Thursday, December 31, 2015

Valery Ponomarev Big Band Our Father Who Art Blakey

Shortly after his arrival in the US in 1973 after leaving the Soviet Union, trumpeter Valery Ponomarev met Art Blakey, who would become his mentor and "jazz father." The years he spent as one of Blakey's Jazz Messengers left a firm imprint on him and now four decades later, with the Valery Ponomarev Big Band, recorded a tribute to Blakey, "Our Father Who Art Blakey" (Zoho), transforming a number of songs associated with the legendary drummer and his most famous ensemble into big band charts which were recorded at Dizzy's Coca Cola Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center and at the Zinc Bar. The booklet accompanying this CD did not include the members of the big band who are: Saxophones –Todd Bashore, Chris Hemingway, Peter Brainin, Steve Carrington, Anthony Nelson; Trombones – , Stafford Hunter, Alvin Walker, David Wight, Jack Jeffers; Trumpets – Rick Henly, Miki Hirose, Josh Evans, Waldron Ricks; Piano – Mamiko Watanabe; Bass – Ruslan Khain and Drums – Victor Jones. For the Zinc Bar, Andrew Gould replaced Brainin; Corey Wallace replaced White; Danny Hall replaced Walker and Ricks replaced Allen with Benny Golson appearing on the two numbers from this performance.

Ponomarev, discussing transforming Blakey's small group charts for a big band, suggests that it was not the challenge it might seem. He observes that if one listens to Blakey's music, it is already big band already and notes Blakey's own background in big bands. Ponomarev also states in his arrangements that he quotes some of the solos from the originals. Listening to this recording, one is impressed by how he has maintained so much of the feel of Blakey's music.

After a brief overture from the leader, the band launches into Bobby Timmons' classic "Moanin'" which features strong solos from Ponomarev and Golson and some nice scoring. The rhythm section of Watanabe, Khain and Jones is superb  in capturing the snap, crackle and pop of the original recording, and Watanabe's own solo is punctuated by riffs of the brass and reeds and Khain solos as well. Freddie Hubbard's "Crisis" features Josh Evans' trumpet which is thoughtful, imaginative and capable of considerable heat followed by a strong tenor solo from Carrington and fervent trombone from Hunter.

Ponomarev's rationale for including Duke Jordan's "Jordu" is based on Clifford Brown's association with Blakey as well as Brown being his main trumpet hero. The band arrangement is based on Brown's solo from the classic Clifford Brown & Max Roach recording, and provides the foundation for  solos from Rogers on trumpet and Brainin on tenor sax for this fresh interpretation of a jazz classic. Victor Jones helps lay the Latin rhythmic foundation for another Duke Jordan composition, "No Hay Problema," that Blakey performed for the film "Les Liaisons Dangereuses." Evans and Carrington both are afforded considerable solo space by the 56-bar form of the composition, and Evans (who I have seen with the Evans-Lacy Legacy Band) impresses with his mix of mellowness and fire. The leader's scoring of his horns is splendid.

Ponomarev's original "Gina's Cooking" post-dates his time with Blakey and the composition has a Mingus-like flavor with tempo changes. It showcases Anthony Nelson's take no prisoner's baritone and alto sax from Bashore before Jones takes a short solo as well as pushes the performance on.
The album concludes with Golson's classic "Blues March," which Golson recalled writing after Blakey mentioned he had never played a march. Jones sets the tone and groove before Ponomarev and Golson, the two Blakey alumni, each solo at length. Trombonist Wallace, alto saxophonist Bashore and pianist Watanabe also stretch out on the recording's longest performance.

"Our Father Who Art Blakey" is a real gem of a big band recording with classic compositions, superb arrangements and terrific ensemble playing in support of the marvelous solos that were enthusiastically received.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the Band in performance.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Deb Callahan Sweet Soul

This writer had the pleasure to see the Philadelphia based singer Deb Callahan several years back and its been way too long since I have seen her perform. In any event, this very talented vocalist has a new recording "Sweet Soul" on Blue Pearl Records. Producer by drummer Tony Braunagel, Callahan and her guitarist Allen James are joined by Braunagel, bassist Reggie McBride, keyboard wizard Mike Finnigan, and harmonica player Jimmy Powers. Johnny Lee Schell engineered this as well as added slide guitar to one selection. Callahan with either Chris Arms or Allen James wrote 8 of the 13 tunes on this with covers from Candi Staton and Clarence Carter; Tom Waits; David Egan & Buddy Flett; Rice Miller and Dr. John.

While I have sen her compared to Bonnie Raitt, only one selection "Shackin' Up," with Schell's slide guitar and a funky-rock groove suggests Ms. Raitt. Her natural and soulful delivery is more in line with say, Tracy Nelson, and she is able to fill a room, yet never sounds harsh or mannered. The Staton-Carter "Sweet Feeling" is a terrific southern soul vocal that sounds like it could have been recorded in Muscle Shoals, and "Born to Love You," an original by Callahan and Arms is a similar strong deep soul performance. "Seven States Away," is a rocking shuffle by her and James as she sings about having to drive home to Philadelphia for sweet baby and being so many states away. James lead jazzy guitar and Finnigan's greasy organ supports her honey-drenched heart-felt vocals.

Certainly having this terrific band helps make her cover of Waits' "Way Down in the Hole," with Powers on harmonica. The band's dynamics in backing her, Braunagel's touch and groove and Callahan's nuanced singing contributes to the delivery of the gospel lyric. Then there is her handling the Egan-Flett "You Don't Know Your Mind," with James contributing nifty guitar (he is such a refreshing change from so many guitar bangers out there). "Crazy About You Baby," credited to Sonny Boy Williamson is probably best known from Little Walter's recording. Ike and Tina did a marvelous rendition on the "Outta Season" album, and that is the source for her first-rate rendition here, some spicy guitar from James.

"Sweet Soul" is a marvelous recording with excellent material (both new and covers of lesser known numbers), terrific production and playing, and Deb Callahan's superb singing. Let folks compare her to Bonnie and Tracy. After listening to her, folks will be comparing other singers to her.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the November-December Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363) (downloadable at although I have made a few stylistic edits from the review that appeared there. Here is a video about the making of this recording.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The 14 Jazz Orchestra Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy

The 14 Jazz Orchestra is comprised of 13 of South Florida’s premier Jazz and studio musicians. Under the direction of Dan Bonsanti takes a Contemporary Jazz approach to a wide assortment of styles, performing compositions from Jazz composers such as Billy Strayhorn, Joe Henderson, Chick Corea, John Scofield, and Wayne Shorter and pop/rock artists such as Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Certainly not tied to nostalgia, the band has been delighting audiences since its first public performance in 2013 with its contemporary approach that is adventurous yet lyrical and highly rhythmic. Featuring the saxophone of Ed Calle, the debut album "Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy" (Dabon Music, LLC)..

The members are alumni of the University of Miami: Ed Maina, Ed Calle, Neal Bonsanti and Peter Brewer on reeds; trumpeters Stephen Reid, Cisco Dimas and Ray Chicalo; Dante Luciani and Major Bailey on trombones; and a rhythm section of Jim Gasior on keyboards, guitarist Tom Lippincott, with Matt Bonelli and Jack Ciano on bass and drums. A trio of special guests bring their formidable talents to the album – bassists Will Lee and Mark Egan on one track each, and drummer Marko Marcinko on three. This ensemble brings a contemporary and fresh approach to jazz classics, popular hits gospel and fusion works connected with figures as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Weather Report, Chick Corea, the Beatles and Ray Charles.

Bonsanti arranged ten of the eleven performances, the sole exception being Clare Fischer's arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's "U.M.M.G." that he re-orchestrated and opens the recording. After a swinging performance with Dante Luciano standing out on trombone, The 14 Jazz Orchestra turns its attention to a big band treatment of Wayne Shorter's "Palladium," with Calle on tenor and Jim Gasior on electronic keyboards prominent. Jaco Pastorious' "John and Mary," dedicated to his two children mixes a delicate ballad like sensibility with a island-like flavor with Calle serpentine soprano showcased.

