Thursday, September 26, 2013

Winard Harper coming to the Kennedy Center

The wonderful drummer Winard Harper (seen here leading his group Jeli Posse at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival) will be at the Kennedy Center's K.C. Jazz Club on October 18 with Jeli Posse. Winard recently took to Facebook to share with folks this upcoming appearance.

This is what he had to say:

"Hoping the DC and Baltimore folks will help spread the word about the Kennedy Center appearance October 18. Looking forward to performing there and working with some of the neighborhood schools while we're in town."

As a subscriber to the the Kennedy Center Jazz Program, I purchased tickets to this show when they were announced early this past summer. I enjoyed seeing Winard back in February 2012 and look forward to this upcoming show. If you are in the DMV area and love straight-ahead hard bop, you will not want to miss Winard and Jeli Posse.

Here is a clip of Winard Harper & Jeli Posse in performance.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mr. B is Cary Ginell's Important Biography of Billy Eckstine

Mr. B.: The Music and Life of Billy Eckstine
by Cary Ginell
2013: Hal Leonard Books 

Cary Ginell, author of a recent biography of Cannonball Adderly, has a new book as part of the Hal Leonard Jazz Biography Series, Mr. B.: The Music and Life of Billy Eckstine. Like his biography of Adderly, this is intended to be a concise and accessible biography. I found this, like the Adderly book, a brisk and well done read. In researching Eckstine's life, Ginell mined print source sews reports, interviews and like from like the Pittsburgh Courier, DownBeat, Metronome and other sources along with interviews with those that knew him well. Ginell provides a chronicle of Mr. B's life from growing up in Pittsburgh, going to school, his early days as a performer, changing the spelling of his last name from Eckstein to Eckstine, joining the Earl Hines Orchestra and later after that band disbanded his formation of the legendary bebop big band, his days as one of America's most popular singers and more.

His lengthy recording career is recounted as well from the big band days to his substantial legacy as a singer of classic pop songs. Ginell recounts his successes and triumphs as well as frustrations and the obstacles of racism that limited and frustrated some of his ambitions. It was ironic that with Earl Hines he had two major hits, Jelly, Jelly and Stormy Monday Blues (a very different song than the T-Bone Walker song), as he generally resisted singing blues, in great part because record companies at the time generally limited most Black recording and artists to blues. 

Ginell details his recording career and goes in detail about his time with Savoy, with whom his big band made so many legendary recordings, ad then his signing with MGM. He had signed with MGM as a single with the hope of also having a career in films, but a factor that the Studios provided a lack of suitable (that is non-stereotypical) roles for Blacks led to his hopes and ambitions being dashed. Racism was also a factor in the decline of his status as one of America's leading popular vocalists who at a time had a status on the level of Frank Sinatra. 

Ginell recounts the unintended consequence of the 1950 publication in Life Magazine of a pictorial on Eckstine that included an innocent looking picture (included in the pictures and illustrations incorporated in this biography) of Mr. B with admiring white teenage girls after a show. The reaction to this included a letter from a Georgian saying he was disgusted with Life for printing these pictures, and that was a printable response. As Ginell observes, this photo with an indication of racial tolerance was much "too early to do anything but alienate the still regressive and prejudiced American society." It did not open doors and in fact shut doors for Eckstine with Ginell quoting Tony Bennett and Dr. Billy Taylor.

Mr. B continued to be a significant recording artist and performing through the fifties and sixties and Ginell traces his sessions for MGM, and then Mercury and Roulette with whom he made some of his greatest recordings. And he went from headlining the Paramount in New York in the forties to becoming a major attraction on the night club circuit such as New York's Copacabana and Las Vegas as well as the Catskills and Pocono Mountains. He active involvement with the Civil Rights Movement is also recounted. 

Ginell also details Eckstine's various aspects of his domestic life, including his divorces. His children's recollections of growing up with his as their dad also provide perspective on his life. He had some financial issues including apparently some tax debts although Ginell does not explain the reason underlying these debts. The IRS did seize and sell property to pay off a quarter million dollar debt in 1986.

Billy Eckstine was a trailblazer as well as a great artist. Ginell observes that he was "popular music's first romantic African American icon," his legacy was obscured because while he had many hits, he lacked an iconic recording like Sinatra's My Way or Bing Crosby's White Christmas. He made his mark in live performances, of which few were documented on a recording and a substantial body of his recording carer remains un-reissued. Be he deserves better. He struggled to be treated as the equal of white entertainers, which "showed a resiliency,sense of purpose and defiance that is as essential to the American experience as the efforts of Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The possessor of one of the most glorious voices in history does not deserve his anonymity." 2014 will be the centennial of his birth and it is time to reassess his talent and career "as one of the most important and essential bodies of work of the twentieth century." Gary Ginell's Mr. B.: The Music and Life of Billy Eckstine, makes a strong case for this re-assessment and is an important addition to the jazz literature.  

