Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jimmy Witherspoon Singin' the Blues

Much has been written about the late blues shouter, Jimmy Witherspoon. The Arkansas native who first attracted notice singing with with Teddy Weatherford’s Band in Calcutta which regularly broadcast over Armed Forces Radio Service, he made his first recordings with Jay McShann in 1945, recording “T'ain’t Nobody’s Business,” which became one of the biggest records of the times. With changing times, and the new rock and roll turning Witherspoon’s brand of jumping blues out of style, it was an appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1959 that returned Witherspoon to the spotlight, although now viewed in a context as a performer at jazz venues. He made a number of recordings in the contexts of jazz masters like Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, Gerry Mulligan, and T-Bone Walker, along with a set of Kansas City jazz with Jay McShann (last reissued as a Mosaic single). Recordings with Webster were particularly wonderful but I dare say that none of his influences or contemporaries could belt out a boogie woogie as well as caress a ballad as consistently strongly as Spoon could. Then in the seventies he began an equally fruitful association with Robbin Ford that was equally fruitful, a terrific session with Panama Francis and the Savoy Sultans for Black & Blue (I downloaded this session online), and a solid JSP album with Hal “Cornbread’ Singer on sax if memory serves me right, and he made some sides with sympathetic backing from Duke Robillard and friends at the end of his career.

A few months ago I purchased “Singin’ the Blues” (JazzBeat), an augmented version of a 1959 World Pacific album that included Teddy Edwards on tenor saxophone, Hampton Hawes on piano, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison or Gerald Wilson on trumpet and others. It was a terrific pair of sessions with Spoon in great voice from the opening “S.K. Blues,” that was a smash for Big Joe Turner, but which Witherspoon makes his own, or “Then the Lights Go Out” a Willie Dixon penned tune (for some reason credited to Spoon) that was originally on Chess or Checker, with Edwards taking a terrific booting solo here, and “All That’s Good,” a derivative of “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business,” with Hawes featured as Herman Mitchell strums on guitar during the solo while blasts off on the break on “Jimmy’s Blues,” with Edward’s’ adding some tasty obligatos behind Spoon’s vocal. On “It Ain’t What You Thinking’,” Gerald Wilson (Best known today as an arranger) contributes very nice muted trumpet, while Sweets’ muted trumpet weaves around Spoon’s strong vocal on “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business,” while Edwards takes a terrific solo that gets down into the nitty gritty during Spoon’s authoritative take on “Wee Baby Blues.” Another highpoint is “Sweet’s Blues,” opening with Edison playing muted trumpet, with Edwards taking the solo in the middle. This album concluded with an Edwards original, “Midnight blues, a tasty mid-tempo romp with Edwards playing quite strongly and I would not be surprised if Wilson contributed the arrangement here.

In addition to the original twelve recordings, seven tunes are included from a 1960 session with Edwards but a smaller band (no other horns). “Goin’ to Chicago” features strong tenor from Edwards and a nice guitar solo from Mitchell, but Spoon’s vocal is a bit more muffled in the mix. Spoon’s vocal is stronger on “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You,” followed by the easy rocking “Loser Blues.” “Life’s Highway,” is a slowed down “Key to Highway,” with a bit R&B feel. The last of the seven tracks from this session is “Wee baby Baby,” taken at a quicker tempo, as pianist Paul Moer quoting Ray Charles on his intro to the number. From a 1958 session that likely has Edwards as tenor saxophonist is “Coming Home” (a retitled “Going Down Slow”), that opens with some guitar that suggests some of Chuck Berry’s blues recordings before Spoon delivers his vocal. Some hots guitar runs along with some more great tenor from Spoon contribute to a strong performance. The last two tracks come from a 1970 album, “Handbags and Gladrags,” on whom can be heard Sweets Edison along with Plas Johnson on electric sax. Mel Brown and Arthur Adams are credited on guitar. On “Spoon’s Beep Beep Blues,” a censors beep overrides him as he sings ‘shit.’ The backing is a bit too rocked out, including the guitar solo and unlike the recordings from a decade earlier, these sound the most dated even if Spoon sounds good. Even with a couple of throw away tracks, this remains a good listen and over 70 minutes of music, much of it first-rate.

I purchased from JazzLoft, and Amazon lists this as available as well, so you might check your favorite jazz and blues retailer for this CD reissue. It is not available as a download I believe.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

RIP Jim Marshall

Jim Marshall was known as one of the great rock and roll photographers. You might visit visit to get some sense of his iconic images of such folk as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.