Bonsanti's arrangement of "Donna Lee (In Disguise)" is an imaginative reworking of this Charlie Parker classic whose tone is set from Gasior's Tyner-esque piano and sports driving tenor sax from Calle while guest Marcinko pushes the groove on drums. Luciano's growling trombone opens a slow blues drag rendition of Percy Mayfield's hit for Ray Charles "Hit The Road Jack," with trumpeter Cisco Dimas making effectively use of his mute in a manner that Bubba Miley or Cootie Williams would approve. The trumpet of Ray Chicalo and the baritone sax of Peter Brewer are at the forefront of a stately version of Thomas Dorsey's gospel classic "Take My Hand Precious Lord," while "With a Little Help From My Friends" is a pretty straight big band rendition of the Beatles' tune with Will Lee on bass and some very attractive tenor from Calle.

Other performances reimagine Chick Corea and a John Scofield tune that was part of Miles Davis' repertoire and exhibit the same range of musical adventure, lyricism and rhythmic drive that make "Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy," such a stimulating big band listening experience.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a very brief taste of The 14 Jazz Orchestra.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Dave McDonnell Group The Time Inside a Year

While no longer resident in Chicago, alto saxophonist and composer, Dave McDonnell, is a product of the fertile Windy City music scene (jazz and rock), playing in a number of genre-crossing groups. Influenced by Fela Kuti, his playing may be rooted more in bop than funk, but as annotator Arief Sless-Kitain suggests, the layered sequences and interlocking rhythms so essential to Kuti's music factors heavily in McConnell's songbook. On the second Dave McDonnell Group album, "The Time Inside a Year" (Delmark Records), he draws on these interests, and touchstones as varied as Thomas Mapfumo, Jon Hassell and Fletche Henderson. Also included are interludes with cello-enhanced electronics reflecting his current interest and teaching of such.

Sless-Kitain observes that McDonnell has "a desire for his own music to be immediate and reactive, minful of the pulse and body's innate rhythm but also cerebral." To achieve this on his compositions he is joined by a quartet of guitarist Chris Welcome and the rhythm section of bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Frank Rosaly with Jason Adasiewicz adding vibes to two selections and Nate Lepine playing tenor on one. Three of the eleven selections are his three-movement piece "Aespe," with his computer generated tones interlaced with Tomeka Reid's Cello.

There is plenty of energy and a intriguing mix of structure and free playing. Certainly the tone is set on the fervent drive of the opening "Bullitt," with McDonnell's hyper-charged alto (with a very bluesy tone) riding over Welcome's chording and the remarkable rhythm duo. Welcome's guitar solo provides a contrast in its clean, less assertive tone. In contrast "Vox Orion," one of the two compositions with Adasiewicz, opens with Welcome playing a vamp that is the foundation for this with the shimmering vibes adding embellishments as well as brightens the mood of this which also has some fierce alto sax. "Baker's Man" opens and closes with with bluesy groove bookending some free playing with Welcome suggesting Sonny Sharrrock as the leader's blistering alto helps develop the performances intensity.

On "Discovery of the Ancient Geologist," Rosaly imaginatively develops a solo against Abrams' bass vamp, before Lepine and the leader state the theme to ride this out. "Brandywine" is a hard swinging number with O'Donnell taking no prisoners with his energized sax. The three movements of "Aespe," with cello against the computer tones, have an a ethereal mood that is a refreshing contrast to the heated playing on the quartet performances here.

McDonnell's is a very passionate saxophonist who plays with plenty of fervor although there are times one wishes he would relax a bit and leave a little space in his playing. Guitarist Welcome and the free-bop interplay with the rhythm provides contrast and a bit of breathing space to the music. In any event, there is plenty to stimulate and engage a listener on "The Time Inside a Year."

I received my review copy from Delmark.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Jeremy Siskind Housewarming

Jeremy Siskind's "Housewarming" (BJU Records) is the second recording featuring the songs and piano of Siskind along with vocalist Nancy Harms and the woodwinds of Lucas Pino. This particular setting provides for the intimate rendition of original sings by Siskind with Pino's woodwinds coloring the vocals, which are mostly by Harms. There are four covers among the 13 songs here, The trio has also taken to the road performing a number of house concerts. On this recording there are also vocals by Kendra Shank, Kurt Elling and Peter Eldridge.

The publicity material observes that "[t]hemes of domesticity reverberate throughout the album, which reflects on what it means to have a place where you belong, a theme that Siskind grapples with often." The title track, sung by Peter Eldridge perhaps most immediately is an example of this, but there are so many marvelous performances including "New Old West Theme," a lovely duet by Eldridge and Harms as they sing about the sharing of the home and their lives together.

Harms, the main vocalist charms with an oft understated, almost whispery delivery, although more than capable of singing in a more extroverted style. Its a delight to listen to her phrasing, her dynamics and her marvelous pitch, but that can be said about all the singers here. The opening "Whispering Grass" is enchanting as is her rendition of "Moonlight in Vermont." Elling's vocal adds to the charm of "Light," with Pino's tenor sax adding color the vocal as well as take a solo that displays his robust tone and attack, and also the restraint he plays with. "Hymn of Thanks" is a marvelous ballad that coveys the gratefulness of having a home where one belongs," with Pino's adding another robust, restrained tenor sax solo.

Siskind's generally provides spare, deft backing (although he does showcase his technique on occasion here) with Pino providing buttery bass clarinet (listen to his interplay with Siskind on the opening "Whispering Glass"), lovely clarinet (which opens and helps add to the lovely "Moonlight in Vermont"), and tenor saxophone. The accompaniments contribute to the warmth and charm of "Homecoming," which is a marvelous recording to sit back and simply savor like an after dinner cordial.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a performance by Siskind, Harms and Pino.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

B.B. King - Here's One You Did Know About

B.B. King's recording career extended about 65 years and it was his association with the Bihari Brothers that his career first blossomed and music matured. Roger Armstrong and Dick Shurman collaborated to compile a collection B.B. King rarities, "Here's One You Didn't Know About: From the RPM & Kent Vaults." With the exception of two selections taken from a RPM records compilation, the 25 tracks present the King that became a major rhythm and blues artist who as  Shurman notes in his essay in the liner booklet shaped countless blues musical identities. Included are mostly alternate takes of issued recordings although a few songs appear to issued here for the first time. 

The album title comes from a comment King made before launching into "Catfish Blues aka Fishing After Me." Joe Bihari, who supervised many of these sessions, called Maxwell Davis a genius which could be reflected in the big band arrangements Davis provided King such as on the previously unissued "Be Careful Baby," or the superb swinging "Gotta Find My Baby." Then there is the terrific "Loving You in Vain," with a stunning vocal and terrific guitar. King may have perfected his guitar tone (although I am not sure I agree with Dick Shurman on this) after he signed with ABC-Paramount in 1962, but the quality of King's singing along with the fire and fluidity in his guitar playing on the music is as good as it gets.

Two different takes of "Sweet Little Angel" are presented, one from a recording at a Little Rock radio station and one later at a Maxwell Davis arranged session. "Talkin' the Blues" is one of two instrumentals included here, while the rendition of "Be Careful With A Fool," is a hard swinger with a blazing solo from King along with a booting tenor sax solo from Davis and followed by the stunning "My Heart Beats Like a Hammer." "Don't You Want A Man Like Me" has a similar Latin-tinged groove and is related to "Woke Up This Morning,"with Bump Myers on the sax solo. "Early in the Morning aka Early Early Blues" sports some of King's jazziest playing here which, Shurman observes, incorporated lyrics from a couple of T-Bone Walker recordings.