I received my review copy from a publicist for the publisher. Here is some vintage Billy Eckstine.

Friday, September 20, 2013

2013-0919 Nasar Abadey at Museum of American Art-9190316

2013-0919 Nasar Abadey at Museum of American Art-9190316 by NoVARon
Nasar Abadey and Supernova® were the featured performers at the Museum of American Art's monthly Take 5 series of Jazz Concerts on Thursday evening, September 19, 2013. The them of this concert was Jazz and the Civil Rights movement as the master drummer-composer Abadey led his quintet through jazz compositions inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, including works by Max Roach, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Cal Massey and Allyn Johnson.

With Abadey were pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist James King, saxophonist Joe Ford, and trumpeter DonVonte Mccoy for some excellent music. I only was there for the first of two sets when they opened with Charles Mingus' "Work Song," continued with a Cal Massey composition whose title I forgot, continued with Coltrane's "Alabama" and the set concluded with an Allyn Johnson composition "Four Voices Silenced." I am not sure about if the name of this latter composition is correct and will correct when I have fuller information. On this last number, they were joined by vocalist Navasha Daya for an extraordinary performance that concluded a remarkable set.

While this was recorded and filmed from the audience, this group and their performance of this material certainly needs to be memorialized and I know I would welcome a CD of this group performing this material.

Simply outstanding. Here are a few addition photos from this performance.

Navasha Daya singing with Allyn Johnson on piano, Joe Ford on alto sax, DonVonte McCoy on trumpet, Nasar Abadey on drums. Not visible is bassist James King
James King

Navasha Daya

Allyn Johnson

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bryan Lee Play One For Me

I remember discovering Bryan Lee in the late 1980s at the Old Absinthe Bar during my first visit to New Orleans. With the sideshow that marked (and still marks) Bourbon Street, discovering Lee's straight, no chaser blues was a real joy. I picked up his self-produced vinyl lp at the time and it was a solid souvenir of the music I heard that evening.Since discovering Lee, I have been pleased to see him again on several later visits to New Orleans and at some music festivals as well as his body of recordings, mostly for a Canadian label. 

David Earl's Severn label has just issued a new CD by the Blind Giant of the Blues, Play One For Me. On it Lee is supported by, amongst others, Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Johnny Moeller on rhythm guitar; Kevin Anker on keyboards; Steve Gomes on bass; Robb Stupka on drums with Kim Wilson adding harmonica to a few tracks. Also the great Willie Henderson has arranged and conducted strings and horns on several tracks with some of the Washington, DC area's finest players including trumpeter Kenny Rittenhouse, baritone saxophonist Leigh Pilzer and trombonist Reginald Cyntje. 

As expected with Severn, the production and recording are first-rate, and the result is a fresh take on Bryan lee and his music. There is plenty of his guitar to be heard here, but it is with his vocals that he really shines as he sings so soulfully. The album opens with his take on Aretha (Sing One For Me), a hit for George Jackson and includes wonderful renditions of Freddie King's It's Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough), Little Sonny's When Love Begins (Friendship Ends), that was a hot for Bobby Womack, and Lee's soulful original Let Me Love You Tonight.

Lee's take on the Womack recording undoubtedly will be a surprise for some of Lee's family with his fine soulful singing and Albert King-laced guitar backed by Henderon's uptown strings and horns that musically is on par with some of today's best soul-blues recordings. Lee's "Let Me Love You Tonight is a terrific soul-blues performance that has an infectious groove that should get dancers up and on the floor. For a bit of more of a down-home feel there is a nice rendition of Howling Wolf's recording, Evil Is Going On, and the down home flavored original Poison. Kim Wilson adds his harmonica to both selections.

In its mix of straight blues with southern soul-blues, this recording provides a change from Lee's prior recordings that perhaps focused more him as a solid singer and guitar slinger. While there is plenty of fine guitar here, this particular recording displays just how exceptional a singer Bryan Lee is. He is that good here and Play One For Me is that good a recording.

I received my review copy from Severn Records. Here is a clip of Bryan Lee performing.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tom McDermott's Bamboula

While thought of a ragtime and traditional new Orleans jazz pianist, Tom McDermott is a pianist who resists such easily categorization. Certainly his performances of a Scott Joplin rag or a Jelly Roll Morton stomp as well as his playing in various classic New Orleans ensembles might foster that view  However, we are talking about a person also conversant with the classical-blues-funk fusion of one James Carroll Booker and very adept at the Brazilian cousin of ragtime, Choro. To the previous items,  add that McDermott is as intriguing a composer as a marvelous pianist. Some of you may be aware of him from his appearances on the HBO drama Tremé.

