Saturday, May 25, 2013

Andy Poxon Tomorrow


I first became aware of Andy Poxon as a mid-teen guitar prodigy with a distinctive red-haired afro. Recently I saw him with DC area saxophonist Scott Ramminger with whom he had shared a short tour and the two were playing songs from their respective recent releases. Listening critically I was struck by the maturity he displayed as a guitarist, singer and songwriter. These qualities led Duke Robillard to produce his new Ellersoul records recording Tomorrow. On the notes he observes that Andy “is a complete and mature musician at the ripe old age of 18.” Further Duke notes that how Andy arrived there was partially “derived from intense listening and research for the American traditions of of blues,early R&B, classic country hillbilly, rockabilly, swing and jazz.”

Tomorrow was recorded in Rhode Island under Duke’s supervision with his band of Bruce Bear on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira on drums with Duke adding guitar, and horns from Rich Lataille, Mark Earley and Doug Wolverton. With the exception of an instrumental Jammin’ At Lakewest, co-written with Duke, Poxon composed all of the performances.

The music on this is quite enjoyable as Andy has crafted songs that reflect his musical inspirations with a definite pop slant perhaps. His natural singing shares the appeal of the lyrics with elements of blues and classic R&B (a definite New Orleans flavor can be heard on several songs including the lively All By Myself). Other songs reflect his youthful experiences such as You Lied where he caught her with him and finds his baby has lied to him from the start and tore his world apart and College Boy, with its rollicking groove as his baby left him for some old mean college boy. The title track is a lovely ballad with a hopeful lyric and nice trumpet from Woolverton. 
Here is Andy Poxon with saxophonist Scott Ramminger at JVs in Falls Church.

In addition to his songs and vocals, his guitar playing stands out. With all these ear-splitting blues rock guitar prodigies being touted and promoted, it is refreshing to listen to Poxon’s guitar. One can hear elements of rockabilly mixed in with his straight blues attack. His attack, tone and the swing in his solos contrasts with the blues-rock of some of his contemporaries. A good case in point might be the closing Jammin’ at Lakewest. This is a jump blues instrumental feature for Poxon and Robillard, with swinging single note solos from both. Its certainly refreshing to hear a young guitarist who does take off from Stevie Ray Vaughan but rather channels such legends as Tiny Grimes, Al Casey, and Johnny Rogers.

It is tempting to talk about someone of Andy Poxon’s age as a performer that exhibits considerable promise and how interesting it will be to see how his music evolves. It must be stated that Tomorrow is a choice recording of blues and roots that stands on its own considerable merits.

I received my review copy from Andy. This review was written a couple months ago and I should have posted this earlier. Here is a short video clip of Andy and Scott Ramminger I took.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Jake Lear - Diamonds and Stones


Born in Vermont and raised on blues and country, singer-guitarist Jake Lear has spent the last three years honing his blues and roots sound in Memphis. He has a new self-released CD Diamonds and Stones, that brings together plenty of grit, stinging guitar and driving rhythm section on a program of mostly original songs. On this release he is backed by drummer, Roy Cunningham and bassist, Carlos Arias. Cunningham was a member of the Bar-Kays, a STAX studio drummer and drummed for Albert King, Little Milton and Little Jimmy King.

Lear performs in a pretty direct fashion with some nice stinging guitar which to these ears suggests the late Magic Slim. Vocally, he has a gravelly voice with hints of Bob Dylan and his songs are pretty simple, straight-ahead numbers with a touch of the North Mississippi Hills in the grooves here, particularly the slow burning title song and Going Back Home (North Mississippi Bound). Cunningham lays down a driving, funk groove for Down By The River, while on Lear’s arrangement of the traditional Jack O’ Diamonds, might suggest early John Lee Hooker with Lear’s effective guitar work. Work, Work, Work, with a driving boogie guitar and groove, is a lively reworking (as opposed to a rehashed copy) of the Ricky Allen recording Cut You Loose. This ten song recording concludes with a driving instrumental Boogie Time

There is nothing fancy or complicated about the music on Diamonds and Stones. Jake Lear is a good singer and the simplicity of his approach has definite appeal as evidenced by this recording.

I received a review copy from a publicist.  Here is a clip Jake Lear performing in Memphis.