The album closes with a terrific alternate take of "Going Down Slow," to which is appended snippets from a radio interview and plug for a radio station. This closes nearly 80 minutes of prime B.B. King and with the excellent booklet containing Dick Shurman's excellent overview of the music, one has a reminder of why this gentleman was the King of the Blues.

I purchased this. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

World Music 5 - America

World Music 5 is a terrific new Latin Jazz Ensemble comprised of pianist Jose Negroni, drummer Nomar Negroni, bassist Josh Allen, violinist Federico Britos and woodwinds of Ed Calle, that happened when Negroni and Britos invited Calle to lunch one day and they join together to form a new ensemble. One result is a new double-CD album "America" (MOJITO RECORDS),an album (to paraphrase the press release), celebrates folkloric, traditional, and original Latin American and North American music. "America" features 16 original arrangements, adaptations, and or compositions by Federico Britos, Jose Negroni, and Dr. Ed Calle. The recording includes a vast array of genres including Venezuela's joropo, Mexico's jarabe tapatio, Brazil's choro, Cuba's danzon, Uruguay's candombe, the bolero claimed by Mexico and Cuba, and American Broadway and jazz standards, and presents works by master composers including Leonard Bernstein, Ernesto Lecuona, Duke Ellington, Pedro Elías Gutiérrez, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Agustin Lara, Cole Porter, Rafael Hernandez, and Brazil's Pixinguinha.

While described as a chamber jazz ensemble, the thrilling music here blends lyricism with hot rhythms and saucy leads on which the romantic feel of Bernstein's "America" is succeeded by Calle's radical reworking of J. Gonzalez Rubio's "Jarabe Tapatío (Mexican Hat Dance)," with its familiar theme bookending Calle and Britos highly energized solos. Then this in turn is followed by a lovely ballad by Calle, "Thinking of You (Pensando en Ti)," with lovely solos from Calle, Britos and Negroni, whose trio is stellar throughout in supporting everyone involved. Then there is a stunning rendition of "A Um Zero," a choro from Pixinguinha with Calle opening on bass clarinet before switching to clarinet. There is wonderful interplay with Britos along with Negroni's piano on this joyful and lyrical ragtime evoking performance followed by a rendition of "My Favorite Things" with Calle providing his own personal stamp on this Rodgers and Hammerstein number.

There is so much joyous music on "America," of which I have only described a portion, although the recording ends with a volcanic eruption of a performance of "Caravan." Many of the songs will be new to many reading this, but as World Music 5 display on renditions of familiar songs as "America," "Mexican Hat Dance," "My Favorite Things," and "Caravan," they bring virtuosity and melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic inventiveness, to provide exhilarating performances on the 16 compositions here and the most familiar songs will sound new. "America" is a recording that appeals to the heart and the head and stunned this writer when he first heard it and repeated listening to this sensational album brings new joys.

I received as a download from a publicist. Here is a performance of them of "Caravan."


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Colin Linden Rich in Love

Blues has always been a foundation for the music of Colin Linden, although his music has evolved to encompass rock, country and other roots music. Now based in Nashville(and he is even the musical director for the TV show Nashville), he had spun together a new roots recording, "Rich In Love" (Stony Plain)  full of original songs and given some marvelous performances. Linden wrote all 12 songs, although five songs were written with the collaboration with amongst others Janice Powers, Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson.

Linden and his various guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles are joined by his fellow members of The Rotting Matadors, bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig. Charlie Musselwhite adds harp to several selections, Reese Wynans adds piano/organ to a number of song and Amy Helm contributes harmonies to several songs as well. This is a terrific country-roots group that play some really strong songs such as the opening "Knob & Tube," with his clever use of electrical terms to describe a relationship ("the current runs from me to you like knob & tube"). Mix in his grainy, genuine singing and adept musicianship and one has a fine performance. He also understands the value of restraint as on the next track "I Need Water," with Tim Lauer adding atmosphere on the organ as Linden sings he needs water to fill these tears as he deals with his heartbreak.

"Delia Come For Me," is a fine ballad which opens with just acoustic guitar as he sings of being framed because he was the first man they found and put someone away and bury in the ground (and he adds some electric guitar fills as Dymond and Craig provide sympathetic support. Musselwhite and Wynans are present on "The Hurt," a bluesy number with Musselwhite playing some very strong accompaniment followed by a lovely and gentle "Everybody Ought to Be Loved."

The title track opens in a somber, austere manner as Linden sings about his baby used to cry while he was sleeping," with Musselwhite's embellishments adding to the mood generated by the vocal and guitar. His way with words and the music mike be likened to The Band in his blending of various musical threads and his adroit way with words like on the plaintive "And Then You Begin," or the honky tonk flavor of "Luck of Fool," with nice use of tremolo.

Linden's songs are sung with wit, warmth and thoughtfulness, superbly played although he and his band eschew empty flash and mirrors, resulting is one terrific recording that will appeal to a very wide audience.

I received my review copy from Stony Plain. My review appeared in the November-December Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363) downloadable at Here is Colin Linden performing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Marquis Hill Modern Flows EP Vol. 1

Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill has established himself as a musician, composer, arranger and educator prior to winning the 2014 Thelonious Monk International Competition which for that year was focused on the trumpet. A member of the faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a member of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, winning the Monk competition undoubtedly will lead to greater recognition of his talent, beyond Chicago. Prior to winning the competition, Skiptone Music issued his fourth album, "Modern Flows EP Vol. 1." Listening to this recording, one cannot help but be impressed by all of the facets of his music which brings together a modern jazz approach that incorporates rap and hip-hop grooves in an natural, organic fashion.

On this recording, he is joined by a terrific group including alto saxophonist Christopher McBride; vibraphonist Justin Thomas; acoustic bassist Joshua Ramos; electric bassist Bryan Doherty; and drummer Makaya McCraven. Also present are vocalist Meagan McNeal, and the raps and spoken words from Tumelo Khosa and Keith Winford. One is impressed not simply from the musicianship (listen to Hill and McBride trade lines on "Black Harvest", and which also provides Mr. Thomas with a chance to stretch out), but the scoring and arrangements of the compositions. The raps carry forward their positive message directed towards members of the African diaspora, while the musicians provide backing that frames these forceful, principled statements.

The afore-mentioned "Black Harvest," is a standout track mixing lyricism with a smoldering intensity, while the rhythm section invest the performance with African-inspired groove, On "White Shadow," Hill displays warmth and imagination in a stunning solo. "The Essence" is a lovely instrumental while "I Remember Summer" features Ms. McNeal's lovely vocal as Thomas accompanies her and solos very lyrically, followed by McBride's blues-inflected alto sax. "When We Were Kings" suggests some of Woody Shaw's compositions with Hill soaring at times during his solo. Thomas, Hill and McBride each provide lyrical heat on the briskly paced "Flow," which also has a crisp drum solo from McCraven.

This writer had previously heard and was impressed by Hill's marvelous album "The Poet." "Modern Flows EP Vol. 1" is equally impressive with the performances contained. One looks forward to more from this exceptional musician and composer. Here is a sample of Marquis Hill live.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363) that can be downloaded at For those in the Washington DC area, the Marquis Hill Blacktet on January 22, 2016 in the KC Jazz Club ( Here he is performing "Black Harvest."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Smoky Greenwell Band Live at the Old U.S. Mint

Subtitled on its cover, "Smoky Greenwell's New Orleans Blues Jam," the Smoky Greenwell Band (led by the New Orleans harmonica player, saxophonist and vocalist) have issued a CD on Greenwell Records, "Live at the Old U.S. Mint." Greenwell is heard with his band of Pete Bradish on drums and vocals, David Hyde on bass guitar, and Jack Kolb on drums with guest appearance by Mark Pentone on guitar and Bruce 'Sunpie' Barnes on accordion and vocals.

