Thursday, August 05, 2021

Vinnie Riccitelli Octet For the Record

Vinnie Riccitelli Octet
For the Record

With a musical performing career stretching from 1941 to 2018, Vinnie Riccitelli led a highly successful freelance career for decades. He did have an album in 1956, "Unique Jazz, Jazz From Westchester," that had eight originals he penned and played by an octet that included tenor saxophonist Carmen Leggio, trombonist Eddie Bert, and trumpeter Joe Shepley. Since then, he freelanced, including being part of Bobby Rosengarden's East Coast Orchestra for the Jerry Lewis Telethon. He was a sideman for such legends as Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, Lena Horne, and many more. He also was affiliated with some of New York's swing big bands, including Lew Anderson's All American Big Band, which enjoyed a lengthy residence at Birdland. Riccitelli appeared on multiple recordings of this band as the first chair alto sax.

Retiring from playing, he rediscovered his love of piano and became inspired to revisit some of his unrecorded compositions and arrangements. "For the Record," released some sixty-plus years after his first album, features those songs and arrangements, and was recorded between November 2019 and January 2020. Riccitelli, while no longer playing, was present for all the recording sessions. This most recent project again provided him the chance to work with and reward some of his longtime friends, including a former student of his from the late 1940s, tenor saxophonist Joe Stelluti, alongside his talented son Chris, on baritone sax, and Joe's brother Lou on bass. Others on this album include Leo Ursini or Nathan Childers on alto saxophone, Glenn Drewes on trumpet and flugelhorn, Bruce Bonvissuto on trombone, Eddie Monteiro on piano, and accordion, and Tony Tedesco on drums. Four of the seventeen tracks were composed by Riccitelli, and he wrote arrangements for all but one track, which was Tommy Newsom's arrangement for "Maids of Cadiz." Before moving to California to be part of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show Orchestra, Newsom played in Riccitelli's octet.

Aside from Riccitelli's for originals, the compositions include some classic jazz standards and songs from the American songbook. These include "I'm Old Fashioned," "If You Could See Me Now," "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Star Eyes," "Mr. Lucky," "Maids of Cadiz," "Along Came Betty," "Darn the Dream" "Dolphin Dance, "Jordu," and "Round Midnight." The octet swings and displays a clean, measured tone in a manner that suggests a fusion of bebop and West Coast cool. This sound is heard on "Riccitelli's "Minor Seven Heaven," which showcases Joe Stelluti's tenor saxophone. Another fascinating original "Blues Dominant" is another feature for Stelluti as well as trombonist Bonvissuto.

It should be noted that the performances are relatively short, ranging from 3 to 5 minutes. Stelluti is also prominent on "I'm Old Fashioned," which has a couple of solo choruses from pianist Monteiro. There is a gorgeous arrangement for Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now," with memorable solos from Drewes and Chris Stelluti. Chris Stelluti's robust baritone sax is also featured on the hip interpretation of "Serenata." The arrangement of "Stompin' at the Savoy" is a feature for bassist Lou Stelluti with the horns framing his playing. "Star Eyes" has shifting rhythms, tempos, and moods, along with some fiery trumpet from Drewes. Tommy Newsom's arrangement for "Maid of Cadiz" provides for a mesmerizing interplay by the horns before Bonvissuto's brassy solo.

On "Mr. Lucky," Monteiro plays accordion with an organ-like flavor. Drewes' haunting trumpet evokes Clifford Brown on a rendition of Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty." Bonvissuto's reflective trombone is showcased on "Darn That Dream," an arrangement originally written to showcase Eddie Bert. Riccitelli's arrangements of Duke Jordan's "Jordu" and then Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" also merit mention using half-time and double-time on the Monk classic, adding spice with the horns providing atmosphere behind Drewes soaring trumpet.

This album is a splendid recording that allows Vinnie Riccitelli and his well-crafted, handsome arrangements to shine. Add the excellent ensemble sound and terrific, focused solos, and one has a jewel of a jazz recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Kendall Carter Introducing

Kendall Carter
LLadnek Music

A Louisville Kentucky native, Kendall Carter is an emerging name on the Hammond B-3. Also an educator, he has caught the ear of guitarist Dave Stryker who produced this recording and played guitar. Kelly Phelps plays drums on this organ trio recording. Kendall cites Jimmy McGriff, Shirley Scott, and Charles Earland as among the inspirations and influences that led to his personal style. This session is mostly of familiar tunes to allow Kendall's audience to get a feel for his playing in a traditional context and with a familiar repertoire.

There is nothing fancy or exotic about this recording. Listeners are treated to a solid, straight-ahead organ jazz trio recording. Things start with a reworking of a Jackson 5 recording, "Blame It On the Boogie," into a striking shuffle as Carter states the theme as Stryker adds chords with Phelps subtly pushing the performance follows. Next up is a rendition of "Afro Blue," with the version quietly building in intensity with Stryker stating the theme while Carter lay down a rhythmic cushion and then solos. Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" allows more interplay between Carter and Stryker, followed by an energetic rendering of Kenny Dorham's "Short Story."

While the tunes may be familiar, Carter's selection of compositions is fresh. Carla Bley's "Lawns" is taken at a very leisurely pace, followed by a sparkling rendition of Lee Morgan's "Speedball." A lovely treatment of Sam River's "Beatrice" followed by a chicken fried interpretation of "This Masquerade Is Over." Carter's original "Punjabi Affair has an intriguing melody line, while Carter's church roots is reflected in "That's All," taken at a languid tempo.

Stryker contributed "Blues For Kendall," which is taken at a walking tempo and provides the album's final showcase for Carter's deep soul organ talents and Stryker's nuanced fretwork. This recording is a notable introduction to a distinctive new voice on the organ and a first-rate jazz organ trio recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "Lovely Day."

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Early Times & the High Rollers - The Corner

Early Times & the High Rollers
The Corner
Dealer's Choice Records/VizzTone

The publicity for Early Times describes him as a "Blues Rock street poet." This singer-guitarist-songwriter currently is deejay on Sirius-XM Bluesville. He grew up in Sacramento, California, and now lives in New York City. Besides his performances on the West Coast, he also toured and recorded with the highly underrated blues singer E.C. Scott. In New York, he currently operates a record label and recording studio and his radio activities. On this album, Early Times wrote all the songs and plays guitar, keyboards, and percussion. Others on the recording include Joshua Keith on drums, Dan Schnapp on keyboards, Hardan Long-Johnson on bass, and Jay Messina on percussion. Papa Chubby guests on guitar on one track.

What is striking are the lyrics' vivid descriptions of street life in the songs and the well-crafted backing. "Come On, Let's Ride" showcases the tough, tight ensemble sound, along with Early Times' well-crafted, stinging guitar and the presence of his vocals. He puts together fascinating, atmospheric grooves and solo for "On the Corner," where one can get whatever one wants. Then there is "Do What She Do," starting with acoustic guitar before he spins a lyric on "Do What She Do" that suggests early Bruce Springsteen singing about Ashbury Park. "She's About To Lose Her Mind," is a slow straight blues as he sings about happenings in the project park with electrifying guitar from Papa Chubby.

Other memorable performances include an instrumental, "Rosie Herbs 'N Ting," showcasing some very hot guitar from Early Times. His clever way with words is on display in "He's Got a Jones," where he adds that she has a Jody. Also of note is the reflective "Someone Help Mary," which opens with him on acoustic guitar. The organ helps generate the increasing intensity of the performance. The closing, frenzied "Return of the Queen" evokes the feel of early electric Dylan.

"The Corner" is a blues-rooted album with fascinating originals, vigorous singing and first-rate backing, making for some absorbing listening.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. Here is "Come On, Let's Ride."

Monday, August 02, 2021

Deb Ryder Memphis Moonlight

Deb Ryder
Memphis Moonlight

"Memphis Moonlight" is a new release from the husky-voiced blues singer and songwriter Deb Ryder. Like her earlier recordings, it is produced by Tony Braunagel and Ryder's husband Rick while Johnny Lee Schell engineered the session. A core backing group of musicians includes Braunagel on drums, Schell on guitar, bass, and keyboards, Travis Carlton on bass, Mike Finnigan on the Hammond B-3, Peter Van Der Pluijim on harmonica, Joe Sublett on saxophone, and Mark Pender on trumpet. There are guest appearances by guitarists Ronnie Earl, Joey Delgado and Alistair Greene, saxophonist Steve Berlin, and accordionist David Hidalgo. Ryder wrote all 13 songs (two with her husband, Rick).

Deb Ryder's previous releases impressed me with her strong songwriting and her convincing, powerful vocals. Like her prior albums, this new release contains some hard-hitting blues and blues-rock. She sings powerfully but with nuance and an excellent display of vocal dynamics. Ryder never comes off as sounding shrill and emoting. The production and the support are top-notch as well.

