Monday, July 24, 2017

DownBeat's Hall of Fame Celebrates Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake in Berlin in 1972 playing several of his most famous compositions, 
Charleston Rag, I'm Just Wild About Harry and Memories of You.

Among the three individuals selected by the Veterans Committee for DownBeat's Hall of Fame was James Hubert Blake (February 7, 1887 - February 12, 1983), known as Eubie Blake. Blake was an American composer, lyricist, and pianist of ragtimejazz, and popular music. In 1921, he and his long-time collaborator Noble Sissle wrote Shuffle Along, one of the first Broadway musicals to be written and directed by African Americans. Among the compositions he is still remembered for are  "Bandana Days", "Charleston Rag", "Love Will Find a Way", "Memories of You" and "I'm Just Wild About Harry". The musical Eubie!, which opened on Broadway in 1978, featured his works.

Blake was born in Baltimore of two former slaves, and the only one of eight children to survive infancy. He worked first in a bordello, then a Black and Tan Club and then on a medicine show circuit. Blake said he composed the melody of the "Charleston Rag" in 1899, when he would have been only 12 years old, but it was not committed to paper, however, until 1915, when he learned to write musical notation. In 1912, Blake began playing in vaudeville with James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra, which accompanied Vernon and Irene Castle's ballroom dance act. 

After World War 1, Blake first joined with Noble Sissle to work as a vaudeville act, and then they worked on Shuffle Along. The Blake-Sissle partnership ended in 1925, but Blake continued to evolve. In 1930, he collaborated with Andy Razaf on Blackbirds, which introduced, among other numbers, “Memories Of You” and “You’re Lucky To Me.”

Louis Armstrong's classic recording of You're Lucky To Me.

After decline in interest in ragtime, his career went on an upswing in the 1950s when interest in ragtime revived and Blake, one of its last surviving artists, found himself launching yet another career as ragtime artist, music historian, and educator and recording with 20th Century Records and Columbia Records. Additionally another ragtime revival engendered by the 1973 film The Sting—along with the 1978 musical Eubie!—helped to elevate Blake’s profile during his final decade. 
Through the last decades of his life lectured and gave interviews at major colleges and universities all over the world, and appeared as a performer and clinician at top jazz and rag festivals as well as appearing on television as a guest on the Tonight Show with John Carson and Merv Griffin, and was featured with orchestral performances conducted by Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Fiedler.

A 1932 film of Eubie Blake and His Orchestra that includes the Nicholas Brothers

Terry Waldo, author of This is Ragtime, said of Blake "He lived long enough to convey to later generations all of his knowl- edge about the whole history of American music, and the ways in which black music was entwined within it.” Furthermore, in the DownBeat article accompanying his selection to the Hall of Fame, Ted Panken observes that "younger musicians imbued with an “all jazz is modern” aesthetic, such as vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and pianist Ehud Asherie, continue to find inspiration in his works. It is quite a legacy.

The material in this appreciation is taken from Blake's Wikipedia entry and Ted Panken's article in the August 2017 DownBeat. We close with a clip of Eubie Blake with John Denver as Eubie plays and they announce the Best New Artist award on the 1979 Grammy Awards TV show.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Looking back at John Hammond on Vanguard and Pointblank

John Hammond
Verve & Pointblank Releases
Verve / Pointblank

Jerry Wexler writes in the notes to John Hammond’s new Pointblank release Trouble No More that Hammond is the greatest roots blues practitioner of this generation and Hammond sings “the deep and natural blues like some blind man on the corner in Opelousas, Louisiana.” Despite Jerry Wexler’s renown as a producer and recording industry mogul, the latter statement will provoke disagreement among some who find Hammond often sounding as if he is trying to sound like a street singer. Regardless of Hammond’s dedication to the blues, his vocals are inconsistent, and some will find him on occasion, irritably contrived, particularly when he tries to sing tough like Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters. Admittedly he can be engaging when singing in an unforced manner. 

Vanguard has compiled a useful cross-section of his work for that label that dates from the sixties forward, You Can’t Judge a Book By the Cover. After an awful vocal on the title track, this reviewer almost didn’t listen to the rest. While his choked vocal also sounds forced on Muddy Waters’ I Can’t Be Satisfied, he is convincing on Leroy Carr’s Midnight Hour Blues, which also sports solid guitar by the late Billy Butler, and the still active Jimmy Spruill (active when review was originally written and published). While some will find the presence of Mike Bloomfield, Duane Allman and the Hawks (better known as The Band), of interest, there is no electric guitar playing here that tops Butler and Spruill. Those who like Hammond’s vocals will have no reservations about this, and for others, like this reviewer, this does provide a useful sampling and there are a number of engaging performances here. 

Hammond’s backing on Trouble No More. on Pointblank includes Little Charlie and the Nitecats on several songs, slide guitarist Roy Rogers on others, and Charles Brown’s piano and Danny Caron’s guitar are on renditions of Brown’s Trouble Blues and Fool’s Paradise. Hammond’s singing is more relaxed here, although occasionally coming across as mannered. He continues to exhibit an eclectic repertoire and his rendition of That Nasty Swing has a bit of Jimmy Rodgers flavor, although Hammond doesn’t attempt a blue yodel. The album’s highpoint is a nice, wistful version of Blind Willie McTell’s Love Changin’ Blues. Trouble Blues is a credible remake, of a Charles Brown classic but Hammond is overshadowed by Brown’s kinetic accompaniment. However, Hammond has produced an engaging and likable release for the Pointblank. 

