Monday, November 30, 2015

Jas Obrecht - Early Blues: The First Stars of Blues Guitar

Jas Obrecht
Early Blues: The First Stars of Blues Guitar
The University of Minnesota Press

Former editor for "Guitar Player" magazine, Jas Obrecht has written for years on blues guitarists. "Early Blues: The First Stars of Blues Guitar" is his most recent volume surveying some important blues guitarists who first recorded the 1920s. Included are portraits of artists including Sylvester Weaver, Papa Charlie Jackson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Willie Johnson, Lonnie Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and Tampa Red. While the chapters vary in length (with the Lonnie Johnson chapter being the lengthiest), Obrecht write clearly and concisely to note each person's significance and if these portraits of the performers may originally have appeared in "Guitar Player"decades ago, Obrecht has rewritten and updated them to incorporate the latest information about such artists. For example the chapter on Blind Blake includes discussion of a recently discovered 78 of his as well as the fact he died in Milwaukee. Also, the chapters on McTell, Johnson and Hurt incorporate information from recently published biographies of these pioneering and influential artists. "Early Blues: The First Stars of Blues Guitar" is highly readable and recommended.

I purchased this book. This is one of a number of short reviews I have written for the 2015 Holiday Gift Guide edition of Jazz & Blues Report.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Wynonie Harris Don't You Want To Rock

Wynonie Harris
Don't You Want To Rock - The King & DeLuxe Acetate Series
Ace Records (UK)

Wynonie Harris, the great blue shouter known a "Mr. Blues," is the subject of a superb double-CD reissue on the English Ace label which the label describes on its website as "23 of the R&B superstar’s seminal King sides in best-ever sound, plus an entire CD of alternates, all mastered from fresh transfers from the original acetates." These are Harris' first recordings for the Cincinnati based King Records label and find him backed by Dexter Gordon, Hot Lips Page, Tom Archia and many others with songs that would become classic, including his cover of Roy Brown's "Good Rockin' Tonight," heard with an alternate take and a breakdown take. There are the big band renditions of Louis Prima's "Oh Babe!" and the Ruth Brown hit "Teardrops From My Eyes," bawdy numbers like "She Just Won't Sell No More," and "I Like My Baby's Pudding," and the humor of "Grandma Plays the Numbers." There is a lavish booklet with session-by-session annotation that comes with this. It is probably this writer's favorite blues reissue of 2015.

I purchased this CD. This is one of a number of short reviews I have written for the 2015 Holiday Gift Guide edition of Jazz & Blues Report. Here is one of the songs on this reissue, although not as mastered here.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Slim Harpo Buzzin' the Blues

James Moore, who recorded under the name Slim Harpo, died very young at a time he was about to crossover to reaching a pop audience. The mostly commercially successful of the Swamp Blues artists recorded by Jay Miller at his Crowley, Louisiana Studios, Harpo had a number of hits including "I'm a King Bee", "Raining in My Heart" and "I Got Love If You Want It." His influence at the time was reflected by the fact artists like the Rolling Stones and Johnny Winter covered his songs. The German Bear Family label has issued a 5 CD box set "Buzzin' the Blues - The Complete Slim Harpo" which contains every studio recording of his, including alternate takes as well as some live recordings issued years after his death. In addition to the 5 full CDs of music with nearly 7 hours of music, there is a large, coffee table size hard cover book by Martin Hawkins with Harpo's biography, a discussion his music and recordings. The book also contains a full discography of the music sand is richly illustrated with many rare photos. I also add the alternate takes are presented separately from the issued recordings. Bear Family releases are expensive, but no one (not even Mosaic) does Box Sets better.

This was a purchase and this brief review was one of a number of short reviews I have written for the 2015 Jazz & Blues Report Holiday Gift Guide. It is obviously a gift idea for the blues lover in your life. Here is the classic I Got Love If You Want It."


Friday, November 27, 2015

Daniel Smith Jazz Suite For Bassoon

Daniel Smith has established himself as an extraordinary practitioner of the bassoon, not simply in the classical realm, but in the jazz and crossover genres as well. His career spans his recording of all 37 Vivaldi concertos to 2014's "Hot Smokin' Bassoon Blues." Despite Smith's remarkable facility on the bassoon, I found listening to that recording a challenge in part because of the sonority of the instrument itself. However, along comes across a release of recordings made two decades ago, "Jazz Suite For Bassoon" (Summit Records), with music that is more satisfying to these ears.

The recording has three parts that displays the breath of Smith's musical range. The first part is entitled "Baroque Adaptations For Bassoon and Jazz Trio." Accompanied by a jazz trio, he plays compositions by Vivaldi, Bach, Henry Purcell and William Byrd. First adapting Vivaldi's "Allegro from Concerto in Bb," he jazz trio backing provides a chamber group feel for Smith's supple and stately playing. William Byrd's "Pavan: The Earl of Salisbury" in contrast has a more relaxed morose feel in the accompaniment and Smith's measured playing and followed by a swinging rendition of Purcell's "Air For Ground Bass," which will suggest some of the Modern Jazz Quartet explorations in a similar vein. This set of five pieces has an intimate feel and appeal.

The second part of the CD has Smith and a baroque music ensemble, the Caravaggio Ensemble rearrange three of Scott Joplin piano rags, "The Chrysanthemum," "The Easy Winners" and "Original Rags." Michael J. West in his notes for this release observes that this performance would have been a smash in 18th Century Ballrooms. The lively reworking of ""The Chrysanthemum," Smith taking the lead with the ensemble providing a foundation and musical accents. "The Easy Winners" has marvelous playing by Smith along with complementary interplay from the strings and restrained piano.

The three movement "Jazz Suite For Bassoon" was composed by pianist Steve Grey who plays on it along with guitarist Mitch Dalton, vibraphonist Jim Lawless, bassist Ray Babbington; and drummer Mike Smith. The opening "Allegro" movement incorporates elements of Bobby Timmons and the Adderlys in the very lyrical melody. The second movement "Ballade," opens with Lawless setting the mood on vibes before Smith enters, sounding almost like a cello. His playing is followed by a piano trio segment before Smith reenters. It is a lovely performance. The third and concluding movement, "Finale" mixes blues, march and vigorous rhythmic swing for a lively conclusion to the suite and the recording that bridges the realms of classical and jazz.

Daniel Smith's "Jazz Suite For Bassoon" is a marvelous showcase for Smith's bassoon mastery and some marvelous chamber jazz.

A publicist provided the review copy. I have made minor changes in the review that originally appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 362).

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Charlie Haden & Gonzalo Rubalcaba Tokyo Adagio

When Charlie Haden had become confined to home when too ill to travel from the effects of post-polio syndrome, he started listening to tapes of his previous concerts and discovered the performances he had made with the Cuban pianist, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, at the Blue Note in Tokyo in 2005. The music was such that he wanted it released, and along with Jean-Phillippe Allard his producer from Impulse! and Universal Music France, they made the selections that appear on “Tokyo Adagio” (Impulse!) ready for release.

Haden and Rubalcaba had met in Havana in 1986 where his group played on a Havana Jazz Plaza Festival on the same night as Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and Haden quickly became a major supporter of the pianist, urging Bruce Lundvall of Blue Note Records to sign him. He joined Haden, along with drummer Paul Motian at the 1989 Montreal Jazz Festival, and the music was issued as part of Haden’s “The Montreal Tapes” series. They would collaborate in concert and on recordings a number of more times, including the six songs (sequenced by Haden) the pair performed over four nights in Toyko that are presented here.

Rubalcaba is a marvelously gifted pianist with stunning technique and touch that goes with the keen musical intelligence he manifests throughout these duets, which display the empathy he and Haden had in these intimate and lyrical performances, opening with Martin Rojas’ lovely ballad “En La Orilla Del Mundo (The Edge of the World).” Haden’s love of movie music is displayed in the romanticism that permeates their rendition of the Johnny Mercer-David Raskin composed “My Love and I,” with Haden more prominent in the performance with the first solo (accented by the pianist’s chords) followed by more remarkable, and beautiful playing from Rubalcaba.

Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave” (first recorded in 1958), is taken at a bit more spirited tempo, and after Haden’s strong solo, Rubalcaba’s wonderful playing brings out the melodic delight of Coleman’s composition as he does on Haden’s own “Sandino,” whose title commemorates the Nicaraguan revolutionary leader where he is able to mix lines played at high velocity with several bars played in a more stately manner while providing a feeling of calmness, even through the most rhythmically stirring passages. After a lovely rendition of “Solamente Una Vez (You Belong To My Heart),” Agustîn Lara’s bolero, “Tokyo Adagio” concludes with Rubalcaba’s lovely ballad, “Transparence,” on which Haden provides the last musical utterance with a musical figure after the pianist’s ending.

Ned Sublette, in his appreciation in the liner booklet, observes the sense of calm about the music heard here and the enchanting performances here certainly are in accord with this. The booklet also provides Rubalcaba’s memories of Haden and these performances, and has  recollections of Haden’s widow, Ruth Cameron-Haden who notes Haden’s love of the slow movements in classical pieces (leading to the album title), his going to Tokyo to perform despite starting to experience the effects of post-polio syndrome, and the production of this recording. Listeners should be grateful that Haden was insistent about having the music on “Tokyo Adagio” released after he had passed on. It is a recording full of beauty, spirit and heart characteristic of Charlie Haden’s remarkable career.



I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363).  Here is a performance of Charlie Haden & Gonzalo Rubalcaba from an earlier album.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pete Magadini's Bone Blues

Bones Blues” under the leadership of drummer Pete Magadini, is a strong mainstream Sackville Records session that is being rereleased by Delmark who acquired the Sackville catalog not that long ago. Magadini anchored a piano trio that included one of Canada’s most gifted pianists, Wray Downes on what was his first recording session and bassist Dave Young would later play with Oscar peterson. Added to this trio is tenor saxophonist Don Menza who brings a relaxed, melodic quality here to go with his oft sinewy attack.

The straight-ahead date opens with a swinging rendition of “Old Devil Moon” with Menza blasting off as the rhythm section pushes him along deftly before Downes exhibits with his fluid, precise playing why he was so highly regarded followed by a short solo from the leader. Menza gets really going on Miles Davis’ “Freddie Freeloader” from the legendary “Kind of Blue” recording, and his fervent solo is followed by Downes fresh twist on the theme. Menza’s marvelous way with a ballad is exhibited on a lovely “Poor Butterfly,” with the trio providing nice understated support. Young’s bass joins Menza to state the theme of Miles Davis’ “Solar” and his emphatic playing helps propel this swinging rendition. There is also lovely renditions of Benny Golson’s “I Remember Clifford,” and Dave Young’s wistful “What a Time We Had,” which showcases Young’s strong playing. Menza contributed the title track which is a solid medium tempo blues from Menza’s pen and followed by an alternate take of ““Freddie Freeloader.”

Throughout “Bones Blues” Menza is robust and tender as appropriate, and the trio of Magadini, Downes and Young are terrific in their backing and their own playing. It simply is a wonderful recording of swinging, straight-ahead jazz.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review appeared in the September-October 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 356). Here is Pete Magadini with Jim Galloway and Dick Wellstood doing some classic jazz.

Here is Don Menza.



Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Daniel Smith Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues

The bassoon is an instrument that is associated with classical music and it is out of the classical music world that Daniel Smith has emerged into the jazz world. I was not familiar with him until I received his new Summit Records’ recording “Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues” which is his 5th jazz recording (and 2nd apparently to focus on the blues).

He is backed on this by a solid rhythm section of Robert Bosscher-Piano/Arranger, Michael O’Brien-Bass, and Vincent Ector-Drums. There are also guest artists Ron Jackson-Guitar, Efrat Shapira-Violin, Neil Clarke-Latin Percussion, Greg ‘Organ Monk’ Lewis-Jazz Organ, and Frank Senior-Vocalist. They handle a program of blues (and blues-associated numbers that include Jimmy Forrest’s “Night Train”; Charles Mingus’ “Better Get Hit In Your Soul” Jimmy Smith’s “Back At The Chicken Shack”; Ray Charles’ "What’d I Say"; and “Hallelujah I Love Her So”: Sonny Rollins’ “Blue Seven”; Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues”: Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues”; and Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’.”

I have no issue with Smith’s technical command of what is a somewhat cumbersome instrument to play, much less swing. The issue is the bassoon has a sour sound to these ears which may limit its audience. This is not to say that there is some very intriguing playing, including from those of Smith’s rhythm section as well as his guest artists. I find Shapira’s violin quite engaging and the unison parts of her and Smith provide more comfortable listening. She certainly makes distinctive contributions to “Night Train” and Senor Blues” for example. On the latter number, pianist Bosscher has a nice break.

Senior adds some vocals to a couple of Ray Charles numbers with O’Brien taking a nice bowed solo on “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” while Lewis’ adds greasy Hammond B-3 to “Back to the Chicken Shack” and “C Jam Blues,” on which guitarist Jackson sparkles with his crisp, clean fretwork. Smith is brave to handle the challenges of the Mingus and Rollins compositions and his playing on a lesser known Nat Adderley composition “Hummin’” is fascinating with some bluesy single note playing from Jackson and the rendition of Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’” is also is also engaging with significant contributions from Jackson and Shapira along with a tight solo from O’Brien.

The reservations about this recording lie in the bassoon’s sonority that makes listening to “Smokin’ Hot Bassoon Blues” a challenge, despite the high level of musicianship as the novelty of a jazz bassoon may wear off for some. This might be best sampled a few tracks at a time.

A publicist provided my review copy. This review appeared in the September-October 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 356). Here is a video of Smith captured in performance.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hank Mowery Has Excuses Plenty

About Hank Mowery's 2013 recording "Account To Me" (Old Pal) I observed that Mowery was a strong blues voice that is showcased on a most entertaining recording. It is a description equally applicable to his latest recording "Excuses Plenty" (Blue Bella Records). Backed by his band "The Hawktones" with Mowery on harp and vocals; Troy Amaro on guitar; Chris Corey on keyboards; Patrick Recob on bass and backing vocals and John Large on drums and percussion. Also are a number of guest appearances including guitarists Mike Morgan and Doug Deming; bassist Larry Taylor; and harmonica wizard Dennis Gruenling, providing extra musical depth to the solid playing here.

Mowery kicks off this album with an original "Anna Lee" that is a nice dose of bluesy rock and roll (think Chuck Berry meets Kid Thomas). His sharp-toned harp mixed with his straight-forward vocals delivered with conviction is backed by rollicking piano and some kick-ass guitar. It is followed by the sober "I Don't Want to Know" with a restrained, thoughtfully played guitar solo by Claude Nine. The title track has effective trebly guitar from Amaro and some soulful harp playing from the leader followed by "Walk With Me," a Blasters styled rocker with terrific harp. "One and Only" is a terrific Jimmy Rogers' styled shuffle with more Mowery harp as he trades licks with guitarist Mike Morgan. "Cry For Me" is not the soul classic but an original with a swampy rock accents and greasy fafisa sounding organ from Corey. "Would You Still Love Me on a Rainy Day" is played with considerable restraint including Mowery's softly delivered vocal with Dennis Gruenling taking the superb harp solo here with Deming soloing on guitar. A cover of William Clarke's "Telephone Is Ringing" opens with some explosive Deming guitar and has explosive harp playing by Gruenling and Mowery as well as a tough vocal (sounding like he is singing through his harp mike).

Its another strong set of performances by Mowery who sands out as a songwriter, singer and instrumentalist backed by a tight band and some superb guests. The marvelous music on "Excuses Plenty" certainly should appeal to fans of traditional post-war blues as well as roots rock enthusiasts.



I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Hank Mowery and the Hawktones in performance.



Sunday, November 22, 2015

James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett and Dave Wilcox are Guitar Heroes

Stony Plain has a release that will certainly enliven the listening of guitar geeks, "Guitar Heroes." The album brings forth a performance from the Vancouver Island MusicFest by guitar legends James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett and Dave Wilcox backed by the keyboards of Jon Greathouse, the bass of Will MacGregor, and the drums of James Harrison Smith. Doug Cox, Artistic Director of the Festival discusses in the liner notes how this performance came together which I will leave for your eyes.

