Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Lost Love Cry Of Albert Ayler

Albert Ayler’s music was controversial during his life and today, four decades after his death. One of the ‘free’ jazz patriarchs of the sixties and seventies, Ayler employed a heavy vibrato and made use of overblowing  and shrieks that came off as the saxophone equivalent of speaking in tongues.  As part of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Impulse Records, Universal/Verve released Love Cry/ The Last Album, a two LP on one CD reissue of Ayler’s second and fifth albums for the legendary label.

Love Cry has been issued on CD, and this reissue does not include the alternate takes from that reissue. With the trumpet of brother Donald Ayler, Alan Silva on bass, Milford Graves on drums with Call Cobbs on harpsichord, this disc has brief and accessible versions of some of the staples of Ayler’s repertoire like Ghosts and Bells and display the brass band march and folk song roots of Ayler’s music. The longer recordings Zion Hill and Universal Indians (the latter a personal favorite) have a bit of what some would refer to as frenzied chaos.

The Last Album represents Ayler’s final studio recordings and derives from the same sessions that produced “Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe.” These recordings included Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine. This opens with an untitled duet of Ayler on bagpipes and Henry Vestine on electric guitar. Besides Vestine, others on this album include pianist Bobby Few, Bill Folwell and Stafford James on bass, Muhammad Ali on drums with Mary Maria (real name Parks) on vocals). Parks is credited with Again Comes The Rising Of The Sun, which she sings a bluesy lyric with Few’s rumbling piano complemented by Ayler’s bluesy buzz saw toned sax. Toiling co-written by Parks, Vestine and Folwell is a bluesy instrumental with Vestine’s Guitar Slim influenced guitar countered by Folwell’s picked bass and Few’s spare piano before Ayler enters like a sanctified Big Jay McNeely. Desert Blood opens with some raw sax before Ayler and Parks sing a lyric with biblical references in a manner suggestive of Sun Ra and June Tyson.

The Last Album probably is viewed along with New Grass as among the least essential recordings in Ayler’s discography although packaged with Love Cry, one certainly finds more than some moments that fans of Ayler will find compelling.

I was provided a review copy from Jazz & Blues Report for whom this review was originally drafted.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dorado Schmitt's Gypsy Jazz Family

Having had the pleasure of recently seeing Dorado Schmitt and his brother-in-law, Hono Winterstein, at the Kennedy Center with the Django Reinhardt Festival All Stars, I recently purchased online the 2009 Dreyfus Jazz release Family. This recording includes his children, Amati, Bronson, Samson along with Hono and Dorado’s nephew Brady Winterstein, with Marcel Loeffler on accordion, Gautier Laurent on bass and Stéphane Huchard on drums.

Given the closeness of the families among the Romany and the centrality of music in their lives, it should be no surprised that Dorado Schmitt has progeny that themselves are so accomplished and the marvelous cohesion evident on these recordings. It is not clear who plays on which tracks they play on this. Of course Marcel Loeffler’s accordion and Stéphane Huchard’s drums will be evident and Hono Winterstein can be counted on for providing the strong rhythmic pulse, but which guitarist is taking the lead, or the order on who takes the lead is not clear, although listening to these 15 performances one is drawn in through the virtuosity yet romanticism of the playing.

The music sings and swings throughout. Dorado Schmitt himself composed six of the performances here including the opening Miro Django a lovely mid-tempo number which the guitarists bring alive with a nice accordion solo. Hono Winterstein contributed the lively Bleu Citron with an accordion-guitar lead-in. Echoes of Django might be felt on the rendition of the delightful My Blue Heaven, which is followed by the beautiful Schmitt original, For Grappelli, with such a lovely theme and such a wonderfully articulated solo that shows how virtuosity is linked to such a deep melodic sense. His Gozes Valse is a relaxed performance that he dedicated to his wife. Another lovely ballad is Un Si Beau Jour with Loeffler’s accordion adding delightful coloring.

Many will be familiar with Topsy from swing big band recordings like that by Count Basie, but Dorado and family transform into in Gypsy jazz magic with a brisk, but not too fast, tempo with imagination mixed in with the deft and clean playing. Son Samson composed Samsong a bright, lively piece that showcases his use of single note runs mixed with chords and followed by Minor Swing, one of the foundation numbers of the genre, and the equally immortal, Nuages.

Other pleasures on this marvels CD include a wistful Just a Gigolo, and a lively performance of Reinhardt and Grappelli imaginative reworking of Tiger Rag, Django’s Tiger. Dorado Schmitt’s Family is an acoustic delight that mixes the dazzling musical performances with a melodious quality that is so easy to enjoy.

As stated, I purchased this CD.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Big Daddy's Stallings Blues Evolution

There is plenty of blues talent in many cities of any size. Often responsibilities of raising a family and earning a living derail or suspend musical careers. One of the delightful surprises of the past few years in the Washington DC area has been the emergence of Charles ‘Big Daddy’ Stallings and this review appeared several years back in the DC Blues Society newsletter. A review of his most recent CD will be posted in a few days.

B-Town (Baltimore) bluesman, Charles ‘Big Daddy’ Stallings, has just issued, Blues Evolution (Tai Jeria Music), a follow-up to his praised debut One Night Lover. Stallings is a highly likable performer who brings a bit of down-home flavor to his performances. The strength of the performances are the vocals and the solid accompaniments behind him. The mix of horns and fine down home harp (mostly contributed by Nighthawk Mark Wenner, but Steve Levine is also present on a track or two) is nicely done and saxophonist Joe ‘EFlat’ Thomas, responsible for the arrangements, merits mention.

Stallings is at his best on a nice Jimmy Reed groove like on Going Down South, Hard Times - Good Times and the fantastical 2999. Hobbsville #2 is a slow down-home talking blues that is a follow-up of the talking blues on the first track as he talks about growing up, family and Friday Night Fish Fries with some telling harp from Mark Wenner, although the tempo slowly accelerates during this performance tossing in a bit of Jimmy Reed’s Upside Your Head. Elsewhere there are plenty of good-time grooves and songs like Blues Line Dance and Blues Cowboy certainly will get the dance floor full.

The only significant weakness are the lyrics which don’t cohere and some (like 2999) are fantastical. There are plenty of overlooked songs that do merit revival which Stallings performs during his live performances and he should consider addling some in to the mix on his next recording project. Still his band provides very danceable grooves (swing dancers will love this) and Big Daddy Stallings delivers the songs with feeling and humor that the music’s good-time sensibility wins listeners over. This is available from and downloadable on itunes.

I received a review copy from the artist. Here is a video of Charles 'Big Daddy' Stallings in performance.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Soul Enriching Journey of McCrary Sisters

Singing comes naturally to the McCrary Sisters, daughters of the late Rev. Samuel McCrary --  one of the original members of the legendary gospel quartet The Fairfield Four. The harmonies siblings Ann, Deborah, Regina and Alfreda produce reflect the singing they grew up with in the home and at their father’s church and they have produced a recording Our Journey (McC Records) which is a result of their years of singing music of praise on a program of songs that might draw some comparisons to the Staples (except the material is more straight gospel and less some of the message songs of that legendary group).

While the sisters are the executive producers, they had assistance from Kevin McKendree, Gary Nicholson, Buddy Miller and others. McKendree is among the musicians on this album that also include Buddy Miller, the late saxophonist Dennis Taylor and guitarists Todd Sharp and Bob Britt. Guest vocals are added by Delbert McClinton, Mike Farris and Patty Griffin. Included are some covers as well as six originals penned by the sisters.

