Saturday, December 31, 2011

Phantom Blues Band Comes Out of the Shadows

Best known as the band that backed Taj Mahal on several award-winning recordings, The Phantom Blues Band finally has a handsome disc of its own, Out of the Shadows (Delta Groove) that will certainly will make even more aware of this superb group.

The seven members of the band have a wealth of experience playing with a who’s who of pop and rock music ranging from keyboard whiz-vocalist Mike Finnigan who was on Hendrix's Electric Ladyland album and toured with Dave Mason to guitarist Denny Freeman who was share guitar duties with Stevie Ray Vaughan before being part of the Antone’s House band and currently is in Bob Dylan’s touring group. Saxophonist Joe Sublett and trumpeter Darrell Leonard are known as the Texacali Horns, guitarist-vocalist Johnny Lee Schell had a lengthy tenure with Bonnie Raitt starting in the late seventies, bassist-vocalist Larry Fulcher had stints with Smokey Robinson and the Crusaders as well as reggae groups Third World and Andrew Tosh while drummer Tony Braunagel has too many credits as a producer to list.

Producer John Porter has let them wax a number of classic R&B numbers with a dash of reggae added that should go down easy. From the opening funk groove of The Meters’ Do the Dirt, the Memphis Hi Records groove of I Only Have Love, the rocking reworking of Don & Dewey’s Big Boy Pete, a fresh reworking of Chuck Berry’s Havana Moon, Fulcher’s handling of a reggae classic, Book of Rules, and solid takes of blues from Jimmy McCracklin, Bobby bland and Ray Charles. Finnigan especially is a terrific vocalist and Schell and Fulcher are very good with some terrific playing (listen to Freeman solo on Part Time Love).

Perhaps the only shortcoming is that this album is the prevalence of covers, although few acts can perform the range of material they do sand at the same time inject the band’s personality into the material. Few will be disappointed in this recording of solid blues and rhythm numbers masterfully played.

This review originally appeared in the May-June 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 293) and I have made some corrections to the published review. I received my review copy from either Delta Groove Records or a publicist for the label.

Here is the Phantom Blues Band doing "Part Time Love" from the 2008 Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise.

And here they are with Taj Mahal

Friday, December 30, 2011

Phillip Walker Going Back Home

Its been way too long since Philip Walker had a new studio album. Delta Groove has just issued Going Back Home, that finds the Gulf Coast native and longtime West Coast bluesman in solid form. The strength of the disc is Walker’s characteristically strong vocals (with just a hint of sandpaper in his voice and his guitar playing which rock and swing at the same time.

Producer Randy Chortkoff has selected a solid backing band that includes guitarist Rusty Zinn, Jeff Turmes on bass (and sax for a few tracks, Richard Innes on drums as well as provided Walker with a diverse range of material from the pens of Percy Mayfield (the opening Lying Woman), Lowell Fulson (Mama Bring Your Clothes Back Home), Lightnin’ Hopkins (Don’t Think ‘Cause Your Pretty), his old friend Cornelius Greene aka Lonesome Sundown (Leave My Money Alone and If You See My Baby), Ray Charles (Blackjack), Champion Jack Dupree (Bad Blood), and Frankie Lee Sims (Walking With Frankie) along with several originals from Chortkoff (although Honey Stew is suggestive of a Lightnin Hopkins recording).

Eddie Snow’s Mean Mean Woman features an accompaniment derived from Junior Parker’s Mystery Train. The backing is a bit too upfront at times and the music loses some of its regional flavor with the somewhat anonymous groove. One wishes the rhythm section was not right on the beat at times such as on the two Lonesome Sundown blues where more of the laconic Excello groove would have been beneficial. The band might also have limbered up on some of the grooves of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Jewel Recordings at times.

These are still very good recordings, with Walker first rate throughout and his take on Blackjack, Leave My Money Alone, Bad Blood and Walking With Frankie are particularly outstanding, and if not a perfect date, there is still plenty to enjoy.

This review appeared in the April 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 292) and my review copy was sent by either Delta Groove or a publicist for them.  

Here is the late Phillip Walker in performance.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Varied & Vintage Coleman Hawkins in Europe

Coleman Hawkins, In Europe: London, Paris & Brussels (Standing Oh!vation), is an import DVD that collects video from four different European locations with Jazz’s first great tenor saxophonist heard in different group contexts from 1962 to 1966. The DVD contains nearly two hours of performances from those shows as well as a bonus of almost a half hour in bonus performances from the 1960 TV film, After Hours with another group featuring Hawkins.

In Europe opens with a quintet that he co-leads with Harry ‘Sweets” Edison with a group that includes Sir Charles Thompson on piano, Jimmy Woods on bass and Jo Jones on drums. Filmed in 1964 at London's Town Hall, the full group is featured on Wardell Grey’s Stoned. This is followed by ballad features for Hawkins (September Song), Thompson (What’s New on which Hawkins is heard reciting the melody at the opening), and Edison (Willow Weep For Me). The full group is seen on Edison’s blues Centerpiece, before the set closes with the Ellington standard, Caravan, which spotlights drummer Jones. The next set is from 1966’s Royal Jazz Festival in London and has Hawkins in a quintet co-led with the great Benny Carter and with a terrific rhythm section of Teddy Wilson on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Louis Bellson on drums. They launch into a swinging Blue Lou, before short ballad features for Carter, I Can’t Get Started, and Hawkins, Body and Soul, before a lengthy romp on Hawkins’ Disorder at the Border, which gives everyone a chance to stretch out. Musically, these selections may be the highpoint of this video compilation.

A nice 1966 Parisian rendition of the standard Moonglow follows with Hawkins supported by Oscar Peterson on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on bass is followed by an intriguing 1962 quintet date from Brussels with pianist George Arvanitas, guitarist Mickey Baker, bassist Jimmy Woode and drummer Kansas Fields. The interesting program opens with an unaccompanied tenor sax solo from Hawkins, Blowing For Adolphe Sax. The rest of the program includes a spirited Disorder at the Border, South of France Blues (aka Blues in G and Rifftide. “South of France Blues” is reminiscent of “After Hours” and is a chance for guitarist Baker, a respected session man on hundreds of sessions and the Mickey of Mickey & Sylvia fame, to shine in addition to Hawkins.

As if these performances were not enough, the 1960 TV show After Hours is included, with a sextet co-led with trumpeter Roy Eldridge, a rhythm section of guitarist Barry Galbraith, pianist Johnny Guarnieri bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Cozy Cole with vocalist Carol Stevens. Legendary NYC radio announcer William B. Williams does the voice over to set the scene of a late night after hours club where the musicians just pop in to play and if the setting is a little contrived, the music is very solid.