James Burton first came to notice on Dale Hawkins' early recordings including "Susie Q", before hooking up with Rick Nelson and then Elvis Presley. Albert Lee is best known to me as a country picker (an extension of Burton's chicken scratching style) who spent time with Emmy Lou Harris, Eric Clapton and Rodney Crowell. Amos Garrett was with Ian & Sylvia, Maria Muldaur, Paul Butterfield's Better Days and Bonnie Raitt while Dave Wilcox was also with Ian and Sylvia, Maria Muldaur, Nashville North, and The Ian Tyson (TV) show. This gives a sense of their roots but the music extends here to blues, rockabilly and jazz.

Lee and Wilcox handle most of the vocals in a most credible fashion. Certainly no issue about Lee's rendition of Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right (Mama)" that was Elvis' first single and the contrast between the switching leads and other guitarists providing support is delightful. Greathouse handles the vocal on "Susie Q" with Wilcox taking the first lead followed by Burton, Garrett and Lee, with Greathouse also soloing. It should be noted that both of these performances are little more than 5 minutes and allow each to display there licks and tricks but no one takes long self-indulgent solos. "Sleepwalk" is a showcase for Garrett's multiple string bending and tonal command followed by a lively rockabilly rendition of Ray Charles "Leave My Woman Alone," with Lee's affable vocal and some instrumental sparks, particularly the trading of licks between Lee and Greathouse for the first break and between Lee and Burton to ride out this 7 minute plus romp that seems shorter.

The opening of Jimmy Rogers "You're the One" sounds like they are about the hit "Honky Tonk" before Wilcox leads the  into a straight blues vein as he delivers a vocal a bit more forcibly than Rogers did before then calling on Burton to take the first solo, and after singing another verse introduces Lee. It is refreshing these gentleman handle this blues from the standpoint of country musicians and listening to their use of tone as well as their picking is a delight. Herbie Mann's recording "Comin' Home Baby" was a standard warmup track of blues bands in the sixties and the quartet of guitarists provide a lively rendering here. Wilcox's guitar introduces "Flip, Flop and Fly" which he sings and on which Lee is exceptional on. An instrumental renditions of the atmospheric "Only the Young" and a swampy rockabilly take on "Pork Salad Annie," are followed by a Wilcox original, "Bad Apple," the only forgettable performance him.

I know of the closing "Country Boy" from the Ricky Skaggs recording and the terrific video which was filmed in part in the New York subway system, but was not aware that Lee was one of the song's writers. It is a terrific number to close this performance. Lee may not have the range of Skaggs as a singer, but ably sings as well as takes listeners for a ride with some stunning playing here, with Greathouse and Wilcox also getting to take crisp breaks. This closes a terrific recording on a invigorating manner. "Guitar Heroes" captures four terrific guitarists on a festival performance where there mutual admiration meshes with often astonishing playing. Country roots and rock fans will find much listening joy here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "Susie Q" from this recording.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Ronnie Earl - Father's Day

Ronnie Earl has becoming somewhat prolific the past few years on the recording front and his latest album with his band, The Broadcasters, "Father's Day" is on Stony Plain. He is backed by Lorne Entess on drums, Dave Limina on keys and Jim Mouradian on bass with vocalists Diana Blue and Michael Ledbetter enlivening a number of tracks. Blue has been on recent recordings by Earl, while Ledbetter (a distant relative of Leadbelly) is best known for his role with Nick Moss' excellent band. This group is augmented by saxophones and guitar.

The title refers in part to Ronnie's reconciliation with his own father, but also indirectly relates to his rendition of a number of songs associated with a couple of his deep musical influences, Otis Rush and Magic Sam. Ledbetter handles many of the vocals here including a couple of covers of Rush numbers, "It Takes Time" and "Right Place Wrong Time," both of which are in the vein of Rush's recordings. Earl's original, "Higher Love" is a strong shuffle with horns adding to its flavor, a first-rate vocal duet between Ledbetter and Diane Blue, while Earl comes across as a cross between Rush and Kenny Burrell here.

Blue provides a nice vocal on Magic Sam's "What Have I Done Wrong" and if Earl's chording evokes Sam's original, his playing is more like Rush interpreting Sam. There is spectacular string-bending on this. Similar comments could directed on the rendition of "Every Night About This Time," a Magic Sam adaptation of Fats Domino's song with Ledbetter forcefully delivering the lyrics. Earl and Ledbetter co-authored the title track with its lyrics of making peace and forgiveness. Ledbetter's vocal and Earl's biting guitar make for a most moving performance. A brooding version of Brook Benton's "I'll Take Care of You" features more stunning guitar as well as Diane Blue's soulful vocal.

Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'" is a tip to Earl's jazz interests, followed by Ledbetter's vocal on "All Your Love," before closing as Diane Blue takes to church on Georgia Tom Dorsey's classic "Precious Lord." Earl is stunning, oft spectacular and the Broadcasters are typically in excellent form as they provide the apt, never rushed or frantic, backing. Limina's keyboards are especially worth saluting with a few choice organ solos, while guitarist Nicholas Tabarias solos on two of the 13 songs. In contrast to most his recent recordings which have been instrumentally focused, "Father's Day," showcases Earl accompanying two excellent vocalists for a wonderful recording for fans of various blues flavors.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in slightly different form in the September-October 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 362). Here Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters perform "Blues For Otis Rush."



Friday, November 20, 2015

Humphrey Lyttelton's In Canada

Delmark has another re-release on CD taken from the Sackville label, Humphrey Lyttelton's "In Canada." This was recorded in 1983 during the English jazz pioneer's second visit to Canada with the trumpeter and clarinetist backed by Jim Galloway on saxophones and clarinet, the highly underrated Ed Bickert on guitar, Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. While initially heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong, Lyttelton matured and his repertoire had extended to into what was in a style the late Stanley Dance referred to as mainstream, reflecting the influences of Basie, Ellington, and Buck Clayton in addition to Armstrong.

Swing, not trad jazz, is the center of these eight Lyttelton compositions opening with "It's a Thing," with the leader playing muted trumpet after Bickert's sprite guitar helps set the lively mood with Galloway's soprano suggestive of Johnny Hodge's alto, and the three trade fours towards the end. Nothing fancy about the Ellington evoking "Sprauncy," with the leader perhaps taking a nod towards Cootie Williams with his muted while playing in unison with Galloway's baritone sax as Swainson took a crisp bass solo. The peppy and playful "Squiggly" contrasts with a lazy blues groove on "Looking For Turner." One can hear some evidence of Armstrong's influence on Lyttelton's open trumpet on "Lady Jekyll and Mistree Hyde," a nicely paced performance with more marvelous soprano from Galloway. "Leisure World" is a fine blues with Galloway on baritone, with Bickert's chords and single note runs and the rhythm duo of Swainson and Clarke delivery their steady, swinging support.

No claim of musical innovation is made about the swinging jazz heard on "In Canada," It is a simple, straight-ahead, wonderfully played recording that provides plenty of  sounds to sit back, listen and enjoy.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review appeared orioginally in the May-June 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 360). Here is a live recording (audio) of Humphrey in a more trad mode doing Benny Moten's "South."


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Tad Robinson Day Into Night

Blue-eyed singer Tad Robinson returns for another helping of soul and blues on Severn Records "Day Into Night." Robinson has matured as a singer and his vocals (and occasional harmonica) are backed by the Severn house band of Johnny Moeller, guitar; Robb Stupka, drums; Steve Gomes, bass and Kevin Anker, keyboards. DC area organ wizard Benjie Porecki is on one track and Anson Funderburgh and Alex Schultz also add guitar while trumpeter Kenny Rittenhouse provides the handsome horn arrangements.