The opening interpretation of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind is simply stunning with its gospel-inflected arrangement and guitarist Ron McNelley’s stinging fills. This is a performance likely would have crossover appeal. There is a country-soul tinge to the Follow Me Up and original by co-producer of this track, Tommy Sims, that would have been at home on a Staples recording with its message of reassurance and comfort. Kevin McKendree and Regina McCrary collaborated on Bible Study, a hot jump blues melody with its gospel lyric about talking about Jesus and a groove that dancers may find irresistible as they sing mama get your daughter and daddy get your song and get right with the bible.

Julie Miller’s Broken Pieces is given a lovely performance that Alfreda takes the lead on as she sings about one can have her heart if one doesn’t mind the broken pieces. Ann McCrary’s Know My Name is a powerful gospel performance with sparse, percussive backing and followed by the fervent Memphis soul-gospel flavor of Give Him My All, a song collaboration between Regina and Bob Dylan that evokes the Staples at their best. He Cares has a softer R&B flavor as Alfreda leads the sisters in telling us he cares for us with what wounds her heart and soul, followed by the a cappella rendition of traditional Dig a Little Deeper in God’s eternal love where Deborah takes lead. On Other Side of the Blues (Since I Met You), Regina is joined by Delbert on a gospel-uptown blues as they sing about meeting their savior they are on the other side of the blues.

The album closes with more down home gospel a cappella singing on the title track about through song, the sisters journey keeps moving along. One of the sisters comments “That’s the way daddy would have done it” and indeed he would be overjoyed by the performances as they sing “through our song our journey keeps moving on.” And moving listeners and audiences is certainly what the performances do. Highly recommended.

I received a review copy from a publicist for this release. Here are McCrary Sisters on you tube performing Blowin' In the Wind.

Kay Kay and The Rays Produced Strong and Timely Blues

Catfood Records has just issued The Best of Kay Kay and the Rays, a compilation of the three albums the label issued from the big-voiced and big hearted Kay Kay Greenwade and The Rays. Health issues have shortened the career of this powerful vocalist while The Rays can be heard on recent Catfood Recordings by Johnny Rawls with whom they sometimes perform live.

The Rays formed in Odessa Texas and their material was a funky mix of soul and blues with original songs marked by social commentary (as well as commentary on the relations between the sexes). The exhibit strong playing with Kay Kay belting out the vocals. Long Star Justice is an indictment of that state’s judicial and penal system which as Johnny Rawls notes in his spoken intro has more folks in prison than anywhere in the world and where so many are executed, all being poor. as Kay Kay shouts out justice is the best money can buy and where they spend more money on prisons than on social purposes. More topicality is heard in Enron Field where she tells us about going to see a game but not forgetting to talk about the country club justice afforded to white collar criminals like those involved with Enron. Then there’s Texas Justice - Billy’s Story, of a young man who is convicted of murder even though he acted in self-defense, only afforded a legal aid attorney fresh out of Law School.

There are her songs about relationships including not wanting No Mama’s Boys and Hey Big Boy, about one whose tales and approaches she ain’t buying. As she sings, don’t trust no man who has taken his wedding ring off. Of course she can give the others side of relationships as on Big, Bad Girl, a gold digger she warns men to stay away from. Then there is a change in mood with a lovely soul ballad, Don’t Have To Tell Me, and a terrific duet with Johnny Rawls on Rawls’ Hold On To What You Got.

The Rays match her intensity with solid support, although the arrangements at times sound generic. The playing on the duet with Rawls is exceptional. Saxophonist Andy Roman is exceptional on several songs and Johnny Rawls and Junior Jones add guitar on several selections. This writer remembers how impressed was when he purchased “Texas Justice” one of the three albums anthologized here and certainly this collection shows how formidable Kay Kay and the Rays were. Recommended.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is some Kay Kay & The Rays from you tube. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sonny Rollins' Birthday Celebration Centerpiece of Road Songs Vol. 2

One of the most celebrated jazz concerts of the past couple years was the 80th Birthday celebration of Sonny Rollins in New York City. Performances from that concert form the core of Rollins’ second compilation of live recordings, Road Songs Vol. 2 on his Doxy label (Doxy/Emarcy). Four of the six selections come from that September 2010, Beacon Theatre concert with the other two performances coming from Japanese concerts, less than a month later. Most of the performances feature Sonny’s band of the time with Russell Malone on guitar, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Kobie Watkins on drums and Sammy Figueroa on percussion with one track having a historic collaboration.

Opening up is a rendition of Irving Berlin’s They Say It’s Wonderful, which has a nice solo from Malone after Rollins introduces the theme. Its a typical performance that fans of Rollins live performances from the last few years will be familiar with and centers around the trading of fours with drummer Watkins. It is followed by Sonny introducing Jim Hall with Hall performing (without Sonny) In a Sentimental Mood. If a wonderful performance, it is odd that an actual collaboration between Rollins and Hall is not present on this Sonny Rollins album.

The blues, Sonnymoon For Two, with the rhythm section of Christian McBride and Roy Haynes, was the historic meeting of Rollins with Ornette Coleman, who Rollins teases the audience about as a special birthday guest after his initial solo in a trio vein, and after initially asking him to come out takes another solo before Coleman comes out and the contrast in styles and how a solo is constructed between his approach and Rollins will be immediately evident and not simply because he is playing alto sax. While the interest of the meeting on stage by the two, the performance strikes this listener as a string of a unconnected solos based on Rollins’ blues composition, with some interchanges between the two and some inspired playing from Rollins later in the performance but as a whole this sounds more interesting than it sounds magical.

I Can’t Get Started opens with Roy Hargrove opening and playing exquisitely before Sonny enters on this ballad with his robust tone providing a counterpoint to Hargrove’s lyricism. It is followed by a lively Raincheck from Billy Strayhorn’s songbook, taken at a lively tempo with a calypso-tinge. Hargrove is bright and incisive here with the two trading fours starting about two-thirds of the way through this performance.

An abbreviated performance of St. Thomas concludes this recording. The editing of the performances is seamless and it comes off to the listener as one concert even though it mixes performances from three concerts, and the order of the Beacon Theatre performances is not in order of performance. The performances sound representative of the performances by Sonny Rollins I have seen over the past few years (thankfully without the sound issues that plagued the first third to half of recent Kennedy Center performances). It is certainly welcome to have this available even if I might suggest other Rollins recordings of live performances of the past decade a bit more consistent and magical. I specifically point to Without A Song - The 9/11 Concert.

I purchased this CD as a download.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Wes Montgomery Kept Movin'

The great Wes Montgomery is celebrated in a new box set, Movin’: The Complete Verve Recordings, from Verve through the Hip-O-Select, which like Verve is part of the Universal Music Group. Like other recent Hip-O-Select box sets, this comes in the form of a hard cover book which contains substantial annotations from Wall Street music journalist Marc Myers (who also does the excellent blog) along with five CDs that contain all of the substantial musical legacy that Montgomery produced for Verve, after his important, innovative and influential Riverside recordings. My only quibble with the packaging is that the pages used to contain the CDs (which contain session information) hold the CDs in a manner that makes it slightly difficult to extract and return to the sleeves the CDs without getting one’s fingerprints on the shiny side of the CD.