Obituaries have appeared in the NY Times, SF Chronicle and Rolling Stone and you can easily reach their websites. The outstanding photographic blog site, The Online Photographer had a marvelous remembrance of him by the photographer Ctein, who also did printing for him. Here is the link to that story.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hamilton Loomis' Mixed Bag of Music Anything But a Trick Bag

Born in Galveston, Texas, and yet another important talent to come from the Lone Star State, Hamilton Loomis is an artist whose music is deeply rooted in blues with strong elements of soul and funk thrown in. This paragraph from his publicist’s website says this succinctly. “Whereas similar aged acts like Black Keys, Robert Randolph and White Stripes play American rock music with heavy blues influences, Loomis plays the inverse. His is an undeniably blues based artist escalating into what All Music Guide calls ‘…a mixed bag of modern blues, modern funk, and slick soul.’“

He was influenced and mentored by a variety of Texas blues legends such as Joe Hughes, Johnny Copeland, Gatemouth Brown and Albert Collins who schooled Loomis early on in the finer points of the music. Bo Diddley also took the young man under his wing with Loomis joining the late rock pioneer on stage when only 16 and who played on Loomis’ most recent Blind Pig CD. Loomis has matured into a exciting live performer which is evident on his most recent release, “Live in England” (Ham-Bone Music).

Recorded at the Famous Monday Blues Club in Oxford, England as well as the Liverpool (England) Marina, Loomis with vocals, guitar and harmonica is backed by saxophonist Stratton Doyle; bassist Kent Beatty and drummer Jamie Little. The music kicks off with a funk instrumental “Pull Strings,” with some greasy sax from Doyle as well as some impressive string-bending from Loomis. “Workin’ Real Hard,” is some road-house rock with a Stevie Ray Vaughan blues-rock groove as Loomis sings about working real hard at playing his guitar but sleeping all day before taking off with his guitar break. Loomis’ soulful vocals are as striking as his searing guitar solos, standing apart from the rasping growls of some of his less capable contemporaries. Bassist Beatty helps establish the funk groove for “Legendary,” while Loomis adds harp to “What It Is,” which evokes New Orleans in its flavor while Doyle quotes “Mercy Mercy” in starting his tenor sax solo.

Best Worst Day” may be the best of Loomis’ originals with strutting guitar and his strong delivery of the ironic lyrics. Also noteworthy is how he paces his solo before Stratton blasts his solo. Loomis’ big ears is evident by his straight-forward cover of what the late Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson would introduce as the dog song, “Bow Wow.” Loomis mixes some playing more suggestive of Watson with other that is more frenetic blues-rock and guitar oriented with a nice jam solo. Also included is an rocking tribute to his late friend, Bo Diddley This medley of “Bo Diddley” and “Who Do You Love,” starts with the Bo Diddley Beat before shifting gears for some hard Texas funk near the end. The CD closes with a lively bonus track, “Turnin’ Heads,” about a fine looking lady who causes the men to turn heads with a solo break that has Doyle and the group quoting of the “Second Line” before conjuring up some other blues and rock grooves.

The appeal of Hamilton Loomis’ music isn’t simply for those who want rocking blues or bluesy rock. A fine songwriter who also brings his own touch to songs he interprets, Loomis also sings soulfully and can rock out as a guitarist yet also swings. As someone whose tastes are perhaps more traditionally rooted, this listener was suitably impressed by all aspects of the music on “Live in England” from Hamilton Loomis and his exceptional band.

For FTC regulations purposes, this CD was received from the publicity firm handling this CD. This review originally appealed in Jazz & Blues Report Issue 324 (March 1 - April 15 2010).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Marva Wright RIP

Marva Wright 02670033, originally uploaded by NoVARon.

Word comes that New Orleans Blues Queen Marva Wright has passed away today at the age of 62. I had the pleasure of meeting Marva after Hurricane Katrina when she relocated to the Washington DC area. I had previously seen her perform at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, usually introduced by the late Ed Bradley. I had a chance to meet her at a benefit for her at Bangkok Blues in Falls Church VA at which she performed. Later she headlined the 2006 DC Blues Festival (from which the photo is from) and returned to DC to perform at Blues Alley with Allen Toussaint. She was a wonderful singer and entertainer in the style of Koko Taylor and will most definitely be missed

Here is the obituary from the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Catherine Russell Delves Into the Heart of Classic Songs

It has been about two years since Catherine Russell delighted us with the marvelous disc Sentimental Streak on World Village. The daughter of legendary bandleader, Luis Russell and bassist Carline Ray, Russell has another excellent release “Inside This Heart of Mine,” also on World Village. This present session is produced by Paul Kahn with Catherine as Executive Producer. Like the prior disc, it is rooted primarily in swing tunes from the twenties to the sixties. . The core of the backing band is the trio of Mark Shane on piano, Matt Munisteri on guitar and banjo and Lee Hudson on bass (although Neal Miner is on two selections). Brian Grice and Rob Garcia play drums where heard, while Howard Johnson adds brass bass (tuba) to two selections and Sara Caswell adds violin to a different pair of performances.

