Saturday, November 18, 2017

Regina Carter Ella: Accentuate the Positive Okeh Records

Regina Carter
Ella: Accentuate the Positive
Okeh Records

The wonderful jazz violinist Regina Carter helps celebrate the centennial of Ella Fitzgerald on her latest recording. Speaking of Ella, she explains, "One of the many things that I adore about Ella is that she just loved music and didn't box herself in. She recorded everything, not just the American Songbook--doo-wop, Stevie Wonder and Beatles songs, even some country western music.  The fact that she experimented with so many different styles made me feel that, with this record, I would pay respect to her by taking the music and doing something else with it.  I feel that she would smile in agreement."

To realize this vision, which transforms the songs through a lens of classic 1950s-'60s soul and blues, Carter calls on an impressive roster of musicians and arrangers including her longtime rhythm section of bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Alvester Garnett. She is also joined by pianist Xavier Davis and guitarist Marvin Sewell, both of whom serve double-duty as arrangers, and they hey are supplemented by bassist Ben Williams; producer and hitmaker, Ray Angry; vocalist, Charnee Wade and pianist Mike Wofford; Fitzgerald's own former accompanist and musical director.  Two tracks feature vocals by Regina's fellow Detroiters, actress and singer, Miche Braden; and longtime friend and vocalist extraordinaire, Carla Cook.

The result of this imaginative fusion is an album that is less akin to Ella's own music as opposed to taking songs associated with Ella as springboard for Carter's imagination and strong musical personality. Braden contributes a soulful, let's go to church, vocal on the opening "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," with a funky groove underlying comping from pianist Davis, Williams rock solid bass before Sewell's blues-rock toned guitar and Carter's own full-bodied, and free ranging violin. A nice take on "Crying in the Chapel," showcases the warmth and romanticism Carter invests her playing with with Davis on Fender Rhodes and Sewell adding a neat riff. Bassist Lightcap provided the bluesy arrangement for "I’ll Never Be Free,” with Davis' accompaniment complementing Carter's very bluesy playing.

Wofford arranged the piano, bass, violin trio performance of "Dedicated To You," with Carter at her lyrical best. Another highlight is the most charming, intimate duo between Carter and guitarist Sewell on "Judy," a song the performance of which at the Apollo Theater jump-started Fitzgerald’s career. Wade's R&B flavored take opens "Undecided," which after some vibrant violin also features strong singing from Cook. Sewell's slide guitar provides a down home blues feel for "I'll Chase the Blues Away," with some down-in-the-alley violin opening segueing into a bluesy small band performance with biting slide guitar interacting with Carter's violin and Fender Rhodes on a rootsy close to an imaginative, captivating tribute to the great Ella Fitzgerald

I received as a download from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a video Regina made to promote her recording celebrating Ella Fitzgerald.

 


Friday, November 17, 2017

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats Groovin' In Greaseland

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
Groovin' In Greaseland
Alligator Records

Its been 30 years since Alligator signed Little Charlie and the Nitecats. Guitarist Charle Baty was the bandleader, by Rick Estrin fronted the band with his somewhat gruff, heartfelt wise-guy vocals (a phrase Bruce Iglauer employs describing Estrin's singing), authoritative harmonica and songwriting, full of wit and wisdom. In 2009, when Baty retired from touring, Estrin took over the band and this is the fourth CD under his leadership. Greaseland in the title refers to the studio that Nitecats guitarist Kid Andersen operates where this disc was recorded. His productions have been among the finest recent straight-ahead blues and roots recordings from any source and this disc has much of the same qualities with clean crisp sound. Lorenzo Farrell is on keyboards while Alex Pettersen occupies the drum chair. There are a number of guests on various tracks including saxophonist Nancy Wright, bassist Jerome Jemmott and electric pianist Jim Pugh. Estrin contributed 11 of the tunes here (one a collaboration with Andersen), while Andersen added one as did keyboardist Farrell.

As suggested above, this is a wonderfully played recording by a super band, starting with the kicking opening shuffle, "The Blues Ain't Going Nowhere," with a litany of reasons why the blues ain't dying with some fat chromatic playing. Then there is the humor of "Dissed Again," with Farrell's rollicking piano. It is followed "Tender Hearted" with Estrin's talking about the experiences with back biting rats so he is tender hearted no more. It has  scintillating tremolo-laced guitar from Andersen along with more strong chromatic harp. Joe Kyle on bass and Pettersen lay down a nicely restrained groove here. Andersen's terrific tribute to Lonnie Mack, ""MWAH!" is a reworking of Mack's classic instrumental "WHAM!," and he captures Mack's Magnetone amp sound.

"Another Lonesome Day," is a slow blues with Andersen evoking Otis Rush and Ike Turner, while Estrin is in a Sonny Boy Williamson II vein with his crying harp playing here. It is followed by the Estrin-Andersen collaboration "Hands of Time," with a groove evocative of "High Heel Sneakers," and some strong amplified hard. Farrell is featured with his greasy organ on the jazzy "Cole Slaw," with a short harp break and some very nice fretwork from Andersen. After a heated shuffle celebrating partying going on at Greaseland, "Hot in Here," there is a strong topical blues "Living Hand To Mouth."

The album closes with a harmonica feature "So Long (for Jay P.)" that showcases not simply Estrin's virtuosity, but his taste and how he shapes his solo. With the excellent backing here, and the throughout this recording, it is fitting coda to another marvelous recording from Rick Estrin & the Nitecats.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Here Rick Estrin & The Nightcats are seen performing "The Blues Ain't Going Nowhere."

 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Bill Evans Another Time: The Hilversum Concert

Bill Evans
Another Time: The Hilversum Concert
Resonance Records

This is a follow-up to Resonance Records' highly acclaimed "Some Other Time" that similarly documented the short-lived Evans trio of bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette (who would leave Evans when recruited by Miles Davis). While that album was a studio recording, this was live recording made at the studios of the Netherlands Radio Union two days after the studio album. Like all Resonance reissues, the production is exquisite with a wonderfully illustrated booklet containing essays from Marc Myers on the music contained; Dutch music critic Bert Vuijsje; producer of the radio broadcast, Joop De Roo; recollections of the concert and performing in Holland by Gomez and Dejohnette and pianist Steve Kuhn's recollections on Evans and his piano style.

The music is sublime with Evans brilliance and dynamic lyricism evident from the opening moments of Andre and Dory Previn's "You're Gonna Hear From Me," with Gomez's brawny bass anchoring the performance while DeJohnette's use of brushes adding accents while Gomez takes a dynamic solo. It is followed by Evan's waltz, "Very Early," that opens slowly before quickly accelerating into a brisk frolic. Evans' romanticism and intelligence is evident on the treatment of the standards, "Who Can I Turn To," "Alfie," and "Embraceable You."  After Evan swings "Who Can I," Gomez is superb on his solo, with DeJohnette helping drive things along, and then DeJohnette's brush work is impeccable on "Alfie." A brilliant Gomez bass solo opens the Gershwin classic and after stating the theme, Evans and Dejohnette enter but serving as support for the bassist. A lovely "Emily" is followed by an energetic interpretation of Miles' "Nardis," with DeJohnette imaginatively, and vigorously, soloing.

A spirited "Turn Out the Stars," and a quick "Five," close this recording. It is another superb Resonance reissue of musical history that has been lovingly been made available for contemporary audiences and certain to receive the same accolades that were given to "Some Other Time."

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374).  