I would not be surprised if Standing Oh!vation is a successor to the Improv-Jazz series of DVDs and like those, the packaging is not very elaborate. It lacks the superb annotation that is characteristic of the JazzIkons series of DVDs and the reproduction of the original film does not seem to be as good, but certainly the video here is quite satisfactory and the performances are quite welcome to have available. Fans of the Hawk and swinging jazz will enjoy these.

This review originally appeared in the March 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 314) and my review copy was provided by a publicist. It may be hard to find as well but worth searching out.  Jazz Loft ( does show this in their online DVD catalog.

Coleman Hawkins from you tube performing South of France Blues.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Donald Bailey's Philly Based Hard Bop

This is the third of three reviews I did reviewing the initial batch of releases on the Taking House Records series, Blueprints Of Jazz. I received review copies I believe in Jazz & Blues Report, but I am unaware if this review ever ran. I will be running the other reviews in the next several days.

A series of new releases from Talking House Records, Blueprints Of Jazz, shines the spotlight on lesser known innovators and style-setters in jazz. Series co-producer Marc Weibel noted the series “is unique in that it presents a collection of modern recordings by some of the few remaining musicians that have a true historical connection to jazz scene of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. … Blueprints of jazz gives the casual jazz fan a chance to discover significant jazz artists they weren’t aware of before - artists that are peers with the jazz legends they’re already familiar with. The series first releases spotlight drummers Mike Clark and Donald Bailey along with saxophonist Billy Harper. each is handsomely packaged with digipacs that include liner booklets as well as use modern and vintage photographs, the latter using or evoking the classic work of Francis Wolff and used not only in the booklets, but the back cover and the disc labels.

Blueprints in Jazz, Vol. 3, showcases drummer Donald Bailey. Bailey is best known for his stint with the late great jazz organist Jimmy Smith with whom he spent nine years and played on many of that legend’s most celebrated recordings. Bailey grew up as part of Philly’s very vibrant jazz scene playing with the likes of Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, Jymie Merritt, Jimmy Garrison, Jimmy Health and John Coltrane, although his most important mentor was the highly influential, although obscure pianist, Hassan Ibn Ali and with whom he played with extensively, attributing to that experience how he “learned to play drums.” In 1982 he relocated to the Oakland area, but for this session he surrounded himself with Philadelphians. The band here includes two veterans of Max Roach’s group; the terrific unsung saxophonist, Odean Pope and bassist Tyrone Brown. Pianist George Bailey fills out the band with trumpeter Charles Tolliver appearing on one track.

Pope’s Plant Life opens with a hot groove and a robust solo that Bailey kicks and the rhythm kicks along. Hassan Ibn Ali’s Blues It was an unrecorded original by the pianist that Bailey supplies a Caribbean groove with Burton introducing the theme before Pope makes his entrance. Tyrone Brown opens on bass on his composition Gone Now with a 5/4 time signature, while Bailey’s brother, Morris Junior (father of bassist Victor) supplied the lilting jazz waltz, Variations.

Pope’s “Fifth House” is a variation on Coltrane’s Giant Steps, with Pope’s impressive utilization of the sheets of sound approach. It is followed by the ballad For All We Know, which opens with Pope unaccompanied before joined by Brown’s bass. It is followed by Pope’s Family Portrait, that Scott Yanow suggests is similar to Coltrane’s 1960 recording of Summertime, and if the performance conjures up the classic Coltrane Quartet, the players each display their own distinctive styles. A medley of Brown’s USQ, a stunning bass solo, that leads into Pope’s Trilogy on which Charles Tolliver makes the group a quintet, with a horn line that suggests some of Sun Ra’s horn arrangements with Bailey driving the piece along.

On the closing Blue Gardenia, Bailey is on harmonica with Burton and Brown supporting him on a charming performance that shows a different side of him. Its a surprising conclusion to another excellent recording in what one hopes is simply the initial; batch of releases in this series of recordings.

Here is a you tube video with Donald talking about his career and playing harmonica.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mike LeDonne Keeps The Faith.

I was not familiar with organist Mike LeDonne prior to listening to his new Savant CD Keep The Faith. LeDonne grew up on hard soul and funk before falling under the spell of Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery and the swing feeling. He spent eleven years in the legendary vibist, Milt Jackson’s quartet before establishing “The Groover Quartet” with saxophonist Eric Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Joe Farnsworth. LeDonne’s band is well name as they hit the groove and run hard with it.

This disc opens with a dynamic rendition of the O’Jay’s hit, The Backstabbers, which establishes the mood with Alexander as well as the leader both being especially striking as drummer Farnsworth provides the hard swinging rhythm. The late Charles Earland was a major influence on LeDonne, and the Earland penned title track that hurdles out the gate like a runaway midnight special. Alexander takes things up a notch followed by fiery single note playing by Bernstein who certainly has become one of the most in demand guitarists (Sonny Rollins for one) and so at home in the context of an organ band. The leader himself provides plenty of chicken fried grease here as well followed by the three trading fours with drummer Farnsworth. Its typical of the fire to be heard here.

LeDonne’s original blues, Big John, is a tribute to another jazz organ master, John Patton. The relaxed walking tempo provides a change of pace from the burners that opened this album. It is followed by the relaxed groove in an interpretation of Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel.” The four invest quite a bit of feeling into Donny Hathaway’s classic Someday We’ll All Be Free. Another LeDonne original, Scratchin’ is fleet groover as Bernstein takes a driving solo followed by some strong tenor sax while “Burner’s Idea” is a hot bluesy number that shows inspiration in Earland’s similarly styled compositions (Earland’s nickname was “The Mighty Burner”). The leader takes us to the church of organ blues here.

This writer is an unabashed fan of organ jazz. Listening to this was like being an eleven year boy alone in a candy store. However, the musical treats of Mike LeDonne and The Groover Quartet, on Keep The Faith, have no calories, don’t promote tooth decay and is musically enriching. LeDonne has produced a superior organ jazz recording that will be listened to repeatedly by this writer.

My review copy was provided by Jazz & Blues Report for whom this review was written. Here is Mike and the Groover Quartet at the 2010 Chicago Jazz Festival.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tommy McCoy Lays His Demons Down

An Ohio native, but living in Florida since 1967, Tommy McCoy has been playing blues ever since. In 1986, journeying to San Francisco and recorded his first project with Mark Hummel. He toured with Johnny Thunder, played in a band with three former Allman Brothers and then did a session in Austin with the late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section. A couple years later he entered Kingsnake Studios with a studio band that included Lucky Peterson and recorded Lay My Demons Down, which led to touring the UK as well as a tour of Norway with the late Florida bluesman Rock Bottom.