With the exception of a cover of "Lead Me On," Robinson, Gomes and Anker contributed these solid originals that evoke the classic Memphis sound, especially Hi Records, with the understated, smoldering feel of many of these performances. One highpoint is "Lonely Talking," with Robinson's soul vocals on this modern urban blues enlivened by Funderburgh's guitar bursts. Rittenhouse's arrangement for "He's Moved On"  has a touch of the Philadelphia Sound with backing vocals added as Robinson tells his lady she will realize that he has moved on. "Lead Me On" has a fresh arrangement allowing Robinson to place his own spin on this Bobby Bland classic with a heartfelt moaning vocal. "While You Were Gone," has a bass pattern that evokes "Take Me To the River" and on which Robinson adds a dose of harmonica.

The overall tenor of the performances (including the backing and arrangements) of "Day Into Night" are very much in the manner of the late Severn soul-blues legend Lou Pride. Severn has produced another modern urban and soul-blues recording that showcases how striking a singer Tad Robinson is.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  This review originally appeared in the May-June 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 360). Here Tad performs "That's How Strong My Love Is."
 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Duchess's Jazz Harmonies Shine on Self-Titled Album

Duchess is a New York based, all-women jazz vocal group featuring Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou, singing in the "close harmony" style associated with groups such as the Boswell Sisters who have released an eponymously titled recording on Anzic Records. The recording was produced by by Oded Lev-Ari, who helmed previous Anzic releases by Cervini and Stylianou. The trio are supported by a band led by drummer Matt Wilson with pianist Michael Cabe, and bassist Paul Sikivie. Also making their presence felt are saxophonist Jeff Lederer and guitarist Jesse Lewis.

The songs included range from a Peggy Lee number "I Love Being Here With You", Johnny Mercer's "P.S. I Love You" a playful Gershwin rarity with "Blah, Blah, Blah" and a direct Boswell Sisters homage with their arrangement of "Heebie Jeebies." The trio provide new twists on "Que Sera, Sera" and the standard "I'll Be Seeing You." Each gets a solo spot with "My Brooklyn Love Song" (Hilary), "A Doodlin' Song" (Amy) and "Humming to Myself" (Melissa). While occasionally they focus on the ballad side of the material, often the performances are flirty and playful with the backing band providing solid swing and saxophonist Lederer and guitarist Lewis adding marvelous solos.

Peggy Lee's "Love Being Here With You" opens with its bouncy perkiness, marvelous harmonies as they personalize the lyrics as they promise to swing this joint tonight before Lederer rips off a solo. They trade lead vocals and mix harmonies of "There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth the Salt of My Tears," which sounds like an updating of a classic blues with sharp solos from Lewis and pianist Michael Cabe. Doris Day would approve the lovely rendition of "Que Sera, Sera," while Amy Cervini is perky with her colleagues adding to the perkiness of "A Doodlin' Song," with harmony backing and spoken asides with some tough tenor sax complimenting the light-hearted singing.

Wilson second line groove provides the primary backing for the lively reworking of the Chordettes hit "Lollipop," with a lively tenor sax-drum duo break in the middle. "It's a Man" with its lyrics warning women of a two-legged animal, sports some honking sax. The perky, lively harmonies of "Heebie Jeebies" closes a delightful and enchanting recording that may not be the deepest side of blues, but sure is full of serious fun.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in slightly different form in the November-December 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363). Here is Duchess performing "I Love Being Here With You."


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Classic Blues Artwork From the 1920s - Vol. 13 from Blues Images

Some of you may be aware that not too long ago a collector purchased a Paramount 78 of legendary Mississippi blues performer Tommy Johnson for $37,000. That collector, John Tefteller, already had a copy of that 78, but the one he purchased was in better condition (he did sell the other 78). While Mr. Tefteller is a collector, he is not one who purchases such rare records to have as trophies. Rather, he gets them mastered using careful techniques for issuance on CDs that he produces that accompany a calendar of blues advertisements and photos of blues legends that he offers on a yearly basis. Now Available is "Classic Blues Artwork From the 1920s - Vol. 13," (Blues Images), which is subtitled "Special American Epic Edition."

American Epic is the name of an upcoming PBS television series and for it, a number of rare recordings of blues, country, cajun, Hawaiian, Native American and other music was remastered employing a most remarkable and costly technology to restore the rare recordings used. This technology is employed for the twenty performances on the accompanying CD. The actual Calendar is handsomely produced with a reproduction of an advertisement of a recording or a portrait of the artist for each month of the year and the first twelve recordings correspond to a graphic for a month. The remaining eight selections include some selections that may be the other side of a 78 along with two rare sides each by Hattie Hyde and J.D. Short. Each month's calendar includes selected holidays and birth and death dates of important blues artists.

For example, for January there is a reproduction of an advertisement that was issued to help sell Jim Jackson's "My Monday Blues," and one can read that Jackson "is the meanest moaner of the blues you've ever heard," while listening to the performance with a lyric that is a mix of "One Thin Dime Blues" and other traditional themes sung rather strongly against a somewhat rudimentary backing. A brief bio of Jackson is given at the bottom of the calendar page. There is some truly spectacular music including the great Blind Willie Johnson, "When the War Was On," with his driving accompaniment and gravelly shouting with his wife providing backing vocals. Not much is known of Charlie Kyle whose "Walking Blues" and "No Baby," was played on a twelve-string and sung in a clear and expressive manner. Included is a clear picture of Kyle and his guitar, probably taken at his sole recording session. Barbecue Bob's wonderful "Atlanta Moan" is the April recording with his picture accompanying a Columbia Records ad and his driving twelve-string playing (using a slide) and singing are top-flight.

For May, there is a portrait of the great Papa Charlie McCoy, shown holding a mandolin who is heard on a stunning mandolin rendition of (Pinetop's) "Boogie Woogie," vocal asides and all. Also on the CD is the other side, a marvelous "Country Guy Blues," again with stunning blues mandolin playing by this remarkable musician. June's music is the sublime vocal duet by Ruth Willis and another terrific Atlanta twelve-string player, Curley Weaver on the lovely "Some Cold Rainy Day," whose melody is similar to "Sitting on Top of the World." July brings us the guitar wizardry of Blind Blake on "Wabash Rag," with his superb finger-style playing and a vocal celebrating the famed Chicago avenue. August includes the ad for one of Blind Lemon Jefferson's most celebrated recordings "'Lectric Chair Blues"/"See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," and this writer can not believe he has ever heard Jefferson's high pitched singing or deft playing captured with such clarity.

September's ad is for Jed Davenport and His Beale Street Jug Band and "Beale Street Breakdown," is a spectacular, uninhibited instrumental romp with fiddle, harmonicas and driving rhythm. Not much is known about Spark Plug Smith, who it is suggested is named after cartoon character Barney Google's horse, Spark Plug. His performance, "Vampire Woman," is actually reference to a street walking woman (vamp being 1920s slang for one who takes a man from his wife). Ma Rainey is featured for November where "Georgia Cake Walk," which was the B-side to "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," and features a talking duet set against an early jazz accompaniment. The Calendar closes with a fiery sermon "The High Cost of Sin!" by Black Billy Sunday (Rev. Dr. J. Gordon).

 
Small image of representative month.
Also heard on the CD is another fiery sermon "Will You Spend Eternity In Hell," two vocals from a Memphis singer, Hattie Hyde, accompanied by the Memphis Jug Band, the afore-mentioned extra selections from Charlie Kyle, Charlie McCoy, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. The CD concludes with two phenomenal performances by J.D. Short, although they are the worst sounding recordings reproduced here as the original 78 was in terrible condition and is the onlylocated  copy of this 80 year recording. Despite the rough, distorted sound, one can still appreciate Short's brilliance as a guitarist and his singing. There are other reissues of his early recordings available and he was recorded as part of the blues rediscoveries in the 1960s. Placed at the end, it might be skipped by those who find a bit of surface noise acceptable. Those who have listened to some reissues of Skip James and Charlie Patton, with a scrambled eggs sound in the background, should have little problem enjoying his terrific music.

