Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bobby Bland's Blues at Midnight

Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland is one of the great voices of American vernacular music of the past sixty years. Its interesting to note that it is been twenty-five years since Bland signed with Malaco and it led to a very productive relationship and some terrific blues recordings although his Malaco output is essentially ignored (with the exception of one compilation) by some alleged blues authorities such as The Penguin Guide. The following review appeared by in the March/April 2003 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 261). As the last sentence of the review states, we are fortunate that Bobby Bland is still with us.

It is quite fortunate that the legendary black radio promotion man, the late Dave Clark, convinced the folks at Malaco to sign Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland to a contract in 1985. 18 years later, Bland has just had his 12th album issued on Malaco, Blues at Midnight, and it is another excellent addition to the body of work Bland has produced over the past two decades. It is true that Bland’s voice perhaps lacks the range of his classic Duke recordings, and his famous growl sometimes sounds like he is clearing his throat, but he still phrases a lyric in a manner that is matched by few.

This disc includes a number of superb new soul-blues songs including Frederick Knight’s Where Do I Go From Here, George Jackson’s I Caught the Blues From Someone Else, and Larry Addison’s closing lament of modern urban life Ghetto Nights, which effectively incorporates some police sirens and other sound effects. In addition, there are singular interpretations of What a Wonderful World, associated of course with Louis Armstrong, and the Z.Z. Hill hit I’m a Blues Man. The songwriting duo Robert Johnson and Sam Mosley contributed the down in the alley blues You Hit the Nail on the Head. The pair also contributed the shuffle Baby What’s Wrong With You, while Rue Davis & Harrison Calloway penned I’ve Got the Blues at Midnight, with it being 3 O’clock and Bobby’s still watching the door, wondering where his woman can be and as he urges on Clayton Ivey during Ivey’s Hammond organ solo.

Recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi, such legendary session men as Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson, Clayton Ivey and Carson Whitsett anchor the sessions that include brassy horns and have solid backup vocals on several tracks. We are fortunate that Bobby Bland is still with us, and this release displays the consistency of his Malaco recordings with excellent material, playing, and subtle, expressive singing showing that Bobby Bland remains a living master and every bit the Blues Man.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I likely received a review copy from Malaco Records.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Musselwhite's Outstanding New CD, "The Well"

The veteran Charlie Musselwhite has returned to Alligator Records for his new CD, “The Well.” A career that on record dates back to the mid-sixties, Musselwhite continues to produce strong blues. On this session he brings his harp (and guitar on two tracks) to a session with guitarist Dave Gonzales; bassist John Bazz; and drummer Stephen Hodges with Mavis Staples joining for one track. All the songs are self-penned by Musselwhite (one with Zoe Wood) drawing on his personal experiences in many cases.

The opening “Rambler’s Blues,” with its adaptation of the “Catfish Blues” melody,  finds him delivering a lyric of rambling down his dark and dreary road. The perfomance has a nice harp break complementing the directness of the vocal. “Dig The Pain” is a nice shuffle that was generated from the days of heavy drinking and how he would dig the pain to get through it as he transfers the thought to a woman who he just can’t leave. Gonzales contributes a fine solo (playing with little distortion) with a fine solo from Musselwhite. “The Well” also takes a familiar blues melody to which Musselwhite recalls little Jessica McClure and how brave she was after falling into a Texas well and how Musselwhite said a prayer for her and gave up drinking to show some bravery himself and just like she was rescued and he came out a better man.

“Where Highway 61 Runs,” set against a Magic Sam-based groove, finds him remembering about the delta and how blues has been his comforter. “Sad and Beautiful World“ with Mavis Staples joining the vocals, is a moving song where he says some of things he wanted to when his mother was murdered with a fine harp break. “Sonny Payne Special” is a strong instrumental feature dedicated to the legendary King Biscuit Time radio show host. “Good Times” has Musselwhite on guitar as he recalls the days of youthful partying as he asks where did our good times go with nice slide guitar and effective spare backing. “Cadillac Woman” has Musselwhite’s thoughts about women who run over their men, while he delivers a spoken vocal with his ruminations on Marie Laveau and hoodoo Doctor John on the atmospheric “Hoodoo Queen.” “Cook County Blues” has a country flavor as Musselwhite recalls a time he was busted by a lying cop and spent time in Cook County jail. “Clarksdale Getaway” is a terrific instrumental where Musselwhite’s tone and solo evoke Big Walter.

His vocals may not be as robust as in his youth but they reflect his experiences more and his songwriting has matured. Wisdom has replaced the brashness of his vocals of his youth while Charlie Musselwhite’s songs reflect a life well-lived and all the pains and joys that has entailed. His harp playing remains strong and inventive. “The Well” may be Musselwhite’s best recording in years.

For FTC purposes, Alligator Records provided the writer with a review copy.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Good Rocking Roy Brown

Roy Brown was one of the giants of the post-war rhythm and blues era and while he was initially influenced by Bing Crosby, his vocals were among the earliest to show strong gospel influence. His crying vocals presaged others like Billy Wright, B.B. King and others. His “Good Rocking Tonight” was the first of a number of major hits he had and wrote. Wyonnie Harris would even have a bigger recording with “Good Rocking Tonight,” and Elvis would also record it. He wrote many other great songs and one “Mighty, Mighty Man” would lead to his backing band be known as “The Mighty Mighty Men.” A later reworking by Brown of “Good Rockin’ Tonight” as “Rockin’ at Midnight” was reworked by The Honeydrippers, a Robert Plant project, while Brown’s “Hard Luck Blues” also became a blues standard with Howlin’ Wolf recording it two decades later. A pioneer of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues as well as post war R&B, Roy Brown’s The following review (of a CD I purchased) appeared in the May/June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 282).

The late Roy Brown was one of the legends of rhythm and blues who left an impressive body of blues that foreshadowed modern soul and urban blues with his high-end blues crying and shouting style. English Ace Records has inaugurated the initial release in its The King & Deluxe Acetates Series with Good Rocking’ Brown, which provides at least one version of every surviving acetate that Brown recorded for Deluxe No. 1 1947. 17 of the performances are previously unissued and include unused tracks and alternate takes.

In fact the CD opens with an alternate take to Browns celebrated Good Rocking’ Tonight, along with unused or alternates of such celebrated tracks as Mighty Mighty Man, Deep Sea Diver, Miss Fanny Brown, Special Lesson No. 1 and ‘Long About Midnight. He was backed by some terrific jump blues bands. Copiously annotated (although one wished Ace would include discographical details) and with very good sound, this terrific disc will be of great interest to those who are fans of jump blues and this great blues pioneer.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Calvin Newborn Strong Guitar

The following review of the underated guitarist Calvin Newborn’s “New Born” (Yellow Dog) originally appeared in July/August 2005 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 275). If you somehow missed out on this when it first came out This CD is still available.

