Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bassist Ben Wolfe led a terrific quartet at the Greenwich Village club, Smalls, for some hot music recorded for the club’s SmallsLive label as part of its Live at Smalls series. Joining Wolfe were pianist Luis Perdomo, trumpeter Ryan Kisor, saxophonist Marcus Strickland and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. They are heard on nine originals by the leader who shows himself to be quite the composer as well as bassist.

There is an ambience of classic Blue Note sessions from the sixties from the opening Block which evokes some of the Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock Blue Note Recordings from when they were in Miles Davis’ band on which Freddie Hubbard replaced Miles. Some outstanding playing from Kisor followed by Perdomo on this and Wolfe and Hutchinson are terrific with Strickland playing with fire. For the Great Sonny Clark has a nice loping feel and a very appealing theme with Wolfe taking the initial solo, followed by Kisor’s in a brassy, melodic vein and then a short fiery burst from Strickland with Perdomo contrasting with fluent, lyrical playing. Telescope is another bouncy hard bop number which has Strickland taking the initial solo with some strong playing that exhibits his individualistic sound and his ability to craft a solo. After Kisor and Perdomo have their features, Hutchinson takes concise, and exciting, solo.

A short, lovely ballad I’ll Know You More, opens with Strickland stating the theme displaying a warmth in contrast to more aggressive playing elsewhere as Hutchinson’s cymbals accent his deliberate playing. Czech Mate displays a Thelonious Monk flavor as Kisor and Strickland (employing the bottom register of the tenor) state the theme and Wolfe takes successive choruses before the horns take this out. Coleman Cab opens with a lengthy bass solo prior to the full band entering with interesting horn voicings and an outstanding solo from Perdomo.

The Trade, a brief duet between Wolfe and Hutchinson, is the final selection that concludes this superb recording. This is a recording I have been listening to repeatedly over the past couple weeks and one I am sure I will be returning to in the future. One can purchase this from SmallsLive directly as a CD or just a download (CD purchases include downloads) or from other vendors.

This was a purchase. Here is Ben Wolfe as a member of a different, but terrific, band.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Heart and Soul of the late Etta James

I never had the pleasure of seeing Etta James perform. Several times I attended events she was supposed to perform at, but each time she withdrew shortly before the performance. I can only remember her by her body of recordings as well as television appearances she made. I remember the memorable episode of the original PBS Soundstage program where she sang a duet with Dr. John on I’d Rather Go Blind.
The first albums of Etta James I purchased included the double-CD compilation of her Essential Chess Recordings and one of her albums on Island which included a stormy rendition of Standin’ On Shaky Ground, and the classic Otis Redding number “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember. What was striking about her was her husky, earthiness, yet the ability to caress a ballad so that her signature song was a song written in the forties, At Last. She could be a force of nature and yet caress a ballad. Few could handle the range of material she did with the same conviction and authority. There was the church rooted style of Something Got a Hold on Me or I’d Rather Go Blind and the romanticism of At Last, as well as her latter day recordings of standards.
While the recordings she listened to by Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, one of the most important influences on her singing was her dear friend, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson. Some, who were not aware may have called Watson, “the female Etta James” but if she was asked she would correct them and state she was the female John Watson. This might be evident if one mixed some of Watson’s slow recordings like Cuttin’ In or Embraceable You, with James’ ballads or her Billie Holiday Tribute, Mystery Lady. Her impact can be seen in the number of recordings of her songs by others, with At Last becoming a wedding standard.
Prior to her death, Universal released on its Hip-O-Select label, the four-CD Heart & Soul: A Retrospective, that in its four CDs surveys her recordings from her debut as The Wallflower doing Roll With Me Henry, for Modern Records to the previously unissued 2007 recording of Rodney Crowell’s Ashes By Now. The first disc opens with 9 recordings from Modern including Roll With Me Henry, and her jump blues Good Rocking Daddy. The bulk of this compilation derive from her stay at Chess starting from All I Could Do Is Cry, her duet with Harvey Fuqua of Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, the standards At Last and Sunday King of Love, duets with Sugar Pie DeSanto and her visits to Muscle Shoals which produced Tell MamaI’d Rather Go Blind, and Otis Redding’s Security. Before she left Chess they experimented with other producers turning in renditions of St. Louis Blues, Tracy Nelson’s Down So Low, and Randy Newman’s Sail Away.
After her tenure at Chess she produced a moving version of Alice Cooper’s Only Women Bleed, for Warner Brothers (although I prefer the rare Ike and Tina Turner rendition) and was caught live with Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson for Fantasy represented here on Percy Mayfield’s Please Send Me Someone To Love. She joined Island and produced a stirring “Damn Your Eyes,” that today perhaps only a Bettye LaVette could do equal justice to. Not everything is top level. Her duet with B.B. King on Big Jay McNeely’s There Is Something on Your Mind, is a nice track but not as powerful as the original with Little Sonny Warner on the vocal or Bobby Marchand’s two-part reworking which is the source for the King-James interpretation here. Blues remained a core of her music whether on The Blues Is My Business, or the acoustic blues rendition of Elmore James’ The Sky Is Crying.

I purchased this box set.  Here is Etta singing At Last.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

John Stein's Journey Down (Grant) Green Street

A blurb from Michael Cuscuna on the back of John Stein’s Green Street (Whaling City Sound), a reissue of a late nineties recording, notes that it acts as a homage to Grant Green, as well as the classic sixties’ organ jazz combo and the Rudy Van Gelder sound. While Stein’s album shares its title with one of Grant Green’s Blue Note discs, the title track is derived from the location of the 1359 Jazz Club that was home for Stein’s organ trio at the time and while Grant Green was an influence and inspiration on Stein, this disc is comprised mostly of Stein’s funky and bluesy originals backed by organist Ken Clark and drummer Dave Hurst with David ‘Fathead’ Newman adding sax and flute to five of the twelve tracks.

The mood is set with the opening Booga Lou, with Newman’s tenor the frosting on the danceable groove, while Hotcakes, has a bit of a movie soundtrack flavor with Newman’s flute alluding to Theme From the Pink Panther as Stein comps behind him. Jack’s Back is a jaunty blues which appears built on a riff from the Louis Jordan classic Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, and features some crisp playing from Stein, while Newman returns on tenor for the ballad, Our Love is Here to Stay, with Newman’s warm vibrato adding to the feeling and followed by some splendid playing from Stein.

Sultry features the trio again with a somewhat exotic, middle eastern flavor, before Newman returns for the title track, which sounds like a spinoff of Jimmy Smith’s Chicken Shack, with the tempo slowed down slightly. Newman is on alto sax for the Ellington classic, Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me, with Stein’s guitar responding to Newman’s statement of the theme, then taking a short chorus before Newman launches into his solo and later soloing some more. The last two tracks, Be Ooo Ba and You Stepped Out Of A Dream, featuring the trio, were from a live radio broadcast and further showcase Stein’s fleet, swinging and thoughtful playing along with that of his trio.

Stein has added his own thoughts along with Ed Hazell’s original liner notes to this marvelous release that is certain to delight fans of organ jazz trios and jazz guitar.

I believe I received a review copy from Jazz & Blues Report for whom this review was written, but not published. Here is a video of John Stein (not with organ).

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Trudy Lynn Is Still Here

Trudy Lynn got notice with her marvelous soulful blues recordings on the Icihban label but since that label’s demise her recordings have been less frequent. She appeared on some of trumpeter-bandleader Calvin Owens project, had a CD on Ruf, but her new album on Owens’ Sawdust Alley Records, proclaims I’m Still Here. With a variety of guests including clarinetist Michael White, guitarists Guitar Shorty and Clarence Holliman and zydeco accordionist, Jabo, this disc is compiled from sessions over several years.

