Friday, December 31, 2010

Fats Waller Always Had It

Thomas “Fats” Waller was one of the iconic figures of the first quarter century of Jazz and has been heavily re- issued over the years. As a result of the Sony/BMG merger, Bluebird/Legacy is releasing a three CD retrospective titled “If You Have to Ask, You Ain’t Got It.” Each disc has twenty-two selections and is thematically organized.

A good many of the performances are by Fats Waller and Rhythm, a celebrated sextet whose personnel included (over the years) guitarist Al Casey, clarinetist Gene Sedric, Bill Coleman and more celebrated Herman Autrey on trum-pet, Cedrick Wallace on bass and Yank Porter, Slick Jones and Arthur Trappier on drums. Many of the selections on these discs are in this format with Waller featured singing and on piano and the various horn players getting short solo space; and while a bit formula-based, Waller’s ebullient vocals and dazzling piano playing sustain the listener’s interest. There are a number of selections from the forties that have Waller in a big and setting and some solo instrumentals as well.

The first of the three discs is devoted to songs that Waller composed, often in the company of Andy Razaf or others. When going through the titles one is struck by the fact that he not only gave us such well known songs associated with him such as Honeysuckle Rose and Ain’t Misbehavin’, but also such classics as Our Love Was Meant to Be, Squeeze Me (with Clarence Williams), The Joint is Jumpin’ (with J.C. Johnson), Bessie Bessie Bessie, Cash for Your Trash and Up Jumped You With Love. Waller brings wit, humor and tenderness to these with his vocals while the numbers swing with considerable √Član.

The Second Disc is all instrumental, opening with a solo pipe organ instrumental rendition of St. Louis Blues along with a couple other numbers on the pipe organ. The next ten performances are features that display his considerable mastery of the stride piano including such dazzling Waller originals as Numb Fingers, Smashing Thirds, and African Ripples, along with renditions of Hoagy Carmichael’s Star Dust and Ain’t Misbehavin’, concluding with a stunning rendition of James P. Johnson’s classic stride composition, Carolina Shout. After several group instrumentals, Waller then is heard on electric organ on a couple of originals, including Jitterbug Waltz, which show his reflective side as a composer. The instrumental disc concludes with an all star group swinging on Honeysuckle Rose.

The final disc is devoted to Waller’s performances of songs from Tin Pan Alley. Waller was celebrated for his ability to take some of the most dreadful songs and make musical magic, all the while mocking the material, but not everything he recorded from Tin Pan Alley would be dross in the hands of others. So while some of these tunes may be remembered solely because of Waller, such as Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood, Mama), many of the tunes here are pretty well known including (I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead) You Rascal You (an All Star performance with Waller on piano behind Jack Teagarden), I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, Dinah, Christopher Columbus, Darktown Strutters Ball, Your Feet’s Too Big, and T’aint Nobody’s Biz-Ness If I Do. Waller attacks these with his usual mix of ebullient vocals, buoyant stride piano with the strong swing backing of his Rhythm and the other supporting musicians.

Although I worked off an advance copy of the discs to get this done in time, the actual release (set for 9/26/06) will also include a 100-page booklet with extensive liner notes penned by Dan Morganstern and scanned reproductions of photographs from the collection of Waller’s last manager, Ed Kirkeby. The three discs in this set provide a solid over- view of a legendary jazz performer and will serve as a basic Waller release for a well-rounded jazz collection.

This review originally appeared in the October 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 287), and the advance copy provided for review was provided by Sony.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Alyn Shipton Ably Tells Cab Calloway's Story

British jazz critic and historian Alyn Shipton has authored a marvelous biography, "Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway," that should lead to a reevaluation of the remarkable career of a person who most only will know from his iconic personality. Some will only know Calloway from his performance of "Minnie the Moocher," in the movie "The Blues Brothers," while others will remember him from his performances on Broadway and others will have heard some of his recordings and think of him as a popular vocalist.

Shipton traces his early years in Rochester and Baltimore, to Chicago where he was influenced by his older sister Blanche, through his linking up with the Alabamians who would become the Missourians and eventually his Orchestra. He gets engagements at the mob-connected Connie's Inn and the Cotton Club, and linked with Irving Mills, also Duke Ellington's manager at the time, and with Mills connections and these performances develops into a pioneering scat singer (second perhaps to Armstrong) while leading a disciplined and terrific jazz big band that had excellent musicians and soloists in addition to his remarkable singing.

There is the discussion of the many musicians who were part of the Calloway Band such as Ben Webster, Milt Hinton, Danny Barker, Doc Cheatham, Jonah Jones, Dizzy Gillespie and Chu Berry and how Calloway was constantly improving the band, trying to get strong sections as well as soloists. It is interesting that after Chu Berry replaced Ben Webster, instrumental features for the band become much more frequent and Cab featured a small band within his Orchestra as well. And the stories of life on the road and the friction sometimes between Cab and members of his band, such as the infamous incident when he accused Dizzy Gillespie of throwing spitballs and Dizzy coming after him with a knife.

And the body of recordings that Calloway produced over his life is examined in the context of his career as Shipton recounts the tours, his appearances in film (including the Betty Boop cartoons and the unique process that was used to animate his dancing style (that Shipton observes presages Michael Jackson's "Moon Walk'). Shipton takes us through his remarkable early recording of "St. Louis Blues," that was far removed from Louis Armstrong's big band recording, to the immortal "Minnie the Moocher," and the musical elements that were so original here and in its various sequels. Shipton discusses the music clearly and cogently without the use of detailed technical musical analysis so this book will be of interest to general readers.

