Pine Leaf Boys have also emerged. One of the members of this band is a young accordionist, Wilson Savoy, son of Marc Savoy, noted accordionist and accordion maker, and Ann Savoy, noted vocalist. His brother, Joel Savoy has emerged as a traditionally rooted fiddler who has partnered with accordionist Jesse Lége.

While in the Pacific Northwest. Jesse and Joel met up with he Portland, Oregon Caleb Klauder Country Band and they hit things so well that they came back to Eunice, Louisiana to record a terrific new recording as Jesse Lége, Joel Savoy and the Cajun Country Revival, The Right Combination, on Valcour Records. Valcour Records is a label that Joel Savoy started to promote music rooted in Louisiana traditions. In addition to Lége and Savoy, the musicians include Caleb Klauder, vocalist and guitarist; with Sammy Lind on guitar, fiddle and vocals; Nadine Landry on bass and vocals; Paul Brainard electric and steel guitar; and Ned Folkerth on drums. Savoy notes that many of the songs had not even had full run throughs before being recorded. “I hope that you put this record on and just smile. That’s all I want, just smile and be happy and know that this record was made the same way. We had so much fun making it and we’re proud to share it with you.”

The performances sure got my toes tapping and brought out a big smile from me. The instrumentation is a bit fuller than some of those accordion and fiddle bands I listened to on record 40 years ago. The exuberance and terrific music is the same. There are renditions of classic cajun recordings such as Adam Hebert’s Ouvre La Porte (Open the Door), a lively two-step which Lége’s sings with gusto, the lovely rendition of the classic Evangeline Waltz, and the closing blues, Corina, based on a Lawrence Walker recording Alberta (and it should be noted that Leadbelly also performed it as Alberta). In addition to these cajun delights, there is Wondering, with its mix of cajun waltz and Texas honky tonk sung by both Lége and Klauder; Tippy Toe, a lively cajun accented treatment of a Loretta Lynn recording, that Nadine Landry delivers a delightful vocal on; and the Porter Wagoner composed title tune, wonderfully sung by Klauder and Landry and wonderfully played.

The CD contains full liner notes in the form of an enhanced pdf file that contains song notes as well as song lyrics (including English translations), a video of Jesse and Joel with the Caleb Klauder Country Band in a Northwest studio performing Ouvre La Porte, excerpts from some of the original recordings interpreted here and more. Joel Savoy doesn’t like being called traditionalists in that they play in the moment, but still they display the joy of a living tradition. Their personality to the fore with their friends for a recording that will be a joy for all lovers of Louisiana music.

I caught part of The Cajun Country Revival’s Set set at JazzFest this year and it was as terrific and as much fun as the recording. Makes me wish i knew how to dance. You can check out for information on this which is also available at the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans,, and better music vendors.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Broonzy Biographer Bob Riesman Coming to DC's Politics and Prose July 7

Since today is what would be the 98th Birthday of Big Bill Broonzy. it is appropriate to alert folks around Washington DC about the upcoming appearance in Washington by Broonzy biographer Bob Riesman.

Thursday evening, July 7, Bob Riesman, author of “I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy” (2011 University of Chicago Press) will be appearing at Politics and Prose to discuss his biography of the Chicago blues legend who passed away over half a century ago, but whose music and life still influences the blues world of today. He is scheduled to speak starting at 7:00PM

On its website, Politics and Prose ( notes “Riesman’s life of Big Bill Broonzy (1903-1958) encompasses the bluesman’s many pivotal roles. From melding the traditional, rural blues of his native Arkansas Delta region with the urban sound in 1930s Chicago, to influencing the resurgence of folk music after World War II and inspiring the blues-rock musicians of the 1960s, Broonzy was a key figure for 20th-century popular music.”

Riesman, in compiling this biography did considerable research as well as interviewed countless people including “ including blues man Billy Boy Arnold (who was mentored by Big Bill and is scheduled to have an album of Broonzy’s music released), members of Broonzy’s family, Bill Randle who produced the last interviews of Broonzy, Studs Terkel, David ’Honeyboy’ Edwards, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Pete Seeger, Rambling Jack Elliott, Jody Williams, Jimmie Lee Robinson and Ron Sweetman. He also explored the archives of Yannick Bruynoghe, and Jim O’Neal provided tapes of an interview with Blind John Davis and a transcript of one with Memphis Slim.