Against Owens Big Band backing Lynn displays why she is such a highly regarded vocalist. She has a powerful voice but convinces with her command as a singer who can handle a soft ballad as she can blast out a jumping number. She certainly ranks at the top of any list of contemporary women blues vocalists. Unfortunately too much of the material here consists of generic blues songs about swinging or Trudy being a Blues Singing Woman. The material is not as strong as the authority which with Lynn invests her performances.

Lynn’s own song, which provides the album with its title, is stronger as she reflects on her life as a performer and a blues singer and her struggle to keep carrying on. Hands Off My Woman is one of two vocals by trumpeter Nelson Mills. It is an OK number but this is this is Trudy’s album and why do I want to here some gentleman singing about his woman is his property even if he loves her. Saturday Night is an instrumental where Owens takes his only solo here and Michael White is also featured.

Since I Found You is one of the better songs here, a soul-ballad whose lyric matches Lynn’s vocal. Another good number is Left Me Singin’ the Blues about a man who left her with Charles Davis contributing a nice solo. A bit of big band zydeco can be head on Boogie Woogie Gumbo, another instrumental with a striking solo by the late Clarence Holliman and accordion from Jabo. A real nice track but again, this is Trudy’s album ,and its unfortunate that they did not have a selection of Holliman playing behind Trudy. You’re the Only One is a wonderfully sung love song, while Welcome Home Baby, has a nice lyric of getting past what happened in past while the closing Payin’ the Price has a somewhat quicker tempo for a solid soul-blues performance.

Trudy Lynn is well worth listening to even on lesser material as she has one of those voices and she is one of those singers that could make a phone book a swinging affair.

I believe this is the last album that has been released under Trudy’s name. This review appeared originally in theNovember 2006 DC Blues Calendar, then the newsletter of the DC Blues Society. I received my review copy from either the record company or a publicist handling the release. Here is a video of Trudy doing a well known blues chestnut.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Catherine Russell Is Strictly Romancin'

Catherine Russell, the daughter of the legendary Luis Russell and Carline Ray, has yet another collection of musical treats with her latest album, Strictly Romancin’ (World Village). It carries on in the vein of her well received Sentimental Streak and Inside This Heart Of Mine, with a similar collection of mostly long forgotten blues, ballads, love songs and swing from the twenties to today.

On this date, she is joined by guitarist Matt Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Lee Hudson and drummer Mark McLean with Dan Block’s alto saxophone and clarinet. The tenor saxophone of Andy Farber is present on four tracks while Joe Barbato adds accordion to two selections. Vocally she remains as commanding as in her past efforts as her vocals are delivered soulfully yet with a clarity that many vocalists today would benefit from listening to her mix of clean diction and musicality.

She and her collaborators have such a way of uncovering lesser know gems from such well known composers and songwriters as Edgar Sampson, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams and Ivory Joe Hunter as well as bring a fresh touch to some very well known songs while Munisteri in particular adds some very neat guitar playing channeling at different times, Eddie Lang and Django Reinhardt as well Charlie Christian.

Certainly the yearning vocal of the swinging Edgar Sampson-Ken Harrison Under the Spell of the Blues, helps set the tone and then followed by the gypsy swing rendition of I’m In The Mood For Love, with Barbato’s accordion being stunning. If Ev’ntide is not a familiar Hoagy Carmichael song, Russell’s warm rendition should change that. The Ellington-Strayhorn I’m Checkin’ Out, Goodbye, has a lively backing anchored in part of Shane’s stride-base piano and John Allred’s gruff trombone and some nice alto sax fills from Block along with Jon-Erik Kellso’s bright horn arrangement. Then there is the hep lively jive of Mary Lou William’s tribute to Louis Armstrong, Satchel Mouth Baby, with Munisteri providing vocal harmony.

It is a joy to listen to Catherine Russell deliver Lil Green’s classic ballad blues In the Dark, with Shane taking a solo. No More is a choice uptown blues as she sings about not needing nor caring for her lover with the horns caressing her vocal. There is some more Left Bank Gypsy jazz flavor on Everything’s Been Done Before, with Barbato’s accordion and Munisteri’s deft single note acoustic guitar contribute to this romantic performance. It is followed by the yearning and pleading vocal on Ivory Joe Hunter’s Don’t Leave Me, with Shane evoking the late blues and country balladeer’s piano style while Munisteri perhaps takes his finest solo. Then there is a lively rendition of the early jazz classic Everybody Loves My Baby, that swings hard with some fine muted trumpet from Kellso and clarinet from Block that is more in the vein of Benny Goodman than Buster Bailey (who played on the original by Eva Taylor which had Louis Armstrong on cornet).

Russell’s mother, Carline Ray, adds her vocal to He’s All I Need, a gospel classic from Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight with Shane providing solid, idiomatic piano. This disc closes with the jaunty “Whatcha Gonna Do When There Ain’t No Swing?” As long as Catherine Russell is around we don’t have to worry about that question, because we won’t be blue because she will keep us swinging. Strictly Romancin’ is another varied and marvelous recording by Catherine Russell. Those who have her prior albums likely have been waiting for more from her and will not be disappointed. Others will discover just how wonderful a performer she is.

I received my review copy from a publicist for this release. Here is Catherine doing the title track of Inside This Heart Of Mine.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Andy Bey Knows It "Ain’t Necessarily So"

On the new disc, Ain’t Necessarily So (12th Street Recordings), veteran pianist and vocalist Andy Bey is heard on a live 1997 recording from New York City’s Birdland. It was recorded a few months after his acclaimed studio date, Ballads, Blues & Bey, and had him backed by Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, except for Vito Lecszak on drums for two tracks.

Possessing a broad vocal range,going from a deep bass to a bluesy falsetto, Bey phrases his vocals in a horn-like fashion, extended phrases punctuated by some vocalese, and thoughtfully emphasizing some of the lyrics. As he shows on a brief solo during On Second Thought, Bey certainly is not lacking in piano technique, his playing is marked by its spare and understated approach, evoking the melody through the use of chords and to help underscore his interpretations of such songs the Gershwin classic opening this set; the Kern-Hammerstein staple, All the Things You Are, Someone to Watch Over Me; and the Ellington ballad, I Let A Song Out of My Heart.

Even on the instrumental, If I Should Lose You, he makes use as much of the silences as the notes he plays, while throughout, Kenny and Peter Washington unobtrusively fill out the performances that were so enthusiastically received the evening this was recorded.

This review originally appeared in the March 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 302) and I received my review copy from that publication or a publicist for the recording. Here is a video of Andy Bey performing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The J Street Jumpers Were Good For Stompin’

The Washington DC area has long been a hotbed for jump blues and swing dancing. One of the popular bands in the area was The Uptown Rhythm Kings fronted by Eric “Shoutin’” Sheridan, a singer with considerable personality. After Sheridan left the Washington area, the band morphed into the J Street Jumpers with guitarist Rusty Bogart and pianist Artie Gerstein anchoring the group. Bogart subsequently left the Washington area making us poorer for his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and blues guitar styles, his driving playing, his constant swing and good taste and the Jumpers themselves are now history although others still keep the local jump blues-swing dance grooves alive. This review of their Severn release, Good For Stompin’, appeared originally in the December 2003-January 2004 DC Blues Calendar although I have made a few minor stylistic edits.