In my prior review, I noted that Ms. Russell evokes a variety of influences including Alberta Hunter, Billy Holiday, Ivie Anderson, and Nellie Lutcher. I find Holiday an apt comparison as she phrases the lyric. She does not come across as a Holiday sound-alike in the style of a Madeline Peyroux,. Rather her delivery and timing is reminiscent of Lady Day, and the backing is complimentary and sympathetic. The selection of songs is immaculate starting with the title track, a chestnut that Fats Waller and J.C. Johnson authored with lovely horn solos and Munisteri’s graceful rhythmic riffing in the backing with her expressing the sadness of love being a stranger ‘inside this heart of mine.’ “All the Cats Join In,” is a spicy swinger taken from a Peggy Lee recording with growling trumpet from Jon-Erik Kellso and a strong tenor solo from Dan Black. Andy Razaf is among those who wrote the swinging “We the People,” that Fats Waller first recorded, with lyrics that we don’t care about taxation as long as legislators give us syncopation. Shane takes a lively stride-inspired solo with Munisteri adding short riffed guitar break. “Troubled Waters,” penned by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston, comes from a 1934 Duke Ellington recording that featured Ivy Anderson. Kellso’s growling trumpet (echoes of Cootie Williams) underscores Russell’s lamentation here.

A 1969 Maxine Sullivan recording is the source for the delightful rendition of “As Long As I Live,” with another nice piano solo. Paul Kahn’s “November” with backing including accordion and violin has a gypsy jazz ambience as Russell sings about the change of seasons with it getting cold outside while her lover is not by her side. Sara Carswell’s violin and Munisteri’s banjo also lends a gypsy jazz tinge to Rachelle Garniez’s original “Just Because Your Can.” Joya Sherrill handled the vocal in 1945 when the Duke Ellington Orchestra recorded Duke’s “Long Strong and Consecutive,” and the intimate setting here has Russell sound like a female Nat Cole as she sings about wanting long strong and consecutive kisses as “no short snort will suit” her. Perhaps the most fetching, dreamy and romantic number on this album is the rendition of “Close Your Eyes,” with a lovely guitar solo. Its followed by a nice reworking of Wyonnie Harris’ jump blues, “Quiet Whiskey,” with its classic lines

“Whiskey on the shelf,
You were so quiet there by yourself
Things were fine ‘till they took you down
Opened You Up and Passed Your Around.”

Russell and her group take this jump blues recording and transform it into some hep jive.

Russell then directs her interpretative talents to Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” with backing from Munisteri’s banjo, Rob Garcia’s drums and Howard Johnson’s tuba. To this trio, horns are added for “Slow as Molasses, originally recorded in 1929 by the Jungle Town Stompers. On the original recording, her father Luis played piano and celeste. Lyrics were added by Rachelle Garniez. which evoke the jazz age. The disc closes with a spirited rendition of one of the most famous of jazz recordings, Lil Hardin Armstrong’s sassy,“Struttin’ With Some Barbecue.”

Catherine Russell continues to mine lesser known songs from decades past and revive them in a lively fashion that avoids being campy. Her vocals are a model that many singing jazz and blues would do well top listen to and learn from how she delivers her songs as well as marvel from the sensitive and sympathetic support she receives. Like her prior recordings, “Inside This Heart of Mine,” is a recording to treasure.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I received a review copy from the record company.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Classic Commodore Reissues

The introduction of the compact disc had a definite benefit in allowing the reissue of vintage jazz and blues material, including much that had never been reissued on vinyl LPs. Back in June 1997, Jazz & Blues Report, issue 222, ran my review of several reissues of material from the legendary Commodore label. Amazon does show some of these as still available.

GRP Records recently acquired the Commodore label catalog of classic jazz recordings from the thirties and forties. Founded by Milt Gabler, owner of the Commodore Record Store, and later an important figure at Decca Records, it was among the most important of the early jazz independent labels that started to flourish during the swing era. GRP has launched an important series of reissues from the label with a collection celebrating Commodore, along with five albums devoted to artists.