There is nothing fancy about this recording of blues with an occasional zydeco touch. The Smoky Greenwell Band is a tight band that playing Louisiana Swamp Blues and Chicago blues except for the tracks with Sunpie Barnes that have a zydeco tenor. Greenwell impresses as a harmonica player throughout (the opening "Smoke Alarm" is an instrumental shuffle showcasing his tone and driving attack) and a capable saxophonist (as on "Peter Gunn"). Some songs have intriguing lyrics like "My Own Blues Club" where he sings about owning a club on Frenchman Street and the difficulties, especially after Katrina, that made him sell it. Set to a slow Excello type swamp blues groove, it has an earnest, if bland vocal.

While the back cover does not credit Mark Pentone as a vocalist, he capably sings on "Jodie," a new contribution to the "Jody" group of songs. "Love's Gone" has Greenwell on sax behind Sunpie Barnes on a nice rocking zydeco number while he plays both sax and harmonica on the boogie woogie-laced "Leroy's Shuffle." Barnes is perhaps the most appealing singer on this. The album closes with a John Lee Hooker inspired instrumental "Back to the Boogie." It is a solid performance that is representative of an enjoyable recording well worth checking out.

I received my review copy of the CD only from a publicist. This apparently is sold as a CD/DVD and I cannot comment on the DVD. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363).  Here is a video of the Smoky Greenwell Band performing at the Louisiana Music Factory.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Lafayette Harris, Jr. - Bend To The Light

Pianist Lafayette Harris, Jr. and his trio of bassist Lonnie Plaxico and drummer Willie Jones, III have a new recording "Bend To The Light" (Airmen Records) which includes a couple of new originals, revisiting some of his previously recorded compositions and choice interpretations of standards along with a Herbie Nichols composition and a Luther Vandross tune.

What stands out immediately on the opening title rack is not simply Harris' fluency and technical command but the lyricism as well as drive of his playing and the superb backing he gets from Plaxico (whose own solo here displays his strong touch) and Jones. Vandross' Take You Out" is a lovely mid-tempo groover followed by "We In The House," the lengthiest performance here with a light march feel in part generated from Jones' bass figure (who again solos here). On this, Harris plays with a lighter touch while still sounding formidably. On Herbie Nichols' "12 Bars" Harris is excellent on a performance incorporating some of Nichols' stride roots. His own solo alludes to "Take the A Train." More stunning playing is heard on the original "Achern," while Harris' take on "Old Devil Moon," is lovely. "Blues On The Edge" is a spirited uptempo blues.

Jazzmiea Horn scats on a vocal version of the title track before the recording closes with a short version of "We In The House," on which Jones is more prominent. The music on "Bend To The Light" is marvelous with Harris and his trio playing at a high level throughout.

Received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 362). Here he performs a Charlie Parker classic.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

César Orozco No Limits For Tumbao

The music of Cuban/Venezuelan pianist, composer, music producer, and arranger César Orozco involves an original fusion between Venezuelan and Cuban traditional music with jazz. In his notes to his new CD with Karamata Jazz, "No Limits For Tumbao" (Alfi Records), he states "that 'Tumbao' is for Latin music what the swing is for Jazz. On the present recording his piano and keyboards are supported by Rodner Padilla on electric bass, Francisco Vielma on percussion, and Euro Zambrano on drums with appearances by Paquito D'Rivera, Yosvany Terry, Pedrito Martinez, Gary Thomas and others.

As might be expected, this is music of great spirit and depth, full of exhilaration and beauty. The opening title track showcases the leader's marvelous piano (both acoustic and electric), soprano saxophone from Terry, and the crackling percussion. The Afro-Cuban flavor of that track is followed by "La Rumba Esta Buena" featuring the dramatic singing of Pedrito Martinez along with the leader's precise, yet passionate playing. "Yobo" is a marvelous jazz piano performance with the leader's appealing lyricism. Gary Thomas' tenor sax (and he takes a husky solo) and Linda Briceño's trumpet add spice to the rhythms of "Vladitimba."

Linda Briceño provides the charming vocal on "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square," with the leader effective applying the electric piano's tonality. It is another excellent performance on the varied and stimulating music heard on "No Limits For Tumbao," which will particularly delight fans of Latin jazz.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the November-December 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363). Here is César Orozco & Karamata Jazz in performance.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Chris James and Patrick Rynn Find That Trouble Don't Last

As Bill Dahl observes in the liner booklet to "Trouble Don't Last," the new Vizztone Records release by Chris James and Patrick Rynn, "the blues tradition has always been central to" their approach to music. Vocalist/guitarist James and bassist Rynn joined forces in Chicago two decades ago and played behind a number of legends as well as established themselves on their own with several choice albums. On "Trouble Don't Last" they are backed by drummer June Core (Robert Lockwood, Jr, Charlie Musselwhite and others) and harmonica players Aki Kumar and Rob Stone who even are both heard on two of the twelve selections.

Starting with the opening "Shameless," the duo give as good a lesson on how to play traditional Chicago Style blues with Core laying down a crisp shuffle groove followed by a strong interpretation of Calvin Frazier's "Lilly Mae" with Kumar's harp wailing behind James' warning to her if he finds her misbehaving on Hastings Street. James is a terrific 'old-school' guitarist and Rynn and Core lay down a solid backing. There is some nice unison guitar-harp playing here on a selection that evokes the early 50s recordings from Joe Van Battle's Hastings Street shop. There's a lively reworking of Freddie King's "Lonesome Whistle Blues," with a dual harp horn section followed by a terrific Muddy Waters' styled "Going Down to the Ocean" which was inspired by the days Rynn played with the Griswold Brothers in Toledo, and with some deep blues guitar from James. The title track is built around some nimble finger picking fretwork with a simple rhythm and Kumar's supporting harp and followed by a strong down-home flavored treatment of R.C. Smith's "Down Drive Me Away." "Good Idea At The Time" is a brooding blues (in a John Lee Hooker vein) with James singing about sitting in jail and no one to blame but himself so he has to do his time.

Sunnyland Slim's reworking of the "Rollin' & Tumblin'" theme, "Roll, Tumble and Slip" receives a lively reworking (with harp solos from both Stone and Kumar) that exhibits not only the excellent musicianship, but strong ensemble playing that is characteristic of this entire recording. James is a straight-forward singer who does a solid job delivering his originals and with Rynn and the rest of the band has provided another blues gem.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review appeared in the November-December 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363). Here is a video of the two in performance.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mitch Woods - Jammin' On The High C's

Mitch Woods is a real solid conveyor of boogie woogie piano and jump blues and for over a decade has been running Mitch Woods Club 88 on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues cruises. It started simple enough when as an invited guest on the cruise, he noticed the ship had a piano bar that wasn't being used, so he simply started playing and people came by to listen and musicians came by to sit in. Soon the jams were lasting until daybreak and someone put up a sign saying Mitch Woods' Club 88 which became the Club 88 Piano Bar and Blues Lounge n the cruise with now 4 piano players on every cruise alternating shifts from early evening to until ?.

Woods had a variety of performances from the January 2015 cruise recorded and they have just been issued on Club 88 Records (distributed by VizzTone), "Jammin' On The High C's" which is subtitled "Live From Mitch Woods' Club 88 on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise." Its a fun recording with his boogie and jump piano joined on different selections by members of Roomful of Blues, Julia Magness, Billy Branch, Victor Wainwright, Papa Chubby, Coco Montoya, Lucky Peterson, Tommy Castro and Dwayne Dopsie.

Mostly the music is renditions of well known blues standards played in an ebullient fashion with Woods handling the old Smiley Lewis classic "Big Mamou" to open it up. Highlights are Lucky Peterson singing Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City," Billy Branch reprising Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight to the Blind," Papa Chubby handling "Wee Wee Hours," and Dwayne Dopsie joining on a rocking "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On." One also gets entertained by Tommy Castro singing Little Richard's "Rip It Up," and a nice "Rock Me Baby" from Coco Montoya.