The brief swing revival has seemed to die down as a national craze, but its clear that nothing made Brian Seltzer’s Orchestra or groups like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy any better than countless bands that had been playing such music back at least three decades when Roomful of Blues and Powerhouse were making noise. Proof of this is evident from Good For Stompin’, the new Severn Records release by The J Street Jumpers. It is a handsomely sounding and swinging big little band disc with some fine playing by the entire band and some lovely vocals from the

featured singer Carmen Velarde, who sings wonderfully in a blues-ballad vein including lovely renditions of several songs from Count Basie’s songbook, including Blue and Sentimental. She does not come across quite as convincing on the hot-tempoed rendition of Louis Jordan’s Fire, although the band rocks very hard here, but on the slow ballads and pop tunes she is wonderful with her rendition of the Buddy Johnson hit, Til My Baby Comes Back to Me. She also capably delivers, I Don’t Hurt Anymore, from the Dinah Washington repertoire.

Pianist Artie Gerstein sings enthusiastically if not quite as distinctively as Ms. Verlande, with his rocking I Want You I Need You featuring a booting tenor sax solo and slashing guitar from Rusty Bogart, that displays Bogart’s synthesis of such masters as T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown. I don’t want to sound overly critical about this as it is a wonderful disc, and the Jumpers play splendidly, have wonderful tight arrangements and are a first rate band. Furthermore, this disc will certainly make for very happy dancing feet.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Johnny Otis - An Appreciation

Others have written obituaries about the late Johnny Otis. One of the best ones appeared in the New York Times and Marc Myers at his blog, jazzwax.com, had a very astute appreciation of the gentleman who was sometimes referred to as “The Godfather of Rhythm & Blues.” But Johnny Otis was so much more. Born in Northern California in a primarily African-American neighborhood, he may have been genetically of Greek ancestry, but he choose to live as an African-American. He played the spectrum of Black American Music (to use a phrase favored by Nicholas Payton), not simply Rhythm & Blues. 

His musically chops may have started with Count Matthews and his Blues Band in the San Francisco Bay Area. On the recommendation of Nat King Cole and Jimmy Witherspoon, he moved to Los Angeles to play drums with Harlan Leonard and His Rockets, one of the last big bands to emerge from Kansas City. He himself was leading a big band soon after and recorded “Harlem Nocturne,” the first of a number chart topping records over his career.

He was among those who made the transition from big band to the smaller jump bands that would provider the foundation for post-war rhythm and blues. With Bradu Ali, he soon was operating “The Barrelhouse,” which would feature some of the greatest artists. And he would soon be starting his career as a talent scout, disc jockey, television host, record producer, community leader and organizer, entrepreneur, author, songwriter, recording artist, church leader and so much more.

The performers he discovered as well as those he recorded with are legion and legendary: (Little) Esther Phillips, The Robins (later the Coasters), Mel Walker, Linda Hopkins, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Ben Webster, Jimmy Rushing, Johnny ’Guitar’ Watson, Big Mama Thornton, Jackie Wilson, Little WIllie John, Devonia Williams, James Van Streeter, Preston Love, Big Jim Wynn, Pete ‘Guitar’ Lewis, Jimmy Nolen (guitarist on “Willie and the Hand Jive” and inventor of scratch guitar as bassist Christian McBride observed), Etta James, Delmar ‘Mighty Mouth’ Evans, Margie Evans, Jackie Payne, Charles Brown, Johnny Ace, Slim Green, Gene ‘The Mighty Flea’ Connors, Clifford Solomon, Marie Adams, Joe Fritz, Don ‘Sugarcane’ Harris, Amos Milburn, Gatemouth Moore, Pee Wee Crayton, and Louis Jordan to throw a few names around.

My first conscious exposure to Otis’ music was the Kent album Cold Shot in DownBeat. That album introduced me to the singing of Mighty Mouth Evans, Johnny’s son Shuggie on guitar (displaying a facility way beyond his years) and Otis himself on piano, vibes and drums. Featured on the instrumental title track was Sugarcane Harris on violin and his performance with Otis at the time would relaunch his career. Cold Shot brought Johnny back to the fore of the blues world and led to a follow-up studio album on Epic (which I do not believe is currently available), as well as albums by Shuggie and Harris and The Johnny Otis Show Live at Monterey. This latter album was from a live Monterey Jazz Festival performance where Otis brought together Big Joe Turner, Esther Phillips, Roy Milton, Pee Wee Crayton, Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson and Ivory Joe Hunter for one of the greatest celebrations of this music ever.

Over the next thirty odd years Johnny continued to record, both with new recordings on his Blues Spectrum label by some of these pioneering legends as well as a variety of albums that covered the whole spectrum of blues and jazz. For Arhoolie, he did a loving homage to those Black Big Bands that inspired and influenced him, Spirit of the Black Territory Bands. For Alligator he produced in the early 1980s, The New Johnny Otis Show which introduced vocalists Vera Hamilton and Charles Williams as well as had plenty of Shuggie’s guitar, while Good Lovin’ Blues from 1990 had a fuller band with saxophonist Clifford Scott and vocalist Jackie Payne.

Of course, Johnny Otis was more than simply a musician. He was a painter, a community leader and social activist who also ran for political office (endorsed at the time by Dodger legend Maury Wills). He also ministered at his non-sectarian Church at which folks of any faith (even nonbelievers) were welcome and which carried out a variety of social welfare programs including a community kitchen. He was a disc jockey as well as a performer and in the late 50’s had a popular television show. In addition to recording for a variety of labels, he produced and played on recordings for Mercury-Emarcy, Duke-Peacock, Federal and Capitol Records, and later operated Dog Records. He continued in radio, even after moving back to the San Francisco area, hosting a regular show of music and interviews until the past few years.

Otis championed the pioneers of blues and Rhythm and Blues for his entire life. He conducted a series of interviews for Blues Unlimited with some of these and when he himself was interviewed, always noted the hype and publicity received by imitators and popularizers while the originals were still around. As a songwriter he contributed such classics as Every Beat Of My Heart for Gladys Knight and The Pips. He authored several books, including Listen To The Lambs which contained his reflections after the Watts Riots, and Upside Your Head!: Rhythm and Blues On Central Avenue, where he discussed the music he played such a major roll in. Otis was also a painter with some of his paintings reproduced in Colors and Chords: The Art of Johnny OtisMidnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story, is George Lipsitz's excellent biography on Otis.

Otis’ musical legacy consists not only of Shuggie, but also Nicky, drummer with the Steve Edmondson-Jackie Payne Band, and Shuggie’s son, Eric Otis, who is also a guitarist as well as composer and orchestrator with works with his other grandfather, another musical legend, Gerald Wilson.

Marc Myers had several recommendations of Johnny’s recordings in his blog that I have linked above. I recommend:

The Johnny Otis Rhythm & Blues Caravan; The Complete Savoy Recordings. A 3-CD box set with 77 recordings of which I wrote: “[T]he recommended collection of Otis’ Savoy recordings, not simply because it is so complete, but because it is so good and influential. This is out-of-print but should be available

Midnight at the Barrelhouse - The Johnny Otis Story Volume 1: 1945-57. I have ordered this Ace reissue which was released a few months ago to celebrate Johnny’s 90th Birthday. It is the first of a two disc retrospective of Johnny Otis’ musical career. It includes a variety of his Savoy, Duke, Capital and Dig recordings along with big Mama Thornton’ Hound Dog as well as versions of his songs So Fine and Every Beat Of My Heart. The second volume, On With the Show - The Johnny Otis Story Volume 2: 1957-1974, is scheduled for early February release.