Friday, May 17, 2013

Creole Trombone Brings Kid Ory's Contributions To The Fore

Creole Trombone:Kid Ory and the Early Years of Jazz
John McCusker
University Press of Mississippi
2012: Jackson MS

Ed ‘Kid’ Ory was a pioneering New Orleans musician who was associated with some of the most important artists of the new jazz music of the early part of the 20th Century including Buddy Bolden, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. Leading the Creole Jazz Band in California he made one of the earliest (if not earliest) recordings by a Creole New Orleans Jazz Band. He was an important component of some of Louis Armstrong’s most important small group recordings of the twenties and also some of King Oliver’s Chicago sessions.

In writing Ory’s story, McCusker was given access to Ory’s unpublished autobiography that was narrated in 1950 to Barbara GaNung, at the time his mistress and later his wife. It was initially taken in shorthand and later typed. This combined with his research into statistical, sacramental and public records. He weaves his story in the context of a creole, born 25 miles upriver from New Orleans, at a time when the racist southern white assault on the rights of non-whites occurred. Louisiana was the state whose law requiring separate accommodations was upheld in the infamous case of “Plessy v Ferguson.”

McCusker traces Ory’s early musical experiences growing up in a world where a racist caste system was imposed and all persons of color were disenfranchised. Ory first acquired a banjo when 13, a gift from his ailing father.  As a child he became familiar with Creole folk songs which he would perform later in his life. Brass bands of St. John Parish, where he grew up, piqued Ory’s curiosity and itinerant music teachers would come from New Orleans and offer musical instruction, with a James Brown Humphrey (father of grandsons Willie and Percy themselves noted jazzmen). Humphrey led the Onward Brass Band in LaPlace, taught children and young adults on the plantations and remote communities. Humphrey would also rehearse bands from the students he rehearsed including the Pickwick Brass band which Ory played in. McCusker’s narrative also discusses the traveling musicians and bands and the social functions that music would be heard at.

Ory displayed an entrepreneurial spirit in addition to a musical one. He acquired a beat up valve trombone and later changed to the more modern slide trombone. Moving to New Orleans, he met Buddy Bolden, who left a definite impression on Ory. Bolden’s musical innovation, as detailed by McCusker, was playing the blues for dances and such songs as Make Me a Pallet On the Floor and Funky Butt, were sensations. While not able to accept Bolden’s offer to play trombone, but watching Bolden play, as well as the competing John Robichaux with its musicality, he was able to have his own idea on how a band might sound.

After Bolden’s passing, Ory started leading bands in St.John Parish, sometimes playing in New Orleans. In 1910 he finally moved to New Orleans, first living with family members. Here Ory and his band would play at the dance halls country dances and picnics, and would enter cutting contests with other bands (such as that of Freddie Keppard) and an association with other individuals who would become major figures in early jazz as Johnny Dodds, an early encounter with young Luis Armstrong who would sit in with Ory’s Band at a picnic. Later the arrival of King Oliver (replacing Mutt Carey) would solidify Ory’s Band as the leading band in New Orleans and they would become known as the Ory-Oliver Band. When Oliver left for Chicago, Armstrong replaced him. 

Not simply a successful bandleader and musician, Ory was astute as a businessman and successful in sponsoring dances. When a former benefactor started sponsoring dances with Ory, Ory became dissatisfied with their deal and started sponsoring dances on his own. This led to police raids and probable threats on his life that led him to leave for California in August 1919 where he would be until 1925. Armstrong and Dodds were supposed to have joined Ory, but they didn’t so some of his former band members were recruited. His band became a leading band in Los Angeles and he met Arnie Norakog and the Spike Brothers In 1921 he would be recorded by Norakog and these were released by the Spike Brothers. These were some of the earliest jazz recordings by African-American musicians, including the original recording of Ory’s Creole Trombone, that later would be recorded by Louis Armstrong with Ory in the band. McCusker spends considerable space discussing the session, its importance and the music. These recordings are available on, Cabaret Echoes: New Orleans Jazzers at Work, 1918-1927 on the Off the Record label. 

Musically things cooled off so in 1925 Ory moved to Chicago, settling in the Windy City and becoming a sideman on some of the most famous recordings of the twenties, starting with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five recordings. Ory’s recollections of making the recordings are included along with McCusker’s discussion of some of the recordings and Ory’s role on them.  Ory would join and tour with King Oliver’s, The Dixie Syncopators until 1927. McCusker also details Ory’s relationship with Jelly Roll Morton with whom Ory recorded as a member of the Red Hot Peppers for some important recordings such as Black Bottom Stomp, but did not participate on later Morton recordings. He also recorded in Chicago with Luis Russell, Irene Scruggs and Butterbeans and Susie with his final recordings of the 1920s being with Johnny Dodds’ Chicago Footwarmers. 