This leads us to a marvelous retrospective of recordings by McDermott over a span from 1994 to 2011, Bamboula (Minky Records). This was curated by Van Dykes Parks, a person of certain fame himself. In his brief appreciation of McDermott, Parks compares McDermott to the pioneering New Orleans composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. In the manner the rhythms of Congo Square marked that composer's work, the rhythms of Cuba and Latin America similarly infuse the work of McDermott. This recording contains 16 selections from albums by McDermott. They include solo selections, duets and marvelous ensemble recordings with his close musical associate Evan Christopher, trombonist Rick Trolsen and several Brazilian musicians.

I can't think of a better McDermott recording to make casual listeners better take note than the title track, his marvelous arrangement of Gottschalk's most famous composition. It is performed at a brisk tempo with with an irresistible hot rhythm with McDermott's fluid and clean ragtime-laced playing along with marvelous trombone and clarinet. Opulence contrasts with its stately classical flavor with some lovely soprano sax. This track is followed by a playful ragtime-flavored duet with Christopher, Irresitîvel. On Scott Joplin's Heliotrope Bouquet, McDermott steps away from the piano as Christopher and Trolsen are supported by the Brazilian string players (Caio Marcio is outstanding on seven-string guitar). Patrick Harison's accordion supplies a gypsy jazz flavor to Musette in A Minor.

For Brenda is a lovely original rag on which McDermott, with his lovely playing, evokes the graceful charm of Joplin.  The interplay with Christopher on another duet, La Manege Rouge, displays their empathy for each other. Its back to Brazil for a rendition of Joplin's The Chrysanthemum with fresh rhythmic accents, while another duet with Christopher, Tango Ambiguo, (translated as ambiguous tango) with its subdued tempo is especially lovely. Lost Rio is a wistful solo piano performance, while the closing Santa Teresa is another spirited original choro with wonderful playing by his Brazilian and New Orleans associates (Henry Lentino is scintillating on bandolin). 

Van Dyke Parks has curated a terrific introduction to Tom McDermott's recordings on Bamboula. The sixteen selections provide listeners a chance to experience the depth and range of McDermott's piano playing and compositions. I would not be surprised if this leads many to delve further into his recordings and music. Highly recommended.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of Tom McDermott & Evan Christopher performing duets at the New Orleans Record Store, Louisiana Music Factory.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King Live a Road Dog's Life

After taking a slight detour towards an unplugged recording on their Delta Groove debut, Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King have a new release for Delta Groove, Road Dog's Life. Returning to their fiery electric blues, they are supported by Willie J. Campbell on bass and Jimi Bott on drums with appearances by Kid Andersen on guitar and Randy Chortkoff and Kim Wilson on harmonica (and vocals). The mix of Kubek's husky guitar with King's jazzier playing and soulful singing (evocative of Otis Rush) continues to have considerable appeal. Kubek can rock the blues with the best of them, yet he always remains anchored in the blues with his well structured solos. King's singing can bring out a laugh as well as get down to the heartbreak one will experience.

On this, they mix in originals such as the opening Big Money SonnyK9 Blues, the title track and Nobody But You (with Wilson and Chortkoff adding vocals on this title), with a couple of surprising covers. Big Money Sonny is an amusing tale about a gambler who (loves the dice and cards) has a nice marriage by convenience and handles everything in cash with some outstanding guitar. In contrast Come On In, Bnois welcomes back a lover that he tells her he won't be upset when she leaves because that is her style. The two have some nice unison playing during the short guitar breaks. With Wilson and Chortkoff adding harp and trading vocals with King, King leads them singing how much they want their lady in Nobody But You. Its a terrific shuffle with Campbell and Bott being terrific.

The title track, penned by Kubek's wife Phyllis, is a nice blues-rocker about the ins and outs of being a road dog that is a blues performer's life. Things start poor for King on K-9 Blues, as King's fiancé complains about his eyes wandering, calls him a dog, and sets him free since he doesn't deserve a good woman like her. Wilson adds harmonica on this with more strong blues guitar. That Look On Your Face is enlivened by a Tex-Mex accent (again Campbell and Bott are stellar). A change of pace is provided by covers of George Harrison's Don't Bother Me, and The Stones Play With Fire, as King providing his own take on these renditions along with Kubek's crisp playing featured. Chortkoff adds harmonica to the latter number.

Throw in the rock and roll of I Ain't Greasin' (with Kim Wilson) and the Muddy Waters' inspired Talkin' 'Bout Bad Luck (on which Kubek plays lap steel) and one has another first-rate addition to Kubek and King's recordings.

I received a review copy from Delta Groove. Here is a clip of Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King in performance.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tom Dempsey's Saucy Guitar-Organ Jazz

It was not long after guitarist Tom Dempsey's first exposure to jazz guitar (Wes Montgomery's Smokin' at the Half Note) that led him to Smith's recordings and Wes Montgomery and later the classic Jimmy Smith recordings with Kenny Burrell. This is music that has been a crucial part of his music especially since moving to New York City in 1991. It informs Dempsey's organ trio recording, Saucy (Planet Arts), with Ron Oswanski on organ and Alvin Atkinson on drums.

Dempsey cites Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, George Benson, Jim Hall and Grant Green as key influences and inspiration who "remain at the root of my soul as a musician." He does a fine job job of displaying that on his peppy original One Hundred Ways that opens up this recording which ranges from originals to interpretations of well known (Bridge Over Troubled Water) to somewhat obscure (Buddy Montgomery's Bock to Bock). 

Bock to Bock is an particularly appealing selection with a jaunty groove and Dempsey exhibiting a clean, skilled and imaginative sense with Oswanski adding the right amount of grease. The title track is a lively blues with some nice playing that would make Burrell and Green happy. It is the type of instrumental that the late of Albert Collins might have easily adapted and Atkinson trades fours with Dempsey and Oswanski. 

Dedicated to Ted Dunbar, one of his teachers and mentors, Ted's Groove, has a loping rhythm and an intriguing melody. Atkinson's sets forth a medium march tempo to start, Bridge Over Troubled Water, with fascinating interplay between Dempsey, Oswanski and Atkinson who is quite imaginative with his stick work. Dempsey plays an acoustic Martin guitar that the widow of Joseph Grana entrusted to him after he passed, and his very clean and restrained playing marks the lovely ballad Always Around. Another lovely performance is the trio's rendition of Lee Morgan's Ceora, with a Brazilian touch. 

The CD closes with Dempsey's driving Pat-a-Tat-Tat, a nod to the great Pat Martino. It is the coda for a wonderfully played and delightful recording. 

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a clip of Tom in performance (not an organ trio though).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Five early blues guitar gems

There is a 'blues revue" called "Ghosts of the Blues" whose notion of blues is pretty unimaginative and seems tailored for blues that weenie rock fans might have heard of and like. Well here are five examples of early blues featuring guitar that certainly need exposure. I mean do we need another mediocre rendition of Crossroads or Red House.

First up is Blind Blake with Police Dog Blues. One of the premier guitarists of early blues recordings, this song was also a favorite of the late John Jackson. Blake's recordings should be pretty easy to find.

Next up is Big Bill Broonzy, who we know was influenced by Blake and whose early recordings displayed his marvelous approach to the guitar. Mississippi River Blues (from 1934) is a melodic precursor of Key To The Highway, and one is surprised that folks don't delve into this and cover it as opposed to the more familiar blues standard.

Lonnie Johnson was a significant influence on Robert Johnson (who used to claim he was one of the Johnson boys). He was a brilliant guitarist who was not only a popular recording artist but also recorded with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Here is a gem of his early recordings.

It is easy to forget just how accomplished and great Blind Lemon Jefferson was. His Matchbox Blues was be adapted by a number of blues and rock artists with its line about wondering if a matchbox would hold his clothes. His self-accompaniment is stunning.

We close this blog entry with Robert Wilkins' marvelous song about a night at a down home juke joint Old Jim Canaan's. Wilkins would give up the blues for the church. He would take one of his most famous recordings That's No Way To Get Along, and make it a gospel number, The Prodigal Son, that the Rolling Stones would cover. My friend, Memphis Gold, grew up in the Memphis Church of God in Christ Church that Wilkins was associated with and was one of those who mentored my friend's musical development.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Southern Casey Jones and other great Blues piano

Today I present five great examples of blues piano. Here is five classic recordings.

First up is Jesse James who recorded four sides in 1936. Not much is known about him, but Southern Casey Jones is a terrific piano stomp.  Great vocal too. It is available on a compilation of folk and blues train songs, Black Diamond Express to Hell

Here is Charlie Spand with Blind Blake celebrating Detroit's Hasting Street. Spand was on my list of 10 great blues pianists and I recommend the Yazoo reissue "Dreaming The Blues: The Best of Charlie Spand.

Hersal Thomas, brother of Sippie Wallace, was a blues piano pioneer. Here is his classic instrumental Suitcase Blues from 1925. This is a song that Sippie would perform later.

Despite having participated in the recording of about 200 songs in the 1930s, Black Bob is biographical enigma. While his identity may not be known, his piano playing remains memorable as this selection displays. Here he is heard with Memphis Minnie and Casey Bill Weldon on New Orleans Stop Time.

Finally, the wonderful Cripple Clarence Lofton. Here on Brown Skin Girls, Big Bill Broonzy is on guitar as Lofton lays down some tough boogie woogie, whistles and shouts the blues before instructing Broonzy to "Beat it out Bill."