The Johnny Otis Show Live at Monterey. As I wrote when this was rereleased on CD in 2000, “There has been hardly anything recorded in this vein since this that has come close to equalling this good rocking time.”

Other releases of note include:

Creepin’ with the Cats. One of several albums from the English Ace label compiled from Otis’ Dig Records and includes vocalists Little Arthur Matthews and Handsome Mel Williams as well as guitarist pete ‘Guitar’ Lewis and Jimmy Nolen on a range of material that was contemporaneous with Otis’ Capitol Recordings. Another Ace reissue in this series from Otis’ Dig group of labels is Dig These Blues with selections from Al Simmons, Slim Green, Sidney maiden The Cats From Fresno and Sugarcane Harris.

Johnny Otis Show: Vintage 1950’s Broadcasts from Los Angeles. Another release from English Ace Records that captures some live location performances with Johnny and his band although with some radio ads of the time (including Maury Wills endorsement of Johnny running for assemblyman).

Cold Shot - A reissue of the album which featured a young Shuggie on guitar, vocalist Delmar Evans and Sugarcane Harris with some fine blues with highlight’s including “Country Girl,” with plenty of swagger in the performance, “Goin’ Back To LA,” a “Sweet Home Chicago” variation and the title track, a strong instrumental showcasing Harris’ violin.

Spirit Of The Black Territory Bands. The Big Band Album Otis recorded for Arhoolie may only be available today as a download. It has strong renditions of songs associated with the big bands of Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, and Jay McShann that influenced and provided inspiration for Otis.

Here is Johnny and company doing "Willie and The Hand Jive" from 1958. It is a different you tube clip than circulating the web.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Phantom Blues Band's Deep Footprints

The Phantom Blues Band has returned with a new disc full of bluesy old school sounds, Footprints (Delta Groove). First attracting notice for their work with Taj Mahal, there Delta Groove debut, Out of the Shadows, drew further attention, while the band’s members are in demand for various touring acts and recordings, so that guitarist Denny Freeman, now part of Bob Dylan’s touring band) only appears on several of tracks here. The rest, Mike Finnigan, vocals and keyboards; Johnny Lee Schell, vocals and guitar; Larry Fulcher, vocals and bass; Joe Sublett, saxophone; Darrell Leonard, trumpet; and Tony Braunagel, drums, are such a strong unit even without Freeman’s fine playing.

The rhythm section lay down the groove, the horns mix taut riffs and the soloists keep things fresh and concise. Despite the name, this band mixes in southern soul along with straight blues. It opens with Finnigan covering Howard Tate’s Look at Granny Run, while displaying his versatility on the classic ballad, Cottage For Sale. His rendition of Ray Charles’ classic blues, A Fool For You, is nicely done although not far removed from Charles’ original. He shows himself to be quite a good interpreter of Charles here.

Schell reworks Freddy King’s See See Baby as well as a nice bit of Rufus Thomas funk, Fried Chicken, although he is not as strong a singer here. Exceptional is his vocal on Darrell Leonard’s A Very Blue Day, with a nice trumpet solo and an evocative melody that evokes Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock. Fulcher treats us to Earl Randle’s deep soul ballad, Leave Home Girl and his reggae-flavored When the Music Changes is a stunning closer.

Not a poor truck and some exceptional ones by a band that sounds incapable of putting out anything but solid recordings.

This review was written for Jazz & Blues Report although I do not believe it ran. I believe I received a review copy from a publicist. I posted my review of Out of the Shadows on December 31, 2011. Here is a video of them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bruce Barth Trio's Live At Smalls' Piano Jazz

Among newer releases on Smalls Live in its Live at Smalls series is one by the Bruce Barth Trio. Pianist Barth is accompanied by the bass of Vincente Archer and drummer Rudy Royston on location recordings from the Greenwich Village club that captured a late September 2010 performance. I am most familiar with Barth from his work on Terrell Stafford’s excellent celebration of the music of Billy Strayhorn, This Side of Strayhorn, (MaxJazz), but this is first album under his name I have heard. He has a pretty extensive resume including a stint with Terence Blanchard and a number of prior recordings as a leader.

With the exception of a rendition of Good Morning Heartache, the trio performs Barth's original compositions. The opening “Oh Yes I Will is not typical of several performances in that it opens in a pensive, impressionistic manner before Barth’s playing builds heat while Royston pushing things along and Archer provides a steady anchor. Sunday opens somewhat in a similar fashion as it develops in a similar fashion before the arpeggios are contrasted with block chords before it closes more pensively. There is a lovely ballad Yama and the lovely version of Good Morning Heartache, finds Barth playing with great restraint and in a spare fashion while Royston provides understated percussive support.

This listener’s favorite track might be Almost Blues. This is a terrific, spirited hard bop blues with a Monkish tinge with some driving playing with Royston’s rhythmic accents pushing it along before he solos and then trades fours with Barth. Archer gets to solo on Peaceful Place and the spirited Wilsonian Alto which has a bit of latin spice in the performance. Afternoon in LLeida, is a lovely performance mixing in Barth’s manner of setting a mood while providing contrast with some bluesy passages.

As usual with SmallsLive recordings, this is handsomely produced and the sound is quite fine. Barth’s crisp, yet feathery touch is complemented by his sideman for a thoughtful and lively recording. I will be checking out some of his past catalog. Its available from SmallsLive directly or other vendors. 

I purchased this CD.  Here is Bruce Barth performing Wilsonian Alto from 1 2004 performance with a different trio.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sabertooth's Two Tenor Dr. Midnite Jazz

Sabertooth is a two-tenor organ group that has been holding down a weekly gig at Chicago’s The Green Mill jazz club. Saxophonists Cameron Pfiffner and Pat Mallinger along with Pete Benson on the Hammond B3 and Ted Sirota on the drums hold forth Sunday in the wee early hours (2-5 AM) at The Green Mill.

Sabertooth has held forth here since 1990 and June 23, 2007, Delmark was there to tape the night and the result is a new CD, Dr. Midnite - Live at The Green Mill, that captures the two tenor organ combo in high flight. Delmark likens the two to such past celebrated two tenor tandems as Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis and Johnnie Griffin and Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt. These two players have been at it together for such a longtime and their empathy certainly shows here as does the stellar support they also receive from Benson and Sirota.

The two open the disc on flutes for a hint of Scottish flavor before they dig in for Mallinger’s Blues For C Piff. This number quickly illustrates their contrasting styles as Pfiffner comes across to me as showing a bit of Sonny Rollins flavor in his playing while Mallinger is more Coltrane-ish. After each solos, Benson takes a shift before the horns come back, again hinting at taking us to the Scottish highlands, then finishing this solid blues. The melody of It's Surely Gonna Flop If It Ain't Got That Bop, alludes to Ellinton’s It Don’t Mean a Thing …, as the two take flight on this bop flavored original with Mallinger on alto and Pfiffner on soprano. There is a nice drum solo on this from Sirota.

The group provides a marvelous rendition of the Harry Belafonte calypso, Mary Anne, as Pfiffner evokes Sonny Rollins as this opens with Mallinger on alto again. They play jointy on some measures, which is spiced up by Mallinger alto being a commentator to Pfiffner’s tenor.The title track, a Pfiffner composition with his spoken introduction, is slightly spacey number. It is followed by an unexpected rendition of the theme from the classic television show, Odd Couple. What delightful way they set up the melody before Mallinger opens up on tenor set against a buoyant rhythm, and then they sing ‘Don’t You Think It’s Odd’ to ride the song out.