 

Lyn Stanley The Moonlight Sessions Volume One

Lyn Stanley
The Moonlight Sessions Volume One
A.T. Music LLC

A former corporate marketing executive, Southern California vocalist Lyn Stanley has produced this, the first of two volumes that is directed not simply at jazz enthusiasts but also audiophiles with SACD, hi resolution downloads, high end 45 RPM vinyl editions and even 15ips reel to reel tapes. She certainly has assembled a stellar cast of players for this recording session: pianists Mike Garson, Christian Jacob and Tamir Hendelman, guitarist John Chiodini, bassist Chuck Berghofer, drummer Joe La Barbara, percussionist Luis Conte, harmonica maestro Hendrik Meurkens, tenor-saxophonist Rickey Woodard, and trumpeter/trombone player Chuck Findley. Garson, Hendelman, Jacob, Chiodini and Doug Walter provided the arrangements on the standards and adaptations of pop songs.

Stanley is a marvelous song stylist as opposed to a scatting jazz vocalist who delivers a program "All or Nothing at All," "My Funny Valentine," "Embraceable You," "Why Don't You Do Right," "Crazy," "Close Your Eyes," and "In the Wee Small Hours," with a soft, sultry voice and direct, clean articulation of the lyrics. Her natural phrasing and delivery also contributes to the wonderful performances, along with the marvelous musicians such as Findlay's trumpet on the opening "All or Nothing at All," with wonderful piano and the brassy horn riffs. Woodard's tenor sax adds his magic to "Willow Weep For Me," as he embroiders her vocal with guitarist Chiodini adding chords and fills. Meurkens adds his harmonica to a Brazilian tinged treatment of "Close Your Eyes," while harmonica, and Chiodini's guitar to the lament, "How Insensitive, " that she sings in a heartfelt fashion.

One here's a definite Peggy Lee influence on her rendition of "Why Don't You Do Right?' that opens with finger-snapping, bass and guitar before La Barbara lightly uses brushes with Berghofer taking a solo. The choice of the Willie Nelson penned Patsy Cline hit, "Crazy," is an inspired choice with Berghofer opening playing the opening line before the band comes in with a juke joint feel and Findlay and the horns contribute extra spice. Another softly sung late night lament, "In the Wee Wee Hours," with Meurkens' harmonica complemented by Chiodini's guitar accompaniment and La Barbara's brushes providing the right atmosphere for this marvelous closing performance on a wonderfully sung, played, and recorded album of sophisticated jazz vocals.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here is Lyn Stanley performing live.



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Flip Phillips Your Place Or Mine

Flip Phillips
Your Place Or Mine
Jump/Delmark Records

Best remembered for his stint on the Jazz at the Philharmonic tours with his barn-burning solos in the company of Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charlie Parker and others, tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips had moved to south Florida after those days, playing locally but otherwise in semi-retirement. He got together with guitarist Dell Staton and would jammed for the fun of it at either's home. in 1963 they went to a recording studio for the kicks of it and this is one of the only two Flip made in the twenty years after leaving JATP. Staton in addition to his guitar, adds bass using a foot organ attachment.

From the opening moments of "Come Rain Or Shine," Phillips impresses with the warmth and rhapsodic quality of his playing whether on tenor sax or on bass clarinet (for example the tenderness heard on "Just Say I Loved Her"). Listening to "It's the Talk of the Town," the airy, breathy quality of his playing evokes the great Ben Webster, while Staton, who chords his simple accompaniment, shows a similar attention to tone in his solo interlude. Phillips returns to the bass clarinet for a lovely "Summertime," while against Staton's chording brings his romanticism to Django Reinhardt's "Nuages."

A nicely swinging "Jada" provides a change in pace from ballads that predominate here along with the driving "Scatterbrain," with some marvelous chording and single note guitar along with Phillips here. Then there is the bass clarinet on "Chloe," with some exquisite playing evocative of Webster and clarinetist Barney Bigard on this number that was also part of the Ellington repertoire. Brisk takes on "Jazz Me Blues" and "Gone With the Wind" (with Staton superb here) are among other performances on a marvelously, delightful recording.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review originally appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here is Filp Phillips at his 80th Birthday Party.

 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mark Whitfield Live & Uncut

Mark Whitfield
Live & Uncut
Chesky Records

Recorded live at Manattan's Rockwood Music Hall (on the lower East Side), this new album by the celebrated guitarist Mark Whitfield has him joined by drummer Billy Drummond and bassist Ben Allison. It was recorded with a single binaural microphone and is part of Chesky's Virtual Audio Series. This is a MQA CD that plays back on all CD players but apparently will reveal the original master quality on a MQA enabled device.

Listening to the performances of four standards and two Drummond originals, one observes in addition to the excellence of the playing that Drummond sounds a tad bit too prominent in the mix (and at times too noticeable). Musically things start off on a strong note with a superb "Without a Song," with Whitfield's fresh, and imaginative take matched with his impeccable technique followed by equally brilliant, imaginative explorations of "Invitation" (with a solid Allison solo), and "Willow Weep For Me," as Whitfield takes us for quite a ride with his scintillating fretwork with Allison providing an anchor before Drummond solos, and the audio details of his stick and brushwork is captured wonderfully here. Drummond's intriguing "Changes For Monk And Trane," is followed by a solid rendition of Monk's "Jackie-ing" with Allison superb providing a foundation for the leader's improvisation with Drummond taking another solo.

"Live & Uncut" closes with Drummond's evocative "Dubai," and is another sterling performance by this trio, with another feature for the composer. Whitfield, Allison and Drummond are superb throughout and my only reservation is the prominence of Drummond in the mix, likely the result of the use of only a single microphone (or possibly my not having a MQA CD player).

I received from my review copy from a publicist. Here with organist Pat Bianchi, Mark performs Duke Ellington's, "In a Sentimental Mood."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

3Divas

3Divas
3Divas
self-produced

3Divas is an offshoot of the Diva Jazz Orchestra which is led by drummer Sherrie Muncie and also includes Orchestra members, Jackie Warren on piano, and Any Shook on bass. As a resident of the Mid-Atlantic, I am most familiar with bassist Shook, who is quite busy in addition to being part of this trio, but all three have impressive resumes as players, composers and educators.

The trio certainly has its very distinctive approach to the ballad "Beautiful Love," which quickly establishes the complete authority they have as they transform this. Warren certainly displays technique, touch, drive and imaginative invention while complemented by the other two. They then turn there attention to John Denver's "Sunshine on My Shoulders" that opens as an exuberant romp before Shook's bowed solo engenders a sober mood to close this performance. A lyrical "Tennessee Waltz" follows and then a jaunty "I Thought About You." Jobim's "Favela" opens wistfully before they launch a spicy latin groove and Warren dazzles here with Shook an anchor and Muncie crisp stick work and use of her cymbals accenting the torrid piano with Shook also soloing strongly and Muncie also generating fireworks. Warren opens "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning" in a reflective manner before Shook takes a thoughtful bass solo with Muncie's deftly employing brushes and Warren spare runs and chord.

A fresh, dynamic take on the old Sonny and Cher hit "The Beat Goes On," based on Alan Baylock's arrangement of Sonny Bono's number, closes a marvelous recording by a superb trio.

I received as a download from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here are the 3Divas performing "The Beat Goes On."

Friday, November 10, 2017

Classic Blues Artwork From the 1920s - Vol. 15

Various Artists
Classic Blues Artwork From the 1920s - Vol. 15
Blues Images

John Tefteller's annual Calendar with accompanying CD of remastered rare 78s is certainly one that blues fans will want. The Calendar has each month illustrated with reproductions of original advertisements from African-American newspapers of the time, or rare photos of the artists (in this case newly discovered images of Johnny Temple and Isaiah Nettles also known as The Mississippi Moaner).  There are songs by the performers that are the subject of the illustrations, along with brief comments on the performers and the recordings. There also is a selection of birth and death dates for selected blues artists as part of the Calendar.