Myers essay is entitled Birth of the Mod, and gives and overview of Montgomery’s career with a focus on the Verve recordings. While comfortable in his hometown Indianapolis, he nevertheless became a major jazz performer through his association with the Riverside label. The death of Riverside’s Bill Grauer was eventually followed by bankruptcy. Without a record label, Montgomery signed with Verve and Creed Taylor who was one of its primary jazz producers who had been working with Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz and others. Myers details the recording of the eight albums by Montgomery on Verve which marked some of Taylor’s earliest jazz-pop experimentations and which turned the guitarist into a jazz-pop avatar to quote Myers.

With Verve, Taylor mixed recordings of jazz standards, popular numbers and show numbers often with big bands that still had Montgomery’s guitar in front. From the first moments of his initial Movin’ Wes to the collaborations with Jimmy Smith, Montgomery’s brilliant fretwork was on display. While some of his recordings like the rendition of People on the Johnny Pate arranged first album employed fadeouts like pop 45s others like his rendition of the Duke Ellington classic “Caravan” were front and center burners. And it wasn’t simply Johnny Pate. Taylor also employed Don Sebesky, Claus Ogerman and Oliver Nelson for other big band sessions.

Not to be forgotten among these big band sessions are the sessions with the Wynton Kelly Trio that included some live recordings. Jimmy Cobb, the trio’s drummer, recalls that Montgomery was somewhat uncomfortable with the commercial material, and felt the material was beneath what Montgomery was capable of. Myers explains how Montgomery, despite initially resisting such material became more comfortable with it employing the example of Going Out of My Head. After first resting the simplicity of the material, Montgomery would make a Grammy winning recording, working out stuff with Grady Tate before the recording.

Yet as the recordings with Wynton Kelly and later the collaborations with Jimmy Smith make most evident, Montgomery had matured but remained the brilliant improvisor mixing single notes chords and octaves and the best of the orchestrations simply add punch to this brilliance, but even when simply embellishing a melody as on Going Out Of My Head, his tone and note placement produced magic. When Montgomery and Smith collaborate on Down By the Riverside or Milestones with terrific Oliver Nelson charts the sparks fire. Then there are the small group sides by Smith and Montgomery with just Grady Tate and Ray Barretto on King of the Road and Baby Its Cold Outside that makes one wish these two had recorded more.

It is almost impossible to find any recording on this that doesn’t possess at least some musical magic, even the tracks with some imperfections that remained unissued at the time of recording. Of course, some of the alternates and other tracks have been subsequently reissued. Unless one has an extensive collection of the source CDs, this is a must for fans of Wes Montgomery and/or jazz guitar.

This was a purchase and I believe it would make a terrific gift for the jazz lover or guitar music lover on your gift list.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

With Eddie Taylor Jr, Blues Runs In The Family

A second generation bluesman of note is Eddie Taylor, Jr. One of several children of the late Eddie Taylor, best known as Jimmy Reed’s guitarist, but also an unheralded and under appreciated Chicago blues artist on his own whose music never lost its delta roots. Eddie Jr. has a new CD on the Austrian Wolf label, I Got To Make This Money, Baby. On this his brother Tim handles the drums and sister Demetria (who recently released a well received album on Delmark) sings one song while Harmonica Hinds is present with Greg McDaniel on bass and Anthony Palmer on second guitar.

Its a pretty straight Chicago blues album with Taylor performing several songs in homage of his father, other classic Chicago blues numbers and others in this style. On the opening title track, there is an opening quote of Lester Leaps In, before Taylor and the band launch into a Shake Your Moneymaker groove and sings about playing his guitar and playing the blues. This selection has him playing some nice controlled slide in the vein of Elmore James mixed with Homesick James. Hinds wails in support in support on harmonica here. Echoes of his father’s “Bad Boy,” as well as the lazy Jimmy Reed shuffle groove, are heard in his loving Salute to Eddie Taylor. Hinds is particularly outstanding on this track. 

There is a nice mix of songs including his father’s Train Fare Home, John Lee Williamson’s My Little Machine (from Jimmy Rogers rendition), and a slowed down rendition of Tommy McClennan’s Whisky Headed Woman. There are also a few other originals like his salute to the late bass player and vocalist, Goodbye Willie Kent,” where he notes Willie was a blues solider, a blues soldier going home.” Sister Demetria handles Ruth Brown’s big fifties smash, Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean, with the band providing solid support and an arrangement that does not slavishly copy the original. Similarly the interpretation of Rosco Gordon’s Just a Little Bit, makes that number a walking Chicago shuffle.

This isn’t the first record by Eddie Taylor, Jr. I heard. His earlier recordings had me wanting more and I purchased this. This is a solid, traditionally oriented blues recording. He sings from the heart and plays the old school style of Chicago blues guitar that fewer and fewer still play.

Here is a video of Eddie Taylor Jr, performing Jimmy Rogers' "You're the One."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Miles Español Celebrates Miles Davis and the Afro-Latin Influence On Jazz

Miles Español is the title of a two-CD recording on Entertainment One Music that was conceived and produced by Bob Belden with a roster of internationally renowned artists. Subtitled New Sketches of Spain, the disc includes fresh renditions of compositions from Sketches of Spain and Kind of Blue, and original compositions from some of the contributing artists.

Among the more than 30 musicians assembled are Chick Corea, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, pianist Chano Domingez, drummer Alex Acuña, flautist Jorge Pardo, Sonny Fortune, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Rabih Abu-Khalil. Some of the musicians are former Miles sidemen, some are flamenco masters from Spain, some are from North Africa, and some are prominent figures in New York’s Latin Jazz scene. Tim Hagans, Scott Kinsey, and Vince Wilburn Jr. (Miles Davis’s nephew). One purpose of this recording is to emphasize the Africa-Spain-New World Connection in the emergence and evolution of jazz as is titled Doug Ramsey’s essay in the liner booklet, taking us from Jelly Roll Morton to Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie and reminding us of the impact the Moors had during their occupation of Spain.

Belden himself in his notes here states that in his treatment of some compositions such as Concierto De Aranjuez, he did not wanted to mimic Miles’ recording but rather help develop the Gypsy and Arabic influence on Spanish music and his unusual instrumentation that includes oboe and bassoon in addition to oud, dumbek and cajon to allow this fresh hearing of a classic. Chick Corea’s Trampolin follows with Ron Carter and Antonio Sanchez joined by flautist Jorge Pardo on the buoyant flamenco inspired piece.
Just Three Miles is by Rabih Abu-Khalil whose oud playing and trumpet by Tim Hagans provide an intriguing mix of Berber and other sounds. Duende is a duet between guitarist Niño Joseles and flautist Pardo with a strong flamenco base. It’s followed by the marvelous Gonzalo Rubalcaba on Fantasia Por Miles Y Gil, listed as a solo piano performance in the booklet, but he clearly is accompanied by bass and drums (Carter and Sanchez?).

Similarly on what is supposed to be a piano trio plus percussion, Edsel Gomez’s Paisaje Urbano has an unidentified soprano saxophonist (Sonny Fortune?) who dances above Gomez’s Latin jazz piano. The unusual instrumentation continues on Saeta/ Pan Piper, with its employment of bagpipe in addition to woodwinds and French horns and trumpets with the harp of Edmar Casteñada standing out among the percussion with a bassoon solo by Mike Rabinowitz framed by riffing muted trumpets.

Jack DeJohnette’s Spantango opens the second disc with unidentified flute (Jorge Pardo?) along with Chano Dominguez’s spectacular piano, Eddie Gomez’s bass, DeJohnette‘s and Luisito Quintero’s congas. It is followed by a rendition of Miles’ Flamenco Sketches with Sonny Fortune’s flute and Jerry Gonzalez’ flugelhorn in addition to more piano from Dominguez. Gonzalez is outstanding in his spot, and like most of this recording the performance highlights percussion over orchestration. Tirititran Catalan is a traditional theme that bassist Carles Benavent arranged that spotlights Niño Joseles acoustic guitar and Corea’s piano followed by another selection that showcases Corea with a guitarist, John Scofeld’s El Swing, with Scofeld’s single note runs standing out with DeJohnette being outstanding providing rhythmic accents. Rubalcaba’s Momento has a ruminative quality while Miles’ Teo/ Neo showcases Edsel Gomez’s piano with John Benitez on bass, Alex Acuña on drums and Sammy Figueroa on congas supporting his effervescent playing.

By the close of Solea, again with an expanded ensemble with woodwinds, brass, harp and accordion, one has listened to a variety of performances that freshly explore not simply the music that Miles recorded five decades ago, but a more contemporary presentation of some of those elements that provided inspiration then and continues to provide a source for fresh musical invention. While the list of personnel in the booklet contains some errors, musically there can be no fault whatsoever found on this thoroughly engaging recording.

My review copy was provided by a publicist or the record label. The review originally appeared in the November 2011 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 338).  To that review I add this youtube video of the recording of this album.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nashville's Hidden Rhythm and Blues History

Nashville’s rich rhythm and blues history has been obscured by the emergence of the city as the country music capital. The following lengthy review appeared in the January 2008 Jazz & Blues Calendar (Issue 300) and all of these albums are available, although one may have to purchase mp3 versions of one of them. I was sent review copies of these from the publication.

SPV Blue is continuing its releases of recordings that document the rich rhythm and blues history of Nashville. The reissues of some classic and some rare recordings as well as some more contemporary recordings show that Music City produced more than simply country music.

Bullet Records Rhythm & Blues is the second reissue of the important Nashville label, this was focusing more on jump blues and blues shouters. In fact it opens with four selections by one of the greatest shouters, Wyonnie Harris and in addition to his vocals, these recordings include the first recordings of pianist Herman ‘Sonny’ Blount (better known as Sun Ra). Fred James speculates that its tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate’s band backing Max Bailey whose tune includes an exhortation to the troops on Drive Soldiers Drive. Alto saxophonist Sherman Williams’ selections feature pianist-shouter Skippy Brooks who would later be a mainstay in Nashville for Excello, and singing six strong tracks including Baby Don’t You Want to Go, a reworking of Kokomo Blues, a song that was the model for Sweet Home Chicago. Two tracks by The Bobby Plater Orchestra feature members of Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra backing a young Rufus Thomas, while Doc Wiley’s two tracks include a hot jump instrumental and the more philosophical Play Your Hand with Wiley’s strong piano and nice vocal. A few cuts are more in the vein of Mills Brothers styled harmony, and fill out what is a pretty exceptional reissue that will be of special interest to fans of blues shouters.

The Rogana Story: Hossman’s Blues compiles a number of blues tracks that legendary Nashville dee-jay and record producer, William ‘Hoss’ Allen produced, mostly which were licensed to other labels. The material here is very blues based and features both some Nashville recordings and Muscle Shoals sides. The Nashville sides often feature guitarist Johnny Jones who leads what are The Beat Boys (tied into the legendary TV show that Allen produced and emceed and who also included bassist Billy Cox). Vocalists Sam Baker and Dottie Clark (terrific on All Woman) benefit from Jones’ stinging playing. The tracks by The Beat Boys include not only Jones’ fiery fretwork but also the famed steel guitarist Pete Drake playing through a Leslie cabinet. Finger Lickin’ is particularly outstanding selection of deep in the alley blues guitar. Jimmy Stuart, trumpeter at the time with B.B. King, plays downhome blues harp on a couple selections (Sit and Beg My Baby has a nice soulful vocal) as well as on an instrumental duet with Elvis guitarist Scotty Moore. Gatemouth Brown was recorded by Allen (he was featured on Allen’s The Beat TV show) and is Have You Ever Been Mistreated is a fine blues. Also outstanding is Johnny Copeland’s Ain’t Nobody’s Business. Several other selections feature vocalist Art Grayson (singing in a deep soul vein) while the last selection is Hoss Allen’s tribute to Martin Luther King, He Went to the Mountain Top. A nice collection of blues and southern soul that is quite entertaining.

The Champion Records Story; Volume 2 Rockin’ R&B, perhaps brings together more pop and R&B flavored recordings than the other reissues here. Champion was one the labels associated with the legendary Ted Jarrett. Jimmy Beck opens things with three instrumentals with the opening Pipe Dreams suggesting perhaps a bit of a ska groove, while Nightmare. Johnny Jones was on guitar on these and other tracks. Little Ike comes across as a Little Richard copycat on She Can Rock, while Larry Birdsong’s somewhat forgettable Scooter Poopin’ predates his Vee-Jay days. Earl Gaines is still around and is heard on three rocking sides, while Chuck Harrod & the Anteaters have a rockabilly flavor to them especially on They Wanna Fight, and Crawdad Hole. Al ‘Murfreesboro’ Garner handles the lead on Oh My Love with doo wop backing. Don Q’s Band with Clenest Gant harken back to earlier jump blues with a rocking Hallelujah and Jump Jump Hi Ho. Joyce Paul’s two tracks are sorta of minor league Ruth Brown styled recordings, while Sandra Meade is a good singer with in a nice rendition of Fever. This closes with Baker Knight’s rocking Bring My Cadillac Back, as his baby ran off with his Cadillac. Nice booting sax solo on this and a simple rock groove. An interesting slice of music perhaps, but the least interesting of these reissues.

The last of these discs is an excellent collection of recent recordings that Fred James has produced, The Champions of R&B. James produced recordings and tours by these artists and the selections are ‘leftovers’ I guess, but that should not imply any musical shortcomings on any of the tracks issued here. The material is a nice mix of straight blues and southern soul ballads. Roscoe Gordon opens with a rocking She’s the One with some nice use of the whammy bar on the guitar while guitarist James Nixon’s One More Chance is strong deep soul as is Freddie Waters rendition of the Dan Penn/Spooner Oldham It Tears Me Up. Johnny Jones is likely the guitarist on Charles Walker’s terrific Monkey Blues with Jones’ playing complimenting Walker's gospel-tinged singing. I was unfamiliar with Larry LaDon, but the terrific Living on Borrowed Time is a great performance on a song that evokes some of Albert King’s recordings. LaDon has a vocal style closer to Junior Parker than B.B. King and more good guitar here. Johnny Jones’ Girlfriend’s Blues has Johnny in consternation after discovering his woman has another lover, “my girlfriend has a girlfriend too.” Earl Gaines’ A Fool’ Advice is a solid ballad with a philosophical tone while Al Garner’s marvelous Gonna Stop Drinkin’ also benefits from some wonderful T-Bone Walker styled guitar. Altogether there are 18 tracks here that are at least good and mostly exceptional. With about 76 minutes of music, this i also good value. While Roscoe Shelton and Freddie Waters are no longer with us, others still are and plans are in the works for organizing another touring revue by these acts. If they come to a town near you, I would suggest you catch these musical giants and in the meantime, do check this wonderful CD out.

Since I originally wrote this Johnny Jones also passed on and some others may have too.

Here is the great Earl Gaines from the legendary TV show The Beat!!! (available on DVD from Bear Family) doing 24 Hours a Day

Here is some Roscoe Shelton found on youtube.

Finally Johnny Jones with gatemouth Brown from The Beat!!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Exhilirating Gypsy Jazz from Debarre and Beier

I was introduced to the jazz accordionist (and accordina player) Ludovic Beier when he performed at the Kennedy Center as part of the Django Reinhardt Festival All Stars with Dorado Schmitt and others. This concert of “Gypsy Jazz” preceded the actual Festival run at New York’s Birdland and was among the best musical performances I have been fortunate enough to see in some time. The mix of their astonishing virtuosity, wonderful group interplay and melodically based improvisation was exhilarating to listen to.

Subsequent to the concert I purchased several recordings by participants and others in this musical tradition that takes its inspiration from the legendary Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France. One such album was by guitarist Angelo Debarre and Beier, Swing Rencontre on Le Chant Du Monde. DeBarre is one of the leading guitarists in this style today and these recordings (originally recorded in 2001) have the two backed by rhythm guitarist Michel Delacroix and bassist Antonio Licusati. A drummer is added on two selections, and on one number, Jean-Paul Jamot replaces Licusati.

This recording is comprised of interpretations of a few standards, several classic Django Reinhardt compositions, and some recent contributions from Debarre, Beier and Dorado Schmitt. Beier on accordion plays a musical counterpoint to Debarre’s guitar, similar to Stéphane Grappelli’s violin to Reinhardt. The accordion has had a prominent place in the French musette tradition as well as in gypsy jazz and Beier brings a rich approach to complement Debarre’s dazzling fretwork while Delacroix and Licusati lay a swinging backing.

After playing a couple bars of There Will Never Be Another You, at a dreamy tempo, Debarre kicks up the tempo a couple of notches as he states the theme and launches his improvisation followed by an equally dazzling accordion solo. The dazzling, and crisp technique is matched with marvelous melodic improvisation and its a delight to hear them trade fours. Though instrumental, the music they produce sings and soars. Several of the selections are amongst the most famous of Reinhardt’s repertoire including Swing 42, Dinette, Minor Swing and the lovely Nuages.

“Minor Swing,” originally from Reinhardt and Grappelli is a high-spirited romp and they certainly do justice to it. Most of the arrangements were contributed by the pair, but bassist Licusati provide the dramatic overtones to the rendition of El Maintenant, which is known in English speaking parts of the world as What Now, My Love. Beier penned Paris Plage, a lively duo with Debarre that opens with driving accordion and Debarre comping behind him before the two switch roles with Beier providing an organ-like texture under the guitar. Debarre’s Have You Something? is a lovely ballad while Beier and bassist Jean-Paul Jamot contributed the lively original Michel Got Rhythm, dedicated to rhythm guitarist Delacroix.

This is a recording that should be readily accessible with its strong melodic foundation, swing rhythms and driving inspired improvisations. The music on Swing Rencontre is exciting and brilliant.

And a youtube video of these two live.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cookin' With Pianist David Bennett Cohen

Some may remember the psychedelic group, Country Joe & The Fish. One its members, David Bennett Cohen, has been part of the blues and roots circuit (This writer saw him at the Western Maryland Blues Festival several years back), and has a new CD, Cookin’ With Cohen (Core Records). Cohen is heard mostly on piano (he plays acoustic guitar also) and backed by a small group of guitar, bass, drums and percussion on a selection of blues and blues-oriented material that displays his solid blues keyboard style and musical versatility.

The title track is a nice boogie woogie with also a guitar solo from Chris Carter. Carter adds a blues-rock guitar tone on The Ballad of Ruby and Jaspar, before Cohen takes his solo on this medium walking tempo instrumental. Cohen’s two-handed attack is well paced and doesn’t need the distraction of the buzzy guitar tone here. Bobby Day adds the vocal on the gospel-tinged We All Want Peace in Our Time, which features more rollicking piano by Cohen along with a somewhat jazzier solo here, but its Cohen’s playing that still is at the core.

Like Stars After Sunrise has a Latin groove, while Booze is a morning after blues with Day singing rather colorlessly and the percussion heavy Crawfish Royale has a New Orleans second line groove. Portuguese Moon features vocalist Elizabeth Lohninger on a Latin-tinged pop number, while Cohen adapts K.C. Douglas’ Mercury Blues into an easy rocking piano boogie blues with one of the better vocals from Bobby Day and also some of guitarist Carter’s best playing. Cohen also brings a distinctive touch to, When the Saints Go Marching In, which opens as a dirge before the group kick off a second line rhythm and new lyrics about New Orleans being restored. However, the vocal is curiously bland. The closing Blues For a Summer’s Dream, is a nice, moody solo instrumental that thankfully eschews the full band.

Cohen is a wonderful pianist with a nice touch and paces his performances well but the backing group makes some of these performances sound generic.

I wrote this review in Fall, 2007 for Jazz & Blues Report, but not sure if it was published. I am not sure from whom I received my review copy, although I believe it was a publicist.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chicago Bluesman Toronzo Cannon Is In A Leaving Mood

A Chicago native, singer-guitarist Toronzo Cannon has been playing professionally since 1997 since playing with vocalist Tommy McCracken at the Taste of Chicago. Since that time he has developed musically and developed a driving, searing style that strike me as suggestive as Son Seals. His influences range from Muddy, Elmore to Tyrone Davis and Johnnie Taylor, with his ears open to Bob Marley, John Mellancamp and Jimi Hendrix.

Delmark has just issued a new CD Leaving Mood that follows up 2007 a self-produced CD. He is backed by rhythm guitarist Lawrence Gladney, keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, bassist Larry Williams, and drummer Marty Binder with guest appearances by guitarist Carl Weathersby and harmonica player Matthew Skoller. Its a tight band with a rocking style. Nearly all of the songs are originals from Cannon and/or Gladney and there are a varied bunch.

She Loved Me has echoes of Hound Dog Taylor’s She’s Gone with Gladney’s slashing rhythm guitar figure as Cannon sings about his woman who committed murder in first degree before Cannon takes a searing solo. With Skoller adding harp, Cannon’s shuffle Chico’s Gone (For Chico Banks) is an affectionate tribute to the late Chicago bluesman where he issues his regrets of not saying goodbye to his friend. cannon sings about not being to get over an old lover on Gladney’s soulful Come On, while the two collaborated on the funky I Believe where his woman knows about what is going on while playing games that mess with Toronzo’s head.

Hard Luck is an original slow, topical blues about losing his job and it being hard on man when one tries to get by as the bills pile up and savings won’t go far with Carl Weathersby taking then first scorch the earth solo with the two both taking solos after the final verses. Open Letter (To Whom It May Concern), has his vocal distorted (sounding as if he was singing through a harmonica mike) as he sings about the backbiting, dog-eat-dog stuff that goes only some in the blues scene with Skoller adding nice harp embellishments on this before Cannon’ solo which makes use of the lower strings and guitar effects as Gladney and rhythm lay down in an understated manner an insistent groove. One of the few songs not written by Cannon is his sensual rendition of Nina Simone’s smokey Do I Move You, which provides a nice change in feel.”

Whether talking about the woman who will drink away Toronzo’s gig money on I Can’t Take Her Nowhere, or waiting for his woman who can make him feel so small so that he is in a Leaving Mood, Cannon and Gladney have provided us with some fresh songs and a distinctive approach that has led Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer to provide his endorsement for this “contemporary blues statement” on the back cover noting it has “a slew of striking, original songs with performances full of swaggering power and confidence.” The music at times may be a bit too upfront for my ‘taste,’ but that is a matter of preference. Cannon is a strong singer and the band here is terrific. The result is this album that certainly will make those listening to the blues taking notice.

I received my review copy from Delmark.

On "The Real Blues Forum" on Facebook, Stefan Wirz provided a youtube link. I am providing a different link since this is one the songs in the CD.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Singular Genius of Ray Charles

Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles is the aptly titled box set issued by Concord of all of the singles issued by Ray Charles after he left Atlantic Records and signed with ABC Paramount. This complements the reissue of Charles’ Atlantic singles, The Birth of Soul that was issued a number of years ago and takes us through 1970 and through some very familiar and iconic recordings. The 106 tracks are spread over 5 physical CDs and contain a booklet with an overview of the music from Billy Vera and session information about the selections included. As Vera notes, some of Charles’ latter recordings.

As Vera observes, fans of Charles often are divided between those with a preference for the early R&B singes with the legendary eight piece band and those who enjoy his latter recordings often with a big band or full orchestra that cover a wider variety of material. It should be noted that even Charles Atlantic singles and recordings transcended the blues, rhythm and blues to include jazz. And while with Atlantic, he recorded the brilliant album The Genius of Ray Charles which indicated his future direction with big band and orchestral charts from Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns.

One reason perhaps some prefer the Atlantic period is the more homogenous material and musical framework of those recordings. ABC gave Charles greater leeway in the material he recorded and Sid Feller oversaw Charles recordings, as opposed to pro due them. So there was considerable variety in the material including pop and country songs as well as blues and jazz classics. He would, in some cases, be backed by a big band, on others with an orchestra with strings, and there also were some small combo recordings. Furthermore on some recordings there would be a vocal chorale as opposed to gospel-based Raeletts.

While his earliest recordings were on ABC Paramount, Charles was able to have his own label, Tangerine where he could record musical idols like Louis Jordan and the sophisticated blues of the songwriter Percy Mayfield who contributed the signature Charles recording Hit the Road Jack, along with The Danger Zone, At the Club and Hide Nor Hair. There are the duets with Betty Carter including Baby Its Cold Outsidewhich was a bit more sophisticated than either the Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald recording or Hot Lips Page and Pearl Bailey.

While with ABC, Charles would record his pathfinding albums of country music and many of those classic recordings are also included as are his singular interpretations of The Beatles’ Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby. Standards such as Without Love and “Without a Song” (in two parts, one a vocal, the other instrumental) are mixed with the Harlan Howard classic that Charles invigorated “Busted,” and he never forgot his roots in the blues withWorried Life Blues (the flip to Sticks and Stones), Sam Cooke’s Laughin’ and Clownin’, and the Chuck Willis classics Feel So Bad and What Am I Living For. The latter number has a country flavor in the backing (which also evokes Sam Cooke's Bring it Home To Me) with the choral backing and the steel guitar in the orchestral backing along with a nice bluesy guitar solo. Not that long after he would record his classic rendition of America The Beautiful.

Its fascinating that on his last singles he would cover Silas Hogan's Every Saturday Night, with a smoldering big band rendition, and Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. One might argue that the performances as a whole are not as consistent as the Atlantic recordings. Perhaps its the wide range of material he covers and not everything comes across with the emotional gravity of his best work. With a few rare exceptions, Charles was able to invest so much of himself in his music and placed his own stamp on his recordings and performances. On occasion he would not be able to transcend the sentimentality of a few songs, but that is the exception as can be heard here.

Oddly, my only complaint is that extracting the CDs from the box they come in can be tricky at times. Singular Genius is an apt title, and one can readily doubt whether we will ever see another performer with so much soul and so much musical depth. That genius and depth is evident here.

I received a review copy of the box from a publicist or Concord. This would obviously make a great gift for the musical aficionado in your family or circle of good friends.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Big Boy Henry's Carolina Blues

North Carolina bluesman, Richard ‘Big Boy’ Henry is among the blues artists that have been assisted with the Music Maker Relief Foundation. Music Maker Recordings has issued a delightful disc by this Patriarch of the Carolina Blues, Beaufoot Blues, that was produced by Lightnin’ Wells and Tim Duffy.

Henry’s contributions are limited mostly to vocals as Wells, Duffy and Michael Parrish provide backing for most of the tracks. Wells plays wonderful slide (suggesting Bukka White) on a rousing John Henry while the simple guitar of Parrish and Duffy enhance Henry’s vocal on Old Bill, a nice piece of storytelling about the killing of his rooster. Moan&Cry has some outstanding fingerstyle playing from Wells as Henry asks his woman to rock him. Duffy’s rolling guitar is wonderful behind Henry on Vellevina.

Big Boy’s son, Luther is accompanied by Wells on a warmly sung Tell Me What to Do followed by Big Boy’s a cappella vocal on Nina Mae. Pleading with his woman to tell him what’s on her mind, Henry accompanies himself on Turn the Key, telling his woman to turn the key and let Big Boy ride in her automobile and on Walking Day &Night, where, Parrish adds some low key piano in support of Henry’s enjoyable playing. Sandwiched between those tracks is Beautiful City, a gospel blues associated with Rev. Gary Davis.

One might wish Henry played a bit more, which is not to fault the wonderful accompaniments he receives through, but the strength of this release is the wonderful heartfelt singing of Big Boy Henry who is a wonderful storyteller and who invests all these performances with heart and honesty.This may be hard to find but you can obtain from some mail-order outlets as well as from the Music Maker Relief Foundation at its website, www., see

This review appeared in the April 2003 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. I may have purchased this CD.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Genius of Ray Charles

Concord Records recently entered into an exclusive agreement with the Ray Charles Foundation to develop the late artist’s post-1960 catalog. The first installment is Ray Charles — Genius: the Ultimate Collection. This disc which spans his recordings from his Atlantic days through the remainder of his career includes a number of his greatest hits including Hit the Road Jack, What’d I Say, Part 1, Busted, I Can’t Stop Loving You, Sticks and Stones, Drown in My Own Tears, Georgia On My Mind, You Are My Sunshine, Let’s Go Get Stoned, You Don’t Know Me, Crying Time, Yesterday, and America the Beautiful, among the 21 recordings included here.

This will help Concord launch the release of the Genius' ABC-Paramount and Tangerine label recordings, many for digital reissue for the first time. The music here transcends genres and represents some of the finest moments by any performer of American vernacular music. Included are liner notes from veteran jazz writer, Don Heckman.

The music here belongs in any well rounded recording collection.

This review originally appeared in the April 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 315). I have written a review of the a box set from Concord of Ray’s Complete ABC Singles and scheduled posting of it November 18. I received my review copy from either a publicist or Concord Records itself.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Denise Lasalle's Regal Soul-Blues

After years recording for Malaco, Denise LaSalle has a new album on Ecko titled Still theQueen. On the opening title track, I’m Still the Queen, she tells the pretenders to the soul-blues throne that she is back, “I’m the Queen,you are not even in the game,” and to the young blues mamas trying to take her place, “give it up,you’re not even in the race.”

Her fans will know what to expect as she is not only a strong confident singer but a terrific songwriter who contributed most of the songs. Whether singing about leaving the party cause she’s got a Dirty, Freaky Man waiting for her, or telling another woman that she shouldn’t have bragged about her good her lover was if she did not want anyone else know cause she’s the best man Denise has ever had on You Should Have Kept It in the Bedroom, she certainly takes command of the listener’s attention.