Kudos to John Tefteller and those who were involved in the production of "Classic Blues Artwork From the 1920s - Vol. 13." This will make a wonderful gift for the real blues lover this holiday season. This is available directly from Blue Images which also has previous years Calendars and CDs from previous Calendars, along with posters and t-shirts for sale. You can go their website, www.bluesimages.com, to order directly. This terrific Calendar and CD is also being sold through amazon, Alligator Records and other vendors.

I purchased this Calendar and CD from Blues Images. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Eric Bibb & JJ Milteau - Lead Belly's Gold


Folk and blues singer Eric Bibb has recollections of Lead Belly's music growing up, whether by recordings by others singing his songs or a children's recording by him. His father Leon (who recently passed on), was at the time beginning to become known in folk circles.  He told Eric of seeing Lead Belly perform at the Village Vanguard in the 1940s. Eric observes, with this background, that the sound of Lead belly and his 12 string is part of his musical DNA. He pays tribute to the great musical bard with French harmonica player JJ Milteau on "Lead Belly's Gold: Live at the Sunset and more" (Stony Plain). This was mostly recorded in performance at the Parisian club, The Sunset, supplemented by a few studio recordings. With Larry Crockett on drums and percussion, and occasional vocals from Big Daddy Wilson and Michael Robinson, and Gilles Michel adding bass for a few selections, Bibb delivers 12 performances from Lead Belly's repertoire along with 3 originals inspired by Leadbelly.

There is much to enjoy from the life invested into the songs by Bibb. It starts with the formidable rendition of "Grey Goose." Milteau's harmonica playing also provides more than musical accompaniment. Often his playing suggests a button accordion as on the lively "Midnight Special" with Bibb's guitar sounding more like additional rhythm. There is a marvelous spiritual medley "When That Train Comes Along / Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," where Bibb's vocals is joined by Big Daddy Wilson. Bibb's gentleness of his appraoch adds to the appeal of "Bring A Little Water, Sylvie," with  light, finger-style guitar and Milteau's buzzing harmonica accompaniment. Crockett's deft drumming adds to the musical delight.

"When I Get To Dallas" is an alluring original inspired by Lead Belly's early days as a street singer. Bibb's flowing guitar certainly provides a contrast to Lead Belly's more emphatic rhythmic 12-string playing on "Pick a Bale of Cotton," which is followed by a plaintive, "Goodnight, Irene." The concert portion concludes with a lively "Rock Island Line," while the studio portion opens with a soft spoken treatment of "Bourgeois Blues," Leadbelly's complaint about segregation in 1930s and 1940s Washington DC. The original "Chauffeur Blues," imagines Lead Belly speaking to John Lomax in the afterlife.  This fervent performance, unlike "When I Get To Dallas," has less of Leadbelly's style in its performance.

After Bibb plays a 6-string banjo on Leadbelly's retelling of the "Titanic" disaster, the album concludes with "Swimmin' In A River Of Songs." Here, Bibb sings as if he was Leadbelly singing about his life story. It is a marvelous original that like Bibb's renditions of Lead Belly's songs, shows how accomplished he is. With the varied and sympathetic playing of Milteau, Eric Bibb has recorded a wonderful tribute to a man whose life and music still seems larger than life.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here the two perform "Grey Goose."


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Joe Lovano Reunites with John Scofeld for Past Present

Guitarist John Scofield's new album "Past Present" (Impulse), is a return to a musical partnership with Joe Lovano that he engaged in two decades ago. The group included drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Dennis Irwin. Irwin has passed and replaced by Larry Grenadier for the present recording in this same "electro-acoustic quartet" format to use annotator Josef Woodard's description. The album features nine Scofield originals, with several playing tribute to John's late son Evan who lost a battle with a swift and rare cancer. Scofield plays without pedals and FX on this recording.

There is a bluesy, groove-centered ambiance about the performances here starting with the opening "Slinky," with its appealing melodic base as Lovano's tenor wraps around the leader's prickly guitar whose marvelously constructed blues-infused solo is followed by Lovano's robust playing as Grenadier anchors things and Stewart adds rhythmic accents. Stewart's drums kicks off the playful "Chap Dance" which as Woodward astutely notes evokes both Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins or this lively and ebullient performance, and this is followed by the wistful "Hangover."

"Get Proud" hints at the classic Herbie Mann recording "Coming Back Home," as Lovano and Scofield imaginatively craft their solos here that are thoughtfully crafted, yet still full of energy and passion. "Past Present" is proof that jazz can be both playful, entertaining and yet musically challenging and one certainly hopes this quartet tours extensively.

I believe I received my review copy from a publicist. This review has appeared in the November-December Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363). Here is Scofield and Lovano along with drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Ben Street at the 2015 Montreal International Jazz Festival.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lara Downes - A Billie Holiday Songbook


An intriguing recording is Lara Downes' "A Billie Holiday Songbook," (Steinway & Sons Records). A conservatory and celebrated concert pianist, Downes has long inspired by the music of Holiday and this recording features renditions of songs associated with the great singer whose centenary is in 2015. Downes explains that "My take on this music, as a classical pianist paying tribute to a jazz icon, is also a tribute to the unique diversity of our American musical tradition - a tradition which includes European concert music, the blues, jazz, folk, rock, and on and on - evolving, absorbing the sounds of each successive generation to reflect the multifaceted complexity of American music."

With the exception of Marian McPartland's arrangement for "Willow Weep For Me," and Yeddy Wilson's arrangement for "Blue Moon"; composer Jed Distler crafted the arrangements for Downes performances with the intent of honoring both the original melodies and Holiday's phrasing while harvesting elements from the patchwork styles of American piano music: ragtime, parlor music, stride, pop, gospel, classical and film music. The result are handsome performances but a paradox in that Holiday's music was improvisational while the performances are of composed and arranged music. This is more than simply the difficulty of a solo pianist evoking Billie Holiday's music, although that comes with the nature of this project.

Still there is many pleasures to be had simply enjoying the renditions of "Yesterday," the stride elements heard in "Blue Moon," a wistful and lovely "Body and Soul," and the melancholy of "Good Morning Heartache." Still the approach seems a bit flat when handling "Billie's Blues," and the bass note runs clusters don't change this. Nor does the rendition of "What a Little Moonlight Do" capture the effervescence of Holiday's recording.

This is quite an enjoyable album. However, for for a recording that is a celebration of Billy Holiday, some the performances might be best appreciated by not thinking too much about Holiday's renditions.

I received my review copy as a download from a publicist. Here Lara performs "God Bless The Child."


Friday, November 13, 2015

Los Angeles Hosting Monk Institute International Jazz Vocals Competition and All-Star Gala Concert

Happening this weekend, the following appeared in the November-December Jazz & Blues Report.

Vuyolwethu Sotashe at 2014 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival
The Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocals Competition will be held November 14-15 in Los Angeles. This year’s Competition features some of the world's most outstanding young jazz vocalists who will sing before a judging panel that includes Patti Austin, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Freddy Cole, Al Jarreau and Luciana Souza. The Jazz Vocals Competition Semifinals will be held on Saturday, November 14 from 12 to 5 p.m. at Schoenberg Hall on the UCLA campus. Each of the eleven semifinalists will perform for 15 minutes, accompanied by pianist Reginald Thomas, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen. Three finalists will be selected for the Finals on Sunday, November 15 at 7 p.m. at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. They will vie for scholarships and prizes totaling more than $100,000 including a $25,000 first place scholarship and a guaranteed recording contract with Concord Music Group.

The 11 semifinalists are: Liam Burrows, Sydney, Australia; Christie Dashiell, Greenville, North Carolina; Jazzmeia Horn, Dallas, Texas; Sirintip Phasuk, Stockholm, Sweden; Walter Ricci, Naples, Italy; Lena Seikaly, Falls Church, Virginia; Vuyolwethu Sotashe, Butterworth, South Africa; Veronica Swift, Charlottesville, Virginia; Katie Thiroux, Los Angeles, California; Danielle Wertz, Falls Church, Virginia; and Lucy Yeghiazaryan of New York, New York and Armenia. This writer has been privileged to have seen several of the semi-finlaists perform including Vuyolwethu Sotashe, the winner of the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival's 1st Vocal Competition in 2014.
Christie Dashiell at 2014 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival

Immediately after the Competition Finals, The All-Star Gala Concert on Sunday, November 15 will bring together some of the most renowned artists of our time. Legendary producer, composer, bandleader and humanitarian Quincy Jones, will receive the Institute’s 2015 Herbie Hancock Humanitarian Award. Herbie Hancock, Seth MacFarlane, Andy Garcia, Jeff Goldblum and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will host the event. Artists will include Patti Austin, George Benson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terri Lyne Carrington, Freddy Cole, Dave Grusin, Jimmy Heath, Paul Jackson, Jr., Al Jarreau, Hubert Laws, Gretchen Parlato, Arturo Sandoval, Wayne Shorter, Luciana Souza, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Ben Williams and others. John Beasley will serve as the evening’s musical director.