Blues Boulevard has reissued Lay My Demons Down, co-credited to Lucky Peterson, whose organ helps anchor and spark the performances. Included are 15 performances that are pretty straight-forward efforts. Most tunes are originals such as the rocking Blues Thing, with his recitation of various blues artists and grooving with a feeling playing the fender in a bar with sawdust on the floor as well as the slow Bitter Soul to Heal, a nice slow tune with a bit of a Boz Scaggs feel. He picks acoustic guitar for several tracks including the They Killed That Man, with its narrative of taking a life without a reason why. The title track has him talking about drinking, smoking and staying up all night doing things that ain’t right but things are wrong unless he lays his demons down and changes the life he is living. Its a nice lyric that is well played. He provides his own arrangement of Jimmy Rogers’ Ludella, giving it a funk groove while adding a shuffle beat to Robert Nighthawk’s Bricks in My Pillow, with some broomdusting lap slide from Laptop Randy. He adds an insistent beat to Tampa Red’s Crying Won’t Help You.

Musically this is a solid effort. Tommy Mccoy is a good songwriter, an able singer and a solid guitarist, and receiving solid backing throughout produced an engaging disc that maybe will garner attention from those who missed it the first time around.

My review copy was either provided by Jazz & Blues Report or Blues Boulebard. It was written for Jazz & Blues Report, but I am not sure if it was ever published. Here are videos of him performing.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Billy Harper's Bluesprint Of Hard Bop

This is the second of three reviews I did reviewing the initial batch of releases on the Taking House Records series, Blueprints Of Jazz. I received review copies I believe in Jazz & Blues Report, but I am unaware if this review ever ran. I will be running the other reviews in the next several days.

A series of new releases from Talking House Records, Blueprints Of Jazz, shines the spotlight on lesser known innovators and style-setters in jazz. Series co-producer Marc Weibel noted the series “is unique in that it presents a collection of modern recordings by some of the few remaining musicians that have a true historical connection to jazz scene of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. … Blueprints of jazz gives the casual jazz fan a chance to discover significant jazz artists they weren’t aware of before - artists that are peers with the jazz legends they’re already familiar with. The series first releases spotlight drummers Mike Clark and Donald Bailey along with saxophonist Billy Harper. each is handsomely packaged with digipacs that include liner booklets as well as use modern and vintage photographs, the latter using or evoking the classic work of Francis Wolff and used not only in the booklets, but the back cover and the disc labels.

Tenor saxophonist Billy Harper is one of the unsung heroes of the seventies, playing with Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Lee Morgan, randy Weston, McCoy Tyner and Art Blakey to name a few. His classic album, The Black Saint, gave the Italian label its name. His present new album, Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2, allows him to showcase not simply his own playing but also mix in the poetry and narration of Amiri Baraka on the history of jazz during several of the compositions. In addition to Baraka’s spoken word and his own tenor sax and vocal, his band here includes Francesca Tanksley on piano; Aaron Clark on drums and percussion; Keyon Harrold on trumpet and flugelhorn, Charles McNeal on alto sax; and Clarence Seay and Louis Spears split the bass duties. With the exception of Harper’s adaptation of Amazing Grace, this disc features Harper’s original compositions.

The opening tune is Africa Revisited an adaptation of Coltrane’s Africa which opens with the two bassists followed by the horns firing on all cylinders and cooking a stormy brew as Baraka enters with Part One of Where Dat Stuff Come From?, a recitation about the history of music taking us back to the roots of Africa, middle passage and the transportation of the musics creators back to the US, with Harper’s tenor soaring while Baraka pauses then resumes his history of jazz as Harrold bursts through with a machine-gun like attack while Baraka invokes Buddy Bolden and St. James Infirmary in his music history. Harper’s Knowledge of Self is an older Harper piece with the bassists kicking off its strutting groove as Baraka continues Part 2 of his recitation with Tanksley’s piano prominent followed by Harper’s aggressive tenor playing. Another Kind of Thoroughbred is a mid-tempo blues, with concise, fiery solos from Harper and Harrold.

Thoughts and Slow Actions, originally written for a play, is a pensive number opening with Harper’s intense tenor contrasting with Tanksley’s introspective piano along with Harper’s wordless vocal.Who Can Judge Our Fates, is a stunning number with Tanksley evoking Tyner, while Harper’s blistering solo takes off from Coltrane’s inspiration but finds his own direction followed by Harrold’s bright, crisp brass flight. The traditional spiritual Amazing Grace opens with Harper singing the classic lyrics before through overdubbing, duets with his saxophone while Tanksley on keyboards synthesizes a string session. After the stirring Cast the First Stone? (… If You have Yourself No Sins), with its engaging riff, the album returns to its beginning on Harper’s Oh … If Only, a hot Blakey styled cooker coupled with Baraka’s recitation, Where Does the Music Come From? as he asks “Who knows how the heart became an instrument?” as the music swirls powerfully under him. These ears find the pairing of the Baraka and Harper’s insistent group compelling although others might react differently.

Billy Harper remains one of the most vital of the post-Coltrane tenors still with us and the passion, imagination and intelligence displayed in his playing and compositions here lead one to wonder why he is not a household name among jazz listeners.

Here is Billy Harper in a performance that includes pianist Francesca Tanksley.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Zora Young's Tore Up

The following review of Zora Young’s Tore Up From the Floor Up was originally published in the February 2006 DC Blues Calendar, which was then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. It also appeared in the February 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 279). I received my review copy from Delmark Records. This year, I reviewed a tribute to Sunnyland Slim she recorded.

Zora Young has been part of the Chicago club scene for several decades, and first recorded in the early 1980s. She has developed an international reputation through touring and has a small body of recordings including a 2002 Delmark disc, Learned My Lesson. In 2006 Delmark issued her Tore Up From the Floor Up.

On Tore Up From the Floor Up, she is supported by a band that includes guitarist Pete Allen and Bobby Dirninger on keyboards with horns added to two tracks. She is heard on a mix of originals and songs associated with (among others) B.B. King, Bobby Bland, and O.V. Wright. Certainly there is nothing wrong with the material from the opening reworking of Bobby Bland’s Love of Mine to the ballad medley of Since I Fell For You/Silhouettes, and the low-key down-home groove of Muddy’s Two Trains Running. Her own material is pretty good including the title track or her topically laced Til the Fat Lady Sings. There is also a brief interview to close this release.

This is played and sung well enough, but while enjoyable I found little in Young’s vocals or the band that was striking and memorable that would stand out among similar recent blues releases.

Here is Zora singing what she calls a low-down dirty blues.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mike Clark's Jazz Blueprints

This is the first of three reviews I did reviewing the initial batch of releases on the Taking House Records series, Blueprints Of Jazz. I received review copies I believe in Jazz & Blues Report, but I am unaware if this review ever ran. I will be running the other two reviews in the next several days.