The Grateful Dead’s China Cat Sunflower closes this album. Perhaps the music here is a bit less focused, although hardly unlistenable. If I was living in Chicago, I think I would want to be well-rested for Saturday night, because based on Dr. Midnite Sabertooth is obviously worth staying up and going to see.

This review originally appeared in the April 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 303), although I have made minor editorial and stylistic changes. I received my review copy from Delmark.  Here is a video to give you all a taste of Sabertooth at the Green Mill.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Remembering Johnny Otis and His Classic Savoy recordings

The music world and fans of jazz, blues and rhythm and blues have come together to note, mourn and celebrate the life of Johnny Otis. Obituaries with details on Johnny’s life have been published in the NY Times and LA Times and more will follow. This writer has been a fan of Johnny Otis’ many faceted career for over four decades since first acquiring the Cold Shot album by The Johnny Otis Show on Kent Records. I will be providing a fuller appreciation of him in a few days, but thought it might be useful to post this review from the May/June 2000 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 245). The underlying CD box is no longer in print but can be purchased from dealers of our-of-print and used recordings. 

The release of a triple disc box set, The Johnny Otis Rhythm & Blues Caravan, The Complete Savoy Recordings is coincidental with Otis’ induction into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame. The release is one of a series of reissues being produced by Atlantic, The Savoy Jazz Originals that includes also a box set of Jimmy Scott’s Savoy recordings and other classic modern jazz sessions from that pioneering label.

The seventy-seven selections on the three discs present almost 4 hours of Otis’s classic rhythm and blues. As Billy Vera, who programmed and annotated this box notes at the conclusion of his booklet notes, “Johnny Otis certainly must be listed high on any list of rhythm and blues pioneers. Along with his caravan of singers and musicians, he played a vital role in creating and nurturing one of the most vibrant musical genres of the twentieth century.”

The collection opens up with four sides Otis recorded with a Big Band for Excelsior that show his links to the Count Basie sound. The opening Harlem Nocturne was a classic slow instrumental blues that included Bill Doggett on piano, Teddy Buckner on trumpet, Paul Quinchette, and James van Streeter on tenor saxophones, and Curtis Counce on bass. A couple of sides from this session sported terrific vocals from Basie vocalist Jimmy Rushing, one of which, Jimmy’s Round the Clock, predates similar songs from Joe Turner, Otis himself and Chuck Berry. One other instrumental dates from this 1945 session and is followed by a striking 1947 instrumental, Midnight at the Barrelhouse, which finds Otis working with the smaller jump band combo and sports some electrifying guitar.

By 1949, Ralph Bass signed Otis to Savoy and started recording with smaller groups that included the wonderful pianist Devonia Williams, and the great Pete ‘Guitar’ Lewis. Otis by this time was often heard on vibes, and not drums. The basic model of his group was the pioneering, chart-topping combos of Louis Jordan and Roy Milton. Like them he had a crisp, swinging rhythm section and punching, riffing horns. He also had Pete Lewis’ slashing guitar; and vocalists including shouter Redd Lyte, The Robins, Little Esther Phillips and Mel Walker. Lyte is an able shouter on the rocking Ain’t Nothin Shakin, while Lewis turns in a nice T-Bone flavored solo on the slow Hangover Blues.

Prior to being paired with Little Esther, the Robins showed their versatility on the rocking If I Didn’t Love You So, and the sweet ballad, Rain in My Eyes. The addition of Little Esther for the classic Double Crossing Blues led to Otis first #1 recording with Savoy, and one of 11 Otis recordings to chart in 1950. A slashing instrumental like Headhunter showcased the great Pete Lewis, as did the first part of The Turkey Hop, a dance number derived from a children’s song. Otis revisited Harlem Nocturne on Blues Nocturne, with some hot Lewis guitar and deep in the groove alto sax from Floyd Turnham, while Cry Baby introduced the blues crooner Mel Walker (backed by the Robins) on a number that adapts the melody of Charles Brown’s Drifting Blues. This description of the contents of the first volume only touches on the riches to be found here.

The second disc opens with four items featuring the Robins who parted from Otis after a dispute with the Robins’ management. I’m Living OK may not have charted, but this rocker featuring the group’s bass vocalist sports fine playing from Otis and Lewis. There Ain’t No Use Begging is a slow ballad featuring Bobby Nunn, while their last recording, You’re Fine But Not My Kind is a medium tempo blues with some fine vibes from Otis. Little Esther and Mel Walker developed into Otis’ prime vocalists. Their duets featured playful banter between the singers and Deceivin’ Blues, Cupid’s Boogie, Wedding Boogie and Faraway Christmas Blues (the latter two with Lee Graves added) proved quite popular. The second disc concludes with a couple vocals by gospel singer Mary DeLoatch who recorded as Marilyn Scott and produced a nice coupling including a hot Beer Bottle Boogie where Otis is heard on drums and features terrific piano from Devonia Williams and a tenor solo by Lorenzo Holden.

By the time of the Disc Three recordings, Little Esther had been signed by Ralph Bass to Federal, so Mel Walker becomes even more prominent on the vocals. A title like Gee Baby, which reached #2 on the charts with a larger band sports very nice muted trumpet and trombone along with some apt tenor fills and a vocal that suggests a Charles Brown influence. Pete Lewis evokes T-Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday on the intro to Redd Lyte’s Gonna Take a Train. Linda Hopkins made some of her earliest recordings with Otis, and her Doggin’ Blues shows that even then she was a powerful singer.

Mambo Boogie was a hit for Otis and his band as they took advantage of the mambo craze of the time, while Otis’s first vocal, All Nite Long, also was one of 15 Savoy recordings to crack the Billboard charts. One previously unissued selection is the theme for Hunter Hancock’s Harlem Matinee radio show and illustrates all the musical bases that Otis covered in less than two minutes, with snippets of Harlem Nocturne and Jumping at the Woodside included along with a nice boogie woogie segment.

This is a class production. The booklet by Billy Vera provides his usual literate and thoughtful consideration of the artist and the music. Otis himself contributed the painting that serves as the cover for the booklet and the box. While much of this has been issued over the years, I do not know how much was available on compact disc. I believe most of Disc 1 was previously available, but this becomes the recommended collection of Otis’ Savoy recordings, not simply because it is so complete, but because it is so good and influential.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Rediscovery Recordings of Howard Tate

Howard Tate was one of the significant musical figures who passed away in 2011. His recordings in the 1960s were covered by the like of Janis Joplin, and his own Verve album became legendary. I was privileged to see him in 2002 shortly after his rediscovery and his performance was indeed memorable. I purchased this CD and my review of it (corrected for this blog) appeared in the Dec. 2003 - Jan. 2004 DC Blues Calendar which was the newsletter of the DC Blues Society.

The rediscovery of soul singer Howard Tate was certainly welcome by those who have heard his legendary Verve album, Get It While You Can. This writer was fortunate to see him at the 2002 Pocono Blues Festival and was delighted to acquire

Rediscovered, his first recordings in about three decades, on Private Music. Reunited with Jerry Ragovoy, who wrote most of the songs here and plays piano on most as well, Tate sounds as strong a vocalist as he did three-and-a-half decades ago.

Most of the material is deep soul although a couple of blues gems are included such as Don’t Need No Monkey on My Back. There certainly is a blues tinge to some of the material that is also reflective in the bluesy accompanying guitar while the Uptown Horns provide their usual crisp and punchy backing. Among other standout numbers are the opening Mama Was Right and All I Know is the Way I Feel. I would not be surprised to see the latter song become a favorite for cover versions. There is also a fine version of Prince’s Kiss as well as a gospel number Eternity before the album concludes with Tate reprising Get It While You Can accompanied just by Ragovoy’s piano.

This album certainly will please the fans of Tate’s classic recordings and for others this serves as a first-rate introduction to a soul survivor who is at the top of his game.

Here is a video of Howard & Jerry Ragavoy doing Get It While You Can.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dan Mahar's Lone Stone's Throw

Dan Mahar is a singer-guitarist from Sioux Falls, North Dakota, who is a former Nashville sideman and session player and toured with Country star Billy Dean. He has a new album on White Smoke Records, Long Stone’s Throw, which is a blues-rock disc in the vein of a Coco Montoya or a Tinsley Ellis. This is not to say that he is necessarily quite up to their level, but this recording will have its most immediate appeal to fans of that musical style.

He certainly is a solid singer and certainly pulls out all the stops on his solos. The band is solid and keeps a rock-solid, heavy groove going, which suits Mahar. The performances are originals, although Linda Lu sounds like a reworking of the Ray Sharpe classic rock and roll number and has nice harp from Karl Kabbage. You Don’t Have to Tell Me has a clever opening, with a riff from Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, before launching in the quick walking tempo with twin guitars soloing against each.

I Never Meant Us to Fall is a nice change of pace, with a relaxed vocal on a r&B tinged ballad. The title track is a nicely done shuffle with particularly nice guitar, the rhythm section swings and some nice horns in the background. This writer assumes that Mahar is playing the dobro on, I Got My Baby Working, which places new lyrics to Got My Mojo Working, and again benefits from a more laid back rhythm. The closing track, Someday I’m Gonna Know, is a gospel number which he performs accompanied solely by his dobro.

For my taste, this is a mixed bag. Some of the tracks sound a bit heavy-handed and the backing is too busy. Those whose tastes lean towards a rock-tinged blues may find much more here to their liking.

This review originally appeared in the April 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 304) and I have made some minor stylistic revisions. I am not sure of my source for the review copy although it likely came from a publicist or Jazz & Blues Report.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jimmy Blythe Messed Around The Blues

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Jimmy Blythe arrived in Chicago as a teenager in 1916. As Bob Koester notes, not much is known about Blythe outside of his recordings and piano rolls. He recorded extensive in small groups featuring such noted instrumentalists as Johnny Dodds, Louis Armstrong,Roy Palmer and Natty Dominque as well as singers like Blind Blake, Lottie Beaman, Lonnie Johnson, Monette Moore and Ma Rainey. Recordings such as these as well as with Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards and Blythe’s Washboard Ragamuffins give a sense of the type of ragtime-early boogie woogie flavor that marked his music.

Delmark’s reissue of Blythe, Messin’ Around Blues, is derived from 19 of the piano rolls that Blythe recorded which outnumber the actual piano solos he recorded. Modern technology probably makes the reproduction of piano rolls on CD much better than reissues of 1920s’ recordings mastered from old 78s. At the same time, the technique of cutting a piano rolls may limit the grittier aspects of Blythe’s playing. Certainly Blythe was comfortable on the blues he performs here like Sugar Dew Blues, as well as rendering the pop songs of the day as My Baby. His recording, Chicago Stomp, was perhaps the first boogie woogie recording. It shows how vigorous his playing could be and can be heard at http://www.redhotjazz.com/blythe.html.

The music presented on Messin’ Around Blues has a stately quality with ragtime and stride flavor, but little in terms of the ragged, boogie style that can be heard on the recordings of contemporaries like Clarence ‘Pinetop’ Smith, Cow Cow Davenport or Meade Lux Lewis as well as Blythe’s own recordings. Delmark is to be congratulated for issuing this, however I suspect this may have a limited audience.

This review originally appeared in the March 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 302). I received my review copy from Delmark.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Week of Indian Jazz Includes Celebrated Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa

Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of several artists who come from the Indian Subcontinent that will be featured at Blues Alley, in Washington DC, that starts today. In a series of performances that are presented by Blues Alley in conjunction with the Embassy of India, Mahanthappa’s appearances on Thursday and Friday, January 19 and 20th with Samdhi will be a highlight of the jazz week and this series. Tonight vocalist Sachal Vasandani appears, while tomorrow guitarist Sanjay Mishra & Friends will be there. Wednesday, January 18, guitarist Rez Abassi is there with his trio. Michael West of the Washington City Paper has highlighted this performance. According to his website, Rez will also be appearing with Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Samdhi.

This writer is particularly excited to the appearance of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Samdhi. That is also the title of his most recent recording on ACT. He is one of the most praised saxophonists to have come to some prominence in the past several years and with such other performers who have their origins in the Indian Subcontinent such as Vijay Iyer has made a significant impact on contemporary jazz.

Samdhi is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘twilight,’ but he advises that in Hinduism this word has a greater significance as representing the phase between ages, ‘the period between the destruction of one universe and the creation of the next.’ In essence it “represents transition and a reflection of the past while waiting to see what the future will bring.” He further notes some of his inspirations that go beyond Charlie Parker to include Grover Washington Jr, David Sanborn, the Brecker Brothers and the Yellow Jackets. He strives to mix passion with virtuosity and gone beyond the jazz tradition to a whole range of music including aspects of South Indian Music as well as fascinated by electronic music and hip hop with the new array of sounds and beats. The new release Samdhi, reflects his musical pursuit and to these ears represents ant intriguing and realized musical fusion of jazz and other elements.

On the recording, his alto saxophone and laptop electronics is joined by guitarist David Gilmore, bassist Rich Brown, drummer Damion Reid and “Anand” Anantha Krishnan on mridangam and kanjira. Mahanthappa’s alto playing is wonderful, with a sinewy, singing tone (reminds me of Jan Gabarek at times) and solos that mix intellect and passion. An example of his integration of electronics and his alto playing is presented on the opening Parakram #1 is a tone poem with his alto riding over his electronics. The exhilarating Killer has fire from him against the South Indian rhythms with Gilmore’s guitar contributing his own fireworks, with the interplay between these two and especially the percussion of Krishnan becomes mesmerizing. More of this interplay can be heard on Breakfastlunchanddinner.

Each of the musicians is featured on this recording. Bassist Brown has a solo Richard’s Game which segues into Playing With Stones, with tempo changes but a constant in the Mahanthappa’s playful, lyrical lead of the performance here. Gilmore;s “Rune” is followed by the afore-mentioned “Breakfastlunchanddinner.” There is a return to electronics on Parakram #2, which is a lengthier track and very intriguing with his use of hip hop grooves, loops and overdubs. Meeting of the Skins is a percussion feature providing solos for both Reid and Krishnan. The remainder of Samdhi is as fulfilling to listen to with its natural fusion of its musical elements for music that is at times entrancing and other times sensuous and high-spirited,

The delights of listening to Samhi (which I purchased) brings a definite anticipation to seeing Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Samdhi this week, although the members of Samdhi may vary from the recording. It will an an opportunity to see one of the significant new musical voices of today. For more information on the performances this week, including ordering tickets, visit, http://bluesalley.com

Here is a video of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Samdhi in performance from October 2011.

Here is guitarist Rez Abassi in performance.