The Thelonious Monk Institue International Jazz Competition, is regarded by many as the most prestigious jazz competition. Each year, the Competition features a different instrument, and major scholarships and prizes are awarded to talented young musicians. For 28 years, the competition has launched the careers of a number of major jazz artists including saxophonist Joshua Redman; vocalists Cécile McLorin Salvant, Jane Monheit and Gretchen Parlato; pianist Marcus Roberts; bassist Ben Williams; and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. Cécile McLorin Salvant was the winner the last time the competition focused on vocals and the other two finalists, Charenée Wade and Cyrille Aimée, have also led successful solo careers.
Lena Seikaly at 2014 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival

Proceeds from the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocals Competition and All-Star Gala Concert will support the Institute’s public school jazz education programs across the U.S. and around the globe. In recent years, the performances of the semi-fianls have been broadcast over the world-wide web, and one should check the Monk Insitute's website to see if they web-cast this round this year. Tickets for the gala start at $40 and are available at dolbytheatre.com. For more information about the competition and the Monk Institute’s other programs, visit monkinstitute.org.

(In addition to the Monk Institutes press release, this writer also used Nate Chinen's New York Times story for background).

On Facebook, The Monk Institute gave more details about the webcast of the semi-finals. 

"This year's MonkCompetition features Semifinalist vocalists from Australia, Italy, South Africa and Sweden as well as the United States. No matter where you are, you can watch the 2015 Semifinals round at UCLA - with all 11 of our unbelievable competitors - LIVE on monkinstitute.org. Webcast starts at 12:00 Pacific Time on Saturday, November 14. Don't miss it!"


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Rockin Johnny Burgin Greetings From Greaseland California


Rockin' Johnny Burgin has impressed as a vocalist, guitarist and harmonica player who has worked with Sam Lay, Pinetop Perkins and Tail Dragger among others along with his own recordings for Delmark. While in the West Coast he stopped by fellow guitarist Kid Andersen's Greaseland Studio for a session with Andersen, harmonica player Aki Kumar, bassist Vance Ehlers and drummer June Core. The result is "Greetings From Greaseland California" (West Tone Records),  a collection of strong blues covering a diversity of Chicago blues styles.

Burgin is an earnest and solid singer who delivers the songs here without histrionics or artifice. Backed by this strong studio band, he plays Chicago blues with a tasteful, yet strong idiomatic approach so his performances  come off as relaxed and not rushed. The album opens with a terrific shuffle "Love Me Like I Want It." One is struck by the tempo anchored by Core's relaxed groove and Burgin's prickly, stinging guitar. The album concludes with a wonderful rendition of a lesser known Jimmy Reed number "Tell the World I Do," with Kumar's Reed styled harp played in the manner of Reed himself backing Burgin's laconic vocal.

In between these two songs are the instrumental "Havana Rocks' with terrific harp at the opening and a tempo change midway leading to strong guitar playing; "She's a Hit" another classic Chicago blues; a cover of a lesser known Robert Lockwood number, "Western Horizon" with Burgin's guitar evoking the the late blues legend; a rendition of Junior Parker's "Telephone Angel" in the manner of Son Seals; a "Tribute to John Wrencher" that conjures up that one-armed harp player; and "Empty Bed Blues," the album's highpoint in which a Josh White song is rendered as if by Earl Hooker.

"Greetings From Greaseland California" is another strong recording by Rockin Johnny Burgin that fans of Chicago blues will savor.

I received my review copy (as a download) from Johnny Burgin himself. Here Johnny does Otis Rush's "Homework."


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Linda Presgrave - Along the Path

Pianist, composer and arranger Linda Presgrave has a new recording "Along the Path" (Metropolitan Records). The recording is her fourth and has her in the company of Harvie S – bass, Allison Miller – drums & gongs, Stan Chovnick – soprano sax (and Presgrave's husband), Todd Herbert – tenor sax, Vincent Herring – alto sax, and MJ Territo – voice/lyricist. With this ensemble, Presgrave Linda Presgrave takes the listener along on a musical journey from several ports of call in Asia to the Catalan region of France on two suites, "The Asian Suite" and "The French Suite" before the disc closes with soprano saxophonist Chovick's "Universal Freedom."

The opening title track, the first of the four-part "The Asian Suite," evokes to this listener the Ellington-Coltrane collaboration with Presgrave, Chovick, Harvie S and Miller each taking solos. Ms. Presgrave impresses with his lyricism and touch of her playing. The second part of this suite, "Where East Meets West (Macau)," is a lovely trio performance that Harvie S introduces. Chovick returns to state the theme of "Harbor Lights (Hong Kong)" and then explore the lovely melody. The closing work of this suite, "Asakusa View (Tokyo)" was inspired by a view from a Tokyo hotel of the Sensoji Temple, and is the most energetic performance of the suite with some powerful driving soprano sax and a memorable solo from Miller.

"The French Suite," a six-part work was inspired by a tour of France and includes an opening trio section, three quartet performances (with different horns); a song with all three horns and a final part with a vocalist. The opening trio, "Colors of Collioure," a light beautiful waltz with Miller's deft use of brushes under the lovely piano here. Chovick is featured on the enchanting "Bird of Céret," inspired by a bird's song Presgrave heard from her hotel balcony in the French Catalan town, with a feel to these ears akin to Brazilian jazz. Todd Herbert's robust tenor sax is featured on "You Just Never Know," a spirited performance that conjures up the classic John Coltrane Quartet. After Vincent Herring's alto is spotlighted on the atmospheric, and aptly titled, "Blues For a Rainy Night," all three horns are present for highly spirited solos on "Place Picasso," named after a lively plaza in the town of Céret. The final part of the suite is a vocal version of ""Bird of Céret," with lyrics and a vocal from MJ Territo who tells the story of the inspiration of the song.

Chovick contributed the final work "Universal Freedom" to this recording under the rubric of "Our Hope For the Future." This minor blues (again evoking Coltrane) in 3/4 time has a fiery soprano solo along with solos from Presgrave, Herbert and Miller. It is a fervent performance that provides a strong ending to the outstanding "Along the Path."

I receive my review copy from a publicist. Here is Linda and MJ territo performing "Bird of Céret."




Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bey Paule Band Not Goin' Away


The Bey Paule Band, a terrific soul-blues band featuring the vocals of Frank Bey and the guitar of Anthony Paule, return with "Not Goin' Away" (Blue Dot Records). The disc follows-up the terrific "Soul of the Blues." Like its predecessor, it mixes  choice originals with a few strong covers of lesser known material. In addition to Bey and Paule, the Band includes Tony Lufrano on keyboards; Paul Olguin on bass; Paul Revelli on drums; Mike Rinta on trombone; Tom Poole on trumpet and Nancy Wright on saxophone with guest appearances from Christoffer 'Kid' Andersen on guitar (and he co-produced, recorded and mixed this); and Jack Sanford on baritone sax with back-up singers added to half of the selections here.

Bey stands out as a singer (in my review of "Soul of the Blues" I compared him to Solomon Burke and Mighty Sam McClain) and he puts his stamp on everything here (except the instrumental "Noel's Haze") starting with the autobiographical opening "Black Bottom" where he sings about growing up in the Georgia sticks and now fronting a eight-piece band. Its slightly swampy feel is followed by the deep funk of "Kiss Me Like You Mean It," with some nifty guitar runs from Paule and greasy organ from Lufrano with punchy horns. Mike Rinta and Paule are responsible for the popping horn arrangements throughout. One track with punchy horns is the driving original from Bey, Paule and Christine Vitale, "Right In Front Of You," about a guy who understands the woman's problems but can't win her heart. It has strong playing from Lufrano on piano and Paule on guitar.