In addition to these twelve selections that tie to the Calendar, there are twelve bonus selections that include  the other sides for some of the 78s along with other rarities. This is the third straight year that he has employed the technology that was employed on the recent American Epic PBS television series, and reissue recordings associated with that series, to remaster original 78s (generally the best existing copy which usually are from his own collection) to present the music with the best possible sound.

Their are some terrific music to be heard here starting with Memphis Minnie's debut as she sings "Frisco Town" that was originally issued as by Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie. Several of my favorite recordings are here including Blind Lemon Jefferson's superb "Hot Dogs"; Blind Willie Johnson's magnificent song inspired by the sinking of Titanic, "God Moves on the Water" and Charlie Patton recordings "Screamin' and Hollerin' The Blues" (and the other side of this is a bonus track and equally good, "Mississippi Boweavil Blues." Blind Blake's "Hard Road Blues," may not be his best known song but a typically fine performance of this masterful guitarist and singer. Blake is also heard backing Bertha Henderson on "Lead Hearted Blues."

It is certainly nice to hear a much cleaner remastering of the rare Tommy Johnson coupling "Slidin' Delta" and "I Wonder To Myself," on which he plays kazoo. The Beale Street Sheiks (Frank Stokes and Dan Sane) are present in the solid "Wasn't That Doggin' Me," while "The Evil Devil Blues" by Johnny 'Geechie' Temple is a terrific cover of Skip James' "Devil Got My Woman." Then there is the Mississippi Moaner's superb "Its Cold in China," a recording Johnny Shines reworked as "So Cold in Vietnam," three decades later. Also related to the images on the Calendar are a novelty by Tampa Red and Georgia Tom, "Strewin' Your Mess," along with a gospel performance Rev. Steamboat Bill's Revival Singers, "Happy As The Day Is Long."

I have mentioned a few of the bonus tracks which include Blind Lemon's "Weary Dog Blues," the flip side to "Hot Dogs "; Johnny Temple's "Jacksonville Blues," (a superb selection that was the flip to "Evil Devil Woman Blues"); and Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie's "Goin' Back To Texas," which is an actual vocal duet and musically even better than "Frisco Town." Other selections include a superb pair from St. Louis artist, 'Hi' Henry Brown with the great Charlie Jordan also on guitar, ("Brown Skin Angel" and "Hospital Blues"), and a spectacular couple from Sam Butler under the name Bo Weavil Jackson ("The Devil and My Brown" and "You Can't Keep No Brown"). The Memphis Jug Band (coming off like a skiffle band) is heard backing pianist jab Jones on a pair of songs that were thought to have been lost as well as backing Charlie Nickerson on an excellent and ebullient "Going Back to Memphis."

Once again John Tefteller has produced a remarkable Blues Calendar and fabulous reissue CD. This year's Calendar also includes some observations from Bernard MacMahon, one of the creators of the PBS film documentary "American Epic." Among his observations are "These recordings represent some of the most powerful, sociologically important music of the early blues era.They are especially relevant in these parlous times when hard-won freedoms are sorely threatened." Also, these recordings have never sounded better on this latest Blues Calendar, which can be obtained from BluesImages.com and online retailers. It certainly makes for a wonderful gift for the blues lover on your holiday gift list.

I purchased this from Blues Iamges.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Nighthawks All You Gotta Do

The Nighthawks
All You Gotta Do
EllerSoul Records

I believe this is the fourth album by the current lineup of The Nighthawks when Mark Stutso replaced Pete Ragusa on drums, joining Mark Wenner on harmonica, Paul Bell on guitar and Johnny Castle on bass. It is another generous helping of blues and roots rock by one of the hardest working bands around with as eclectic a group as songs as they have ever recorded ranging from the opening updating of a Brenda Lee recording "That's All You Gotta Do" sung by Mark;  Willie Dixon's "Baby, I Want To Be Loved"; to Jesse Winchester's "Isn't That So"; to a rowdy rendition of Randy Newman's "Let Burn Down the Cornfield."

Highpoints include Stutso's singing on Larry Campbell's country gospel song "When I Go Away," that served as Levon Helm's personal farewell, his original hoodoo blues, "VooDoo Doll," and a wonderful swamp pop ballad "Three Times Your Fool"; Bell's stunning slide guitar backing on "Let Burn Down the Cornfield"; Wenner's harp and vocal on a rollicking cover of the second Sonny Boy Williamson's "Ninety Nine," his swamp blues reworking of Winchester's "Isn't that So" with marvelous tremolo laced guitar from Bell, and the instrumental recasting of "Frere Jacques" as "Blues For Brother John," with some jazzy playing from Bell; the band's reworking of R.L. Burnside's "Snake Drive" with terrific harp and slide; and Castle's grungy garage rock rendition of the Standell's "Dirty Water," with references to Boston changed to DC and Bell's guitar solo evoking the group, Them.

Other than the range of material, there will be no surprises for fans of The Nighthawks on another solid addition to their large body of recordings.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is an August 2017 performance by The Nighthawks.


Saturday, November 04, 2017

Jason Stein Quartet Lucille!

Jason Stein Quartet
Lucille!
Delmark Records

Very welcome is this new release from Stein, one of the few bass clarinet specialists. As on Stein's Delmark debut "This Story, this Time," Keefe Jackson is present with his tenor sax (and contrabass clarinet for a couple numbers) and Joshua Abrams is on bass. Drummer Tom Rainey replaces Frank Rosaly who was on the earlier release as the quintet negotiate here several originals along with some songs representing the Tristano school as well as bop standards from Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.

About the earlier album I wrote, "Some might describe this as free jazz, but that may refer to the looser musical structures they build their improvisations and with few exceptions do not relate to frenzied or frenetic playing … ." Certainly the interplay between Jackson's tenor sax and Stein on Warne Marsh's "Marshmallow' establishes the 'in the moment' quality of the performances here with Abrams and Rainey providing an almost atemporal underpinning between their well crafted intricate interplay. Stein's own "Halls and Room" has Stein stretching out as his serpentine lines illustrate his focus on the normal range of the instrument (say compared to Dolphy's bluesy employment of the upper range) and followed by a sober tenor sax from Jackson, set against Abrams' bass before Rainey joins in to support the smoldering heat in Jackson's solo.

Jackson's contrabass clarinet sets out the theme on Parker's "Dexterity," a nicely loose rendition of this modern music classic (to use the phrase Symphony Sid employed in radio broadcasts of Bird). Equally engrossing is the performance of Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie," again with Jackson on contrabass clarinet), with some honking, squawks and other effects again with the two clarinets weaving in and around each other. The interplay between tenor sax and bass clarinet also is present in their vibrant handling of Tristano's "Wow."

Stein's own "
I Knew You Were" has a floating drone-like quality as a duet by him with Abrams as Rainey adds some understated accompaniment and on Tristano's "April," Stein states the theme as well as ably negotiates the twists and turns of the melody before Jackson's tenor joins in adding his weight and counterpoint to Stein's lead. It is a strong close to a terrific new recording from Jason Stein.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is "Marshmallow" from this album.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Kris Funn CornerStore

Kris Funn
CornerStore
Self-produced

The CornerStore - "On the corner of bebop and hiphop, hard rock and hard knocks … Here in West Baltimore. This ain't just a store. It's a metaphor for our lives. … So take a look around. We ain't got what you need, but I know we got what you want. … Thank You For Shopping With Us… Welcome to the corner store." This bits and pieces excerpt comes from Paige Hernadez's narration of the opening track of bassist Kris Funn's long-awaited recording "CornerStore," which is also the group under which this music is presented in public.