There, five examples of great blues piano.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kenny Burrell Plays Special Requests

Recorded live at Catalina's in Hollywood, Special Requests (And Other Favorites) on HighNote Records is the latest album by NEA JazzMaster Kenny Burrell. Its an auspicious career that started in 1951 with Dizzy Gillespie and has resulted in 108 records and CDs as stated by Bubba Jackson in the liner notes. On this release, he certainly shows no signs of slowing down in the least. It combines favorites and some audience requests (hence the title) and on this, Burrell is supported by a group that includes Justo Almario on tenor saxophone and flute; Tom Rainier on piano, Tony Dumas on bass and Clayton Cameron on drums. It is a wonderful group that swings effortlessly. Almario specifically will certainly grab one's attention with his very robust saxophone and lyrical flute, and Rainier has a clean and fluid style.

Burrell throughout is terrific. His clean, deft and precise playing is laced with melodic invention and wonderful tone that matches well with his band from his opening notes on Benny Golson's Killer Joe (and Almario's tenor makes its first impression here" to his fresh reworking of his classic Chitlins Con Carne. There are his interpretations of Duke Ellington from the familiar In a Sentimental Mood, to the lesser known Sunset and the Mockingbird (from The Queen's Suite) along with an amiable vocal from Burrell on The Feeling of Jazz. There is the lovely rendition of Freddie Hubbard's Little Sunflower, with lovely flute from Almario, and Burrell plays his acoustic guitar on The Summer Knows

Other songs are standards like Make Someone Happy and Bye Bye Blackbird, as well as J.J. Johnson's Lament. Listening to Burrell's spoken comments at the end of this CD, where he talks about the late show, one might hope more from this night at Catalina’s by may be forthcoming.

I received my review copy from HighNote. Here is a video of Kenny in performance with Stevie Wonder as a surprise guest at Catalina's in 2011, a year before Special Requests was recorded.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sugaray Rayford Is Dangerous

I was familiar with Caron 'Sugaray' Rayford prior to his joining The Manish Boys. About his self-produced debut album Blind Alley, I observed, "Not many singers can take us from the delta to the modern chitlin’ circuit as easily as he does. A big man with a big voice and plenty of personality that makes Blind Alley a recording to savor." He can be heard on "Double Dynamite," the most recent recording by The Manish Boys where he shared vocal duties with Finis Tasby. With Tasby's recent health problems, Sugaray Rayford has become the primary vocalist for the rotating talent that play in that group. 

Delta Groove has just released the label's first release by Sugaray Rayford, Dangerous. Producer Randy Chortkoff has brought together an impressive group of supporting players including harmonica players Sugar Ray Norcia, Kim Wilson, Big Pete and Chortkoff himself; guitarists Kid Andersen, Franck Goldwasser; Gino Matteo and Monster Mike Welch; keyboardists Anthony Geraci and Fred Kaplan; bassists Willie C. Campbell and Bill Stuve; and drummer Jimi Bott. Several tracks have the horns of saxophonist Ron Dziubla and trumpeter Mark Pender. This is a first-rate studio band to back Sugaray's vocals.

There is a nice mix of material from the Chicago blues shuffle that Sugar Ray Norcia penned, Country Boy, a song reminiscent of Dave Bartholomew's similarly titled track.which sports Norcia's harp as well. The Sugaray and Norcia trade vocals on Norcia's amusing Two Times Sugar with Monster Mike superb here. Sugaray's "Stuck For a Buck" is an amusing uptown number as his woman has maxed out his credit cards with punchy horns. Chortkoff contributed I'm Dangerous, a fine lyric that evokes Muddy Waters (especially Muddy's recording Evil) as Rayford shouts that he is a natural born lover. Going Back To Texas is another fine Muddy Waters styled number with a melody that goes at least back to Otis Spann's Hungry Country Girl, that the great pianist recorded with Fleetwood Mac. 

Goldwasser channels T-Bone Walker on the excellent rendition of Pee Wee Crayton's When it Rains It Pours as Sugaray gives a wonderfully nuanced vocal while he shouts out Gatemouth Brown's Depression Blues, with some terrifically slashing guitar in the  manner of fifties Johnny 'Guitar' Watson from Kid Andersen. Andersen and Chortkoff also shine backing Sugaray on the cover of Junior Parker's In The Dark

Closing out Dangerous is a rendition of Son House's Preaching Blues with some nice slide guitar from Goldwasser. It is an interesting and enjoyable performance, if not completely successful to these ears. It does not diminish the overall excellence of the blues heard here. Sugaray Rayford is such an impressive singer and with excellent material and the superb backing band, Dangerous is another terrific album from a gentleman who is quickly solidifying a place in the upper ranks of blues singers today.

I received my review copy from Delta Groove.  This will be issued on September 17. This review has also appeared in the September-October issue of Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 350) which may be downloaded as a pdf file at  Here is a video of Sugaray with The Manish Boys.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dick Hyman & Ken Peplowski … Live at the Kitano

Pianist Dick Hyman and clarinetist and saxophonist Ken Peplowski have been together for some 25 years, but in 2012 the duo spent a week at The Kitano Hotel New York City. A new CD on Victoria Records captures the two in performance that weekend … Live at the Kitano, and the two certainly play quite well together. There is quite a nice group of songs that the two are heard on including Rodgers and Hart’s The Blues Room, Hawkins and Monk’s I Mean You!, W.C. Handy’s Yellow Dog Blues and My Ship, by Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weil.”