Vitale and Paule contribute "Next To My Heart" that comes off like a vintage seventies deep southern soul recorded at Muscle Shoals with an outstanding Bey vocal. "Nobody's Angel," another Vitale original, evokes some of Clarence Carter's recordings, with its storytelling and message and is wonderfully delivered by Bey and the band. The title track is a terrific rocker with a wonderful groove and Rinta delivering a superb trombone solo wonderfully framed by the other horns and the chicken fried organ. "Don't Ask Me How I Feel" is a blues performance that to these ears comes off as a cross of Al Kooper mixed with Donny Hathaway with perhaps the best horn arrangement here.

On "Not Goin' Away," the Bey Paule Band again provide listeners with a superb soul and blues recording. The album has a strong and varied program that is consistently well sung and performed. Certainly anyone who enjoyed "Soul of the Blues" will enjoy this, while fans of soul and blues who may not have heard them previously will find much to savor on this stunning recording.

A publicist sent me my review copy. While written for Jazz & Blues Report, I do not believe this review has been published. Here is a video of the Bey-Paule Band performing.




Monday, November 09, 2015

Amy Black - The Muscle Shoals Sessions


Boston-based singer Amy Black has a new recording "The Muscle Shoals Sessions" (Rueben Records). Muscle Shoals, Alabama holds a special place for her as her parents were born there and she fondly remembers visiting her grandparents there. Furthermore, she was inspired by Etta James, Mavis Staples, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and so many others who recorded some of modern music’s most iconic songs in this little Alabama hamlet.

Black’s project pays homage to the music made at both FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, one-time home of the Swampers, and also expands a 2013 EP she recorded that Spooner Oldham participated on for a full album. Recorded at FAME studios with producer/bass player Lex Price, it has contributions by keyboardist Spooner Oldham – one of Muscle Shoals’ original “Swampers” session players – along with guitarist Will Kimbrough, drummers Paul Griffith & Bryan Owings and singers Ann and Regina McCrary and a horn section led by Muscle Shoals Horns ringleader Charles Rose.

Amy Black does quite an able job of covering some southern soul classics as well as provide her own spin on Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" and the spiritual "You Got to Move" along with a few originals. Highpoints include her own "Woman on Fire" as well as her take on the Dan Penn-Spooner Oldham gem "Uptight, Good Man," another Dan Penn classic (penned with O. Franck and Rick Hall and made famous by Otis Redding and Barbara Lynn) "You Left the Water Running," and Arthur Alexander's country soul classic that helped establish the Muscle Shoals Sound, "You Better Move On." Amy Black's "The Muscle Shoals Sessions," is a nicely done recording with heartfelt singing and solid backing that captures some classic vibes.

I received my copy from a publicist.Here is a video of You Better Move On."


Sunday, November 08, 2015

Debbie Davies Takes A Love Spin


Debbie Davies has a new release of interest, "Love Spin" (Vizz-Tone). In addition to her usual band mates including her longtime drummer Don Castagno, the album has appearances from Terry Hanck (sax, vocals), Dana Robbins (sax), Dave Keyes (piano) and Jay Stollman (vocals).

No criticisms can be raised about Davies fluid, biting fretwork. She learned a lot playing with the late Albert Collins, and like her former boss, makes use of space, as well as tone, in her fleet improvisations. Her vocals are heartfelt, sung without artifice and ring with conviction. The rhythm section is also on point and provide strong support on tunes like the opening "Life of the Party," a straight-forward boogaloo number with interesting, ironic lyrics. "Let the Heartaches Begin," a duet with Terry Hanck is a superb swamp-pop styled tune with wonderful vocals. There is also Davies fine, precise guitar followed by Hanck's slightly raspy sax.

Vocalist Jay Stollman joins Debbie on the funky R&B flavored "Don't Change It Up" on which Scott Spray guests on bass. There is nice organ coloring Debbie's focused guitar pyrotechnics. "As long as it sets your soul free" she sings against a loping rhythm on "It's All Blues." Davies gets playful on the rocker, "I'm Not Cheatin' Yet," with has a booting Hanck solo. Davies shows her humorous side telling of her man's illusions about being sexy and dreaming of trading Debbie in for "Two Twenty-Five-Year-Olds." She ingeniously incorporates an Eddie Taylor riff into her tune. A jazzy sophistication is exhibited on "A Darker Side Of Me," adding to the variety heard here.

A slide guitar showcase, "Way Back Home," that uses the "Rollin' and Tumblin'" groove to close out this album. There is a nice mix of material on this that Debbie Davies delivers with more than a little panache resulting in another most entertaining recording from her.

I received my review copy from Vizz-Tone. This review appeared originally in Jazz & Blues Report, but I have made significant changes (Most stylistic) from that review. Here is Debbie in performance.



Saturday, November 07, 2015

Joe Stanley - DC Saxophone Legend


The late saxophonist Joe Stanley was a major force on the rock and roll and blues scenes in Washington DC from the 1960s until his passing in 2007. Stanley played with a who's who of music luminaries including Link Wray, Charlie Daniels, Roy Clark, Bill Black's Combo, and his legendary band, The Saxons, helped such pivotal figures as Danny Gatton and Billy Hancock get their start. This writer saw Stanley numerous times with the DC area band, Big Joe and the Dynaflows, whose leader Joe Maher, has produced a new double CD of Stanley "Legend" on EllerSoul Records of previously unissued recordings.

The first of the two CDs has, in addition to Stanley and his sax and solos, Maher on drums, John Cocuzzi on organ; John Previti on bass and Rudy Turner on guitar where heard. Stanley's big tone will evoke Plas Johnson, Earl Bostic, Sil Austin and Red Prystock. With a heavy vibrato he launches into the mid-tempo latin-flavored "Blue Moon" that illustrates his driving, full-throated attack backed by the solid combo with Cocuzzi's greasy organ adding to the appeal. Stanley's rendition of "Flamingo" also certainly will appeal to fans of honking sax. Stanley was an affable crooner as heard on the standard, "The Nearness of You," and then picks up sax for the funky "Ode to Billy Joe." His vibrato on "September Song" might evoke Ben Webster, while he tears into Horace Silver's "The Preacher," with nice guitar in the backing.

The first disc was recorded in a studio, while the second disc comes from a variety of live recordings. Stanley, Previti, Cocuzzi (also on piano) and Maher are all present (although several tracks feature the late Jeff Sarli on bass); with Ivan Appelrouth on guitar, Frank Cocuzzi subbing on drums on one selection and Chris Watling adding baritone sax to one selection. With Cocuzzi on piano, Stanley digs into "Deep Purple," before the swinging "A Foggy Day in London Town," with a robust vocal and more brawny sax. There are a couple of lively renditions each of "Jambalaya" and "Just a Gigolo." Maher takes the vocal on "Let's Get High," with Stanley robustly soloing. After a marvelous "Walking With Mr. Lee," there are two versions of "You're Cheating Heart." The sound is uneven on these, but at worst is quite acceptable.

The closing track on each disc is Big Joe Maher interviewing Billy Hancock for his recollections of Stanley and for those simply wanting the music, can easily be bypassed. For those interested in the history of the Washington DC music scene, these interview selections will be of great interest. Marty Bauman designed the attractive CD package and wrote the liner notes. The only quibble would be with the personnel listings on the back cover that are incomplete and refer to tracks that do not exist. Otherwise this is a recording that fans of rock and roll saxophone and blues honkers will love. It is a wonderful tribute to a person, whose music, like him was always full of life.

Received my copy from EllerSoul.  Here Joe can be heard with Big Joe Maher and the Dynaflows doing a Wyonnie Harris classic. 