My major criticism is the lack of fuller personnel information (although I might imagine it would be pretty lengthy), and more seriously the lack of composer credits. These performances are entertaining and fun if not classic and the sense of good times comes though on this nicely put together recording which includes Woods reciting the history of Club 88. Certainly one of aspects of the Cruise that makes it a consistent sell-out.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 362). Here Mitch previews this disc.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Jimmys Serve a Hot Dish

The Madison, Wisconsin based The Jimmys, sure know how to turn out some hot jumping blues and rhythm sounds. Their disc, "Hot Dish" (Brown Cow Productions), is a showcase for this band led by vocalist and keyboard player Jimmy Voegeli (pronounced "vaguely') which includes Pete Weber (ex-Hubert Sumlin) on guitar; Mauro Magellan on drums; Johnny Wartenweiler on bass and The Amateur Horn Stars; Darren Sterud (trombone/vocals), Pete Ross (saxophones), and Mike Boman (trumpet). Voegeli, Weber and Magellan contributed all the songs here.

This is a terrific band with the horns adding musical colors and texture far beyond the simple riffs of a number of groups with the songs ranging from the scorching "Loose That Woman," a rumba blues that evokes classic Ray Charles with strong piano and booting saxophone. There is a more stately tempo to Weber's "You Say You Will" which has a blistering guitar solo. Voegeli and Magellan contributed the funky "Freight Train" with Weber's guitar exhibiting a bit of twang. The aptly titled "Funk Schway" and a driving shuffle "Jacqui Juice" are two instrumentals that allow the players to stretch out. The T-Bone Walker style shuffle ""What Gives," with a slightly muffled vocal and some nice growling trombone embellishments and solo, while Vocelli lays down boogie woogie inflected piano. There is even a hint of Little Richard on the frenzied "She's Wild." If one track stands out it is the Charles Brown meets Ray Charles sounding "Saddest Man," with superb piano, a marvelous horn arrangement and terrific guitar and tenor sax solos support Voegeli's world weary vocal about a love that is lost.

The Jimmys are terrific whether playing jump blues, rock and roll, or Memphis funk, and the songs here are both idiomatic yet fresh. Tinsley Ellis (quoted on the cover) is right on, The Jimmys have mined pure R&B gold with 'Hot Dish.'"

I received this from a publicist. Here is a clip of The Jimmys in performance.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ebony Jo-Ann Please Save Your Love For Me

An unexpected musical surprise is "Please Save Your Love For Me" (Blackgold Production Co.)," the first full-length studio recording by Ebony Jo-Ann, an internationally renowned performer from stage, movies and television who has appeared at theaters and clubs around the world, including being part of The Wiz's National Tour. She reprized her role at a 40th Anniversary celebration of The Wiz. In recent years, she helped launch a blues night at Ashford & Simpson's Sugar Bar in New York. It was at the Sugar Bar she met many of the musicians on this recording including Danny Kean who produced it, played keyboards and wrote one of the five originals.

The original songs are “Just Rain,” by Ashford & Simpson; “Yo Love,” by Irene Datcher; “Nosybody,”  by Miles Jaye; “Glad I Waited for Love,”  by Aziza Miller; and “Burnin’ World,”  by Kean. Songs covered include he cover classics include Syl Johnson's classic “Is It Because I’m Black"; Percy Mayfield's “Please Send Me Someone to Love”; Buddy Johnson's “Please Save Your Love for Me”; Eddie Miller's “I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water”; and the Mississippi Sheik's “Sittin’ On Top of the World." Its a nice variety of material and I agree with Christian John Wikane's comments in the liner notes that Ebony is a stunning song stylist.

Listening to the opening "Just Rain," with brassy backing and a solid guitar solo, her vocals remind one of Denise LaSalle in the delivery of the lyrics . On other performances she evokes other legendary singers such as the late Helen Humes, Etta Jones and the still active Jewel Brown. Her take on "Is It Because I'm Black," is powerful, not simply because of the song's continued relevance. Guy Davis adds acoustic harmonica on the strong "Yo Love," where she sings that the love is like a cooling summer rain. Mike Bowers' guitar also adds to this performance's flavor.

Percy Mayfield's classic (called simply "Send Someone To Love" here) is a marvelous duet with Kean with  understated backing by Kean, Bowers (nice jazz-tinged blues solo here), bassist Larry Ross and drummer Phil Bloom (using brushes). "Glad I Waited For Love" is a marvelous ballad while "Burnin' World" is a topical song. I associate the Buddy Johnson classic that gives this album its title with Charles Brown, although its Bobby Bland's rendition that left a deep impression on Ebony who  delivers a impassioned rendition. It is followed by "Muddy Water," a driving rendition of the Eddie Miller standard with greasy Hammond B-3 from Kean, Bowers in a jazzy vein, and a booting tenor sax solo by Bill Easley. Incidentally the album credit is wrong as Eddie Miller, who wrote and first recorded this, is not Bumble Bee Slim (real name Amos Easton). In any event, this is a fine rendition to go with those by Lou Rawls and Carmen Bradford (with the Count Basie Orchestra) amongst others.

The band sits out the closing "Sitting On Top Of The World," with Guy Davis ably providing backing on guitars, banjo and harmonica behind a wonderful vocal on an unplugged performance. Given her theatrical background, this writer appreciates the lack of theatricality in the heartfelt singing throughout. Ebony Jo-Ann talks about the Blues being part of her DNA, and this exceptional recording is evidence of that.

I received my review copy from her. Here is a video clip with a bit of "Yo Love."

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lou Volpe Remembers Ol' Blue Eyes

A guitarist who transcends the realms of jazz, R&B and adult contemporary, Lou Volpe's newest recording is his salute to Frank Sinatra whose centennial was in 2015. "Remembering Ol' Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra)" (Jazz Guitar Records) has him performing 13 standards that are associated with Sinatra to which Volpe provides his personal interpretation while displaying his virtuosity and melodic sense. On eleven selections, Volpe is joined in a supportive role by Delmar Brown, Mel Davis and Onaje Allen Gumbs on keyboards; bassists Stanley Banks and Leo Traversa; Buddy Williams and Gary Fritz on drums and percussion respectively; with drummer Sipho Kunene offering his talents on one track. On the other three selections he plays solo.

There is plenty to like about listening to Volpe with spectacular single-note runs, riveting chordal playing, rich smears, edgy twang, swirling crescendos, filigreed delicacy and more backed by the various backing trios for performances that mix melodic ornamentation and scintillating improvisations. The Brazilian groove underlying the rendition of "Speak Low," while the rendition of "It Was A Very Good Year," with Gumbs on keyboards is taken in a R&B tinged vein with plenty of smears and twang against the simple, steady groove.

Volpe has big ears and there are tinges of Wes Montgomery on a swinging "A Foggy Day," while the late night melancholy of "One For The Road," is given a lively reworking with some twang and snap from the leader. "Days of Wine and Roses" is a lovely performance with Volpe effectively using overdub as he takes his lead over a simple chordal backing. Much the same can be said of the extremely lovely "Softly As I Leave You." There is more exquisite playing on the closing selection, Carlos Santana's "Europa" subtitled by Lou "(Dedicated to the Brilliance of Frank)," again with just Volpe and his guitars.

While I found a couple selections, such as "That's Life," not completely successful, "Remembering Ol' Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra)" is easy to listen to and full of considerable musical substance. He may be a guitar virtuoso, but Lou Volpe also is one who knows how to intrigue and entertain his listeners.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "I'll Remember April" from the release. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Heritage of the Blues Reissues - Charles Brown and Josh White

With recordings in much of Europe becoming public domain after 50 years, there has been a prolific amount of reissues of classic blues recordings at very economical prices. Heritage of the Blues is a series of reissues of such material on the Blue Orchard label. Among the reissues on this label are double CDs by Charles Brown and Josh White.