The really opening The Blue Room may be familiar to some from the hot swing rendition by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra or Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall rendition. The rendition here opens in a stately, reflective manner before the pair explore it at a quicker tempo. Peplowski is on tenor for Gone With The Wind, and to this listener this performance has some allusions to the Art Tatum small group recording with Ben Webster. Hyman’s crisp, clean playing compliments Peplowski’s tenor that evokes the great ballad player with his tone. They get playful and spirited with Peplowski back on clarinet on the Hawkins-Monk classic.

Hyman opens Yellow Dog Blues with some two-handed boogie-laced barrelhouse piano before Peplowski states the theme and takes some leaps on clarinet here. The two shine on the rendition of Monk’s Ugly Beauty, with Hyman’s restrained stride-based solo marvelous and Peplowski’s clarinet conveying a pensive mood. The album closes with Peplowski back on tenor sax on a medley of Lover, Come Back to Me with Horace Silver’s Quicksilver

One is almost envious of those who were in the audience when this was recorded. David Kowalski is responsible for the fine location recording of the performances. One can hear clarinet squeaks, the rumbling bass on the piano, the vibrato of Peplowski’s tenor sax playing and the audience’s enthusiasm with considerable clarity. Hyman and Peplowski are skilled veterans rooted in the swing era and whose empathy for each other is obvious throughout this terrific recording.

I received a review copy from a publicist.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Chicago Festival Provided Some Hot Jazz

Hamid Drake - Artist in Residence at the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival
Circumstances led me to Chicago this past Labor Day weekend where I had the opportunity to sample the 35th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival. This was my first time at this event which was for the first time in Chicago’s Millennium Park. In prior years it had been in Grant Park, which is where the fabled Chicago Blues Festival is still held. This festival, while having several performance stages, attracts smaller audiences than the June Blues Fest, which I understand was one reason for the change. The festival is curated by the Jazz Institute of Chicago which also produces and programs other concerts and events and produced by the City of Chicago. 

During the daytime, there are two substantial tent stages that house performances (The Jazz & Heritage Pavilion and the Von Freeman Pavilion) with the evening headline performances featured in the Jay Pritzer Pavilion, a marvelous facility with several thousand seats and then plenty of lawn seating. There were a variety of events including a solo piano concert series that took place prior to the main Festival kickoff. On the main festival site, Chicago Jazz Magazine operated a CD tent

There was plenty of music to be heard covering a range from traditional styled Chicago jazz to hard bop and to free jazz. Drummer-percussionist Hamid Drake was the Artist in Residence and was heard in four different settings. I heard a fair amount of music as well as did not get to hear some acts that I would have liked to but whether and other factors prevented, so I have provided just some few observations of the performers that stood out to me.
Fat Babies at the Chicago Cultural Center
Fat Babies is a traditional band playing in what may be called Chicago style. Influenced by King Oliver, the Austin High Gang and Jelly Roll Morton, this band played crisply and delightfully in this older style of jazz at the Chicago Cultural Center . High points of their set included King Oliver’s “Snake Rag, Eddie Condon’s Sugar, and Jelly Roll Morton’s The Crave. They have assimilated the style of twenties jazz well that even originals come across as songs from that era.

Jack DeJohnette’s Special Legacy Edition Chicago was a special band assembled to celebrate the great drummer-composer and bandleader’s career. With Thursday, August 29 declared by the Mayor Jack DeJohnette Day in Chicago, he brought together legendary Chicago figures pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and multi-instrumentalists Roscoe Gordon and Henry Threadgill. These three, all associated with the AACM all played roles in DeJohnette’s musical development. Bassist Larry Gray completed this group with the ensemble playing a composition by each of the members. The music was demanding and free with a mix of fervor and abstraction in the performance. Compositions by Abrams and DeJohnette struck this listener as the most realized performances and Abrams was especially impressive throughout as was the leader. This performance was professionally recorded so those of you who were not at this performance will have a chance to hear it at some point.

George Freeman played at the dedication of the
stage dedicated to the memory of his brother Von

Guitarist George Freeman was part of the Friday celebration of his late brother Von for whom a stage was dedicated at the Festival. George is perhaps the last living Chicago jazz musician to have played with Charlie Parker. He displayed his considerable chops on an unaccompanied guitar instrumental. He was followed by a band led by saxophonist Christopher McBride for a set of hard bop infused music. I should mention that heavy rain early Friday evening led me to miss Wadada Leo Smith’s performance of selections from his Ten Freedom Summers. Of the performances I did not attend, this was probably the one I missed the most.