Funn is a second generation jazz artist whose father Charles is also a noted educator who was honored a couple years ago by the Jazz Journalists Association as a jazz hero. Kris Funn may be familiar to those who are fans of trumpeter Christian Scott's music as he has been part of Scott's band for a number of years as well as is heard on Scott's recordings. Funn has also played and recorded with vibraphonist Warren Wolf and too many others to note, and when the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival needed a rhythm section for the great Benny Golson, Funn was on bass.

The rest of the CornerStore includes drummer John Lampkin (or Quincy Phillips), guitarist John Lee and saxophonist Tim Green. Allyn Johnson and Janelle Gill add piano to a few tracks. When this writer first saw Kris Funn and CornerStore at a Capital Bop (Local DC jazzgroup) produced show several years ago, it was Lee and Lampkin. Seeing the group on this and other occasions I told Kris he needed to record this group. I was not alone in this, and finally we have this recording.

The music here brings together the mix of lyricism, blues feeling, funk and more, that characterize the CornerStore performances. Blues is a root of Funn's compositions, often repeating a melodic phrase before the compositions open in unexpected and delightful fashions. The opening "Visceral," a trio performance with Funn, Lampkin and Lee imaginatively and energetically taking us through this blues. It was on the following "Gemini," with Green's alto added, that one starts to appreciate the melodic elements of Funn's music with his singing tone in harmony with Lee's guitar on stating the theme. The performances are full of fun (no pun intended) as well as imaginative playing with unexpected twists.

The only number on this that was a bit disappointing was "Thursday Night Prayer Meeting," and that is because pianist Allyn Johnson is spectacular as usual, but he dominates the performance that it minimizes the stop-time, bass break that is part of why this such a favorite of the CornerStore's live performances. At the CD release party at the Kennedy Center (viewable at the Kennedy Center's website), they closed with this. While Johnson was perhaps even more astonishing, the bass break was also more prominent. But it still is a very good performance. In any event, this terrific album has been well worth the wait for us.

I purchased this. It is available from various internet stores including at bandcamp, https://cornerstoremusic.bandcamp.com/album/cornerstore. At another CD release party at the Washington DC Leica Store, Kris Funn and the CornerStore are seen performing "Thursday Night Prayer Meeting," with Herb Scott on alto sax, John Lee on guitar and John Lampkin on drums.


Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Billy Porter Presents The Soul of Richard Rogers

Billy Porter Presents
The Soul of Richard Rodgers
Sony Masterworks

A quick and dirty description of this new recording by the Tony and Grammy Award winner Billy Porter is hip hop meets the classic songs of Richard Rodgers. Included are includes solos and duets from the a variety of artists  (in addition to Porter himself) including  Tony and Grammy Award winners Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) and Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), Tony Award-winner Patina Miller (Pippin), Grammy Award winners Pentatonix and India.Arie, Tony Award nominees Brandon Victor Dixon (Shuffle Along), Joshua Henry (Violet), and Christopher Jackson (Hamilton), alongside YouTube sensation and Kinky Boots star Todrick Hall and multiple Grammy Award nominees Deborah Cox and Ledisi.

"I like to think of this as the Richard Rodgers version of the Hamilton Mixtapes," Porter said.  "These are classic songs that everybody knows and loves, and I'm so excited for people to hear them in a brand new way." Certainly listening to Ledisi singing "Bewitched," the hip hop groove recasts a familiar melody, elongating and transforming it as well as incorporating an explicit rap from Zaire Park. India.arie sings "Carefully Taught," from the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical "South Pacific" and its 1949 lyric is unfortunately so relevant today, "You got to be taught to hate and fear; You got to be taught from year to year; It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear; You got to be carefully taught." Porter himself provides the lovely interpretation of "Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music," and a brief narration notes that the flower exists in the harshest of environment and reminds us we must flourish in the harshest of times, again not only reworking the song for contemporary tastes, but showing its continued relevance,

There is the hip hop rendition of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" with a politically charged rap mixed with the singing of the lyrics. Not everything has political connotations as the dreamy duet between Renée Elise Goldsberry & Christopher Jackson on "If I Loved You," Cynthia Erivo's lovely "My Funny Valentine," or Porter's interpretation of "The Lady Is a Tramp," with a Zaire Park rap playing off the lyrics, incorporated in this performance. Then there is Pentatonix's optimistic and spirited take on "What a Beautiful Morning."

Billy Porter has put together this imaginative re-imagination of some classic songs that are well established parts of the American Songbook, and these performances show the contemporary relevance of these songs in introducing them to new audiences. At the same time, there is no question that some will be put off by the musical settings and there are some explicit raps on a couple of tracks on a very intriguing recording.

I received a review download from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2017  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here Billy Porter and others talk about this recording.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Lil' Shaky and the Tremors Aftershock

Lil' Shaky and the Tremors
Aftershock
EZV Records

Chris Vachon, Roomful of Blues' guitarist for the past 25+ years who also has co-produced their last 10 albums, alerted me to this group and project he is part of that he recorded, mixed and mastered. The rest of this group is Ed Wright, a solid blue-eyed soulful vocalist and bassist; Jeff Ceasrine on keyboards, and Larr Anderson on drums. Also heard are The Naked Horns on several tracks, Mike Rand on harmonica for a couple selections, Brenda Bennett who contributes a lead vocal on one selection, and sundry other musicians and backing vocals.

Much of this is in a soul-blues vein and showcases Wright's strong singing stands out especially on an surprising cover of Bill Withers' "Grandma Hands" that also has solid vocal backing from The Gospel Love Notes (and crisp Vachon guitar fills). If that is perhaps the standout track, his renditions of the O.V. Wright classic "I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled and Crazy," the George Jackson penned Ann Pebbles;' gem "Slipped Tripped And Fell In Love," or Syl Johnson's soul stomper "I Only Have Love." Wright and the horn augmented band give a gritty rendition of Bobby Bland's "I Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)."

Several other numbers have more of roots-rock flavor including a strong take on Bobby Charles' "Why Are People Like That," a rockabilly-flavored rendition of a Willie Dixon's "I Love the Life I Live," and the closing "It's All Over Now," that is based on Bobby Womack's 1997 recording, not The Valentinos' original from the sixties. They complement the deep soul performances with some very fine playing throughout, and excellent production, that make for a very appealing recording for blues and soul fans.

I received my review copy from Chris Vachon. This review appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here is a video of them performing "I Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)."


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Mike Neer Steelonious

Mike Neer
Steelonious
Self-Produced

Steel guitar has generally been associated with western swing and honky tonk country, although there have been exceptions with sacred steel gospel players. There have been several notable blues lap steel players including Hop Wilson, L.C. 'Good Rockin'' Robinson, and Sonny Rhodes, and more recently Kenny Neal and Selwyn Birchwood. This is not to forget Freddie Roulette, whose playing with Earl Hooker and the Chicago Blues Stars (including his remarkable playing on "Summertime") and somewhat more recent recordings including the CD backed by Willie Kent and his band, "Back in Chicago," and the overlooked "Man of Steel," that included his recasting of Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder."