Charles Brown’s Cryin’ Mercy presents 55 tracks by the pioneering pianist and blues balladeer. It ranges from the early Philo-Aladdin recordings by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers to 1956 recordings with many of the greats on so many Rock and Roll sessions present. There is a generous selection of material here with supporting musician's including Maxwell Davis, Oscar Moore, Don Wilkerson, Clifford Solomon, Pete ‘Guitar’ Lewis, Plas Johnson, Lee Allen, Red Tyler, and Earl Palmer. the notes provide the contours of Brown’s career and achievements and also give full personnel information. It is a solid overview of the period of his greatest popularity and includes classic recordings such as Drifting Blues, Get Yourself Another Fool, Black Night, Trouble Blues, Honey Sipper, and Fool’s Paradise and with good sound easily recommended.

Josh White, Blood Red River, is an even more varied release ranging from Wing Wang Harmonica Blues in 1929; the classic Piedmont blues, Blood Red River, in 1932; This Heart of Mine by Josh White as the Singing Christian; School Boy Blues accompanying pianist Walter Roland; Silicosis Is Killing Me as Pinewood Tom; Careless Love with Sidney Bechet & Wilson Meyers; Liza Jane with Woody Guthrie & Pete Seeger; Hold On with the Union boys (Tom Glazer,Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, and Brownie McGhee); a cover of Strange Fruit; the highly influential The House of the Risin’ Sun; John Henry, and One Meatball. As can be seen its a varied setting for solo blues with wonderful Piedmont fingestyle guitar to sophisticated performances that were at the core of the rise of modern folk music in the cities. White was a sophisticated performer and sang sometimes in a manner that some would consider bland, yet certainly was highly influential and entertaining and this 2-disc set is invaluable in helping to document this very important and greatly overlooked artist.

This review appeared originally in the May-June 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 293). I probably received my review copies from that publication. I believe these are still available.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Kim Nalley Blues People

Back in 2011 Aidin Vaziri wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Kim Nalley is a critically lauded San Francisco jazz and blues singer who has performed Gershwin with the San Francisco Symphony and produced sensational musical tributes to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday." Called a San Francisco Institution, she has produced and just released an auspicious recording "Blues People" (Kim Nalley Jazz Singer Productions). The liner notes by Waldo E. Martin, Jr., describe the recording as "a deep musical mediation on an insightful interpretation of African American history and culture advanced over fifty years ago by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) in his seminal Blues People: Negro Music in White America. In that influential book, Baraka argued that African Americans, as best revealed in their various highly original and widely influential musical forms, were fundamentally a Blues People. By that, Baraka meant the blues were in fact a fully realized culture, or way of life, that encompasses the totality of their historical and day-to-day experiences."

In this recording, Kim Nalley explores a variety of African-American songs from blues, ballads and sacred to jazz and even a Bob Dylan cover.Her vocals are backed by the keyboards of Tammy Hall, the guitar of Greg Skaff, the bass of Michael Zisman and the drums of Kent Bryson with Bryan Dyer adding backing vocals. Nalley impresses as a singer, projecting a lot of personality as well. She certainly can belt out a vocal, but also deliver a lyric as a whisper, all of which is displayed on the opening rendition of "Summertime," with Hall's simple backing backing her singing here.

 Her rumination on the killing of Trayvon Martin" is delivered in her powerful original "Big Hooded Black Man," with its stark backing from Skaff and Bryson. There is another moving topical blues "Ferguson Blues," another moving song about injustice and the anger about a raw deal. There are two renditions of the Mahalia Jackson gospel classic "Trouble in This World," one with just piano accompaniment, and the other with Hall on organ with the ensemble. Vocally she employs her lower register on the piano rendition while her upper register is more in evidence on the second version.

A medley of songs associated with Eddie Harris and Les McCann, "Listen Here/ Cold Duck/ Compared To What?" has a terrific vocal with nice scatting as the band cooks behind her. Guitarist Skaff takes a jazzy solo before she scats, and then Hall takes a funky solo that suggests McCann's driving, blues-inflected improvisations. This medley is followed by a gospel-tinged, soulful rendition of the theme from "The Jeffersons" television show "Movin' On Up." Then there is a lively take on the Stix Hooper-Will Jennings classic, "Make Your Move Too Soon," with Nalley's horn-like vocal phrasing standing out.

Nalley's rendition of Bessie Smith's "Sugar in My Bowl," has considerable appeal with the restraint she sings the lyrics. Her rendition of "Big Long Sliding Thing," associated with Dinah Washington, is not completely successful as she is perhaps a bit too dramatic in delivering the clever double-entendre lyrics, although the backing is fine. This theatrical approach works better on "If I Can't Sell It," she certainly won't give it away. She introduces the song telling a bit about herself before a delightful vocal full of wit and whimsy with a dash of playful naughtiness. Ruth Brown would be delighted with her interpretation.

Nalley honors the memory of Etta James with her personal rendition of "Sunday Kind of Love" that brings freshness to the lyrics. She takes us to church on "Amazing Grace" backed solely by organ, before closing with a moving rendition of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," with Hall's gospel-inflected piano along with bass and drums. Kim Nalley invests the songs in "Blues People" with vitality and conviction resulting in a most impressive recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist.This review appeared in the November-December 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 363) downloadable at Here she performs "Make Your Move Too Soon."

Friday, December 11, 2015

Rebirth of the Cool: Discovering the Art of Robert James Campbell

Rebirth of the Cool: Discovering the Art of Robert James Campbell
Jessica Ferber
Powerhouse Books

Robert James Campbell was a photojournalist whose work appeared in the Village Voice and DownBeat among other publications. At the height of his photographic career Campbell captured the likes of The Modern Jazz Quartet, Philly Joe Jones, Wayne Shorter, The Staple Singers, Bill Monroe, Dave Brubeck, Count Basie, Lee Morgan, Bud Powell, Richie Havens, Chuck Berry, and more. He vigorously documented New York's jazz era, and its metamorphosis into the beat and folk movements although later in his life he was wrought by mental demons, financial hardship, and health failure, had to give up his passionate work at what should have been the prime years of his career, having succumbed to his deteriorating body and mind. He died homeless in Vermont in 2002. Jessica Ferber has been curator of Robert James Campbell's life and photography since her graduation from the University of Vermont in 2002.

In 2012, I came across her Kickstarter campaign for this project and joined in after looking at her video explaining this. Marc Myers, who does the award-winning blog, Jazzwax, did an interview with her which he put on his blog and endorsed the campaign, helping her reach her goal. This was an ambitious project, and while the original date for publication was not met, the wait for publication has been worth it. Marc Myers has written the introduction for this, while Jessica  details the circumstances that led her to work on the project related to Campbell's work. There is a lengthy introduction that includes Campbell's biography including his unfortunate last years This introductory portion of "The Rebirth of the Cool" is illustrated by a variety of pictures of Campbell and early prints of his work.

The core of this book is the wonderfully reproduced photography of Campbell. There is a mix of street photography (including lovers in a park, a touch football game near Cooper Union in New York City, chess players in Washington Square Park) along with a variety of jazz and folk performers from a variety of locations. Among the images are Bud Powell at a recording session for "The Return of Bud Powell," drummers Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones and Mel Lewis at a Gretsch drum battle at Birdland, Mississippi John Hurt on the steps outside the Gaslight Cafe (and there are also two wonderful performance shots of him), Son House and John Hammond Sr. smiling broadly and clasping each other's hands (I believe when House had signed his contract with Columbia Records), Chuck Berry at the Newport Jazz Festival (likely the Festival documented in the film "Jazz on a Summer's Day"), Wayne Shorter, Cecil McBee and Roy Haynes at Birdland, comedian Dick Gregory at the Village Gate, a couple of Flip Wilson portraits, and several of Myrlie Evers, shortly after the assassination of her husband Medgar.