A series of new releases from Talking House Records, Blueprints Of Jazz, shines the spotlight on lesser known innovators and style-setters in jazz. Series co-producer Marc Weibel noted the series “is unique in that it presents a collection of modern recordings by some of the few remaining musicians that have a true historical connection to jazz scene of teh 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. … Blueprints of jazz gives the casual jazz fan a chance to discover significant jazz artists they weren’t aware of before - artists that are peers with the jazz legends they’re already familiar with. The series first releases spotlight drummers Mike Clark and Donald Bailey along with saxophonist Billy Harper. each is handsomely packaged with digipacs that include liner booklets as well as use modern and vintage photographs, the latter using or evoking the classic work of Francis Wolff and used not only in the booklets, but the back cover and the disc labels.

Mike Clark is best known as the drummer with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, but as displayed on his disc, Blueprints Of Jazz, Vol. 1, he can take a straight ahead groove as hard and tight as a funk number. The studio band is noteworthy including New Orleans alto saxophonist Donald Harrison; tenor saxophonist Jed Levy; young trumpet phenom Christian Scott; pianist Patrice Rushen; and bassist Christian McBride. Quite an impressive line-up who should be familiar to many from the New York scene with an impressive talent and who contributed several originals.

The overall mood is like some classic Blue Note of the late sixties, early seventies, as well as Woody Shaw and Louis Hayes highly underrated band. Levy’s hot romp, In the House, opens up this set with Rushen taking the first solo followed by Levy’s strong tenor and then Harrison's blues-toned alto leading into the leader taking a solo. The tempo slows down slightly on Levy’s Like That, on which trumpeter Scott follows Harrison with some very impressive playing before spots for Levy and Rushen. Tim Ouimette’s 10th Ave. 1957, is a moody blues-based number with an stop-time bass figure anchoring the rhythm with Scott up front again.

The piano-less Past Lives, has a Moorish tinge as well as allows Clark to display his ability to play with the tempo before he and McBride close it out as a duo. Thanks Len is a funky shuffle by Levy that again conjures up the classic hard bop recordings, whereas the Clark-Levy collaboration, Loft Funk, mixes a Crescent City tinge with some Herbie Hancock flavor, with Clark never getting out of the pocket while mixing in some funk spices to the groove, while Clark’s Conchita’s Dance, described as a Coltranesque tune, written in 5/4, suggests as much some of the Coltrane-inspired hard bop of the time from such pens as Woody Shaw, Wayne Shorter and Billy Harper, all of which displayed their own voices as does the sextet here.

The closing number, Billy Eckstine’s I Want to Talk About You, a feature for Harrison, strikes me as the one number most evocative of classic Coltrane (think After the Rain) that concludes this excellent recording.

Here is a video of Mike in performance.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lluis Coloma's Boogie Woogie and Blues Portraits

Spanish pianist Lluís Coloma is representative of a worldwide group of pianists devoted to the classic boogie woogie and blues form. His most recent album on Swing Alley, Blues Portraits is comprised of a solo performance along with eleven duets with blues and boogie woogie pianists from around the world. The other pianists (some of whom I am familiar with) include August Tharrats, Mitch Woods, Carl Sonny Leyland, Julien Brunetaud, Bob Seeley, David Giorcelli, Mark ‘Mr. B” Braun, Frank Muschelle, Barrelhouse Chuck (Goring), Philippe LeJeune and Bernat Font.

He opens with his own, lively Coloma’s Boogie. Coloma is then joined on a range of traditional or classic blues and boogies along with a few idiomatic originals. Coloma is on the left speaker throughout. It allows the listener to discern the different in approaches such as Tharrats who sounds a bit honky tonk on the gospel Just a Closer Walk With Thee, while Mitch Woods takes us to New Orleans on Red Beans, adding an affable vocal.

Carl Sonny Leyland's opening bar on C C Rider, evoked Amos Milburn as the two provide a nicely crafted underplayed blues here, while Julien Brunetaud has an appealing vocal on I’ve Got to Learn to Do the Mambo, with crisp lead playing along with his strong left hand, while Swanee River Boogie, dates back at least to Albert Ammons and Fats Domino prior to the furious duet by the two that Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson would be proud of.

David Giorcelli takes lead on the classic piano blues theme 44 Blues, with a rub-board adding rhythmic accents, although the tempo smooths out some of the intriguing twists and turns that Sykes and Little Brother Montgomery provided when playing this. The spirit of Meade Lux Lewis is suggested on the duet between Coloma and Frank Muschelle on the furious Honky Tonk Blues Bar Boogie, while Barrelhouse Chuck conjures up Sunnyland Slim on his terrific reworking of Floyd Jones’ “Schooldays on My Mind,” whereas Philippe LeJeune adds a bit of sophistication on Ray Bryant’s I’ll Stick With It, whose melody is quite similar to Johnny Copeland’s Cut Off My Right Arm.

This is a first-rate album of performances that illustrates the wide number of excellent blues players out there that will be mostly unfamiliar to most. Coloma himself is a superb player who also is quite willing to allow the others to shine here. Piano players do play together, and quite well as shown here.

This review was written for Jazz & Blues Report, but I do not believe it was ever published. I received a review copy from a publicist for this release. His website is  Here is some videos of him performing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Legendary Maxwell Davis Was A Wailin' Daddy.

One of the unjustly forgotten giants of post-war rhythm and blues was the late Maxwell Davis. Its been about four decades since the tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger passed away and his legacy is quite substantial and those that remember him speak at times in awe of his musical genius. The late Jerry Leiber was quoted, “… Maxwell Davis … I doubt if you’ve ever heard that name — but Maxwell Davis made records, he was the quiet producer / arranger for the Mesner Brothers at Aladdin; the BIhari Brothers at Modern and Art Rupe at Specialty. Maxwell Davis must have made a hundred hits, not 12 or 17. And nobody knows who Maxwell Davis is.” The quote os from Dave Penny’s liner essay to a new three CD compilation devoted to Maxwell Davis, Wailin’ Daddy: The Best of Maxwell Davis 1945-1959. This reissue is part of The Architects of Rock’N’Roll series on Fantastic Voyage. One CD is devoted to recordings under Davis’ own name, and the other two to recordings he played on during the forties and the fifties. On the latter two there are ,mostly obscure collaborations by Davis. There is a follow-up volume planned that hopefully will include many of the greatest of the hundred hits, although with impending changes to European copyright law that may not happen.

As indicated, Disc One is devoted to recordings made under Maxwell Davis’ name and display the same authority on tenor that those familiar with his solos behind T-Bone Walker, Amos Milburn, Percy Mayfield and others know. Davis had a fat tone and could have a slight bit of honk in his sound but also play with a warmth on a ballad. If he had toured and not been a hired gun for countless sessions, one suspects he could have been as big as some of the best known rhythm and blues tenor saxophonists of his time. And of course on the blues, his solos still sound timeless. Under his name he had a coupling of Lonesome Road Blues and Honey Dripper that featured vocalist Marion Nichols. Then there is the driving honk of the swinging Hung Out, or a session co-led with alto saxophonist September in the Rain, where his playing exhibits elements of the approaches of both Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. There is the 2AM mode of Belmont Special, a lively instrumental cover of Hank Williams’ Hey, Good Lookin’, and Blue Shuffle, an instrumental reconstruction of Lloyd Price’s Lawdy Miss Clawdy.

The second CD includes 28 selections of him in a sideman role, opening with an instrumental from a Helen Humes date and ending with Amos Milburn’s Pot Luck Boogie. There is shouter Jo Jo Adams singing Hard Headed Woman Blues, while Helen Humes delivers the swing-jive It’s Better To Give Than Receive. There is Davis as part of Charles Mingus Sextet, wailing behind Gene Phillips on Big Legs, and less familiar recordings from Crown Prince Waterford, Lloyd Glenn and Gatemouth Brown. Then his tenor enlivens Joe Turner (with Pete Johnson on piano) on Don’t Talk Me To Death, a reworking of the classic boogie woogie Roll ‘Em Pete, as well as Pete Johnson’s Half Tight Boogie that has the great boogie woogie and blues pianist more to the front before Davis takes a terrific solo. On on this second disc are a Jimmy Witherspoon jump blues, early Lowell Fulson, and Davis on a date led by drummer Lee Young, Lester’s brother.

The third disc opens with Calvin Boze’s bouncy jump blues Waiting and Drinking, and closes with Little Willie Littlefield’s K.C. Loving (titled here Kansas City after the later Wilbert Harrison hit). Others on this include Floyd Dixon in his Amos Milburn vein in a duet with Mari Jones, Real Lovin’ Mama; Helen Humes handling He May Be Yours with Davis and a hot big band; and Joe Liggins with Going Back To New Orleans. Davis had played on Ellis Walsh’s original. He could fit in on such different sessions as an atmospheric instrumental by Red Callendar, the relatively unsophisticated blues of Peppermint Harris and the suave, modern jazzy blues of T-Bone Walker. A session with Mabel Scott produced the blues that gives this compilation its title and then he can be heard soloing behind June Christy and Ray Anthony. Less surprising is his work behind Jimmy Nelson on Cry Hard Luck, and Percy Mayfield for Loose Lips. Dave Penny notes his close association with Davis, noting that he set Mayfield’s poetic lyrics to music. While only one B.B. King recording is included, Davis was responsible for most of King’s recordings until the late sixties. There is also Cordella De Milo’s I Ain’t Gonna Hush, an answer to Joe Turner’s Honey Hush, with slashing Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson guitar, a track from Louis Jordan, and also Young Jessie and George ‘Harmonica’ Smith.

Even though most of these selections are ‘obscure,’ there is a consistency of quality and throughout Davis leaves a strong imprint from his strong saxophone and his arrangements where heard. Certainly anyone who loves jump blues and where the blues and jazz idioms intersect will enjoy this. The only possible quibble is the lack of session personnel. Dave Penny’s perceptive liner essay adds to the value provided by the music. This is an important reissue and hopefully there will be a follow-up of his better known recordings.

This was a purchase. Here from You Tube is one of the recordings that can be found on Wailin' Daddy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vintage Sonny Rollins On Impulse

Among the two LPs on one CD reissues that mark 50 years of Impulse is Sonny Rollins’ On Impulse/ There Will Always Be Another You. The two albums were both recorded in 1965, with On Impulse a studio recording that was his first release for the label while There Will Never Be Another You was a live recording from a performance at new York City’s Museum of Modern Art that was not released until 1978. Drummer Mickey Roker is on both recordings. On Impulse also had Ray Bryant on piano and Walter Booker on bass, while pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Billy Higgins (along with Roker) were on the live Museum of Modern Art recording which took place a few weeks prior to the studio session.

Also common to both recordings was renditions of On Green Dolphin Street, and Three Little Words. The live rendition of the former number being preferred to these ears as Rollins’ tenor sounds a bit sour opening On Impulse. This isn’t to dismiss the performance as it grows stronger during the improvisation. Highpoints on this studio date include the moody Everything Happens To Me which is ideal material for his thematic explorations; and a Rogers and Hart standard Blue Room.

The live rendition of On Green Dolphin Street sounds more energetic (perhaps because of the two drummers). There is splendid Tommy Flanagan on this and then the performance segues into the live Three Little Words. Here Rollins is first unaccompanied, then the drummers join and are followed by piano and bass on the briskly paced rendition. Mademoiselle de Paris is a brief waltz followed by the lovely To A Wild Rose, which he co-authored and then this performance concludes with a very lengthy treatment of the title track.

Rollins playing is superlative throughout, although he sounds off-mike at times and the drums may be a tad too prominent and sound boxy. This may account for why this was not issued until over a decade later. Despite the sound, Rollins and Flanagan especially are terrific throughout this. There is so much classic Sonny Rollins and this contains more very good Rollins.

My review copy was sent by Jazz & Blues Report for whom this was originally written. Here is Sonny Rollins being honored by President Obama as part of the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Evocative Photographs and Oral History of Legendary Keystone Korner

Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club
by Kathy Sloane
Indiana University Press

In its slightly over a decade of existence, the Keystone Korner became one of the most celebrated jazz clubs in the world. It hosted a wide variety of artists and was the site for a number of legendary live recordings by Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, Woody Shaw and others. Its story is the subject of a wonderful new book from Indiana University Press, “Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club” by photographer Kathy Sloane.

Sloane frequented the club during its years and was able to shoot so many jazz artists, both legends like Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Elvin Jones, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans, Miles Davis and so many others. In addition to her photographs, she also interviewed not simply artists who performed there, but Todd Barkan the owner, the wait staff and folks that frequented the club. Jazz poet and author Sascha Feinstein, editor of the semi-annual publication Brilliant Corners provided the introduction and edited the interviews. He also compiled the accompanying CD that contains performances from the Keystone.A number of classic performances were captured at the Keystone and the sampling here gives a range of the room.

Keystone Korner was tucked next to a San Francisco police station and when Todd Barkan purchased it and converted a blues bar into one of the great jazz clubs. Barkan booked a wide range of styles including local acts as well as major national acts and created an atmosphere that had major artists holding a benefit to enable Todd to have a kitchen and a liquor license. It was a relaxed atmosphere that did not neglect the local performers who often were the backing band for some national acts. Performers who at the time rarely played jazz clubs like Miles Davis played the Keystone and he booked acts like Sam Rivers that never graced the stage of the Village Vanguard in New York.