In his research of Broonzy, Riesman was able to ascertain that Big Bill Broonzy’s real name is Lee Bradley and he was born in Jefferson County, Arkansas on June 26, 1903, the fourth and last boy of Frank and Mittie Bradley, and the Bradley Family lived in Jefferson County outside Pine Bluff from the 1880s through the 1920s. Riesman traces his musical and recording career, including both his prominence in the Chicago blues from the thirties until his death, the significant role he played in establishing the folk music circuit as his pioneering tours of Europe.

In a May 2 review on this blog, I concluded “I Feel So Good was a compelling read and a biography worthy of the subject, whose blues are timeless. Highly recommended.” Politics and Prose is located at 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 and the phone number is 202-364-1919 or 800-722-0790. Directions to it can be found on their web page.

Bob Riesman is also scheduled to appear on Sirius-XM’s B.B. King’s Bluesville with Bill Wax on Monday, July 11, although as I post this it is not clear whether he will be on live or taped for later broadcast.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"People Think That When White People Scream That’s It's Soul"

I am in the middle of reading John Einarson’s Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love (Jawbone Press), which details the rise and fall of the pioneering Los Angeles band and its charismatic leader. In the book, Lee recalls his first appearance at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium. The opening act was Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding company and Lee was not overwhelmed by her singing.

“We headlined at the Fillmore and I remember I had to stand and listen to Janis Joplin scream. She was the great white hope for the blues, but all she did was scream. You see, people think that when white people scream that’s it’s soul. But that isn’t soul, it’s just screaming. I remember being in Washington, D.C. once, and the security guard asked me, when i walked on stage, “Hey Arthur, you gonna go up there and do some more screamin’?” Man, that really hit my heart and I haven’t written a screaming song since.”

I have about 2/3rd of this to still read, and up next after it is Phillip Radcliffe’s recently published biography of Mississippi john Hurt. (Both are purchases).

Oh here is another quote from pianist Brad Mehldau (from the Ottawa Citizen’s website) discussing non jazz acts at Jazz Festivals such as they hold in Ottawa. He recognizes the economic reality but he also mentions one aspect of what might be called other genres trading on jazz.

Brad Mehldau's most recent solo recording.
“The ill will starts when people trade on the term “jazz.” When I started doing the festival circuit, around 1990, I noticed that each year there would be a different genre to appear -- you’d have acid jazz, Klezmer music, DJs, etc. Not to belittle or question the validity that surrounds these kinds of music, but merely to show what I mean by trading on jazz, I’ve observed a common byline in the media that surrounds these different genres. It’s like “This is the new music that’s going to release us from a narrow definition of jazz.” The implication is that jazz isn’t hip enough in its own right, that it needs fresh blood, and aren’t we the listeners lucky that we’re going to get pulled out of the cobwebs? But this sentiment is full of bad faith. Why is this music appearing on a jazz festival then, when the whole subtext is that it’s too hip for jazz? In fact you could argue that often it’s the opposite case -- often musicians trade on the allure of jazz as a term to get over, simultaneously thumbing their nose at jazz. That’s a drag.

The full quote can be found at

I can find parallels with what he says with a lot of the so-called new blues, that I might suggest is similarly trading on blues as a genre. Artists playing music that twenty years ago would have been labelled rock without controversy is supposedly going to expand the blues audience, but bring an audience that will pretty much ignore “traditional blues.” 

I have a lot of respect for Ray Manzarek’s work with the Doors and Roy Rogers work with the late John lee Hooker and his own blues-rock music, but I don’t see a lot of festivals going out of their way to feature blues legends like Jimmy Johnson and Jody Williams, as they seem to be to feature this pair. A woman is featured on the cover of Blues Revue and yet I would be hard pressed to name one blues song on her most recent CD (which isn’t saying the music isn’t good, just that it ain’t blues). 