Before the end of the decade, he followed his wife back to California. He would struggle playing music until in 1933 at the age of 46 he quit and took a job as a janitor with the Santa Fe Railroad. He didn’t totally quit music and by September 1942 was playing in Barney Bigard’s band that included Charles Mingus on bass. Bigard, as detailed by McCusker, helped Ory get paid royalties for Ory’s tune “Muskrat Ramble. In 1944, Orson Welles had Ory lead a band for his radio show and with this visibility Ory’s Band recorded for several labels.  Various albums have reissued transcriptions of Ory playing on Wells radio program and these are available as a download as well.. There are also details about his relationship with his second wife, a white woman, Barbara GaNung. She is depicted as a manipulative and controlling woman who was abusive to Ory, leading him to deny his African-American background and cut him off from many of his old friends and bandmates. This chapter, on his post Chicago years, is somewhat summarily presented in contrast to the discussion of his life which is the subject of the main body of the book. 

In addition to this detailed narrative of Ory’s life, McCusker has included a couple of short excerpts from Ory’s Autobiography, a selected Discography of Ory’s recordings, and the music for four “lost” compositions by Ory. There are also some rare photographs and label shots included, nearly 30 pages of end notes and an index. Creole Trombone is an invaluable look at a gentleman who played a substantial role in the development of jazz as well as the times and social context in which he lived. It is a significant addition to the jazz literature.

I purchased this. This review also appeared in the May-June 2013 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 348). Here is Kid Ory with Henry 'Red' Allen in Paris. I have made a few changes in my original review to reflect the comments from Kid Ory's daughter Babette. Babette's recollections of her father, along with Kid Ory's 1921 recordings, can be heard on the afore-mentioned Cabaret Echoes: New Orleans Jazzers at Work, 1918-1927 on the Off the Record label.






Monday, May 13, 2013

Ernie Johnson In The Mood


Ernie Johnson's In the Mood, on Waldoxy, is the latest release from the sister label to Malaco and was quite a pleasant surprise. Johnson is a veteran soul-blues singer who most recently had an album on Jewel that really did not leave much of an impression on this writer. Producers Paul ‘Heavy’ Lee and Tommy Couch Jr. took Johnson down to Muscle Shoals where with a crack rhythm section anchored by drummer Lee, and the solid keyboards of Clayton Ivey along with Big Mike Griffin’s guitar, produced a superb collection of blues and southern soul that echoes Bobby Bland, Otis Redding and other masters. 

Johnson’s opening I’m in the Mood For the Blues is a striking song, quite suggestive of some of Bobby Bland’s better Malaco recordings, and the similarities between Johnson and Bland is perhaps most evident here in the phrasing of his slightly raspy voice. Don’t Waste My Time, another Johnson original, is a slow blues with some piercing guitar from Griffin while Ivey’s down-in-the-alley Hammond B-3 helps form the bottom with the Muscle Shoals Horns crisply punching out the arrangements. 

There is a strong Johnson ballad, I Love You, where Johnson's slightly quivering vocal is suggestive of how Otis Redding might have sounded if he had recorded with the Hi Rhythm Section. Like this entire album, the studio band here is first-rate, and the backing vocals effectively employed. Similar flavor can be found in the Jackson-Barranco composition, Hold On. But, these are only the highest peaks on what is a consistently soulful disc that may be the best of many fine releases on Waldoxy/Malaco to be issued this year.

The above review was originally published in the October 1995 DC Blues Calendar, the newsletter of the DC Blues Society, which I edited at the time and the November 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 206). I received my review copy from Malaco/Waldoxy. Here is a clip of Ernie Johnson performing.



Sunday, May 12, 2013

More on the Tinner Hill Blues Festival


The Tinner Hill Blues Festival promises to be an amazing weekend of blues music, June 7-9. I previously have detailed the Friday, June 7 State Theater concert headlined by John Hammond along with Phil Wiggins and the Chesapeake Sheiks as well as the Saturday June 8 Cherry Hill Park Festival line-up headlined by Sista Monica and Big Bill Morganfield. These are not the only events taking place at this year’s Festival.