Through recollections of Bay area guitarist Calvin Keys, saxophonist Billy Harper, cook Ora Harris, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, poet Jack Hirschman, Fantasy Records publicist Terri Hinte, pianist George Cables, drummer Eddie Marshall, legendary jazz record producer Orren Keepnews, writer, teacher & poet Al Young, trombonist Steve Turre, waitress Flicka McGurrin, Barkan and others the club’s history is weaved together along with the unusual sense of community around the room, It was somehow miraculously that Keystone Korner stayed alive on a shoe string budget as long as it did. Mixed in with Sloane’s images of Dexter, Elvin, Art Blakey, Mary Lou Williams, Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Bobby Hutchinson, Betty Carter, Percy Heath, and so many more and a CD with over an hour of great jazz.

Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club is terrific as a window into a legendary jazz club in addition to serving as a coffee table book. It is a fabulous book that jazz lovers will treasure to enjoy the photographs and the story of a fabled room.

I purchased this book. Here is a clip from you tube of Ahmad Jamal at the Keystone Korner in 1981

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Walking a Fine Line Greg Nagy Falls Towards None

This writer first was introduced to singer-guitarist when he was guitarist with the excellent blues and soul band Root Doctor at the Pocono Blues Festival a few years ago. Shortly afterwards, he left that fine band and embarked on his own career as a leader. I missed his debut album Walk That Fine Line, which was highly praised, but have been enjoying his latest recording, Fell Toward None (Vizztone/Big O Records) that displays his mix of classic and modern blues with a strong soul-R&B tinge with some rock accents.

It's an album that features Nagy and a band that includes Jim Shaneberger on bass, Kevin DePree on drums and percussion, on keyboards withGlenn Brown adding percussion on one track and the Motor City horns on three selections. With the exception of the opening Pack it Up, the songs are originals by Nagy and his band members. The strong modern urban soul-blues base of the music is evident from the brassy opening track with tight band work, strong singing by Nagy and fluid stinging guitar. As a vocalist he comes across as an equal to say Tad Robinson, Darrell Nulisch or Delbert McClinton (in his bluesier side) to mention a couple of similar strong blues-eyed singers in the vein.

When he kicks off the rocking shuffle Wishing Well, with some guitar effects, his nuanced use of such effects distinguishes this from the average heavy-handed blues-rock rendition of such material. And those rockers likely could not convincingly deliver a soulful tune like “Be With You,” which is enhanced by the Motor City Horns’ punchy brass. A similar mood follows on “I’ll Know I’m Ready,” a bluesy lament with a warm, relaxed vocal and an effective understated accompaniment creating the mood on a delightful performance.

The rest of the album exhibits variety in material and accompaniments that showcase Nagy’s considerable vocal and guitar capabilities along with that of his strong band. There is exciting guitar work on “Can’t Take It No More,” the tight funk of “Let It Roll,” the country-soul feel of “Still Means The World to Me, “ the atmospheric title track, and the witty lyrics inspired by today’s social media, “Facebook Mama,” (which is set to a Texas shuffle groove with his guitar sounding like he is playing through a Leslie speaker such as Buddy Guy played through on the Junior Wells’ Delmark recording of “Hoodoo Man Blues”).

Fell Toward None” is an intelligently produced and performed recording that is full of soulful vocals, superior fretwork and focused accompaniments. Greg Nagy and band certainly are growing their reputation with this outstanding recording. Greg’s website is and Big O Records is

I received my review copy from the performer. Here is Greg in performance doing Willie Brown's M&O Blues.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Four Hands of Piano From James and Matsui

Altair & Vega (Tappen Zee Records) is a new album representing the collaboration between pianists Bob James & Keiko Matsui. The seven duets transverse jazz, new age and classical worlds to display the two conversing in their musical dialogue here usually playing four hands piano. James mentions that during the concert they have been performing these duets for about 9 years. As clearly evident on the live concert presented on the accompanying DVD, the two share the piano, with James playing the lower keys and Matsui the upper ones.

The music is lovely and more in the classical tradition, not that there aren’t interludes that are more jazz-inflected such as during the performances of Divertimento (The Professor and the Student) which opens with some stately motifs stated by James and echoed by Matsui with Matsui taking an impressionistic run before a jazzy bop interlude segueing to more dreamy playing.

There is a lovely solo from Matsui on Trees that is part of the live DVD concert recording (from Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild), followed by James’ Duo Oto Subito where the two state the lively theme with each taking an extended passage before they end this performance in an energetic fashion. Also on the DVD is a marvelous rendition by James of the Ray Noble standard, The Touch of Your Lips. The lengthiest performance on both the CD and DVD is The Forever Variations, which the two collaborated with its varying changes in mood and tempo. The CD concludes with James’ arrangement for four hands of Bach’s Chorale From Cantata BWV 147.

The production quality of this is marvelous with marvelous sound to display the superb playing here. The video on the DVD is beautifully filmed and employs a variety of camera angles adding to the enjoyment of watching and listening to the concert performances here. In summary, Altair & Vega present marvelous music perhaps more oriented towards classical ears but certainly wonderful to simply relax and listen and watch.

This review appeared in the December 2011 – January 15, 2012 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 339) at page 15. I received a review copy from the publicist for the release. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tail Dragger Live at Vern's Friendly Lounge

James Y. Jones, the Chicago blues singer took his stage name, Tail Dragger, from a Howlin Wolf song. This was fitting insofar as Wolf was a mentor and heavy influence on him as reflected in his singing, stage act and his music which employs some of the grooves and melodies associated with some of Wolf’s classic recordings, even tossing in a yodel-like Howl on several tracks. A few years back he had a CD and DVD on Delmark is My Head is Bald, Live at Vern’s Friendly Lounge, Chicago. He benefited from a terrific band that has Billy Branch on harmonica, Lurrie Bell on Guitar, Kevin Shanahan on guitar, Bob Stroger on bass, Kenny Smith on drums and Willie Young on tenor sax. Jimmy Dawkins replaces Shanahan on My Head is Bald.

Tail Dragger contributed all the songs except Jimmy Dawkins’ So Ezee. One song, Cold Out Doors, is a DVD bonus track not on the CD. While one would be hard-pressed to call the Tail Dragger a major artist, he entertains with a program that evokes the Wolf. His vocals are slightly slurred and don’t have Wolf’s crispness nor is he as forceful as Wolf was, but still is a very enjoyable singer with the band rocking behind him. Billy Branch is typically outstanding while Lurrie Bell’s stinging lines and riffs evoke Hubert Sumlin’s playing with Wolf. The rhythm duo of Stroger and Smith provide a solid foundation for everybody else. Songs like Tend to Your Business, My Woman is Gone, and the title track, are typically of the solid evocation of Wolf’s music present throughout and its entertaining to watch the DVD to see Tail Dragger singing for the woman, working the crowd and egging his musicians on.