At the same time, she can sing about the heartbreak of some relationships as on What Kind of Man is This, where the man she loves is running around with others and yet she loves him and can’t leave him despite the pain he causes her. This is one several tracks that make real good use of backing vocals and employs a solid rhythm section which includes guitarist Michael Toles. If the horn sounds are produced by synthesized keyboards, then whoever did it did a real fine job of having his keyboards mimic horn players.

Unlovable Habits has a terrific lyric as Denise tells her man if she wants to leave her for the woman from better side of the tracks that she won’t get in his way but will she put up with his unlovable promises, the funky smelly feet, will she wait when he doesn’t come home at all, the way he puts his clothes on the floor.The album closes with There’s No Separation, a plea to have Christian prayer mandated in public schools, that I find simple minded and wrong. Fortunately it is the last track so one can skip it easily. Whether Denise Lasalle is Still the Queen or not, this is a nicely done disc.

This review appeared in the April 2003 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. I may have purchased this CD.

Monday, November 14, 2011

New Orleans Social Club Sings Its Way Home

In April 2006 I wrote reviews on several post-Katrina benefit albums. This is the third and last review of those I am posting. Here is the first which originally appeared in the April 2006 (issue 281) of Jazz & Blues Report as well as the April 2006 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. I likely received a review copy, not sure if from the record company, a publicist or Jazz & Blues Report. There is also a live recording of them from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival that is available from Sadly some acts including Willie Tee have passed on.

The New Orleans Social Club’s Sing Me Back Home (Burgundy Records) is a collection of performances Cut last October in Austin. Dr. John and Irma Thomas (here with Marcia Ball) are the only performers on the Nonesuch disc, Our New Orleans, that are here.

Cyril Neville opens with the Impressions’ protest ballad, This is My Country, followed by Ivan Neville (Aaron’s son) funk reworking of Fortunate Son, with the lyrics about the “millionaire’s son” and “I ain’t no fortunate one,” reverberating with a once again timely message. Somewhere from “West Side Story,” takes a new meaning in light of Katrina as Henry Butler sings “There’s a place for us.” Irma Thomas & Marcia Ball sing about keeping a smile and a sense of things being better on Look Up, while Dr. John, with band, revisits Bobby Charles’ Walking to New Orleans (originally Fats Domino’s hit), although this time with a funk groove and not as gloomy as the take he did that closed one of the televised Katrina benefits.

Troy ‘Trombone Shorty’ Andrews, a threat on both trumpet and trombone, gets the spotlight on Hey Troy' Your Mama's Callin' You, a lively Caribbean-flavored instrumental. The Mighty Clouds of Joy contribute a gospel number while the Subdudes take on Earl King’s Make a Better World. New Orleans legend, Willie Tee contributes First Taste of Hurt, while the Sixth Ward All-Star Brass Band Revue featuring Charles Neville do Where Y’at, a medley of songs associated with Brass bands including Jesus is on the Mainline, I’m Walkin’, and (When) The Saints Go Marching In).

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux’s Chase is set to a reggae grove with its lyric questioning why one wants to send him away from home. Singer John Boutté closes with the moving ballad by Annie Lennox, Why, which is an amazing performance to close another album of terrific music.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Guitarist JC Stylles Exhilarating Organ Trio.

Winning a contest on one of the jazz websites, my prize was the Motéma CD by Australian guitarist JC Stylles, Exhilaration and Other States. I was completely unfamiliar with Stylles prior to this contest, but this organ trio album with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Lawrence Leathers has quickly become a personal favorite.

Exhilarating is the feeling from the album's as the band comes out smoking on Eddie Marshall's Knucklebean, a feverish blues that illustrates the empathy between the three. Stevie Wonder's I Can't Help, has a slightly slower tempo, but Stylles continues with his fleet, driving attack. The temperature drops for the lovely Billy Eckstine ballad I Want To Talk About You, with Stylles cleanly articulating each note and employing judicious use of sustain for a lovely performance. Stylles confesses a love for ballads that is also reflected in a moody and haunting rendition of Billie Holiday's Don't Explain.

Cole Porter's Love For Sale, is handled energetically as Stylles again dazzles with his deft and imaginative playing set against his terrific bandmates. Other numbers in the eclectic group of songs include Wayne Shorter's Pinnochio, with its unusual structure that the trio readily handles, and R. Kelly's It Seems Your Ready, which provides a nice late feel contrasting with the fire of the Shorter number.

Stylles original, Samba Steps, is based on the chord progression of Coltrane's Giant Steps, but handled with a Samba feel, and provides a rousing finish to one of the best organ-guitar recordings of recent times. Stylles, Bioanchi and Leathers certainly caught my ear with this recording, and I look forward to more from these three.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James

Among the greatest of all Blues artists, Elmore James’ influence is heard in the music of countless musicians today, whether his cousin Homesick James Williamson, Chicago slide guitar boogie master, Lil Ed Williams, New Orleans slide master Deacon John, Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green or George Thorogood’s blues-rock. James’ recording of Dust My Broom is among the seminal blues recordings and covered or adapted by countless artists. Even forty years after his death, the passion and urgency in his music is evident to anyone who spends anytime listening to his recordings. Elmore’s music was so powerful that Steve Franz did his Masters research on Elmore. Several years ago, Franz published a discography of Elmore’s music.Adding additional research, he has completed the first full-length biography of James, The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James (BlueSource Publishing).

James died of a heart attack in 1963 right around the time interest in Chicago blues was growing outside the African-American community. He was only subject to cursory interviews by several Europeans, such as photographer George Adins who saw him performing in various Chicago night clubs. As a result, much of what we know about his life derives from interviews from those who played with him or knew him including his cousin, “Homesick” James Williamson, harmonica player and vocalist Sam Myers, the late drummer Odie Payne, James’ Atlanta manager Otis Ealey, and record producer Bobby Robinson.

There is also an account of Elmore in performance in a southern juke joint excerpted from civil rights pioneer James Meredith’s autobiography. Other information is gathered from various public and quasi-public records including those of the Chicago Musicians Union local. Included also are brief discussions of some of the myths about Elmore, his influence and biographies of the musicians who played with Elmore and some of the artists who were directly affected by Elmore including Homesick James, J.B. Hutto, Joe Carter and Hound Dog Taylor.

There is also an extensive discography of Elmore’s recordings including listings of various album reissues. This is copiously illustrated with pictures of Elmore and his musical associates. There are a few minor typos but this is an impressive contribution to the literature on the blues. This can be obtained from amazon or

This review was written after I purchased this book. The review originally appeared in the April 2003 DC Blues Calendar, then the newsletter of the DC Blues Society. I have made minor stylistic revisions and updated the purchase information from the original review.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Historic Ray Charles Live In France

Eagle Vision has issued an amazing and important DVD by Ray Charles Live in France 1961. This was filmed over four nights during Charles’ first to Europe when he played a Jazz Festival outside of Antibes on the Cote d’Azur and marked a departure in that he brought his big little band as opposed to the larger big band he was touring with in the United States. There is an excellent video of Charles in Brazil from a couple years later that shows The Genius in his prime with the full big band.

With Charles and his piano, we hear the legendary saxophone trio of Hank Crawford, David ‘Fathead’ Newman, and Leroy ‘Hog’ Cooper along with trumpeters Philip Guilbeau and John Hunt; bassist Edgar Willis and drummer Bruno Carr. And also present were the Raelettes of Gwen Berry, Margie Hendrix, Pat Lyles and Darlene McCrea. This was the essentially Ray’s Band during his years at Atlantic Records and the chance to see this band (which was the band on Ray’s live Atlantic Recordings) makes this particular DVD special.