Things kick off with the brassy, horn-driven, soulful funk of "I'm Coming Home, where she proclaims she is coming home where she belongs, singing over Sublett's sax. Plujiom's harmonica adds down-home flavor to "Hold On," with Braunagel leading an insistent groove. Alistair Greene adds his slide guitar along with that from Schell on her soulful vocal on a vibrant down-home gospel blues, "These Hands." Then there is "Get Ready," with an echo added to her voice as she urges us to start a revolution of love and speak out against injustice.

The mood shifts on a slow, straight-forward blues, "Love Is Gone," with Finnigan's organ adding atmosphere. This song is one of the two tracks that showcase Ronnie Earl, whose playing is impressive as always. This is a standout track here. Another high point is the title track has her singing supported only by Schell on guitar, bass, and tambourine and backing vocals by her and Finnigan. She sings about feeling good about being in Memphis and regrets letting her lover go in the past. "Just Be Careful" takes us musically to the Mississippi hill country with its infectious groove and memorable lyric with the tagline, "if you can't be good, just be careful," with Schell adding some rollicking slide guitar.

Schell shines on "Jump On In," where Ryder tells her man to let himself go and spend time with her. A jazzy shuffle, "Standing at the Edge," follows with swagger and swing in Ryder's vocal. Finnigan lays down a tough foundation for her vocal as well as taking a greasy solo. The Delgado brothers, Hidalgo and Steve Berlin lend a zydeco flavor to the lively "Second Chances." At times Ryder's tune "Most of All" hints at Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind." Ryder sings magnificently here while Ronnie Earl adds a solo played with such depth of feeling that matches Ryder's superb singing. It closes another excellent recording with outstanding originals, terrific backing, and Deb Ryder's authoritative singing.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. Here is a relatively recent performance from Deb Ryder.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Johnny Guitar Watson Reissues

What the Hell Is This?
Love Jones
Johnny “Guitar” Watson And The Family Clone

After the excellent retrospective of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s later recordings, "The Funk Anthology," Shout Factory has started to issue his seven DJM albums as well as his last album.

Among those that have been issued is "What the Hell Is This?" The title track of this 1979 release has a topical lyric akin to "Ain’t it a Bitch" and "A Real Mother For Ya." The lyric is delivered in a sung-spoken manner that anticipates rap and there is a nice solo break. Other highpoints include the humorous dig at his "Mother-in-Law," who finds nothing good about Johnny, the ballad "In the World," which shows how romantic (yet still bluesy Johnny was and perhaps why singers like Etta James were influenced by him) and the rendition of" I Don’t Want to Be President," co-written with Percy Mayfield who recorded it earlier, with his complaints that he would not care so much about Congress knowing who he was visiting but what would he tell his wife. Two previously unissued tracks, "Watsonian Institute" and "The Funk I Know" are added to the original seven tracks.

"Love Jones"
is another new Watson reissue and opens with a nice piece of funk, "Booty Ooty," celebrating some fine lady’s shaking of her body to the music. The title track is an other soulful ballad, while "Going Up In Smoke" is a funky groove about big money wasters, and "Close Encounters" sports a latin-tinged groove as Watson sings about a close encounter of the wrong kind and being a fool losing his cool. "Asanta Sana "is a fascinating African flavored number done before such world beat performances were common and again indicating how ahead of his time Watson was. "Telephone Bill" is an amusing rap based on his phone bill getting too high when he called a new lady against a funk groove. "Lone Ranger" is an update of a track he first did for Fantasy about cruising the world with a stranger, and no one wanting to be a lonely one. "Jet Plane" (“There is a Jet Plane bound for heaven,”) is a reworking of the gospel number “This Train.” "Children of the Universe" has an autobiographical lyric about growing up in Texas and seeking to become an entertainer. "Funky Blues" and an "Untitled Mix" are previously unissued selections, with the blues being a nice slow instrumental that sports some nice guitar and judicious use of a guitar vocal decoder (hope I identified this correctly), although it ends somewhat abruptly.

The final reissue is "Johnny “Guitar” Watson And The Family Clone," on which Watson actually plays all of the instruments except drums except for one track. The title is a tribute to Sly and the Family Stone. "Forget the Jones" has him philosophizing about not worrying about what the Jones are doing, while "Come and Dance With Me" is a nice funk number with Watson using the guitar vocal decoder again as he asks the lady to come and dance with him, playfully delivered. "What is Love?" is another ballad by Watson who delivers it so well. "Voodoo What You Do" is a love song to his woman sung so sexily about what his woman does to him. The extra, previously unissued, tracks are Watson’s soulful interpretation of Percy Mayfield’s classic blues, "Please Send Me Someone to Love," and "Chill Me Out."