The Commodore Story
(CMD-2-400) is a double disc survey of the label which presents an overview of many of the artists represented on the label. It opens with a segment called Commodore Highlights, with six selections starting with Eddie Condon’s Chicago style jazz group on a rousing Love is Just Around the Corner, and Billie Holiday’s famous reading of Abel Meeropool’s powerful protest song, Strange Fruit. The remainder of the first disc is broken into segments - A Handful of Stars; A Handful of Guest Stars, and Revival and Reminiscence; while the second disc has segments devoted to Trumpets (and Cornets); Trombones; Reeds; and Pianists. It would take far too much space to list all of the performers, much less discuss all of the music, but highlights include Lester Young on Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, a rare sample of his clarinet playing, Roy Eldridge with Chu Berry on a take of Body and Soul that predates Coleman Hawkins’ classic recording, Jelly Roll Morton’s solo rendition of Mamie’s Blues, Bunk Johnson’s Franklin Street Blues, an early recording in the New Orleans revival, Will Bill Davison’s That’s a Plenty, the unique clarinet styling of Pee Wee Russell on Keeping Out of Mischief, Art Hodes’ wonderful blues piano solo, A Selection From the Gutter and Willie ‘the Lion’ Smith’s accurately entitled masterwork of stride piano, Finger Buster. This is a terrific sampler of the breadth of the Commodore catalog which is centered mostly on pre-bebop styles of jazz.

Billie Holiday came to Commodore after Columbia refused to record her singing the topical Strange Fruit in 1939. Commodore allowed her to do a four song session which included that song, the ballad Yesterday, her blues Fine and Mellow, and I Got a Right to Sing the Blues. After Columbia dropped Holiday, she returned to Commodore in 1944 with pianist Eddie Heywood for three sessions. Commodore’s Milt Gabler would soon produce more Holiday for Decca which would involve a shift from the swing combos that predominated on her many recordings. Holiday only recorded sixteen songs for Commodore, and these are presented with a a number of alternates for several titles on The Complete Commodore Recordings (CMD-2-401). Given the number of alternates (Only Fine and Mellow and On the Sunny Side of the Street are heard by single recordings), the chronological presentation of the material (alternates and all) does not serve a casual listener well. Holiday remains the jazz vocalist supreme, phrasing her vocals like a Louis Armstrong trumpet solo (to cite Tony Bennett and others). However, the studio bands anchored by Eddie Heywood’s piano suffer (as do any latter Holiday) when compared to the exquisite backings of the Teddy Wilson led combos, particularly those with Lester Young. The accompaniments, particularly a series of trios, get a bit lugubrious, an effect emphasized by the sequencing of the alternate performances together. But whatever her limitations, Holiday’s ability to turn a phrase, deliver her lyrics, and project her vulnerability and hurting still haunts over fifty years after these recordings were waxed. A single disc containing all of the performances along with the best alternates would be a near essential purchase. As good as the music is here, it is more for the jazz collector as opposed to the generalist.

Lester Young had been in New York when the recordings on The “Kansas City” Sessions (CMD-402) were made. The Kansas City refers to the Kansas City Five (or Six), the title for the small group ensembles that were recorded. After John Hammond recorded a Buck Clayton session with the Basie rhythm section with Eddie Durham’s electric guitar replacing the Count’s piano, Columbia rejected the session. Hammond brought three of the four sides to Gabler (he couldn’t find the fourth), and Gabler arranged to bring back the group, along with Lester Young, for five titles and released them as being by The Kansas City Six or The Kansas City Five (the tracks without Young). The sides with Young are particularly sublime, with Young and Buck Clayton playing with a mute for the heads before either of them or the fleet Durham would take a solo. The rhythm trio of rhythm guitarist Freddie Greene, bassist Walter Page and drummer Jo Jones define swing with their playing while Young, whether soling on tenor with a feathery, ethereal tone or a similarly velvety clarinet (as on Countless Blues and Pagin’ the Devil), is at the height of his melodious, lyrical, yet always earthy approach, with Clayton’s trumpet and Durham’s fleet single note guitar adding distinctive touches. Like Young’s recording debut on the Jones-Smith small group sides for Columbia, several of these recordings approach perfection, and if Freddie Greene cannot come close to his then girl friend Billie Holiday as a vocalist on Them There Eyes, Young’s tenor break certainly elevates it. Young would lead another Kansas City Six, five and a half years later with Jo Jones returning, along with trombonist Dickie Wells trumpeter Bill Coleman, pianist Joe Bushkin and bassist John Simmons for four tunes in which Young’s tenor saxophone dominates, but Wells provides more than a few delights including’ solos on the various takes of I Got Rhythm. Round this off with the four 1938 sides led by Buck Clayton, and you have a classic collection of small group session from swing’s heyday.