The performances are taken from French television programs of highlights from the Festival and as the folks from Reelin’ In The Years Productions observe, this was filmed not taped which helps explain the excellent video quality. However film, not used after cutting and splicing of source material, was discarded so the 105 minutes which includes multiple performances of several songs is all there is. Radio recordings of the entire shows existed that allowed rearranging the clips from the festival highlights into the performance order and provide superior sound.

The performances include the jazzy instrumentals including renditions James Moody’s The Story, Horace Silver’s Doodlin’, and his instrumental take of One Mint Julep, here played on piano and not organ. Then there are stellar renditions of Let the Good Times Roll, Georgia On My Mind (with Fathead Newman on flute), Sticks and Stones and What’d I Say.” Does anybody need to have me say what a great band this was and that the members get showcased throughout. The filming did have the great Charles’ vocals and piano front and center while focusing on the horns during their solos. Listening and watching how effortlessly he moves from a ballad like Cecil Gant’s classic ballad, I Wonder, to the vocal interchange with Margie Hendrix who admonishes him to Tell The Truth, one is awestruck even 50 years later. Similarly one is amazed watching Charles jazz up My Bonnie, and while getting down for the nitty gritty for I Believe.

Few performers were so at home and so expressive at performing such a wide range of music. This DVD presents Charles at his greatest and in addition to the terrific production, there is a booklet with Rob Bowman’s essay providing the context for these performances. This is a stellar DVD that should be of interest to many.

I received a review copy from a publicist for this release. I will be reviewing a box set of the Complete Ray Charles ABC singles in the near future.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

After Katrina, Moving to a Higher Ground

In April 2006 I wrote reviews on several post-Katrina benefit albums. This is the second review of those I am posting. Here is the first which originally appeared in the April 2006 (issue 281) of Jazz & Blues Report as well as the April 2006 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. I likely received a review copy, not sure if from the record company, a publicist or Jazz & Blues Report.

Jazz at Lincoln Center did one of the first TV benefit shows, Higher Ground, Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert, which has been made available on Blue Note. Given that the Artistic Director of Jazz From Lincoln Center, Wynton Marsalis Wynton Marsalis, is from New Orleans as well as the city’s seminal place in the history of jazz and American popular music, it is not surprising that they came out early to help try to help the cradle of jazz recover.

Despite being presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center, the music presented here includes much that is not strictly jazz including a marvelous gospel number by Shirley Caesar and lively number by Buckwheat Zydeco. Art & Aaron Neville revive Professor Longhair’s Go to New Orleans with Allen Toussaint on piano, Art Neville on organ, an uncredited guitarist, Wes Anderson on alto and Wynton Marsalis on trumpet on a spirited recording followed by Dianna Krall rendering Basin Street Blues, with a nice traditional jazz feel to the backing evoking Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

James Taylor’s simple solo rendition of his Never Die Young, and Dianne Reeves treatment of The House I Live In both give the lyrics special meaning in light of the performance context as does Norah Jones on a solo performance of Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going To Rain Today. Terence Blanchard’s performance Over There may be the strongest straight jazz performance with its somber mode, whereas the music of New Orleans is celebrated by Marcus Roberts on Jelly Morton’s New Orleans Blues and Wynton Marsalis’ revival of Dippermouth Blues, from the first recordings made by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with a young second cornet player whose nickname was Dippermouth.

Trumpeter Irvin Mayfield plays a marvelous Just a Closer Walk With thee, just backed by pianist Ronald Markam, Bette Midler is marvelous on Is That All There Is, which some may be familiar of from Peggy Lee. The closing Come Sunday with Mark O'Connor on violin is a moving treatment of a composition originally part of Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige, and later done by another legend from new Orleans, Mahalia Jackson.

Like the city celebrated here, the performances contain a variety of styles, idioms and moods.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Roy Haynes - Forever Young and Always Hip

Six decades plus of music making has slowed down the ever youthful and hip Roy Haynes. This writer has the pleasure of seeing him with his Fountain of Youth Band recently at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and he displayed vigor and enthusiasm that folks 60 years younger would have difficulty matching. It was a terrific evening of jazz by a true Jazz Master and is also evident on his latest Dreyfus Jazz release Roy-Alty, which includes several numbers they performed that night.

The core of this recording features Roy with the Fountain of Youth Band that includes Jaleel Shaw on alto saxophone, Martin Bejerano on piano and David Wong on bass. Roy Hargrove is added on on six of the ten selections while two selections are duets with Chick Corea. On Tin Tin Deo, Roberto Quintero is added on congas while on the last track, Passion Dance, pianist Robert Rodriguez replaces Bejerano while Craig Haynes is added on congas and Marcus Strickland on tenor saxophone.

From the opening moments of Sonny Rollins’ Grand Street, with a superbly constructed Hargrove solo followed by marvelous playing from Shaw to the rousing rendition of McCoy Tyner’s Passion Dance, Haynes drives the music, adding embellishments with his snap crackle cymbal work and snare rolls, all the while swinging. On this marvelous recording, a few tracks manage to stand out including Hargrove’s ballad playing on These Foolish Things, the sensation Corea-Haynes duet on Thelonious Monk’s Off Minor, the classic bop flavor of Miles Davis’ Milestones and the Latin jazz classic from Chano Pozo and Gil Fuller, Tin Tin Deo, which opens with Roy speaking the praises of the great percussionist.

The Fountain of Youth Band is strong throughout (I really enjoyed Shaw’s alto playing and subsequently downloaded his most recording on itunes after seeing him with Roy). With a nice mix of material, the recording showcases the continuing youthfulness, hipness and artistry of Roy Haynes.

I purchased this right before seeing Roy Haynes at the Kennedy Center

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tad Robinson's Soulful New Point of View

A New Point of View is Tad Robinson’s stunning new soulful disc on Severn Records. With his old pal Alex Schultz on guitar and Willie Henderson bringing horn and string arrangements, this album evokes some of the classic Chicago and Philly soul recordings by the likes of Tyrone Davis and the Chi-Lites.

There are two covers and nine originals as Robinson opens with the soulful lament, Long Way Home, because Tad is in no rush to get home because “At my house there is no one waiting for me.”What is amazing is how much Robinson has developed as a vocalist and really is terrific here, and his remake of the Johnnie Taylor hit ballad, Ain’t That Loving you (For More Reasons Than One), is almost as impressive with the string and horn arrangements caressing Robinson’s delivery of the songs.

I believe Bobby Bland had the original of Up and Down World, which perhaps does not reach the same level (it’s one of two numbers that Henderson did not arrange), as I am more partial to the late Johnny Adam’s interpretation. It’s one of several tracks with some nice harp by Robinson and piano from Kevin Anker. Another original, You Get the Keep the Love, hits a groove akin to Tyrone Davis’ classic recordings, while He’s Moving In, is a strong bluesy lament. Two of a Kind Blues is more of a straight blues theme with having one woman at home and one with who he cheats, but Henderson’s arrangements take it do a different level.

This is a really surprising disc from Severn because it is a soul recording with blues tinges, even though its being marketed as blues. This is not to diminish the fact that it is simply a marvelous recording that showcases just how superb a performer Tad Robinson has become.

Highly recommended.

This review originally appeared in the June 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 294). I believe I was sent a review copy from the record label.