The Festival opens on Friday night, and prior to the start of the State Theatre show, the Festival starts as part of the First Friday of Falls Church, a monthly event held in downtown Falls Church. There will be free music performances from 6 to 8 PM including JackWagon Band at Art and Frame of Falls Church, 111 Park Ave  Falls Church; Blue Pop & the Plucker at Stifel & Capra, 260 W. Broad Street; and Lu & the Blues Crew at Famous Dave's BBQ at 370 W. Broad Street. Also taking place at Art and Frame will be Call it the Blues,” an art exhibition focusing on the meaning of the "blues" from an artist’s perspective. Meet the Artist reception at Art and Frame of Falls Church.  The show is being organized by artist and collector, Irena Chambers.

Saturday morning there will be Early Morning Blues, local musical blues performances at the weekly Fall Church Farmer’s Market at the Falls Church City Hall Parking Lot. 

Eleanor Ellis's film, Blues House Party is being
shownat this year's Tinner Hill Blues Festival.
She also is participating in a panel Virginia Blues Voices:
Performing, Preserving and Innovating

and performing as part of the Acoustic Blues Women.
Photo © Ron Weinstock
Also that morning at the Mary Riley Styles Library, 121 N Virginia Avenue, will be Sing Books with Emily - Singing story time with Singable Picture Books. Hear and Sing “Ruby Sings the Blues” “I Love a Blue Frog” and more! Emily combines music and illustrated songs in a fun, educational, interactive, and engaging performance for children, caregivers, educators, and anyone with a love of song. Additionally there will be an exhibit Old Dominion Songsters: Traditional Blues in Virginia. This is a panel exhibit on Piedmont blues and Virginia songsters, on loan from the Library of Virginia.

At the Falls Church Community Center, 223 Little Falls Street, there will be screening of three films where one can also meet the film makers: 

John Jackson: a Blues Treasure, Award winning documentary on the life and music of John Jackson. Meet the award winning producer and film maker Beverly Lindsay Johnson.

John ‘Uncle Homer’ Walker, The Banjo Man the last known African American Claw hammer style Banjo Player (1898-1980) presented by Tanya Gaskins-Hardy, Local genealogist & historian.

Blues House Party  Music, Dance and Stories by Masters of the Pie
dmont Blues, this 57-minute film provides a rare front-row seat to a private house party that is as down home and authentic as they come. Meet producer Eleanor Ellis who is also performing at the Festival.

Taking place at 10:00 am - 11:30 am in front of Cherry Hill Farm House is a panel discussion - Virginia’s Blues Voices: Performing, Preserving and Innovating, a intergenerational panel discussion with blues legends, music lovers and cutting edge next generation blues musicians.  The panel discussion will explore, document and share the history and evolution, present and future of blues music with a focus on Virginia Piedmont Blues styles. Participants in this panel include (but not limited to): Gregg Kimball; Eleanor Ellis; John Hammond; Roy Book Binder; Phil Wiggins; Rick Franklin; and David Cole.

Also, over the weekend there will be additional live musical performances at other businesses including Famous Dave’s BBQ, Clare and Don’s Beach Shack, Dogwood Tavern, Argia’s, Stifel & Capra, Creative Cauldron, Red, White & Blue, JVs, Wine and Gourmet shop plus more!
The Archie Edwards Jambassadors will be at the Mad Fox Brewing Company. Photo © Ron Weinstock
Sunday morning the feestival concludes with the Blues Brunch at the Mad Fox Brewing Company. The Blues Brunch will feature the Jambassadors of the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation. Mad Fox Brewing Company is at 444 West Broad Street, Suite I.

Accommodations Information

For those coming from outside the area and wishing to stay in falls Church over night, there are several economical convenient hotels and inns.

Marriott TownPlace Suites is within walking distance of all activities. It is located at 205 Hillwood Ave. 703-237-6172 

Inns of Virginia, within walking distance of all activities is at 421 W Braod Street. (703) 533-1100.

Marriott Fairview Inn, full service Marriott is a 5 minute drive from the activities. It is located at 3111 Fairview Park Drive. 703-849-9400.

The Festival site is several blocks from the East Falls Church Metro Station and there are Metro buses that can take you to the Festival site if one does not wish to walk.  The festival’s official web page is at http://tinnerhill.org/blues-festival

Grady Champion Tells Us Tough Times Don’t Last


Tough Times Don’t Last is Grady Champion’s newest recording on his Grady Shady Music label. The 2010 International Blues Challenge winner is back with some new songs and supporting musicians that include Caleb Armstrong (guitar, production, string arrangements), Marquis Champion (bass), Lil Cal Jackson (drums), Nathan Keck (guitar), Chris Gill (guitar), Granard McClendon (guitar), Larry Addison (piano). 

This opens with a shuffle “My Time Baby,” that has some nice harp from Grady. While the backing is solid and his harmonica is strong. His vocals lack the presence of his vocals, perhaps because the harmonica likely was overdubbed. Missing You is a blues ballad sung very soulfully with a touch of Sly and the Family Stone in the groove. Trust Yourself has a message of not giving up your soul to someone else, rather to be free one needs to trust oneself.” It would have been a stronger track with real horns instead of synthesized ones. 

On Broke Cadillac, Grady sings that his relationship with his lady is like driving a broken down cadillac. His plays the guitar lead displaying a fuzzy tone but his playing would have benefited from more clarity. His guitar is stronger on the solid blues, co-written with Eddie Cotton, Things Ain’t What They Used To Be. The title track carries an optimistic message that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. Cookie Jar is an amusing back door man song in the tradition of Little Johnny Taylor’s Open House At My House. Chris Gill adds 12 string acoustic guitar for Glory Train, a gospel blues on which Grady entreats people to give up their bad habits while the closing song, expresses his wishes for the holidays, What Would Christmas Be Without You. 

The material is one of the strengths of this recording. Grady is in good voice and his harmonica playing is quite strong, the recording sounds like heavy overdubbing was used and the performances don’t come across as crisp as they might be otherwise. Tough Times Don’t Last would have benefited from less overdubbing as well as real horns instead of synthesized horns on a couple of tracks. It is enjoyable, but I suspect as Grady performs some of these songs, they will come across more potently. 

I received a review copy from a publicist.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Big Daddy Stallings Says Call Me Big Daddy


As he announces on the opening Intro to his new CD Call Me Big Daddy (Tai Jeria Record Co), it is the fourth recording by Baltimore Blues Guitarist and Singer, Charles ‘Big Daddy’ Stallings. Like his last CD, this CD is presented as if a live club date where on the intro track he introduces the others in his band and some special guests. Then there is a mix of old-school soul, funk and blues in the songs before he closes the recording with an ending track again thanking folks with dubbed in crowd applause. 

The strength of Big Daddy’s music is the warmth and humor of his vocals as well as the strong, well rehearsed band supporting him. With Joe Thomas on alto sax, LeRoy Flowers, Jr. on bass and Michael Devilson on drums are the core on this recordings. Steve Levine, his regular harmonica player is on one selection with another DC area harmonica player, Anthony ‘Swamp Dog’ Clark handling the bulk of the harmonica playing on this disk. Another important player on this is Clarence Ward III who plays mostly trumpet and flugelhorn, but adds booting tenor saxophone on some songs. Others can be heard as well, but space limits my enumeration of everyone.

The material on this recording is however mixed. Big Daddy Stallings has written all of the material, but their is too much fluff such as the two-part Boody Pop and Lock as well as Bunny Hop 2012 and James #2. The latter number is the second tribute he has recorded to James Brown and is a nice piece of funky playing with a tough tenor sax from Clarence Ward III. Better is Big Daddy’s duet with Nadine Rae, Million Dollars, where he sings about if he had a million dollars he would give it to her which then recounts him dreaming that he has given everything to her and she has left him broke and dusty. Also he has the third in his series of down home talking blues Hobbsville, with his affable recollections of growing up matched by a nice lazy Jimmy Reed groove (and nice Swamp Dog harmonica) although the third part of this installment (Bonny Lee’s) mutates into a borrowing of a Little Milton theme, as he sings Bonny Lee’s all right to Little Milton The Blues Is All Right. Another nice track is the ballad Don’t Cry, which benefits from the warmth of Big Daddy’s singing.

I cannot unreservedly recommend this as there is too much filler material here. Those familiar with the prior albums by Big Daddy Stallings will know what to expect and you can make your decision in part of that, or those fortunate enough to seeing Big Daddy live might likely pick it up when seeing him. Like Big Daddy’s prior CDs (and I recommend his 1st CD One Night Lover), it is available on cdbaby.com and other better stores and websites.

I was sent this by Big Daddy Stallings. Here is Big Daddy Stallings in performance. Big Daddy Stallings will be appearing at Gator Appreciation Day on June 1 at Lamont's Entertainment Complex, 4400 Livingston Road in PoMonkey Maryland. Among others appearing are Miss Jody, Stacy Brooks, Jim Bennett & Lady Mary, Clarence “The Blues Man” Turner, and the DC Blues Society Band. For more information on this terrific show, call Lamont's at 301-283-0225.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Como Mamas Get An Understanding.