Calloway, like his other contemporaries, suffered from the decline of the big bands but Shipton details how he started working with small groups, and then how his performance as "Sportin' Life" in a revival of Porgy & Bess re-established him as a leading performer and entertainer as well as on other productions such as the All Balck cast of "Hello Dolly," as well in the touring cast of "Bubbling Brown Sugar." I did not remember he was a featured performer on The Ed Sullivan Show for one of the broadcasts that also featured The Beatles. It was a rich musical life that continued until shortly before he passed away.

Shipton discusses the stresses of leading the band with its substantial touring inflicted on Calloway's personal life. How he had a lengthy estranged relationship with his first wife, and how hiss second wife forced him to give up his race track gambling habit while he tried to do his best as a father to his children.

As Alyn Shipton observes in his introduction, prior to this project he had scant awareness of the full and impressive range of Cab Calloway's accomplishments. After reading "Hi-De-Ho", the reader will have a full awareness of Cab Calloway's remarkable life and music.

I received my review copy of this book as a reviewer for Amazon.Com’s Vine Program and I initially posted this review on

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Another Strong Houston Person Recording

“[A]n American original,””Part of the Boss Tenor Tradition,” “rich, robust tone,” and “one of the great interpreters of the Great American Songbook.” These are some of the phrases I have culled from Bill Milkowski’s notes to the new HighNote Houston Person recording, “Moment to Moment.” Recorded at the studio of the legendary Rudy Van Gelder, Person is supported on this CD by Ray Drummond on bass, Randy Johnston on guitar, John di Martino on piano andWillie Jones III on drums with Terrell Stafford’s trumpet marking its debut on a Houston Person recording. This is a superb swinging band with some superb solos throughout in addition to Person’s wonderful playing.

And there is plenty of wonderful playing from the leader who throughout plays with intelligence and warmth. Person swaggers through with his driving hard bop original “Bleeker Street,” which also features fiery playing from Stafford and Johnson. His playing hits hard yet always displays a lyricism. One would be hard-pressed to name a saxophonist today who caresses a ballad like Person does on “I Cover the Waterfront,” where his tenor sings the lyric. The title track, from Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, finds the group swinging lightly and brightly, while Person delights with his feathery tone. While there are no low-points here, one must note the lovely bossa nova “E Nada Mais,” as well as the brisk, swinging treatment of the Billy Joel hit, “Just the Way You Are,” with his warmth evident as he states the theme on a performance that has sizzling high note work from Stafford as well.

Moment to Moment” adds to the strong body of work Houston has produced on HignNote these past few years. He consistently plays at a high level with such a warm and robust tone with a lyricism that makes every new recording by him a joy for the listener’s ears.

This was written originally for Jazz & Blues Report from whom I received the review copy of this CD.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bob Stroger Is Back in Town

Veteran bass player Bob Stroger is one of the steadiest and most solid players on the blues circuit having graced countless sessions with his rock-solid approach. Saxophonist Sam Burckhardt’s association with Stroger dates back to the 13 years they spent together in Sunnyland Slim’s Band and later the two with guitarist Steve Freund and the late drummer/vocalist Robert Covington as The Big Four. Burckhardt has brought in Freund, keyboard whiz Kenny Barker, drummer Kenny Smith and legendary Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith on harp for one track for a nicely produced session of blues, Bob is Back in Town (Airway Records).

Stroger obviously has a fondness for Junior Parker as he handles Parker’s What Goes On in the Dark, and Stranded in St. Louis along with Tampa Red’s Don’t You Lie To Me (for some reason credited to Albert King), and Eddie Taylor’s Bad Boy. While Stroger is credited with a number of songs, the title track sounds like Lieber & Stoller’s Ruby, Ruby (even with a backing vocal chanting softly “Ruby, Ruby,” while I’m a Busy Man employs a swamp blues rhythm in the manner of Slim Harpo, although not with the macho lyrics. Blind Man Blues has a melody similar to Albert King’s Pretty Woman, and opens with a searing guitar solo from Freund before Stroger starts his soft-spoken vocal. I Got to Move is a slowed down rendition of the traditional blues associated with Fred McDowell, but probably Stroger picked it up from Elmore James, and Burckhardt adds some nice tenor behind the vocal. Freund adds guitar fills along with a jazzy solo which anticipates the easy going swing of Jazz Man Blues with its line “Jazz ain’t nothing but a bluesman blowing his home.” Indigo Bunting is a tasty instrumental from Burckhardt.

This is a wonderfully played album, with Burckhardt contributing atmospheric arrangements. Stroger is a lowkey, amiable singer although somewhat anonymous( and not commanding) singer. This is not surprising given his long tenure as a sideman as part of many first-rate bands, which include the marvelous aggregation here, which makes this an engaging and easy to listen to disc, though not an essential one.

I want to add that yesterday (December 27, 2010) was Bob's 80th Birthday.  If I had known that earlier, I would have posted yesterday.

This review appeared in the June 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 294) and the publication was likely the source of my review copy.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Classic Witherspoon With MacShann

Jimmy Witherspoon is among my favorite singers in the blues and jazz realms, who was able to sound good in a variety of settings. His earliest recordings were made on the West Coast with Jay McShann in strong little big band combos while in latter years his recordings with Robben Ford impressed in their own vein. Few could handle material made famous by his hero Big Joe Turner as well as that of Jimmy Reed with equal conviction. The following review appeared in the April 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 292).

Among the most recent releases in the Mosaic Singles series this classic 1957 recording by Jimmy Witherspoon with Jay McShann and His Band, Goin' to Kansas City Blues. Originally on RCA, I believe this has been on CD but undoubtedly deleted. Mosaic has made available the entire album with three other recordings from the sessions that had been issued on a French vinyl reissue.