I likely received review copies from the record companies. This review originally appeared in the April 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 190). One may have to purchase theses used or as downloads, although their are other collections of Hammond's Vanguard recordings available. Here is Hammond doing Fool's Paradise from the Trouble No More CD.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Charlie Owen Worth the Wait

Charlie Owen
Worth the Wait

Like the prodigal son, DC native Chartlie Owen has returned to the DMV (Distict-Maryland-Virginia) after decades on the West coast where he fronted the Dynatones as well as part of the house band at various venues. Now he has this release produced by Jim Pugh, who was the keyboardist for the Dynatones, as well as others including Etta James. In addition to Pugh (and Owen's own trumpet on 4 tracks), among those heard in the backing including saxophonist Nancy Wright, drummer Paul Revelli, Jon Cleary (piano on one track) and Curtis Salgado (a duet on one track).

This is mostly an album of southern soul and blues ably played and capably sung. Owen shows clear affection for this material and his renditions of the O.V. Wright classic "I Don't Know Why," James Carr's "Pouring Water on a Drowning Man," Little Milton's deep blues "So Mean To Me" and classic urban soul "We're Gonna Make It," Johnny Adams' "It Ain't the Same Thing," and Johnny Taylor classic "Cheaper to Keep Her," show him an able singer although his renditions do not reach the level of Carr, Milton, Adams and Taylor, as capably sung and played as they are. His affection for New Orleans R&B  is reflected in the Adams cover along with a nice treatment of Allen Toussaint's "On the Way Down," along with surprising, and well-sung recreations of Tommy Ridgely's "Let's Try and Talk It Over," along with Lloyd Price's "Just Because."

A couple of ballads stand out including his rendition of Jesse Winchester's "No Pride At All," and Allison Moorer's "Soft Place To Fall," that closes this recording. These have a warmth and do not suffer from unavoidable comparisons with some soul legends. Owen is a very good singer, and fans of classic soul with a dose of blues should find "Worth the Wait" quite entertaining.

I received my review copy from a publicist. He is performing Sunday evening, July 23 at JV's in Falls Church, Virginia and I hope to enjoy his music live. Here is Charlie Owen performing "Can I Change My Mind."

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Herbie Nichols Honored In DownBeat Hall of Fame

Herbie Nichols recording of The Third World

"It's about time" was a common comment on Facebook regarding the selection of Herbie Nichols to DownBeat's Hall of Fame. Nichols was one of three selected by the Veterans Committee (the others being Eubie Blake and George Gershwin) and it is gratifying that he is receiving such recognition so long after his early death from leukemia in 1963 at the age of 44.

Perhaps at the time of his passing, he was perhaps unfairly compared to his friend Thelonious Monk. I became acquainted with his story from the chapter devoted to him in A.B. Spellman's classic book,Four Lives in the Bebop Business. Recently we are fortunate that Mark Miller wrote a full biography of Nichols, Herbie Nichols: A Jazzist's Life

Herbie Nichols recording of Lady Sings the Blues.

He was born in San Juan Hill area of Manhattan and grew up in Harlem. Wikipedia succintly observes  that "During much of his life he took work as a Dixieland musician while working on the more adventurous kind of jazz he preferred, and he is best known today for these highly original compositions, program music that combines bop, Dixieland, and music from the Caribbean with harmonies derived from Erik Satie and Béla Bartók." 

The quirkiness of his compositions perhaps leads to superficial comparisons to Monk. He became friends of Monk while working at Minton's, although he was not fond of the competitiveness of that venue. He became friends of Monk then and was also a journalist who was perhaps the first to write about Monk.

Herbie Nichols playing 2300 Skidoo.

After serving in the Military during World War II, he pursued his career as a composer and pianist. Mary Lou Williams was the first to record his compositions, and after "several years of to persuade Alfred Lion at Blue Note Records to sign him up, he finally recorded some of his compositions for the label in 1955 and 1956, some of which were not issued until the 1980s. His tune Serenade had lyrics added, and as Lady Sings the Blues became firmly identified with Billie Holiday. In 1957 he recorded his last album for Bethlehem Records." His Blue Note Records are compiled on The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Herbie Nichols, and his Bethlehem recordings available on Love, Gloom, Cash, Love.

His efforts to work as a modern musician were limited, and as noted he often had to play Dixieland, which is where he met Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd, both who were champions of his music after his passing and who were involved in various recordings of his compositions, including a number that were not recorded during his life. Miller notes his music was viewed by his contemporaries as a bit out and also his straight personality contributed to him being outside the jazz scene at the time. 

Misha Mingelberg is heard leading a group playing Herbie Nichols music.

Spellman's chapter is well worth reading nearly five decades later and Miller's biography fleshes out his remarkable, if tragic, life. A sampling of his recordings and an interview with Miller discusses his life and music is on an archived radio broadcast,

In 2015, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art presented the US Army Blues to celebrate the music of Herbie Nichols. A couple days later, the US army Blues presented the same program. This second performance was broadcast on video, which is available on youtube. They have presented the Music of Herbie Nichols additional times as well. in 2019, it is likely the Take 5 series held at the Museum of American Art will have another celebration of Herbie Nichols and his music.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A.K.A. Doc Pomus

A couple decades ago I wrote a review of Johnny Adams album, "Walking On a Tightrope" for Living Blues and out of the blue I received a call from Doc Pomus telling me he enjoyed my review, especially an observation I made about the recording and its overall sound, not simply the excellent singing from Johnny Adams. It was my only contact with this giant of American music. This 2012 film documentary, conceived by his daughter Sharyn Felder and directed by Peter Miller, along with the 2007 biography by Alex Halberstadt, "Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life And Times Of Doc Pomus," provides not simply the details of his life but a sense of the man who went from being a blues singer on crutches to a songwriter who crafted (often with others) some of the most memorable songs of the past 70 years.

The documentary, through interview clips from a variety of family, friends, artists, producers and music scholars traces his growing up in Brooklyn, contracting polio, hearing Joe Turner's recording, Piney Brown Blues, and becoming a blues shouter in Greenwich Village and Brooklyn, making a number of rhythm and blues recordings before chance has him starting to write songs for artists at Atlantic Records, including his hero, Big Joe Turner, including Chains of Love, which he states he sold the rights to. It would launch a career that had him spin out classics like Ray Charles' Lonely Avenue. Then there would be his Brill Building partnership with Mort Shuman where they penned so many songs like Why Do I Have To Be a Teenager In Love, This Magic Moment, Sweets For My Sweet, Suspicion, Save the Last Dance For Me, Viva Las Vegas, Little Sister, Go Jimmy Go, Can't Get Used to Losing You and so many more. 

This wonderfully crafted film interweaves his personal life along with his professional life including his marriage, the songwriting partnership with Shulman, moving to the suburbs as well as hanging in Manhattan. Some of the backstory for some of his songs is given as well. Save the Last Dance For Me has a moving story as it reflects his wedding night where he couldn't dance with his wife but insisted she dance, and later she mentioned enjoying the dancing but was saving her best for him. Ben E King, who sang lead on the Drifters classic recording, mentions how he was affected before he recorded it, knowing the story behind it. 

And we are taken to Elvis calling him at 2 in the morning with Doc thinking it was a prank at first and the fact he and Shuman produced a number of songs for Elvis movies. The movie takes us through the bad times as well such as after the partnership with Shuman broke up, and his marriage broke up, how he coped as well as how he became a center of late night hangs at his hotel lobby with all sorts of night folk. Later Doc would be mentoring young songwriters like Kenny Hirsch with whom he wrote There Is Always One More Time for Ray Charles. 

(In the clip immediately below, Doc talks about writing for Elvis in interview clip not in the film but from interviews used in the clip)

Doc was admired by many and he recounts going to a BMI dinner which he regarded as professional obligation and he was seated next to John and Yoko Ono with John Introducing himself which Doc found funny as if he did not know who Lennon was. His daughter Sharyn recalled how Doc and John would meet in the neighborhood wearing disguises and one day she saw John and Yoiko in a supermarket and introduced herself with Lennon responding "DOC POMUS" and then singing Save the Last Dance For Me. And Doc recounts how Dylan once asked him to supply lyrics for some music, which Doc found incredible.

There are so many stories about how Doc would go out of his way to help folks in different ways, his efforts to revive his friend Jimmy Scott's career (and it took Doc's f**kin g funeral to get Scott a recording contract), assist Big Joe Turner including an anecdote that he was pissed because he thought The Cookery was over-working Big Joe by having him play three shows that night, taht he left in a huff and ha his driver call in a bomb threat that emptied the club and made sure Turner did not do a third set that night

Doc was a larger than life person that it one wrote a novel about, no one would believe. This is a movie I have watched over a half dozen times and it moves me each time and I learn something new each time. Truly a remarkable film about a remarkable person.

I purchased this as a download. The trailer for the film is at the top of this somewhat inelegant blog post. Here is Mike Stoller's comments on A.K.A. Doc Pomus.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Don Cherry Honored By DownBeat Hall of Fame

Congratulations to Don Cherry for his selection in the DownBeat Critics Poll to the magazine's Hall of Fame. Cherry, with his pocket trumpet was an important part of Ornette Coleman's "Change of the Century." In addition to being a vital part of Coleman's pioneering group, he later played with Sonny Rollins, recorded with John Coltrane, as well as joined Steve Lacy for an album devoted to Thelonious Monk's Music. He was a member of the New York Contemporary Five with Archie Shepp and John Tchicai and recorded with Albert Ayler and Gato Barbieri. He also recorded for Blue Note as a leader including the albums Complete Communion and Symphony For Improvisors.

