Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Brassy Classical Salute to Satchmo

This review has been submitted to Jazz & Blues Report, and hopefully will be published in its August issue.

The celebrated Canadian Brass has issued a release “Swing That Music: A Tribute to Louis Armstrong” (Opening Day Entertainment Group), an album that puts a classical take on swing jazz. Louis Armstrong was of course one of the seminal musicians of the 20th Century, and I forget which jazz writer (it may have been Gary Giddins) observed he even influenced how classical trumpeters played. On this release, the Canadian Brass salutes Satchmo in a program of tunes associated with Armstrong and some of his contemporaries. The songs range from the title track, which was a big band hit for Armstrong, to James P. Johnson’s “Carolina Shout,” Jelly Roll Morton’s “Black Bottom Stomp,” and several George Gershwin compositions including “Promenade” from the musical “Strike Up the Band.”

Its entertaining to hear the various songs translated into a chamber group format, and much of the credit goes to the late Luther Henderson as a writer, arranger, orchestrator and more who worked with Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Victor Borge and the Canadian Brass, to whom he contributed over 100 arrangements including arrangements to 11 of the 17 selections here including recasting Johnson’s stride piano classic to the brass group, three Bach preludes, Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” Waller, Razaf and Brooks’ “Black & Blues” (which Armstrong was one of those who popularized along with “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” The arrangements allow brief solos with the other horns adding color or musical counterpoint. The playing is spirited and as expected the members of Canadian brass have marvelous tone and technique, yet they certainly bring enthusiasm and charm to a collection of performances that might be called chamber jazz. Particular performances that stand out might be the wistful melancholy of “Black & Blue,” along with the jaunty rendition of “Black Bottom Stomp,” and one of the classic Hot Five recordings “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” with its nice voicings and playful quoting of “Shortnin’ Bread,” during the performance. “Swing That Music” is worth hearing, and many will find this a delightful chance of pace.

The Canadian Brass website from which this can be purchased is Downloads are available for purchase from itunes and amazon.

The Original Guitar Wizard still sounds great

Lonnie Johnson was a pioneer guitarist who was influential in jazz as well as blues. he was not simply a marvelous singer, songwriter and deft, inventive guitarist, but also he was quite a balladeer. Proper Records issued a marvelous 4 CD box several years ago, The Original Guitar Wizard, with 95 choice recordings (some are two part) that range from 1924's "Mr. Johnson Blues" with James Johnson on piano and Alonzo (his real name) on violin to his post-war blues and ballads for King Records, including the hit "Tomorrow Night." Included are several accompaniments of Victoria Spivey, recordings with Louis Armstrong (including the celebrated "Hotter Than That") and Duke Ellington ("Misty Mornin'"). Then thee are the duets with Eddie Lang (or Blind Willie Dunn) such as "Blue Guitars" and "Bullfrog Moan" and even one side as part of Blind Willie Dunn's Gin 4 which included Joseph 'King' Oliver. There is the two part duet "You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now" with Victoria Spivey (I believe a number B.B. King recorded in the sixties), as well as his "She's Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight," that King Solomon Hill waxed as "Whoopee Blues." He would sing about floods in "Backwater Blues," and tornadoes in "St. Louis Cyclone Blues," boast that "I Got the Best Jelly Roll in Town," and warn in "Racketeers Blues." Despite dating back as far as 85 years ago, his music still sounds modern today and as typical with proper, there is an excellent booklet that provides an overview of his life and recordings. Robert Johnson reportedly claimed to be one of the Johnson boys to pull on the more famous Lonnie Johnson's coattails, although I do not believe that the Lonnie Johnson recordings that he adapted are included in this compilation. Well on 4 CD's you can't include everything by one of the blues' most influential and pioneering performers. Bluebeat Music ( apparently still carries it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tommy Brown Keeps Rocking the Blues Away