An unexpected delight is Daptone Records release of a CD from an a cappella trio of gospel singers, The Como Mamas, Get An Understanding. Como, Mississippi is best known as the home of Mississippi Fred McDowell and while best known as a giant of Mississippi blues, McDowell also recorded religious songs with members of his church. Michael Reilly first met the three ladies when traveling down south for a documentary about local musicians. He met Angela Taylor along with Ester Mae Smith and Angela’s sister Della Daniels and found out they had been singing gospel together since they were kids. The three sang “Peace of Mind” at the time that Reilly recalled sent chills to Reilly and his associates. 

He came back and recorded the three at Mt. Mariah Church, a small structure surrounded by a cemetery where several relatives were buried, including Ester’s grandfather, Miles Pratcher, who was a guitarist, songwriter and entertainer and often played music with fiddlers and guitarists on the porch (including with Fred McDowell). In 1959 Alan Lomax in fact recorded some of these porch sessions which Ester recalled. Now five decades later, Esther and her two close friends came together for the a cappella gospel on this recording.

Ester takes the lead on most selections with her powerful voice with the others providing the fervent responses to her calls on the moving performances here starting with Old Landmark, with their call to the old ways and staying in the service of the Lord. God Is Able to carry one through and all one has to do is trust in Jesus with their vocals preaching their deep beliefs in the gospel. The old style gospel continues on such songs as God Is Good To Me, Peace of Mind, Meet Me At The River Jordan, One More River To Cross and Ninety Nine And A Half Won’t Do. The latter song, originally from Dorothy Love Coates, was transformed by Wilson Pickett into a secular deep soul classic. “

The passion here is present until the closing moments of Nobody’s Fault But Mine. Get An Understanding is must listening for fans of traditional gospel and anyone who loves great, heartfelt singing.

I was sent a review copy from a publicist. Here is a clip of The Como Mamas performing.


Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Nicole Mitchell's Ice Crystals CD - Aquarius


The remarkable flutist, composer, and bandleader Nicole Mitchell has a new group, Ice Crystals, a group comprised of vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Frank Rosaly. With an instrumentation similar to Eric Dolphy’s collaborations with Bobby Hutcherson, comparisons are inevitable but Mitchell has over the past two decades established herself as one of the most significant jazz voices on flute, becoming a critics favorite. On her new Delmark recording with Ice Crystals, Aquarius, she displays a variety of aspects of her music (although not her long-suite compositions) which the author of the liner notes Lofton A Eminari III describe as ‘free swing.”

The marvelous opening number Aqua Blue, opens and Mitchell relates it bears some resemblance to Herbie Hancock’s Eye of the Hurricane, as well as displaying the interplay of her with Adasiewicz (and evoking Dolphy with Hutchinson), as well as allowing both to solo, while Abrams and Rosaly swing the performance along. A different mood is fostered by Today, Today, which opens with vibes before Mitchell’s flute states and develops the theme. Mitchell’s fluidity and tone (including where she hums along with her playing) contrasts with Adasiewicz’s shimmering vibe through changes in tempo and mood. 

Aquarius” is Mitchell’s birth sign which she notes expresses her “attraction to changing colors, fluidity and surprise,” reflected in changes in mood and tempo from Abrams sober arco solo to Mitchell’s flute floating before the four heat up with Rosaly taking a solo. The remainder of the performances further display changing musical colors, the group’s fluidity along with elements of surprise as Ice Crystal conveys varied moods from reflectiveness to playfulness, and goes from being from sober to flighty to celebratory as on the closing “Fred Anderson. This closing performance, with Calvin Grant’s narration, celebrates the late giant of Chicago jazz who was a mentor to Mitchell and others.

Aquarius is another excellent recording by Nicole Mitchell, showcasing her compositions, exquisite flute playing and splendid group, Ice Crystals. 

I received my review copy from Delmark. Among upcoming performances by Nicole Mitchell include an appearance at the Kennedy Center's Mary Lou Williams Women In Jazz Festival where she opens the final night of the Festival, Saturday May 18 on a bill with the winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, C├ęcile McLorin Salvant and Cindy Blackman Santana. It is the final night of three extraordinary evenings of Jazz. For more details visit http://www.kennedy-center.org/events/?event=MNWIL.



Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Jesse Dee Not On My Mind / In My Heart



Jesse Dee has apparently developed a reputation as a singer and performer in a classic rhythm and blues vein. He impressed Alligator Records enough that they signed him and recently issued his recording On My Mind / In My Heart. The hype of this album is that it conjures Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.

Dee certainly has an attractive voice and can sing and is backed by a solid band with a full horn section. Others have raved about Dee (I refer you to Living Blues and Jazz & Blues Report for samples), but I listened to this and wondered what the fuss is about. Maybe its the eleven originals none of which stand out in my mind. Nothing indicates he is the second coming of a Dan Penn or the late George Jackson as a songwriter. 

Some of Dee’s songs, including the opening title track are too wordy and this in part if reflected by the vocals and the backing sounding busy and cluttered. Also, while certainly pleasant to listen to, much of the playing sounds like a pastiche of classic R&B recordings, but listening to this one feels like one is listening to a band that is a faded xerox of the classic Muscle Shoals or Memphis bands. Perhaps I have been listening too much to James Carr, Deep Soul collections and The Fame Records Story, but this recording strikes me as unexceptional.

I note that Dee is one of the acts coming to the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival (www.bayblues.org) on Saturday May 18. I will be there in part because of Lucky Peterson’s presence and Peterson's recent Live DVD/CD set I recently reviewed, so I will be there to see Dee as well. I emphasize I don't hate On My Mind / In My Heart. I just am not excited by it. I am curious to see how I react to Dee live

I received a review copy from Alligator.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Avishai Cohen's Superb Triveni II


This writer missed Introducing Triveni, trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s first trio album with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits. Anzic Records has issued Triveni II, recorded at the same two-day session in Brooklyn that produced the earlier album. Triveni is a Sanskrit word for “the meeting point of three sacred rivers: two physical rivers the Ganges and Yamuna, and the invisible Saraswati River,” which parallels the meeting of the three musicians. Like the earlier CD, this was recorded in one room, without separation, or without headphones that allowed the three to interact in a more natural fashion.

The music consists of originals by Cohen with interpretations of tunes by Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. Cohen is hot right from the start on his Safety Land, with some fiery playing and both Avital and Waits solo in the middle of the performance.  He exhibits his wonderful ballad approach on Nov. 30, which is dedicated to his mother. Cohen mixes his bright tone and fiery passages with smears and judicious use of mutes. While on Nov. 30, his playing is in the vein of Miles Davis, on the rendition of Willow Weep For Me, and his original Get Blue, he plays in a bluesy gutbucket fashion that evokes Bubba Miley and Cootie Williams. 

There are two marvelous interpretations of Ornette Coleman compositions, the lively Music News and the swinging Follow the Sound. One of these tunes was not previously recorded and Coleman taught it to Cohen in Cohen’s apartment. Other tunes here come from the pens of Charles Mingus and Don Cherry (the closing Art Deco which is an alternate take of a performance on the earlier disc). 

Cohen’s brilliant playing is so well supported throughout and the interplay between him, Avital and Waits stands out as much as their individual contributions, resulting in the imaginative and terrific playing that make Triveni II the superlative recording and one of the finest recent recordings I have heard.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is Avishai Cohen and Triveni at WBGO-FM.



Friday, May 03, 2013

Tinner Hill Brings A Festive Saturday On June 8

Sista Monica will be one of the headliners at this year's Tinner Hill Blues Festival

Robert Hughes an excellent guitarist (with Teeny Tucker), song-writer and photographer, posted in Facebook about the demise of the Monterey Blues Festival. Among his observations was one about how hard is was getting to find blues festivals that actually focused on blues performers as opposed to festivals that featured bluesy pop acts and blues rockers. With this is mind, the Tinner Hill Blues Festival certainly falls within those Blues Festivals devoted to presenting blues and not pop and rock music rebadged as blues and arguably is the best straight Blues Festival in the Washington DC area for the 2013 Festival season.

It is five weeks until the Tinner Hill Festival takes place at Cherry Hill Park in the City of Falls Church. Presented in the City by the Tinner Hill Foundation, the Festival includes some free as well as ticked events. I previously posted about the concert at The State Theatre with John Hammond, and Phil Wiggins & the Chesapeake Sheiks on Friday June 7 and here is the link. On Saturday, June 8, the Festival takes place at Cherry Hill Park in Falls Church with a lineup headlined by Sista Monica and Bill Morganfield (in the video clip below performing a somng associated with Muddy Waters, She's 19 Years Old

Saturday, the music moves to Cherry Hill park where it will start at noon. First up will be Sheryl Warner and the Southside Housewreckers from Richmond, Virginia. This acoustic trio does their own take on early down home blues from the Piedmont, Delta and Chicago. It has been sometime since they last performed in the Washington area, but they have brought their wonderful acoustic  blues to the Herndon Blues Festival and the DC Blues Festival in the past. Here is a clip of them in performance.

Following them will be The Acoustic Blues Women featuring Eleanor Ellis, Pearl Bailes, Gina DeSimone & Pat Quinn.  This eclectic group of Blues Women playing songs influenced by Memphis Minnie, John Jackson and Chuck Berry. Eleanor Ellis, if she had sought it, would be regarded as among the greatest living female acoustic blues women and Pearl Bailes often plays with her on harmonica. I am not as familiar with Gina DeSimone or Pat Quinn, but Gina does regularly conduct workshops for the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation, so her performance should be a real delight.

Roy Bookbinder follows them. A student of the legendary Reverend Gary Davis,and a friend of the late John Jackson, Roy is one of the finest fingerstyle guitars alive with a wide repertoire that he provides his own style too. Match his guitar playing with his natural vocals and his story telling, and you have one of the most entertaining acoustic blues performers around. Above is a video of Roy performing Blind Blake's Police Dog Blues, a Blind Blake tune that Roy's friend, the late John Jackson performed.

After this trio of acoustic acts, Beverly “Guitar’ Watkins will hit the stage. Currently one of the performers associated with the Music Makers Foundation, Beverly was a member of the band of Piano Red/ Dr. Feelgood. One of the rare female blues guitarists, her association with the Music Maker Foundation in 1995 led to the release of an acclaimed recording Back in Business, and she certainly is as she will belt out her vocals as she plays with her guitar behind her back. Below she performs Back in Business.



Daryl Davis and his Band will follow with a set of blues, boogie woogie and rock and roll. Daryl is one of the DC area’s premier pianists who was mentored by the late legends, Johnnie Johnson and Pinetop Perkins. Daryl replaced Pinetop as the pianist in the Legendary Blues Band for a spell, and is Chuck Berry’s pianist on many East Coast performances by that legendary figure. 

Mary Ann Redmond is among the area’s finest blues and roots singers who has won numerous local awards. A versatile singer, she sings with feeling and nuance. Currently she is working on a jazz vocal recording that was funded through Kickstarter. When she is at the Tinner Hill Blues Festival, we can expect her to focus on the blues that is the core of her performances. Here she performs Georgia.

Guitarist Vasti Jackson gave Sista Monica Parker the label of “Lioness of the Blues,” which fairly describes the power and impact of her vocals and performances. Sista Monica Parker, returns to the Washington area after being one of the high points of the 2012 DC Blues Festival. In a review of her last recording, Living in the Danger Zone I wrote, “She is able to caress a lyric with a whisper before belting out her shouts without it ever sounding mannered or forced. Sista Monica will suggest to some the late Etta James, who along with Koko Taylor, Katie Webster and Ruth Brown, among the Sista’s major inspirations. However, she is her her woman and imitates no one. With a tight band that includes her long-time collaborator Danny B. (Daniel Beconcini), plenty of strong original material and select covers, she commands attention with the soul, warmth and passion she exhibits.”
Big Bill Morganfield seen at the 2005 National Capital Barbecue Battle
Photo © Ron Weinstock
Closing out the Festival on Saturday will be Big Bill Morganfield, a son of the legendary Muddy Waters, who performs in the tradition of his dad, Muddy Waters. If Big Bill is not a blues performer of his father's stature (and there are few today who are of his stature), it does not diminish the fact that he has become a superb purveyor of classic Chicago-styled blues, whether reviving some of his father’s classic blues, or presenting his originals in the same style. His classic Chicago blues will end a day of blues that will take us from the down home blues of the Delta and the Piedmont to the Urban Blues of Atlanta, the West Coast and Chicago. 
Here is Sista Monica in performance.

In addition to the performances there will be blues films showing for free at the Falls Church Community Center and a morning panel on the blues with some of the performers participating. For more information on the Festival visit http://tinnerhill.org/blues-festival.

I am part of the Tinner Hill Blues Festival Committee although I joined after the line-up was finalized.