If promoting music like this (music that one might suggest is 'trading on the blues") is keeping the blues alive, perhaps the blues would be better off taken off life support. Let the music rest on its own qualities but just don't try to call it what it isn't.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ron Carter's Masterful CTI Classic "All Blues"

Sony Masterworks has reissued in the USA, Ron Carter's All Blues, in a CTI-40th Anniversary Edition remastered from the original two-track analog tracks. It is presented in a softpack sleeve that replicates the original vinyl LP and iconic cover design. Carter, one of the greatest bassists in the history of jazz, was joined on this CTI session by a group that included Sir Roland Hanna on piano, Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and Billy Cobham on drums with Richard Tee playing electric piano on one track. This 1973 session was originally issued in 1974 at a time when Carter may have been at his greatest popularity.

From the personnel listed above, one should not be surprised that this is a marvelously played collection of mostly blues related compositions. There is the elegant piano of Roland Hanna, the clean tenor sax of Henderson, the firm anchor of Carter and his bass with Cobham swinging. The performances come across as very precisely played with a chamber group feel to some extent. This is noticed on the opening,
A Feeling, a brisk finger snapping number, deftly performed. This is followed by Light Blue, where Hanna spare playing sets the mood on this tone poem before joined Cobham's light percussion and Carter's bass.

117 Special, Richard Tee's electric piano sets forth a dreamy mood under Henderson's saxophone lead. Henderson plays with a breathy tone, but little other tonal embellishment. He is followed by Carter for a thoughtful piccolo bass solo. Rufus starts as a trio performance, with Henderson and Carter engaging in a dialogue with Cobham adding embellishments and accents before Hanna enters with light, swinging, piano.  The centerpiece is  Miles Davis’ All Blues, on which Carter states the theme followed by Henderson whose solo builds with intensity with Cobham superb in support. Hanna's piano provides a brief bridge before Carter solos at length. Carter is unaccompanied for a remarkable performance on Will You Still Be Mine.

Ron Carter's
All Blues was immaculately played with thoughtfulness and elegance. While this writer might have preferred a bit more grit and fire during this blues-centered recording, one can appreciate the grace and skill exhibited. The remastering for CTI's 40th Anniversary enables all of the nuances of the performances here to be appreciated.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for this release.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Evan Christopher Remembering Songs On The Clarinet Road

One of two new albums, clarinetist Evan Christopher had issued in 2010, Remembering Song (Arbors), is another exploration in following the clarinet road he has has embarked on the last two decades or so. A 2011 Jazz Journalist Association finalist for clarinet, and a favorite of Nat Hentoff and the late Ahmet Ertegun, Christopher is joined by a fine quartet with legendary Bucky Pizzarelli on acoustic guitar, James Chirillo on electric guitar and bassist Greg Cohen. As quoted in Larry Blumenfeld’s notes, Christopher observes “By not using drums, the texture is more introspective, more subtle.”

After a brief introduction of
The Remembering Song, the group launches into Christopher’s original The Wrath of Grapes” inspired by a wine shop-cum-performance space in the Bywater area which has embedded within a quote from Louis Prima’s Sing Sing Sing. Its a lively performance with Christopher’s warm, fluid swooping tone complemented by the band and Chirillo takes a nice horn like solo. Way Down in New Orleans starts at a languid, dreamy tempo with the interplay between Christopher’s warm woody tone accented by Chirillo’s single note responses, before the performance revives a tango section in the original sheet music before transitioning back to the dreamy mood for the lovely close. Christopher’s The River By the Road is inspired by a quote from Sidney Bechet’s autobiography with bassist Cohen taking a solo on a performance that conjures up a picnic on a delightful spring day.

Tommy Ladnier is somewhat forgotten figure these days but he had a close association with Sidney Bechet, and his
Mojo Blues is a lovely minor key tune with a bluesy mood and wonderful solos from all four. Bechet is inspiration for You Gotta Treat it Gentle another lovely melody that Christopher develops and caresses. The quartet take what Blumenfeld describes as a deliberate tempo on the rarely performed Jelly Roll Morton ruminative composition, My Home Is a Southern Town followed by the delightfully lazy Serenade. The Remembering Song heard in a full rendition, is an original that sounds so familiar yet new and the performance particularly sings.