Opening up with Jumpin’ the Blues from the pen of McShann and Charlie Parker, Witherspoon handles other McShann classics as Hootie Blues and Confessin’ the Blues, along with Until the Real Thing Comes Along, the classic ballad made famous by Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy along with the Joe Turner-Pete Johnson Piney Brown Blues. Witherspoon contributed a couple of originals, Rain is Such a Lonesome Sound and Blue Monday. He shines throughout backed by the swinging big little band McShann led. Others on the session included Kenny Burrell on guitar, Hilton Jefferson on alto sax, Seldon Powell on tenor sax, Al Sears or Hayward Henry on baritone sax, Emmett Berry or Ray Copeland on trumpet, J.C. Higginbotham on trombone, Gene Ramey on bass and Mousey Alexander on drums. Stereo masters were found for all but two of the thirteen songs heard here.

This is a most welcome reissue and available directly from mosaic at

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Blues Walking With Frankie Lee Sims

A look at an Australian reissue of downhome Texas juke joint performer, Frankie Lee Sims, that originally appeared in the April 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 294). This release is still available from and others sources.

Texas bluesman Frankie Lee Sims was a traditionally based performer who was perhaps less skilled than Lightning Hopkins, but had success with juke joint combo recordings like Lucy Mae Blues and Walkin’ With Frankie (the latter most recently revived by Philip Walker on his fine Delta Groove album).

Sims first recorded for Specialty, and then for Johnny Vincent’s Ace label. AIM Records out of Australia has just issued Walking With Frankie, 14 tracks recorded by legendary New York record man Bobby Robinson in 1960 which were first issued in England in 1975 – 5 years after Sims had passed away.

A cousin of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sims was a downhome Texas country bluesman whose finest recordings were tough Texas juke joint combo blues such as his two most celebrated songs. The liner notes claim that by the late 1950s Sims had shifted his music more in the mode of the great Guitar Slim, but this is not supported by the rough house vocal and sometimes wild instrumental delivery of Send My Soul to the Devil, his slightly chaotic rendition of Hopkins’ Short Haired Woman, and the lively Going Back to the River, with a couple of effective short rocking guitar breaks, showing Sims remained a down home juke performer. The timing of the performances is sometimes erratic as the backing band occasionally can be heard catching up or holding the performance together.

Sims was not as strong and consistent as a bluesman as his celebrated cousin and did not record as frequently. He also did not benefit from the blues revival of the sixties but invested passion into his performances and while I would recommend Sims’ Specialty recordings first, this is of interest to anyone wanting to hear some real downhome Texas blues.

My review copy of the CD was provided by Jazz & Blues Report.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Bad Plus Never Stops

Now in their 10th year together, The Bad Plus have just recorded the first album comprised solely of their trio’s originals, “Never Stop” (Entertainment One Music). It may sound surprising for the trio’s original approach to the piano trio, in terms of repertoire as much as musical approach has been a factor in establishing them as one of the major acts to emerge over the past decade. Pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King certainly have reconstructed some familiar pop songs and now with “Never Stop” they take their approach to all new material.

Drummer King composed the opening “The Radio Tower Has a Beating Heart” which opens with pianist Iverson stating the somewhat dramatic theme against King’s free drumming before some free sounding trio playing which is followed a repetitive, structured segment. Bassist Anderson contributed the driving title track with Iverson’s somewhat romantic piano set against King’s rock-influenced groove. Perhaps no track better displays the trio’s appeal as they mix what might appear superficially disparate musical approaches into performances that can leave the attentive listener mesmerized.

King’s “My Friend Metatron” is built upon a funky bass riff with Iverson’s piano lead moving from evoking pop songs to frenzied impressionism while the rendition of Anderson’s ballad “People Like You,” contrasts with spare playing from all three with Iverson’s piano especially attractive here. “Beryl Loves to Dance,” has an exuberant sounding theme which Iverson playfully explores against King’s rigid time-keeping. It is followed by the impressionism of “Snowball” where Anderson taking a strong bass solo.

Iverson’s “Bill Hickman At Home” has a theme that hints at some of Keith Jarrett’s quartet recordings of thirty years ago with more fine bass from Anderson. King’s “Super America” from King is a short exhilarating instrumental that closes this recording on a finger-snapping mode. After ten years Bad Plus continues to provoke, entertain and mesmerize with their very individualistic approach to the piano trio.

This review has appeared in the Dec. 15, 2010-Feb. 1, 2011 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 332, pp.16-17), downloadable at My review copy was provided by a publicist for the recording.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Some Outstanding 2010 Releases That Are Neither Blues Or Jazz

My final list of outstanding releases. These are recordings that don't fall with the rubric of blues and/or jazz.

Deke Dickerson Live at Duff’s Major Label/ Hep 400. A record for guitar freaks. “
Plenty of country swing and twang with some jazz and blues accents added, like James Burton meets Duane Eddy with other genre hopping just like the backing band of the Modern Sounds whose approach may be rooted more in jazz and swing traditions, but provides a thoroughly compatible and sympathetic backing …”

Johnny Moeller BlooGaLoo (Severn). Presently guitarist with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Moeller “has been turning heads with his raw, soul-funk blues guitar playing that comes across as a wild blend of Freddie King, Jimmy Nolan, John Lee Hooker and Frankie Lee Sims. … Fans of raunchy blues guitar mixed with heavy doses of funk, and rock’n’roll will certainly find this latest effort by Johnny Moeller much to their taste.”

Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers Up In Flames (self-produced). Accordion playing son of Rockin’ Dopsie, this is exciting zydeco in vein of the legendary Clifton Chenier. About the Zydeco Hellraisers I wrote, “Rhythmically they are tight and in addition to Dopsie’s accordion playing, saxophonist may be as good as sax player in an zydeco band I have heard since Blind John Hart was with Clifton Chenier and Rockin’ Dopsie.”