With Coleman alumni Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Eddie Blackwell, he was a member of the group Old and New Dreams who had four albums on Black Saint and ECM. He then became involved in world fusion music, including the "world jazz" group Codona, a trio that consisted of Don Cherry (trumpet, melodica, organ), Collin Walcott (tabla, sitar, percussion), and Nana Vasconcelos and recorded 3 albums for ECM. 

Cherry also recorded duets with Eddie Blackwell and several world music albums under his own name including Brown Rice, and MultiKulti. He passed away from liver cancer at the age of 58 in 1995. 

Here are several videos to celebrate his music. First the Don Cherry Trio in Paris in 1971.

Here is Don Cherry in a group performing in 1980.

And finally Don Cherry's "MultiKulti" in 1991.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Vince Giordano - There's a Future In Our Past

This is a trailer for a film I recently purchased as a download. For those not familiar with Vince Giordano, he has led a small big band, The Nighthawks for about 4 decades that focuses on the hot and sweet music of the 1920s and 1930s, often playing arrangements dating from those years and trying to replicate the sound of the bands as heard on recordings from that era. This band has been employed on a number of films including those by Woody Allen, The Aviator, as well as on the HBO TV series Broadway Empire, in which the band actually was scene performing in some episodes.

This documentary examines what is entailed for him to actually engage in such activities, how he became interested in this music and his ongoing obsessiveness, his collecting of original stock arrangements (he has tens of thousands of such arrangements), the musicians who are in his band and what is entailed in keeping the band afloat and regularly performing.

He is scene performing at (among other locations) Sofia;'s where he had a regular gig for several years, The Iguana where they currently perform two nights a week, the New port Jazz Festival (with George Wein off to the side enjoying their set) at a Lincoln Center summer performance, and Wolf Trap as part of a Prairie Home Companion broadcast from that venue. There is scenes of a recording session for Broadway Empire and him on radio promoting a Town Hall concert that celebrated the 90th Anniversary of Paul Whiteman's Aeolian Hall Concert which included the premiere of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.  Towards the documentary's end we are taken to a NYC Hot Jazz Festival where a number of younger performers discuss Vince's influence and the Nighthawks are joined by vocalist Catherine Russell for a number.

It is a fascinating look at a gentleman who triples on bass saxophone, tuba and a steel bass, in addition to leading the band, singing and so much more in filling a certain, and important musical niche. This should be available as a download or a rental as well as hard DVD. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Muddy Waters Paris 1972

Muddy Waters
Paris 1972

A part of Norman Granz’ Jazz at the Philharmonic Series of recordings (that includes albums by Ray Charles and Cannonball Adderley) this is a valuable new live recording of Muddy waters from a quarter-century past. He’s with his then working band of Pinetop Perkins/piano, Mojo Buford/harp, Calvin Jones/bass, Willie Smith/drums and Louis Myers on guitar, filling in for then ailing Sammy Lawhorn, and relegating himself to a mostly supporting role.

This is a “what you see is what you get” sort of recording. Muddy sounds in good form, singing robustly and plays a fair amount of slide guitar , Pinetop Perkins shows what a fine backing pianist he is, and even Mojo Buford, not my favorite of Waters’ harp players, acquits himself well on his steady, if unspectacular accompaniments. The material should be fairly familiar, with Clouds in My Heart, Hootchie Cootchie Man, Blow Wind Blow, Honey Bee, Walkin’ Blues and Got My Mojo Workin’.

Produced in cooperation with Waters’ estate, this is a lively, highly entertaining addition to Waters’ discography.

I likely received a review copy from Fantasy Records who owned the Pablo catalog. This review appeared originally in the July-August 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 223). Here is Muddy in 1976 performing "Rollin' and Tumblin'."

Friday, July 14, 2017

Tas Cru Simmered and Stewed

Tas Cru
Simmered and Stewed

One of Tas Cru's earlier albums was titled "Grizzle n' Bone" and that is a fair approach to his blues with roots accents. His crusty, seasoned singing is matched with his very adept songwriting and solid, adept guitar, ably supported by some fine studio musicians. In fact he redoes "Grizzle n' Bone" in a rollicking performance (terrific piano from Chip Lamson) as he sings about used to get biscuits and gravy and now all he gets is grizzle and bone.

"Feel I'm Falling" is a stark call for help set against a trance groove in the manner of Otis Taylor with swirling repeated guitar riff and some biting slide guitar before it segues into a more emphatic, driving segment displaying his skill at arranging his material as well as singing and playing with Dick Earl Erickson adding haunting harmonica. On the plaintive ballad, "Time and Time," Erickson's mournful harmonica again adds to the mood. "Road To My Obsession" has a dynamic groove as Tas heads down a lonesome road with 200 miles to go to pay his dues, as he will play them blues and recounts his experiences playing. The closing track is a reworking and interpretation of Jackie Wilson's hit "Higher and Higher," that builds to its jubilant climax

This is a consistently strong recording that displays why Tas Cru has become a popular performer on the blues circuit. His music is fresh and original, wonderfully played whether he is playing acoustically or getting a rocking groove on, and with a gravelly, honest vocal approach making for a first-rate recording. And he is even better live. For more information on Tas Cru, visit the website,

I received a review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here Tas Cru performs "Grizzle n' Bone."