Evan Christopher is a thoughtful person who continues to mine what some would consider traditional byways of jazz, yet brings a contemporary approach along with substantial lyricism and soulfulness to his music.
Remembering Song is simply amongst the latest recording of his sublime playing and music.

I purchased this recording

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

John Boutté Crescent City Vocal Magic

John Boutté at 2011 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Photo © Ron Weinstock
I had heard of John Boutté and even purchased his CD Jambalaya prior to ever having a chance to see him perform. His performance of Louisiana 1927 from the first post-Katrina JazzFest, issued on a WWOZ CD for members, was one of the most compelling vocal performances I had heard in some time, and supplanted Marcia Ball for delivering the definitive performance of this Randy Newman song, of course enhanced by new lyrics and a terrific Leroy jones trumpet solo. Finally getting to see him a few years ago, he has become one of the must see acts at the New Orleans JazzFest, if his performances are the same weekend as I attend. Also, I have been fortunate to stay for his entire sets this year and 2009 as well as much of the set in 2010.

Boutté’s sets are also fortunately documented by JazzFest Live, the service that makes available on either CD or download, a number of performances from each year’s festival (Check This year’s set (from April 30, 2011 at the WWOZ Jazz Tent) was no exception so I am able to savor the performance I enjoyed in person. And what is striking is how his sets may have overlap in songs between years, but partly with different bands, but also partly from his own fresh interpretation of the same material, performances have a different character.

This year he had a full horn section with a piano-less band that included a fine band. The difference allows even songs performed one year after another like the Steve Goodman classic City of New Orleans (Arlo Guthrie did not write it) to sound transformed from his studio (and did the nice trombone solo in addition to trumpet), or earlier live performance from 2009. Same can be said of the traditional gospel “Beautiful City, titled by the JazzFestLive folks as One of These Days, with the earlier performance standing out with forceful acoustic guitar and trumpet in its sparser backing.

Then there is the jazz standard that opens this, Basin Street Blues, and a wonderful rendition of Little Willie John’s “Let Them Talk (titled by JazzFest Live as I Want The World To Know) done as a tribute to the legendary James Booker with nice horn voicings in support. Particularly moving is the moving rendition of his post-Katrina collaboration with Paul Sanchez Try to Find a Meaning, which he dedicated to those suffering in the Midwest US and Japan suffering from the natural disasters of the first part of 2011. 

John Boutté - Photo © Ron Weinstock
Boutté combines a marvelous delivery of a song’s lyrics with a way of phrasing that is completely engaging, mixed with a warm stage presence. Then there is also a wonderful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, with lovely flute accompaniment. By the time John Boutté closed with Treme Song, which many will know from the HBO series Treme, the audience had been satiated with his performance even if we wanted it to continue for another hour. And like his other JazzFest performances available from JazzFest Live, this sounds so very good back home.

I look forward to my next opportunity to listen to a musical Boutté call. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Davina and the Vagabonds Lifting That Black Cloud

Hailing from the Twin Cities, Davina and the Vagabonds is apparently one of the hardest working bands in that area, combining the vocals and piano of Davina Sowers with an intriguing line-up of trumpet, trombone, bass and drums. Inspirations include blues, traditional New Orleans jazz and cabaret that have made them in demand for a variety of musical festivals. John Hammer has labelled their sound “hot jazz-blues-cabaret-soul-lounge-rock,” a label seems apt to this writer, particularly after listening to their 4th CD (first to these ears) is “Black Cloud” on Roustabout Records, that has Ms. Sowers joined by Michael Carvale’s bass, Darren Sterud’s trombone, Connor McRae’s drums, and Dan Eikmeer’s trumpet on a program of Ms. Sowers’ originals.