One of the performers at this year's Pocono Blues Festival I was looking forward to seeing was the veteran blues shouter, Tommy Brown from Atlanta was part of the BoneDog Records Revue. Brown, now 78, first started performing and recording about six decades or so ago. Brown had a number of recordings for a variety labels, including the pair of "Remember Me" and "Southern Woman" for Chicago's United label which was produced by Willie Dixon and included Walter Horton on harmonica. Other records included "Atlanta Boogie," what was likely his biggest record, "Weepin' and Cryin' Blues," a rockabilly laced "The Thrill is Gone" (different song from the B.B. king hit), and a lively vocal rendition of "Honky Tonk." A couple years, the Pittsburgh-based BoneDog Records issued a CD "Remember Me," that included a mix of remakes of some of his older tunes like the title track, "Honky Tonk," and "Women and Cadillacs," along with a strong rendition of the Big Joe Turner hit, "Chains of Love."

The CD was full was a revelation as he sang with great power and style. It was with anticipation thus I watched him perform at the Poconos backed by a solid blues-eyed soul and blues band (Featuring a number of current members and/or alumni of the Billy Price Band) that first backed Git Shorty, a funky blues and soul singer an guitarist, and then the soulful vocals of Stevee Wellons. The Tommy Brown came on, and showed he could not only belt out his blues, but he danced and told jokes, some admittedly bad, as he brought decades of performing to the stage. His showmanship did not detract from his performance, and in fact added to his considerable appeal. During his rendition of "Weepin' and Cryin' Blues," Brown pretends to be weeping, gets own on his knees and during his Poconos performance, he fell off the stage, almost landing on a photographer.

BoneDog Records has just issued a follow-up release by Brown, "Rockin' Away My Blues." Backed by some of the same musicians that provided such solid support to him live, Brown graces us with new renditions of "Southern Woman," "Weepin' And Cryin' Blues," "Atlanta Boogie" (the hard rocking number he opened his Poconos set with), and "House Near the Railroad Track." He can shouter a hot rocker as well as get down. Several originals are provided such as a humorous, cautionary song about avoiding intimate relations with minors, "Leave It Alone," Mack Rice's warning about divorce (a hit for Johnnie Taylor) "Cheaper to Keep Her," and a classic Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King New Orleans R&B rocker, "Rock Away My Blues," that ends this CD on an uptempo note. BoneDog has done Tommy Brown good by the first rate production and strong idiomatic musicianship that help his vocals shine. Brown brings passion, soul, and humor to his performances. He shouts the blues yet never fails to entertain and this terrific disc shows the fires still burn brightly. BoneDog's website is and this should be available from bonedog or

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ronnie Earl's soulful playing

Here is a review of a DVD of Ronnie Earl live in performance. It appeared in the December 2008 Jazz & Blues Report, Issue 311 (which can be downloaded at

Stony Plain has just issued a DVD by Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters, “Hope Radio Sessions,” which was filmed and recorded at Wellford Sound in Acton, Massachusetts in April 2007. On these two all instrumental blues sessions, Earl’s guitar is backed by Dave Lumina on piano and Hammond organ, Jim Mouradian on bas and Lorne Entress on drums with special guests, guitarist, Nick Adams, and Michael ‘Mudcat’ Ward on bass and keyboards. Earl has had an extraordinary career, first coming to notice as the guitarist with Sugar Ray & the BlueTones who i saw in 1978 backing J.B. Hutto in new York City. I picked up an EP by the group that included Earl featured on an Earl Hooker instrumental that quickly had one observe his tone and musical imagination. He had also a productive spell in Roomful of Blues, replacing Duke Robillard, before taking the lead with his Broadcasters with whom he backed a number of terrific blues singers and legends. Musically one can hear a diverse group of influences including Robert Lockwood, Otis Rush, Earl Hooker and Johnny Heartsman. What is noteworthy about all of them is the attention to tone and nuances in all their playing, and Earl’s music has always focused on subtle musical invention as opposed to simply banging out hard rocking blues solos. And in recent years, his music has become jazzier.