Guitarist Calvin Newborn came from a celebrated Memphis musical family. His father Finas led a celebrated orchestra in the Memphis area, and his older brother Phineas would later become a renowned jazz pianist whose career was often plagued by bouts with mental illness. Calvin himself has bridged the worlds of blues and jazz over the decades. The late Charlie Rich did an absolutely marvelous jazz-blues date before he died which benefited from Calvin Newborn’s jazz-inflected blues playing.

Newborn self-produced a couple of CDs on his own label but had not recorded for some time when the Yellow Dog label (named after a W.C. Handy song I believe) got him in the studio for New Born. Much of this date has the flavor of a classic Blue Note session from the late sixties – early seventies with some fine horns from Herman Green on sax and flute and Scott Thompson on trumpet with Donald Brown on piano and Charlie Wood on organ.

With the exception of Newborn Blues from his brother’s pen and Billy Strayhorn’s wonderful Lush Life, Calvin Newborn wrote all of the selections. It opens with a nice bluesy organ groove on When Kingdom Comes/Sho’ Nuff on which Newborn takes the first solo which is followed by some nice tenor from Herman Green. Newborn’s fleet single note runs are deftly and imaginatively delivered here and on the modal The Streetwalker’s Stroll, with Donald Brown’s post-bop piano providing the foundation with Mr. Green heard on flute while Thompson plays some fiery trumpet. One cannot forget bassist London Branch and drummer Renardo Ward who keep the pulse moving along as well.

On Newborn Blues, Calvin’s late night, down-in-the-alley guitar is backed by Woods’ greasy organ and the rhythm section as he displays how good a blues player he is, while a Latin flavor is present on Spirit Trane/Omnifarious, which features some nice horn voicings. There is some lovely guitar on Lush Life (what a beautiful tone Newborn provides here), while After Hours Blues, a marvelous slow instrumental inspired by the classic After Hours, features some more strong blues playing.

A marvelous return to the recording world by a guitarist whose reputation is far less than the quality of his music.

For purposes of FTC regulations, Yellow Dog Records provided me with a review copy of this.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Roosevelt Sykes Sounds Good Blowing His Horn

A blues pianist acquaintance of mine suggested to me that Roosevelt Sykes arguably was the greatest pianist in the history of blues. It is not a commonly accepted notion, but upon reflection has more than much to commend itself. Sykes in his career put together a body of recordings that is among the greatest blues recordings by a single performer. A tremendous pianist, songwriter and a great singer with a robust, extroverted delivery, from his early classics like “44 Blues” to post-war sessions like the New Orleans one that produced “Sweet Old Chicago,” Sykes remained a blues giant across the decades.

I will not make claims that the Delmark Sykes’ recording, Feel Like Blowing My Horn, is one of the classic essential blues piano recordings. This is simply a solid recording by Sykes in a solid jump band setting with sympathetic backing. For me, it is the musical equivalent of comfort food. I purchased this when it came out in 1970 and delighted that Delmark reissued it in 1997 (It should still be readily available). The session included long-time friend of Sykes, the late Robert Jr. Lockwood on guitar, along with Dave Myers on bass and Fred Below on drums. I believe this was recorded close to when Lockwood recorded his “Steady Rolling Man” album for Delmark, but the Sykes album appeared to showcase Lockwood’s guitar more, and Myers and Below backed Lockwood on that CD.

Horns were added by trumpeter King Kolax and Oett ‘Sax’ Mallard on tenor sax and clarinet. Mallard had a brief stint with Duke Ellington, and played in numerous blues and jump band sessions including the 1946 Victor session by Sykes that produced Sykes’ hit “Sunny Road,” as well as sessions with Big Bill Broonzy, Washboard Sam, Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Boyd and Jump Jackson. Being reunited with Sykes, this was the last session he appeared on. Kolax himself led a big band in the Windy City which traveled a bit without recording. He joined Billy Eckstine’s last edition of his fabled big band which included fellow Wendell Phillips High School alumni, Gene Ammons, as well as Leo Parker and Frank Wess as well as fabled trumpeter Hobart Dotson and made his first recordings as part of Eckstine’s band with a soundtrack, Rhythm in a Riff. Kolax recorded a 78 for Opera Records, was part of saxophonist JT Brown’s band for a United label session and Kolax’s band backed Joe Williams on his Checker recording of “Everyday I Have the Blues.” John Coltrane spent a stint in Kolax’s band for a period and Kolax’s lengthy session work included playing on Otis Rush’s Duke Session that produced “Homework.” Coincidentally, like Mallard this is the last session Kolax is documented as being on.

The music kicks off with the ebullient title track and the brassy horn riffs, Sykes’ driving piano and Lockwood’s chording and single note runs set the tone with Mallard taking the first solo break as Sykes rocks things with some boogie-laced runs with Lockwood taking a solo during the second break as Below kicks the groove along. The tempo slows down for My Hamstring’s Poppin’, has Sykes noting his woman has a fine body but is a gold digger from her heart, “but I could not resist you, and I’d know it from the start,” as Sykes calls out for Lockwood to take his solo with Sykes encouraging him with cries of “Mercy.” “I’m a Nut,” is a shuffle with a silly lyric, an energetic solo from Mallard, and a playful vocal from Sykes. Sykes’ piano opens, Blues Will Prank Your Soul, with a wistful vocal as Mallard riffs behind the vocal, and Lockwood takes a solo.

Jubilee Time is a relaxed rocking as Sykes sings about it being jubilee time in New Orleans and dancing around the old campgrounds. Mallard is on clarinet here as Sykes encourages him along with Kolax adding a hot solo. An unissued alternate is added here to the originally issued take. All Days Are Good Days is a fine blues in a more reflective vein for which an alternate take is added to the originally issued one and one should pay attention to Sykes’ piano reacting to Lockwood’s solo here. Sykes’ Gumboogie is a lively piano feature as the horns playing simple riffs and the rhythm section push things along while Rock-A-Bye Birdie is a New Orleans R&B flavored song with Mallard playing with gusto of classic Lee Allen. Moving Blues sounds like an adaptation of Move to the Outskirts of Town, with Lockwood taking a solo and Mallard adding his responsive voice. Don’t Bat Your Eye is a previously unissued track with a rhumba groove with punchy horns and a lively Mallard solo. There is a loose jam-like feeling to this performance which has a short solo from Kolax as well. Eagle Rock Me, Baby is a medium rocker where Below keeps the grove in the pocket.

With two previously unissued alternate takes and two previously unissued tracks, Delmark’s reissue on CD of Feel Like Blowing My Horn, added to the value of this fun session. The music sure sounds like all were having a blast.

Delmark Records provided me with a review copy of this recording.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Inspired by Marc Myers and his blog at jazzwax.com, I have put together a playlist that might inspire a nice Thanksgiving Feast.

Robert Lighthouse “Turkey Leg Woman” from his album “Deep Down In the Mud” on Right on Rhythm Records and originally done by Dr. Ross and available on the Arhoolie CD “Boogie Disease.”