After a brief raucous opening “Vagabond Stomp,” the title track, “Black Cloud” with Davina’s forceful vocal on a performance comes off like a Brecht pastiche, followed by the pop flavored “Disappears,” with Sterud taking a blustery trombone solo with plenty as she displays her clean articulation of her lyrics as well as plays. “Start Runnin” starts as she slowly warns someone to step up or start running because otherwise Davina is gonna make a mess of her going for a slow march to a breakneck tempo with nice muted trumpet from Eikmeer with rollicking piano from Davina.

Its typical of the tone of much of this album as Davina sounds theatrical and/or campy one song such as “Start Runnin, and then comes off like an innocent lovestruck girl on the lovely ballad, Sugar Moon. The theatrical flavor of Pushpin, contrasts with the rollicking Crescent City grooves of Lipstick Chrome, as he shouts “nothing could go wrong” as the band answers with "nothing." Davina takes a nice piano solo here on a performance that would be home on the stage at dba’s or The Spotted Cat. It is followed by a lovely soul ballad River, where she sings wistfully about doing her lover wrong. Sterud’s muted trombone solo adds some appropriate coloring behind her vocal.

“Black Cloud” is a marvelously entertaining recording that is well sung and well played. Maybe some moments are a bit too cute (which may be a consequence of there approach after all), and perhaps she might lighten her vocals on an occasion. But that its perhaps getting a bit too analytical as opposed to simply enjoying the fun and pleasures that Davina and the Vagabonds bring. They may be hard to classify as to musical genre, but they are very easy to listen to and enjoy. Their website is which links to itunes.

My review copy was provided by a publicist.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quintus McCormick Puts The Blues On Us!!!

In reviewing Quintus McCormick’s debut CD Hey Jodie (Delmark), this writer found it to be “a marvelous debut album by a blues voice I to hear more from.” About two years later and Delmark has brought us its follow-up Put It On Me! It is a release that builds upon his strengths whether working ins straight blues or in a straight deep soul vein. On this release, in addition to his fine quartet of John Chorney on keyboards, Vic Jackson on bass and Jeremiah Thomas on drums, their are appearance by Billy Branch on harmonica and the Chicago horns.

About his prior album, I observed that McCormick has “developed into a contemporary urban blues voice with a strong soul-blues tinge. He brings a vocal style that captures elements of Charles Wilson, Little Milton, and others with an intense guitar style… .” There is more of this on this release that show him moving from a lazy Jimmy Reed styled shuffle
You Just Using Me; to Talk Baby, with its funk and his high tenor vocal; and to the soulful ballad How Quick We Forget, with some deep Brook Benton evoking singing, with a fuzzy toned, buzzy guitar solo. Its a pretty remarkable variety, and that’s just the first three numbers.

There is a fine blues,
I Got It Babe, with a Malaco groove (think Down Home Blues) where he sings “I got what you need, make you scream like you’re sweet sixteen” to effective spare backing. John Chorney shines on keyboards here. Another good blues is The Blues Has Been Good to Me with a fine vocal and nice harp from Billy Branch. In contrast, Loveland, with the Chicago horns, is a ballad with a nice groove. The following blues shuffle, “Don’t Know What to Do, has more fine Billy Branch harp and a strong McCormick vocal, but also a fuzzy blues-rock guitar solo that detracts from the performance. The title track is a nice blues performance whose melody hints at Muddy Waters’ classic recording of I’m Ready.

The country soul of “Sadie” has jazzier guitar playing as well with McCormick asking the woman to leave him alone. Another fine slow blues vocal is on
Lady Blues with more good guitar (suggestive of mid-60s B.B. King and Detroit bluesman Johnnie Bassett) while the closing Hallelujah, is a wonderfully sung R&B styled gospel number played in a low-key manner. It closes an impressive second album by McCormick who certainly shows absolutely no sophomore slump on this excellent Put It On Me!

My review copy was supplied by the record company.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Shawn Pittman Takes His Blues and Roots to Edge of the World

Shawn Pittman certainly has come a long way since growing up in a small Oklahoma town listening to Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry on the radio and a grandmother, Juanita James, playing stride piano. He got hooked on the blues listening to records by the likes of Jimmy reed, Elmore James and Albert King and in his relatively short life has become a significant part of the Texas blues scene. For example, a CD he recorded with the Moeller Brothers was strongly praised by Living Blues.