Having heard about saxophonist Ernie Krivda for so long and having enjoyed his recordings, I really enjoyed seeing him perform. With a robust attack and a fine band, he would be well better known of he had not chosen to stay in Cleveland. I remember bassist Stafford James from seeing the Louis Hayes-Woody Shaw band in 1976. Having returned from Europe in the past few years, James led a String and Percussion ensemble that included a string quartet, a reed player and M’Boom, the percussion ensemble the late Max Roach founded. While James played arco throughout, his mentor Richard Davis was also part of this fascinating ensemble. James’ compositions and the ensemble’s execution of the arrangements was a fresh listen. 

Gregory Porter and is Great Band
Gregory Porter followed and was spectacular. This was my second time to see him live and the first with his exceptional band. His rich voice with echoes of Donny hathaway and Marvin Gaye, his marvelous original material and his ability to tell stories with his voice were enthusiastically received. He previewed a couple songs from his forthcoming Blue Note recording along with rousing renditions of Painted On Campus, On My Way To Harlem, Be Good, Nat Adderly’s Work Song and 1960 What? He is probably my favorite male vocalist in any genre now. He is that good!

Fast Citizens
Having been impressed by the most recent recording by the post-Ornette group, Fast Citizens, I was impressed by their live performance that exhibited the same mix of composition, improvised playing and empathetic ensemble playing that made that recording so memorable. Saxophonist and Juli Wood gave a standout performance with her robust sax playing and her strong singing backed by some fine players. I enjoyed her so much that I purchased her CD.

Evan Christopher on clarinet and Don Vappie on guitar
Evan Christopher also delights with his clarinet playing as reflected by the fact he was a finalist in the Jazz Journalists Associations Voting. He brought an exceptional quartet of Don Vappie on guitar and standup bass (Vappie is usually associated with the banjo), keyboardist Joe Alpher and drummer Ocie Davis, that provided bright interpretations of songs associated with Duke Ellington (Alex Hill’s Delta Bound) and originals including a number inspired by the creole traditions in Haiti as well and his own boogie woogie number. He received a particularly warm reception from the Von Freeman Pavilion audience.

Hamid Drake, Joshua Abrams, Jeff Parker and Jason Adasiewicz
The final act I wish to highlight was Hamid Drake & Bindu: Reggaeology. Hamid Drake, a drummer and percussionist of note, was the Festival’s Artist in Residence and while his other Festival shows were likely more in the manner of free jazz, Reggaeology was notable for his mix of groove and lively musical textures and colors that likely made this performance more accessible to more casual listeners. His ensemble included trombonists Jeb Bishop and Jeff Albert, guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Joshua Abrams, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and vocals and beat box by Napoleon Maddox. The performance reprised his 2010 recording (Rogue Art) and all of the persons on that recording were present with the addition of Adasiewicz who provided a solo voice in addition to Parker, Bishop and Albert as Drake was marvelous in his roles as composer, leader and drummer. 

This was ann uusual Jazz Festival that included a significant amount of free jazz m ixed with more mainstream, straight-ahead offerings. The sound was quite good, especially in the Pritzer Pavilion. With a heavy dose of exceptional local talent mixed with its internationally know headliners, the Chicago Jazz Festival was part of a vacation that I ended my summer on a high note.

These informal comments were written for Jazz & Blues Report.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

2013 Rosslyn Jazz Festival

2013-0907 Rossylyn Jazz Festival-9070294 by NoVARon
2013-0907 Rossylyn Jazz Festival-9070294, a photo by NoVARon on Flickr.
James Carter joining Pancho Sanchez during his set at the 23rd Annual Rossyln Jazz Festival capped a wonderful day of Jazz on a late summer day at Gateway Park in Arlington, Virgina. After opening with three wonderful samples of Latin Jazz (including a dedication to Willie Bobo), Sanchez was joined by the great saxophonist Carter on some songs associated with John Coltrane that started with a spicy rendition of Duke Ellington's The Feeling of Jazz.
This collaboration ended an afternoon that opened with trumpeter Kenny Rittenhouse's Sextet for some strong hard bop (to use a weak analogy). Rittenhouse's band included a marvelous trombone player, Reginald Cyntje, along with saxophonist Lyle Link and pianist Allyn Johnson. Link was exceptional in this excellent company as the band played selections from Rittenhouse's 2013 recording New Your Suite

After Rittenhouse set, Naomi Shelton and The Gospel Queens came from Brooklyn to take us to church a day early. It was enjoyable change of pace. The Soul Rebels came on for a set of New Orleans Brass band music that had the crowd really up and dancing. It was a Crescent City party for an hour with that brash and funky sounds.

