Thursday, December 12, 2019

Ray Blue Work

Ray Blue

Tenor saxophonist Ray Blue is based out of New York who has been leading his own groups and recorded several CDs. He also has worked with such artists as Art Davis, Benny Powell, Eddie Henderson, the Charlie Persip Big Band, Wycliffe Gordon, Steve Turre, Ted Curson, and the Sun Ra Orchestra. The core band backing him on "Work" is Sharp Radway on piano, Jeff Barone on guitar, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass, and Steve Johns on drums. Also appearing are pianists Kirk Lightsey and Benito Gonzalez (each on two tracks), trombonist Ron Wilkins (on three selections), Belden Bullock on bass (one song), and Neil Clark on percussion (on three tracks).

Ray Blue is a straight-ahead saxophonist who has a warm tone and swings hard while wonderfully supported by a superior studio band. The title track is a lively Caribbean-spiced evocative of some of Sonny Rollins' compositions like "St. Thomas." As the group provides an infectious groove (aided by Clark's percussion), Blue introduces us to his velvety tone and fluid improvisation. Radway's sparkling solo follows this. There is a spirited, brief rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," with Barone's horn-like guitar echoing Blue's tenor at times. Cannonball Adderly's "Sweet Emma" is taken at an appealing, lazy tempo with Wilkins adding his gruff trombone before Blue's brawny solo. Wilkins also adds his insistent trombone to the swinging interpretations of Jimmy Smith's "Mellow Mond," and George Coleman's "Amsterdam After Dark,"

Blues ballad playing is sublime as displayed his own "My Friend and I Took a Walk," with Benito Gonzalez on piano with John's brushwork exemplary. Gonzalez is also on one of two versions of "That's All," where Blue's cottony, measured playing would have brought a smile to Ben Webster. An equally marvelous rendition of this song done as a duo with Kirk Lightsey is the closing track. Lightsey and Bullock are present on a melodious ballad performance of "Teach Me Tonight."

Among other numbers here is a jaunty rendition of the old pop hit, "Our Day Will Come," and a swinging version of "Everything Happens To Me," that starts as a duet with Johns before the full band joins in. "Work" is an outstanding recording that showcases Ray Blue's marvelous, straight-ahead tenor saxophone.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 387). Here is Ray Blue from 2012 performing "Work."

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Samuel Torres Alegria

Samuel Torres
Blue Congo Music

The latest album by Torres, the Columbian percussionist/composer/bandleader. About this CD, his fifth, Torres says "Alegria, which means "happiness" or "joy," presents eight original compositions that captivate and inspire." He elaborates, "in these somewhat dark and divisive times we need light and joy, and we need to share these things with each other to combat hate. On this project he has assembled a band of Michael Rodriguez & Alex Norris (trumpet & flugelhorn); Marshall Gilkes (trombone); Will Vinson (alto & soprano saxophones); Joel Frahm (tenor & soprano saxophones); Ivan Renta (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet & flute); Luis Perdomo (piano & Fender Rhodes); Ruben Rodriguez (electric bass), and Pablo Bencid (drums). Torres himself plays (congas, bongos, kalimba, log drum, cajon, maracas llanera, djembes, talking drum, g├╝iro, timbal, tambourine, clave, shekere, shakers & EFX.

Torres not only has quite an ensemble assembled, but his compositions inspired the superlative performances. Among the eight stirring performances are "Salsa, Jazz y Choke," which certain will get pulses elevated. Salsa Choke is a Pacific Columbian urban music style that incorporates a Cuban pilon groove. There are excellent solos from trombonist Gilkes, pianist Perdomo, and Torres on congas, along with the punchy, spirited ensemble playing. Then there is "Barretto Power," A boogaloo dedicated to Torres' hero Ray Barretto with ear-catching solos from Ivan Renta on the baritone sax and drummer Bencid. "Little Grasshopper" is a feature for Torres on the Kalimba. It has a simple melody over a 6/8 rhythmic pattern with more fine ensemble playing. In addition to Torres on kalimba, the selection features Renta's lyrical flute. The title track is a spirited Cumbia which Torres also states has "elements of South American indigenous music." There are ebullient solos by pianist Perdomo and alto saxophonist Will Vinson here.

The other performances on "Alegria" are similarly full of high energy as well as scintillating solos and ensemble playing. Samuel Torres and his ensemble have put forth some top-notch Latin Jazz.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is Samuel Torres recently performing "Barretto Power" at Dizzy's in NYC.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tad Robinson Real Street

Tad Robinson
Real Street
Severn Records

Tad Robinson's new album of blue-eyed soul, "Real Street" was recorded at Memphis' Electraphonic Recording and recorded by Scott Bomar, leader of the acclaimed Memphis soul band, The Bo-Keys. Robinson's vocals and harmonica are vocals and harmonica are backed by the legendary Hi Rhythm section of Charles Hodges – Hammond organ; Leroy Hodges – bass; and Howard Grimes – drums. They are augmented by Joe Restivo – guitar; Kevin Anker – Wurlitzer electric piano; Marc Franklin – trumpet; Kirk Smothers – sax; and Devin B. Thompson – background vocals.

Robinson and his band do an excellent job of recreating the classic Hi Records sound. Robinson and friends have contributed several choice originals, and they interpret songs from George Jackson, Roy Orbison, David Gate, and others. Certainly, an original like "Changes" with chugging rhythms comes off like a cover of a classic Syl Johnson number. Its memorable lyrics are about friends one has trusted have let you down, and then only love can help you negotiate the changes. There is a marvelous heartfelt rendition of a George Jackson soul ballad, "Search Your Heart," where Robinson pleads for his woman not to put him in misery. Robinson adds down-home harp on "Love in the Neighborhood." "Wishing Well Blues" is a soulful blues about his woman leaving set against this terrific rhythm section with biting guitar, punchy horns, orchestral organ, and a touch of harmonica.

Robinson takes the old Roy Orbison ballad, "You Got It," and transforms it into deep southern soul in a fashion that Otis Clay or Syl Johnson may have done it. Then there is a similar transformation of Bread's hit."Make It With You," by David Gates, into a classic Hi Records styled performance. Superbly backed by this terrific studio band and sung so fervently by Robinson, "Real Street" is a gem of contemporary Memphis-styled soul.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Tad Robinson performing "Love in the Neighborhood" from this CD.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Metropolitan Jazz Octet Featuring Dee Alexander Celebrate Billie Holiday

Metropolitan Jazz Octet Featuring Dee Alexander
It's Too Hot For Words: Celebrating Billie Holiday
Delmark Records

The Chicago-based jazz repertory ensemble, Metropolitan Jazz Octet's latest album, is an examination of the Billie Holiday songbook featuring vocalist Dee Alexander. It wasn't until they finished recording this that they realized that Holiday passed away 60 years ago. The original MJO was originally started in the 1950s by saxophonist & arranger Tom Hilliard. From the late '50s through '80s, Hilliard wrote many of the group's 150 (+) charts. As a professor at De Paul University School of Music, Hilliard taught three members of the current MJO. He bequeathed his musical library, passing the torch to the next generation. Now led by Jim Gailloreto, John Kornegay, and Bob Sutter, MJO consists of eight talented musicians who are active in jazz and music education in the Chicago area.

The current MJO initially started exploring Hillard's library, but since started including new works from its members. MJO consists of John Kornegay- alto sax and clarinet; Jim Gailloreto - tenor sax and flute; Peter Brusen - baritone sax and bass clarinet; Doug Scharf - trumpet; Russ Phillips - trombone; Bob Sutter - piano; Doug Bistrow- bass; and Bob Rummage - drums. On four selections, strings are added to enhance the recording. Ms. Alexander selected the ten songs that she and the MJO perform here. Members of the band contributed the arrangements. One exception is an arrangement by Thomas Matta, DePaul Jazz Studies professor.

Except for "Strange Fruit" and "Ain't Nobody's Business," the songs here have not been recorded 'to death.' Furthermore, those two numbers sound fresh in the hands of Ms. Alexander and the handsome arrangements here. As Neil Tesser observes in the liner notes, Dee Alexander does not try to imitate the phrasing or timbre of Lady Day. One thinks of Ella, Sarah Vaughan, and Dinah Washington as also sources of her art. What one has are her interpretations that make even the most familiar songs sound new. This is evident from the opening "Ain't Nobody's Business," with Jim Gailloreto's arrangement. Alexander's perfect pitch, phrasing, and her robust vocal, along with the horn setting and solos from Scharf, Phillips, and Gailloreto, make this one of the most outstanding interpretations of this song. Gailloreto's arrangement incorporates strings on the Gershwins' "Things Are Looking Up," in which his flute and the clarinets help engender a romantic feel with Sutter and Scharf in the spotlight. Alexander's vocal includes her magical delivery of the lyrics and her stunning scatting.

"The Blues Are Brewin'" is more of a song in the vein of "Blues in the Night," than a straight blues song. Alexander shows how dynamic a vocalist she is, at times, phrasing in a delicate manner and at other times, belting in like Ms. Washington. Scharf's arrangement gives a bluesy feel to "Strange Fruit," and Gailloreto takes a robust, almost gutbucket solo. Gailloreto's arrangement employs strings to provide colors and textures, providing a somber atmosphere to accompany the drama in Alexander's potent singing. The mournful trumpet and trombone set against the horns add to the mood of this classic protest against lynching. It is the darkest performance perhaps, but certainly, one that listeners will remember.

Between the marvelous playing of the MJO and the sublime vocals of Dee Alexander's, one cannot help but observe the rapport between them. There is magic in the performances of "I Wished on the Moon," "It's Too Hot For Words," or the heartbreak expressed "I'm a Fool To Want You." Dee Alexander and the Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra are so marvelous that one might almost forget that this sterling CD is a tribute to Billy Holiday. This is that good.

I received my review copy from Delmark Records.  Here is the Metropolitan Jazz Octet Featuring Dee Alexander performing "Things Are Looking Up."

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Cephas & Wiggins Homemade

Cephas & Wiggins
Alligator Records

 I’m sure many of your are already familiar with the talents of John Cephas, one of today’s leading exponents of Piedmont blues fingerstyle guitar, and a singer whose honey-tinged vocals suggest the legendary Big Bill Broonzy. One should not forget that his partner, Phil Wiggins is a marvelous master of the blues harmonica whose subtly nuanced playing and solos complement and enhances Cephas’ singing. The two have become favorites around the world with their distinctive sound.

"Homemade" is a mix of some classic blues songs that should be highly familiar to their many fans along with some strong original blues. Included are such staples of their live concerts as Blind Boy Fuller’s "Mamie" and "Pigmeat," Memphis Minnie's "Me and My Chauffeur," and Skip James’ "Illinois Blues." While I believe some of these songs have been recorded by the duo before, those recordings may have been only on out-of-print tapes or records. All of these songs receive very personalized and thoughtful interpretations. Daryl Davis adds his strong piano to the rendition of "Worried Life Blues," which is dedicated to the late Big Chief Ellis, with whom Cephas and Wiggins played with years ago. There is also a fine idiomatic rendition of the classic "Trouble in Mind" which mistakenly lists the Richard Jones composition as traditional.

Additionally, the album contains a number of new songs including one about the dangerous "Spider Woman" that Mike McQuade contributed the lyric to while Cephas composed the melody. John, Phil, and producer Joe Wilson combined to put together the bawdy original, "Jelly Roll," and Phil wrote the original "Sounds of the Blues," on which he takes the vocal. Cephas’ describes his own "I Was Determined,"  simply as “That’s mine, my story,” as he sings about his life in music. This is another solid recording sought after by their already existing fans and certainly serves as a nice introduction to their music.

This review originally appeared in 1999 in issue 238 of the Jazz & Blues Report. I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Here are the two performing at the White House in 1999.


Saturday, December 07, 2019

Take 5 With Benny Carter

Prior to the arrival of Charlie Parker, there were three acknowledged masters of the alto sax, Johnny Hodges, Willie Smith, and Benny Carter. Hodges and Smith are best known for their associations with Duke Ellington and Jimmy Lunceford. Benny Carter had a career that went beyond such an easy linkage. He was a member of as well as led a big band. He also played the trumpet, was an arranger as well as being a composer. Today is a short playlist of "King Carter" whose career extended for many decades. We start with a 1933 recording, "Lonesome Nights."

Next up is Carter with Django Reinhardt from 1938 doing "I'm Coming Virginia."

Carter was a favorite of Norman Granz and his Jazz at the Philharmonic tours. Here he is with Coleman Hawkins performing "Blue Lou.

Here he performs a song of his that has become somewhat of a standard, "When The Lights Are Low," with the American Jazz Orchestra.

We close this brief playlist of Benny Carter's music with the Benny Carter All-Stars performing "Blues Walk" and Take the A Train."

Friday, December 06, 2019

Breezy Rodio If It Ain't Broke Don't Fix It

Breezy Rodio
If It Ain't Broke Don't Fix It
Delmark Records

Billy Branch, in the liner notes to Breezy Rodio's new release, observes that "the mandate of record companies and audiences is to present vibrant quality new material." He then observes that this new release fulfills this. "He has produced a veritable smorgasbord of tasty songs that span the 1940s to the present."

Breezy Rodio has surrounded himself with a terrific band of Sumito 'Ariyo' Ariyoshi on piano, Dan Tabion on organ, Light Palone on bass, Lorenzo Francocci on drums, Constantine Alexander on trumpet, Ian Letts on alto and tenor sax, and Ian 'The Chief' McCarrie on baritone sax. Guests include Corey Dennison, Monster Mike Welch, and Kid Anderson. And they certainly kick off this album with a touch of a James Brown funk that segues into a shuffle. The horns stand out as does harmonica player Simone 'Harp' Nobile before Rodio takes his solo. On a talking blues, "Dear Blues," Rodio raps about his love of the blues before paying tribute to some of his heroes. First sounding like Albert King, he verbally salutes and then emulates B.B. King, Albert Collins, and T-Bone Walker. His love for Collins is also reflected in a sizzling instrumental, "The Breeze."

With Nobile's harp, Rodio performs an easy-rocking shuffle "From Downtown Chicago to Biloxi Bay" with a marvelously shaped solo. There is an excellent urban blues cover of B.B. King's "A Woman Don't Care." There also is a fine cover of a lesser-known B.B. King recording, "I'll Survive." "A Minute of My Kissing" is rock and roll mixed with Rodio's guitar evocative of Magic Sam. Pianist Ariyoshi stands out on this. Rodio does a bit of crooning on the jazzy "Look Me in the Eye," loriginally recorded by T-Bone Walker. Saxophonist Letts shares the spotlight here. Then there is a touch of soul for "Desperate Lover," followed by his autobiographical "Los Christianos," where he sings about his experiences in this Copenhagen district. The latter number features some deep singing and exquisite guitar. Another highlight is a moving, soulful rendition of 'Toots' Hilbert's "I Need Your Love."

A particularly noteworthy track is "Led to a Better Life," a gospel-infused tribute to the late Mike Ledbetter with Monster Mike Welch, who also solos on this. Corey Dennison shares the vocal duties on this moving selection. I found a couple of lyrics a tad off, and Breezy Rodio sings with a pinched, quivering vibrato that others might find to be an acquired taste. With the exception of these minor reservations, the music here is first-rate.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is a performance of one of the songs from this album.