I reiterate that the reproduction of the black and white images is superb and reveals the eye Campbell had. Arguably the finest book of music photography (and more) to come out in 2015 and would make a terrific Holiday gift. I know this is a book I will be returning to look at the images many more times.

As mentioned I was a Kickstarter Supporter of this project. There are some sample images on from this. It is also available from Barnes and Noble and other stores with official publication date of December 15.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

SAM CARR’S DELTA JUKES Let The Good Times Roll

Let The Good Times Roll

Son of the legendary Robert Nighthawk, Sam Carr is in his seventh decade as a musician. Drummer for the Jelly Roll Kings, Sam Carr’s Delta Jukes is a continuation of the delta juke sound that he has always played. Fred James has just put together this disc comprised of outtakes from two prior albums and tracks from a sound check at the Lucerne Blues Festival.

Carr is joined here by James, Dave Riley (guitar and vocals), John Weston (harmonica and vocals) and Andrew ‘Shine’ Turner on some enjoyable performances. Riley (who has an excellent album with Bob Corritore) sounds fine with originals, a nice Jimmy Reed medley and an energetic take of Little Red Rooster. Weston sings and plays strongly on two originals and Turner gives a fresh take on Crawling King Snake. The weakest tracks are Carr’s two vocals with Big Boss Man being quite forgettable. Not a bad disc overall although the sound could have been be a bit brighter. 

This review appeared in the June 2008 issue of Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 305) and I believe I received my review copy from that publication. Here is Dave Riley and Sam Carr in performance.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Guy Davis Kokomo Kidd

MC Records has just issued Guy Davis' latest release "Kokomo Kidd," with nine originals and four covers. Davis is joined by Professor Louie on piano, John Platinia on slide and electric guitar, Mark Murphy on bass and cello, Gary Burke on drums, and Chris James on mandolin and rhythm electric guitar. Charlie Musselwhite and Fabrizio Poggi each guest on harmonica for one track while Ben Jaffe adds tuba to the opening title track.

Davis is an appealing folk and blues performer and the songs here provide a varied palette of blues that can be seen from the jaunty opening title track about a gentleman who was the grease in the corrupt prohibition era to keep the machine running. The next song, "Wish I Hadn't Stayed Away So Long," with its wistful sense about regretting his hobo's life. He adds some marvelous harmonica and banjo that adds to the flavor of the performance. "Taking Just A Little Bit of Time" has some nimble fingerpicking and a restrained, gruff, vocal.

Davis suggests Bob Dylan at times with several of his vocals including the cover of "Lay Lady Lay," but also "She Just Wants To Be Loved," about a lady who keeps going back for pain when all she wants to be loved with Professor Louie's organ and Chris James' mandolin helping the performance build in intensity. Charlie Musselwhite adds some nice harmonica to a pretty straight rendition of "Little Red Rooster," with Professor Louie adding strong piano as Davis singing capably, but Platania's slide guitar comes off as a bit over the top. Much better is the gem, "Maybe I'll Go," with an accompaniment and a vocal that evokes Mississippi John Hurt. The jaunty "Have You Ever Loved A Women" has Poggi adding his country blues styled harmonica for a lively acoustic performance. Tommy Johnson's "Cool Drink of Water" is a hauntingly beautiful recording and unfortunately Davis' gruff vocal nor the somewhat stilted rhythm suffer compared to the original. The reggae groove adds to the appeal of the closing "Wear Your Love Like Heaven."

"Kokomo Kidd" features a number of gems as well as some less successful songs, but as a whole displays his maturity as a performer and his open ears and imaginative approach to his music.

I received my copy from MC Records. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363), although I made few stylistic changes and corrections. Here is Guy chatting and then performing.


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Mississippi Heat - Hattiesburg Blues

Delmark has just released the latest recording, “Hattiesburg Blues,” by Mississippi Heat. This is the 8th album by the group led by Pierre Lacocque, a fine songwriter and increasingly impressive harmonica player. The group is fronted by Inetta Visor, whose unforced soulful singing is becoming more accomplished. Guitarist Giles Corey, keyboard whiz Chris Cameron, bassist Spurling Banks and drummer Kenny Smith are the band’s core, with Stephen Howard and Dujuan Austin filling in for Banks and Smith for certain tracks. One cannot stress just how good the rhythm section is and certainly come off as good as any rhythm section in the blues today. Lurrie Bell and Carl Weathersby both make guest appearances with the Chicago Horns led by Kenny Anderson also appearing on several tracks.

The strength of the Mississippi Heat has always been fine original material, strong ensemble playing and strong solo playing. The opening track, ‘Tiger Man,’ is not the same song as Rufus Thomas’ Sun recording, but rather Inetta Visor’s joyful celebration of her man’s love-making prowess and Lacocque’s marvelous harp featured throughout. It is followed by Lurrie Bell’s declaration of ‘Chicago Is My Home,’ delivered marvelously with typically fine guitar while his other vocal on the rocking Gone So Long,’ sports a marvelous solo from Lacocque along with his marvelous rocking accompaniment of Bell’s vocal. Cameron adds some rollicking piano to this.

One of the few covers here is of Denise LaSalle’s ‘Soft-Hearted Woman’, with fine guitar from Weathersby with Visor showing her interpretative skills. The Chicago Horns along with percussionist Ruben Alvarez add a Afro-Cuban feel to ‘How Much Worse Can It Be?,’ and the title track with its musical allusion to ‘Hernando’s Hideaway.’ Its really nice to hear how Lacocque blends in his harp seamlessly with the band and horn riffs. Weathersby is typically impressive on the slow blues “Light From Within,’ along with ‘Hell and Back,’ on which he handles the vocal 'Calypso in Blue,’ is a lovely instrumental with Giles Corey ably handling the guitar solo here with impressive chromatic harp from the leader.

What else can one say. Mississippi Heat is rooted in the entire scope of the post-World War II Chicago blues tradition and the terrific “Hattiesburg Blues”is another addition to their marvelous body of recordings.

I received a review copy from Delmark Records and this review appeared in the June 2008 issue of Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 305) and downloadable at Here Mississippi heat perform "Hattiesburg Blues."

Monday, December 07, 2015

Corky Hale - Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas

Corky Hale
Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas
LML Music

Those wanting some jazzy holiday cheer might want to check out Corky Hale's new LML Music release, "Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas." Hale is noted as among the foremost harpists in jazz (as well as a pianist) and on this all instrumental date she is heard on piano and celeste as well as harp. Joining her are Kirk Smith on bass and Tom Walsh on drums and percussion.

Her harp is showcased on the opening "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," followed by some nice piano on "Silver Bells," where Walsh's adds simple, but effective percussive effects. There is simple melodic embellishments to many of the songs including "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" where her harp is ably supported and Walsh's brushes is very praiseworthy, while Smith and him take brief solos. After Leiber and Stoller's lovely "California Christmas," is a peppy latin-tinged "Dreidel Song." She is back on piano for a lovely solo piano rendition of the Mel Torme and Bob Wells standard, "The Christmas Song," before a wistful "Jingle Bells," played on harp. There is angelic harp playing on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." "Silent Night" is a piano trio performance where she crafts one of her most intriguing improvisations.

Smith and Walsh provide a funky groove to support her light touch and imaginative piano for "White Christmas," before she opens with celeste then switching to piano on the closing "Avld Lang Syne." It completes a holiday recording that is diverting and full of charm.

I received my rebiew copy from a publicist. This review has been published in the Holiday Gift Guide of the Jazz & Blues Report that can be downloaded at

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Blues Unlimited: Essential Interviews From The Original Blues Magazine

Blues Unlimited: Essential Interviews From The Original Blues Magazine
Edited by Bill Greensmith, Mike Rowe and Mark Camarigg
University of Illinois Press

Part of the "Music in American Life" series this new volume contains a number of important interviews from this pioneering publication which I was a subscriber to (and even made a few modest contributions to over four decades ago). Bill Greensmith and Mike Rowe were important contributors to Blues Unlimited and Mark Camarigg played an important role in the production of this volume. The editors provide an overview of the publication's history and the various artists whose interviews are reprinted here. They also update and correct some of the interviews here. They note that they have not included some interviews where they were superseded by interviews elsewhere.

Included are interviews with some legendary figures as well as others who likely are not as well known among those who are blues fans today. The volume is split up regionally with the first part (and lengthiest part) devoted to Chicago with interviews of Freddie King, Jimmy Walker, Louis Myers, Red Holloway, Fred Below, and Moody Jones, Floyd Jones and Snooky Pryor. While King and Cotton are the best known of these performers, there is plenty of blues history to be learned here. Most intriguing among the Detroit artists considered is the piece on the great pianist, Big Maceo based on Rowe's interviews with Maceo's widow and pianist Boogie Woogie Red.

The lengthiest interview here is with Jimmy Thomas and goes into his lengthy time with Ike Turner starting in St. Louis. Another St. Louis artist interviewed was Fontella Bass, recalling her days with Oliver Sain and recording "Rescue Me." Arguably the most significant interview with Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup is included. Blues Unlimited played a major role in promoting Houston one-man band, Weldon 'Juke Boy' Bonner, so it is not a surprise to find his interview here, and many will find the 1979 interview of Albert Collins of great interest (I know I did). There is also an interview with Johnny Otis (although one wishes they had reprinted the series of interviews Otis did for the publication), Roy Brown, and two pioneering record men, Henry Glover and Ralph Bass.

This is an invaluable publication with over 400 pages of blues history source material in a large page format. It is an understatement to state this is a major addition to the blues bookshelf and if you have any serious blues lover, it would make a terrific gift.

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 which is available to download at

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The King Jazz Story

The King Jazz Story
Storyville Records

The Swedish Storyville Records label has issued a 5 CD box set, "The King Jazz Story" which reissues all of the recordings from this fabled late 1940s label associated with clarinet player and reefer supplier to Louis Armstrong, Mezz Mezzrow. The aim of Mezzrow and his associates in the label was to present some 'authentic' jazz and most of these recordings based on blues and classic New Orleans jazz featured the great Sidney Bechet on soprano sax along with Sammy Price on piano on many tracks as well.

The first CD for example opens with 11 very strong blues and boogie woogie piano solos by Sammy Price followed by two vocals by Pleasant Joseph backed by Price. Then there are 11 tracks (including alternate takes) by a group of Mezzrow, Bechet, Price, Hot Lips Page, Pops Foster and Sid Catliff with four vocals by Joseph. Interspersed with the music are tracks where Mezzrow discusses the label and the making of some of these recordings.

The remaining four CDs are full of various configurations of Mezzrow-Bechet groups and showcase the genius of Bechet. The songs are presented in the recorded order so one does get several takes of the same songs together so one may wish to use shuffle when listening to the nearly 6 hours of music and short spoken interludes. There are so many outstanding selections including "Perdido Station Stomp," "The Sheik of Araby," "Ole Miss," "Out of the Gallion," "Tommy's Blues, " and "The Blues and Freud." The booklet accompanying the box contains Chris Albertson's essay on the label, Mezz and the music contained here and for fans of classic jazz it is a real treat for all of these recordings to be available.

I purchased this box set. This is one of a number of short reviews I have written for the 2015 Holiday Gift Guide edition of Jazz & Blues Report which is available at Here is Mezz Mezzrow and Sidney Bechet.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Dust My Rhythm & Blues: The Flair Records Story

Dust My Rhythm & Blues: The Flair Records Story
Ace (UK)

A compilation "Dust My Rhythm & Blues: The Flair Records Story" is one of a series of double CD reissues that the English Ace Records label has issued that survey the Bihari Brothers legendary Modern Records label and its subsidiary labels that include Flair, RPM and Kent. Flair was the third subsidiary and in its three years of existence issued some terrific music although it never had a national hit. Originally intended to be the Bihari's country label, the label shifted direction with Elmore James being the first R&B artist assigned to Flair. This reissue has a number of choice recordings from the likes of Elmore James (seven sides including "Standing at the Crossroads"); his pianist Little Johnny Jones (with the classic "Dirty By the Dozen (Sweet Little Woman)"; Mercy Dee; pioneering electric blues guitarist Saunders King; Richard Berry (famous for "Louie Louie" (not included here) represented by several tracks including "The Big Break"); the doomy West Coast downhome blues of Johnny Fuller, the vocal group The Flairs (whose Cornell Gunter would enjoy fame with The Coasters); Shirley Gunter; Ike Turner (a couple instrumentals including "Cuban Get Away"); and Clarence 'Bonton' Garlow doing the rollicking "Route 90." The 50 tracks include some alternate takes and some selections that had not previously been issued on CD. If not having complete session information, the wonderfully illustrated booklet accompanying these 50 tracks includes Tony Rounce's essay with history of the label as well as his discussion of the artists and the recordings.

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 Clarence Garlow's recording of "Route 90."

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Way Down in Louisiana: Clifton Chenier, Cajun, Zydeco and Swamp Pop Music

Todd Mouton
Way Down in Louisiana: Clifton Chenier, Cajun, Zydeco and Swamp Pop Music
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Just released is Todd Mouton's excellent new book on Louisiana Music "Way Down in Louisiana." The book is centered on the great Clifton Chenier, but in addition to Mouton's biography of the great zydeco legend, he weaves in portraits on a number of Louisiana acts including Chenier alumni Buckwheat Zydeco, Sonny Landreth, and Lil, Buck Sinegal along with other acts, many who have been touched in some way by Chenier's influence including Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet, Filé, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys; Zachary Richard, Couteau, Lil Band O' Gold, Bonsoir Catin, and Roddie Romero & the Hub City All-Stars. Many of the portraits appear to have been previously published (likely in "OffBeat"), but have been updated from original publication. It is the four chapters devoted to Chenier that make this book essential as Mouton traces his life and his music's evolution along with his many extensive recordings with recollections of Buckwheat Zydeco, Chris Strachwitz, Lil Buck, Landreth, son C.J. Chenier, the late John Hart and others helping flesh out this gentleman who saxophonist and visual artist Dickie Landry recalled first hearing Chenier and thinking it "sounded like surf music from Jupiter." In addition to Mouton's narrative, this book is wonderfully illustrated with photos (many rare) and album covers and includes recommended listening for each chapter. Anybody who has listened to Chenier's music or some of the artists will love this book.

Released at the same time as this volume is a documentary DVD produced by Carl Colby, "Clifton
Chenier" (The Phoenix Learning Group) that captures Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band at a dance in Louisiana in the mid-1970s. This video captures Chenier, brother Cleveland with arguably his best that included Lil Buck, Buckwheat Zydeco on keyboards and the great John Hart on saxophone. Mixed in with performances from a dance at The Kingfish in Baton Rouge is video from a performance from Jay's Lounge and Cockpit in Cankton, Louisiana, and a brief clip showing a cock fight (some cajun and zydeco lounges at the time also had a cock pit). This may be unsettling but fortunately brief and the bulk of the video is nothing but some of the best Chenier on video this writer has seen with one of the greatest roots music bands of all time doing 15 numbers including some of his most famous numbers such as "Bon Ton Roulet," "Party Down," "Calinda," "Zydeco Est Pas Salé," and "Black Gal," along with covers of Fats Domino's "Hello Josephine and a stone cold rendition of Lowell Fulson's "Black Nights." This is modestly packaged, but the performance is spellbinding and gives a sense of why Chenier was (and still is) so loved. And the magnificent tenor sax of Blind John Hart is such a bonus.

I was a supporter of the Kickstarter campaign to help get the book published and received the DVD in addition as a premium. Information on this book and the DVD is available on the website, The DVD cover on the website differs from the one I received (the cover above). Not only is there links to buy the book and DVD, but there is a free downloadable sample and a performance from the DVD which I have also included below.