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The New Vision Sax Ensemble Musical Journey Through Time

The New Vision Sax Ensemble
Musical Journey Through Time
Zaki Publishing

Based in southern Florida, The New Vision Sax Ensemble is a saxophone quartet comprised of Diron Holloway on Soprano, Alto Sax and clarinet; James Lockhart on Alto Sax; Jason Hainsworth on Tenor Sax and Melton Mustafa on Baritone Sax. It was formed by Mustafa in 1999 and its members are music educators as well as musicians. While able to play all genres of music but focuses on Jazz as its core.

While inspired by the 29th Street Sax Quartet and the World Saxophone Quartet, on the present disc they play more traditionally in their renditions of jazz classics as well as material from the ragtime era to modern show tunes in a lively manner opening with a spirited bebop rendition of Bobby Watson's "Conservation" featuring Holloway's alto sax along with Mustafa's baritone which provides the bass anchor as well as takes a brief, gruff solo, followed by an equally appealing bop-flavored rendition of "A Night in Tunisia." The old classic "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey," has the spotlight on Holloway's twisting, at times squealing, clarinet lines, as well as the tenor sax of Hainsworth.

And here is a nice, straight rendition of Monk's "Round Midnight," along with a lengthy "Selections From Porgy and Bess" with considerable lyricism as well opportunity for each member to take the spotlight. Lockhart is featured on a lyrical rendition of "My Favorite Things," saying close to the lyrics throughout and followed by a joyful reading of "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story." "Selections From Scott Joplin" is a chamber ensemble medley several familiar numbers from the great ragtime composer including "The Entertainer" and "Maple Leaf Rag," before the moving closing performance of "Amazing Grace,"

As noted, the performances here are straight forward, and one is impressed by the full ensemble sound throughout so one does not miss a rhythm section when enjoying this highly engaging recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here they are in performance doing "Round Midnight."


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Kim Wilson That’s Life

Kim Wilson
That’s Life

Kim Wilson’s second Antone’s album showcases his considerable talent as a singer, harmonica player and songwriter. It is comprised of Wilson’s originals and some covers of tunes that haven’t been done to tedium.

Opening with a rocking jump blues, Baby Please Don’t Lie To Me, Wilson confidently delivers his vocal on a lyric suggestive of Percy Mayfield. In contrast Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds You sounds like a cover of an unissued Sonny Boy Williamson Checker recording , although Wilson’s harp echoes Little Walter on his fine treatment of Jimmy Rogers’ Blues Leave Me Alone (with tasty harp fills and a solid solo from guitarist Rusty Zinn) and on the harp features, Humpin’ to Please, and Lowdown, both exhibiting his relaxed and fluid phrasing and full tone. Wilson salutes the second Sonny Boy Williamson on She’s My Baby, and his harp also echoes Williamson on a rocking rendition of Junior Parker’s Pretty Baby.

In addition to Zinn, Duke Robillard, Derek O’Brien and Clarence Holliman are also heard on guitar, and Gene Taylor adds piano. The only tune that perhaps comes off flat is Wilson’s straight reworking of Irma Thomas’ classic soul hit, Time is on My Side. Otherwise, Wilson’s songs, vocals and harp recapture the feeling of the classic blues from the fifties and sixties on a set that is much more than simply nostalgia.

I likely received a review copy of this from the label or a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 194). Here is Kim from a somewhat recent performance.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

John Nemeth Feelin' Freaky

John Nemeth
Feelin' Freaky
Memphis Grease Records

The veteran blue-eyed blues and rhythm singer and harmonica player has a new release featuring his band, The Blue Dreamers, along with some crack Memphis musicians on eleven Nemeth originals. The Blue Dreamers are Danny Banks on drums, Matthew Wilson on bass and guitar, and Johnny Rhodes on guitar and they are joined by the organ of the legendary Charles Hodges, horns and strings for a recording that often evokes the classic Hi Records sound behind Nemeth who sings soulfully as those already familiar with him would expect.

The high-points often are those selections that are in the Hi Records style including the opening "Under the Gun," with its lyric directed against gun violence and the pressure living where there is gun violence; "Rainy Day," as Nemeth sings about the rainy day and he has nothing saved including not having saved his love; and the closing "Long Black Cadillac" about a young love and how he lost his love and the long black Cadillac took his baby away with some pithy harmonica adding to the performance. There are a couple of solid tracks not in mould such as "S.T.O.N.E.D." The title track is a dance number with Nemeth playing upper register harmonica along with his high pitched vocal. It is an entertaining performance perhaps, if not a memorable one, as is the similar "Get Offa Dat Butt," which evokes people to get up and boogie.

As indicated there are some exceptional performances here, along with solid ones and a a few that are entertaining, if less compelling. As a result, John Nemeth's latest recording one that should appeal to soul as well as blues enthusiasts.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here he performs "Long Black Cadillac."


Monday, July 10, 2017

Larry Newcomb Quartet With Bucky Pizzarelli
Living Tribute
Essential Messenger

Blessed with a marvelous tone and a swinging melodic sense, guitarist Larry Newcomb's latest album is a tribute to some individuals who had a significant impact on him as a guitarist such as the late Dick Hall, Jim Hall, and Bucky Pizzarelli (who Newcomb studied under and adds his acoustic archtop guitar, mostly playing rhythm in a Freddie Green fashion to 7 or the 11 tracks) and in other ways as his family. He adds comments to various selections that link the song to a particular individual or individuals. Newcomb and his quartet of pianist Eric Olsen, bassist Dmitri Kolesnik and drummer Jimmy Madison are also joined by vocalist Leigh Jonaitis on two selections.

Newcomb captivates with his beautiful tone, single note lines and carefully placed chords with his swinging backing band starting with a sonorous "I Remember You," as well as the Cole Porter gem "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To," the Jim Hall recording of which inspired him to become a jazz guitarist. Jim Hall's duet with Ron Carter of "Alone Together," inspired the rendition here with Kolesnik's bass being the dominant solo voice with Newcomb's only solo judiciously employing chords against a spare backing. "Morningside Heights," one of Newcomb's seven originals, is a driving blues with Pizzarelli adding a short, rhythmically emphatic chord-rooted solo after effervescent solos from Newcomb and Olsen. Another original, "Band of Brothers," dedicated to his sons, is a lovely waltz with Olsen's adding deft accompaniments along with a solo complementing the leader's playing on a charming original. Jonaitis adds her lovely vocal to "One Heart Ain't As Great As Two," with Pizzarelli's rhythmic chording anchoring this performance to which Newcomb adds pithy obligatos to her vocal, as well as "Love Is Here," with its breezy samba groove and Newcomb's understated support and charming solo.

Much of the charm of the performances on "Living Tribute," are because of the restraint often shown along with the invention and lyricism manifest throughout in the solos and the solid ensemble playing. This is a jewel of a recording of swinging, guitar jazz.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here are the two guitarists performing "Swing To Bop."

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Paul Rishell Swear To Tell The Truth

Paul Rishell Swear To Tell The Truth
Tone Cool / Rounder

Boston area blues artist Paul Rishell works both in an acoustic as well as an electric band vein. Swear To Tell The Truth is his second Tone-Cool album, and like his earlier one features both sides of his blues persona, although the focus is mostly on his acoustic side. 

Guitarist Ronnie Earl and harmonica player Little Annie Raines help out, along with producer Richard Rosenblatt who adds harp to Bukka White’s Shake ‘Em On Down and Drinkin’ Water From a Hollow Log, where Rishell plays a Fred McDowell slide part on the Rolling and Tumbling theme. Rishell’s skill on guitar is quite notable, particularly when he handles East Coast blues as his version of Blind Boy Fuller’s Mamie is exquisite. 

If he can’t make one forget Howling Wolf with Somebody in My Home, Ronnie Earl’s striking electric guitar on Earl Hooker’s Swear To Tell the Truth is first rate. Perhaps the finest track is his rearrangement of Charlie Patton’s Some of These Days, which Rishell aptly describes as ‘wistful.’ His fingerpicking guitar is delightful, with Michigan River Blues showcasing his clean picking. 

A very well conceived and produced collection.

I likely received a review copy from Rounder Records. This review appeared in the September 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 1994). Here from two decades later, Paul Rishell and Annie Raines perform "Some of These Days."


Friday, July 07, 2017

Swingadelic Visits Mercerville

Zoho Music

The self-described 'little big band' Swingadelic was formed in 1998 during the neo-swing movement was cresting when bassist Dave Post gathered his jazz & blues playing friends together to play engagements at various New York City venues, and when the swing scene waned the band stayed active playing swing dance groups, concerts, festivals, schools and private engagements and today plays 100 dates a year. This new album is a tribute to the legendary songwriter Johnny Mercer. Previously Swingadelic has recorded tributes to Duke Pearson and Allen Toussaint.

Pianist and vocalist Johnny Bauers traces the origin of the present recording to the work he did for a Mercer show during the 2009 centenary of him. Subsequently he brought this concept to Swingadelic's Dave Post, and enlisted Vanessa Perea, the sublime vocalist featured on this recording and we started doing shows all over the New York area. During these shows, they told the story of Johnny’s life and the stories of his songs, striking a chord with our audiences. According to Bauers, "[t]his CD is an attempt to recreate some of that magic we feel when we go onstage and perform this great music."

As my first exposure to Swingadelic, I was surprised and impressed by the band's solid musicianship and the focused performances of such familiar numbers as "Too Marvelous For Words," "Blues in the Night," "That Old Black Magic," "I Wanna Be Around," "Jeepers Creepers," "Moon River/The Days of Wine and Roses," "G.I. Jive," and "One For The Road." This set kicks off with "Too Marvelous For Words," where the band punchy, brassy playing grabs the listener. Johnny Bauers is a decent singer, but vocally the star here is Vanessa Perea whose timing, intonation and relaxed phrasing shines. He does shine in a Louis Prima manner with his growl on "That Old Black Magic," and does a credible job crooning on the Tony Bennett hit, "I Wanna Be Around."

The medley of two songs co-written with Henry Mancini, ""Moon River/The Days of Wine and Roses," opens with Panea's lovely, wistful treatment of the former number before Bauer's crooning of the latter number, but he cannot convey the humor present on Louis Jordan's hit on "G.I. Jive." Paul McCartney wanted to collaborate with Mercer in the 1970s but health issues prevented this from happening. The performance of "P.S I Love You" is a fascinating mash-up of the Beatles song with a Gordon Jenkins-Mercer collaboration of the same name.

A serviceable singer, Bauers' piano and his arrangements are first-rate and help account for the splendid playing throughout this recording. Also, there are a number of notable solos including those of guitarist George Naha on "Acc Cent Chu Ate the Positive" and "Blues in the Night," while John Disanto's baritone establishes the feel on "That Old Black Magic." Robert Edwards trombone enlivens "I Wanna Be Around" while Audrey Welber's clarinet is featured on "Goody Goody," and Michael Weisberger ably reprises Louis Jordan's alto sax solo on "G.I. Jive."

Dancers and listeners will find much to enjoy in this lively, appealing recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here Swingadelic perform a song that will be familiar from Bobby Darin.


Thursday, July 06, 2017

John McNamara Rollin' With It

John McNamara
Rollin' With It
Bahool Records

John McNamara is an Australian whose music took him to Beale Street, not simply because he competed at the International Blues Challenge, but because the influence of soul and blues that can be heard in his music. His new album was recorded in Memphis at the Ardent Studios and found the singer, songwriter and guitarist backed by such Memphis studio stalwarts as drummer Steve Potts; bassist James Kinard; guitarist Michael Toles; and keyboardist Lester Snell (who did the arrangements) along with a strong horn section. McNamara wrote six of the ten songs. along with his renditions of songs associated with Bobby Bland, Otis Redding and Little Willie John.

McNamara impresses as a singer as well as guitarist from the opening "One, Two Of A Kind," that evokes the brassy Memphis sound with his soulful, natural sounding singing and biting guitar set against the horn riffs. The idiomatic originals and choice covers continue with "Bad Reputation" delivered in his slightly whisky parched singing, whose musical structure is a cousin to "Fever," and a lyric of ignoring his reputation as he is "all about loving you." There is the slow, moody "Under The Weight Of The Moon," as he laments about laying awake about being without her, with very apt backing.

The covers are straight-forward and delivered in a relaxed fashion ranging from the Bobby Bland classic soul ballad "Ask Me Nothing (But About the Blues)," to an Otis Redding Stax classic "Security," another strong Bobby Bland cover "Blind Man" (that Little Milton also covered five decades ago) and the closing rendition of Little Willie John's "Suffering With the Blues." With heartfelt singing and the handsome arrangements, McNamara displays not simply his love of the music that influenced him but how ably he interprets these classic songs in addition to his marvelous originals. One gets impressed by his strong performances on a striking new recording to delight fans of sixties-seventies Memphis soul and blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here John performs "Ask Me Nothing (But About the Blues)."

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Abdullah Ibrahim Ancient Africa

Abdullah Ibrahim
Ancient Africa

Still known as Dollar Brand when Sackville released some of this on a vinyl album, "Sangoma," it was recorded during his first visit to Toronto in 1973 shortly after converting to Islam and having made a recent pilgrimage to Mecca. What fascinates about these lengthy solo piano improvisations is his jazz invention extemporizing off South African folk themes in a magical manner

The title of the vinyl album "Sangoma" means the one who beats the drum, and that meaning is consistent with the percussive aspects of Ibrahim's playing as he develops the folk themes underlying the compositions, starting with the title track, a three part suite of "The Water's Edge,""Bertha in Turquoise," and "Krotoa." Simply listening to his improvisation during this first part is mesmerizing as he develops a melodic line set against a droning rhythmic bass foundation as he chants with the music with seamless transitions to the other parts of this suite. The other two improvisations are similarly fascinating to listen to his inventiveness.

The final selection, "Khotgso" is previously unissued.  Here Ibrahim plays a bamboo flute (instead of piano) and provides a spoken recitation. It is a captivating performance that brings to a close another important Delmark reissue from the Sackville catalog.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is a recent performance from Abdullah Ibrahim.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tommy Ridgely Since The Blues Began

Tommy Ridgely 
Since The Blues Began 
Black Top

While attending the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for the first time at the end of April, I caught plenty of great blues, zydeco and R&B. While he did not play the festival during the first weekend, Tommy Ridgely was at Howlin’ Wolf, a New Orleans Club, as part of a New Orleans Rhythm & Blues revue that also included Oliver Morgan, pianist Eddie Bo and Earl King. 

Ridgely, who first recorded with Dave Bartholomew’s band in 1949, made such memorable sides as Shrewsbury Blues, Looped, Jam Up and Gonna Meet My Girl. At the Howlin’ Wolf he stuck to the songs from his new album, Since the Blues Began and his vocals were exquisite. I also saw him the next afternoon at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville where he played piano, and sang a wide range of blues, backed by acoustic guitar and harp. 

Since the Blues Began is a superb album, and shows Ridgely to be as vital today as his first recordings with Dave Bartholomew’s band. He is heard with a crack band that includes Sammy Berfect and Edward Frank on keyboards, the incredible Snooks Eaglin on guitar, George Porter on bass and Kaz Kazanoff and Tony Dagradi on saxophones. Ridgely may be close to 70, but he still sings with great vigor and flexibility in his delivery. He doesn’t sound his age. 

He is obviously happy with the album and there is no filler among the songs. There are some new recordings of songs he waxed years ago, including I Heard That Story Before, and Let’s Try to Talk It Over. The latter number may suggest why he was once known as the “New King of the Stroll”. He contributed a number of new songs, like the opening Pretty Lady ( many guys will be able to identify with the sentiment of its lyrics), Running After You, and The World Is Our Stage. Jody Siegel contributed the title song. 

Ridgely’s lyrics explore the varying aspects of male-female relationships from a sophisticated, adult perspective. And, for someone whose early recordings are classic jump blues in a Roy Brown vein, Tommy Ridgely seems completely at home with the nineties Crescent City R&B groove. To reiterate, Tommy Ridgely’s Since the Blues Began is a terrific disc. 

I likely received my review copy from Black Top Records. This review appeared originally in the July-August 1995 Jazz and Blues Report (Issue 203). This is available used or as a download.  Here is the original recording of I Heard That Story Before, that he remade for this album.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Gregory Lewis Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite

Gregory Lewis
Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite

The remarkable organist Gregory Lewis's latest album represents an attempt to pay homage to the victims of police violence in the US, several of which are named in the various parts of the work. The title is a reference to the cries of "I Can't Breathe" that Eric Garner was heard saying several times while in the chokehold that ended his life. He is supported here by an impressive cast of musicians including drummers Nasheet Waits and Jeremy 'BEAN' Clemons; guitarists Marc Ribot and Ron Jackson; tenor saxophonist Reggie Woods and trumpeter Riley Mullins.

Lewis is of course one of today's most striking Hammond B-3 players, and this release also illustrates how original a composer he is. The album opens with "The Chronicles of Michael Brown," the victim of a police shooting outside St. Louis. It opens with Lewis' sober atmospheric introduction with Ribot adding some acidic guitar as the horns join in the opening statement with Waits' drumming adding to the suspended tempo of the opening before Woods, Mullins, and Ribot explode with their solos. The second part of the suite, "Trayvon" (for Trayvon Martin) is a brisk, bluesy trio with trio Jackson and Clemons, followed by "Aiyana Jones Song" (Jones being a seven-year old killed during a police raid of a residence), a reflective performance by this trio with some stunning straight-ahead guitar along with Lewis' marvelous, at times bouncy playing here more in the vein of a Larry Young than Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff. The quintet with Waits, Ribot, Woods and Mullins returns for the atmospheric "Eric Garner," that slowly builds intensity with Wait's standing out.

The final two parts of the suite are "Ausar And The Race Soldiers" and "Ausar And The Race Soldiers Reprise." The title here likely refers to the Ausar Auset Society, a Pan-African religious organization. The first part is a spirited quintet performance with Clemons, Jackson, Woods and Mullins, all of whom are on fire here. The Reprise is a driving trio performance by Lewis with the two drummers where Lewis's virtuosity and his improvisatory imagination is at the fore here. They conclude a recording full of exceptional music that is a worthy homage to the tragic events that inspired Lewis here. 

I received my review copy from a publicist. In the video below, Gregory Lewis discusses how he became Organ Monk.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Jimmy Rogers With Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters

Jimmy Rogers
Jimmy Rogers With Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters
Bullseye Blues

In Spring 1978, this reviewer went to see J.B. Hutto at a New York club where he was accompanied by a Boston area band, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones which featured an excellent guitarist, Ronnie Earl Horvath. They did a splendid job of backing Hutto’s Chicago slide guitar blues, and Horvath even then showed his considerable guitar prowess. I bought an EP by the band which included a Horvath homage to Earl Hooker and several other blues done handsomely by Sugar Ray Norcia, Horvath and the band.

Over a decade later, Ronnie Earl, and Sugar Ray are caught live in Europe backing yet another Chicago blues legend, Jimmy Rogers, at a German concert. Joined by stellar pianist Dave Maxwell and a first rate rhythm section, Earl opens with hot tributes to Gatemouth Brown and Earl Hooker before letting Sugar Ray handle the vocal on The Same Old Blues. From then on, Jimmy Rogers, sounding remarkably youthful, reprises a number of his more celebrated songs including Rock This House, Gold Tailed Bird, Walking By Myself, and Left Me With a Broken Heart, with plenty of solo space for Earl, Sugar Ray and Maxwell, along with some nicely done breaks by Rogers himself.

There can be little fault with the playing, but compared with Rogers’ Chess singles, the focus of the songs becomes slightly diffused with the jamming. This is a matter of observation and taste, because this is what one will hear live if one sees Rogers with his own band. This might even have an edge over the fine Antone’s album by Rogers on which Kim Wilson’s harp dominates at certain places, and certainly an indication of how vital Rogers can still be.

I likely received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the Septeember 1994 Jazz and Blues Report (Issue 194). Here is Jimmy Rogers performing in 1994.