Pittman's newest recording,
Edge of the World (Delta Groove) is my first exposure to his recordings. Through overdubbing he plays all the instruments except for the saxophones added by Jonathan Doyle and upon repeated listening this listener is impressed by the overall sound. He lays down a solid rhythm and plays some blistering guitar that continues in the vein Texas legends like Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, Albert Collins, Cal and Clarence Green, sand Little Joe Washington with his twisting guitar lines and switch-blade guitar tone.

With a semi-retired criminal defense attorney, Pittman has crafted a number of solid blues tunes although he opens with Howlin' Wolf's
Sugar, transformed into a Houston 5th Ward shuffle. His vocal diction may be slightly muffled, but his lyrics are readily understood and his fervent delivery impresses. Slim Harpo perhaps inspired the delivery on Leanin' Load, with a nice swamp blues rhythm and a terrific solo that would have made Johnny Copeland smile. A nice Texas Shuffle, Scents of Yours Benjamins has a cautionary lyric about gold digging ladies who are making their withdrawals as Doyle adds some horns in the backing.

Almost Good combines Texas blues guitar with a New Orleans rock and roll groove with riffing saxophones, while the title track (co-written with Braken Hale) mixes Pittman's Texas guitar with a Howlin' Wolf groove. Pittman’s lead guitar comes across as mixing Hubert Sumlin unpredictable lines mixed with Ike Turner's tone while he sings about his woman leaving him standing at the edge of the world.  That's the Thing sounds like how Guitar Slim (or Earl King) might have reworked Elmore James' recording of It Hurts Me Too. Its an apt example how Pittman has, in his evolution, taken a variety of influences in developing his own approach and crafting his original blues songs. I've Had Enough has some nasty, distorted slide guitar as he tells his woman, its time for things to change.

In his notes to this release, Pittman notes that his favorite records are from the 50s and 60s, recorded with minimal technology and achieved a warm sound that he and others miss in recordings today. "There was more of a live sound and certain soul that reverberated through those records." Despite his overdubbing, this writer salutes him for capturing the sound and feel of those records here.
Edge of the World has a soulfulness that captures the spirit of those classic recordings making for an exceptional blues recording.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for the release.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hummel's Blues Harp Meltdowns Are Harp Fans Delight!

There are a number of today’s top practitioners of blues harmonica on the second volume of Blues Hap Meltdown: East Meets West Live at Moe’s Alley on Mountain Top. Recorded at the annual blues harp tour that Mark Hummel puts together, this recording features RJ Mischo, Gary Smith, Frank Goldwasser (aka Paris Slim), Mark Hummel, Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, Johnny Dyer and Gary Primich.

The two discs present over two hours of music that is often exceptional. Most of the performances might be described as in the West Coast jump vein, a mix of post war Chicago blues with jump blues rhythms and guitar seasoning that is associated with such artists as Rod Piazza and the late Hollywood Fats. The backing is provided by Hummel’s band, The Blues Survivors with Paris Slim and Paul Rishell each guesting on guitar on several tracks.

There’s plenty of muscular harp from the participants. RJ Mischo starts things off with Telephone Blues before Gary Smith, veteran of the San Francisco Bay blues scene, contributes the moody You Can’t Hurt Me No More and a rocking reworking of Little Walter’s It Ain’t Right, with Frank Goldwasser adding nice guitar. Goldwasser plays harp and sings Junior Parker’s All These Blues followed by Hummel on the Moon Mullican rocker, Seven Nights to Rock and I’m Gone. Paul Rishell laying down strong Elmore James flavored slide on this latter tune. With Annie Raines on harp, Paul revives a nice swamp blues, Nothing But the Devil to close out the first disc. Annie handles a couple vocals with the lyrics of Little Dog being amusing, and has a outstanding instrumental Annie’s Rocker. Johnny Dyer handles classic blues from Muddy Waters, J.B. Lenoir and Little Walter with a bit more down home vocal style before Gary Primich closes this two-disc set with a mix of originals and Smiley Lewis songs.