“Eat That Chicken” by Charles Mingus from Atlantic album “Oh Yeah”

“I Ate Up the Apple Tree” by Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Beans and Corn Bread” Louis Jordan

Corn Bread” by Hal Singer Sextette and reissued on the Bear Family CD, “1948:Blowing The Fuse-28 R&B Classics”

Cornbread And Butter Beans” by the Carolina Chocolate Drops from the CD “Heritage.”

Cabbage Greens” by Champion Jack Dupree available on JSP 4 CD box set of Dupree’s early recordings.

Hey Sweet Potato” by Buddy Johnson from CD collection “The R&B Years - 1947”

Sweet Potato Man” by Willie King from CD “One Love.”

Red Beans” by Snooks Eaglin from his “Teasin’ You” CD

Cherry Pie” by Marvin and Johnny and also by Swamp Pop artist Jay Randall (Reissued on “Swamp Gold Vol. 2”. Here is link to Marvin & Johnny’s original, reissued on English Ace label. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhfNJASU7NM

Sweetie Cakes” Count Basie from the “April in Paris” CD

“Do Fries Come With That Shake” Tommy Brown from the BoneDog CD “Rockin’ My Blues Away.”

Of course, Thanksgiving in great part is about "Family," as recorded by Jim Hall and Bill Frisell from their CD "Hemispheres," on ArtistShare.

I hope all of you who celebrate Thanksgiving have a wonderful day and celebrate the things thatv really matter.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

American Jazz Quintet's Modern New Orleans Jazz Sounds

The reactivated AFO label has licensed some recordings to ACE Records in Europe, including three collections of Gumbo Stew and an album, The Classic Ellis Marsalis, and a reissue of a rare modern jazz album The Monkey Puzzle, with legendary drummer James Black. It has also issued in this country some vintage and new albums, including the highly regarded American Jazz Quartet that included Marsalis, clarinet player Alvin Batitse, tenor saxophonist Harold R. Battiste, Jr., bassist Richard Payne and drummer Eddie Blackwell.

Harold Battiste, the moving force behind the reactivation of AFO (a pioneering musicians cooperative label), has rescued 1958 concert performances, Boogie Live … 1958, by a slightly different version of the American Jazz Quintet (AJQ-2) in part as a tribute to the late Eddie Blackwell who was known to Battiste and friends as Boogie. This was a group that simply is not known to most jazz listeners because they were in New Orleans, and not New York.

The album, with saxophonist Nat Perilliat replacing Battiste, opens with a lengthy treatment of Battiste’s tribute to trumpeter Clifford Brown, To Brownie, with a melodic theme and head that suggests the great Brown-Roach groups, followed by originals by clarinet player Batiste (Fourth Month is an interesting take on April in Paris) while Marsalis’ Toni is a tender ballad. Blackwell drives everybody along as well as gets his solo spaces. There is one flaw in the packaging, The times for two tracks on the back cover is wrong. Three Musketeers is 17:45 not 12:45, while Fourth Month is 18:35, not 10:35, so one gets over a hour of superb jazz.

This review appeared in Jazz & Blues Report February 1996 (issue 208), and this disc can still be ordered from the Louisiana Music Factory, www.louisianamusicfactory.com. I believe I purchased this.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

RIp June Gardner 1930-2010

2008-0425_JazzFest_Day_1-1014, originally uploaded by NoVARon.
Word came out today that New Orleans drummer Albert "Gentleman June" Gardner passed away on November 19 at the age of 79. Gardner was just one of the many great drummers to come out of the Crescent City,

According to Geraldine Wyckoff in her article in the November 22, 2010 Louisiana Weekly "Gardner studied with the influential Professor Valmont Victor and first hit the road with vocalist Lil Green. When he returned to New Orleans he became a regular at the now-infamous Dew Drop Inn playing with Edgar Blanchard & the Gondoliers with whom he also recorded. In his younger days, Gardner was heavily on the rhythm and blues scene both in the studio and on tour. He played and recorded with the greats including spending nine years with Roy "Good Rockin' Tonight" Brown and hitting the drums behind the legendary Sam Cooke from 1960 until the vocalist's death in 1964. It's Gardner laying down the essential rhythm on Lee Dorsey's smash hit "Working in a Coal Mine" and he also performed regularly with Dave Bartho­lomew's band."

It is also Gardner heard behind Sam Cooke on Cooke's two live albums, "At the Copa" and "Live at the Harlem Square Club." He joined Cooke, replacing another New Orleans drummer Leo Morris (a/k/a Idris Muhammad). After Cooke's death he returned to New Orleans and worked on a number of sessions as a leader. According to Dan Phillips' blog, Home of the Groove, only two singles were released under his name. "99 Plus One”/”Mustard Greens” first came out on Hot Line, one of the NOLA family of labels, but was licensed to Blue Rock when distribution problems arose."

Phillips had this to say about June:
"Gentleman June, as he was sometimes called, could play straight or make it funky, as the situation required. His groove versatility I am sure is why Cooke kept him in his band. I’ve chosen his composition, “Mustard Greens”, for the unusual, proto-funk stick and foot work Gardner demonstrates. On top, the song has a quasi-Latin big band arrangement by producer Wardell Quezergue."

A full CD of these sessions was issued on Tuff City/Night Train CD compilation, 99 Plus One which the Louisiana Music Factory has for sale.

He was an extremely versatile musician, whether anchoring his traditional New Orleans jazz band "The Fellas" on Bourbon Street or at JazzFest, or playing with Lionel Hampton or Alvin Tyler. I saw him at JazzFest in 2008 in the Economy Tent and this past May at Irvin Mayfield's Playhouse as part of a band led by pianist David Torkanowsky and featuring vocalist Germain Bazzle.

He is someone you may not have heard of, but you likely are to have heard.

Here is the link to the
Home of the Groove blog entry on him from 2005

Here is the link to
Geraldine Wyckoff's obituary of June Gardner: =

wwoz has a short obit on Gardner: 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jimmy Burns Never Leaves the Blues Walking

Back in September 2007, I blogged about Jimmy Burns Live CD/DVD on Delmark. Burns emergence a decade earlier produced a truly memorable recording, Leave Here Walking, that I reviewed back in the April 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 220). This terrific recording is still available although it may not be familiar to many of you, so I thought it proper to revive (with a few stylistic changes my older review to call this excellent release to your attention.

A surprising new release comes from Mississippi-born Jimmy Burns, the youngest of eleven children. Famed Detroit bluesman Eddie Burns is his oldest brother. He moved to Chicago in 1955 when he was 12 and started singing in street corner harmony groups emulating the Moonglows and the Spaniels. Burns spent the next couple decades working in this rhythm and blues vein, and became a sophisticated soul stylist.

