Thursday, July 19, 2018

George Cotsirilos Mostly in Blue

George Cotsirilos 
Mostly in Blue 
OA2 Records 

Originally from Chicago, San Francisco Bay Area guitarist George Cotsirilos has been a member of the area's jazz community for many years. He has performed with a wide variety of artists including jazz fixtures like Eddie Marshall, Mel Martin, Pharaoh Sanders and Mark Levine as well as soul and blues singer Etta James, and Bill Evans bassist Chuck Israels. This is his new quartet CD with a band that includes pianist Keith Saunders, former Cal Tjader bassist Robb Fisher and drummer Ron Marabuto. 

This is a strong, straight-ahead set of mostly blues-tinged performances with Cotsirilos having contributed six of the eight numbers. Cotsirilos is a marvelous guitarist in the vein of Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Kenny Burrell and the like and his swinging, fluid, inventive, single note inventions are complemented by the backing rhythm section with pianist Saunders also outstanding.

Highlights include the lively title track that opens the CD; the tribute to Wes Montgomery "Wes Side Blues," where he evokes the guitar legend; a lovely Brazilian-tinged performance on the standard "I Wish I Knew," that has a brief unaccompanied guitar opening; a peppy rendition of the Benny Harris bebop classic "Crazeology"; and the late evening mood engendered on "Lights Out." 

Cotsirilos notes that the idea was "to present the music much as one would hear it in live performance … ." The performances were recorded at a single session in first or second takes, and on the evidence of the superior performances here, Cotsirilos and his band is a group I would love to hear live if I had the chance.

I received my review copy from a publicist.This review appeared originally in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). If you visit and click music, you can hear 5 full tracks, including two from this album (the quartet tracks). Here is George Cotsirilos performing live.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Adrean Farrugia & Joel Frahm Blued Dharma

Adrean Farrugia & Joel Frahm
Blued Dharma

The well respected saxophonist Frahm and the Canadian pianist Farrugia have been musical compatriots since 2008 as part of various groups of drummer (and publicist Ernesto Cervini). As Cervini observes in his liner notes for this release, the two display a very sympathetic relationship playing off each other, almost like they are finishing off each other's sentences, on these intimate, duet performances.

The performances of five Farrugia originals and two standards (there are two performances of "Cherokee") display charm as well as considerable musical vision and inspiration. Farrugia's title track is a lovely composition with Frahm on soprano saxophone as both build their solos upon Farrugia's alluring melody. Then there are the two very different takes of "Cherokee," with the two taking apart and reconstructing the classic Ray Noble melody in each case.

Frahm imbues his tenor sax with a sensuous tone that hints at Ben Webster on a lovely ballad "For Murray Gold," while Farrugia's introduction to the standard "Nobody Else But Me," has a Monkish flavor, before his precise accompaniment to another lovely Frahm tenor saxophone solo, It is followed by Farrugia own choice solo here with his mix of arpeggios and well-placed chords. Farrugia's "Cool Beans" sounds like a contrafact to John Coltrane's "Equinox," and is a spirited blues duet with more excellent tenor sax by Frahm along with Farrugia's tasteful, inventive solo.

This piano-saxophone duet recording by Adrean Farrugia and Joel Frahm is a superb display of the musical magic from these two close musical collaborators.

Received as a download from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). I have made minor revisions to the published review. Here the two are playing together as part of Ernesto Cervini's excellent group, Turboprop.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Keeshea Pratt Band Believe

Keeshea Pratt Band

Based in Houston, the Keeshea Pratt Band was the winner of the Blues Foundation's 2018 International Blues Challenge. In addition to the ear-grabbing vocals of Ms. Pratt, a Mississippi native, this band consists of Music Director, Bassist and Vocals, Shawn Allen; Brian Sowell (Lead Guitar & Vocals); Dan Carpenter (Saxophone); Misaki Nishidate (Trumpet); James Williams III (Trumpet); and Nick Fishman (Drums), while Kid Andersen, Bob Welsh and Little Terry Rogers are among those present.

Pratt really is a terrific singer with a big voice but also her phrasing and her sense of dynamics sets her apart from many singers today. "Make It Good" opens this marvelous album and the horns help lend her pleading vocal a classic soul vibe, "Have a Good Time Y'al" is a joyous reworking of "Let the Good Times Roll," followed by Shawn Allen's "I'm in the Mood," where she is in the mood to sing the blues as she works so hard during the day and now it is the time to play. The music here employs the arrangement B.B. King employed for "The Thrill Is Gone." Again she sings sensationally with the band providing first-rate support and there is a nice guitar solo.

"Its Too Late" is a terrific slow blues again with the horns adding brassy punctuation before her emphatic singing about wanting a real man but getting herself a boy. There is a nice understated piano solo on this. After the New Orleans second line groove of "Shake Off These Blues," with some shattering trumpet, as well as some hot sax and piano solos, there is a rollicking shuffle "Home To Mississippi," with acoustic slide guitar and down home harmonica as Pratt sings about going to the place she first calls home and where folks sing the blues from the king of the blues to the king of rock and roll.

"Monkey See, Monkey Do" is a superb slow blues with the horns adding emphasis and she tells her lover, every time you go creeping, Keeshea goes sees a friend and while her lover hangs with Jane she is with Tarzan. She delivers another powerful vocal on this strong original song with guitarist Sowell adding his instrumental voice along with the horns. The title track opens with electric slide and then the horns before she sings the lyric about believing in one's dreams and if one is going to believe in anything, believe in oneself. It is simply a commanding performance on a recording full of them.

Other songs include a soulfully sung blues ballad, "Can't Stop Now," before another superb slow blues "So Bad Blues," that was recorded live, concludes this outstanding debut recording. Keeshea Pratt is a superb singer, with an excellent band, and they have produced an exceptional recording that is as good as any recent contemporary blues recording this writer has recently heard.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review has appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). Here is the Keeshea Pratt Band at the International Blues Challenge.

I have been letting this blog slide for a bit, but pleased to return to activity with a review of a CD that really impressed me as you will have read.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Rockie Charles
Born For You
Orleans Records

A most pleasant surprise is this reissue of the late New Orleans based soul singer's 1996 release. Nicknamed "The President of Soul" after a 1970s recording released on his own label, he returned to recording when Carlos Ditta contacted him after seeing an ad Charles had placed, resulting in this recording. Outside of Smokey Greenwell's harmonica and Jerry Embree's tenor sax, none of the players on this session backing Charles' guitar and vocals is a name I remember. They do a fine job in backing Charles on his eleven originals here.

This was a marvelous soul session with a bit of country flavor in the vein of some of Joe Tex's recordings although Charles' voice is suggestive of Al Green. The album opens in a solid vein with his emotive yearning vocal on the lament "Born For You," with the smoldering heat in his vocal while Embree's tenor sax adds a mournful riff over the understated backing. "Old Black Joe," is a marvelous half-talking piece of story telling in the Joe Tex manner. Greenwell's harmonica adds to the atmosphere of another lament "Oh My Darling, Look What You're Doing to Me," as he sings about wanting to move but his body does not seem able. Another song with a Joe Tex feel is "Something Is Wrong With Our Love," with his plead to find a way out of this with solid idiomatic horn playing. Festis Believe in Justice." There is more of Memphis feel with the chugging rhythms of "I Need Your Love so Bad, I'm About to Loose My Mind," while there is also a fine holiday song, "I Just Called to Wish You a Merry Christmas" (and a Happy New Year."

With steel guitar added to the backing, Charles' lyrical skills are herd on the catchy ""Born For You," was a most welcome return for Rockie Charles which led to a variety of Jazz Fest, Ponderosa Stomp and other performances over the next decade. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform a couple times prior to his passing away in 2010. The soulful performances on this most welcome re-release, are gems of down-home, understated, southern soul.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 376) although I have corrected the year of Rockie Charles' death year as 2010 (the review had 2007). Here is Rockie Charles from an in-store appearance at the Louisiana Music Factory in 2007.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Hilary Gardner & Ehud Asherie The Late Set

Hilary Gardner & Ehud Asherie
The Late Set
Anzic Records

I have not been to Mezzrow, the intimate Greenwich Village club but from what I understand about this small, listening jazz venue, the duo collaboration between vocalist Gardner and pianist Asherie sounds like the type of performance that is featured there. In fact, the credits include special thanks to Spike Wilner, Mitch Borden and Mezzrow, and the cover photographs were taken there.

This is a delightful, informal tour through the American songbook by the two with Gardner's, strong, tuneful alto, along with the clarity in enunciation matched by Asherie's nuanced, often restrained by deft, congenial accompaniment and solos. Another thing that stands out is the fact that the songs are not particularly well known songs except for "After You've Gone," and "Make Someone Happy."

The program opens with a couple of Al Dubin and Harry warren collaborations, "Shadow Waltz," and "Sweet and Slow." The former number opens with a stately piano chorus before Gardner starts her vocal, showcasing her nuanced phrasing and dynamics with a delightful, spare piano solo. It is followed by the unhurried,"Sweet and Slow," where she encourages her partner to take his time while the band is moaning low as Asherie is exquisite in his accompaniment with a late-night, bluesy feel.

After a wistful take on a lesser known Rodgers and Hart number, "A Ship Without a Sail," comes a remarkable rendition of a song going back to the twenties, "After You've Gone." This performance begins as a slow lament with light piano and plaintive vocal and then halfway through Asherie picks up the tempo and gives a propulsive accompaniment as Gardner sings defiantly about he will be the one suffering "after I've gone" with a superb stride piano solo.

"After You've Gone" is a performance that stands out on this mostly lovely program that also includes the cute "I've Never Seen Snow" from Harold Arlen and Truman Capote; the fetching rendition of Irving Berlin's "I Used to Be Color Blind"; the ebullient interpretation of Rodgers and Hart's "Everything I've Got"; the heartfelt, precious "Make Someone Happy"; and a captivating, reflective "Seems Like Old Times" (by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo). Gardner's wonderful singing and Asherie's marvelous piano results in a delightful recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 376). Here is a video of the two at Small's in New York City doing "Autumn in New York."


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Arturo O'Farrill & Chucho Valdés Familia

Arturo O'Farrill & Chucho Valdés
Familia: Tribute To Bebo & Chico
Motema Music

Bebo Valdés and Chico O'Farrill, along with Machito and Mario Bauzá, were major innovators of Afro Cuban jazz. On this double CD collaboration, there sons, Arturo and Chucho, along with grandsons, Adam and Zack O'Farrill and Jesse and Leyanis Valdés, play tribute in a wonderful celebration of original music, with a "dazzling display of musicality and striking musicality" to quote executive producer Kahir Sehgal.

The first CD features Bebo and Chico with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra or six spectacular performances starting with a joyous merengue the two composed, "Bebochicochuchoturo," opens with Arturo's cadenza, ending with Chucho's cadenza, with brilliant solos from both as well as blazing trumpet from Jesse Ricardo Anduz, set against a brilliant orchestration and the surging rhythms. The title of Arturo's "Three Revolutions" refers the three generations of the families and the revolutionary musical environments they were affected by and affected. It is the most experimental composition employing atonalism, delayed resolution and free improvisations with Arturo and Chucho dazzling in their respective solos with the swirling horns and vigorous percussion adding to the fireworks here.

While the rest of this first disc is of a similar level, one takes note of the elegant, soaring melody and scrumptious harmonies of "Ecuación" that Bebe composed (with lovely trumpet from Seneca Black); Chucho's tribute to his father "Tema De Bebo" which provides a view at the contrasting, brilliant piano styles of the two leaders; Chico's, "Pianitis," that Machito commissioned Chico to write for his son that opens sonorously before a rhythmic explosion before returning to a melodious conclusion; and "Fathers, Mothers, Sons Daughters," that Arturo composed and includes solos from among others Adam O'Farrill , and Leyanis Valdés (whose solo is for Arturo the highlight here) with Zack O'Farrill guesting on drums.

The second disc features the Third Generations Ensemble, a slightly smaller ensemble (a big little band) than the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra centered on Adam & Zach O'Farrill and Leyanis & Jesse Valdés. Adam contributed "Run and Jump," a bouncy original with a bass ostinato and some swirling clarinet from Ernesto Vega. Jesse wrote, "Recuerdo," dedicated to his grandfather and with a lovely theme that showcases Leyanis lyrical pianistic touch along with the mellow trumpet of Kali Rodríguez-Peña. After another melodious clarinet solo from Vega, Jesse then solos. Zack's "Gonki Gonki," referring to a phrase his father used to describe to his mother gigs he often played, is a lively performance with a scintillating opening piano solo from Leyanis along with a robust tenor sax solo from Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and trumpet fireworks exchanged between Kali Rodríguez-Peña and Jesus Ricardo Anduz on a terrific contemporary composition.

There are sublime solo performances by Arturo and Chucho in honor each other's father, followed by a highly spirited small ensemble performance led by Arturo and Chucho of Bebe's "Con Poco Coco," with Adam's trumpet and a very percussive rhythm section with Gregg August impressing on his bass solo. The album closes with "Raja Ram," composed in part by producer Sehgal and inspired by Gandhi and an arrangement of a favorite tune of Gandhi in part looking at his own heritage. It features Arturo on piano and Anoushka Shankar (daughter of Pandit Ravi Shankar) on sitar who adds her own brilliant contribution. Sehgal notes that he and Arturo have dreamed of recording in India so this might be a hint of a 'future adventure.' It is an intriguing close to a remarkable recording.

I received my review copy from Motema Music. This review originally appeared in the November-December Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here Arturo O'Farrill & Chucho Valdés perform "Three Revolutions."

Friday, March 09, 2018

Uri Gurvich Kinship

Uri Gurvich
Jazz Family

Per its publicity materials, the Israeli born saxophonist latest release "deals with tribal and familial connections between different cultures and individuals, representing "kinship" in various forms." Gurvich is joined by his quartet of the past decade including Argentine pianist Leo Genovese, Bulgarian bassist Peter Slavov and Cuban drummer Francisco Mela. On one selection, "El Chubut," Bernardo Palombo provided and sang lyrics to Gurvich's theme.

On the opening "Song For Kate," Gurvich quickly establishes himself as a saxophonist full of warmth and invention with Genovese comping under the driving, twisting solo before he himself takes a torrid solo. Genovese further shines brilliantly on "Dance of the Ñañigos," with its surging rhythm (Slavov is outstanding) with another authoritative alto sax solo from the leader as Mela propels the performance. Palombo recites a poem from a political prisoner during the Argentine dictatorship of the 1980s to open the somber "El Chubut" and then dramatically sings against stately backing with the leader intensely soloing and accompanying him. A Middle Eastern tone is present on the energetic "Twelve Tribes," with its reference to the tribes of Ancient Israel as Gurvich impresses with the fullness of his tone and there is  an impressive Mela solo also here.

Slavov is outstanding on bass on delightful, bouncy Sasha Argov composition "I'm Tirtzi," while the rendition of the spiritual "Go Down Moses," likely will evoke the classic Coltrane Quartet with Gurvich on soprano solo, Genovese in a McCoy Tyner mode and Mela channelling Elvin Jones. Both of these performances have the group chanting towards the close. "Ha'im Ha'im," (also composed by Sasha Argov) is introduced with a bass solo on another performance that might evoke for some the classic Coltrane Quartet for some and again Mela is superb while Genovese also sounds inspired in his own manner. The title track, in contrast, might suggest Keith Jarrett's European Quartet, with Genovese's playing an impressionistic solo.

This is a superb group of which I am most familiar with Genovese from a tour I saw him part of. They all play with considerable authority and fervor resulting in some enthralling listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375) although I made minor edits to that review. Here is a video of Gurvich and band.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Nick Moss Band Feat. Dennis Gruenling

The Nick Moss Band Feat. Dennis Gruenling
The High Cost Of Low Living
Alligator Records

As Tom Hyslop observes in his liner notes to this new Nick Moss recording, it marks Moss' return "to traditional Chicago and jump blues and old school rock'n'roll after his recent explorations into bluesy rock and jam blues stylings." Moss apprenticed with the likes of Jimmy Dawkins, The Legendary Blues Band and Jimmy Rogers. before his own solo career. He has recorded 12 albums on his own Blue Bella label before this Alligator Records debut. Moss' influences include B.B. King, Freddie King, Earl Hooker, Magic Slim and other groundbreaking players.

Moss' new band includes the vocals and harmonica of Dennis Gruenling, whose full throated harmonica reflects the inspiration of James Cotton, Little Walter and George “Harmonica” Smith and saxophonists, including Lester Young and Red Prysock. Like Moss, he has seven fine solo recordings to his credit. Others heard on this recording are Taylor Streiff on piano, Nick Fane on bass and Patrick Seals on drums. Also present on several selections are Kid Andersen (who engineered this and co-produced this with Moss) on guitar and shakers; Jim Pugh on organ; Eric Spaulding on tenor sax and Jack Sanford on baritone sax. Moss contributed eight songs, Gruenling two, and there are three covers.

This return to straight, real deal Chicago blues by Moss is superb. The original material is first-rate (full of wit and pathos), Moss and Gruenling are solid vocalists, and playing (leads and backing) is top-notch. With horns in the background, Moss kicks off this recording with some Johnny Guitar Watson sounding guitar on "Crazy Mixed Up Baby," with Gruenling coming in for the first solo break before Moss explodes on the second break on a crisp West Coast blues. It is followed by an amusing shuffle "Get Right Before You Get Left," with a groove updating Howlin' Wolf's Memphis boogie recordings. It has  more terrific harp and Moss sounds like he's channeling Willie Johnson. Some tough Elmore James flavored slide and rollicking piano help propel the driving title track with its ironic lyrics. Gruenling's "Count on Me," is a bit of classic rock and roll led by his full-toned harmonica and more strong piano.

There is a solid cover of Otis Spann's "Get Your Hands Out Of My Pockets," that has Gruenling evoking vintage James Cotton. "Tight Grip On Your Leash," is a rollicking shuffle about this 'cool little number." The title "He Walked With Giants (Ode To Barrelhouse Chuck)," says it all with an affectionate lyric delivered with plenty of heart by Moss with Streiff again standing out. These ears detect Jimmy Dawkins' influence on Moss' guitar here, while Gruenling just kills it on chromatic harmonica. "All Night Diner," is a hot instrumental feature for Gruenling, with organist Pugh and Moss playing in a jazzy vein.

A bouncy rendition of Boyd Gilmore's recording "Rambling On My Mind," strongly closes this recording. As stated, there is strong and varied material (including choice songs to cover), very good singing, and excellent playing. This is also wonderfully recorded resulting in a superb straight-no-chaser Chicago blues recording.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Here is a clip of the Nick Moss with Dennis Gruenling


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Muddy Gurdy Feat Cedric Burnside, Cameron Kimbrough, Pat Thomas, Sharde Thomas

Muddy Gurdy
Feat Cedric Burnside, Cameron Kimbrough, Pat Thomas, Sharde Thomas

This intriguing recording brings together a French trio (Hypnotic Wheels) with several of the most prominent living players of Mississippi North Hill Country Blues. Hypnotic Wheels is comprised of Tia Gouttebel on vocals and guitar; Gilles Chabenat on the hurdy gurdy, a French traditional instrument and Marco Glomeau on percussion and is inspired by French traditional music as well as the North Mississippi North Hill Country Blues with the hurdy gurdy serving as a second guitar. Their first album alternated original songs with revisited blues. Marco, the percussionist, got this crazy idea: take the hurdy-gurdy to Mississippi and this recording is the result.

After a brief instrumental, we hear four field recordings with Cedric Burnside (and one can hear dogs barking in the background) as they launch into a mesmerizing treatment of RL Burnside's "Goin' Down South," with Cedric and Tia alternating vocals with some spellbinding single note guitar runs against a drone musical background. After the performance ends Cedric talks about times with his brother Cody who died at 29 before going into "The Girl is Bad," with its somewhat jerky groove and slashing slide guitar. This is followed by a high stepping "See My Jumper Hanging On the Line," with the French trio adding their congenial, if unusual sound to this spirited performance of another RL Burnside song. Cedric further shows how well he continues in the manner of his father on "Rollin' and Tumblin'."

Shardé Thomas adds vocals and fife to a vibrant rendition of "Station Blues" (a retitled "Sitting on Top of the World," with Glomeau providing the fife and drum band groove with Tia and Gilles adding their buzzing backing. It is followed by a haunting "Shawty Blues,"and the spiritual "Glory, Glory Hallelujah." Cameron Kimbrough then leads us on a lively rendition of "Leave Her Alone," from his father Junior Kimbrough," set against the mesmerizing backing, while his own "Gonna Love You," is a tough performance in a similar vein.

Pat Thomas' "Dream" has a wistful quality while the hurdy gurdy of Chabenat provides a somber fiddle-like backing. It is followed by the trio's own interpretations including a rendition of Jesse Mae Hemphill's "She Wolf," recorded at Dockery Farms, along renditions of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Shake 'Em On Down," and B.B. King's recording, "Help The Poor." One wonders Jesse Mae Hemphill might have thought of her music influencing this French singer and guitarist, who does a more than simply capable job in singing and performing these. Pat Thomas, sounding like his father, James 'Son' Thomas, closes this album at the Highway 61 Museum (with traffic in the background) with a simple, stark and moving "Standing at the Crossroads/Dust My Broom" mashup, titled here "Highway 61."

While this won't replace the classic recordings of Fred McDowell, RL Burnside, Jesse Mae Hemphill and Junior Kimbrough, the Hypnotic Wheels has produced a fascinating, enjoyable and idiomatic recording that pays homage to their musical influences. It presents the current practitioners of this tradition with emphatic backing that is so much more appropriate to the music than most efforts to modernize (or commercialize) this tradition. This is a recording that brings pleasure everytime I listen to it.

I received from VizzTone. Here is a short clip relating to this recording.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Veronneau Love & Surrender

Love & Surrender
Veronneau Music

The acoustic trio Veronneau are back with a new album (their fourth) that building on their critically acclaimed and popular world-jazz repertoire. French Canadian vocalist Lynn Véronneau, with guitarists Ken Avis and David Rosenblatt take the listener around the globe, blending samba, French chanson, bossa nova and swing into a genre-defying musical feast. On this they are joined by long-time collaborator British violinist Dave Kline; their regular touring percussionist from Brazil, Bruno Lucini; and other guest musicians from Senegal, Nigeria, the UK and US on a program of five originals along with five intriguing interpretations.

Lynn Veronneau is an alluring vocalist with her honey-toned singing and phrasing well supported by the two guitarists. Kline's violin adds to the funky, samba feel of the opening "Song of Love," with a wonderful solo (by Rosenblatt I believe) and followed by the title track, a lovely ballad sung with a touch of heartbreak, with the kora of Amadou Kouyate adding some delightful musical coloring. There is the charm of a lovely French waltz, Serge Gainsbourg's "La Javanise," with Kline's violin and Tom King's accordion filling out the backing here. I believe Rosenblatt composed "September Moon," a winsome instrumental with the sound of the guitars embellished by Avis' harmonica and Lynn's whistling.

The rendition of Alberto Domínguez's "Perfida," a song of love and betrayal, has a melody that will be familiar to many. It is sung in Spanish with flamenco-accented guitar trading lines with violin,. It is followed by Lynn's haunting vocals on the standard "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," with exquisite backing and then Jim Webb's "The Moon's A Harsh Mistress," both of which display her interpretative skills with a lyric. Brazilian 7-string guitarist JP Silva joins Lynn for a appealing vocal duet on the French-Portuguese mashup "Voce Abusou/Fais Comme L’Oiseau," before "Waltz For Youssef," another marvelous original, that closes a engaging recording that is full of charm, lyricism and superb performances.

I purchased this from Veronneau. Here is an early (pre-CD) performance of "Love & Surrender." There website is


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Heavyweights Brass Band This City

The Heavyweights Brass Band
This City
Lulaworld Records

New Orleans Brass Bands has led to a world-wide resurgence of Brass Bands throughout the world. Some remain closer to the roots of their Crescent City inspiration than others. Toronto's Heavyweights bring there own personality to the New Orleans Brass Band sound but they honor their influences with this recording made in New Orleans. The Heavyweights are comprised of John Pittman - Trumpet; Chris Butcher - Trombone; Paul Metcalfe - Tenor Saxophone Tim Richards - Tuba, and Lowell Whitty - Drums with guests including guitarist Kevin Breit and legendary vocalist Jackie Richardson along with bass drum from Joe Lastie of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, baritone saxophone from Roger Lewis of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, trumpet from Ashlin Parker of the Ellis Marsalis Quartet, and vocals from Marla W#alters (Dixon) founder of the Shotgun Jazz Band.

Butcher contributed the opening "Hands Down Lo’," with Lastie on bass drum and Parker adding trumpet on a performance that would be at home on early recordings by the Dirty Dozen, and Rebirth Brass Bands. Also sounding like those modern New Orleans Brass Band is the rendition of  Paul Metcalfe's arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "Tell Me Something Good." Richard's "Two Foot Ticket" takes down the tempo and is as much a feature for Breit's bluesy guitar with the horns providing a background. The band's irresistible second line returns with "I've Got Time For You," that features a terrific barreling tuba solo and then searing trumpet from Pittman and saxophone from Metcalfe.

After a short solo baritone saxophone break from Roger Lewis ("Roger's Intro"), the Heavyweights join in for "Dance Out On the Corner," another number that will get the listeners feet moving with Lewis taking a baritone sax solo full of swagger and substance above the insistent groove Richards and Whitty lay down. Pittman and Metcalfe wail on this and Marla Dixon joins the band in their vocals here. Then there is another driving Brass Band number, "Rosco's Big Hit," with Ashlin Parker adding upper register trumpet fireworks.

The Heavyweights close with Steve Earle's homage to post-Katrina New Orleans, "This City," with Jackie Richardson singing "This City won't wash away. This City won't ever drown... ." It is a marvelous performance, even if sounds like something The Band might have recorded as opposed to the partying and street parade of a New Orleans Brass Band. Still there is plenty to party to as well as listen to on this high-spirited and energetic set of modern Brass Band music.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here The Heavyweights Brass Band perform "Just the Two of Us."

Monday, January 29, 2018

Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers Big Road

Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers
Big Road
Juicy Juju Records/ Vizztone Records

The sophomore album by the Boston-based Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers brings together more small band adaptations of vintage blues classics along with some rock-oriented and world music tinged originals. Along with her vocals, guitar, washboard and percussion, she is joined by her husband Jim Countryman on bass, Matt 'Charles' Prozialeck on harmonicas and Matt 'Charles' Prozialeck on drum kit and percussion.

Harpe is a wonderful singer and a superb traditional blues guitarist who has shown an affinity on for delta blues and Memphis blues, although to these ears, not everything is completely successful here. The opening rendition of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Kokomo," is a solid performance, if too arranged with a tad too much amplification for these ears. Harpe takes credit for "Lonely Leavin' Town," a strong adaptation of some delta blues lyrics followed by a choppy "Big Road Blues," well sung but this writer prefer's Canned Heat's rendition. Canned Heat used an arrangement adapted from Poor Willie Lofton's "Dark Road Blues." The rhythm section on these two tracks come across to these ears as slightly mechanical.

Better to these ears is a marvelous acoustic interpretation of Mississippi John Hurt's "Frankie," with agile, deft guitar, honey vocal and nice supporting harmonica. It is followed by a cover of Slim Harpo "Shake You Hips," that becomes an extended jam and is the longest selection here. John Hurt is also the source for "Casey Jones, another acoustic performance with drums added and once again Prozialeck stands out on harmonica and Harpe sings strongly. A solid band blues "Voodoo Blues," is nicely performed before another adaptation of traditional blues, "Stop and Listen," which is based to some extent on the Mississippi Sheiks classic, follows and is taken at a breakneck clip mixing lyrics from Cannon Jug Stompers' "Viola Lee Blues" with the Sheiks classic.

A terrific acoustic rendition of Randy Newman's "Guilty," is followed by the closing "Gimme That Somethin' Special," a funky jam that displays her impressive guitar playing in a slightly different setting along with more strong singing. "Big Road" is an intriguing mix of material and musical style. There is some very fine music mixed in with interesting, if to these ears less compelling, music. It does certainly merit attention from blues and roots music lovers.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here they perform Lonely Leavin' Town Blues."

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Billy Lester Trio Italy 2016

The Billy Lester Trio
Italy 2016
Ultra Sound Records

Yonkers, NY native Billy Lester recorded this latest recording (not sure if this is his seventh or eighth over 20 years) in Italy after meeting and touring with bassist Marcello Testa and drummer Nicola Stranieri starting in 2014. Lester grew up listening to the likes of Bud Powell, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge while showing an affinity for piano as a young child. He was mentored by Sal Mosca and studied with Lennie Tristano, and he cites these two as his biggest influences. While under Mosca's tutelage, he studied and absorbed aspects of Lester Young's style.

One can certainly hear Tristano's influence in how Lester plays and develops his solos and the arhythmic sense of the rhythm section at times on this program of six originals, but his technique and drive in his playing also evokes Bud Powell's at times. This is a fascinating set of terrific piano trio music. "To Julia," a contrafact of the standard "Body and Soul," on which bassist Testa also solos while Stranieri keeps a fluid pulse going on the lengthiest of the performances here. The driving "Consolidation" is another strong effort by Lester and his trio, but all the music here is of a consistently high level on a superlative CD.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Billy Lester performing.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Tim Armacost Time Being

Tim Armacost
Time Being
Whirlwind Recordings

Saxophonist Tim Armacost, who recently impressed this listener as part of the NYSQ has his Whirlwind Recordings backed by a crackerjack rhythm section of Robert Hurst (double bass), and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums) with David Kikoski (piano) on a few selections. The result is a striking album from start to finish as Armacost comes across as a player with tone and intensity, imagination and drive starting with the opening "Alawain" with a sound that has hints of Coltrane, Hank Mobley and others. This is simply an analogy, but Watts comes across as explosive as Elvin Jones while Hurst is a rock anchoring this performance.

The title track is begins as a smokey lament with Armacost employing an effective vibrato in his dark tone with Watts in a free pulse accenting the sax before a slight shift in tempo and a looser mood before the first of three interlude-type numbers titled in part "Sculpture." Kikoski adds his lyrical touch to "The Next 20," a lovely ballad performance from the quartet with some affecting playing from Armacost. The trio next is heard playing authoritatively on Monk's "Teo," which wonderful solo and responsive backing. Kikoski is also present on "One in Four," an attractive composition that might hint at the classic Coltrane Quartet with Armacost delving in the lower reaches of the tenor with Kikoski's chording and Watts being particularly explosive. Ornette Coleman's poignant "Lonely Woman," has his aching tenor interacting with Hurst's urgent bass lines on a superb interpretation and followed by a solid hard bop original "53rd St. Theme."

"Sculpture #3: All the Things You Could Become in the Large Hadron Collider," finds Kikoski's bebop piano set against the leader's jarring tenor sax as they both solo off the chords of the standard "All the Things You Are," before they reach a harmonious accord. Its is an invigorating and imaginative conclusion to a terrific recording. Armacost is superb as is his stellar band mates on a recording that stands out among even so many excellent recent ones.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a clip of Tim Armacost in performance.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tom Principato and Steve Wolf The Long Way Home

Tom Principato and Steve Wolf
The Long Way Home

Longtime friends and musical associates, guitarist Tom Principato and bassist Steve Wolf, come together for a set of mostly musical duets. Principato is best known as for his blues and roots rock performances with his straight-forward parched singing and nuanced, yet high energy guitar that can run from James Burton styled rockabilly to B.B. King styled blues to electrified gypsy guitar. Wolf has been his long-time bassist but also a familiar anchor to a number of Washington DC based groups. There are others heard on several of the eight songs (six composed by Principato and two by Wolf), but they stay mostly in the background.

The performances have an intimate, conversational feel starting with the opening "I Thought Of You," and then followed with Principato displaying his fluid, jazz chops on "Midnight Groove," with Josh Howell's congas helping propel this sparkling performance with Wolf talking a strong solo as Principato lightly chords behind him. Wolf's "Tres Dias Mas," is a charming Tex-Mex flavored ballad, while Principato's "Very Blue," is a low-key, early in the morning instrumental with him playing in a jazzy vein. There is a Flamenco tinge to the lovely "Mi Solea," while "Back Again & Gone," is a relaxed, country-jazz flavored instrumental with Joe Wells' on drums.

There is plenty of wonderful music on "The Long Way Home," which finds Principato and Wolf playing with restraint, but still showing considerable imagination as well as their considerable musical command.

I received the CD to review from one of the artists. Here is a selection from this recording.

Inaugural Oscar Peterson International Jazz Festival to Honor Norman Granz Legacy

The Inaugural Oscar Peterson International Jazz Festival takes place during the weekend of February 16 - 18, 2018 with venues are in the historic Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and nearby City of St. Catharines in the Niagara Wine Country. Spearheaded by Artistic Director, the celebrated jazz pianist Renee Rosnes, the world’s first (and only!) jazz festival bearing the name of Canada’s greatest jazz artist will honor and celebrate the great pianist's legacy of excellence. This Festival is not intended to simply present concerts in tribute to Oscar Peterson, but rather to truly present jazz, showcasing the rich history and the future of the music Oscar loved. In addition to Artistic Director Rosnes, the festival is led by Artistic Producer Kelly Peterson, and Executive Producers Christine Mori and Alexis Spieldenner of Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts.

Cecile McLorin Salvant performing "John Henry." 

The 2018 Festival will be dedicated to Norman Granz, celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth. “Impresario, record producer, civil rights activist, and founder of Jazz at the Philharmonic, Norman Granz is arguably the most important non-musician in jazz history," said Kelly Peterson, noting his use of jazz concerts to attack racial discrimination. Jazz at the Philharmonic (“JATP” as it was known) was a series of all-star jam-session-style concerts that began in 1944 when Granz presented a concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles. The first to present jazz in concert halls, giving it the same respect as classical music, he made it a contractual obligation for there to be no segregation in the concert venues, leading the charge against discrimination long before the Civil Rights Movement began. Granz himself said, “The whole reason for Jazz at the Philharmonic was to take it to places where I could break down segregation and discrimination.”

Jimmy Greene's performing "Beautiful Life” with Javier Colon singing on The Meredith Vieira Show. This was the title track of his Grammy nominated album hich is dedicated to his late daughter, Ana Marquez-Greene, one of the victims of the Dandy Hook School Shootings. 

Friday night, February 16, they will present an International All-Star "Jazz at the Philharmonic" with multiple GRAMMY Award and Jazz Poll winners, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Greene, Michael Dease, Benny Green, Christian McBride, and Kenny Washington. They will be performing in a JATP style program at the Festival’s all-star opening night event at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, in St. Catharines. Saturday afternoon, the historic 1792 St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake will be the venue for screenings on Saturday afternoon of two documentaries produced by Norman Granz (one of which, "Jammin’ the Blues," was nominated for an Oscar), as well as a JATP concert film. Tad Hershorn, jazz archivist and Granz biographer, will moderate, along with Jacques Muyal, long-time associate of Granz.

The Christian McBride Trio of a few years ago, with pianist Christian Sands on piano and Ulysses Owens on drums.
Saturday evening will bring a Gala affair to Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake with Double Portrait, the piano duo of the Festival’s Artistic Director Renee Rosnes, the 5-time JUNO Award-winning pianist, and GRAMMY Award-winning pianist Bill Charlap. The post-concert Gala Reception includes hors d'oeuvres by Chef Horne of Canoe Restaurant, Stratus wine, and Soma chocolate. The Festival concludes on Sunday at Stratus Vineyards with its grand finale, featuring Canadian artists Carol Welsman, Kevin Turcotte, Mike Murley, Robi Botos, Dave Young, and Jim Doxas in another Jazz at the Philharmonic-style concert. Sunday afternoon’s event will also feature the premiere presentation of the newly created Canadian Jazz Master Awards.

Carol Welsman seen performing "Fly Me To The Moon."

The Festival's website is and the email address is They are on Facebook at, the twitter feed is @opjazzfest and the instagram link is @oscarpetersonjazzfest.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Chris Daniels And The Kings (together with Freddi Gowdy Blues With Horns Vol 1

Chris Daniels And The Kings (together with Freddi Gowdy
Blues With Horns Vol 1
Moon Voyage Records

The Colorado based Chris Daniels And The Kings brings together a touch of rock to their soul-blues mix. Both guitarist and vocalist King and vocalist Gowdy are cancer survivors, but still bringing it decades after they first started. The Kings are in their 33rd year while Gowdy's career goes back to the 1960's. The mood of this is funky, horn driven rhythm and blues as a cross between Memphis and New Orleans.

One of King's influences is Little Feet and its evident on the opening "Sweet Memphis" with guest Sonny Landreth's slide guitar (Calvin 'Bones' Jones takes most of the lead guitar on this album). The next number, a homage to age-old juke joints and down-home blues, "Fried Food/Hard Liquor," has Gowdy's authoritatively joining in the vocal after the instrumental breaks from harp (Clay Kirkland who is not credited on the album), guitar runs and sax on a performance with an arrangement that evokes Steely Dan. Gowdy himself co-penned the James Brown styled, "Get Off the Funk," and takes the terrific vocal on Sam Cooke's "Soothe Me," followed another strong performance on the Bobby Bland classic "Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)." There are a couple of solid Johnny 'Guitar' Watson covers ably sung by Daniels, "Baby's In Love With The Radio," and "You Can Stay But That Noise Must Go," with the latter influenced by Walter 'Wolfman' Washington's rendition. Daniels captures the humor of Elvin Bishop's "Can't Even Do Wrong Right," while Gowdy channels Buddy Miles on a blues-rock take on Miles' classic "Them Changes," with everybody joining in on this jam.

The Subdudes' John Magnie on piano joins King on acoustic guitar and harpist Kirkland on the closing "Rain Check," with a back door porch feel. This low-key number contrasts to the strong, horn-driven, soul-funk-blues of the rest of this recording.

Strong vocals, first-rate material and an excellent backing make for some fine listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here they are performing.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dial & Oatts - Rich DeRosa -The WDR Big Band

Dial & Oatts - Rich DeRosa -The WDR Big Band
Rediscovered Ellington
Zoho Music

Produced in cooperation with the maestro's family. His nephew, Steven James, notes that "In 1979, my mother, Ruth Ellington, and I wanted to record and archive all of the Tempo Music catalogue. This included compositions by my uncle, Duke Ellington, and many of his musical associates. We hired Garry Dial to do this job. I am thrilled, that after 38 years, Garry has revisited the more obscure tunes of Duke Ellington."

The trio of Garry Dial - piano, arranger; Dick Oatts - soprano sax, alto sax, flute, arranger and Rich DeRosa - conductor, arranger, big band orchestration undertook this task, but in a manner that did not try to simply recreate the Ellington sound and try to bring something original in a manner that the Duke did when approaching the classical repertoire as he did with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, stating "Rediscovered Ellington is presented in the same respectful manner. To continue Ellington’s legacy, we resurrected these compositions with our perspective through personalized arrangements. Although a few of them suggest a “tip of the hat” to Duke’s sound, most of these renditions showcase how quality music may be transformed into something new and refreshing while respecting the original essence of its composer. We hope you enjoy these compositions in this context."

For example the opening "Hey Baby," was originally recorded for Victor in 1946, and is a mid-tempo swinger with some sterling solos from Oatts (soprano sax), Paul Heller (tenor sax), Dial (piano) and Johan Hörlen (alto sax) as well as has multicolored shout sections from the brass section, especially heard at the closing section. "Let The Zoomers Drool," is Ellington-Hodges composition with a bluesy feel, superb Dial piano solo along with trombonist Shannon Barnett, with the Oatts-DeRosa arrangement here providing a definite Ellington Band flavor and Oatts alludes to Jonny Hodges with his alto sax towards the end. There is a pensive ballad, "I Like Singing" from a musical "Saturday Laughter" that was written with lyricist Herbert Martin, that has a lush orchestral setting and solos from Dial and Oatts (on alto sax).

The composer and arranger Onzy Matthews worked with the Duke in the late 1960s and early 1970s and likely composed most of "Just A Gentle Word From You Will Do." While probably performed live, this is the first recording of this composition with its straight-ahead melody recast (by Oatts and DeRosa) across the horn and reed sections and in addition to Dial's lively piano, there is delightful flute from Oatts and spirited, if a tad blustery, trombone by Ludwig Nuss. There are no known recordings of either "Introspection," or "Kiki." The former number is an uptempo swinger that is far from introspective and displays the Big Band's marvelous playing along with outstanding solos from Oatts and.trombonist Andy Hunter. The latter number is a jaunty showcase again for the precision and command of The WDR Big Band along with pianist Dial, Karolina Strassmeyer on alto sax, Jens Neufang's riveting baritone sax solo, and John Marshall who takes blazing trumpet solo (and what marvelous timbre he has) on another performance with a definite Ellington tinge to it.

"Love Came" is a lovely ballad that was issued first on Bob Thiele's Red Baron label (it may have been recorded in 1965 but I do not believe it was issued until a few years later), and this is a quiet, reflective performance. It is followed by "KCOR," likely one of the latter compositions of Ellington, opening in a introspective fashion before enlivened by the full band and Oatts impassioned soprano sax solo. The closing ballad, "I Must Be Mad," has wonderful interplay between Oatts on alto sax and Dial on piano, with the full band entering midway through this lovely closing number.

One might question such the approach of recasting material, that was either rare (that is had a brief public life with Ellington) or unheard, away from an Ellingtonian sound, yet one would be hard-pressed to fault any of the performances here. The trio with the celebrated The WDR Big Band, have provided strong, fresh big band performances of the lesser known, but not lesser in quality works of Duke Ellington on an important and enthralling recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375).

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Jane Ira Bloom Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson

Jane Ira Bloom
Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson

The latest recording by the soprano saxophone master is a two-cd recording that are improvisations inspired by poems of Emily Dickinson. One of the two discs has instrumental performances by her quartet of pianist Dawn Clement, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bobby Previte while on the second disc the quartet is heard with Deborah Rush's recitation of the poems.

Listening to this one is of course struck by the clarity and tone of Ms. Bloom's soprano as well as the logic, imagination and invention of her compositions and her solos not to mention the complementary playing and support her excellent band provides whether the lyricism and drive of pianist Clement, Helias anchoring of the groove and Previte's groove keeping as well as adding rhythmic accents. It starts with "Emily & Her Atoms," with shifts in tempo as well as the group dynamics changing as Helias takes a solo. On "Alone & In a Circumstance," we are again impressed by the command Bloom displays and one only need to listen to a couple selections to understand why she is so highly regarded.

The second disc brings together Deborah Rush and the quartet with a recitation sometimes being a brief line as in "Wild Lines." Her recitations open the performances on the second disc with Clement lightly comping or Previte providing a light pulse for "Emily & Her Atoms," "Alone & In a Circumstance," and "Dangerous Times." After her recitation, the quartet starts in a restrained manner but slowly builds in intensity exhibiting the same lyricism, drive, charm and imagination as on the all instrumental disc. This formula is not followed on every selection. For example "A Star Not Far Enough," has the recitation following the quartet with Bloom's sax adding coloring during the recitation." There are so many pleasures such as her solo on "Dangerous Times," with swirling, then extended lines, or Previte's marching drum lines as Rush recites a celebration of the circus coming to town "Singing the Triangle," before Helias kicks off the quartet's response.

The performances range from cerebral to highly animated ("Big Bill"), but all exquisitely played.
This writer had the pleasure of seeing Jane Ira Bloom and her quartet along with Ms. Rush perform some of the selections here at the Kennedy Center at was a thoroughly enchanting evening. The superb performances on these two discs have the same magic as was witnessed live. Highly recommended.

I received review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a selection from the recording.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sugaray Rayford feat. The Italian Royal Family - The World That We Live In

Sugaray Rayford feat. The Italian Royal Family
The World That We Live In
Blind Faith Records

This new release, which I came across on, features one of the finest blues and soul singers to emerge in the past few years. I assume The Italian Royal Family is the backing band on this terrific new Sugaray Rayford recording that places him more in a straight deep soul vein than his previous recordings. I make this observation as a descriptive comment, not an evaluative as I doubt anyone who has enjoyed Sugaray's 'blues' recordings will be disappointed by this release that fines him singing very strongly and backed by a really excellent band.

There is the Memphis funky groove and strong brassy horns on the opening "Take Me Back," where he sings about not missing his water until his well ran dry, and can't sleep no more because his woman is gone and pleads for her to take him back. The mood shifts to the cooler topical lyrics of the title track where his dynamics, vocal and expressive range come to fore. Then there is "Don't Regret a Mile," that sounds like a vintage Curtis Mayfield (and it may be since I purchased this as a download and have no composer credits or specific personnel information including the wonderful vocal chorus heard on several selections. ). "Keep Moving" is a lovely soul ballad, while "Ain't Got No Business To Die," is another topical number about a poor man having no business to die with a driving groove and punchy horns.

Rather than praise each of the ten tracks, let me simply state that Sugaray Rayford sings fabulously and the backing band superbly provides idiomatic backing (terrific horn arrangements) on first-rate material. Kudos to Italian soul ambassador, Luca Sapio, for making this exceptional recording happen. It is available as a CD and on vinyl but postal costs from Europe would make this very expensive. Hopefully someone will import this to make it more readily accessible in North America. For more information on this visit the recordings Bandcamp page,

I purchased this. Here is a video for "Take Me Back."


Monday, January 15, 2018

Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda Live in Montreal

Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda
Live in Montreal

Recorded at the 2017 Montreal Jazz Festival, this new release brings together the Japanese pianist/composer and the Colombian harpist. The two first met when the harpist opened for Hiromi's Trio project at the 2016 Festival. Catching each other's set, they were enthralled with each other's music. Hiromi herself recalled, "I didn't really know what to expect. When I heard Edmar play I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. It was a jaw-dropping experience. I didn't realize the harp could create such rhythm and groove." Castaneda had a similar reaction to her music observing, "The energy that she produced was the same as I like to play. I realized that we share the same passion for our instruments.”

The pair first played together for a week at the Blue Note in New York City, and they recall the almost instantaneous chemistry that happened and evident in these Montreal performances starting with Castaneda's "A Harp in New York" where they move from tranquility to propulsive drive with their mix of virtuosity and melodic invention and their playing off each other with Castaneda playing harp almost like a manic finger-style guitarist with his flamenco accents, and driving chording complemented by Hiromi's dazzling arpeggios as the two shift tempos and feeling. On his tribute "For Jaco," the two play with each other at the lower register of their instruments before joining in a playful romp in tribute to the bass legend. Hiromi's lovely "Moonlight Sunshine," written in response to the devastating tsunami and earthquake suffered by her native Japan in 2011, exhibits the lyrical side of both before an exhilarating romp through a composition from "Star Wars," John Williams' "Cantina Band," sort of a boogie woogie on hyperdrive.

The centerpiece of the performance was a four-part suite Hiromi composed, "The Elements," that was written specifically with his jazz approach to harp in mind. She explained, "“I was imagining Edmar’s sound and it reminded me a lot of sounds in nature.” Each part imaginatively reflects its subject: the weightless of “air,” the gritty, deep-rooted groove of “earth,” the shimmering fluidity of “water,” the roiling simmer of “fire.” And the four parts each have their own flavor, the light, dancing quality of "Air"; the rumbling undercurrent to "Earth"; the tranquility of "Water"; and the heated intensity of "Fire."

Their inspired playing as well as how they complement and interact with the other, results in some brilliant, enthralling performances, that concludes with a vigorous take on Astor Piazzolla's "Liberating," adding fieriness to the romantic core of the tango. "Live in Montreal" is a superb debut of a duet that one hopes to have more to enjoy in the not too distant future.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the performance of "Fire," from the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Down Home Blues • Chicago: Fine Boogie

Various Artists 
Down Home Blues • Chicago: Fine Boogie 

If you are thinking about a gift for the blues lover in your life, this public domain 5 CD box set certainly is well worthy considering. With 134 songs from both famous and obscure blues performers, and an 88 page booklet with an overview of the post-war Chicago blues scene and the artists heard, along with a full sessionography, it provides over 6 hours of prime Chicago blues. The mastering is as good as one can expect with some of this material coming from rare acetates or 78s. 

Musically, this compilation takes us from recordings in the relaxed band sound that some scholars termed “the Bluebird Beat,” to the more familiar impassioned ensemble blues of Mississippi natives Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Elmore James. Included are the earliest commercial recordings of Muddy Waters and Johnny Shines, that were not issued until a couple decades later. There are recordings from small independent labels like the Maxwell Street based Ora Nelle label with Johnny Young’s “Money Taking Woman,” the J.O.B. label with Johnny Shines’ “Ramblin’,” Old Swingmaster for Snooky & Moody’s “Keep what You Got,” Parrot with Dusty Brown’s “He Don’t Love You,” Cool Records with Billy Boy Arnold’s “Hello Stranger,” and more.

There are artists new to me such as Grey Haired Bill, Mildred White (who recorded at a session with Pete Franklin (with Tampa Red on piano), and ‘Blues Boy’ Bill, along with representative recordings of Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf, with some of these being alternate takes to those on 78s and 45s and only available on out-of-print album reissues on labels like Blues Classics, Nighthawk, Muskadine, Flyright and others. There are also rarities from Birmingham Jones, St. Louis Jimmy, Robert Nighthawk Albert King, Baby Face Leroy Foster, J.B. Hutto, Pete Franklin, Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Boyd, Memphis Minnie and Po’ Joe Williams (aka (Big Joe).

While not every one of the 134 songs is a blues classic, this collection is filled with so many gems as well as some entertaining selections that give an solid overview of early blues recording in Chicago. Add the 88 page booklet from Blues Scholar Mike Rowe, and this release is invaluable to lovers of Chicago blues. There is almost 6 and 1/2 hours of music on these five CDs which does not duplicate any of the selections on another reissue collection, the four-disc “Down Home Blues Classics Vol. 3:Chicago” on Boulevard Vintage) which is also highly recommended if you can find it.

I purchased this and it was originally submitted as a review for a Holiday issue of Jazz & Blues Report that was issued, but has appeared in the Jan-Feb 2018 issue (Issue 376). For a taste of some of the music, here is Dusty Brown's recording of "He Don't Love You,"

and Johnny Shines' JOB recording, "Ramblin'."

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ilya Portnov Strong Brew

Ilya Portnov
Strong Brew

Russian born harmonica player Portnov impresses on this most enjoyable collection of blues, gypsy jazz and other roots music. A background that included studying classical piano, he also absorbed rock and blues growing up. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music wherever he received a Masters Degree. He was the first person accepted in NEC with the diatonic harmonica s his main instrument. Taught in Russia to play the harmonica, his teacher Alex Bratetsky showed him an overflow technique, and introduced him to harmonica innovators, Howard Levy, Jason Ricci and Carlos del Junco, making him realize he could play anything on the harmonica. Moving to the US enabled him to meet and study with them, and delve deeper into blues and other roots music including Brazilian choro.

On this nine song program Portnov is supported by Kid Andersen on guitar and bass, Chris Burns on piano and keyboards, June Core on drums with Ben Andrews (a member of Portnov's band Choro Bastardo) adding violin to two tracks, Rob Vye, adding guitar on one track and percussion on another, Robby Yamilov adding bass to one track. It was the recorded by Kid Andersen at his Greaseland Studios.

It opens with the very appealing, old time country tinged "Sunny Afternoon Blues," where his harmonica and Andrews' violin make for a very engaging performance with his playing evocative of jazz harmonica players such as Henrik Meurkens. Against an energetic gypsy flavor (Burns keyboards adds to the flavor with Andersen channeling the Ventures and other surf guitar instrumentals), Portnov dazzles with his sax-like lines.On "Dance Of A Lonely Doll," his wonderful playing is in a gypsy jazz vein with Burns deft piano accompaniment along with very light bass and drums. Rob Vye's guitar introduces Rev Gary Davis' "Cincinnati Flow Rag" with some wonderful fingerstyle picking before Portnov joins in and then the full ensemble on a lively acoustic band number.

The waltz "In a Town Garden" is another charming gypsy-flavored tune with some nicely played harmonica and organ from Burns. "Behind The Wall," is a solid instrumental in a Little Walter vein with some fat toned Mississippi saxophone while Burns and Anderson lay down some solid support and Core is superb on this easy rocking instrumental. The title track is a laid back, four o'clock in morning, blues instrumental played relatively softly with tasteful solos from Burns and Andersen in addition to the leader. "1928" is a lovely tango which also features Ben Andrews' violin.

Its back to the blues on the closing "Till Early Morning," with its infectious Bo Diddley groove and enticing tremolo employed in Andersen's guitar playing. Portnov is a marvelous harmonica player and is backed by the marvelous studio band on this marvelous recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a performance by Robert Vye and Ilya Portnov.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

RIp Denise Lasalle

Denise Lasalle at Lamont's in Indian Head, Maryland, August 13, 2005. Photo © Ron Weinstock.
Soul-Blues Queen Denise Lasalle passed away on Monday Night, January 8, 2018 at the age of 83 (some reports have her 78). According to The Boogie Report (from which some of this information is taken), she passed away from complications from recent surgery.

Born near Sidon, Misssisppi, Lasalle was not simply a terrific blues singer, but also a songwriter and producer. She had a minor hit on Chess before she founded were her then husband, Bill Jones," independent production company, Crajon, with her then husband Bill Jones. Her song "Trapped By A Thing Called Love" (1971) was released on Detroit-based Westbound Records. This was a number 1 Rhythm & Blues hit, charted on the pop charts and certified as a gold record. She had more recordings for Westbound and then ABC Records while her songs were recorded by otghers including country singer Barbara Mandrell.

In the 1980s she recorded a number of acclaimed albums for Malaco Records that established her as a prominent singer on the southern soul and blues circles particularly and her comments about being ignored by some blues circles led the Blues Foundation in a Living Blues interview led to the creation of the soul-blues category in the W.C. Handy Awards (now the Blues Music Awards). After recording for Malaco for years, she recorded three albums for Ecko Records before returning to Malaco in 2010.

Denise was inducted to the Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame in 2011 and was inducted on 2015 into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. In recent years, she had been living with her husband James E. Wolfe, in Jackson, Tennessee. 

Here is Denise LaSalle performing a medley of "Give Me Yo' Strongest Whiskey" and "The Blues Is Alright."

Here she sings a medley of "Someone Else Is Steppin' In" and "Down Home Blues."