Overall some consistently very good blues to be heard on this. I understand Cephas and Wiggins were among those who performed at this year’s blues harp meltdown earlier this year which hopefully will be documented by a Volume 3.

In fact Cephas and Wiggins were among those on the third volume in this series by Hummel for which I did a short review as follows:

Cephas & Wiggins also heard on Blues Harp Meltdown Vol.3 Legends (Mountain Top), the third cd documenting Mark Hummel’s annual tour of harp masters. Recorded in January 2004, Hummel brought to the tour guitarist Steve Freund, drummer-harmonica player Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, Carey bell & Lazy Lester for a smorgasbord of blues stylings.

Hummel himself is a formidable harp player and revives a Lloyd Price Crescent City rocker
Where Y’at along with Little Walter’s Roller Coaster followed by Freund who sings two numbers followed by Smith ably handling Hoodoo Man Blues. Cephas & Wiggins come off typically fine on five numbers including an instrumental, Fats Domino’s Going to the River and Robert Johnson’s Walkin’ Blues.

The second disc has some strong performances by Bell including
It Ain’t Right and I’m Ready while Lazy Lester handles his own Blues Stop Knocking, Slim Harpo’s Raining in My Heart and his Sugar Coated Love. Freund plays on Bell’s selections and Hummel’s band able supports all the performances except those by Cephas & Wiggins. Blues harp fans will find plenty of music to entertain them here.

Both of the above reviews appeared in the
DC Blues Calendar, newsletter of the Dc Blues Society that I edited. The review of Blues Harp Meltdown Volume 2 appeared in the April 2004 issue while the review of Blues Harp Meltdown Volume 3 appeared in July-August 2006. The review of Volume 3 appeared in the July-August 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 284). I believe that this was a purchase.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Grady Champion's "Dreamin'"

In the liner notes of his new CD Dreamin’ (GSM), Grady Champion recalls the year that followed his winning the 2010 International Blues Challenge presented by the Blues Foundation. It was a year that brought him recognition, both locally and internationally. Dreamin’ is a follow-up to Back In Mississippi Live At The 930 Blues Cafe which was rereleased on Earwig last year. This recording is produced by Zac Harmon and Christopher Troy who provide most of the backing for Champion on this.

About the earlier record I wrote. “The albums strengths include the fact that Grady is a terrific vocalist who exhibits considerable personality and enthusiasm as he sings … He is an effective, credible harp player if not a virtuoso, with Rice Miller being an obvious influence.” These comments apply (although I might suggest Detroit’s Little Sonny is a similar harp stylist to Champion) to the present recording opening with a strutting
My Rooster Is King where he forcefully sings backed by his overdubbed harp about the rooster that spreads his wings and rules the roost. The title song, has an effective employment of a vocal chorus, as he sings about dreaming of loving his girl like no one before. There is some effective tremolo laced guitar backing his vocal.

Weight of the World is an attractive soul ballad with Troy adding accordion sounding fills on his keyboards. Guilty As Charged, with an emphatic accompaniment, has an intriguing lyric about proclaiming his love while cheating and breaking his woman’s heart as a harp riff punctuates his vocal. Harmon and Champion collaborated on Same Train with an urgent vocal of waiting at the station for the train to bring his baby back. Make That Monkey Jump is a simple dance number while Cross That Bridge is a southern soul number about a couple sneaking behind their spouses and knowing its wrong but unable to stop. A straight down in the alley groove frames Thank You For Giving Me the Blues, with a strong vocal. Harmon is striking on guitar here. The backing vocals detracts from the country flavor of “Laugh, Smile, Cry Sometimes” (whose melody suggests Ray Charles’ I Got a Woman). Zac Harmon takes a spoken vocal on the closing Walk With Me Baby, that sounds like a funky 2011 equivalent of Scratch My Back as Champion’s harp adds atmosphere.

Grady Champion brings an animated, fervent style to his music and with a varied program of material. If not a world class harp player, his playing does compliment his strong singing.
Dreamin’ will undoubtedly please his fans and make him new ones.

I received a review copy of this from a publicist.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Anne Mette Iversen Celebrates Jazz & Motherhood

Bassist-composer Anne Mette Iversen is among the jazz artists associated with the Brooklyn Jazz Underground and the associated BJU records has just issued Milo Songs. Performed by her Quartet with her on bass, John Ellis on tenor sax and clarinet, Danny Grissett on piano and Otis Brown III on drums, the seven compositions on this album grew from a melody her son made up at the age of 2, and the recording is an affirmation and her celebration of her successfully juggling motherhood and being a professional jazz musician. She explains that the titles of her compositions indicate her intent that each tells stories of a child’s life such as the turbulence of a new sibling in the home, the ability to focus on something seemingly unimportant to others, the fantasy world, dreams shared with mom in the morning and more.

Whatever the particular employment of Milo’s song in a specific composition, the seven years of having played together is reflected in the interplay among the quartet. The performances flow organically as on the opening
The Terrace, on which Ellis displays a full tenor sound as Grissett dances around him, while Brown adds percussive accents and Iversen anchors the quartet before Grissett takes a strong solo. From the somewhat romantic feel of The Terrace the mood shifts on the The Storm. This opens as a heated dialogue between Ellis and Grissett before Brown and Iversen join in to vigorously frame the pair’s call and response with each other. Then Grissett launches into his high energy solo followed by some vigorous tenor sax.

Drum Dreams, with Ellis on clarinet, has a meditative tone to it and both Grissett and Ellis display restraint while Iversen’s bass provides a strong axis for the performance. Brown takes a solo here that is an extension of the performance. There is a playful lyricism displayed on Trains & Chocolate, and a latin tinge to the animated Milo’s Brother. Child’s Worlds with Iversen taking a solo might be the highpoint of this excellent set with Grissett and Ellis shining as well and Brown being terrifiic in pushing this performance forward.

For more information on this excellent recording (including ordering information), check out the BJU Records website, and Anne Mette Iversen’s own website,

As I write this I note that the Anne Mette Iversen Quartet is scheduled to celebrate the release of this at An Die Musik in Baltimore on Friday, June 24 and at Twin’s Jazz in Washington DC on Wednesday June 29.

I received this from a publicist for this release.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Another Cephas and Wiggins Piedmont Blues Treasure

I had the privilege of knowing that late John Cephas as well as Phil Wiggins who were cornerstone’s of the Washington DC and vicinity blues scene as well as became internationally known for their style of Piedmont blues. The following review was originally published in the July-August 2006 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. It also appeared in the July-August issue of Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 284). I have made very slight stylistic edits. This was I believe their final album on Alligator.

The release of the new Alligator CD, Shoulder to Shoulder by (John) Cephas & (Phil) Wiggins will certainly be welcome by lovers of acoustic blues lovers everywhere, not simply here in the DC area. The two are in usual fine form with Cephas assured guitar and Wiggins remarkable crying harmonica. Ann Rabson adds piano to six tracks while Daryl Davis is heard on one.

This opens when a fine Cephas original, Ain’t Seen My Baby that shows off Cephas Piedmont guitar style, and closes with a blues taken from Robert Johnson’s Walking Blues, The Blues Three Ways on which Daryl Davis adds some solid piano. In between those numbers, the pair rework Skip James recording of the Delta classic Catfish Blues, on which Cephas shows himself to be one of the most consistently able interpreters of James’ music. Another highpoint is Cephas’ Piedmont reworking of Charlie Patton’s deep delta blues, Dirt Road, with Rabson’s piano adding to the tunes flavor. Seattle Rainy Day Blues is another standout original with a wonderful lyric and solid piano from Rabson behind the two.

The performances are consistently strong with the piano especially lending a bit more city feel to some of these excellent performances in what is another excellent addition to their body of recordings.

I received my review copy from Alligator.

As a postscript, while John Cephas passed away, Phil Wiggins stills performs as well as teaches. He can often be heard performing with Corey Harris, as well as with DC area bluesman Rick Franklin. He regularly gives harmonica workshops at the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation.