Saturday, November 30, 2013

Charlie Musselwhite Visits The Juke Joint Chapel

Over 45 years ago a young Charlie Musselwhite recorded his first album for Vanguard Records. His career that has found him become an elder statesman of the Chicago styled blues which has found him playing with so many legends of the music, exploring Brazilian music (and incorporating aspects of such music in his own) as well as leave a legacy of over twenty albums. His latest album is Juke Joint Chapel on his own Henrietta Records label. This was recorded at The Shack Up Inn, on Highway 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi and had him with a band including guitarist Matt Stubbs, bassist Mike Phillips and drummer June Core (an alumnus of the late Robert Lockwood Jr’s Band).

Its a fine band that plays with a rootsy, idiomatic approach. June Core’s drumming is particularly noteworthy, but it is Musselwhite himself who sings and plays with a vigor that has not been apparent on some of his recent recordings. On those his vocals conveyed a sense of world-weariness to some extent and his harp playing was somewhat more evocative of the second Sonny Boy Williamson. Here his vocals are a bit more direct and his harp playing has a bot harder sound. This is apparent in the opening rendition of Eddie Taylor’s Bad Boy, as well as his reprisal of Shakey Jake’s Roll Your Money Maker, with Stubbs evoking Magic Sam’s guitar playing and Phillips providing a backing vocal.

There is a strong cover of Little Walter’s It Ain’t Right, that brings back memories of Musselwhite's forty year old albums on Arhoolie, and his Blues Overtook Me as he sings about how the blues took over when he was a child. Another Musselwhite original, Strange Land, has a lyric about getting lost and having to find his way set against a rocking Catfish Blues groove. Stubbs crisp, trebly playing is quite effective, and Core again displays his ability to push the groove and add interesting accents in a manner few blues drummers do today. Another choice original is Feel It in Your Heart where he takes us on his journey to Brazil as he celebrate show music can bring us together with a driving groove that has a Brazilian accent. 

The album closes with Duke Pearson’s Cristo Redentor, originally recorded by Donald Byrd and covered by Musselwhite on his debut album. It remains a showpiece for him and his nuanced playing evidences not simply his virtuosity, but his good taste. The location recording quality is fine so that Musselwhite and his fine band sound almost like this was a studio recording. The result, Juke Joint Chapel, may be one of Musselwhite’s finest recordings in some time.

I received my review copy from a publicist for the release. It is available from and Charlie's website, Here Charlie performs Blues Overtook Me. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Planet D Nonet Rays Of The Sun

The Planet D Nonet is a Detroit based big little band that plays a range of music form jump blues to repertoire jazz performances. The music of Sun Ra has been one of the sources that they mined in the past, and they were joined at the end of the last year by trumpeter Michael Ray, an alumni of Sun Ra's Arkestra, who has continued to play Sun Ra's music in his own groups. The result is a new album Rays of the Sun on Eastlawn Records that provides new interpretations of Sun Ra's repertoire.

The origin of this recording happened when drummer RJ Spangler, one of the leaders of Planet D heard from Michael that he would be in Detroit. It was recorded at bassist Joel Peterson’s place, Trinosophies, and recorded (in Spangler’s words) “in the style of a Grateful Dead taper,” given a small budget. Co-leader trumpeter James O’Donnell and trombonist John Paxton have also known Ray for a number of years. Ray apparently fit in well with the Nonet and the band either played Joshua James arrangements or Rob E. Cohen’s transcriptions. 

Joshua James is one of the stand-out players here on baritone and soprano saxophonists as well as clarinet and bass clarinet. Mention also must be made of the keyboards of Mike Malis and Daniel Bennett’s clarinet. Ray is of course playing familiar music (some of which he also plays in his own Kosmic Krewe) and contributes some lead vocals as the rhythm section percolates in support of the marvelous interplay amongst the horns and some nice soloing. While there are some chanting, it is briefer than one might experience during Sun Ra’s live performances which were very theatrical in addition to musical.

The music here is more of Sun Ra’s cosmic 1960s and 1970s mode with a bit less focus on some of the more Tadd Dameron-ish bop stylings of Sun Ra’s fifties band or Sun Ra’s revisiting of classic Fletcher Henderson arrangements that the prior East Lawn recording of Sun Ra’s music We Travel The Spaceways. The band sounds pretty solid and plays they interstellar numbers with a real feel for Sun Ra’s own performances (that have been well documented) although the sound lacks some bite (likely a result of how it was recorded) which is the only quibble with this production. It should be noted that poet John Sinclair recites one of Sun Ra’s poems for a bonus performance of There is Change in the Air. This can be obtained from and more information can be found on

I received my review copy from Eastlawn Records. Here is the Planet D Nonet playing some Sun Ra.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Aaron Moore - Boot ‘Em Up!

Delmark Records posted in Facebook that pianist Aaron Moore has passed away. Here is my review of his Delmark album, Boot ‘Em Up!, that was published in the November/December 1999 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 242). 

Chicago pianist Aaron Moore worked with many legendary artists in Chicago’s scene, but did not appear on record until recently. Delmark has issued Boot ‘Em Up! This is a lively album of original traditionally based piano blues, all written by Mr. Moore. He is supported by James Wheeler on guitar, Robert Stroger on bass and Willie Smith on drums. Roosevelt Sykes and Memphis Slim are Moore’s most obvious influences, and he does suggest somewhat the late Mr. Sykes, if he is not quite of the level of that master. He reworks traditional blues melodies and themes in a fresh way. For example, You Look So Good to Me bears some resemblance to Jimmy Reed’s Take Some Insurance Out, while the rocking title track seems related to several of Sykes’ uptempo romps and Real Thrown Down reworks the Down Home Blues melody. The rhythm section keeps a propulsive swinging beat, and James Wheeler adds nifty guitar fills and breaks. This contributes to the attractiveness of Moore’s unpretentious, genuine performances here.

Chico Hamilton's Joyous Shout

Sixth Avenue Romp Heritage 

Its been quite a career for the masterful drummer Chico Hamilton who, on the occasion of his 85th Birthday, had four CDs issued on the Joyous Shout label. A Los Angeles native he started on clarinet and played in a high school band with Ernie Royal, Jack Kelso, Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon and played in such bands as T-Bone Walker, Floyd Ray, Lorenzo Flennoy, Lester Young, and Lionel Hampton. During Army Service in World War 11 studied under Jo Jones and joined Lena Horne in 1948.

He played with Charlie Barnett, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., and Billie Holiday including the Carnegie Hall Concert and later formed his first quartet with Gerry Mulligan and recorded first album as a leader with Pacific Jazz in 1955. A pioneer in chamber jazz he formed an unusual quintet in 1955 with cello, flute, guitar, bass and drums which acquired national following. The quintet’s original personnel included Buddy Collette and Jim Hall. His bands served as an incubator for other talent like Eric Dolphy, Charles Lloyd, Gabor Szabo, Larry Coryell and others. He has been honored as a JazzMaster and remains a vital musician and leader with these four different celebrations of his musical career.

All four discs feature his “Euphoria” group with Cary DeNigris on guitar, Paul Ramsey on bass, Evan Schwam on flute, tenor & soprano saxes, Karolina Strassmayer on flute, alto & soprano saxes, Andrew Hadro on flute, alto & baritone saxes, and Jeremy Carlstedt on percussion.

The first release is Juniflip with guest appearances by the late Arthur Lee of the rock group Love (who shared bills with Hamilton in the sixties), actor-vocalist Bill Henderson and Hamilton alumni, trombonist Georgo Bohanon and bass trombonist Jimmy Cheatham, who augment the Euphoria group and add to the chamber group flavor of the band on the five tracks they appear. On the opening Mr. Hamilton, with its swinging blues groove, they riff behind Eric Schwam’s tenor solo and the horns all add color behind Paul Ramsey’s bass guitar solo. Karolina Strassmeyer opens on flute for A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That, a Hamilton composition that opens with a moody feel before Hamilton picks up the tempo and the trombones trade fours with the saxophones riffing in support. Its marvelous hearing Hamilton driving the band without getting obtrusive and Bohanon sounds very strong here. Vocalist Henderson, evoking Joe Williams, is initially backed by Hamilton for the first few lines of Ain’t She Sweet, then joined by the band on a fresh arrangement of the song that features Henderson scatting with Schwam providing a responsive foil, while his other feature is the standard best known from the big band era, Don’t Be That Way. Again a nice arrangement from Hamilton with the song opening as a duet between Henderson and DeNigris which then shifts into a bossa groove. The old Georgie Fame hit ’Yeah is redone and dedicated to Carlos Santana with a bit more swing (not that the original did not swing) with Cheatham’s bass trombone singing the melody to kick this number off. Lee is heard on What’s Your Story Morning Glory, which was recorded by Saunders King and likely heard growing up by the veteran Hamilton. It opens up with nice guitar from DeNigris which is punctuated by some effectively placed Horn riffs. More storming tenor from Schwam before the tempo slows down for DeNigris’ guitar on Cary’s Footsteps.

Believe, the second release, features guest vocals from the great Fontella Bass as well as trombonist Bohanon, who appears to supplement the playing of Euphoria on several numbers. The opening Evans-ville sports nice bossa groove underlying a flighty flute opening with Bohanon’s trombone adding sum funk before a funky middle section which provides Schwam space for some gritty sax before the closing light bossa groove with more interplay between flute and sax. Bass handles the vocal on Love Me A Long, Long Time, a nice walking blues groove with bebop touches in the vocal and the arrangement of a staple of Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra. ’My Brother Don and My Brother Bernie are Hamilton’s tributes to his brothers and feature more solid ensemble work and soloing. The latter number opens as a languid ballad before hitting a samba groove with Bohanon sweetly taking it home. Bass also sings on Baby Won’t You Please Go Home, which was part of the influential Jimmy Lunceford Band’s repertoire. The opening chorus has just Bass backed by bassist Ramsey with Hamilton and guitarist DeNigris jumping in for the second verse and Schwam adds tenor starting with the third verse. The other Bass vocal is a fine gospel selection, Believe in Him. Ramsey’s bass line for Alive evokes one of Jimi Hendrix’s recording before Schwam lays down some tenor funk. Hamilton and Eurphoria salute the Who on The Kids Are Alright, another delightful indication of Hamilton’s marvelous eclecticism.

Sixth Avenue Romp (referring to Hamilton’s home until he moved to New York in the sixties) is a bit more slanted towards classic rhythm and blues with Shuggie Otis guesting on T-Bone Walker’s Strollin’ With Bone; vocalist Brenna Bavis and Allman Brothers drummer Jaimoe are on a very soulful rendition of Smokey Robinson’s You Really Gotta Hold on Me; and trumpeter Jon Faddis is on muted trumpet and sings on Billy Strayhorn’s immortal Take the A Train. Junior Walker’s Cleo’s Mood and Cleo’s Back provide some gutbucket sax and show Hamilton’s ability to play funky yet still swing, while Hamilton’s high hat and cymbal work help kick off the Basie chestnut Topsy. Hamilton and Euphoria provide a fittingly somber cast to Bill Wither’s Ain’t No Sunshine with the horn voicings adding to the feel, while they get the groove going on the Booker T & the MG’s Chicken Pox. The variety here is illustrated by I’m Still Thirsty (Chico’s Accordion Dub), which has a Central American flavor to it and its repeated riff will certainly get the dance floor full.

Heritage is the final CD in this excellent series of recordings. Bohanon adds his signature playing to this disc as does vocalist Marya Lawrence, daughter of former Hamilton band member Arnie Lawrence. This disc finds Chico looking back to his formative influences, Chicano Heritage, as well as several tributes by Hamilton to some of his musical alumni and associates, including Arnie Lawrence (on One for Arnie), Gerry Mulligan (on Mulligan Stew) and Gabor Szabo (on One for Gabor). Marya Lawrence brings a slinky innocence to I Got a Right to Sing the Blues, whose arrangement is based on that of the Gerald Wilson Band and Bohanon channels the blues once more. Her rendition of Love Me or Leave Me, is inspired by Lena Horne’s recording, whose group at the time included Hamilton. There are three Gerald Wilson originals performed including the hot latin-groove of Viva Tirado whose opening sounds like it might have been on a Santana recording from three decades back with DeNigris superb early on this one before Bohanon takes off, and Blues for Yna Yna is another impressive feature for saxophonist Schwam. Hamilton himself takes the vocal with quite a bit of charm on Billy Strayhorn’s marvelous ballad, Something to Live For, with marvelous guitar by DeNigris in support, that conclude this series of recordings on the high level of the earlier releases.

The consistency of these recordings and the continued high level of Hamilton’s playing, show that his music continues to offer us so much. 

This review was originally published in the January-February 2007 issue of the Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 290). I have posted it in memory of this jazz legend who recently passed away. These recordings should still be available (and available as downloads).

Friday, November 08, 2013

Lou Pride Finds Ain’t No More Love In This House.

There is a bittersweet feeling Severn Records’ David Earl expresses in his brief liner notes to his label’s release of the final recording by the late soul-singer Lou Pride, Ain’t No More Love In This House. While he has great joy in releasing this final recording by Pride for his fans a year after he passed away, Earl notes “Maybe as the years go by I will be able to listen as [his loyal fans] will.”

Like recent Severn releases, this is handsomely produced with an excellent studio band of guitarist Johnny Moeller, keyboard whiz Benjie Porecki, bassist Steve Gomes and drummer Robb Stupka. Trumpeter Kenny Rittenhouse arranged and conducted the punchy horn section and the backing vocals are well integrated into the recordings. What a marvelous recording this is with memorable originals and choice covers, excellent musicianship and Pride being in top form.

One of the themes of the songs are marriages and relationships breaking apart such as the title song that Pride penned where he comes home to discover that his wife has moved out and left a note that Pride hadn't done anything wrong, just that she found another. Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast has a similar theme with his marriage is over and as he is leaving his child cries for him not to leave. I Didn’t Take Your Woman is a wonderful recasting of an Ann Peebles recording as Pride tells a man that he didn’t take the man’s woman, rather it was the man's his failure to take care of her. It is set against a smoldering backing in the manner of classic Willie Mitchell productions for Hi Records.

Take It Slow is a marvelous slow jam, soul ballad, while She Boom Boom Me is a blues with Moeller playing sizzling guitar with riffing horns in support. Here Pride sings about his Mississippi woman and whom he has a special package for delivery (maybe a mojo or black cat bone or maybe her ya ya that Lou just can’t leave alone). I’m Gotta Move On Up is an strong uptown reworking of a 45 odd year old Luther Allison recording that Pride nails with his controlled, yet fervent, vocal. Pride’s lovely We Can Do What We Want, is listed as a duet with Caleb Green. Knowing Caleb Green from his singing the National Anthem at Washington, DC sporting events, I would never have guessed that was Green's falsetto providing harmony here.

The closing interpretation of the Simply Red pop hit Holding Back The Tears sounds like it was from a classic R&B album from the seventies. It fits in seamlessly with the other songs on this recording. Fans of Bobby Bland, Artie 'Blues Boy' White and the like will love this. Lou Pride may be gone but his music more than lingers on and Ain’t No More Love In This House, stands up as amongst the finest soul recordings of the past couple decades.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a clip of Lou in performance from the Severn Records 10th Anniversary Show.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Bobby Parker Watched His Step

While I have posted this review before, here is my 20 year old review of Bobby Parker's first Black Top album, Bent Out of Shape from 1993. It originally appeared in the March 1993 Jazz & Blues Report (and undoubtedly in the Dc Blues Society's newsletter at around that time. The album currently is out-of-print on CD but one may be able to locate it on ebay or from blues music vendors. Downloads of the album are available on itunes and amazon. To these ears, Bobby's two Black Top albums are as good as any blues albums of the past two decades. It is unfortunate he never had another CD issued but there is a DVD of him live at Montreux that is part of the DVD set from 2003 that is representative of his live performances. I mention that Santana not only cited Bobby as an influence but had him on the bill with Carlos as well as have Bobby share the stage with him. As a friend of Bobby, I thank you Carlos for your love of the music and your acknowledgement of those who helped shaped your own music. I know you are going our sorrow with the passing of someone who meant so much to you as us.

Bobby Parker has been tearing up Washington D.C. area clubs for the past three decades. This Louisiana native was raised in Los Angeles, but the musical bug hit him, and by the mid-fifties he was playing with Paul Williams' band, backing up numerous R&B legends at the Apollo and on tour. Later he moved to DC, where he was a mainstay in the 14th Street clubs. In more recent years he has played a variety of Washington area venues. Bobby recorded a fine 45 for Vee-Jay which included a superb minor-key blues, Blues Get Off My Shoulder, with the first recording of You Got What It Takes (later a hit for Marv Johnson). A year later, he recorded for the Philadelphia V-Tone label, Watch Your Step, which was based on Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca (with a bit of Ray Charles influence) that was by Spencer Davis. This record led him to be invited to Europe in the late sixties where Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page was one of his fans, and tried to sign him up to that label. He did record for Blue Horizon, cutting the great It’s Hard But It’s Fair.

The release of Bent Out of Shape by Parker on Black Top will certainly open a lot of ears that haven’t heard these rare records, or seen Bobby in performance. Bobby Radcliff told this writer that twenty years ago, Parker was as good as the better known Chicago stars like Otis Rush and Buddy Guy, and I understand from others, that this recording is not different from what Parker was doing twenty years ago. Having watched Bobby for several years one could sense here was someone special, and this recording captures it. The album is comprised of Bobby’s originals with the exception of the Carey Bell song, Break It Up, that Bobby often opens his live dates with. The remakes of his early recordings are all strong performances. Watch Your Step is a particularly hard-hitting reworking of his V-Tone recording, although without a vocal chorus. The title track is evocative of some of the late Z.Z. Hill’s recordings, but the band here plays with more of an edge, and Parker’s fiery guitar matches his deep soul singing. Bobby’s A-Go-Go actually a mistitled Go-Go Blues),his tribute to the Go-Go music scene, is perhaps the weakest track here, but that aside, the music here is first rate and almost worth the wait for it to come out. This is simply one of the best blues releases on Black Top of the past few years, set apart not only by Bobby’s strong guitar playing, but by his fervent, soulful blues preaching.

Here is a little clip of Bobby, Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy and vocalist Barbara Morrison that is on the Buddy Guy DVD that is part of the Carlos Santana Blues at Montreux DVD package I mentioned above.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Bobby Parker - The Link From Dizzy To The Beatles

It has been a couple days since my friend Bobby Parker passed on which has led to numerous expressions of sorrow of a loss of a terrific musician, but also a person. I will be blogging about Bobby's contributions to the blues and the DC music scene in subsequent posts, but for this post I want to focus on perhaps his most famous recording, Watch Your Step. As an introduction we have the late John Lennon discussing this recording and the impact it had on himself and The Beatles.

One thing Bobby does not say in this clip, but which he told me on several occasions, is that the guitar riff was itself inspired by a riff in Dizzy Gillepsie's Manteca. Bobby loved jazz and his long-term fans will remember him opening his shows with Thelonious Monk's Straight No Chaser, using the Miles Davis arrangement. here is a clip of Dizzy playing Manteca.

 Now let us listen to the full original V-Tone recording of Watch Your Step.

I will let you fine folk go to youtube on your own to listen to The Beatles. Incidentally, John Lennon is also said to have noted that not only I Feel Fine, but also Day Tripper were inspired by Watch Your Step.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Joe Fiedler's Bug Sackbut Does The Sackbut Stomp

Trombonist's Joe Fiedler's Big Sackbut is a quartet of Fiedler and fellow trombonists Ryan Keberle and Luis Bonilla along with the tuba player Marcus Rojas. Inspired by the World Saxophone Quartet, Big Sackbut eschews having a rhythm section and instead the three trombones and the brass bass provided Rojas explores the originals from Fiedler along with three covers. The group has a new recording, "Sackbut Stomp" on Multiphonics Music that continues in the vein of Fieder's prior recording "Big Sackbut." Bonilla replaces Josh Roseman from that earlier recording. Steven Bernstein, on slide trumpet, guests on three of the nine selections here which provides for a a little more variety in the tonal colors of this group.

The opening title track provides an example of the interplay between the four before followed by a slightly  rendition of Roger Miller's "King of the Road" with Bernstein's slide trumpet providing a whimsical feel with the trombones providing a dynamic background before Rojas displays his nimbleness on the tuba. Bennie Wallace's "Eight Page Bible" is built upon a bluesy motif with each trombonist taking a solo that he first introduces unaccompanied before the other two and Rojas provide support. Fielder's own incorporation of Duke Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" is particularly delightful. It is followed by a wonderful rendition of the Gil Fuller and Chano Pozo classic "Tin Tin Deo" on which Bernstein is along featured along with Bonilla. Fiedler did all the arrangements and this one particularly stands out. The lovely "Pittsburgh Morning" allows Fielder to showcase the warmth he is quite capable of while Keberle sounds lively and focused on "The Schlep."

Given the limited tonal palette of the instrumentation, this may be a recording that some may wish to sample a few selections at a time. At the same time, listening to the performances several times one hears nuances in the performances that make them continue to sound fresh. There is an audaciousness in a trombone-tuba group playing without a rhythm section. Mixed with excellent playing and arrangements, "Sackbut Stomp" is another fascinating, and often, exhilarating recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist.