Friday, May 07, 2021

James Holvay -Sweet Soul Song

James Holvay -Sweet Soul Song - Mob Town Records

This five-song EP represents the return to blues-eyed soul singer-songwriter-guitarist James Holvay. Holvay grew up during the peak era of Chicago soul with such stars as Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance, The Impressions, and Gene Chandler. While a teenager in a blue-eyed soul band, his songwriting talents benefited Brian Hyland and Dee Clark. One of his songs was passed on to the Buckinghams, who had the chart-topping recording, "Kind of a Drag." The Buckinghams would have three other national hits with Holvay's songs. He left music for some years, but after Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse, and others, he started writing new songs in the Major Lance-Gene Chanler-Curtis Mayfield vein, and this eventually led to this disc. 

The five originals included are gems, as are Holvay's vocals. One can hear echoes of Mayfield and Chandler in his singing, whether the uptown groover "Working On It" or the deep soul ballad "Still The Fool" (that especially shows a deep Mayfield-Chandler influence. "Love Has Found A Way" is another uptempo number that adds a touch of Tyrone Davis to the mix. The title track is Holvay's salute to classic Chicago soul and the stars he idolized as a teenager that sounds like a lost Major Lance recording.

Holvay found some sterling musicians and backing singers for this outstanding evocation of a classic soul music era. It is a recording that has the listener aching for more.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the title track.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

David Larsen - The Mulligan Chronicles

David Larsen - The Mulligan Chronicles -Self-produced

Saxophonist-educator-composer David Larsen's exploration into Gerry Mulligan's compositions has culminated in "The Mulligan Chronicles." Larsen says, "In my studies, I traveled to the Library of Congress to view hundreds of Gerry Mulligan's handwritten scores and interview countless musicians." Larsen has put together a repertoire that ranges from early to later Mulligan compositions. On baritone sax, he has recruited for this effort musicians who all had an association with Mulligan. Trombonist Dave Glenn played 2nd trombone for Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band, while Pianist Bill Mays worked with Gerry off and on since the 1980s. Bassist Dean Johnson worked with Gerry for almost all of his later career, and drummer Ron Vincent joined Gerry's working quartet in the 1990s. It is a band that is true to Mulligan's music's spirit and style while the members bring their voices.

The relaxed loping groove of "Walkin' Shoes" starts with Larsen takes a burly solo followed by the other quintet members that capture the feel of a 50s World Pacific or Prestige recording. Larsen is a strong player and leader and takes the group through various settings such as the light swinger, "Curtains," with Larsen and Glenn trading choruses, or the moody tribute to Monk, "Good Neighbor Thelonious," with a superlative Mays solo. There is the delight of the call and response of the horns playing the head of "Festive Minor."

On "Idol Gossip," Larsen and the ensemble ably handle the brisker tempo with a particularly burly baritone sax solo from the leader. This track is followed by a lively rendition of the Latin rhythms of "Rico Apollo." Larsen and Mays further shine on "The Flying Scotsman" with its shifting motifs, while "Out Back of the Barn" has a down-home, bluesy feel. Glenn plays with a touch of gutbucket here. Larsen exhibits a more reflective tone on a lovely ballad, "Etude For France."

Combining Gerry Mulligan's compositions with first-rate, straight-ahead playing, David Larsen has produced the memorable "The Mulligan Chronicles."

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here David Larsen leads the group on "Walkin' Shoes."

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Curtis Salgado - Damage Control

Curtis Salgado - Damage Control -Alligator Records

Listening to Curtis Salgado's new album (his fourth for Alligator), I found his soulful singing evoking Solomon Burke. I am not suggesting conscious copying, but rather similarity in their voices. This similarity is perhaps most evident in the opening "The Longer That I Live," a fresh original from Salgado, Mike Finnigan, and another that has him sing about growing older, the challenges he faced, and that the older he is, "the older I want to get." Finnigan adds some sterling organ, Jim Pugh is on piano, while Kid Andersen provides some scintillating guitar. Another original, the funky "What Did Me In Did Me Well," has a philosophical reflection about a relation he ruined. He adds some harmonica against the same sterling backing band.