I was also impressed by the camera work and production on the DVD which really gives a sense of that evening at Vern’s Friendly Lounge. This is certainly welcome as an entertaining release that should appeal to fans of classic Chicago blues.

I received my review copies from Delmark and this review originally appeared in slightly different form in the February 2006 DC Blues Calendar which was then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. It also appeared in the July-August 2006 Jazz and Blues Report (Issue 284). I previously posted a review of his Live at Rooster's Lounge.

If my review interests you, here is Delmark's Trailer promoting this DVD.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi's Strong New CD - Convergence

Professor at the New England Conservatory of Music, an alumnus of Two Generations of Brubeck and the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Jerry Bergonzi is an unheralded master of the saxophone. He has a new Savant CD, Convergence with bassist Dave Santoro and the Paris-based Italian drummer, Andrea Michelutti and on a couple numbers, pianist Bill Barth. About his last Savant album, Simply Put, this writer wondered “why Jerry Bergonzi is not a household name in the jazz world. He is a superior, passionate and thoughtful musician and composer, with a terrific band and he deserves to have a wider audience commensurate with the high level of the music he produces.”

Convergence contains eight originals and one interpretation of a Gershwin song. With the exception of two tracks with pianist Barth, he is only supported by Santoro and Michelutti although he has overdubbed on several tracks to play both tenor and soprano, although most of the solo focus is with the tenor. The opening Lend Me a Dream, has a boppish flavor with twin horns for the head. It sounds like piano chords sparely played in the background as the leader sounds robust on tenor, as Santoro takes a terrific solo and then Bergonzi trades fours with Michelutti. The Gershwin’s I Got a Crush on You has nice thematic improvisation over a simple repeated rhythmic figure.

Squid Ink, one of the two numbers with pianist Bath, starts off as a quintet with an engaging twisting line. Pianist Barth takes the first solo and Michelutti’s imaginative playing adds to the interest with the leader sounding vigorous over the driving groove. Stoffy is a bouncy, free-sounding trio number followed by the moody Silent Flying. Osiris opens with overdubbed horns stating the theme before Bergonzi focuses on soprano sax (with a snake charmer’s tone) here on this entrancing performance.

Pianist Barth returns for the loping, engaging title track. On the closing Seventh Ray overdubbing is used throughout the performance, not simply for the opening and coda, making for an intriguing dialogue by Bergonzi with himself. It concludes another album of dynamic and thoughtful performances by a highly underrated composer and saxophonist.

This review was originally drafted for Jazz & Blues Report and my review copy was sent to me by them. I previously reviewed Bergonzi’s Simply Put. Here is a short video clip of him performing from you tube.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Daddy Mack's Enjoyable BluesStones

The Memphis based band led by Daddy Mack Orr has a new disc on inside Sounds, BluesStones, that brings the leader’s vocals and guitar together with his solid band that includes brothers James (rhythm guitar) and Harold Bonner (bass) and drummer William Faulkner with Charlie Wood adding color on keyboards, for a collection of recordings that are performed straight with little artifice.

This has a nice selection of material and the band plays with a driving groove that is almost suggestive of Magic Slim although Daddy Mack is not as compelling a vocalist as Slim. The album opens with a solid rendition of the Z.Z. Hill hit, Shade Tree Mechanic, followed by Junior Bonner’s Plain Man. Slim Jenkin’s Joint is an instrumental from the Booker T & the MG’s songbook whose melody seems based on the Freddy King recording Going Down. It is a feature for Daddy Mack’s stinging guitar work. Savin’ My Love is an original soul-blues ballad, while the band gets a nice groove. Mack’s guitar is very effective on Royal Shade of Blues, as he describes his style of blues. Here he sings while he does not claim to be king, he plays a royal style of blues. He is not quite able to vocally handle the soulful That’s Where Its At.

Overall this was an enjoyable, if not exceptional recording.

This review was written for Jazz & Blues Report but may not have been published. I likely received a review copy from the record label or a publicist for the label. According to Amazon, Daddy Mack Blues Band has at least one more recent release.  

Here is the Daddy Mack Blues Band doing an Albert King classic.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mac Arnold Has Nothing to Prove.

Mac Arnold’s reemergence in the past few years has been quite noteworthy as more of his generation of blues performers pass on. This review is from early 2007 and I believe my review copy was sent by the label or a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 290). My review of a more recent album by Mac Backbone and Gristle was posted last October,

Mac Arnold had a stint with Muddy Waters about four decades ago and followed that up with work with Otis Spann, John Lee Hooker and Tyrone Davis among others. The bassist has emerged with a new album entitled Nothing to Prove (Plantation 1 Records) and its a record rooted in the sounds of four decades ago although with a hard hitting groove that will appear to today’s listeners.

The rocking shuffle, Blues For You, is a driving party song as Arnold exhorts the audience to enjoy themselves as he plays the blues for them. As a vocalist Arnold really excels on the slow tempo songs like the title track, as he tells someone he’s walked in their shoes and had his share of blues with Max Hightower wailing on harp here. Rudy ‘Blues Shoes’ Wyatt plays the piano on Call Mac Arnold, where Arnold tells the ladies to call him when they want to have fun while their man is on the run. Austin Brashier’s guitar playing is strong here on working against the mambo groove. Wyatt’s piano and Hightower’s harp provide the backing for the down home version of (Get on) Back to the Country.

The Truth sports a funky groove as Arnold notes some rather tell a lie because the truth ain’t good enough, and some are telling rumors ‘trying to break us up,” whereas So Mean to Me, is a late night slow blues that Arnold ably delivers.

The album closes with a fine live version of Get on) Back to the Country, with Hightower playing some solid slide guitar in the vein of Muddy Waters.

Here is Mac Arnold on you tube with Bob Margolin, Kim Wilson, the late Willie Smith.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cedar Walton Sounds Ageless on The Bouncer

Cedar Walton has a new release, The Bouncer (High Note) that fans of hard bop and modern jazz piano will find of interest. Walton has had an impressive career starting with his days with J.J. Johnson and Art Blakey, than the numerous sessions with bassist David Williams and the late drummer, Billy Higgins. Whether leading his own sessions or backing the likes of the late Clifford Jordan or Dexter Gordon he was predictable in the sense that one would expect rhythmically swinging, solid and fresh melodic playing and music. On this date he is joined by Williams and drummer Willie Jones III with Vincent Herring on saxophones and flute on five of the eight selections, Steve Turre on trombone for two and Ray Mantilla on percussion for one.