Friday, November 06, 2015

Aliquo/Adair Too Marvelous For Words

I recently had the pleasure to write about saxophonist Don Aliquo with respect to his fine work with a quintet co-led with trumpeter Clay Jenkins. The Nashville based saxophonist has a new release with Nashville pianist Beegie Adair and her trio (bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown) "Too Marvelous For Words" (Adair Music Group). On this collection of standards they were trying to generate "a vintage, mid-fifties, Bebop feel …," to quote Ms. Adair, and the result is splendid.

There is some exceptional music here as this quartet delve into several classics from the American Songbook, along with three compositions from Billy Strayhorn as well as a Thelonious Monk standard. Opening with Strayhorn's "Johnny Come Lately," Aliquo displays a dry tone and cool sound on his tenor that might be likened to the dry martini alto of the late Paul Desmond, and is very much in the manner of the likes of Zoot Sims and Stan Getz. He spins his marvelous solo as the trio provides a swinging foundation (with Brown nifty with the brushes) before Adair takes a solo displaying her touch and crisp playing and then the two trading fours with Brown to ride this performance out. Then the pace picks up on a spirited "This Can't Be Love," on which the interplay between Aliquo and Adair suggest to me some of those swinging Pablo recordings that paired Zoot Sims with Jimmy Rowles.

A lovely rendition of another Strayhorn classic "Daydream" is a showcase for Aliquo's ballad playing, while a brief Brown solo sets the mood for a bouncy rendition of Monk's "Bye-Ya." "Ishafan" is the last of the Strayhorn interpretations and the restraint of the rhythm section helps contribute to its dreamy feel. It is followed by the bubbly, latin-accented "All or Nothing At All," and the late in the evening mood of the rendition of the Tadd Dameron-Carl Sigman ballad, "If You Could See Me Now." Aliquo and the trio are quite vibrant on the Johnny Mercer and Richard A. Whiting penned title number.

Don Aliquo again shows himself to be a saxophonist of nuance and imagination while Beegee Adair was a revelation to these ears. Her trio is terrific and I envy the folks in Nashville who get to see these artists on a regular basis. Mike Longo in the liner notes writes about "Too Marvelous For Words," "What a delightful album!" It is easy to agree with that assessment of this excellent recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here they are performing Billy Strayhorn's "Ishafan."


Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Ragpicker String Band

I am familiar with the marvelous mandolinist Rich DelGrosso, and Guitarist Mary Flower, but not with multi-instrumentalist Martin Grosswendt. Together they constitute The Ragpicker String Band whose eponymously titled debut disk is on Yellow Dog Records. Mixing in some classic songs from the likes of Mississippi Sheiks, Sleepy John Estes and Blind Willie Johnson with originals from Flower and Delgrosso, they bring considerable instrumental skill and vocals to songs of social satire and simply plain mischievous fun resulting in an album that at times evokes classic string bands and at other times a scaled down and slightly toned down version of R. Crumb's Cheap Suit Serenaders.

There is the lovely "Honey Babe" that opens this along with a wonderful rendition of The Sheiks "Lonely One In This Town," to go with the whimsical play on words of Flowers "Minor Blues" and  DelGrosso's  hilarious "Google Blues" about a man who thinks he's getting lucky except for the lady googling his shady past. It is extremely difficult to restrain oneself from loud laughter listening to this. There are plenty of instrumental joys to be heard aswell inlcuding Grosswendt's slide steel guitar of his fiddle on ""Lonely One In This Town," and Delgrosso's playing the "44 Blues" motif on the mandolin on his "Black Mattie."

A nice, and unexpected, string trio rendition of "Blue Monk" adds to the musical variety here. The Ragpicker's String Band score with some marvelous music and plenty of fun listening.

I received my review copy from Yellow Dog Records. Here is a video of Rich and Mary performing "Google Blues."



Wednesday, November 04, 2015

George Gee Swing Orchestra Swing Makes You Happy!

George Gee has been leading the George Gee Swing Orchestra since 1980, inspired by Count Basie who mentored him. While leading the big little band (9 pieces that sounds much bigger) he has had the services of trombonist, composer and arranger David Gibson for five years and the results of their collaboration can be heard on “Swing Makes You Happy!” (Rondette Jazz).

The recording features 19 selections that include 5 Gibson originals, and three transcriptions from Chick Webb’s repertoire. Gibson handled all of the arrangements. Gibson’s trombone anchors the brass section that includes trumpeters Freddie Hendrix and Andy Gravish. The saxophone section consists of Ed Pazant, Michael Hashim and Tony Lustig on alto, tenor and baritone respectively; while the rhythm section consists of Steve Einerson on piano, upright bassist Marcus McLaurine and Willard Dyson on drums. Vocals are provided by Hilary Gardner and John Dokes.

Listening to this brings back memories of Panama Francis’ reincarnation of the Savoy Sultans from the late seventies and early eighties. This band swings hard and at full throttle with joyous conviction. The rhythm section is stellar and there are plenty of strong solos with Lustig’s baritone sax and Hendrix’s trumpet among the many pleasures throughout thsi recording. Gibson’s opening “Comin’ Home” is suggestive of Basie from the 50s as his the swinging “I Know.” Of the vocalists, I was already familiar with Hilary Gardner and she sings quite well on “Sweet Pumpkin”, and “No Moon At All.” This writer is not as enamored with Dokes. I have heard much better renditions of “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” although the taut Basie-style arrangement is solid as is Ed Pazant’s alto solo. Dokes also does not come across convincingly on “Evenin’,” which was a feature for Jimmy Rushing when he was with Basie. Gardner and Dokes duet on “If I Were a Bell.”

I do not wish to imply that Dokes is a poor singer, but to these ears he doesn’t convey the warmth and feeling of say Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams (or Carmen Bradford who sang “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” with Basie.). It is a minor criticism as the the music here is infectious with its ebullient spirit. Listing to the George Gee Swing orchestra, one indeed agrees that “Swing Makes You Happy!

I received my promo copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358) although I have made some minor stylistic changes.  Here is a performance clip of them.


Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Zora Young & Little Mike and the Tornadoes - Friday Night

"Friday Night," (Elrob Records), a new release by Zora Young & Little Mike and the Tornadoes, brings back memories of seeing the likes of Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin backed by Little Mike and the Tornadoes at Twist & Shout in Bethesda, Maryland, and recordings the Tornadoes made backing them. In this same role, they back Zora Young, a solid Chicago blues chanteuse whose husky, smokey vocals go down like a smooth scotch on the rocks. This is blues with kick. On this date are Little Mike Markowitz along with his long-time partners, guitarist Tony O. Melio, bassist Brad Vickers and drummer Robert Piazza. Kim McKaba is on keyboards. Several originals from Markowitz and Tony O are mixed with covers of recordings by Howlin' Wolf, Big Joe Turner, Otis Spann and Lucille Spann, and Bonnie Lee.

Horns are added to originals like the title track from Little Mike and the opening "I've Been a Fool Too Long," and provide additional punch behind Zora's moaning vocal style. Certainly she places her stamp on Tony O's "I Love Chicago" as she belts out about her singing the blues and Chicago being both home and the home of the blues. Her vocal here is supported by the Tornadoes driving accompaniment. Wolf's "44 Blues" is nicely covered, but better is her soul-drenched rendition of Big Joe Turner's hit, "Chains of Blues." On a very enjoyable recording, a highpoint might be the wonderful rendition of Otis Spann-Lucille Spann's "Country Girl," with strong playing from McKaba, Little Mike and Tony O (evoking Sam Lawhorn on this track)." Riffing horns and Mike's harmonica add punch behind a fervent cover of Bonnie Lee's "I'm Good."

Young, Mike and Tony O sit out the closing "Spann's Boogie," which is a driving instrumental for pianist McKaba who is ably supported by Vickers and Piazza. It is a solid performance although odd for an album showcasing Zora Young's blues vocals. Throughout there is fine, idiomatic playing from Little Mike and the Tornadoes. Zora Young has not exactly been recorded extensively, so a new recording by her is welcome, especially when she sounds so fine, as she does here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Zora Young singing at the Lucerne Blues Festival backed by Bob Margolin, Bob Stroger and Kenny Smith.