What an afternoon, with the music even better than the glorious sunny weather.  Congratulations to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, all the staff and volunteers who made this Festival happen and Arlington County, Virginia for its support of this event and the arts.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Why I Was Elsewhere Yesterday

Bobby Parker was one of the highlights of the 1st DC Blues Festival.  If you are going to celebrate a 25th Festival you could have brought back some of the local legends still with us.
As a Duke Ellington composition puts it, “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be.” Looking back 24 years ago around this time I remember meetings that Michael Roach, Eleanor Ellis and I had at a District of Columbia recreation center  near Dupont Circle. The DC Blues Society held instrumental workshops at that recreation center where the likes of Neil Harpe and Michael Roach (then the Society’s President) would teach guitar and Charlie Sayles teach blues harmonica. I would conduct listening sessions of recordings from different blues traditions there as well. That afternoon, Mike mentioned that there was interest on some folks in having events East of the Anacostia River, and one such event turned into the first DC Blues Festival.

A few months later in late August 1989 (I believe two Saturdays prior to Labor Day weekend) the Society produced the DC Blues Festival in Anacostia Park. A couple hundred people showed up on that overcast day and I remember that Guest Services provided only one food truck (which ran out of food except ice cream), so I was hungry. I also remember was the outstanding music that day. The festival opened with Flora Molton joined by Eleanor Ellis opening with her truth music. Other acts that day included Franklin, Harpe & Usilton joined by Phil Wiggins; Archie Edwards; Ben Andrews; Bobby Parker; Nap Turner; the Uptown Rhythm Kings; and Jesse James & the Raiders. Charlie Sayles and His Blues Disciples (which also included Larry Wise) may also have performed. Also Mike Roach brought on the finger style guitar master, Duck Baker, who did a couple of wonderful numbers. 
Eleanor Ellis was among those who founded the DC Blues Society and helped produce the 1st DC Blues Festival. At the first festival she performed with Flora Molton. She is one of the finest acoustic blues practitioners alive. If she was at the Blues Festival, she would have been with the Archie Edwards Ensemble. She should have been on the main stage
In the intervening years a number of the performers, Flora Molton, Archie Edwards, Ben Andrews, Nap Turner and Jesse James (Johnson) passed on while the Uptown Rhythm Kings broke up. It should be noted that a number of the performers, Franklin, Harpe and Usilton, Daryl Davis, Bobby Parker and Charlie Sayles are still with us. Also with us are Eleanor Ellis who played with Flora Molton as well as Phil Wiggins, who sat in with Franklin, Harpe & Usilton. 

The next year, the Festival moved to Langdon Park in NE Washington where it was for three years and in 1993 the Festival moved to the Carter Barron where for the first few years it took place on the Saturday after Labor Day. What a line-up we had back then. It was the first time that we had Saffire-the Uppity Blues Women, along with Willie Kent and the Gents, Johnnie Johnson (Chuck Berry’s pianist); The Nighthawks, Jesse Yawn & the Soul Providers; The Whop Frazier Band; Mixed Blend with Bernée Colbert (and David Cole on guitar) and Eric Butz and Friends opened it. The mix of National acts and touring acts was quite something and acoustic blues was an integral part of the Festival.

Two years later on September 9, 1995, Bobby Parker headlined a festival line-up that also included Daryl Davis; the wonderful Mississippi Heat; Larry Wise; Delta blues man John Weston; West Virginia traditional bluesman Nat Reese and the trio of Franklin, Harpe and Usilton. Again I note the mix of acoustic and electric blues at the festival as well as an outstanding mix of local and national acts on the main stage.
Phil Wiggins and the Chesapeake Sheiks is a marvelous new group featuring one of the DC Blues Society's founders. 
Which brings me to this year’s DC Blues Festival, the 25th and the 21st at the Carter Barron. One would think the festival would be a celebration of the Society and its heritage and that at least one or two of the performers from the first few festivals might have been included in the line-up on the main stage. I will let you go to the DC Blues Society’s website to view the line-up for this year's festival. In my humble opinion a line-up that included Franklin, Harpe & Usilton (and friends); Charlie Sayles, Daryl Davis and/or Bobby Parker would be at least as entertaining (if not more so) than the scheduled line-up. You could have celebrated Bobby's Birthday. I would not be as negative about this line-up if this wasn’t the 25th Festival and the line-up indicated some awareness of the Society and Festival's history. The Archie Edwards Barbershop Jambassadors (who usually include Eleanor Ellis and Rick Franklin) should have been on the main stage, not outside the main gate of the Carter Barron. Phil Wiggins could have been featured with his marvelous new ensemble the Chesapeake Sheiks. Even if just one or two of these performers had been part of the main stage, it would made things better.  All I know is that the DC Blues Festival ain’t what it used to be.

I should note that no one from the DC Blues Society came to me asking for suggestions for this year’s festival (or my reaction). If they are unhappy with my criticisms and believe they had an outstanding line-up, that is fine. Its free and I am sure those who attended enjoyed themselves But it could have been better. I was elsewhere.

The photos in today's blog entry are © Ron Weinstock