Now we have a intriguing new release by steel guitarist Mike Neer, a tribute to Thelonious Monk. Neer (who also plays ukulele, bass on "Ask Me Now" and adds percussion) is backed by Matt King on piano and organ, Andrew Hall on bass and Diego Voglino on drums and percussion with Tom Beckham adding vibes to two tracks. This is a tribute CD that does not take itself too seriously as Neer initially channeling in the Surfaris' "Wipeout" and the Ventures on the opening of "Epistrophy," Then there is the tinge of Western Swing on "I Mean You," with someone (Neer?) chanting like Bob Wills "Steelonious." The following selection, "Off Minor" is a bouncy performance with King on organ. King, is a more conventional keyboard player than Monk was, but the leader's arrangements for the whole group instill the Monkish flavor.

The two tracks with Beckham include "In Walked Bud" which is taken at a slower tempo than the usual buoyant groove while he provides musical color and texture to the lovely "Ask Me Now." Neer's rendition of "Ugly Beauty" is a lovely atmospheric performance, while "Blue Monk," which closes the CD is a nice moody rendition of this classic Monk blues with the rhythm section providing sturdy support. This recording is a delight with some fresh takes on Monk's music. You can purchase as a CD or as a download and Neer has information at http://www.steelonious.com/buy-steelonious/. I recommend purchasing it at bandcamp (mikeneer.bandcamp.com/album/steelonious) where if you purchase the CD, you also get a bonus download track in a briskly paced interpretation of "Well, You Needn't."

I purchased this. Here is a rendition of "Blue Monk."



Friday, October 27, 2017

Vivian Buczek Ella Lives

Vivian Buczek
Ella Lives
Prophone Records

Swedish vocalist Vivian Buczek has made her contribution to the Ella Fitzgerald centenary with this release. This is collaboration with pianist and arranger Martin Sjöstedt with bassist Niklas Fernqvist and drummer Johan Löfcrantz Ramsay. Also appearing on this are Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone; Fredrik Lindborg on bass clarinet and tenor sax; Peter Asplund on trumpet and flugelhorn; and Karl-Martin Almqvist on tenor sax.

The eleven numbers interpreted here include gems from Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Ray Noble, and Duke Ellington and if these songs will be familiar, the arrangements provided by Sjöstedt along with Buczek's singing, result in lively and fresh renditions. The focus of course is Buczek's vocals. She not only possesses a lovely voice, but her vocals, including her scatting, display impeccable pitch, diction, timing. Her use of dynamics in her delivery of a lyric are marvelous. The backing is terrific too, with Sjöstedt marvelous in comping or soloing as when she wordlessly sings along with Asplund's flugelhorn on "Tenderly."

Highlights include her exquisite rendition of Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" with Stahl's vibes accenting her vocal and Ramsey employing brushes; the terrific "The Man I Love," with lively backing, a stellar vibes solo, Sjöstedt superbly accompanying the vocal, and Asplund,  taking his own fascinating solo; the wonderful "The Very Thought of You," with strong tenor sax from Lindborg; and her superb scatting on "Lady Be Good," along with some fiery trumpet. Finally, one cannot understate the importance of the rhythm duo of bassist Fernqvist and drummer Ramsay on the consistently wonderful performances on "Ella Lives." Vivian Buczek has not only provided a stellar Ella Fitzgerald tribute but shows herself to be a fabulous jazz singer in her own right.

I received a review copy from the US distributor of this release. Here she performs "The Man I Love."

 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Howlin' At Greaseland

Various
Howlin' At Greaseland
West Tone Records

Some veterans and new names join together for a tribute to Howlin' Wolf that was recorded at Kid Andersen's' Greaseland studio and has a cover inspired by Wolf's Rockin' Chair album. Assembled for this besides Andersen on guitar, bass and piano, are Rick Estrin and Aki Kumar on harp, Lorenzo Farrell, Jim Pugh and Henry Gray on piano, Rockin' Johnny Burgin, Johnny Cat, and Chris James on guitar; Joe Kyle Jr, Patrick Rynn, Robby Yamilov and Vance Ehlers on bass; Derrick Dmar Martin, and Junior Core on drums; and Terry Hanck on sax, with vocals from Gray, Hanck, Alabama Mike John Blues Boyd, Lee Donald and Tail Dragger on vocals.

There are solidly played and sung performances in the manner of the originals, if not quite of the level of the originals. After all, there was only one Howlin' Wolf. Alabama Mike sings with urgency on "Meet Me In The Bottom," with Estrin's harmonica and Farrell's piano featured while "Smokestack Lightning," has the first of Boyd's vocals with Estrin doing a nice evocation of Wolf's harp over the solid vocal. Boyd also recalled seeing Wolf in 1956 visiting a school friend of his before launching into a rollicking "Riding in the Moonlight," with the spirit of Willie Johnson suggested in the guitar backing. After recalling, his father booking Howlin' Wolf in the sixties in suburban Chicago, Terry Hanck handles "Howlin' For My Darling," with a fine vocal and strong sax, while Johnny Cat emulates Hubert Sumlin.

Tail Dragger has a couple of recollections of Wolf here along with performances of "I'm Leaving You," and "Don't Trust No Woman," with his slightly muffled vocals with strong accompaniment from Rockin' Johnny Burgin on guitar, and Aki Kumar on harp. Henry Gray, who spent 14 years in Wolf's band, is backed by Chris James, Patrick Rynn, Ali Kumar (who shares the vocal) and Junior Core, doing a solid "Worried Life Blues." I believe this is the only song here not identified with Wolf. Also, Gray sings and plays "Little Red Rooster, with Kid Andersen's acoustic guitar the only other backing.

I am not familiar with Lee Donald, who is the strong vocalist on "Forty Four," and Boyd sings robustly on "Spoonful" that closes "Howlin' At Greaseland." While there is nothing earthshaking here, this is a fine, straightforward homage to one of the icons of the blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is John 'Blues' Boyd singing a Wolf classic not on this album, "Back Door Man."


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Jared Sims Change of Address

Jared Sims
Change of Address
Ropeadope

An educator (currently Director of Jazz Studies at West Virginia University) who plays multiple reeds, Jared Sims as a performer focuses on the baritone sax. The title of this album reflects his move from Boston to West Virginia where he went to school. On this he is joined by Steve Fell on guitar; Nina Ott on organ, Chris Lopes on bass and Jared Seabrook on drums for a program of 7 tunes where he gets to display his rugged, energetic playing on seven originals.

The album takes off with the bouncy, funky groove groove of "Offer For Wilson, with Ott's greasy organ setting the mood for Sims to join in with his brawny attack. It is followed by "Seeds of Shihab," a tribute to one of his influences, baritone great Sahib Shihab, where his authoritative soloing is supported by a simple backing with Fell then taking a blues-inflected solo contrasts with the dark bottom sound of the leader's baritone. The soul-jazz flavor of this recording continues with "Ghost Guest 1979," which showcases guitarist Fell who employs a number of effects on his solo before Sims barrels in on the baritone. "Leap of Faith" is a tone poem with electronics creating aural textures that is the foundation for Sims' playing. "Forest Hills," named after a Boston neighborhood, is a spirited number with Fell's bluesy guitar making judicious use of tonal variations and effects. The opening to "Tower of Fazenda" establishes a morose atmosphere which Sims maintains as he plays with restraint followed by Fell's deliberate crafting of his solo.

"Lights and Colors," with a bouncy groove, and strong playing from Sims and Fell, closes "Change of Address," on a dance-able note. The playing, especially of Sims and Fell, captures the ear, even if the backing sometimes is only serviceable. Still an intriguing recording by a formidable baritone player.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374).  