Ensemble Fatien Seguenon Presents Ensemble Fatien (Threadhead Records). I had the pleasure of seeing this marvelous african-jazz ensemble that includes Jason Marsalis on vibrophones, Margie Perez on vocals and Dr. Michael White on clarinet at the 2009 Jazz and Heritage Festival. This album captures the lively and enticing music of that performance.

Red Baraat Chaal Baby (
Sinj Records). Led by Sunny Jain, Red Baraat is a brass band based in the music of the Indian subcontinent with a fresh take on the modern brass band.

Derek Trucks Band Roadsongs (Sony). The Derek Trucks is often labelled as a blues band which does not credit the originality of their music enough. As vocalist Mike Mattison states about the Trucks Band, “This was a multi-generational, multi-cultural, and above all, live band.” The music here ranges “from the bluesy “I’ll Find My Way,” and “Down in the Flood,” from Bob Dylan’s songbook; reggae with a gospel tinge on “Sailin’ On,” as a homage to John Coltrane on the Mongo Santamaria classic “Afro-Blues”…”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Outstanding New Jazz Releases.

Continuing my lists of outstanding Blues and Jazz, here are some Jazz releases that in 2010 impressed me.  These are not in any specific order.

Jason Moran Ten (Blue Note) This was quite a year for the pianist Moran was was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Ten refers to the the years his trio “The Bandwagon” has been together and this recording mixes a variety of new compositions which his fresh interpretation of Monk’s “Crepuscule With Nellie.” Most fascinating is his “Old Babies,” which is based on a very early twentieth century recording by the legendary pioneering performer, Bert Williams, and whose vocals Moran evokes in his piano on this.

Owen Howard
Drum Lore (BJU Records) The genesis of this recording
came from Howard’s participation in a jazz workshop’s composition class when someone asked why he a drummer was participating, and the result is this disc of eleven drummer penned compositions, superbly performed by Howard’s combo. Of Howard’s playing, I have noted, “Even when not upfront, his playing complements and pushes the soloists through these fascinating compositions that is a lesson that student at the jazz workshop hopefully by now has learned.”

Maurice Brown The Cycle of Love (Brown Records). A Chicago native who studied at Southern University’s acclaimed Jazz Program, Brown has a warm, lively tone and with a wonderful group produces some superb music. The music on this, his second album, exhibits some a playfulness and melodic qualities that can bring a smile to one’s face, yet there is plenty of substance here.

Lena Seikaly Written in the Stars (self-produced). Distinctive interpretations by this young Washington, DC area singer who has such a marvelous voice. Interesting song selection of standards and originals with a highlight for me being her rendition of the Charles Mingus ballad “Duke Ellington’s Song of Love.”

Catherine Russell
Inside This Heart of Mine (World Village). Russell, daughter of the legendary band leader Luis Russell and bassist carline Ray delights us as she mines “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.”

Gabriele Tranchina A Song Of Love’s Color (Jazzheads) This, I wrote, “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.”

Azar Lawrence
Mystic Journey (Furthermore). The saxophonist with his fine band joined by Eddie Henderson on trumpet and the late Rashied Ali on drums has produced a phenomenal recording that suggests the inspiration that John Coltrane provided Lawrence on a body of terrific material and performances.

Antonio Sanchez
Live in New York (CamJazz) Strong double CD performance at NYC’s Jazz Standard with drummer joined by his brother David on tenor sax, Miguel Xenon on alto sax and Scott Colley on bass for some truly special performances. 

Issac Delgado L-O-V-E (Sony Classical) The Cuban singer’s marvelous tribute to Nat King Cole is centered around the three albums Cole recorded that were recorded for Spanish speaking audiences. I wrote that the “combination of Delgado’s vocals and the exquisite accompaniments result in this being one of the year’s most enchanting recordings.”

William Parker I Plan To Stay A Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield (Aum Fidelity). A lively double CD all star free-jazz big band exploration of the music of Curtis Mayfield that may have some ragged edges but makes compelling listening.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Outstanding 2010 New Blues Recordings

Continuing my look back at 2010 releases, here are ten choice new blues recordings. These are not in specific order.

Ronnie Earl Spread The Love (Stony Plain) About this terrific CD of blues and jazz guitar I wrote, “Ronnie Earl can takes us from the alley up into the heavens with his playing. He can play with grit yet touch us in our hearts and soothe our minds.”

James Cotton Giant (Alligator). Strong latest album by the harmonica legend with his current working band thats shows his harp playing as strong as ever. It “is a strong addition to Cotton’s rich musical legacy and is also valuable to document the terrific music that Cotton has been playing with his working band.”

Chris James & Patrick Rynn Gonna Boogie Anyway (Earwig Music). Second CD by guitarist and bassist who are well-versed in classic Chicago blues, whether backing legends like Jody Williams, or playing their own music. About this I wrote, “James and Rynn’s musical partnership has produced a second marvelous helping of blues delicacies.”

Andy Cohen Built Right On The Ground (Earwig Music). Andy Cohen has been playing older music styles on guitar, piano, dolceola and assorted instruments for several decades now and has had a number of recordings over the year. Of this, I observed, that it “showcases not simply how good a player he is and the extensiveness of his repertoire, but also the warmth and genuineness of his vocals. This recording is a must for lovers of acoustic and traditional blues.

Samuel James For Rosa, Maeve, and Noreen (Northern Blues). An unusual album of acoustic songs and storytelling that is deeply rooted. Samuel James “doesn’t shout his vocals as almost speaking them as his performances are somewhat conversational. Samuel James’ music is distinctive and fresh sounding. The result is a most beguiling recording that evokes older blues styles but is full of contemporary stories.”

Lynwood Slim and the Igor Prado Band Brazilian Kicks (Delta Groove). Brazilian Igor Prado’s excellent CD, Watch Me Move” (Chico Blues), grabbed my attention. Here he and his band are fronted by the strong singer-harmonica player, Lynwood Slim. Besides Prado’s spectacular playing, this band rocks and swings. “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.”

Robin Rogers Back in the Fire (Blind Pig). A final testament to a wonderful singer who just passed away, but was much loved by her fellow musicians and those who knew her. About her I noted that she sang “with complete authority and total conviction.” This is a terrific recording and stands as evidence of the strong music she produced before she left us.

Shakura S’Aida Brown Sugar (Ruf). My opening paragraph of my review says it all. “Born in Brooklyn, raised in Switzerland and long resident in Toronto, Ontario, Shakura S'Aida, is an international artist whose involvement in the Canadian music scene has been ongoing for the past 30 years, enriching the jazz, blues and classic R&B communities with her soulful voice, enthusiastic personality and commitment to music as an art form. Recently signed to Ruf Records, she has a new disc, Brown Sugar, that certainly will establish her as a significant vocalist.

Chris Cain So Many Miles (Blue Rock’It Records). Highly underrated West Coast blues performer who n ever disappoints. His music may lack flash but has plenty of substance. “Cain’s ability as a guitarist is displayed as his driving solos are concisely delivered, interesting driving solos, swinging with unexpected twists. Chris Cain’s sound is soulfully delivered blues with an urbane jazzy spicing and So Many Miles showcases this exceptionally.”

Eden Brent Ain’t Got No Troubles” (Yellow Dog Records). Pianist and vocalist eden Brent has certainly emerged this year as a strong performer (2010 BMA Award winner for her piano). Here latest recording “mixes a marvelous pianist and vocalist with strong material, sympathetic backing and varied, imaginative programming resulting in a terrific recording that should appeal to blues and roots music fans.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some Outstanding Vintage Jazz Recordings of 2010

The second installment of my look back at 2010 with some choice Vintage jazz releases.

Noah Howard Schizophrenic Blues (FMP-Destination Out) Howard, who recently passed away, was among the first wave of free jazz artists and this session from 1977 is among a series of downloads of out-of-print FMP CDs that the Destination Out website has started. As I recently noted that “even at its most Ayleresque moments “Fire March,” there is a lyricism as well as a blues foundation that makes this release engaging.

Charlie Haden The Complete Remastered Recordings on Soul Note (Soul Note). One of a number of recent Black Saint and Soul Note reissues with 5 CDs in mini lp jackets. This includes two original CDs by Old and New Dreams, the Ornette Coleman Alumni group with Dewey Redman, Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell, along with Etudes with Paul Motian and Geri Allen, Silence by
Charlie Haden With Chet Baker, Enrico Pieranunzi, Billy Higgins and Enrico Pieranunzi’s First Song.

Nat King Cole, Riffin': The Decca, JATP, Keynote & Mercury Recordings (Verve) Three CDs has classic recordings by the King Cole Trio, his Jazz at the Philharmonic performances and sessions with the Keynoters, Dexter Gordon and Lester Young.

George Russell The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note (Black Saint). Nine CD set with various groups that provide different takes on the late composer and jazz theorist’s works, Includes some great musicians from both the United States and Europe.
Publish Post

John Carter & Bobby Bradford Mosaic Select: The Complete Revelation Recordings (Mosaic) A valuable reissue of West Coast duo who were associated with Ornette Coleman . Includes much unissued duets as well as reissues the Revelation albums. Now if someone will do a complete reissue of Carter’s Five CD series, "Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music."

Miles Davis The Complete Bitches Brew (Sony). It has been 40 years since this path-making disc. This 40th Anniversary 3-disc package offers the original album on 2 CDs plus rare bonus audio material and a DVD of the entire previously unreleased Copenhagen performance from November 4, 1969.

Fats Waller Fats Waller On The Air: 1938 Broadcasts (Tai Ping Records). A reissue of primarily broadcast recordings that includes some selections that i believe have not been previously reissued. Marvelous recordings with His Rhythm as well as English broadcast with him on organ as well as backing vocalist Adelaide Hall.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Outstanding Vintage Blues Recordings of 2010

First in my List of Outstanding Jazz and Blues Recordings of 2010. I start with Vintage Blues Recordings which includes not simply reissues but also releases primarily consisting of older material.

Junior Wells & the Aces 
Live in Boston 1966 (Delmark). The release of a sixties club performance by Junior Wells with the Aces (Louis and Dave Myers as well as drummer Fred Below) captures Wells in top form and displays the manner Wells interacted with his primarily white college audience was not far removed from how he interacted with the folks at Pepper’s Lounge.

Albert King / Stevie Ray Vaughan: In Session (Stax). While the music has been available from the legendary encounter on CD, this combined deluxe DVD and CD includes much unissued video by the two. Tremendous meeting of two legends.

Little Smokey Smothers & Elvin Bishop Chicago Blues Buddies (Brown Derby). Compiled as a fundraiser for Smokey, who recently passed away, I wrote “a solid retrospective of a wonderful partnership with the release of the first-rate 1993 Chicago Blues Festival performances particularly welcome as are the tracks that Alligator and Black Magic graciously lent to this project … .”

Otis Redding
Live on the Sunset Strip (Stax) The classic live recordings which include the full sets of a legendary performance. “Over four decades later, Otis Redding’s music remains as gripping as when he performed on the Whiskey’s stage. Obviously those having the earlier reissues may not need this, but others who love “Sweet Soul Music,” will want this.”

Luther Allison
Songs From the Road (Ruf) CD and DVD of previously unissued performances by one of the greatest live blues performers ever. “What a joy to listen and watch previously unissued performances by Luther Allison after all these years. It doesn’t get much better than this release which is quite reasonably priced and should be available from itunes or amazon and better retailers.”

Sista Monica
Soul Blues & Ballads (Mo Muscle Records). A terrific retrospective for which I wrote, ‘
There is a generous amount of music here with thirteen outstanding performances for about 70 minutes by one of the blues and R&B world’s finest singers here. I add that she could have selected from her earlier recordings, a dozen different performances and had as compelling a recording. She is just that dynamic and soulful. For those lacking anything by the Sista, here is a good place to start.”

Freddie King Texas Flyer (Bear Family). This is the second Bear Family box sets that has also tyhe commercially issued recordings by the legendary blues singer and guitarist. This set also has the live recordings he did for RSO and much previously unissued live performances. Between the two sets on Bear Family (The 7CD Taking Care of Business is the earlier one) one has about 15 hours of guitar blues of the highest level and one can reevaluate some of the stuff that one might have dismissed four decades ago.  Special note should be made of the hard cover book with Bill Dahl's biographical and musical notes and pianist Dave Maxwell's recollections of working with King. The book also has some incredible photographs and full discographical information.

Little Willie John Mister Little Willie John + Talk To Me (HooDoo Records) Two early albums by the great rhythm and blues singer who died way too soon with a number of his classic songs including Fever, Talk to Me, Home at Last, All Around the World, and Drive Me Home.

Christine Kittrell,
Call Her Name:Complete Recordings 51-65 (Bear Family). Nashville was once known as much for its Rhythm and Blues scene as hillbilly music, and the queen of that scene was Christine Kittrell. Bear Family has compiled all of her recordings from 1951 to 1965 (many produced by legendary songwriter-producer Ted Jarrett) that shows a terrific singer that had some mostly regional success but was the equal of some of her better known contemporaries. On one selection, a John Coltrane rips out a sax solo that stands out.

Big Walter Horton Blues Harmonia Giant (JSP) 3-CD box that reissues this important harmonica masters early recordings for a variety of labels along with some of his choice accompaniments and a bonus CD of a live 70's performance with his primary disciple, Carey Bell. I blogged extensively on this reissue.

Bob Corritore Harmonica Blues (Delta Groove). Harmonica player Bob Corritore has championed traditionally styled Chicago blues for decades. This Delta Groove release showcases his considerable skills on the harmonica with a number of blues legends, a number of whom are no longer with us including Robert Lockwood, Nappy Brown and Koko taylor as well as Eddie Shaw, Louisiana Red, Big Pete Pearson and others. There is enough older material to place this in the Vintage category as opposed to a straight new release.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Country Side of Watermelon Slim

Watermelon Slim has emerged as a hot act in the blues and roots music realm. This is the final of three reviews I have written of his recordings from the past few years.  Reviews have been posted on this blog on December 5 of his eponymously titled 2006 release, and December 12 for No Paid Holidays. The following review of Escape From the Chicken Coop appeared in the September 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 320).

Watermelon Slim’s gritty blues-based music has never been totally containable within any specific musical genre, so its not surprising that his latest disc, “Escape From the Chicken Coop,” (Northern Blues), is labeled a country disc. Recorded in Nashville, their may be a bit more twang here and a bit of country joint piano from Kevin McKendree (of Delbert McClinton’s band), but Slim’s raspy vocals and driving slide guitar is a cousin to that of the Duane Allman influenced playing that is sported in some country groups today.

He wrote some songs with Gary Nicholson (who also plays on most of this) such as the nice country duet with Jenny Littleton “You See Me Like I See You,” while he unplugs for his whiskey-voiced delivery of Ray Acuff’s “Wreck on the Highway.” The opening driving “Caterpillar Whine,” would not be out of place of one of Slim’s ‘blues’ albums. “Friends on the Porch,” is a short spoken narrative before “Should Have Done More,” which sounds like a modern country reworking of an old English ballad. “Hank Williams You Wrote My Life,” has an effective lyric and a hard edge to the performance while “American Wives,” is evocative of some of Waylon Jennings recordings. 

Escape From the Chicken Coop,” makes for an easy listening and should appeal to fans of Watermelon Slim who shows a natural affinity for the material here as he does for his more blues-based stuff.

The review copies of this CD were provided by the record label, a publicist for the label or performer.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Specialty Profiles Evidence of Art Rupe's Hall of Fame Career

Art Rupe was just honored as one of the two Ahmet Ertegun honorees (to non-musicians for contributions to Rock and Roll) by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and will be honored along with Dr. John, Neil Diamond, and Tom Waits. Rupe was an important independent record company pioneer whose Specialty Records label produced some of the classic jump blues, gospel and early rock and roll recordings. As Billy Vera says in the booklet accompanying the 5 CD box set, The Specialty Story, “If Art Rupe and his Specialty Records, had done nothing more than give us Little Richard, he would still deserve a place in the rock ’n’ roll triumvirate along with Sam Phillips (Sun Records) and Leonard and Phil Chess (Chess Records). … In little over ten years activity, Specialty Records growth paralleled, and perhaps defined, the evolution of black popular music—from the “race” music of the 1940s to the rock ’n’ roll of the 1950s.”

Specialty issued some amazing recordings. The core of the label’s output can be found on the afore-mentioned The Specialty Story which includes (among its 130 recordings) recordings that charted as well as recordings by artists or are of songs that would later become important. The box, specifically does exclude Specialty’s jazz recordings and only provides a token representation of the important Gospel catalog of the label. After Fantasy acquired the Specialty catalog (in 1990 I believe), they began issuing a great number of reissues from the Specialty catalog. Concord Music acquired the Fantasy catalog and have some new reissues of such material as well as many of the fantasy reissues remain still available. Concord did in 2006 issue some budget reissues that I reviewed initially for the December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 289), which I am posting today in part to salute Mr. Rupe.

Those purchasing these budget reissues may well wish to check out the prior excellent reissues of these artists as well as releases by such important performers as Guitar Slim, Little Richard, Brother Joe May, The Pilgrim Travelers, Don & Dewey and Wyonna Carr.

Concord Music Group’s release of six initial Specialty Profile budget reissues hopefully will introduce some to the great music that has been issued by Fantasy Records prior to Concord’s acquisition of the label last year. Originally called Juke Box, Specialty was one of the independent labels that emerged after World War II that was central in the release of so much rhythm’n’blues, gospel and blues as well as some of the most important pioneering rock ’n’ roll recordings. These releases have 14 performances by the featured artist and a second bonus CD with ten performances by various Specialty artists.

Roy Milton, inspired by the big bands led his Solid Senders, the prototypical jump blues band, that in its tight, punchy sound captured some of the flavor of the bigger bands on a program of blues and jump numbers. Milton was a swinging drummer and an ingratiating vocalist with a terrific band that featured the wonderful pianist Camille Howard. Milton had many charting records, which became staples of the emerging rhythm and blues music. Two of his recordings Milton’s Boogie, his version of Count Basie’s Boogie Woogie and Milton’s Hop Skip & Jump were recorded by Elmore James pianist Little Johnnie Jones while such numbers as R.M. Blues and Information Blues still appeal with the strong driving swing and superb musicianship. This is terrific stuff.

John Lee Hooker recorded prolifically between the late forties and early fifties for a variety of labels including Specialty who acquired sides produced by Bernie Besman in Detroit. The 14 selections presented by Specialty capture Hooker on his driving one-chord boogies such as his revisiting of his first hit, Boogie Chillen, his slow brooding lament about a cheating woman which he would later visit for Vee-Jay, I’m Mad, and the hot duet with harmonica player Eddie Burns, Burnin’ Hell, where he proclaims “Ain’t no heaven, ain’t no burning hell” as he lays down a hot boogie guitar riff.“ There is a small combo version of Rosco Gordon’s No More Doggin’. This is this writer’s favorite period of John Lee Hooker’s recording with some of his most powerful recordings to which this disc is an excellent introduction.

After Fats Domino, probably no New Orleans artist had the impact of one Lloyd Price whose recording Lawdy Miss Clawdy, was one of the first rhythm and blues hit recordings to cross over to a white audience in a massive fashion. Price went on to a celebrated recording and performing career. The 14 selections here come from two CDs of his music and is a reasonable sample of his earliest recordings, dating from 1952 or 1953 with the exception of 1956’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance. Price’s earliest recordings for Specialty had him backed by Dave Bartholomew’s legendary studio band with Fats Domino on piano for the Lawdy Miss Clawdy session while later sessions included pianists Edward Frank and Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and such horn players as Wallace Davenport and Herb Hardesty. These tracks are classic New Orleans R&B with tracks like Mailman Blues, or Where You At? being hot rockers. Price’s youth perhaps leads to some vocals sounding as a bit overwrought (If Crying Was Murder).

Larry Williams was Lloyd Price’s second cousin, and born in New Orleans although his family moved to the West Coast in his youth, returning to the New Orleans a couple of times, including stints with his cousin as driver and valet and then briefly with Fats Domino. He joined Specialty around the time Little Richard had quit music and with hits like Bony Moronie, Short Fat Fanny and Dizzy Miss Lizzy, which also influenced an imaginative John in Liverpool. He was a solid pianist, pounding out his boogie rocking licks backed by some of the best studio bands in Hollywood with transplanted New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer anchoring things. These were splendid rock and roll recordings. There is a nice rendition of his cousin’s Just Because along with Sonny Bono’s High School Dance and She Said Yeah, the coupling Bad Boy and Slow Down, covered by the Beatles, and Little School Girl, a reworking of the blues classic Good Morning Little Schoolgirl. Williams could not handle success leading to drug problems and an early death, but his legacy is these terrific recordings.

Percy Mayfield was labeled The Poet Laureate of the Blues, for his wonderfully crafted sophisticated blues. As a performer, he sang with an intimacy that matched the sophistication of his lyrics. Until disfigured in an auto accident he had the looks to make him a major star and still remained an major songwriter (hired by Rat Charles) as well as a performer who continued to make thoughtful and sophisticated recordings until his death. His songs, including Please Send Me Someone to Love, Strange Things Happening, The River’s Invitation, Lost Love (aka Baby Please) and Lost Mind, have become blues standards and his original recordings are terrific. Given that only 14 selections were chosen, Mayfield’s early demo of Hit the Road, Jack, might have been omitted along with the duet with Joy Hamilton, Sugar Mama-Peachy Papa, as they are below the level of these other included recordings.

The last of the reissues is devoted to the legendary Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers and includes of a nice sampling of his early gospel recordings along with several of his earliest pop recordings. Nine of the selections are Cooke as a member of the Soul Stirrers in which he shares the lead with Paul Foster whose vocals are as remarkable as Cooke’s. Listen to the closing I’m Gonna Build Right on That Shore, where Foster takes the first lead with Cooke taking the lead mid- song and then the two trade lead verses. Its a remarkable performance but just one of several classic gospel recordings here including renditions of Thomas Dorsey’s Peace in the Valley, Cooke’s Touch the Hem of His Garment and Jesus Gave Me Water. The five pop performances by Cooke include I’ll Come Running Back to You, Lovable and I Don’t Want to Cry, but Cooke’s mostly are overshadowed by his later pop recordings. Still, this is a fine overview of early Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers recordings that sound fresh even today.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Peter Parcek Solves The Mathematics of Love

Peter Parcek’s website, describes his guitar style as weaving “rock, gypsy-jazz, country, folk, and blues-- especially blues-- into a tapestry of melody, harmony and daredevil solos that push those styles to their limits without sacrificing the warmth of his own personality.” He has a release to showcase this musical blend and his virtuosity, “The Mathematics of Love” (VizzTone). As for this album he states the influence of Django Reinhardt, “Django’s performances are breathtakingly beautifully and technically demanding. I’ve really been taken with the purity of his acoustic guitar sound, and he played electric with such abandon. His music is very much alive and creative, so I also tried to bring those qualities to ‘The Mathematic of Love.’” He is backed here by drummer Steve Scully and bassist Marc Hickox with appearances by Mandolin virtuoso Jimmy Ryan, violinist Dan Kellar and upright bass Marty Ballou.

The recording opens with a rendition of Peter Green’s “Showbiz Blues,” with the mood incorporating Elmore James licks, a driving hill country groove with blistering slide. While not a great singer, Parcek convincing asks “Do you give a damn about me.” The title track follows with a hesitant slow tempo, as he hauntingly sings “don’t lie to me, don’t erase me, you know the Mathematics of Love are plain and simple as a A B C,” with nice acoustic slide contrasted with his use of electronic effects. “Rollin’ With Zah,” is an dazzling instrumental tour de force as Parcek snaps, crackles, chicken scratches and lays down some heavy runs.

A surprising, but striking, cover is from the pen of the late Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Lord Help the Poor and Needy,” which he sings and plays at a dirge tempo with vibrato and echo prevalent and a synthesized drone, before he takes an impressive, carefully developed solo against this thudding rhythm. “Get Right With God,”is a rocking instrumental take of a Lucinda Williams song with more guitar pyrotechnics. He takes a softer approach on “Tears Like Diamonds,” with his vocal being a bit more effective here. “Kokomo Me Baby,” takes a number associated with Mississippi Fred McDowell, and takes it into warp drive with an able vocal and dazzling guitar. The cleanness of his picking as well as his use of sonic textures again stands out.

New Year’s Eve,” again takes a more country blues feel with some tasty harp by Mike Fritz and Ronnie Earl adds his guitar to the performance. This is followed by an instrumental interpretation of “Busted” with Al Kooper guesting on organ. Parcek employ’s a heavy, nasty tone at the beginning as his guitar sings the lyrics before taking off on his sonic explorations.

The Mathematics of Love,” is a first-rate recording of blues roots and guitar explorations that mixes tradition with a heavy dose of the contemporary. While his vocals may vary in convincingness, (he shines when he is in an acoustic-oriented vein), he always is listenable. However, his guitar playing will unquestionably be the recordings strongest appeal; and fans of the legendary Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan should enjoy listening to Parcek’s impressive fretwork.

This review originally appeared in the June 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 326) at pp.19-20 ( to which I made minor stylistic corrections. The review copy for this CD was provided by a publicist.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lauren Kinham's Delights With "Avalon"

Vocalist Lauren Kinhan is best known as a member of the vocal group, The NY Voices, as well as two other vocal ensembles, Moss, and JaLaLa. With JaLaLa, she was part of the memorable tribute to Johnny Mercer, "That Old Mercer Magic." She has just issued her second solo recording, "Avalon," (E1 Music), which displays her talents as a songwriter, and not simply a singer.

She has done this with some of her closest friends who happen to be some of New York’s finest musicians, including drummer and percussionist, who co-produced this with Lauren, and bassist Peter Nowinski who is on most of this. Peter Eldridge, fellow New York Voices band mate, plays piano and co-pens some songs. Jonatha Brooke joins her on “Here After” while Romero Lubambo guests on “Until You’re Mine” and “Here’s My Avalon” and Donny McAslin and Joel Frahm add their signature horn handiwork. Andy Ezrin is also featured on piano and B3 organ.

There is plenty of Brazilian accents heard throughout this as on the opening “Until You’re Mine,” with its light rhythms, and the marvelous song “Here’s My Avalon,” with a bit more fervent rhythm and some terrific horns (Joel Frahm’s alto sax is very impressive throughout as is Romero Lubambo’s guitar) on a love song she wrote for her daughter while away from home.while her scatting dances along with the band as the song rides out. “Here After,” is a dreamy pop number wonderfully sung with Jonatha Brook’s duet vocal, while “Move Over Sunshine,” has an uptown, bluesy flavor with brassy horns as she belts out the lyric in a most graceful manner.

An engrossing rhythm drives “Hide the Moon and Stars,” with lovely flute from Aaron Heick and a hint of flamenco in this romantic song. “Screaming Savoir Faire,” co-written with Andy Ezrin who plays piano as she sings, somewhat disconsolately, about her lover leaving and not keeping the promises he made. On a song like this one appreciates how she avoids coming off as maudlin, with her timing and phrasing of the lyric being enchanting. A bit of funk in the groove with some slide guitar accents on “Writing on the Wall,” as she effortlessly glides from whispering to trumpeting the lyric with vocal chorus support and Ezrin soloing on Fender Rhodes. “Savor the Wine,” is a rock styled number with Ben Butler setting the tone with his guitar against Eldridge’s piano, while the rhythm on “Dory and a Single Oar,” struts with Denny McCaslin adds some atmospheric tenor sax. The next two performances, “As If,” and “There Alone Go I,” have a bit more intimate backing and more lovely singing.

As she has showed over the past two decades, Lauren Kinham is a marvelous singer, able to handle pop and rock flavored material as effortlessly and heart fully as Brazilian sambas and Johnny Mercer standards. With the seamless backing and wonderful playing by the musicians behind her, she delights and enchants throughout with her songs and vocals on “Avalon.”

This review originally appeared in the June 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 326) at pp.16-17 ( The review copy was supplied by a distributor for the recording label.