Last sessions (CMD-403) from Jelly Roll Morton collects a series of solo piano and small group recordings the pioneering jazz pianist and composer made for the General label shortly after making his famous Library of Congress Recordings (of which the music has been reissued on Rounder). By the time these were made, Morton’s career had fallen quite a bit from the days he was quite a dandy, as when he made the legendary Red Hot Pepper recordings for Victor. Constantly reminding others of his status as the creator of jazz, his solo pieces include a terrific rag, renditions of Winin’ Boy, Heard Buddy Bolden Say, the amusing children’s lyric on Animule Dance and Mamie’s Blues. Morton adds to the charm of several numbers with very amiable vocals and some commentary. The remainder of the album are small groups sessions, all of which have trumpeter Red Allen among others. If not having the precision of the Red Hot Pepper recordings (among the jazz masterpieces of the twenties), they all are spirited performances that show that even shortly before his passing, Morton could play and sing with vitality, and even have a little fun at the expense of the swing bands that had adopted his King Porter Stomp.

Perhaps not essential Jelly Roll, but still an important collection. Wild Bill Davison’s fiery trumpet graced many a “Dixieland” record date or jam session with his full speed ahead, take no prisoners uncompromising attack. The Commodore Master Takes (CMD-404) has the 24 sides Davison recorded as a leader in the company of such traditional jazz players as guitarist Eddie Condon, trombonist George Brunies and clarinet players Pee Wee Russell, Edmond Hall and Albert Nicholas. Many of the tracks are traditional jazz flagwavers, like That’s a Plenty, Muskrat Ramble, Original Dixieland One Step and High Society. The group can mute the energy level a bit for Baby Won’t You Please Come Home and Someday Sweetheart, while they get playful on Fats Waller’s Squeeze Me, which sports a particularly appealing solo by Russell on clarinet in addition to Davison’s wide open horn. This is not music for the head, and some of the ensemble playing lacks some of the charm of the better New Orleans ensembles (like those of George Lewis), but this is music for the heart and the feet, and he was still blowing strong until he passed away in 1989.

Clarinet Pee Wee Russell’s Commodore collection is titled Jazz Original (CMD-405) and accurately suggests his individuality. The Commodore recordings compiled here include several under Eddie Condon’s nominal leadership, an alternate of Squeeze Me from a Davison session, four selections with the Three Deuces (Russell, pianist Joe Sullivan and drummer Zutty Singleton), and the closing four titles by Pee Wee Russell’s Hot Four (heard on a total of eight takes). While the backing might suggest a traditional jazz backing, he was equally at home in the company of Fats Waller, Coleman Hawkins and Red Allen, and with Allen appeared with Ornette Coleman’s rhythm section. Unlike Wild Bill Davison, Russell’s playing can’t be pigeon-holed as a traditional jazz or Dixieland. He’s too much a swing player as well as a helluva blues player, as he shows on two takes of Serenade to a Shylock which offer Jack Teagarden’s persuasive singing as well. The trio sides with Sullivan and Singleton are a particular delight, and display the melodic quality characteristic of his playing. The ensemble playing here is generally stronger than on the Davison collection, as can be heard on the spirited alternate take of a Muggsy Spanier-led rendition of Rosetta. This album will probably be the biggest revelation for many. After all, Pres, Lady Day and Jelly Roll are among jazz’s greatest legends. Pee Wee Russell’s music may not reach the Olympian heights of their finest work, but he soars fairly high.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I was provided the review copies by Jazz & Blues Report.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hollywood Fats Legacy Burns Brightly Today

Decades after his death, the legacy of Michael “Hollywood Fats” Mann and the Hollywood Fats Band looms large. The members of the Hollywood Fats Band, Al Blake, vocals and harmonica; Fred Kaplan, piano; Larry Taylor, bass; and Richard Innes, drums, are still active and with guitarists Junior Watson, one of the more significant guitarists to model his own playing after that of Fats as well as Kirk Fletcher who was mentored by Watson form the Hollywood Blue Flames that plays in the same approach as Fats. Fats embraced the post-war blues guitar tradition and excelled in the post B.B. King style of playing but his ears made him so skilled that Muddy Waters recruited him after he had toured with the likes of J.B. Hutto, Jimmy Witherspoon and Albert King (the latter allegedly firing Fats because he was jealous of the attention Fats was receiving). The Hollywood Fats band recorded only one album which became a cult release in its initial vinyl release before Black Top issued it on CD.

Delta Groove issued a double CD a few years back, pairing new recordings by The Hollywood Blue Flames with previously unissued locations recordings by Fats. It has just issued a second double CD collection featuring the Hollywood Blue Flames “Deep in America" and more location recordings by the Fats Band “Larger Than Life Volume 2.” Vocalist Blake has become the dominant person in this and, handling all the vocals and on several tracks, he is heard solo playing guitar as well as harmonica) or primarily backed by Kaplan’s piano. Guitarist Watson or Fletcher are heard on 9 of the 14 selections on “Deep in America,” both contributing strong, swing straight-ahead contemporary blues guitar that shows no hard rock influences.

Most of the tunes on “Deep in America,” are Blake penned originals, but it opens with a nice take on L.C. McKinley’s “Nit Wit,” followed by a nice slow blues “Rambler and a Rollin’ Stone,” with some Sweet Charles Brown influenced piano, sizzling Watson guitar and great harp from Blake. Fletcher’s fretwork is spotlighted along with rollicking piano on “Crescent City Rock,” while Blake amuses with “My National Enquirer Baby,” about a lady who has low down ways and treats poor Al so mean which Watson guitar capturing the lyrics sting. Blake plays acoustic guitar and harp on “Music Man,” on of a couple performances that shows him a more than credible Delta Blues guitar stylist (the other being “Hip-Hoppin’ Toad”), as he employs the “Forty four Blues” riff. He is joined by Kaplan for “Leavin’ California, a nice duet as he sings about this rat race and tomorrow morning being south of the border bound. “

“Jalopy to Drive” is a nice rendition of a Sonny Boy Williamson that others would handle in a frenzied fashion, while “Bad Boy Blues,” is a nice classic Chicago Blues styled performance while Blake with Kaplan and Innes does a suitably morose rendition of Jimmy McCracklin’s “I Don’t Care.” Fletcher lends his fretwork to the rocking “Rocky mountain Blues,” with Kaplan’s boogie inflected piano standing out again. Among the other enjoyable performances is Kaplan’s piano feature, “Hushpuppy.”

It would be easy to recommend the new recordings based on their own merits. But as good as these get, but even better twelve live recordings from 1979 and 1980 by the Hollywood Fats Band for “Larger Than Life, Volume 2,” make this package extremely valuable. These are location recordings and the sound occasionally isn’t as vibrant on the more contemporary studio recordings. Tampa red’s “She’s Dynamite,’ is a strong feature for Blake and Kaplan (pounding on the ivories) before Fats takes his strong rocking solo during the second break in the song as the rhythm section (Taylor and Innes) cook. Listening to his playing here, one can understand why Muddy Waters invited Fats to join Muddy’s Band. “Blue and Lonesome” is the Memphis Slim number, again with some really terrific piano from Blake. Fats is featured on a nice “Hideaway,” and is prominent on the jaunty version of “Kansas City,” before turning it up a notch on a set closing jazzy instrumental, “Half Steppin’,” one of several extended guitar improvisations that never are lacking in drive or imagination. Perhaps the high point of these performances are three from Palo Alto’s Keystone from 1979. “Read About My Baby,” sounds like the model for “My National Enquirer Baby,’ with Fats evoking magic Sam with his driving, slashing attack. Its followed by an incendiary rendition of “Nit Wit,” that is taken at a somewhat frenetic tempo, but the band’s hard rocking groove never comes across as frenzied with some more blistering guitar. The last of this trio of selections is a marvelous “Blues After Hours, with a Blake vocal in addition to more dazzling guitar from Fats. One other instrumental, “Jumpin’ With Duncan,” is a tour de force for Fats with Al Duncan (the legendary Chicago drummer I believe) taking over the drum chair for this selection. With the close of the rock until the dawn’s light rendition of “Baby, Let’s Play House,” one simply wants to hear more of what was a great band.

The latest Hollywood Blue Flames release thus helps keep the torch alive for this legendary band, but also makes available more previously unissued and compelling sides that helps one understand the band’s reputation. Thanks to Delta Groove for this release.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I received the review copy from the folks doing publicity for the label. My review originally appeared in Jazz & Blues Report #324 (March 1-April 15, 2010).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Havana Carbo's Evocaltive, Sultry & Haunting Jazz Vocals

Cuban-American vocalist Havana Carbo was born in Havana and raised in Cuba but later after the revolution emigrating to the United States and received a MFA in Musical Theatre Composition at New York University. Bridging musical song traditions from her native Cuba, traditional latin ballads, Brazil and the American popular song she first recorded for Soul Note but since 1985 on her own MDOLmusic label which has just issued her newest release, “Phantoms of Love.”

What an exquisite singer she is bringing a subtle smokiness to the Brazilian ballad, “Tarde Triste, with the light samba rhythm and Dario Eskenazi synthesized strings embellishing her vocals. The light, precise drumming of Vince Cherico and the flute of Oriente Lopez further add to the performances seductive charm. With a piano trio behind her on “The Shining Sea,” she gives a lugubrious rendition for this Johnny Mandel and Peggy Lee standard. Jack Pezanelli’s guitar is added for “Poinciana,” with more flute in the accompaniment behind her subdued dreamy vocal.

One doesn’t have to understand the lyrics to be engrossed by the romanticism and lost loves (suggested by the title of this recording) that is embodied in the lovely ballad “Tres Palabras” with some lovely alto saxophone from Oscar Feldman who also is also prominent on the languid “Possesso,” with some lovely arco playing from bassist Pablo Aslan on the latter track. The melody of “Que-Reste-T-Il De Nos Amours,” will be familiar from Gloria Lynne’s hit recording “I Wish you Love.” The English translation of the French is "What is left of our loves?" and Carbo captures the songs reflective evocation of happier youthful days on a track that epitomizes the performances on this recording.

Simply stated, “Phantoms of Love” is a superb recording by a remarkable vocalist who can caress a lyric with her soft, sultry and haunting delivery that lingers with the listener after the last notes of her accompaniment fade out. Havana Carbo is a voice that I intend to hear more of.

For FTC regulation purposes, this was received from a publicity form for the label or performer. This review appeared in Jazz & Blues Report #234 (March 1, 2010-April 15, 2010).

Nick Curran's Lowlifes Are Musical Hi-Lights

Nick Curran may be best known as a guitarist with The Fabulous Thunderbirds between 2004-2007. Prior to that the Maine native left his hone state to tour with rockabilly musician Ronnie Dawson who taught him not to get pigeonholed. Eventually moving to Austin and then recorded “Dr. Velvet” which won a W.C. Handy Award for Best New Albert debut. After leaving the Thunderbirds, he formed his new band, The Lowlifes, a roots rock’n’roll band. And now Delta Groove’s Electro Groove subsidiary has issued there explosive album “Reform School Girl.”

The is a hard rock’n’roll album, not a hard rock album. It will evoke classic wild rock and roll records from the fifties by the likes of Little Richard, Larry Williams, Screaming Jay Hawkins, and Esquerita, with instrumental touches suggesting Ike Turner, T-Bone Walker, and musical accents suggestive of The Ronettes, and Lazy Lester as Curran and his band have a take no prisoners approach to reviving 50s wild, raucous rock and roll on a collection of originals modeled on the wilder side of the fifties from such labels as Federal and Specialty. The tone is set with the wild little Richard style performance of a lesser know Etta James song, “Tough Lover." Take a song like “Dream Girl,” where opening it Curran’s vocal takes a nod to Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson before it sounds like someone put some benzedrine in Nick’s Ovaltine (to steal a line from Harry ‘The Hipster’ Benzedrine) as he sounds like his soul was possessed by Screaming Jay while his wild guitar makes some of Ike Turner’s wilder solos using his whammy bar sound fairly tame. “Flyin’ Blind,” is a rocking duet with Blaster Phil Alvin, where Curran’s wild singing makes Alvin come off as teen crooner. On “Lusty L’il Lucy” Curran comes off as a cross between Little Richard and Larry Williams with the saxophones recreating that old Specialty sound before yet another guitar solo rockets off into the stratosphere.

The manic wildness of “Reform School Girl,” does not mask the fact that Curran is one mother of a performer. Rock and Roll still lives on this, a magic carpet ride of classic rocking sounds, that fans of the wilder side of the fifties music scene will want to take for a spin. Incidentally, Nick was recently diagnosed with tongue cancer and we can only hope the treatment is successful so he can get on to road to promote this release.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I received this from Delta Groove’s publicity firm. The review was written for publication Jazz & Blues Report, but yet to have appeared in print.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cannonball Legacy Band Honor's Sax Great's Legacy

The following review was written for Jazz & Blues Report in October 2006 and appeared in the January -February 2007 issue (# 290).

Its been sometime since Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderly passed away and a few since his brother Nat passed away. Louis Hayes, drummer for Adderly forty years ago has been leading a tribute band to the legendary saxophonist and the terrific band Hayes was such a part of. This writer had the pleasure to catch Louis Hayes and the Cannonball Legacy Band at the 2005 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and enjoyed their set that brought to life some of the classics the Adderly Brothers were remembered for. Savant has just issued Maximum Firepower from Hayes and the Cannonball Legacy Band that showcases there fine music. In addition to Hayes, the Legacy Band includes Vincent Herring on alto sax, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn, and Richard Goods on bass. Anthony Wonsey and Rick Germanson hare the piano chair.

This is a nice overview of the Adderly Brothers’ repertoire although it omits a couple of the best known songs (Mercy, Mercy, Mercy and Work Song). There is a pretty varied group of writers represented here including Quincy Jones (Jessica’s Birthday), Bobby Timmons (This Here), Nat Adderly (Little Boy With the Sad Eyes), Charles Lloyd (Sweet Georgia Bright), Victor Feldman (New Delhi), Cannonball (Sack ‘o Woe), and Sam Jones (Unit 7) with one original from Jeremy Pelt (The Two of Them), and the performances are consistently focused and strong. Herring and Pelt play strong heads as well as solos (check out the beginning of This Here), and the band plays this strong hard bop set with plenty of heat and swing. Hayes himself remains a wonderful drummer near five decades later and the Rudy Van Gelder recording wonderfully captures his playing as well as the entire group. This is a marvelous set which will appeal to the same sort of gritty hard bop that the Adderly’s provided decades ago.

For FTC regulations, I received this to review from the publication this review originally appeared in.

Tail Dragger's New Live Album

Its been a few years since Delmark issued a live performance by Tail Dragger on CD and DVD. The prior release, “My Head Is Bald, Live At Vern’s Friendly Lounge, Chicago,” was well received and reportedly one of Delmark’s better selling releases. Three years later they follow with “Live at Rooster's Lounge,” with the Howlin’ Wolf inspired James Y. Jones performs straight Chicago blues in the vein of his mentor and friend as he redoes some of Wolf tunes along with some similarly structured originals and a few tunes associated with Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and John Lee Hooker, although played in a Wolf-style.

This is a well-played performance with a solid band that includes Rockin’ Johnny Burgin and Kevin Shanahan on guitars, Martin Lang on harp, Todd Fackler on bass and Rob Lorenz on drums with Jimmy Dawkins added to one track. Jones is an expressive singer who suggests Wolf but whose slurred diction does detract a bit from the forcefulness of the performances and the band plays idiomatically. Shanahan and Dawkins are the only ones returning the earlier CD/DVD which benefited greatly from Lurrie Bell’s mercurial guitar. There is certainly nothing wrong with Jones’ covers of “Louise,” “Baby Please Don’t Go,” or “I’m in the Mood’, his own “Stop Lyin’,” and “Bought Me a New Home,” but also nothing amazing about them either. The DVD has additional performances and Delmark’s usual straight-forward video qualities.

On its own, an enjoyable, if unexceptional, recording. If you have the prior live recording, I find little here to call this a must purchase. This one may be easier to find and one might be fan of this viewing Tail Dragger as a Wolf tribute artist, but he is not such a compelling performer that the general blues fan would need everything he has recorded.

Since I wrote this, I received a email from Kevin Johnson at Delmark who reminds me this CD marks return of Rockin Johnny to recording and performing after almost a decade disappearance! Johnny has been one of the better young guitarists in Chicago at playing in a more traditional Chicago blues vein and its welcome that he is back in circulation.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I received a review copy of this from Delmark.

Monday, March 01, 2010

WAMA, Can someone explain why?

Can someone explain why none of the following still have yet to receive any recognition by the Washington Area Music Association: Sonny Warner, Bobby Parker, Little Royal, Curtis Pope, TNT Tribble, Frank Motley, Lloyd Price, Bill Boskent. I mean Lloyd Price's lack of recognition is especially curious given that he was based in DC for several years and during this time set up his own recording label, recorded some of his most important recordings and even had a CD of DC area R&B performers. I mean are the folk in charge of WAMA that ignorant of DC's musical history.

My two-year old comments are still pertinent.

Also, Steve Kiviat's had an interesting write-up of this year's WAMMIEs in his City Paper Blog that is well worth your consideration: