Thursday, March 31, 2011

Anat Cohen's Marvelous Village Notes

Anat Cohen certainly has established herself among the rising new performers in jazz today. The following review originally appeared in the November 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 310), although I have made minor edits. I believe I received a review copy from Jazz & Blues Report.
One of the many prominent Israeli born jazz artists to come to our attention, Anat Cohen has been receiving critical kudos from the jazz press as well as making her mark. The first female horn player to headline the Village Vanguard, she has opened eyes and ears with her marvelous reed playing.

This writer was captivated by her performance as part of the United Jazz Orchestra led by Paquito D’Rivera at the 2007 Duke Elllington Jazz Festival. Her latest album is the marvelous
Notes From the Village (Anzic), and has her backed by Jason Lindner on piano; Omer Avital on bass; and drummer Daniel Freedman, with guitarist Hekselman appearing on three of the eight performances.

This is lively and uplifting music from the start with the opening
Washington Square Park, incorporating latin elements along with modern and traditional jazz. the music sings and its hard to resist the urge to dance with this including Hekselman’s twisting, lively solo and Cohen’s serpentine soprano sax playing here. Its followed by Cohen’s lovely ballad Until You’re in Love Again, with its echoes of Gordon Jenkins’ Goodbye, with her lovely woody clarinet tone evoking Goodman’s legacy before taking the song into a new direction. It is as indicative as any track here showing the freshness of her music and playing.

Cuban composer Ernesto Lecouna’s
Siboney, features an arrangement by Lindner which fuses elements of tango with the Afro-Cuban foundation as Cohen’s horn sings again. She plays bass clarinet on the lovely, wistful rendition of Coltrane’s After the Rain, with Lindner taking a nice solo. J Blues is a lively original with her playing mesmerizing, while her interpretation of Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come, opens with a work song like tempo as emphatically laid out by drummer Freedman, while her playing is both soulful and thoughtful.

A playful rendition of Fats Waller’s
Jitterbug Waltz takes this out on another high note with a very fresh, effervescent arrangement by Cohen and her sax weaving its magic throughout, concluding a CD of music rooted in the past and present yet looking forward to the future. It certainly will add to the many kudos she already has received.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fulmer's Evocative Mystery, "Rampart Street"

Here is a review of David Fulmer’s novel “Rampart Street” from the the November-December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 288). The book has since this review was published, has been issued in paperback and Harcourt has subsequently published Fulmer’s The Dying Crapshooter’s Blues, an excellent mystery set around thirties Atlanta and Blind Willie McTell, and several other novels including a new Valentin St. Cyr novel, Lost River, which I have not read. I believe I received a review copy of Rampart Street from the publisher. BTW, I previously blogged my review of The Dying Crapshooter's Blues.

About a year ago I picked up a paperback by Atlanta based David Fulmer, Chasing the Devil’s Tail. It was a mystery set in New Orleans of the early part of the century and featured a Creole of color, Valentin St. Cyr as its main character. St. Cyr was a one-time New Orleans policeman who left the force and began working for Tom Anderson, the King of Storyville, who owned a legendary cafe in “The District.” In a novel populated with Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden, at a time right after the Supreme Court’s infamous opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, St. Cyr solves the Black Rose murders of some of the District’s working ladies. By the time of the second volume, Jass, Buddy Bolden has been institutionalized and the members of a jazz band are being murdered. Everyone seems to want him not to solve the case except the musicians and after the case is solved St. Cyr leaves New Orleans.
Rampart Street takes place a year and a half after the events in Jass, and has somehow gotten back in the good graces of Tom Anderson, working Anderson’s, bar but somehow someone disinterested in handling the pickpockets, card sharks and other predators as he had a few years before. A prominent New Orleans businessman is found murdered on Rampart Street, at the time the back end of the city where such a man would not have been found and an alderman goes to Anderson to have St. Cyr try to find the killer on behalf of the businessman’s daughter. Not that they want him to actually solve the case. Its better that the death quickly get forgotten, so no one but the daughter or St. Cyr want him to really solve the case. A street criminal is picked up and charged with the murder, but the evidence of the bullet wound and the lack of the powder burn does not support this being a case of a street robbery. 

St. Cyr seems to have everybody working against him and more people get killed around him including the person at the Picuyane’s morgue who had been helping St. Cyr in trying to unravel the series of murders. Unlike the earlier novels, Jelly Roll Morton is now in Chicago and jazz has a lower profile than in the earlier novels. Yet, the Sicilian grocery and saloon owner, whose place St. Cyr has a room at, features a jazz band in the saloon and Beansoup, the street kid who had been assisting St. Cyr and had been in the waif’s home at the same time as Louis Armstrong, is now playing harmonica in Jackson Square behind Charlie Jackson, a blues singer and guitarist who performs’Duncan and Brady, a ballad about an altercation between a saloon keeper and a sheriff in East St. Louis.

Fulmer continues to develop his characters and weaves the story together in a compelling fashion. I could not put this down after starting it or the two earlier novels. He really brings this long gone period to life in all three of these excellent books. If you like mysteries, you certainly might read Chasing the Devil’s Tail first (it and Jass are currently available in paperback) and if you enjoy it (as I suspect you will), you will dig into the sequels including Rampart Street. The Valentin St. Cyr mysteries certainly are absorbing.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Marcia Ball's Superb New "Roadside Attractions"

A new album by Marcia Ball, Roadside Attractions (Alligator) will be welcome by her many fans who certainly will enjoy this release with its gulf coast grooves. This CD is produced by Gary Nicholson who has produced Delbert McClinton amongst others. One point of special interest is that Marcia wrote or co-wrote all the songs on this, and they are excellent songs. The performances are first rate, with consistently strong backing, whether provided by a small combo or a slightly larger group with a horn section.

The rollicking title track finds Marcia singing about all the sights and wonders of the world she has seen in her years on the road. There might be 7 billion people on this world but she is still her man’s girl and she is coming home. The country-flavored wistful
Between Here And Kingdom Come” celebrates life in a two lane highway and one red light small town while, We Fell Hard is a rocker sporting a hot New Orleans groove. Look Before You Leap, has a driving groove with a philosophical lyric about her mom warning her to look before you leap or she might find yourself in too deep in trouble.

I Heard It All is lyrically akin to Robert Cray’s Right Next Door (Because of Me). This song is about Marcia going to a regular Friday hotel rendezvous and hearing an argument in the next room. She soon realizes that the man she has been seeing is now begging his wife to take him back. Whereas in Cray’s recording, he is full of guilt for breaking up a marriage, Marcia cannot believe he is treating herself like that. She confronts the cheating husband in front of the wife, saying she heard it all and warning her that he cheated once and he will do it again. It is a marvelously nuanced vocal and performance. The mood shifts radically on the next track, funky Believe in Love, where she celebrates how her man keeps her believing in love. There is a terrific saxophone solo on this song.

This Used To Be Paradise, has a topical bent about how life in the gulf coast changed after the oil man changed things. The performance benefits from the understated lyrics and vocal along nice accordion in the accompaniment. Mule Headed Woman, is a wry, slow blues about Marcia’s man who will keep drinking “his whiskey, even if it is killing him.” Closing the album is the hot rocker, The Party’s Is Still Going On, and with Marcia, the party never ends. While that is true, the performances and lyrics here show increased thoughtfulness and sophistication. Marcia Ball is not only a hot tamale baby that can boogie the woogie, but is also a superb singer who brings to life the exceptional songs here. This explains in part why Roadside Attractions is so exceptional.

My review copy was provided by Alligator Records

Monday, March 28, 2011

Things Go Cleveland Fats Way!


This review of The Way Things Go by Mark Hahn (aka Cleveland Fats) (Honeybee Records) that appeared in the December 2006, Jazz & Blues Report (issue 289). I knew Mark from when he was in Robert Lockwood’s band and the issue also featured my interview with Mark (which I may run here in the future) and obituary on Lockwood who has just passed when I interviewed Hahn. This album is available still from cdbaby, amazon and other sources. I believe I received a review copy from Jazz & Blues Report or from Fats himself.

I first met Mark Hahn when he was playing guitar with the late Robert Lockwood, Jr. for over a decade (and he is on several of Lockwood’s albums including the classic Does 12). His last gig as part of Lockwood’s band at the Blue Bayou Festival that took place in 1991 or 1992 at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center, after which Hahn started leading his own band using the name Cleveland Fats. This new release is, I believe, his fourth album since starting his solo career and was produced by Earwig Music’s Michael Frank with an excellent band that includes veteran bassist Aaron Burton; pianists Aaron Moore and Ariyo; drummer Dave Jefferson; saxophonist Doc Thomas; and organist Vince Willis. Billy Branch adds his harp on four tracks and Lockwood himself appears on four tracks which are among the final studio recordings on which the legend played.

This was recorded in Chicago, with Lockwood’s contributions overdubbed a month later in Cleveland. Hahn himself started getting into blues after catching B.B. King on a Cleveland TV show.The next day the local store was out of B.B.’s albums and so he picked up an Albert King album. Both Kings, T-Bone and a host of others, especially Mr. Lockwood, shaped his strong urban blues guitar playing. Echoes of Lockwood phrasing heard on his solo on Don’t Call Me, one of the tracks with Branch’s remarkable harp artistry. The opening bars on Invisible Man echo Lockwood’s intro to Lockwood’s 1960 recording This is the Blues, before Hahn launches into some nice slide as Branch embellishes with fine harp. These tracks feature Hahn’s solid singing that to these ears suggest Chris Cain and the late Louis Myers. And these numbers, like most of the selections, are Hahn’s originals that deserve to be picked up by others. Cell Phone Blues has an amusing lyric as Fats sings “Don’t want no cell phone hanging around with me, cause I may go to places I ain’t supposed to be.”

Lockwood first appears on the solid updating of Sonny Thompson’s easy tempo shuffle Long Gone, taking the second solo. Hahn’s fine original Blues Time is a slow blues with Hahn’s playing nodding a bit to T-Bone as well as Lockwood with Lockwood taking another fine solo that would have been at home on any of Robert’s albums. Just Fats, Branch and Lockwood are heard on Lockwood’s Dead orAlive, which Fats sings nicely as the three provide a relaxed,swinging performance.

This is marvelously recorded and performed and with Robert Lockwood now gone, this disc indicates that others will be helping keep his musical legacy alive by their own music. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Johnny Max's Long Road Well Traveled

Hailing from the Toronto, Ontario, Johnny Max has been playing the blues on radio as well as singing and playing the blues for a few decades now. This writer had the pleasure of seeing him perform at a Saturday afternoon pub engagement which impressed me with his vocals and solid band as well as his way of communicating with an audience, leading me to buy a fine CD by him A Lesson I’ve Learned (Pour Soul Records). He has a new release that this writer finds as delightful, if not more so, Its a Long Road (Pour Soul Records). He is backed by the current Johnny Max Band of Vince Maccarone, (drums), Wayne Deadder, (bass), John Findlay, (guitars), and Jesse O’Brien (keys) who are complemented by background vocals and percussion, plus a full brass section led by Johnny Johnson (obviously a different person than the late piano legend). 

What is immediately apparent is how confident and relaxed Johnny Max’s vocals are and how strong the support he receives. The band sounds well-rehearsed and crisp as if they have been playing this material for weeks (which they may well have), while Max brings warmth, conviction and more than an occasional sense of sly humor here and his songs sound fresh as he ables brings a gumbo of blues and classic rhythm and blues grooves on displayed here. It helps that Johnny Max also has a way with words in capturing the spoiled Daddy’s Little Girl, about the girl who caught his eye with a short mini-shirt who knows how to get what she wants with the band playing a lively New Orleans groove. He also can set the mood, as on Heading Back to You, is a wonderfully sung ballad, while a jazzier flavor marks She Don't Love Me Anymore, as he talks about his women having enough of Johnny’s crazy stuff and that he cannot stay. 

Blues singers Johnny Max and Robin Banks at Toronto's The Rose and Crown

The country flavor of
Song of New York serves as a background for an almost casual delivery of a set of short vignettes of the dark side of the Big Apple with a nice short tenor sax break. The lively I’m in Trouble, with a latin groove and bright horn arrangement as he notes that every time he opens his big fat mouth, nothing but trouble comes pouring out.” 
This release hopefully will enable Johnny Max to be recognized for the fine performer he is with a warm and soulful vocals full of personality, and strong songwriting as well as the superb musicians playing with him. Highly recommended.

I received a review copy from a publicist.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Andrew Jones Gets Real

Its been a few years since Andrew ‘Jr. Boy’ Jones has had a new release out. The Canadian Electro-Fi label has just released the Texas guitar slinger’s latest disc, Gettin’ Real, with some muscular guitar and husky vocals from the one-time Freddie King band member. His first release was for JSP and led to a solid subsequent release for Bullseye Blues. Having this new release from him is certainly welcome.

Jones makes no attempt to break new ground by recycling blues-rock as rock here. Instead what we have on this collection is some straight-ahead Texas blues along with two jazz-inflected soul-funk instrumentals. The opening
Struggle, sets the table here with an insistent vocal of a lyric about losing his job and things being unsettled on the home front accompanied by some searing guitar. John Street’s keyboards add to the feel of the People Say I’m Crazy, as Jr. Boy sings about how this woman breaks his heart so many times yet still crazy to love his woman. He tells his lady his tired of her Negative Talkin’, as Cheryl Arena adds some down home harmonica with Street rollicking on piano. The rest of the rhythm, bassist, Tommy Tucker and drummer, Jamie Byrom keep things in the pocket.

The old Wilson Picket groover
Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You, is given a driving instrumental treatment as Jr. Boy opens with some tasty mix of jazzy chording and single note runs which would be interesting if he also employed this approach backing some of his vocals here. Don’t Get It Twisted, has a slow funky groove with a melody suggestive of Mustang Sally, as Andrew wonders who is driving his new car and wearing his new suit. A nice change of pace is afforded by the soulful ballad Good Lovin’. This varied and entertaining disc closes with some more jazz-inflected playing on an instrumental rendition of What’s Going On.

Given what passes for blues today, it is refreshing to listen to such a strong, straight-forward blues recording that doesn’t claim to break new ground. All it does is deliver straight blues to the listener.

I likely received my review copy from Electro-Fi. This review was written in late 2009. This should be readily available.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Keith Little's Soulful Blues Vocals

Keith Little, called Cincinnati’s “King of the Blues,” is a multi-talented personality as a musician, singer, songwriter, documentary producer and more. The British publication, “Juke Blues,” recently did a nice write-up on him and he has a new CD on Blue Skunk, Take It Off And Get Loose With It, that displays his soulful blues vocals and songs. With a background in gospel and soul as well as blues, this new recording (which is at least his fourth) shows why he was regarded highly enough for a British publication to devote a feature to him. I am not familiar with most of the musicians backing Little on this with the exception of Rick Nye who plays the keyboards on a number of tracks (Nye is best known for the annual boogie woogie parties he throws). Other prominent members of the backing musicians is guitarist Marcos Sastre, Cheryl Renee Little (his wife) on keyboards and Gary Winters (credited on horns and arrangements, although the horns sound like a synthesized keyboards on the opening “Stand My Ground.” Keith Little is heard on bass guitar on several tracks while playing lead and rhythm on a few songs.

The opening track, Stand My Ground, is an uptempo burner with Sastre blasting things out while Little sings about he won’t things won’t bother him as he has to stand his ground. There is a soulful warmth in his gritty baritone that is even better displayed on Copper Tops, with Nye’s strong piano setting the tone before he sings about having a die-hard love affair as delivers an amusing lyric. His vocals might be likened to Brook Benton but with a bit more grit. The title track, Get Loose With It, is a playful number as Little tells his lady to take it off and get loose with it, followed by the slow blues Wheelin’ and Dealin’, where Little talks about being a being with a brand new attitude and either she loves him with a feeling and he is wheelin’ and dealin’ out the door with Sastre playing some particularly nice guitar on this while Little’s relaxed, natural delivery of his song, helps it resonate with the listener.

Little’s soulfulness also is displayed on another strong slow blues, Show Some Sign, again with strong fretwork from Sastre. It’s All About you, is a funky dance number where his wife adds a guest vocal. Going Down Slow is not the St. Louis Jimmy classic, but more akin to the Freddie King recording, Going Down, as he is “going down, way way down too far to go.” Little, waiting for his woman to come home, knows his woman has her New Shoes on and he has pain in his heart as he breaks into a falsetto as he tells his baby its too late now with a nice understated accompaniment. The disc closes with the only song Little did not pen, Tony Joe White’s Rainy Night in Georgia, on which Little sounds pretty close to Brook Benton on the hit recording with some smooth saxophone from Marcus Grisom and some sound effects in the background.

Marcos Sastre does rock out a bit at times and a live horn section would have been stronger than the synthesized horns heard on several tracks, but Keith Little really has a way with a song and brings a warm, gritty sensualness to the music here that should appeal to fans of blues and soul. This can be obtained from Blue Skunk at from which this can be purchased. Keith Little’s website is

I received a review copy from Blue Skunk.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Paul Pigat's Diverse Roots Music

Roots-country guitarist-vocalist Paul Pigat would likely be classified in Americana if he was based in the States. Based in Vancouver he has two new CDs on Little Pig Records. One is as by Cousin Harley, Its a Sin, while the other is under his own name and entitled Boxcar Campfire. The two discs have very different flavors but are quite enjoyable in their separate fashion.

The Cousin Harley disc opens up with the rockabilly flavored 
Conductor Man, and listening to Pigat’s vocals along with his sizzling, twanging guitar, one might think of Pigat as a Yankee Marty Robbins crossed with the Johnny Burnette Trio as Keith Picot slaps the bass and Jesse Cahill kicks the rhythm around. The mood can switch to a bit jazzier guitar on the swinging “She’s Comin’ Back the old-style Western rocker, Sweet Little Angel, and scintillating instrumentals such as the swinging Beaver Fever, Swingin’ Life a Mofo, and Spooks. Cousin Harley will clearly appeal to fans of similar guitar masters with a similar country-roots base as Bill Kirchen and Deke Dickerson. Cousin’s Harley’ It’s a Sin is wonderful rocking music and terrific fun.

Pigat’s own
Boxcar Campfire, is built upon a mostly acoustic quartet and has a folk-country feel with some blues tinges with Pigat on guitars and banjo, Tommy Babin on bass, Barry Mirochnink on drums and Paul Rigby on mandolin. The ambiance is more of what some might call “Americana,” ranging from the folk oriented Johnny’s Poorly, to the bluegrass flavored All Over Now. A reference point might be the great Leon Redbone, although Pigat’s recordings don’t have his dead pan humor. John Henry Part 2, with its dirge tempo, has Pigat on electric guitar and is an original lyric with this John Henry being an offspring of the hero, who never should have driven a spike on the line, being free with his knife and free with his gun.“ Corn Liquor has some nice finger style guitar with a Piedmont blues tinge, while “Nowhere Town,” is a reflective solo performance. Lonesome Whistle is a invigorating bluegrass-tinged treatment of an Hank Williams number rousing interplay between mandolin, acoustic guitar and steel guitar and followed by the amusing lyric of Sweet Tooth. Boxcar Campfire shows another side of Paul Pigat’s music and is the diverse performances are wonderfully performed and so very entertaining.

I received review copies from a publicity firm.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pinetop Perkins Led A Rich Life & Enriched Us With His Music

Joe Willie ‘Pinetop’ Perkins led a full and rewarding life. The iconic blues pianist passed away on March 21 at the age of 97. An important part of the post-war Delta blues scene of the forties through the sixties, he may have been best known as the pianist who succeeded Otis Spann in Muddy Waters Band. Later a member of the Legendary Blues Band, Pinetop, went on as a solo artist for the last 30 odd years of his life, receiving numerous awards and becoming one of the most beloved performers in the blues, always with a twinkle in his eye. With his passing one of the last links to the classic period of the Delta Blues has passed.
Pinetop started as a guitarist but after his arm was cut by a knife in a barroom fight, he took to the piano and became one of the top players in the post-war Delta scene. The name Pinetop derived from the fact that the Clarence ‘Pinetop’ Smith tune, “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie,” became a signature number for Perkins. He was a King Biscuit Boy, one of the members of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Band that played daily on KFKA from Helena, Arkansas and toured Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas. He taught a young Ike Turner how to play piano and later did sessions for Sam Phillips backing up Earl Hooker, Walter Horton and others as well as made his first recordings under his name (although these would not be issued until a  couple decades later).
He was associated with guitarist Earl Hooker for a substantial time, and Bobby Bland on a Blues Cruise, called out to Pinetop, after seeing him on his scooter in front of the stage, if he remembered playing east St. Louis with bobby and Earl Hooker. PInetop’s music became known to blues fans when he was on Earl Hooker’s Arhoolie album, “Two Bugs and a Roach.” It was within a couple years after that that Pinetop joined Muddy Waters Band with whom he stayed until not that long before Muddy’s death. Lovie Lee was Muddy’s pianist when Muddy passed away.  During this period he did a fair amount of recording sessions with Muddy and others. For example he appeared on Carey Bell’s excellent “Last Night” album on ABC-Bluesway. 
Over the next three decades Pinetop started releasing albums under his own name. He was an affable singer, but his piano playing was consistently strong. He perhaps had a limited repertoire as reflected by his recording some songs repeatedly, but he had a delightful personality. He mentored countless other musicians (not simply pianists) and charmed fans worldwide with his music. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rory Block Shakes 'Em On Down

Rory Block was fortunate to learn her music from (in addition to recordings) some of the masters of the blues idiom from such then surviving masters as Reverend Gary Davis, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White and Mississippi Fred McDowell. After her album devoted to Robert johnson’s music, she has continued with a disc of the music of Son House and now Mississippi Fred McDowell as part of a series of recordings where she salutes those who mentored her. Her Robert Johnson tribute was modeled closely on Johnson’s originals whereas her Son House tribute she mixed some performances with others that took more liberties. On her newest CD, Shake ‘Em on Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell (Stony Plain) she has written originals as well as given her own interpretation to McDowell’s songs.

The fact that her interpretations of songs associated with McDowell are personal interpretations along with her originals that incorporate elements of McDowell’s percussive, slide style without being a pastiche of such style, makes this a very different and, in my opinion, the most successful of her tribute recordings. It should be noted that it certainly sounds as if there is overdubbing of guitar parts and vocals, but it is wonderfully recorded so kudos to Rob Davis for the excellent engineering job.

This tribute opens with two of Ms Block’s originals. Steady Freddy, which has a forceful accompaniment as she has penned lyrics re-creating McDowell’s autobiography although the dialect is that of Ms Block and not Fred McDowell. It is followed by the remarkable Mississippi Man, a fully realized performance in part this song is Rory’s own story as a fifteen year old and her meeting the Mississippi Man. These lead in to her interpretations of McDowell’s songs that evoke the master while having her place her own stamp on them. She captures the mesmerizing flavor on Kokomo Blues, and that Eleven Light City. Good Morning Little School Girl is a bit more reflective and less rhythmically insistent than McDowell’s renditions, as she recasts the lyrics from the standpoint of the school girl who wants to go back home with the school boy. What’s the Matter Now, impressively builds on McDowell’s driving guitar style while vocally she lengthens the lyrics for her impassioned vocals.

Shake ‘Em Down illustrates her natural distillation of McDowell’s driving, droning guitar style while she overdubs vocals which she convincingly delivers, employs a pronounced rhythmic emphasis, while Worried Mind is a nice rendition of McDowell’s performance that might have come from John Estes’ Someday Baby, or perhaps Big Maceo’s Worried Life Blues. Whatever, Block makes this her own just like Muddy Waters, Fred McDowell, Big Maceo and others had done. The Man That I’m Lovin’, is likewise another song associated with Sleepy John Estes that McDowell translated into his style which again proves potent inspiration for Ms. Block who reinvents it yet anew.

Ancestral Home is another Rory original that incorporates elements of African musical traditions with her lyrics about the slave trade mixed with her overdubbing some African dialect in the vocal. Another original, the powerful The Breadline was originally an instrumental medley built from McDowell riffs to which she added lyrics about losing one’s home and can’t pay her lawyer and the rich folks on vacation “they don’t give a damn” with the line “hard times are here again” so contemporary and relevant. The album concludes with Woke Up This Morning, one of McDowell’s moving gospel songs with Rory’s moving multi-tracked vocals, followed by her strong re-imaging of another of McDowell’s signature songs, Write Me a Few of Your Lines.

Rory Block deserves kudos for this marvelous tribute with its ambitious and imaginative look at McDowell’s work that is inspired by the spirit of McDowell’s music, but has her imprint on all the performances. Of the eight songs associated with Fred McDowell, she has included a few of his signature songs, but also included lesser known parts of his repertoire and that added to her own originals making for a superb recording.

I received my review copy from Stony Plain Records.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Paul Desmond's Legendary Dry Martini Sound

Its ironic that one of the two recordings Dave Brubeck is most known for, “Take Five,” was not by Brubeck, but from his alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond. As part of the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of CTI, Sony has issued a remastered edition of Pure Desmond, a quartet date with guitarist Ed Bickert, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Connie Kay. Sony has had this remastered, although unlike the Japanese remasters of CTI material, Sony did not employ have Creed Taylor and Rudy Van Gelder at whose legendary studio this was recorded, to remaster these. It likely is that the Japanese remastering is superior to that on Sony, as Marc Myers blogged on his back at the end of September, but i would assume most would not be willing to pay three times what one might pay for the Sony reissues. And this particular reissue still sounds wonderful to my aging ears.

I love Gene Lee’s description in the liner booklet of Desmond’s alto sound as tart and lyrical and Desmond himself says he wanted to sound as a dry martini. The Canadian guitarist Bickert was a recommendation of Jim Hall to Desmond and his own playing has a lyricism of its own along with the precise eloquence of his picking and solos. Carter and Kay provide marvelous backing as during Bickert’s solo on Django Reinhardt’s Nuages, where its almost a duet between Bickert and Carter with kay light on the cymbals, before Desmond comes back in with his playing that may be the true paradigm of the ‘cool sound.” The overall feel is of a delightful preciousness of this quartet whether on Reinhardt’s wistful classic or the playfulness of Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me, that opens this recording.

The program includes a couple of lesser known gems from Cole Porter (Why Shouldn’t I), and Ellington (Warm Valley), along with Mean to Me, from the pen of Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert and associated with Billie Holiday, the Theme From M*A*S*H, and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Wave. There is a lovely rendition of “Warm Valley” which was a feature of Johnny Hodges with Ellington I believe. On this edition are three alternate takes, but I do not know if they have been previously reissued. In any event, there is nearly an hour of some of the loveliest jazz one is likely to hear and the marvelous recording and sound here adds to the listening enjoyment.

This is a review of a purchased CD.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unsung Tenor Sax Hero Hadley Caliman"s "Straight Ahead"

Tenor saxophonist Hadley Caliman would have been a more prominent name in the jazz world if he hadn’t primarily serving as a teacher and mentor around Seattle for the last few decades of his life as he was a teacher at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle while living in Cathlamet, outside Seattle. A classmate of Art farmer at Los Angeles’ Jefferson High School, he studied with Dexter Gordon and on Central Avenue in the 50’s was known as “Little Dex.” He has performed, recorded and toured with musicians such as Freddie Hubbard, Gerald Wilson, Carlos Santana, Dexter Gordon, Elvin Jones, Mongo Santamaria, Joe Pass, The Grateful Dead, Joe Henderson, Don Ellis, Flora Purim, Phoebe Snow, Bobby Hutcherson and many others, and in fact recorded four albums under his name in the 70s. For more on his life you should visit from which I derived this biographical information. He passed away in September, 2010 after a two-year struggle with liver cancer.

The Seattle-based Origin Records helped document Caliman with three CDs (one with Pete Christlieb) in the past few years. The last of these three is
Straight Ahead, recorded in November 2008 with a band that included trumpeter Thomas Marriott, pianist Eric Verlinde, bassist Phil Sparks and drummer Matt Jorgensen. As the liner notes observe, John Coltrane is an evident influence on Caliman’s playing, but an influence tempered by his West Coast bop background. Listening to his rendition of the F.K. Hollander ballad You Leave Me Breathless, is perhaps the best evidence of Trane’s mark on his tone and sound, but his own sensibility is evident as well. But listening to this I am also struck how on some of the quartet performances, the feel reminds me of Dexter Gordon’s Steeplechase Recordings from the 70s such as the swinging quartet rendition of The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, with Verlinde standing out (quoting Surrey With a Fringe on Top in his solo).

There is so much to savor here from the opening Caliman original,
Cigar Eyes, named after a LA bartender which sports a nice funky riff with Marriott bright, round tone complementing the leader. Rapture, from the pen of his friend, tenor saxophonist, Harold Land has a bit more reflective quality and Marriott and pianist Verlinde make valuable contributions as well as the leader. The rhythm section is marvelous here with Jorgensen’s cymbal work accenting the solos. Cathlamet is a lovely Marriott original celebrating Caliman’s home town for several decades, followed by Joe Locke’s Blues For PT, a mid-tempo romp that Caliman goes full bore with his solo. There is a lovely quartet rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and then the full quintet for a swinging treatment of Lee Morgan’s Totem Pole, with the understated rhythm that make the solos from Caliman and Marriott stand out. This is a terrific disc that shows Hadley Caliman was still moving straight ahead with his music until his end.

JazzNow Seattle,, the terrific podcast devoted to Seattle’s jazz scene by Jason Parker and David Marriott, enabled me to become aware the music of Caliman and many other fine performers on that city’s scene. This recording should be readily available, but you can contact or Origin Records directly,, which is where I purchased this from.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Congratulations For Alligator's 40 Years of HouseRockin' Music

Alligator Records is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year and as it has in past years, compiled, 40th Anniversary Collection, a two-CD compilation of 38 recordings from the label since it released Genuine Houserockin’ Music by Hound Dog Taylor, which label founder Bruce Iglauer says is the mantra that still governs the label, although he notes the label no longer just records blues, even if the artists are deeply rooted in the blues tradition.

Given the diversity of contents and the purpose of the CD it is not my intent to review the contents here. I suspect folks will find selections they don’t like and others they think are timeless. Besides celebrating Alligator Records, this compilation will hopefully introduce some of the artists and recordings that some may be unfamiliar with whether it is some vintage Koko Taylor and Albert Collins, or more contemporary acts like Michael Burks, Tommy Castro and Anders Osborne. There is a selection from the Grammy Award winning collaboration between Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray as well as William Clarke’s reworking of Jimmy Witherspoon’s Daddy Pinnochio along with selections from current recordings by Roomful of Blues and Marcia Ball.

For each selection, Bruce includes comments on the artist and the particular recording, and at the booklet’s end he notes some of those performers he could not include which is a mini Blues Who Who in itself. I remember Bruce driving out to Buffalo in the mid-seventies in the middle of a snow storm trying to promote this young guitarist and singer by the name of Son Seals, and while he now has employees, he still is heavily involved at Alligator. The 40th Anniversary Collection is a vibrant celebration of the impressive (and still growing) body of Alligator Records and Bruce Iglauer

Alligator Records sent me my review copy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cyrille Aimée's Captivating Jazz Voice

Watching the recent Thelonious Monk Institute Vocal Competition on a webcast, I was very intrigued by one of the finalists, a lady originally from France by the name of Cyrille Aimée. Shortly thereafter there was a New York Times story about her appearing at the Greenwich Village, NYC club Smalls Jazz Club. The story focused on her duets with pianist Spike Wilner who I believe is responsible for programming music at Smalls. He is the main person behind the club’s label, Smalls Live which has issued a number of live recordings from the club and amongst the latest releases is Cyrille Aimée & Friends Live at Smalls

Wilner is the producer of this disc which was recorded late September 26 and 30, 20l0, and anchored the band that includes bassist Philip Kuehn, drummer Joseph Saylor, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. There is a playful informality about the performances that add to its appeal. In the New York Times piece, Ben Ratliff described Ms. Aimée, “She’s alert and thoroughly engaged in the logic of moving harmony when she improvises, one of those singers whom nonsinging musicians call “a musician.”

From the opening notes of September In the Rain, she impresses despite (or perhaps because of) a somewhat limited vocal range (suggestive of Billie Holiday, but no way imitative of Lady Day) with horn like phrasing both in delivering the lyrics and scatting. And the band is terrific with Frahm shining on September, while Hargrove embraces the melodic qualities of Que Reste-t’il, which many of you will know from the English rendition, I Wish You Love. It should be noted that, unlike Roberta Gambarini whose vocals usually display no trace of her native Italian, Aimée’s French accent is evident, but adds delightful flavoring to her voice.

After the initial verse of a brisk Yesterdays, she takes a scat solo followed by Frahm and then Wilner, before she scats fours with drummer Saylor who sounds like he is using brushes. Ellington’s I Was Beginning to See the Light” starts as a duet with bassist Kuehn before Frahm enters on tenor for a solo followed by Kuehn’s solo. When Aimée returns with her vocal codaFrahm softly caresses her vocal. Love For Sale, opens with a drum intro with Kuehn joining in to set a second-line styled groove, followed by a brief call and response by Hargrove and Frahm. AImée enters at home with the lively groove “advertising her love” and her scatting set off by nice cymbal work by Saylor. Hargrove takes a nicely focused and short solo, followed by Frahm who is rocking and wailing. This is the longest track but seems to go so quickly. Other highlights include her rendition of Monk’s I Mean You, and the closing Stand By Me, where it sounds like she is joined by several other voices who are not identified.

Since first downloading this recording (I received the hard copy a few days later, along with several other Smalls Live CDs that I have purchased), I have found myself completely captivated by Cyril Aimée and this recording. There is a wonderful mix of material and a freshness to her treatment of the most familiar numbers. I trust you can sense my enthusiasm this recording, and look forward to the opportunity to see her in person (have to figure how to get to New York perhaps). This is available from the Smalls Live website, as either a download or hard copy (which includes the download).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Johnny Young's Big Fat Chicago Mandolin Blues

There have been few blues mandolin players recorded. One of them was Johnny Young, a traditionally rooted Chicago based bluesman who passed away over thirty-five years. Rich DelGrosso celebrated the music of Young and other blues mandolin players on “Mandolin Man” from the recent album he did with John Del Toro Richardson, “Time Slips By”.

Young was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, learned from an uncle who was part of a string band in Rolling Fork, and later was associated with the Mississippi Sheiks as well as with blues legends Houston Stackhouse and Robert Nighthawk. He moved permanently to Chicago in 1940 and played in clubs with John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson as well as engaged in a number of day jobs. In 1947 he was playing on the Maxwell Street Market and with a cousin, Johnny Williams recorded
Money Taking Woman, for the Ora Nelle label on which he played mandolin and sang. He accompanied his cousin on the flip side on what was one of the earliest post-war Chicago blues recordings.

He made a few more 78s and in the fifties backed Snooky Pryor on a Vee-Jay recording session. Blues and jazz writer Pete Welding extensively recorded Young on his Testament label with selections appearing on anthologies and eventually a full album of recordings with sidemen including harmonica players Big Walter and Little Walter; guitarists John Lee Granderson and Robert Nighthawk, and pianists Jimmy Walker and Otis Spann. Approximately half of these recordings featured him on mandolin. Young was recorded as part of Vanguard’s
Chicago the Blues Today! series although only one of the tracks had him on mandolin. Two albums were recorded on Arhoolie, one of which included members of Muddy Waters band and some selections included his mandolin playing.

In June 1969, Young recorded with pianist Otis Spann, and guitarist/bass guitarist Sammy Lawhorn, harmonica player Paul Oscher and drummer S.P. Leary, who all were then members of Muddy Waters Band for an album that was issued in England on the Blue Horizon label as
Fat Mandolin. Mike Vernon, founder of Blue Horizon, estimated the initial release only sold in the hundreds, which says more about marketing and popular tastes than the quality of the music. Sony/Blue Horizon issued a few years back Johnny Young’s The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions with some alternate takes, false starts and unissued songs. As Vernon observes in his liner notes, this is the first digital reissue of this material.

The album provides a healthy dose of Young’s mandolin starting with the opening
Moaning and Groaning. where the clipped mandolin sound is complemented by Spann’s typically strong piano accompaniment as well as solos to take it out. Taken a lively, but unhurried tempo, Young’s robust vocal here is straightforward and heartfelt. There is nothing innovative here; simple strong Chicago blues sung and played with authority few today can deliver. One can hear the influence of the pioneering Leroy Carr in such Young originals as Heard My Doorbell Ring, as well as the remake of Carr’s Prison Bound, a staple of the Chicago blues scene of the time. On My Trainfare Out of Town, where Young plays guitar, Oscher evokes Walter Horton with his harmonica, while Spann pounds out another solo. 

Lula Mae is a marvelous duet of Young on mandolin backed by Lawhorn on bass guitar, while John Lee Williamson’s Shotgun Blues is titled here as Jackson Bound, and we are provided the incomplete first take as the master take as he sings the terrific line Lake Michigan Ain’t No River, Chicago Ain’t No Hilly Town. Walking Slow opens with some classic slow blues piano from Spann before Young starts his vocal and Vernon suggests Lawhorn is the guitarist here. Mandolin returns for the two, somewhat different takes of Deal the Cards, with a philosophical delivery of the lyric about always being dealt the losing hand. Lend Me You Love has some incomplete takes before a memorable rendition of a Memphis Slim inspired song that fans of the late Junior Wells should recognize. Other highlights include the wonderful rendition of Prison Bound, with just Young on mandolin and Lawhorn on bass guitar and Victoria Spivey’s Mean Old Black Snake. Also included are previously unissued recordings including a lively version of the old Memphis Jug Band’s Stealin’ that he had recorded at least twice before.

It is an important and valuable reissue that should be available from better retailers. I purchased this.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jay McShann Always Was Jumping.

Jay McShann was the leader of the last great band to emerge from Kansas City, mixing the blues and riff tunes that helped transform jazz. He continued to perform well into the 21st Century and this writer had the pleasure of seeing him several times including once backing up Big Joe Turner at Fat Tuesday’s in New York City. The last time I saw him perform was at the Western Maryland Blues Festival where he was backed by Duke Robillard, who produced his last several albums for the Canadian Stony Plain label. McShann actually recorded extensively over the past couple decades of his life with excellent albums available also on Atlantic, Sackville, Black & Blue MusicMasters, and Chiarscuro. The following review of Hootie’s Jumpin’ Blues appeared in the October 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 225).

Jay McShann’s new album on the Canadian Stoney Plain label displays the timelessness of his music. McShann’s big band was one of the last to emerge out of Kansas City before World War II (and included the legendary Charlie Parker for a period) and was known as the band that played the blues. The band enjoyed considerable success for Decca with the classic Confessin’ the Blues.

With the decline of the big bands after the war, McShann adapted his music into the smaller jump bands and continued a prolific recording career over the next few decades featuring a variety of vocalists, including Crown Prince Waterford, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Priscella Reed. In the seventies, McShann was recorded for a number of labels and started including some vocals of his own, displaying an appealing, somewhat nasal vocal delivery that added to his wonderful bluesy piano (influences on McShann included Pete Johnson as well as Count Basie).

While he has continued to record over the past few years, this release showcases his engaging vocals as much as his piano. Producer and guitarist Duke Robillard adds particular authority to this recording, which goes back to the days of when he fronted Roomful of Blues, and his guitar work is solidly in the T-Bone Walker vein adding to the authenticity. He rounded up some fine horn players who do a capable job, although they honestly do not arrive at the level of a Buddy Tate or Paul Quinichette, who accompanied McShann on his Atlantic recordings of the late seventies. This is not to fault the strongly idiomatic playing the musicians turn in, and, as a result, McShann convincingly reprises a number of his more famous songs. The album also includes a lengthy spoken section broken up by some samples of McShann solo. It is great to know that Jay McShann still sounds so well and vigorous.

I also blogged about McShann’s last album (also on Stony Plain), Hootie Blues, back on January 12, 2007.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

John Jackson's Superb Piedmont Blues

I was at John Jackson’s last performance on New Year’s Eve, 2001 as part of the City of Falls Church Virginia’s annual celebration. Alternating sets with an old time string band, John was his usual warm self and the vigor of his performances belied the fact that he would soon go into the hospital for treatment for cancer. Less than three weeks later he passed and the church where his funeral was held was full of his many friends, some who came from great distances to pay their respects to a wonderful musician but also one of the most wonderful persons one could ever meet. In the release of Jackson’s music, Rappahannock Blues, Smithsonian Folkways, the late Piedmont blues master is lovingly represented by 20 selections (18 previously unissued) that demonstrate his marvelous finger style playing, his untutored vocals and the warmth of his personality that comes out through the nearly hour of music here.

The performances, taken at various performances represent the breadth of his repertoire that extend from his interpretations of songs associated with his main influence, Blind Blake (
Too Tight Rag, Diddy Wah Diddy,” and West Coast Rag); standards of the Piedmont tradition such as Blind Boy Fuller’s Truckin’ Little Baby, and Step it Up and Go, along with Red River Blues; adaptations of country songs such as Tom T. Hall’s The Year Clayton Delaney Died, and the Delmore Brothers Brown’s Ferry Blues; and traditional songs and ballads like Cindy (played on banjo), and Railroad Bill. Also included are religious songs like Don’t You Want to Go Up There, and Just a Closer Walk With Thee, and Jackson’s adaptation of Candy Man, from his friend Mississippi John Hurt.

Frankie and Johnny has been performed numerous times by numerous folk, but listening to Jackson’s vocal and his nimble and precise picking, is like listening to this number afresh. Perhaps no better demonstration of John Jackson’s superb guitar playing is John Jackson Breakdown, a brilliant guitar tour de force that is proof that he was amongst the greats of the Piedmont style guitarists, and was on the same level as Blind Blake and Reverend Gary Davis. For further proof, one can listen to his sterling recreation of Blind Blake’s West Coast Rag with which this album closes.

There were only six albums by John Jackson issued during his lifetime. Fortunately two CDs on Arhoolie and one on Alligator are still readily available. “
Rappahannock Blues” is a terrific addition to this body of music. Anyone who has any interest in acoustic blues, especially the Piedmont tradition, will find this an essential purchase. Included is a booklet with copious notes on John and the songs from producers Barry Lee Pearson and Jeff Place that matches the quality of John jackson’s exquisite performances. For information on this release and others from Smithsonian Folkways, visit, For this release follow this link: 

Smithsonian-Folkways provided me with a download of this CD.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Grana Louise's Sweet Rough Blues

I have heard Grana Louise as part of a collection of Chicago blues women, but her new Delmark CD, Gettin' Kinda Rough!,"is one to certainly bring her to the attention of more folk. The Columbus, Ohio native has been building up her reputation in the Windy City for more than a decade and was the Windy City Blues Society's representative at the International Blues Challenge June 2009.

Not living in Chicago, I have not had the opportunity to see her perform at Blues Chicago or Buddy Guy's Legends, but a really good guitarist, Tom Holland keeps his Facebook friends informed when and where he is playing with her. Holland, who regularly tours with James Cotton, is guitarist on the entire disc which includes seven studio performances and 5 live performances. Bill Hargrave plays the bass on this while Clarence 'Curfew' Scott is on drums. Bill Syniar plays all the instruments on one track, "Gonna Get 'Cha", while Carlos Showers joins Holland on guitar on the five live tracks that were recorded at Blue Chicago.

The disc opens up with studio tracks including a unusual choice to interpret Staggerlee. Ms. Louise delivers a solid performance based on Lloyd Price’s hit and Holland shines on guitar here taking a nice solo. She observes that she is a Lead Foot Mama, but doesn’t mean to be but just is how she is. She has a strong, but relaxed delivery and once again Holland shows why he is so highly regarded. Her rendition of Denise LaSalle’s Learning How To Cheat On You” is a standout on a lyric using the Someone is Stepping Out/Down Home Blues melody.

Big Dick M’isipi is a number about being out in the country where she knows where to get some of what she wants, with her amusing double entendre of deep rooted southern trees that grow tall and unlike pretty northern trees don’t break easily. This performance is definitely not radio friendly. Bang Bang Ba-Bang Bang Bang Bang has a nice funk groove and a spirited Holland solo as she knows her man may be out with Grana’s best friend, but when he holds her tight and they start making love, the fireworks begin. Bill Syniar’s multi-tracked keys, guitar and drum track works well on the shuffle,Gonna Get ‘Cha.

Her personality is even more evident on the live performances here. Wet Match is a Denise LaSalle styled song directed against men able to deliver the goods when needed and have as much love-making skills as a wet match can light a fire. Queen Bee” from the late Koko Taylor’s repertoire is delivered in a fiery performance as she is looking for her young and able king. Back Door Blues is a lengthy slow blues performance that she warns at the beginning, “We got some folks in here who embarrass easily. You better leave now,” before launching into a traditionally rooted lyric of taking the front door in but taking the back door out. She really tears into the song and its a first rate vocal performance that she really belts out with the guitarists shining here as well. The disc closes with an unusual choice for a cover, Hey Joe, and is an interesting performance.

Grana Louise is a singer that many will take note of from her impressive performances here. She certainly has a powerful voice but she has a delivery and a way of relating to her audience that is evident listening to this.

My review copy was sent by Delmark records.