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Sherman Holmes Project The Richmond Sessions

The Sherman Holmes Project
The Richmond Sessions
M.C. Records

The origins of this album by the surviving member of The Holmes Brothers goes back to 2014, the year they were honored with a National Heritage Fellowship, the highest award given in the US for traditional arts. That same year they participated as master artists in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program where they mentored several young musicians. While they enjoyed the performances of those they mentored along with other traditional musicians, not long after in January 2015, Popsy Dixon passed away from cancer and then Sherman's brother Wendell died a few months later of multiple health problems. Sherman in that year continued to participate in the Apprenticeship Program mentoring 11 year old Whitney Nelson, and after backing her at the Apprenticeship Showcase, he was asked to sing a number in honor of Wendell and Popsy, and sat down at the keyboards to sing a traditional gospel number, "I Want Jesus." It was after that performance that Jon Lohman suggested they record this album.

Lohman suggests that in the spirit of The Holmes Brothers, this recording draws on a variety of genres and styles. While true, this recording has a strong bluegrass-Americana feel, with the blues and soul aspects somewhat less prominent. Lohman, besides producing this adds harmonica behind Holmes' vocals, bass and keyboards. Other notable musicians on this include Rob Ickes on dobro; Jared Pool on mandolin and telecaster guitar; Sammy Shelor on banjo; Jacob Eller on upright bass; and David Van Deventer on fiddle. Joan Osborne, long-time friend of The Holmes Brothers, adds her vocal on one track, while the Ingramettes add backing vocals to others selections.

Gospel songs are in fair abundance here ranging from the living bluegrass rendition of "Rock of Ages," with strong dobro and fiddle along with a terrific supporting vocal from one of the Ingramettes, the austere "I Want Jesus," with simple accompaniment (again with dobro prominent) and gospel chorus backing); the traditional African-American gospel rendered "Wide River," and a stunning bluegrass-rooted rendition of Carter Stanley's sentimental ballad "White Dove." There are strong heartfelt performances, renditions of Vince Gill's "Liza Jane" (not the similarly titled New Orleans number) and Jim Lauderdale's "Lonesome Pines." Toss in intriguing versions of The Band's "Don't Do It," and Creedence Clearwater Revivals' "Green River," with vocals that would likely have impressed Levon Helm.

There are two deep soul numbers, renditions of "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" (with a intriguing employment of traditional country instruments in the backing), and the James Carr classic, "The Dark End of the Street," with Joan Osborne guesting in support here. The Carr number has also been been one that a number of country performers recorded back in the sixties. The album closes with the Ben Harper composition "Homeless Child," with a powerful lyric, fervent backing chorus and focused backing. It is another heartfelt performance on this strongly performed and moving recording that may transcend classification but one that will enthrall those who simply love good music.

I received my review copy from M.C. Records. This review originally appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here Sherman Holmes performs "Green River."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Steve Howell Jason Weinheimer - A Hundred Years From Today

Steve Howell Jason Weinheimer
A Hundred Years From Today
Out of the Past Music

Steve Howell & the Might Men's "Yes I Believe I Will," I found to be "a delightful, congenial mix of folk, country and blues that will appeal to a wide range of roots music listeners." Howell's latest is an acoustic collaboration with Weinheimer, a member of the Mighty Men, as they interpret early jazz and blues numbers from a variety of sources including Mississippi John Hurt, Jim Jackson, Jack Teagarden, Louis Armstrong and Bo Carter.

Howell's easy flowing finger style guitar and genial vocals are supported by Weinheimer's bass starting with "Lulu's Back in Town" that was first popularized by Fats Waller. Howell does lack the exuberance that Waller had, with a low-key singing approach that is analogous to Mississippi John Hurt, even if he doesn't have quite the warmth of Hurt's vocals (but who does). Of the pleasures to be heard here are covers of a couple of Hurt's recordings including a marvelous "Louis Collins." There is a nice reading of Jim Jackson's "Kansas City Blues," along with the reflective title track that he learned from Jack Teagarden. An earnest "Basin Street Blues" is followed by the medley of "Limehouse Blues" and "After You've Gone" with superb finger style playing and a genial vocal on the latter number."

After a jaunty version of Bo Carter's "Who's Been Here" (Carter's rendering of "Alabamy Bound"), Howell closes this with an affecting rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's "Rockin' Chair," that was a staple of Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong's repertoire, and often a highlight of Armstrong's All Stars when Teagarden was a member. Living Blues once characterized Howell as a "gentle, Deep South-inspired acoustic troubadour," and this thoroughly captivating, if brief, recording displays why with his affable and charming performances.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here the two perform "Kansas City Blues."



Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dave Stryker Strykin' Ahead

Dave Stryker
Strykin' Ahead
Strykezone

Guitarist Dave Stryker returns with his 28th album as a leader with the same supporting cast as last year's "Eight-Track II": his working organ trio of Jared Gold on organ and McClenty Hunter on drums augmented with vibraphone player Steve Nelson, the same configuration as on that recording. Unlike that recording's focus on pop hits of decades past, the present album features his originals along with re-harmonizations of several jazz standards.

His time with Jack McDuff and Stanley Turrentine certain are evident on the opening 14 bar blues, "Shadowboxing," with some strong organ in addition to guitar. It is followed by a nice "Footprints," that starts off in an understated fashion with intriguing chordal variations on Wayne Shorter's classic number as the performs starts simmering with a building intensity. Nelson provides a different tonal voice with his shimmering playing here followed by some more impressive guitar with Gold's organ smoldering as the performance reaches its end. Another original follows, the swinging "New You," a contrafact of the oft-played "There Will Never Be Another You," which was inspired by the Blue Note recordings of Larry Young, Grant Green and Elvin Jones.

There is an exceptionally lovely rendition of Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower," followed by the lively title track and then another excellent, atmospheric late night blues, "Blues Down Deep," with Stryker's technique, restraint, taste and imagination at the forefront. A bright rendition of Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring," with some lovely unison playing from Stryker and Nelson along with some of Stryker's most scintillating fretwork is followed by a enchanting "Who Can I Turn To," with some peppery guitar, and surging organ from Gold.

The album closes with a spirited "Donna Lee," with fast fluid fretwork along with Nelson's nimble mallets. I haven't mentioned Hunter, but his crisp, imaginative stick work adds rhythmic accents as well as drive these marvelous performances forward. With his latest, Dave Stryker continues to impress with his imaginatively conceived and superbly played recordings.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here is Dave Stryker performing at Small's in New York City.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Ronny Whyte Shades of Whyte

Ronny Whyte
Shades of Whyte
Audiophile Records

Perhaps there is nothing extraordinary of the latest release by singer-pianist Ronny Whyte, which is not to deny definite pleasures to listening to this recording of renditions mostly from the Great American Songbook. A veteran, he recently turned 80, has been a fixture on the New York scene performing in many of the city’s intimate supper clubs, night clubs and superior hotel lounges. Besides arranging the songs, he co-wrote 5 of the 16 selections on this release. Backing him are bassist Boots Maleson, guitarist Sean Harksness, Lou Caputo on tenor sax & Flute, Mauricio De Souza on drums, and Alex Nguyen on trumpet with Dave Stillman on drums on one track.

Whyte recently turned 80 and there are a few spots where his intonation may be a tad off, but that is a minor issue. It is delightful to hear his straight-forward treatment of "This Song is You" (with a bit of scatting), "Nina Never Knew," and "Linger Awhile," as well as his bossa nova original "It's Time For Love," and a Bossa Nova medley of "A Little Samba" & "So Danco Samba." He is a romantic as displayed on his own 'I Love The Way You Dance," and the ballad "Blame It on The Movies." Caputo is outstanding throughout on either tenor sax or flute such as on the sober ballad, "Some Of My Best Friends Are The Blues." Nguyen's trumpet also marvelously compliments Whyte like on "For Heaven's Sake." "I'm Old fashioned" is a splendid performance without horns that allows Whyte to showcase his deft piano playing along with brief solos from Maleson and Stillman.

A swinging "Dancing in the Dark," with choice solos from Caputo, Maleson and Harksness closes this delightful vocal jazz CD.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here is Ronny Whyte in performance from 2007.

 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bill O’Connell Monk's Cha Cha

Bill O’Connell
Monk's Cha Cha
Savant Records

Bill O'Connell 40 year career, where he has contributed substantial to both jazz and the Afro-Cuban musical traditions, including a stint with Mongo Santamaria and engagements with such hallowed improvisers as Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, Gato Barbieri and Emily Remler. He also has a long working relationship with the late bassist Charles Fambrough that produced four recordings. Bill O'Connell latest recording is a solo recording from a solo performance at the Carnegie-Farian Room at the Nyack (NY) Library. Five of the nine selections are O'Connell originals, with four interpretations of standards.

The swinging opening "The Song is You" provides the first taste of the lyricism and improvisatory invention that O'Connell invests in his performance with his chords mix in with flowing arpeggios as he explores the familiar melody in several fashions. The following rendition of "Dindi" is a more pensive approach to Jobim's classic that illustrates his use of dynamics. The classic ballad, "It Could Happen To You" also exhibits his ability to extract so much from a melody, yet play in  a spare manner. The title track intertwines an evocation of "Misterioso" and "Well You Needn't," with him providing spicy Afro-Cuban flavor with his right hand. One might imagine the joyfulness of a performance by The Latin Jazz All-Stars, that he leads, on this composition. The striking, "Zip Line" has a lively tone, while "Hither Hills" is a lovely, reflective performance.

Among the remaining performances is a scintillating rendition of Mongo Santamaria's classic "Afro Blue." This is a fine homage to the gentleman who allowed him as a young man to hone his skills as a pianist, composer and arranger. Decades later, the performances here show just how he has further developed, producing this exceptional solo piano recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a Latin Jazz band rendition of the title track of this solo piano recording.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Janet Lawson Quintet

The Janet Lawson Quintet
The Janet Lawson Quintet
BBE Records

This is an expanded re-release of a Grammy nominated album by The Janet Lawson Quintet. It was originally issued on Inner City Records in 1981 and augmented by four selections from a tribute to Miles Davis in the late 1990s. Lawson was born in Baltimore before moving to New York for decades of performing as well as teaching. Recently she has had health issues and moved back to Baltimore to be with family. The Janet Lawson Quintet on the Inner City recording included Bill O’Connell, piano; Ratzo Harris, bass; Roger Rosenberg, sax/flute; and Jimmy Madison, drums. For the Miles Davis Tribute, Mike Richmond was on bass and Billy Hart on drums.

What becomes clearly evident on the opening "You Promised" is how commanding she was with her articulation and interpretation of lyrics, with her attention to diction and the nuances of words, through her phrasing, intonation, range and dynamics as well as magic of wordless improvisation lyrics with her, where her voice becomes another horn and becomes as important a solo voice as the instrumentalists, reflecting perhaps her studies with Warne Marsh. It does not hurt that she is backed by a superb band with O'Connell's soloing (and accompanying) brilliantly in addition to Rosenberg's flighty flute or meaty saxophone. Another stunning performance is of Fats Waller classic "Jitterbug Waltz," where Rosenberg's sax enters after Lawson opens it scatting the theme on a performance that seems modeled on Eric Dolphy's. Lawson's riveting scatted solo is followed my O'Connell's own fresh improvisation. "Round Midnight" generally lends itself to perhaps a more reflective tenor, but her scatting is followed by some brawny tenor sax.

From the Miles Davis session, there is an inspired interpretation of "It Ain't Necessarily So," with Mike Richmond adding a bass solo as well as a lovely "I Thought About You," and a stunning free-bop of "Joshua" from Miles' second great quintet. The remainder of this release is of a similar high level." The Press release for the British release mentions the inclusion of her rendition of Jobim's "Dindi," but that was not included on the review copy I received, so I am not sure whether that is included in the US release. The copy of the CD I received also did not list the personnel that I have included in this review. But with 72 minutes of often stunning music, this expanded "The Janet Lawson Quintet" makes for enthralling listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373).
 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ignacio Berroa Trio Straight Ahead From Havana

Ignacio Berroa Trio
Straight Ahead From Havana
Codes Drum Music

The organizing principle of drummer Ignacio Berroa is taking standards from the Cuban repertoire and reimagining them in a straight ahead jazz context. On this recording he is joined by pianist Martin Bejerano and bassist Josh Allen (Lowell Ringel substitutes on two of the ten songs) with Conrado "Coky' Garcia adding percussion on two tracks and Ruben Blades takes the lead vocal on one.

The approach can be heard on the opening "Alma Con Alma" that some may be familiar with from Ray Barreto's recording which comes off like a solid hard bop number that allows one to approach Bejerano's considerable technique as well as strong post-Bud Powell playing on this with Allen and the leader terrific supporting his fiery playing here, followed by Allen's own brisk, cleanly articulated solo and Berroa's hot solo. One not knowing the nature of this session would simply find this to be superb bop piano. A similar musical imagination invests the treatment of "Le Tarde," into a medium tempo swinging number with Bejerano engaging the listener with his fluidity, touch and nuance. The rendition of the Afro-Cuban Children's lullaby, "Drume Negrita" (some will know from Celia Cruz), has a latin tinge with the leader's drumming accenting the relatively spare piano lead. Ruben Blades is heard on "Negro De Sociedad" which is performed in a more relaxed manner than the hot salsa fashion that is incorporated at the beginning and end here.

Other delights include the bouncy "Los Tres Golpes," with Garcia's percussion adding to the driving groove, the reflective "Si Me Pudieras Querer," and the dazzling, spirited "Me Recordaras," that closes this fabulous recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here is the Ignacio Berroa Trio in performance.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Steve Krase Should've Seen it Coming

Steve Krase
Should've Seen it Coming
Connor Ray Music

I am familiar with harmonica-player Steve Krase from his contributions to recent Trudy Lynn recordings. This his is apparently his fourth album, but first this writer has heard. He is backed by a band that includes co-producer Rick Romano on bass, David Carter on guitar, Richard Cholakian on drums, Randy Wall on keyboards and Alisha Pattillo on saxophones, with appearances from guitarists mark May and Bob Lanza, James Gilmore and backing vocals from Trudy Lynn. Six of the eleven songs here are 'covers' (including one credited to Kraze) and there are two explicit versions of two of the originals that are at then end of the CD.

 Krase says he wanted to make a fun record and he did so opening with a bouncy Romano-penned shuffle "Brand New Thang" with Mark May's stinging guitar along with his harp (the vocal likely overdubbed over the backing. The track displays his appealing, unforced vocals and skilled harp. It is followed by a take on a classic Little Walter recording, "Crazy For My Baby," distilled through Charlie Musselwhite's version with a rumba groove, backing vocals and solid chromatic harp. A bouncy rendition (with terrific harmonica) of an old Bobby Mitchell (and Fats Domino) recording "Let the Four Winds Blow," is followed by his lyrical updating of a Jimmy Rogers recording "The World's Still in a Tangle" (which actually goes back to Arthur Crudup, Robert Lockwood and Honeyboy Edwards) as he is building a bunker instead digging a cave and adding references to assault rifles and zombies. This is a wonderfully paced performance with steady backing and more terrific harmonica.

A bit of danceable rock and roll with Bob Lanza taking the lead guitar is "Shot of Rhythm and Blues," followed by the title track that Krase's brother penned with Pattillo's sax adding to the mood on this lyric along with a whispered vocal and then a lengthy jamming section where Wall and Carter also solo. There is a lively and imaginative interpretation of James 'Wee Willie' Wayne's "Travellin' Mood" (also a staple for Snooks Eaglin), followed by take on Clarence 'Frogman' Henry's "Troubles, Troubles," that is solidly played but taken at too quick a tempo. After a strong shuffle, "Make You Love Me Baby," comes the hilarious "Repo Man" as a modern bad ass who won't knock on the door, but will bang one's wife, but will take one's car, and nothing one can do because the repo man is coming after you. There is some terrific sax on this performance. This along with the title track are also heard in separate takes with explicit lyrics placed at the end of the CD. "Way Back Home" by Wilton Felder was originally recorded by the Jazz Crusaders. Krase has adapted Junior Parker's recording for this excellent, moody instrumental.

Certainly a solid recording as Krase is a very good singer and striking harmonica player with adept, steady support, and fresh material and takes on older songs making for a totally engaging recording.


I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373), although I have made a few minor changes to the text. Here is a performance by the Steve Krase Band.

 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story
Bill Dahl and Benny Turner
Nola Blue, Inc.
2017: 238 + xiv pages

This is a little gem of a book where Benny Turner, with Bill Dahl's assistance, tells his fascinating story from growing up in Texas along with half-brother Freddie King, moving to Chicago where he worked with his half-brother, along with various gospel, rhythm and blues and Chicago blues legends, spending time with Mighty Joe Young after Freddie passed until Young had medical issues, then spending years leading Marva Wright's Band, and after her passing taking up the spotlight as a leader and recording and performing under his own name.

The story begins as Turner goes into his family background, noting Freddie's real father who abandoned him and how he became King while Benny is named after his father. They grew up in Jim Crow Texas although it wasn't until several years passed that he experienced the humiliation blacks could be subjected to. While his father did not play, his mother did as did several uncles including Uncle Leon. Benny states his mother and Uncle Leon played songs from Robert Johnson and Leadbelly, which I take allegorically (as to songs similar to those of Johnson and Leadbelly) and not literally. What is more important than this is the closeness of his family, including his relationship with his half-brother and he helped Freddie in the cotton fields, although he was accidentally injured once and still has a four inch scar from it, and the accidental death of Uncle Leon. His mother also lay down the discipline as he was growing up.

The family moved to Chicago in 1950 with his father getting a job with a steel company assisting with molten steel and tipping buckets into molds. It was a whole new world of experiences including electric lights, indoor plumbing and Freddie wanting to see a refrigerator make ice and also getting enrolled in school and the like, with Benny initially enrolled in a predominantly white school where he faced racist bullying and after fighting out of a situation was enrolled in a black school, but even here he had to fight himself out of a similar situation except here it was neighborhood kids, but he also recalled experiences of police harassment simply walking back home form a movie theater.

Besides recalling some of the interesting characters in the neighborhood and other situations, he starting singing doo-wop with classmates and after awhile they even went to Chess Records hoping to record and met Rice 'Sonny Boy Williamson' Miller who they watched record with Turner recalling the interaction between the Miller and Leonard Chess. Benny would next cross paths with Miller while playing with his brother. Turner recounts his experiences auditioning for gospel groups and other vocal groups, and day jobs after his father was disabled after being hit by a car. He started playing guitar in a gospel group, the Kindly Shepherds with whom Turner traveled and made his first recordings. He recounts experiences traveling with them including harassment from police down south.

While his career was starting, brother Freddie's career was taking off. Turner notes the influences of Jimmy Rogers and Robert Lockwood on King's guitar style as well as King's admiration of Earl Hooker while also noting folks like Jimmy Lee Robinson that were in King's bands. He recalls Freddie taking him to see Howlin' Wolf who put King under his wing, and recalls Freddie recording "Spoonful" with the Wolf, a recollection that will bring back the controversy of decades ago on Freddie's claim of having recorded that backing Wolf. He also recalls Freddie playing with Robert 'Mojo' Elem and T.J. McNulty who Luther Allison would front after Freddie started going on the road (Luther told me this years ago and Turner includes a picture of a very young Luther with McNulty here).

The detail I have provided is incomplete but indicates the contents of this wonderful memoir that details his own musical career that included touring with Dee Clark which he spends some detail on and later he would play bass with The Soul Stirrers (the first electric bassist with a gospel group) as well playing with various Chicago blues and soul legends including Freddie in a band that included Little Johnnie Jones and Abb Locke. Later he would return to Freddie's band after his time playing with the Soul Stirrers though also spent time with Jimmy Reed and others before rejoining Freddie who he remained with until his passing detailing concerts, recording sessions and the like. And he was with Freddie until the end, remembering some conversations between the brothers, the last performance and the aftermath of his death.

After his brother's death, Mighty Joe Young got him into his band with whom he would play with until surgery intended to fix a pinched neck in his neck, instead left unable to play with that arm. Around this time, he moved to New Orleans although remaining close with Young until Young passed away in 1999. In New Orleans he started playing at the Old Absinthe Bar which unfortunately now is a daiquiri shop. Interweaving his experiences living in New Orleans was his hooking up with Marva Wright, who was a church-going woman starting as a blues singer although beginning her career singing blues. At the time Marva had a band of jazz players which she didn't like (in fact hated it), when she hooked up with Turner which was fine as he really preferred working with just one person like he had with Freddie and Joe Young. It was the beginning of a lengthy time as he became her band leader. There are recollections of her powerful singing, especially with the bishop, organist Sammy Berfect who passed in 1999, of a plane ride in Europe where all the band members were scared for their lives and being reunited with Tyrone Davis in New Orleans who he had not seen in years, and then seeing James Cotton in Brazil who he had last seen when Cotton had been in Muddy Waters' band. Hurricane Katrina of course interrupted Turner's life as it did Marva. Marva relocated to Baltimore, and Benny flew in to play a benefit for Marva at the now closed Bangkok Blues in Falls Church, Virginia a Washington DC suburb, that Benny includes a photo of himself from on page 197 (it was likely my photo although uncredited but I recognize the location), noting it was his 1st post-Katrina performance. Marva eventually came back to New Orleans and Benny rejoined her until she suffered a stroke in 2009 and passed in 2010.

After Marva's passing, Turner took the spotlight at last and the last chapter details some of the events such as going up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her niece Wanda when Freddie King was inducted, as well as paying a musical tribute to Marva Wright at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and later at the Rock'n'Bowl in New Orleans. Then he ran into an old friend, Sallie Bengtson, with whom he has partnered to release a number of recordings as a leader and this memoir, and recounts his tours over the past several years such as running into old friends, former Muddy Waters band-member Bob Margolin and Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks.

As Turner states near the book's end, he still has plenty to say and play and one certainly hopes that he does for many years to come. He shares here some observations on the state of the music today. He  may be a blues survivor, but he remains today a terrific musician who continues to enrich us today with his performances, recordings and this book. The lively text is also copiously illustrated with photos from Turner's entire life. This is highly recommended to all fans of blues music.




I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374).