In more recent years, Jimmy Burns has focused more on the blues, drawing on the music of such greats as the first Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters. What’s striking here is the mix of traditional blues themes with Burns’ soul-tinged vocals. He attacks his performances at a nice relaxed tempo and none sound rushed. His singing has an urgency without having to resort to frenzied histrionics.

The title track, a Burns’ original, may be this writer’s favorite, as Burns sings about getting his baby’s letter and having to go back south. There’s tasty low-key reworking of Mercy Dee Walton’s One Room Country Shack, a jaunty take of Tommy McClennan’s Whiskey Headed Woman, a sprite rendition (with Burns on the harp) of the first Sonny Boy’s Shake You Boogie, and fresh sounding renditions of Rollin’ and Tumblin’ and Catfish Blues

On most of this album Burns receives strong backing, including the judicious use of horns on two tracks). His soulful vocals are accompanied only by his guitar on three tracks: Curtis Mayfield’s Gypsy Woman; Joe Seneca’s Talk to Me (best known from Little Willie John’s hit); and Burns’ original blues Miss Annie Lou.

Burns’ blues consistently hits the target with his wonderful singing and his crisply, and cleanly delivered guitar. This is an impressive recording by a veteran who has found a welcome musical home in the blues.

Postscript. I have had the pleasure of seeing Jimmy Burns perform a couple times and he puts on a terrific show. His Live DVD/CD captures his strong side as a live performer and here is the link for my blog entry on that.

For purposes of FTC regulations, the review copy was likely provided by Delmark Records.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Roy Hawkins May Be Gone But The Thrill Lingers On

Roy Hawkins’ name is not one that may be familiar to many who call themselves blues enthusiasts, but this Texas born, West Coast blues singer and piano man had some records on the R&B charts and one of his recordings has become a blues standard when redone by B.B. King. Like Charles Brown, Little Willie Littlefield, Pee Wee Crayton, and others he was among those who traveled to California from Texas and the Southwest and played music and made records. Despite waxing the original recording of The Thrill Is Gone, as Tony Rounce observes in the liner notes to the English Ace CD reissue, Bad Luck Is Falling, an obscure figure and even when B.B. King had a major hit with Hawkins’ song, nothing was found out about him. Still as Rounce says, he “was one of the last unsung heroes of the post-world War II West Coast blues.”

We know that in 1948 he was in Richmond, California in the San Francisco Bay area where he led a combo that played in clubs that included a fine guitarist named Ulysses James. They came to the attention of Bob Geddins who recorded them for his Cava-town and Down Town labels. At some point the Bihari Brothers acquired his contract and four of the sides Geddins issued on Down Town. Rounce speculates that they have seen him as a replacement for Charles Brown who had jumped to Aladdin Records.

In any event, Modern issued the four Down Town sides which were pressed from acetates made from 78s and not from the actual the acetate masters. While the sound is not optimal, the music was excellent. Strange Land, was a doomy Bay Area blues that Johnny Fuller also recorded for Geddins. Hawkins displays his ability as a singer on Strange Land, while the instrumentals issued at this session showcase guitarist James. There was a session in 1949 that produced a terrific blues Sleepless Nights, and a tough instrumental Royal Hawk.

But after this session, Hawkins was in a car crash that resulted in a paralysis that affected his ability to play piano. While he was convalescing, Geddins wrote Why Do Things Happen To Me 
for him, which Hawkins poignantly sang. It was his biggest hit, reaching #3 on the charts and staying there for almost 5 full months. It is not included on this reissue, but is on the earlier Ace Roy Hawkins reissue, The Thrill is Gone. There are takes from this session that was led by tenor saxophonist Buddy Floyd and included guitarist Chuck Norris with Williard McDaniel on piano. Included on Bad Luck Is Falling is a charming (to quote Rounce) rendition of a non-blues, the standard many know from Jimmy Durante and Frank Sinatra, September Song. An alternate take of the previously reissued Wine Drinkin’ Woman, is also included.

In April 1951, the tenor saxophonist Maxwell Davis replaced Floyd as senior A&R for Modern, a position he would hold for many years. I remember Joe Bihari being interviewed at the Ponderosa Stomp conference referring to Davis as a genius and Clifford Solomon recalled working on sessions that Maxwell Davis ran over decade later. At this first session, The Thrill is Gone was recorded. The issued take (take 4) was reissued on the earlier CD. Reissued here is take 2 which initially was the preferred take, and to these ears is as good as the issued version. This is a classic West Coast piano blues with Hawkins’ strong, moody vocal that has a terrific sax solo from Maxwell Davis.

The Thrill is Gone charted and while not on the charts as long as Why Do Things Happen To Me, it continued to sell for a long time which led to a sequel, The Thrill Hunt, that was one of four sides recoded at his next session which included the instantly recognizable guitar of T-Bone Walker. These sides were recorded right after a Walker session and include the jumping Highway 59 and the moody Doin’ All Right, that wonderfully feature superb backing and strong singing. Then there is a strong Maxwell Davis solo with Walker’s single note runs and chords under the searing sax playing. One problem here was that the original tapes were lost, so they mastered from 45s to which some echo was applied. Still the performance is superb and thee cho is a minor issue. Sound issues also mar the coupling of Bad Luck is Falling, and The Condition I’m In, which is unfortunate as they are real good performances.

One other session at the time produced an attempt to crack the emerging rock and roll market. He would do one session for Don Barkdale’s Rhythm label in 1958 and then a swan song for the Biharis again on their Kent label. This 1960-1961 session produced four sides, the most notable was a terrific new version of Strange Land with some blistering playing from an uncredited guitarist.

I definitely agree with the characterization of Hawkins as an unsung master of post-World War II, West Coast blues. Anyone who loves the rocking work of Little Willie Littlefield, Amos Milburn and Floyd Dixon, will enjoy Hawkins. The earlier reissue, The Thrill is Gone, is the essential Roy Hawkins reissue. While some of the music may be (relatively) substandard, most of what is on 
Bad Luck Is Falling is exceptional. I believe this is still in print, and bluebeatmusic.com shows this is available and it may be available from amazon or from third-party sellers at amazon.

This blog entry is about CDs I purchased.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rob Stone's Lively Celebration of Chicago Blues

Chicago harmonica player Rob Stone was new to these ears until I heard him on several tracks on a new Earwig disc by Chris James and Patrick Rynn, “Gonna Boogie Anyway.” Stone is a long-time associate of James and Rynn and they worked together as the C-Notes, which included touring with drummer Sam Lay. Stone had an album on Earwig 7 years ago, Just My Luck,” and the label has just released his new album, “Back Around Here,” which reunites Stone with the pair along with pianists David Maxwell and Aaron Moore, drummers Willie Hayes, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith and Sam Lay, and a sax section led by Rodney Brown. The result is a set of classic Chicago blues that rocks and swings.

As a harmonica player, Stone has a fat tone that shows the influence of Little Walter, Big Walter, the two Sonny Boys and Junior Wells, while vocally his influences include Sam Cooke and Ray Charles as well as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Eight of the twelve songs were co-penned by Stone, James and Rynn and are solid idiomatic tunes. I really like Stone’s unforced, unaffected singing which is mixed with some exceptional ensemble playing.

The title track is a marvelous rocker with great piano from maxwell and a cutting solo from James as the saxophones add an uptown flavor. Aaron Moore’s piano is the anchor behind the slower tempo and Sonny Boy II styled harp on Sonny Boy I’s “Love You For Myself,” with Moore taking a terrific solo. Magic Sam’s “Give Me Time,” is in a more R&B tinged vein with James supplying guitar evoking the blues legend who left this world way too young 40 years ago which is followed by a terrific shuffle about spending too much, “I Need to Plant a Money Tree,” with some very effective Big Walter Horton inspired harp and Jeff Stone adding guitar to that of James to help sustain the driving groove.

Chicago All Night,” has a rumba groove with Maxwell setting the tone with his two-fisted playing as the saxes riff away. “Sloppy Drunk Blues,” has been recorded numerous times, but Stone’s interpretation goes back to the Leroy Carr rendition as James lays off here as Maxwell and Rynn provide support. “Can’t Turn Back The Clock,” is a rocking boogie with Maxwell, Rynn and Sam Lay, with a terrific piano boogie woogie solo from Maxwell. “It’s Hard But It’s Fair,” is an bluesy reworking The 5 Royales classic vocal group rocker. “Dragon Killers,” is a hot instrumental that suggests Little Walter’s “Roller Coaster.” His playing on this shows plenty of drive as well as a clean, full-bodied tone.

Stone is a regular at the Chicago House of Blues’ “Back Porch Stage,” and the strong, Windy City sounding blues heard here, one can understand why. He plays strong blues that plays tribute to the music that is his inspiration. But as evidenced by the music on “Back Around Here,” Stone treats the idiom as not simply history, but as a living tradition to be celebrated.

For purposes of FTC regulations, a publicist working for the record company supplied my review copy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Classic New Orleans Jazz from Morand and Barbarin

As regular readers of my blog may be aware, I have a fondness for traditional New Orleans style jazz. The George H Buck Foundation’s group of labels has issued invaluable releases of ‘authentic’ New Orleans Jazz by many of the pioneers of the idiom with many historical releases issued on the American Music label. American Music was originally an historically important label that New Orleans jazz advocate Bill Russell founded. The original American Music label issued recordings by bunk Johnson and others and Mr. Buck purchased the label in 1990. One CD on American Music “Herb Morand 1950/ Paul Barbarin 1951,” brings performances by two prominent New Orleans musicians.
Trumpeter- vocalist Morand, in addition to his performances as a New Orleans trumpeter, had been a member of the celebrated Chicago-based Harlem Hamfats which also included Charlie and (Kansas) Joe McCoy, and New Orleans clarinetist Odell Rand. Initially the Hamfats served as accompanists for singers including Johnny Temple, Rosetta Howard and Frankie Jaxon. After their recording “Oh Red” became a hit they signed to Decca where they recorded 50 odd titles. Wikipedia describes their sound as a mix of blues, dixieland jazz and swing jazz ( I would add boogie woogie), and their recordings presage the mix of blues, swing and jive of Louis Jordan and early jump blues. They broke up around 1939 when Morand returned to New Orleans. 
This CD presents one 1950 session that was recorded at J&M Studio which was the legendary studio that Cosimo Matissa operated and from which many classic recordings by Roy Brown, Paul Gayten, Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Lloyd Price and others was made. Morand is joined on a session by a solid band that included pianist Lester Santiago, clarinetist Albert Burbank, Eddie Pierson on trombone, Louis James on piano and Morris Morand on drums. The 5 tunes (2 songs have two takes) include a lively “Down in Honky Tonk Town” displaying the hot jazz style, as well as the hipster, “If You Are A Viper.” Some strong playing can be heard on “Pork Chop Rag,” that Morand kicks off before Burbank takes a solo exhibiting a heavy vibrato (he sometimes comes across as shrill) followed by Santiago’s rag-laced piano. Morand also takes a vocal on “None of My Jelly Roll,” with a stately opening from pianist Santiago before Burbank’s clarinet glides around Morand’s vocal (with some scatting), before taking a lengthy clarinet solo b. There are two takes of the amusing, risqué “Have You Seen My Kitty,” with nice, gruff trombone by Pierson, before the three horns come in together for the coda. The second take has a longer introduction from the horns before Morand’s vocal. 
Paul Barbarin was a celebrated drum, band leader and composer (“Bourbon Street Parade” and “Second Line’). His session dates from 1951 and includes Ernie Cagnolatti on trumpet, Burbank on clarinet, Pierson on trombone and Santiago on piano. His eight selections come from two sessions and open with a terrific, swinging “Eh las Bas,” sung enthusiastically in creole french with Pierson taking a short solo before Cagnolatti rips off some hot trumpet as Pierson and Burbank collectively embellish the trumpet lead. Cagnolatti takes the lead at the start of “Lily of the Valley,” with again the other two horns embellishing things before each takes a short solo as the rhythm joyfully keeps the music going. A medium tempo “Closer Walk with Thee,” has excellent collective playing, while recording of “Panama” is terrific. Barbarin was also a terrific drum which is continually displayed throughout his recordings here.
Having recently praised a CD devoted to Barbarin, I am not surprised how good his recordings on this are. There is also a full CD of Herb Morand on American Music available. Check out www.jazzology.com for more information and to purchase. Other sources for this include louisianamusicfactory.com. 

For purposes of FTC regulations, I purchased this.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Studebaker John's Maxwell Street Kings Deep Blues Grooves

Studebaker John Grimaldi has been playing straight, non-nonsense blues and roots music for years. The latest project by the vocalist, guitarist and harp player, is the Maxwell Street Kings, a homage to the times when the open air market on maxwell Street rang with the blues sounds of street musicians and when blues giants like Muddy waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and others could be heard in the Chicago west and south side clubs. His fellow Kings include guitarist Rich Kreher whose credits include playing in Muddy Waters’ last band, and drummer Steve Cushing, best known for his “Blues Before Sunrise,” radio show, but who has played behind, among others, Big Smokey Smothers, Magic Slim and Billy Boy Arnold. Delmark has just issued, “That’s The Way You Do,” a 15 tune romp through traditional Chicago blues styles.
The disc opens with the title track, a tasty Jimmy Reed styled shuffle with lyrics that evoke some of Reed’s hits. Two slide numbers follow, with the a broom-dusting “Fine Cadillac,” conjuring up Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers. I would think Big john Wrencher is among those smiling on “Headin’ Down to Maxwell Street,” with John’s gritty singing about heading to Maxwell Street and jump[ing and shouting to the sounds over a droning accompaniment and forceful harp. “If You Would Love Me,” has a doomy bass line, conjuring up Muddy, Wolf and Eddie Taylor with John adding more potent slide, while “B-Line” is a simple Little Walter styled instrumental with Cushing pushing the shuffle groove along nicely (Fred Below must be smiling too) and nice use of echo in the recording. 
So In Love With You,” is a simple shuffle with some grungy guitars before John rips off another Hound Taylor styled solo. “Son of the Seventh Son,” is a nice slow blues with an obvious allusion to the Willie Mabon recording but a lyric that references numerous Chicago blues song titles and phrases from these songs. ”Low Down Woman,” captures more Hound Dog Taylor flavor in the dirty guitar shuffle accompaniment that is based on the “Dust My Broom” riff with another tight slide break, followed by “When the Mule Won’t Ride,” with the spare backing sound like a Jay Miller backing to Slim Harpo, with a melody that suggests “Scratch My Back.” “Shake It” features more wild slide with a juggernaut groove. “Stepping Stone” is a nice Muddy Waters’ styled blues that mixes the grit and sandpaper in John’s voice with a passionate, yet relaxed, delivery for a vocal that rings true.
The rest of the album brings together similar elements from classic Chicago blues, but always in a fresh fashion that takes the inspirations as a launching point, and not something they try to imitate. Studebaker John may have been inspired by Hound Dog Taylor, and Hound Dog’s influence can be heard in his slide playing. However, Studebaker John brings his own approach to how the solos are put together and with the terrific support he receives from Kreher and Cushing has put together a marvelously entertaining CD with over an hour of foot stomping solid blues grooves.

The review copy was provided by Delmark Records.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

John Primer's Blues Life

There are few blues performers as accomplished in a traditional blues vein as John Primer. A member of Muddy Water’s last band as well as long-time stint with Magic Slim, Primer has certainly produced a number of really fine recordings starting with the Atlantic/ Code Blue CD “The Real Deal” and including last year’s excellent All Original (Blues House Productions) that Primer produced himself which is a 2010 Blues Music Award Nominee with some really terrific originals and solid playing including Harmonica Hinds adding his sympathetic accompaniments. Among Primer's other releases was a  tribute to Elmore James, Blue Steel (A Tribute to Elmore James) on Wolf. The Wolf label has been a supporter of Primer and have issued other discs by him in addition to Blue Steel and Delmark also has issued some strong stuff by him.

Here are three older reviews of his music I have done over the years. First up is a 1993 review of Stuff You Got to Watch that was issued on Earwig when he was second guitarist in Magic Slim & the Teardrops. This originally appeared in the May, 1993 Jazz & Blues Report, issue 181:

Fans of straight ahead Chicago blues should check out John Primer’s Stuff You Got to Watch on Earwig. The Mississippi born Primer was in the houseband at Theresa’s Lounge where he was befriended by the late Sammy Lawhorn. Later he was in Muddy Waters’ last band and has been with Magic Slim and the Teardrops for the past few years. While he has an album for the Austrian Wolf label, this US debut certainly makes one wonder what took him so long to get hooked up with a US label.

Among those on this date are fellow Teardrop, Nick Holt, on bass, Harmonica Hinds on harp and Carl Snyder on keyboards. It is an excellent studio band which strongly supports Primer’s delta rooted vocals and guitar . While much of this is comprised of Primer’s originals, his covers are imaginative with a strong nod to Muddy on the title track. His renditions of Freddy King’s See See Baby and Magic Sam’s That’s All I Need are wonderfully paced performances while he personalizes Otis Rush’s Double Trouble, giving it a fresh cast that almost is as good as Rush’s original (which had Ike Turner’s guitar in addition to Rush’s).

Jimmy and Jeannie Cheathem’s Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On, is answered by Primer’s original Bring Your Clothes Back Home. Less expected is his transformation of Texas country bluesman Little Son Jackson’s Cairo Blues into a Chicago band blues.The instrumental Lawhorn Special is a fitting nod to the late guitar giant and his mentor. To these ears, the only misguided effort is Rhinestone Cowboy (the Glen Campbell pop-country hit), but perhaps it will get him on Nashville Now.

This is first-rate album of Chicago blues that comes from (to borrow a Bob Margolin phrase) “The Old School.”

In the March 1996 Jazz & Blues Report, Issue 209, I reviewed the Mike Vernon produced The Real Deal:

John Primer certainly has paid his dues, having been a member of perhaps the top Chicago party band, Magic Slim & the Teardrops, as well as stints in Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars and Muddy Waters’ last band. He also spent several years in the house band at the legendary Chicago club, Theresa’s, working with the late Sammy Lawhorn, and Lawhorn’s influence can be heard in Primer’s strong, focused guitar work, with a cutting tone, and a crisp delivery.

He is also no slouch as a vocalist, and his new Code Blue release,The Real Deal, is actually his fourth album, two being highly regarded imports on the German Wolf label, and the other a strong album on Earwig. Producer Mike Vernon has put together a strong backing band here: Billy Branch on harp, Johnny B. Gayden on bass, Dave Maxwell on piano (coming on like Otis Spann) , and Teardrops’ Jake Dawson on guitar and Earl Howell on drums.

Primer and the band grind out some old-fashioned Chicago blues with tasty covers of Willie Dixon’s Good Understanding and Lafayette Leake’s Blind Man Blues,relatively obscure Muddy Waters recordings, along with his own originals. Oddly, Muddy’s influence as a guitarist is more evident on Primer’s original Still in Love With You, than on Blind Man Blues, and while the influence of Muddy’s vocals can be detected, Primer has developed into an authoritative, forceful ‘deep blues’ singer in his own right. Elmore James’ music reverberates on Still in Love With You, with some broomdusting slide guitar. Branch is outstanding throughout, particularly his crying accompaniment on the Walter Davis-Henry Townsend standard, Come Back Baby, while Maxwell (veteran of Freddie King, James Cotton and other bands) is strong throughout.

John Primer is indeed the real deal and this is a splendid set of straight ahead Chicago blues.

In the March-April 2001 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 250), I examined the Wolf release It’s a Blues Life:

Leader of Muddy Waters last band, and for thirteen years a member of Magic Slim and the Teardrops, John Primer has been developing into one of the strongest traditionally based blues artists out of Chicago. He has also been building a very impressive catalog and the enterprising Austrian Wolf label has issued this 1998 session by Primer and The Real Deal Blues Band. Primer’s band of rhythm guitarist Thomas Holland, harp player Steve Bell (Carey’s son); and drummer Bert Robinson are joined by bassist Nick Holt and pianist Ken Barker for a rocking set of no-nonsense Chicago blues.

There are covers of songs from Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Albert King and Hound Dog Taylor (though Give Me Back My Wig is more inspired by Lightnin’ Hopkins than Taylor) and strong, idiomatic originals from Primer who can take things down in the alley on Albert King’s Can’t You See What You’re Doin’ to Me as well as get a rollicking groove going on his own Sweet As a Georgia Peach. Primer’s direct style is devoid of artifice or overwrought emotion. His crisp, stinging guitar complements his forceful vocals, and with solid backing has produced another release that showcases his abilities quite nicely.

Reading these reviews years later, I am struck by some of the same points coming out including his straight-ahead style with solid singing and playing. The same points can be made about All Original, which shows why Primer is a favorite among fans of straight-ahead Chicago blues. Solid no nonsense numbers with echoes of Muddy, Elmore and others in Primer’s singing and the solid Chicago blues bands he has assembled. And he remains “The Real Deal.”

For purposes of FTC regulations, I believe I received review copies of these from the recording companies or a publicist for the company. I purchased All Original.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gabriele Tranchina's Wondrous Multilingual Songs of Love's Color

European-raised New York-based Gabriele Tranchina brings love of our multi-cultural and interconnected world, a distinct musical sensibility and a multilingual talent to center stage on her new release, “A Song Of Love’s Color” (Jazzheads). At a relatively early age she was introduced to the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chick Corea’s “Return to Forever” with singer Flora Purim, as well as Ella Fitzgerald, music which left a deep imprint on her and reflected in her music today. On “A Song Of Love’s Color,” she performs 11 songs in six languages and vocalise, which her publicity materials describe as a mix of lead and harmonized vocals, RAP, recitation, chant and descant, and backed by a band that includes her husband, Joe Vincent Tranchina, on piano and backing vocals; Santi Debriano on bass; Renato Thoms on percussion and backing vocals; Bobby Sanabria on drums, percussion and backing vocals; and Roberta Sanabria on backing vocals.

She has such a delightful voice as evident from the opening “Chante Comme Si Tu Devais Mourir Demain,” matched to the lively Brazilian rhythms which explode towards the performances finish. Her husband contributed the lovely latin-spiced title song about rainbows. “Samba De Uma Nota So,” (“One Note Samba”) is one of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s most famous songs which she delivers with seeming effortless delivery but her pitch and her sense of timing is flawless including an interlude with a spoken rap-like delivery over smoldering percussion. The ballad “Today,” opens languidly to match the opening lyrics about sad reminiscences before the tempo livens up as someone catches her eye. “Sing a Song Of Children,” is a thoughtful celebration about the songs, laughter and joy of childhood, that stands out even in this strong release. Another Jobim song, “Inutil Paisagem,” has a lovely, languid vocal with a solid bass interlude from Debriano. 

An indication of the varied material her is her Husband’s adaptation of a Hindu prayer and chant, “Asato Maa (Sat Chit Ananda),” with a light latin rhythm as she sings about being led from untruth to truth and ignorance to wisdom.” “Duérmete Niño Bonito,” is an enchanting performance of a Spanish folk lullaby (that will sound familiar to some) to which Joe Vincent Tranchina has added English lyrics and music. “Voz,” is a mesmerizing, salsa-flavored wordless vocal with the percussion of Thomas and Sanabria standing out along with Jon Vincent’s firm, yet understated piano. Thomas, Sanabria and Joe Vincent collaborated on “Solamente Pasión,” with a crisp salsa flavor as she delivers a chorus of “El amor solamente pasión” (“Love is only passion”), against the rap of the band members before the closing “Siehst Du Mich,” a German poem set to music by Jon Vincent with a lovely arco bass solo.

A Song Of Love’s Color” is a wonderful release that is sure to charm listeners with not only Gabriele Tranchina’s lovely voice, but her wonderful expressiveness and the tight playing in support of her. This is a recording that easily lends itself to repeated listening. Her website is http://www.gabrieletranchina.com/, from which it can be purchased. An earlier cd of hers is available on cdbaby.com so one might expect it to be available there. It is available on itunes and from amazon.com.

This review originally appeared in the July 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 327) at page 8. A publicist provided the review copy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

James and Rynn Keep the Boogie Going

This writer first came across the San Diego based pair Chris James and Patrick Rynn at the 2007 Pocono Blues Festival where they backed Jody Williams. In 2008 they produced a terrific album of Chicago styled blues, on Earwig, “Stop and Think About It,” that displayed their considerable skills in playing straight-ahead Chicago inspired blues. They have a follow-up to that Blues Music Award winning disc on Earwig, “Gonna Boogie Anyway,” that perhaps places James crackling, good guitar playing a bit more prominently on a set of some less than obvious covers and strong idiomatic originals. For this they have assembled some notable guests that include pianists Henry Gray and Dave Maxwell, harmonica players Bob Corritore and Rob Stone, drummers Sam Lay and Willie Hayes, and saxophonist Johnny Viau.

Listening to them romp through Jimmy Reed’s “Can’t Stand To See You Go,” showcases James’ natural and convincing vocal delivery with Henry Gray pounding on the ivories like he did on a few of Jimmy Reed’s recordings, but it contrasts with the equally compelling duet by James and bassist Rynn, the original “Headed Out West,” that sounds like it could have been written by Eddie Taylor. The title track is a hot rocker featuring Henry Gray again pounding out the piano with hot sax riffs with James taking a hot solo that rocks and swings in a manner that would have Jody Williams smiling with, I presume Viau blasting away to close this number out. “The Tables Have Turned” is a nice Tampa Red styled number (without the slide), without Rynn on upright bass, Maxwell on piano laying down some tough piano as Stone adding some nice harp. “Life Couldn’t Be Sweeter,” is a hot shuffle with Chris james tossing in some Elmore James’ styled slide and delivering his upbeat lyric about his gal being so good. There are two separate parts of “Money Don’t Like Me.” Part 1 that opens this disc is an original where James sings about liking money but it don’t like him, adding guitar that evokes the legendary Magic Sam, while Part 2 is an instrumental take on this them, with more Magic Sam-inspired guitar and Viau taking a raspy sax solo suggestive of Eddie Shaw. Its important to note that James evokes, not recreates, Magic Sam’s sound for his driving solos. Then there is a strong interpretation of Robert Lockwood’s “Mean Black Spider,” that the two do as a duo along with excellent renditions of a couple of early Bo Diddley numbers including the closing “Little Girl” with Bob Corritore’s harp and Henry Gray’s piano spotlighted on this rocking Chicago blues.

Gonna Boogie Anyway,” follow-ups the prior award-winning recording with more of the strong playing, vocals and striking ensemble playing that made listening to that recording so rewarding. James and Rynn’s musical partnership has produced a second marvelous helping of blues delicacies. This writer looks forward to more such helpings in the future.

This review originally appeared in the July 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 327). For purposes of the FTC regulations, this was supplied by a publicist for the record label.

Noah Howard's "Schizophrenic Blues" Sounds Fresh Today.

The late alto saxophonist, Noah Howard passed away in early September leaving behind a considerable musical legacy. Born in New Orleans, he emerged in the 1960s among the first wave of ‘free jazz’ artists. He recorded a couple albums for ESP and then recorded “The Black Ark,” but finding the reception for free jazz cool at best in the United States, he relocated to Paris and spent much of the ensuing years of his life abroad, living in Brussels at the time of his death.

Growing up in New Orleans where he played first in church, his first instrument was the trumpet which he played in the military and it wasn’t until later he started playing the alto saxophone. His recordings for ESP were among the 28 or so albums he recorded over the years. Recently, Destination Out (http://destination-out.com/), a web site devoted to free jazz, has started issuing downloads from out-of-print FMP vinyl albums that have never been made available on compact disc. Among the recent albums they have made available is a couple by Howard from the seventies.

“Schizophrenic Blues” reissues a live 1977 performance from the Quartier Latin in Berlin where Howard is joined by Itaru Ok on trumpet; Jean-Jacques Avenel on double bass and Oliver Johnson on drums. The title track is a blues that displays his bluesy tone as he and Ok play variations on the blues theme. His tone has a bit of vibrato, but not overdone, and would indicate that both Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler were influences on a composition would not be out of place on a Coleman disc.  Ok’s trumpet riffs provides a vinegary contrast to Howard, and the rhythm ably anchor the performance. “Birds of Beauty” is a slow ballad with trumpet more prominent at the lyrical opening and the two  complement and interact off the other.

“Fire March,” a tribute to Albert Ayler, opens with Johnson taking a drum solo before the tempo changes to a march like groove as Howard enters in an Ayler-esque mode as Ok evokes Donald Ayler’s trumpet with his playing while Howard exploits the upper registers of his alto and overblows producing shrieks and cries. Ok’s trumpet sounds like a swarm of very unhappy bees here. Bassist Avenel opens up “Creole Girl,” the lengthiest performance of this album, with a lengthy solo. After Johnson sets the tempo, Howard and Ok join in tstating the theme and take solid solos that do not sound to these ears as  very out.

“Solo Sax,” is a slice of saxophone exploration (but not a solo saxophone performance) with Howard employing a bit more vibrato here, as Avenel playing some buzz saw arco bass, Johnson laying an atemporal groove with brushes and Ok’s trumpet buzzes around the sax. The album concludes with a reading of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” with Howard and Ok embellishing the melody in an Ayler-esque fashion.

The performances on “Schizophrenic Blues” hold up over thirty years later. Certainly anyone familiar with the music of Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, and Old Dreams and New Dreams should find this quite accessible and even at its most Ayler-esque moments “Fire March,” there is a lyricism as well as a blues foundation that makes this release engaging. Recommended, and again this can be downloaded at
http://destination-out.com. Just go to the store tab and look for this release.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lynwood Slim & Prado Band Team Up For Brazilian Kicks

A few months ago, I was more than pleasantly surprised by a blues release from the Brazilian Igor Prado Band, writing “Guitarist and vocalist Prada, along with brother Yuri on drums, Rodrigo Mantovani, bass and Denilson Martins on saxophones, mixes hard modern blues and Memphis Soul with some ripping guitar … .” A new surprise came my way as I received an advance of a new recording by West Coast singer and harp player, Lynwood Slim who had traveled down to Sao Paolo to record the Prado Band. “Brazilian Kicks” is the new release on Delta Groove, and the combination of Slim’s vocals and harp with the ripping backing by the Igor Prado Band makes for a strong recording deeply rooted in classic blues, soul and funk.
Shake It Baby,” opens this disc and is the only track on which Prado sings. This is a James Brown styled number that Junior Wells and Buddy Guy penned and recorded over forty years ago. Prado takes it more into a funk band vein with booting sax from 20 year old Denilson Martins. Besides Igor Prado’s guitar (he takes a terrific break here full of single note runs and Ike Turner styled whammy bar effects), Slim rides it out on flute as the performance fades out. Guest pianist Donny Nicholo joins bassist Mantovani and drummer Yuri Prado to create a terrific rhythm section, evident on the Dave Bartholomew penned “Is It True,” with nice piano as the song fades out. 
Martins’ multi-tracked horns kick off the cover of Wyonnie Harris’ recording of “Bloodshot Eyes,” as Slim emphatically delivers the Hank Penny lyric. Martins takes a robust tenor sax solo before Prado takes a solo break with a bit of twang added to the single note runs. “My Hat’s on the Side of My Head,” is a swinging blues-ballad comfortably crooned by Slim with jazzy playing (echoes of Al Casey and Tiny Grimes), before more fine tenor sax. Duke Robillard fans should really dig this track. The hot instrumental “Blue Bop,” is based on a familiar riff that Prado launches off from for some  hot choruses. Martins rips off a husky baritone sax solo displaying considerable agility in addition to his robust sound. 
The band takes the temperature down a notch for Slim’s cover of Little Walter’s “Little Girl,” as Prado evoking Louis Myers and Slim’s shows his debt to Little Walter. Mantovani and Yuri Prado provide their unobtrusive support here as throughout. “I Sat and Cried,” is a superb rendition of an uptown blues by the late Jimmy ‘T-99’ Nelson, while on Slim’s ballad “Maybe Someday,” the band captures the melancholy tone of his lyrics. Nicholo plays some nice jazz-shaded blues piano before Prado takes a short break. This track suggests some of Johnny Bassett’s blues and, like those recordings, demonstrates that mellow does not mean bland or devoid of soul. 
Show Me the Way,” another Slim original (co-penned with Junior Watson), is a terrific Chicago-styled blues with more terrific harp, followed by “Bill’s Change,” a driving Prado penned instrumental with more scintillating guitar and some fierce baritone sax. Like most of this album, it is perfect for dancing. The rendition of Memphis Slim’s “The Comeback” is more urbane, jazzy (than straight Chicago) blues with tinges of Joe Williams in Lynwood Slim’s vocal and small group Basie in the backing here. Prado plays jazzy on this, while Martins raspy tenor is right on. 
The most unexpected delight is the closing instrumental “Going to Mona Lisa’s,” penned by Slim and Prado. It  sound like a lost Little Walter instrumental with the Aces. Yuri Prado coming off like Fred Below as he drops bombs and drives the performance along. Slim in his notes states that Yuri has “the snap, attack and timing as good or better than any of the heavyweights out there today!” I can’t recall anyone catching the flavor of Below’s drumming as Yuri Prado does here. This track may place his drumming more upfront, his playing throughout validates how Slim described him.
Listening to the collaboration between Lynwood Slim and the Igor Prado Band reinforces the enthusiasm I have shown towards Prado a few months ago. Slim’s own contributions display his fine singing and terrific harp playing on an album that amazes in how good it is. This is clearly among the best blues recordings I have heard in 2010. Delta Groove’s website is www.deltagroovemusic.com, while Slim can be found on myspace at www.myspace.com/lynwoodslimband and Igor Prado at www.myspace.com/igorprado. I have a feeling we will be hearing more from our Blues friends from San Paolo.

This is scheduled for release on November 16, and I received a review copy from the firm handling publicity for the release.