This review originally appeared in the March/April 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 280).  I likely received my review copy from either the label directly or from Jazz & Blues Report. One may have to check ebay and other sites for these reissues. Here is a live performance of "Booty Ooty."

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Slide Attack Road Trip

Slide Attack
Road Trip

Led by trombonists Howard Levy and Alan Goidel, Slide Attack is a quintet inspired by the group led by J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. They bring an ebullient, straight-ahead swinging bop approach to their all original repertoire. The group's other members are Hiroshi Yamazaki on piano, Michael Goetz on bass, and Charles Zueren on drums. The two leaders have experience playing in various settings, including big bands, Broadway shows, and more. Levy contributed five originals, Goidel three compositions, and pianist Yamazaki one.

Things kick off with Yamasaki's "Spring Roll," which was written over the chord changes of Sonny Rollins "Airegin. Pianist Yamasaki takes the first solo, followed by Goidel's wooly solo and Levy's fluttering one before Zeuren showcases his stick work. Goidel wrote the title track that has a bubbling feel featuring Levy's expressive plunger mute solo. Jobim's "Sa Danco Samba" is the foundation for Levy's "Clauditti," dedicated to his wife. He brings a solid drive to his playing, followed by a sparkling Yamasaki solo and Goidel's more gravelly playing. Levy's "Struttin'" is based on Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man," with some fascinating interplay between the two during the opening of this playfully funky performance.

Goidel's "Look Within" is a beautiful ballad that showcases bassist Goetz before the composer's feathery playing. "Owens" was inspired by Levy's Aussiedoole. It is a take on "I Got Rhythm" that opens with a spirited Levy spirited followed by Yamasaki's crisp, fluid piano solo, Goidel's measured one, and another melodic bass solo by Goetz.

"Bluesdemic," derived from the challenging changes of Charlie Parker's "Blues For Alice," is a swinging blues with more top-flight solos. The other selections are equally fascinating. "Road Trip" is an outstanding recording with first-rate tunes, a tight swinging ensemble, and superb soloing.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video clip of Slide Attack.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Ray Gallon Make My Move

Ray Gallon
Make My Move
Cellar Live

It is possible that I may have met Ray Gallon when perusing the jazz stacks at J&R Music World in lower Manhattan decades ago. In any event, this is the pianist's long-awaited debut that has attracted praise from the likes of Ahmad Jamal and Ron Carter. Carter, in fact, wrote a brief liner note, "Welcome to the world of the music of Ray Gallon…extraordinary pianist…college professor…talented composer and arranger…and my dear friend… ." Gallon has been playing for many years, with a period he dealt with his health and that of his family and his resume includes playing with Ron Carter, Art Farmer, T.S. Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Wycliffe Gordon, Benny Golson, Frank Wess, and The Mingus Big Band. On this trio date, he is joined by bassist David Wong and Kenny Washington.

Listening to Gallon, one is struck by echoes of Hank Jones, Thelonious Monk, Barry Harris, Bud Powell, and others, but it is distinctly him backed by a first-rate rhythm section. Highlights on a consistently excellent recording include "Out of Whack" with its off-kilter, Monkish flavor with some nice stick work from Washington. Then there is an intriguing blues "Craw Daddy," with his use of dynamics and touch matched by Wong and Washington. "Harm's Way" showcases not simply his technical virtuosity with the almost frantic tempo but also the fluidity of his playing and his imagination and skill in constructing a solo. Both Wong and Washington solo here as well.

Gallon originally conceived of interpreting "I Don't Stand a Chance With You" as a bossa. Still, it has evolved into an exquisite and poignant ballad rendition played with a light touch. In contrast, on a memorable treatment of "Yesterdays," Gallon acknowledges employing some of the devices Art Tatum used (although not directly emulating Tatum), such as the transitions from rubato into a spirited tempo through an ostinato bass line and remarkably dissonant voicings. Other selections include the dazzling "Plus One," a contrafact based on Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," where he also trades fours with Washington. Hank Jones was perhaps the strongest influence on Gallon. Gallon, in fact, studied with Jones. "Hanks a Lot" is his tribute to the late piano great and has some of the energetic eloquence that Hank Jones brought to his music.

As a composer, Ray Gallon crafts melodic themes that keep resonating with the listener while the performances take surprising, but engrossing twists and turns, resulting in this excellent recording that leaves listeners wanting more.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here Ray Gallon performs "Hanks a Lot."