Contrasting to these two numbers' southern style is the New Orleans to Memphis rock and roll of "You're Going To Miss My Sorry Ass," with Kevin McKendree's rollicking piano and George Marinelli's piano. While his singing is not evocative of Solomon Burke here, Salgado ably delivers these witty vocals. McKendree and Marinelli (on slide guitar) are also on the southern roots rock-flavored "Precious Time." Then there is the Tex-Mex accent of "Count of Three" with guitarist Johnny Lee Schell, organist Mike Finnigan, pianist Jim Pugh, and drummer Tony Braunagel. Then there is a terrific soul ballad, "Always Say I Love You (At The End Of Your Goodbyes)," with Jackie Miclau replacing Pugh on piano. It is a further demonstration of the variety to be heard on this recording. 

The 13 songs on this album were captured at sessions in Nashville (engineered by McKendree), Studio City, California (engineered by Schell), and Santa Clara, California (engineered by Andersen). Salgado has had difficult health issues in the past, but listening to his vibrant, robust singing, one would never guess that. Add first-rate backing and terrific originals to Salgado's top-flight vocals, and one has an outstanding recording.

I received a download to review from Alligator Records. Here is "The Longer That I Live."

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Dave Stryker - Baker's Circle

Dave Stryker - Baker's Circle - Strikezone Records

I have described some of guitarist Dave Stryker's recordings as "straight-ahead jazz comfort food of a high level." This new release adds Walter Smith III's tenor sax to his organ group of organist Jared Gold and drummer McClenty Hunter. Mayra Casales adds percussion to three of the ten selections. There are four originals from Stryker and one from Gold, along with five interpretations of songs from the likes of Cole Porter, Leon Russell, and Marvin Gaye.

"Tough," a driving blues-flavored number, opens this album with scintillating solos. Stryker is first with his soulful, straight-ahead playing and well-crafted solo. Walter Smith III's tenor sax firs in like a well-tailored suit. He has a robust tone and swagger in his attack like Stryker's former boss Stanley Turrentine. Gold is perhaps overlooked among the organists playing today, but he gets the hot sauce going on this selection. The temperature cools a tad on with the relaxed Latin groove of "El Camino," Smith solos with plenty of gusto here. Then there is the late evening blues "Dreamsong," with fleet, nifty guitar, and big-toned saxophone. 

The relaxed swing of Cole Porter's "Everything I Love" showcases Smith's romanticism, while Gold's "Rush Hour" is a spirited burner with some fiery tenor sax and organ. Leon Russell's "Superstar" may be best known from the Carpenters' recording. Stryker and company deliver a delicately structured performance. The title track was composed in memory of the educator and composer David Baker. Casales provides rhythmic accents to a scintillating performance.

There is also a bluesy shuffle, "Trouble (No. 2)," that Stryker's old boss, Stanley Turrentine, recorded. This song partially evokes the Little Willie John classic "Fever" and finds the group at their soulful, groovy best. It caps another first-rate recording from Stryker and company.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is an interview with Dave Stryker.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Veronica Lewis - You Ain't Unlucky

Veronica Lewis - You Ain't Unlucky - Blue Heart Records

"You Ain't Unlucky" is an auspicious debut by a young New England pianist-singer-songwriter who is 17 and yet a seasoned pro. On this eight-song release, she is backed by a drummer with a sax added on several selections. Mike Walsh handles the drummer's chair for five of the selections, with Chris Anzalone playing on two and Ben Rogers on one. Don Davis plays sax on four selections, and Joel Edinburg heard on one.

One can hear a variety of influences in her two-handed piano playing. These go back to the boogie-woogie masters of the thirties to the Chicago blues of Otis Spann, the New Orleans piano style of Professor Longhair and Doctor John, and the hillbilly boogie piano of Moon Mulligan and Jerry Lee Lewis. Starting with the Crescent City rumba blues of the title track, the roadhouse boogie of "Clarksdale Sun" to her "Ode to Jerry Lee," and the closing "Memphis Train," Lewis shows that she is an exciting pianist with a crisp attack. This listener hopes to see her add a Jimmy Yancey styled approach to her slower material, but she is still growing and maturing after all. 

Although she sings with a tad bit too much vibrato for this listener's taste, she is a robust and tuneful singer. This is a quibble, and one would expect her to be more nuanced in her phrasing and vocal dynamics. In any event, this is quite a notable debut that shows more than promise.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the official video for "You Ain't Unlucky."