The opening title track is a melodic Walton original based on its tempo with Walton, Herring and Turre each taking solos that establish a lively feel. J.J. Johnson’s Lament is the first time Walton has recorded this with only a trio, and his clean, relaxed touch helps establish the mood before we are engaged with his lengthy solo. With Herring featured on tenor, Walton provides another lively swinger, Bell For Bags, followed by a lovely waltz, Halo, that showcases Herring woody tone on flute. Underground Memoirs is a sextet performance with Turre, Mantilla and Herring on board for a bossa nova tinged rendition of this somber composition with Turre featured prominently here. Drummer Jones is featured on the trio swinger, Willie’s Groove, with Williams also prominent. Williams composed Got To Get To The Island, a driving number with herring in a bluesy mood before the leader’s solo over bassist Williams firm bass lines and Jones’ rock solid groove.

Another trio number, Martha’s Prize, is another lively and youthful sounding performance that closes The Bouncer in a lively mode. While Cedar Walton may be nearing eighty, but on this recording he plays with a vigor with equally engaged players for a recording that is quite striking.

This review was originally drafted for Jazz & Blues Report and my review copy was sent to me by them. The review appeared in the February 2012 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 340). Here is a video of Cedar, David Willaims and Jimmy Cobb.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Kennedy Center Audiences Want To Hear Music Not Camera Shutters

This past Saturday night I attended the Kennedy Center’s NPR Christmas Piano Jazz concert at the Terrace Theatre here in Washington. I have enjoyed the Jazz at the Kennedy Center shows I have attended. I had the misfortune to sit in Row W in front of the photographer who had two Nikon DSLRs on tripods and telephoto. It is curious that the Kennedy Center rules against photography does not apply to the Kennedy Center itself. Furthermore, to have the loud shutter and mirror slap noise during solo piano performances in a room of attentive listeners shows no respect for people who paid to see and listen to the performances. Every time she took pictures, it completely distracted me from enjoying the performances. The fact that she did not show restraint in shooting the performances but shot during every song at that show (Each of the two numbers by the four pianists) showed total disregard for those sitting near her.

I will acknowledge that I was told that I could be moved if I wanted, but as my wife stated to me afterwards, they shouldn’t sell any seats near the photographer. I would assume the Kennedy Center’s policy against people taking photographs isn’t merely proprietary, but also to prevent the visual and aural distractions of camera shutters and flashes. Yet the Kennedy Center impacted the enjoyment of my wife, myself and I would assume those sitting adjacent to me by the highly distracting shutter sound.

I understand the Kennedy Center wishes to document performances, but certainly they can do it less obtrusively than with a noisy DSLR (She used a Nikon although I suspect Canon DSLRs would also be similarly loud). If they insist on shooting from far away from the stage they must look into using quieter equipment or find ways to totally muffle the sound. Additionally, during a jazz performance such as this one, the photographer might be on stage using a quiet camera like a Leica. While some in the audience may be briefly visually distracted by a photographer on the side of the stage, at least no one’s attentive listening will be interrupted by a loud shutter.

One other point is that in future shows of this type, the photographer be restricted in when they take pictures of each performance. If the photographer had limited herself to simply shooting during the first of the two performances, it would have been somewhat tolerable. However, my evening of seeing and listening to wonderful solo jazz piano was spoiled by the Kennedy Center itself.

Since I posted this initially, it was suggested that whoever is shooting be required to use a sound blimp around the camera to muffle the sound. In any event, there are solutions that the Kennedy Center needs to implement

Archie Shepp's Free Jazz Had Strong Cultural Roots

Among the Universal reissues celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Impulse Records is For Losers/ Kwanza by Archie Shepp. Among those inspired by John Coltrane, Shepp brought together a fiery, passionate style but one rooted both in traditional as well as funk and soul music of the time while also bringing a strong focus on his culture and community. These two albums were recorded at the same sessions in 1969 or so.

For someone associated with ‘free jazz,’ the music has strong foundation the funk of James Brown and Junior Walker. This is clear on the opening track from The Losers, Stick it Up which has a Leon Thomas vocal with Doris Troy and Tasha Thomas providing backing vocals while Mel Brown adds guitar. Even better is Abstract with some nice trombone from Graham Moncur III. Chinalin Sharpe takes the vocal on Ellington’s I’ve Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), with Shepp’s tenor embellishing the vocal with a Ben Webster-styled vibrato and alto saxophonist Clarence Sharpe solos marvelously. Cecil Payne adds flute behind Shepp’s robust tenor on Cal Massey’s lovely ballad What Would It Be Without You. The centerpiece of The Losers was Shepp’s Un Croque Monsieur (Poem: For Losers), an extended composition opening on a tight, funky, rhythmic vamp leading to strong energetic and at times free ensemble playing followed by a segment Shepp playing a sour sounding soprano sax, followed by Claritin Sharpe singing Shepp’s poem about everybody loves a winner and who gives a damn for losers. Others on this very strong performance include trumpeter Woody Shaw, Payne on baritone sax, and Clarence Sharpe on alto sax.

While recorded at many of the same sessions, the music on Kwanza was inspired by celebration of ‘Kwanza,’ which Shepp refers to as ‘our traditional African holy week.” In the reproduced liner notes of Emilan Sudan, it is noted that Shepp’s three contributions reflect the sounds of the African communities in the US. With selections such as Back Back, we get more heavy James Brown inspired funk as Shepp solos over the funk groove of Dave Burrell on organ, Wally Richardson on drums and Bernard Pretty Purdie on drums as he preaches the funk blues like a frenzied mix of post-bebop and Screaming R&B honker while Graham Moncur III adds his tailgating trombone. Leon Thomas handles the vocal as well as scatting and yodeling on Spoo Pee Doo, on which Robin Kenyatta’s flute stands out. One of the centerpieces of this album was Moncur’s New Africa, from a session Bob Thiele supervised and is a freer performance with Burrell on piano,Walter Booker on bass and Beaver Harris on drummers providing the foundation with Moncur’s blustery trombone and Shepp’s tenor (and yodels) joined by Jimmy Owens trumpet and Charles Davis’ baritone making for a highly animated and impassioned performance. Shepp’s Slow Drag includes Woody Shaw, Matthew Gee, Clarence Sharpe and Cecil Payne, Cedar Walton, Wilbur Ware and Joe Chambers for another passionate performance built upon a funky rhythmic figure with solos from Shaw and Shepp being especially galvanized. Cal Massey’s Bakai closed the original album as well as this reissue of the two albums and is another example of his marvelous compositions in his all to brief life. It mixes a rhythmic foundation with a strong melodic theme. Shepp plays impassioned here.

There is plenty to get the listener invigorated on this forty-odd years old recordings that have held up well over the years and remind us that Archie Shepp has been always rooted in the past but always looking forward.

I received a review copy from Jazz & Blues Report for whom this review was initially written. Here is Archie Shepp on youtube.