Frank Melrose's Two-Fisted Chicago Jazz Piano

Frank Melrose was a younger brother of music publishers Walter and Lester Melrose and as Delmark’s Bob Koester notes in the booklet for the Delmark release of Bluesiana, was virtually the only Caucasian artist to record for ‘race” (blues records) in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, where he recorded with such bands as King Mutt’s (that also included trumpeter Punch Miller), the Windy Rhythm Kings with Junie and Oliver Cobb, and the Beale Street Washboard Band with Johnny Dodds, along with his own sides with the Kansas City Stompers.

An impressive two-fisted pianist, an early jazz discography listed two piano solos he recorded as if by Jelly Roll Morton, and he continued performing until found brutally murdered in 1941. These recordings were made in 1940 and originally intended for Bob Thiele's Signature label but Thiele was drafted. They were acquired by stockbroker and jazz fan Frank Lyons who supplied Delmark the recordings for issue.

This is a straight-ahead ‘Chicago style’ jazz date with a band that included cornet player Pete Daly, a regular associate of Melrose’s from the early ‘30s and saxophonist Boyce Brown, with vocalist June Davis on three tracks. There are pop tunes of the era like Sugarfoot Strut (that Louis Armstrong recorded) as well as some New Orleans classics (Jelly Roll Morton’s New Orleans Blues) and Melrose’s own originals (the hot Corrine Romp[, Bluesiana, with June Davis who comes off as a decent Billie Holiday imitator, and Rosetta, which itself became a jazz standard) .

There is plenty of hot jazz here and Morton’s influence can be heard in Melrose’s composition Original Stomp, with a nice Daly solo some tailgate trombone from Bill Helgart and a pumping bass, rolling piano break from Melrose, in addition to the spirited rendition of Morton’s New Orleans Blues, with Melrose taking the lead at the beginning. The World is Waiting For the Sunrise is a showcase for his rollicking piano backed by just the rhythm, while his introspective version of Body and Soul is one of two piano solos here.

Bluesiana is a delightful example of mainstream small group jazz of the pre-bebop era that certainly will be of interest to those who appreciate earlier styles of jazz.

My review copy was provided by Delmark Records. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 288).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sandy Carroll's Asks To Be Taken "Just As I Am"

Memphis based pianist, singer and songwriter Sandy Carroll has a new Catfood Records CD, Just As I Am, that is an intelligently produced album that blends soul, rock and blues for a nice musical stew that ranges from ballads, blues/rock and gospel, to New Orleans styles and country.  She says, “Just As I Am is a project Jim and I have been working on for a few years.  It came together when Bob Trenchard got involved and we decided to finish it and release it on Catfood Records.”

The Jim, Carroll refers to, is celebrated producer Jim Gaines, who is her husband. Gaines produced, engineered and mixed this disc. The studio band is pretty strong with guitarist Evan Leake and keyboardist Rick Steff being the only persons playing on all or almost all the selections. Sandy Carroll had a hand in all of the songs here which go to celebrating one’s fellow persons on the opening, uplifting, Blessed Be, asking for blessings for the children who hold the light, the warriors that let us sleep at night, the healers, the lame, and “blessed be the glory blessed by thy name,” to her amusing lyrics about trying to improve on her natural self in Helping Mother Nature, where she looks in the mirror and gets the botox blues as she sings “nip, tuck fill it in.”

She sings about love, yearning and whether the man she loves is her Heart Fixin’ Man, as well as the tragic young love in Romeo & Juliet, whose lyrics Bob Trenchard (who plays bass on the track) brought to her. There is more of spiritual message on Runnin’ Out of Grace, while she gives advise to men that if they want to treat their woman right, “they need to lean how to give Slow Kisses, set to a boogie piano based accompaniment. The album closes with the title track that she co-wrote with James Sjoberg and the late Luther Allison and which Allison recorded on his Reckless album for Alligator. It has been years since I last listened to Allison doing this, but I can’t imagine him crafting a blue ballad performance in his own style as she does with her vocal asking “Will you love me just as I am.”

The songs resonate with both the crisp production and lyrics matched by Carroll’s wonderful vocals that bring a strong country-soul flavor with nice elements such as Steff’s use of accordion on Romeo & Juliet to lend it a Tex-Mex flavor and Leake’s guitar (except on the title track) provides atmosphere without overshadowing her natural, understated singing. While some of the publicity for this characterizes this as a blues recording, there is little actual blues on this (one blues is the somber Waiting For the Storm with a strong guitar solo). Regardless of how one classifies this recording, it is a recording that should appeal to a wide range of listeners with Carroll’s natural, heartfelt singing and the strong backing provided her.

I received a review copy from a publicist for this release.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Bring the Real Jazz to DC area

Paul Carr and Randy Brecker at 2011 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival
It is about 5 weekends from the 3rd Annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. The Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival revives the legacy of the East Coast Jazz Festival that ran for 15 years starting in 1992. The ECJF originated in honor of Elmore “Fish” Middleton, a Washington, DC jazz radio programmer, whose commitment to promoting jazz music and supporting emerging jazz artists became the guiding principle behind the festival. The driving force of the ECJF was the late Ronnie Wells, a Washington DC jazz icon. After her passing, so did the ECJF.

Bassist Michael Bowie
Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival takes place at the Rockville, Maryland Hilton Hotel over the President’s Day Weekend. Under the auspices of Washington DC area saxophonist and educator, Paul Carr, the Festival has a focus on not simply bringing some of the best local and national jazz performers to the area, but to help nurture and support Jazz Education. Besides such notable performers like Roy Haynes, Terrell Stafford, Carmen Bradford and Nicholas Payton, the festival spotlights local artists like vocalist Sandra Johnson, guitarist Mark Mosely, and bassist Michael Bowie. There are master classes for aspiring jazz musicians, a jazz for mall boppers class, jam sessions, band competition for high school bands and more. There are also artist interviews, and much more.

The Festival opens on Friday night February 17 with highlights on the main stage being Winard Harper and the great vocalist Carmen Bradford backed by the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Orchestra conducted by Paul Carr. Saturday afternoon a highlight will be the Jazz Ain’t Dead Jazz Troupe featuring Maurice Chestnut. Saturday evening features the acclaimed Baltimore vibraphonist (and much more) Warren Wolf and the legendary Roy Haynes and the Fountain of Youth band with the terrific Jaleel Shaw on saxophone. Sunday afternoon has a focus on gospel with a play, “The Mahalia Jackson Story’ featuring vocalist Lavenia Nesmith. Sunday evening includes a Trumpet Summit featuring Brain Lynch, Nicholas Payton and Terrell Stafford and the evening concludes with Festival director Paul Carr’s Quintet with Terrell Stafford, Joey Calderazzo, Michael Bowie and Lewis Nash.

Nicholas Payton will be part of the Trumpet Summit.
He is seen here at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

As can be seen, this year's Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival will present another full weekend of great music. I had a blast at last year's Festival and look forward to more of the same. I hope to see some of you there. For more information check out the website, http://www.midatlanticjazzfestival.org/. Here is a preview of the Festival.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hans Glawischnig's Panoramic Jazz

New York based bassist Hans Glawischnig has certainly come along way from his Graz, Austria beginnings. He has attended Berklee, the Manhattan School of Music and in 1995 took the bass seat in Bobby Watson’s Urban Renewal followed by a stint with Maynard Ferguson, before he was invited to join Ray Barretto’s New World Spirit Ensemble Jazz followed by engagements with Pacquito D’Riviera, David Samuels and Bobby Sanabria along with performances with Billy Harper, Richie Beirach, Billy Hart, Joe Locke, Steffon Harris, Claudio Roditi, Brian Lynch, Phil Woods and Claudia Acuna to name a few. and his first album as a leader was Common Ground for Fresh Sounds/New Talent in 2003.