Handling substance abuse and other issues, Earl turned to faith and his music perhaps is a bit more introverted (although he still can get down and get funky as the mood suits him. The Introduction by the Reverend Deborah J. Blanchard mentions getting to know Ronnie and how his music has the gift of being able to touch and soothe the soul. Certainly at times on this video his guitar and backing band do just that. He opens his performances here with a jazzy “Bobby’s Bop,” with a nice groove and some jazz-inflected playing, before he launches into the moody “Blues For the Homeless.” He gets into a funky groove for “Eddie’s Gospel Groove,” where he calls to the audience to get up and move, before two moody slow blues instrumentals, “I Am With You,” and “Kay My Dear.” “New Gospel Tune,” opens with some evocative churchy piano from Lumina to set the mood. The second evening’s performances opens with Earl playing some charged Otis Rush-styled guitar, with Mudcat on bass and Nick Adams on second guitar. It is followed by “Blues For the West Side,” which was an instrumental originally recorded by Magic Sam, whose playing Earl evokes without imitating, and on which Mudcat guests on keyboards. It is followed by a solo “Lightnin’ Hopkins Thing.” Also included is an interview with Stony Plain’s Holger Petersen and then an abbreviated, skeletal rendition of the traditional “I Shall Not be Moved.”

I found the lack of a vocalist or horns made the performances best sampled in batches as opposed to straight through, although others might disagree. Earl often does reach the heart with the playing here. The video production is excellent following the keep it simple stupid school that focuses on the performers and performances and realizes that this is not for MTV but for fans of blues, jazz and Ronnie Earl. Well worth checking out by his fans and fans of blues guitar.

Friday, July 17, 2009

New Twist on Swing/Jump Blues

Its a pleasure to put on something from a band that one had not previously been familiar with, and take notice.The new album by The Twisters, “Come Out Swingin’” (Northern Blues), produced that reaction. Based out of Vancouver, British Columbia and White Horse, Yukon, this quartet has developed a reputation as a first rate jump and swing blues band. On “Come Out Swingin’,” they add elements of rockabilly, reggae and gospel to this jump blues foundation. The Twisters consists of harmonica player Dave Hoerl, guitarist Brandon Isaak, bassist Keith Picot and drummer Lonnie Powell, with Matt Pease on drums for 3 of the 12 tracks, and Dave Haddock on fender bass for one with Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne added on keyboards and Jerry Cook on saxophones and horn arrangements.The members of the band wrote all of the songs here and Hoerl and Isaak share the vocals between them.

Things sure start off strong with the opening “I’ll Make It Up To You,” with a melodic line evoking the twenties classic “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” with some jazz-laced fretwork from Isaak (evocative of Bill Jennings, Tiny Grimes and Al Casey) and superlative chromatic playing by Hoerl with some unusual voicings behind Isaak’s vocal and guitar solo, and that doesn’t take into account Wayne’s piano. Hoerl takes the vocal on “Something’s Got to Give,” with a 60s R&B groove, some nice saxophones from Cook and the rhythm section just hits the groove with a nice topical lyric followed by “Long Overdue,” with an insistent beat as Isaak sings about waiting on his baby and pacing the floor because she is long overdue with Cook’s driving sax solo followed by Hoerl, again on chromatic displaying his strong tone and drive. Bassist Picot’s slap bass along with Isaak’s Tennessee Two styled guitar spark the rockabilly flavored “Doghouse” with Hoerl delivering the lyric and its followed by a modern blues shuffle, “Guess That I Was Wrong,” with Hoerl adding some remarkable harmonica accompaniment and solo here. I could continue with a comment on each track, but this superb recording deserves praise as does the band. Not simply having command of their instruments, Isaak and Hoerl add imaginative and distinctive touches throughout and the band is tight as two embracing lovers. The Twisters are simply a terrific band that deserves to be heard.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Missy Andersen's Soulful Debut!

I had not heard of Missy Andersen, a San Diego based vocalist before I received her impressive eponymously entitled release on Main Squeeze Records. Born in Detroit, raised in Queens, she has had a varied career (even a rap single) before coming under the tutelage of Earl Thomas. The present album shows up as blues on my Itunes, but it as centered as much on deep southern soul. It was recorded in Copenhagen with her husband Heine on guitar and a strong band that plays strongly in the classic Memphis Stax-Hi records vein. They may not be the reincarnation of the Hi Rhythm Section but they acquit themselves well as do the horns added to 4 of the seven selections.

There is a mix of some classic soul and blues including the opening rendition of the O.V. Wright classic “Ace of Spades,” Ann Pebbles “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” Etta James’ hit, “Tell Mama,” Junior Wells’ “Little By Little,” and Don Nix’s “Same Old Blues,” along with the original by Missy and the band, “New Feet,” a strutting soulful blues. The covers are musically not that far removed from the original recordings, but Missy does sing them with conviction and an unforced, full-throated, and soulful manner. The last number, “Stand Up and Dance,” has her strutting her stuff over an acoustic accompaniment with Nathan James on Dobro slide guitar. A complaint is that with 8 tunes, and just over a half hour of music, this is a short CD, but there is no filler here. It will be interesting to see how she follows this up, but she is someone I would love to see perform as she is one of the better soul-blues singers to come to my attention recently. Her website is and this is available on

Monday, July 13, 2009

Esther Phillips sings "And I Love Him.

The introduction speaks for itself even if this is lip synced.

Duet between Hank Jones and Joe Lovano

It really does not get better than this. He turned 90 not too long ago and the jazz community expressed their love and admiration for him as among the greatest of all jazz pianists. Joe Lovano, one of today's outstanding tenor players is also a fan of the amazing Mr. Jones who has come a long way from playing at the Anchor Bar (in Buffalo and long before chicken wings were invented) across the street from where Art Tatum was playing.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A ripping "Tennessee Waltz"

I was surfing TV and came across CMT's program "Can You Duet?" and one of the contestants was one Avalon Peacock and her partner was Ryan Larkins and they launched into a marvelous rendition of "Tennessee Waltz." Avalon is the daughter of Annette Peacock and also a photographer. I wish I could shoot as well as she does. Enjoy.

I originally had Avalon as Gary Peacock's daughter but she corrected to me. Annette was married to Gary and kept the surname after the marriage dissolved, and is a significant composer, musician and much more. In any event, Avalon is a wonderful singer as this video makes clear.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Nathan Abshire's cajun blues

I started listening to cajun and zydeco music while I was in college at Case Western Reserve University. Nathan Abshire's "Pine Grove Blues" was a classic recording that I encountered back then. Abshire was an important figure in the revival of the accordion in post-World II cajun music. Here is a video of him at Fred's Lounge in Mamou, Louisiana. I don't understand French but one does not need to know the words to appreciate the soulfulness of his music.

Cannonball Adderly at his best

I think most will know the tune. Great stuff.

Big Bill Morganfield's solid Chicago Blues

When a child follows in the footsteps of iconic parent, it is easy to be overshadowed. Sometimes one has to pursue a different musical direction such as a John Lee Hooker, Jr. Big Bill Morganfield has chosen to perform in the tradition of his dad, Muddy Waters, which makes comparisons somewhat unavoidable. If Big Bill has not become a blues performer of his father's stature (and few who have lived are), it does not diminish the fact that he has become a solid purveyor of classic Chicago-styled blues as his latest album "Born Lover" (Black Shuck Records/Vizztone) displays.

Produced by Bob Margolin and Brian Bisesi who play guitar along with Morganfield here, the disc features a studio band of Chuck Cotton on drums, Mookie Brill on bass, Chuck Stern on keyboards and Steve Guyger on harmonica. Given this backing band, it is no wonder that the playing here is so strong, and reminiscent of the 1970s Muddy Waters band which Margolin was such an important part of. Stern and Guyger in particular deserve special mention for their superb playing.

There is a varied program of interpretations of older recordings including Little Walter's "It's Too Late Brother," the title tune by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf's "My Last Affair," and Lonesome Sundown's "Lonesome Lonely Blues," along with Morganfield's originals such as the topical "High Gas Prices," and "X-Rated Lover." The rhythm is always in the pocket and Guyger is in top form whether evoking Little Walter on "Born Lover," or Jimmy Reed, on the excellent take of Snooky Pryor's "Peace of Mind." Big Bill Morganfield may never reach the stature of his father, but that does not diminish the fact he has become a solid interpreter of the Chicago blues tradition and a keeper of the flame."Born Lover" is a very enjoyable collection of performances that rightfully should find a wide audience.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What does sex sound like?

There is something pretty sensuous about Ben Webster's sound on the tenor as this ballad shows.

Is this the Future of the Blues? Not Too Bright a Future If You Ask Me!

I must confess that I was not overwhelmed by the initial album by The Homemade Jamz Blues Band and seeing them play live, my impression was not changed much. Well they have a new Northern Blues CD, "I Got Blues For You," which I doubt I will listen to much any more. So what if I am older than their combined ages and they play these cute guitars. I mean at 15 years old, Grace Lee recorded with Lee Konitz and was his musical equal. She sounds like she was playing sax on some classic Blue Note Recordings. Sugar Chile Robinson recorded at a comparable age to these Mississippi teenagers, and made boogie woogie recordings marked by a rhythmic complexity and swing that exceeded his years and stand up today as solid piano blues. Not the case here. It does not help that the rhythms of bassist Kyle Perry and his sister Tara just plod along. The original songs by the trio's father Renaud come across as generic with little to distinguish them. While the oldest of the siblings, Ryan, continues to show promise as a guitarist and a singer, the songs and the accompaniment help prevent his performances from being memorable. I wish I could be encouraging about them, but they need to show more than a mere competence at playing musical instruments and show how they can swing, rock and funk it up, as opposed to merely pounding out a simple groove without any rhythmic nuance.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Irwin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra at JazzFest on May 2

One of my favorite acts at the 2009 New Orelans Jazz & Heritage Festival was Irwin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. This superb big band led by another of the young lions, leading this superb band with too many terrific soloists to identify all, but tenor saxophonist Ed Pederson and clarinetist Evan Christopher each merit mention on numbers that featured their superb playing. While not imitative of the Ellington band, Mayfield's writing and arrangements evoked the Ellington band in the overall sound of the band and Mayfield’s writing of several numbers to put the spotlight on members of the band. It is a terrific aggregation and they have a superb recording, Book One (on World Village), of many of the numbers they performed this day. I believe the vocalist's name is Johnaye Kendrick.

The recording is available from the Louisiana Music Factory and Amazon. Irwin Mayfield books the jazz club at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter and is among those regularly performing there.

The first paragraph appeared in slightly different form in the June 2009 Jazz & Blues Report as part of my overvoew of this year's Jazz & Blues Report.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Dr. Michael White at the French Embassy

One of the delights of the 2009 Duke Ellington Jazz Festival was a perfromance by Dr, Michael White & the Original Liberty Jazz Band at the French Embassy. From my review of the Festival, here are my observations on that event.

"Wednesday, June 10, La Maison Française at the French Embassy in Washington hosted a gala performance, Vivre La Nouvelle Orleans, with Dr. Michael White and the Original Liberty Orchestra. This event occurred on the day of the horrible shooting at the Holocaust Museum which made traffic in Washington DC more miserable than usual so the performance went on a little later than originally scheduled. The program opened with some awards to several DC elected officials short speeches from (among others) the French Ambassador; Charlie Fishman, the Festival’s Executive Producer; and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial (current head of the National Urban league) who introduced Dr. White noting that he had taught Morial Spanish.

Then the evening belonged to clarinetist White and his marvelous band consisting of Gregory Stafford on trumpet and vocals, Lucien Barbarin on trombone, Detroit Brooks on banjo, Steven Pistorious on piano, Kerry Lewis on bass and Herman Lebeaux on drums. This is a classic line-up for groups playing traditional New Orleans jazz and from the opening moments of “Shake It, Break It,” the Original Liberty Jazz Band entertained with their marvelous music, played at a relaxed tempo and lacking the frenzy and hyper-ness of some “Dixieland jazz.” The contrapunctual playing during the heads, the marvelous solos with Stafford adding his husky vocals and the crisp rhythmic pulse made the entire evening a delight. Included were classic New Orleans numbers like Sam Morgan’s “Bogalusa Strut,” and originals based on their own experience but rooted in the New Orleans tradition like “Come Together” one of the selections to feature Stafford on vocals. White was featured on a superb rendition of “Summertime,” inspired by Sidney Bechet’s hit recording for Blue Note seventy-odd years ago. A hot original second line number had Paquito D’Rivera join the ensemble adding his contrasting clarinet style to White's before a marvelous take of Duke Ellington’s “Black & Tan Fantasy.”

Friday, July 03, 2009

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue

Coming to the Pocono Blues Festival on Sunday, June 27, with two sets, one outside and one inside. Here is an excerpt of my review from their Duke Ellington Jazz Festival performance on June 14.

"Troy ”Trombone Shorty” Andrews is a double threat on trombone and trumpet and comes from a musical family. Brother James had stints with the Tréme Brass Band and was original leader of the New Birth Brass Band besides recording “Satchmo of the Ghetto for Allen Toussaint’s NYNO label. Troy, who had broad experience in his hometown, came to notice in one of the Katrina benefit television broadcast. His own band Orleans Avenue is one of several groups that take the modern brass band as inspiration for a riveting mix of traditional jazz, funk, and soul with a touch of hip hop. He opened up with a brass band favorite that his brother James has recorded, ”I Want My Money Back,” with guitarist Pete Murano using an effective hard rock riff while saxophonist Trixie wailed. Introducing “Rats and Roaches Around My Home,,” Andrews alluded to DC’s Go Go Beat while Big D added some interesting accents on congas. A nice change of pace was the rendition of “It’s a Wonderful World,” just be Andrews and guitarist Murano. The set closed with his own take on “The Saints” which opens with a modern trumpet styled reading of the theme before they funked it up with Shorty walking into the crowd and then the band members all switched instruments as guitarist Murano ended up on sax and Shorty on drums. What a rousing set of music that just tore things up and really got the crowd up and dancing."

Buckwheat Zydeco at Duke Ellington Jazz Festival

The following is an excerpt of an article I did on the 2009 Duke Ellington Festival as it related to the June 14, 2009 performance by Buckwheat Zydeco currently celebrating 30 years of performing as among the top zydeco acts anywhere. He will be closing out the main stages at the Pocono Blues Festival, Sunday, July 27, 2009 ay Big Boulder Mountain in Lake Harmony, PA.

"Its been thirty years since Stanley Dural has assumed the mantle of Buckwheat Zydeco and has been playing the creole music throughout the world, extending the musical base that Clifton Chenier, his one-time employer created. His band included his son Reginald on frottoir (the rubboard), Paul ‘Lil Buck’ Sinegal (also a veteran of Clifton Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band) and Olivier Sciazec on guitar, and Lee Allen Zeno on bass. Buckwheat Zydeco got the crowd rocking and dancing with his opening “Party Down,” followed by a nice “Walking to New Orleans” where a member of the audience got to help him play the accordion.. Pacquito D’Rivera on alto saxophone joined the band for a rousing “Hot Tamale Baby,” while Buckwheat laid down the accordion for a rousing B-3 organ instrumental. Then he followed with the title track of his new CD “Jackpot,” with it’s refrain “I’ve Always Been Lucky, I Hit the Jackpot With You,” There was also a reggae tinged groove on”Why Can’t We Live Together,” with its plea for love and happiness. Really nice set by one of the standard bearers for zydeco."

For info on the Pcoono Blues Festival check