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra - Bernstein Reimagined

Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra - Bernstein Reimagined - MCG Jazz

"Bernstein Reimagined" is the result of a concert the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra (SJMO) performed in 2018, the year of the Bernstein centenary. SJMO Artist Director and conductor Charlie Young noted discussions among directors of various artistic programs to honor Bernstein that year. "I imagined the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra presenting a grand concert of Bernstein's music … "Re-imagining Leonard Bernstein for this occasion required examining some of his compositions rarely associated with jazz. The resulting concert was a blast!" 

The re-imagination avoids the usual suspects such as the oft-explored West Side Story songs or those songs that have become jazz standards. Instead, the project's five arrangers – Jay Ashby, Darryl Brenzel, Scott Silbert, Mike Tomaro, and Steve Williams – tackle lesser-known corners of Bernstein's output such as symphonic works, spiritual music, operas, and his sole film score, "On the Waterfront." 

The album opens with "Times Square Ballet," one of three pieces from the Broadway show "On the Town." "On the Town" was Bernstein's first Broadway show, although part of Bernstein's music was dropped from the film adaptation that many are familiar with. Scott Silbert wrote the arrangement of this suite that includes "New York, New York." Silbert's clarinet and Steve Williams alto sax stand out here. Also from "On the Town" is Mike Tomaro's arrangement of "The Great Lover," on which Silbert's tenor saxophone is among those showcased. Darryl Brenzel provides a reflective mood to the arrangement of "Lonely Town," with Tom Williams' blues-inflected trumpet.

Charlie Young takes a rhapsodic solo on "Dream For Me," which was incidental music for the play "Peter Pan." Jay Ashby's arrangement makes use of flutes, clarinet, and bass clarinet to surround the melody. Among the most imaginative arrangements is Steve Williams' one for "Waltz." This is based on a movement from Bernstein's 'Divertimento For Orchestra", in which the groove is transformed into a reggae one with steel pans used to state the melody. Victor Prevost is the marvelous steel pan player here. Darryl Brenzel's arrangement for "Chichester Psalms I" provides a high-spirited setting with an outstanding Luis Hernandez's tenor sax solo.

Leonard Bernstein was not a jazz composer, although there is a jazzy quality to much of his compositions that have been developed in many memorable jazz performances. SMJO has added to the body of jazz performance and recording of Bernstein's music in this enlightening and engaging album.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here the Smithsonian Jazz Orchestra performs Times Square Ballet." 

Friday, April 30, 2021

Yulia Musayelyan Tango Project - Oblivion

Yulia Musayelyan Tango Project - Oblivion - Zoho Music

Born in Moscow, Russia, flautist-composer Yulia Musayelyan leads an ensemble on this auspicious exploration of tango music. An award-winning artist in her native Russia before she moved to the United States. Currently, she is on the faculty at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. The quartet's other members also are on the Berklee faculty: pianist Maxim Lubarsky, bassist Fernando Huergo, and drummer Mark Walker. 

The musicians are a stellar group, with Musayelyan playing with fluidity and a gorgeous tone throughout. Pianist Lubarsky adds a definite romanticism with his outstanding accompaniment and inspired solos, while Huergo and Walker provide the dynamic underlining pulse. Musayelyan's performances reflect her cross-genre background. While she was classically trained, as exhibited by her flawless intonation, she is quite an inspired improviser as well. The opening rendition of Astor Piazzolla's "Fuga Y Misterio" illustrates this with the quartet freely negotiating shifts in tempo and musical temperature. Then there is the waltz-like "Flor de Lino," with her lush melodic playing at the fore.

Piazzolla also composed the title track, with a deep, sober melody that provides a backdrop for strongly evocative flute and piano solos. Taken at a breathtaking tempo, "Milonga De Mis Amores," a listener can imagine stylish tango dancers on a performance that displays the clean precision that Musayelyan and the band play. "Como Dos Extraños" is a masterful flute-bass duet along with Musayelyan delivering a charming vocal along with a splendid solo. It is followed by the exhilarating "La Muerte Del Angel." On "Nada," a tango canción written by composer José Dames in 1944, Musayelyan plays the melody on bass flute, while bassist Huergo and pianist Lubarsky both take lyrical solos. Other performances include the beautiful "Nostalgias" with inspired, elegant solos and a vibrant interpretation of Piazzolla's "Libertango." 

The Yulia Musayelyan Tango Project has provided a unique, memorable jazz-tango fusion on "Oblivion."

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a performance by Yulia Musayelyan of  "Milonga De Mis Amores."