Now Sunnyside has just issued his latest release as a leader, Panorama. On his nine compositions he is joined by such well known artists as pianists Chick Corea, and Luis Perdomo; drummers Johnathan Blake, Antonio Sanchez, and Marcus Gilmore; saxophonists David Binney, Miguel Zenon and Rich Perry; and guitarist Ben Monder. Zenon (in whose band Glawischnig) is present on four of the performances which have a pretty wide cast. Zenon’s sax dominates the opening Line Drive, with his clean tone and marvelous invention followed by the impressive Perdomo’s piano while the leader’s bass anchors the proceedings and drummer Blake imaginatively keeps pushing the tune along while adding his own accents.

The title track features Corea in a very thoughtful, lyrical vein, while Glawischnig also gets to solo, while Zenon returns on The Orchids, a performance that evokes some of the flavor of Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet recordings. Gypsy Tales, is a quintet track with guitarist Monder, saxophonist Binney and drummer Antonio Sanchez with a spacey feel, with Binney taking a probing tenor solo while Monder’s guitar is in the post McLaughlin and Abercombie approach. Set to Sea is a lovely ballad featuring the tenor of Rich Perry, while Corea returns for Oceanography, derived From How Deep Is The Ocean. Barretto’s Way, opens with nice bowed bass playing before a bit of flamenco is evoked by his bass (suggestive of David Holland here).

The rest of the album features fresh material, thoughtful and inventive playing and marvelous group interplay making Panorama a superior jazz release. Here is a youtube of Hans playing with Miguel Zenon's group with Luis Perdomo on piano.

This review originally appeared in the October 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 309). I believe I received my review copy from the publication.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Charlie Parker In Washington DC

Uptown Records, who not to long ago issued a legendary Town Hall (NYC) concert by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, have another surprise that will be welcomed by jazz lovers. Washington D.C., 1948 is a release of Charlie Parker’s contribution to a May 23, 1948 concert produced by Willis Conover entitled ‘Dixieland v. Bebop,’ held at a long-closed venue, The Music Hall that was in Northwest Washington, near Howard University.

The booklet that accompanies this CD, has extensive notes that chronicle the history of this event, the performers and the music. As indicated from the concert title, Parker came to Washington as part of a concert that presented Dixieland musicians in addition to a bebop group. The Dixieland musicians included Wild Bill Davidson, clarinetist Tony Parenti and trombonist Benny Morton who are only held on one of the tracks on this disc, which is devoted to the surviving bebop oriented tracks. In addition to Parker, the best known musician here was the great drummer Buddy Rich. Others heard here include drummer Joe Theimer (who had been in the Navy band that included John Coltrane) on the opening number, tenor saxophonist Ben Lary, pianist Sam Krupit, bassist Al Phipps and trombonist Rob Swope.

The opening number here is Tiny’s Blues, before Rich, Phipps and Parker are brought up for Bernie’s Tune, and the ballad These Foolish Things, before a lengthy Scrapple From the Apple. After these three numbers, the band becomes simply a quartet for Ornithology and KoKo (Bird’s legendary transformation of Cherokee). Parker is clearly at the forefront, with Rich swinging things along. Krupit takes an extended, slightly frantic piano solo on KoKo after which Bird and Rich trade fours before Rich takes a solo. These two performances stand out with Bird’s brilliant playing and Rich’s charismatic percussion.

After this is an abbreviated C Jam Blues on which the three Dixieland horns joined the full band, but cut short when Davidson got angry at Parker’s very audible laughter offstage during a fine solo by Parenti. An unfortunate end to what sounded like a very promising performance that would have given more a chance to display the common ground between alleged musical adversaries. Sound quality is adequate given the circumstances and one can certainly hear what was played without difficulty if not in highest fidelity.

The accompanying booklet includes insights and the evening’s history from Ron Fritts, Ira Gitler and Ross Firestone and adds to this valuable restoration of a piece of jazz history that will be essential to Charlie Parker aficionado as those who love classic bebop, especially given the unusual backing band for Bird heard here.

This review originally appeared in the November 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 310). I likely received my review copy from that publication.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dave Gross' Varied Crawling the Walls

Singer-guitarist Dave Gross’ new disc Crawling the Walls on the VizzTone group’s SwingNation Records, should solidify his reputation. Only 24 he shows he has listened and absorbed a lot in this disc that provides a wide palette of sounds ranging from gypsy jazz to storming Chicago blues. He certainly is worthy of some of the praise that Bob Margolin lays on him in the liner notes, especially his marvelous musicianship. His vocals perhaps come off at times as flat and other times a bit over-the-top, but sounds better than his last disc. This aspect of his music should mature along with him. one might expect him to grow as a singer.

The album opens with his remake of an early Bobby Bland recording, It’s My Life Baby, channeling the Clarence Holliman in his work. Its followed by Rock in My Shoe, a piece of rock’n’roll that echoes some mid-fifties’ Specialty rock recordings with a blistering solo. Ike Turner’s Cubano Jump, offers him more chance to showcase his driving guitar. The title track is an original in the vein of twenties and thirties era speakeasy blues with some nice growling trumpet from Jon-Erik Kellso and clarinet by Gerry Niewood, although Mike Bram’s drums are way too prominent.

Inspiration Blues, is a spirited take on T-Bone Walker's recording with Niewood blasting on tenor and Gross sounding strong playing in a Walker-inspired vein. It is followed by his own midnight blues-ballad, You’re Not the One, with Kellso growling before Gross starts off as Pee Wee Crayton reborn before taking the solo in his own direction. Margolin’s point in the liner notes that Gross “always adds a creative trick or twist to classic licks and tones,” is nowhere better illustrated than here. Back to the twenties with Clarence Williams’ Baby Won’t You Please Come Home, with drums replaced by banjo and Scott Robinson on bass sax with Kellso blasting playing with out mute but adding some bluesy smears, followed by Gross, on acoustic guitar, taking a nice solo with tinges of Eddie Lang, before pianist Canal Fowkes takes the lead with some stride before Robinson struts on the bass sax on a nice classic Chicago jazz performance.

Don’t Take Too Long, with Dennis Gruenling on harmonica conjures up the sound of the classic Willie Dixon produced Cobra recordings of Otis Rush, while Find Yourself Another Man, is a pastiche of classic Muddy Waters band, again with Gruenling wailing on harmonica. This performance reminds me of some of Bob Margolin’s recordings in the same vein. Gross, like Margolin is not as convincing vocally. It Was Born in the 20’s, is a stunning acoustic guitar feature with Gross paying tribute to Django Reinhardt (and Matt Munisteri providing crisp rhythm in this delightful small group jazz performance as well taking a nice solo as well) with Kellso’s trumpet and Niewood’s clarinet providing atmospheric support. Gross’ acoustic guitar solo, A Little Love, A Little Kiss, revives an Eddie Lang guitar solo from the twenties, and like he does throughout this recording, honors those who inspired him by not imitating and replicating his influences, but rather extending them and displaying his own musical personality.

While his vocals may not be Dave Gross’ strength, they do not detract from the overall high level of the music that makes Climbing the Walls, a welcome release.

I received my review copy from either a publicist or VizzTone. I wrote this review for Jazz & Blues Report but I do not believe this review ran. Here is Dave performing with Dennis Gruenling on harmonica.