Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kenny Wayne is the Blues Boss of Boogie Woogie

Andy Grigg, publisher of Real Blues, has become a champion of pianist-vocalist Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne. Wayne, a San Francisco native, has been a Vancouver resident and is laying some of the toughest boogie woogie and jump blues since the late Amos Milburn passed.

Grigg has just put out on his Real Blues label, Blues Boss Boogie, which showcases Wayne’s piano and urbane vocal stylings. Milburn is clearly the dominant influence on Wayne, although one might suggest a dose of the boogie woogie trio of Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis, as well as Fats Domino. Wayne is heard on 16 originals for over an hour of jump blues and boogie woogie backed by The Twisters, A top Canadian jump blues band, saxophonist Johnny Ferreira and guitarist Shuggie Otis on three tracks adding his distinctive twang.

Kenny 'Blues Boss' Wayne on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. Photo © Ron Weinstock
Wayne's piano, a joy throughout, is to the fore on the instrumental Burrard St. Boogie. He adapts, and speeds up slightly, Milburn‘s One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer melody for the spirited You‘re a Hit, which also sports some tasty harmonica playing from Dave Hoerl in support of Wayne‘s vocal and piano. A highlight has to be the ballad, True Blue, while his sincerity prevents Apple of My Eye from coming across as corny. When he rocks on Blues Boss Boogie, one knows that the Blues Boss he‘s singing about is himself.

Wayne shifts from the piano to the Hammond B-3 as Shuggie Otis joins on guitar for the amusing Pig Feet, and the closing late-night instrumental, West Coast Blues, where Shuggie lays down some very tasty T-Bone-Walker styled guitar to go with Wayne‘s deep-fried organ . Lovers of boogie woogie and jump blues should not miss this. It may be hard to find so you may want to contact Real Blues, 302-655 Herald Street, Victoria, BC, Canada, V8W 3L6 or call (250) 384-2088, and you might want to ask about this publication as well.

I received my review copy from the label. This may be very difficult to find and fortunately the Blues Boss continues to be active today and released several fine albums in the years since I write this in 1998. Here is a video of him performing.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Butch Thompson and Pat Donohue Have The Vicksburg Blues.

Vicksburg Blues (Red House Records) is the first collaboration between pianist and clarinetist Butch Thompson and singer-guitarist Pat Donohue. The two have been staples of the blues, jazz and folk scenes in the Twin Cities, and have been regular performers for several decades on the national radio show, A Prairie Home Companion.

Donohue is one of the leading fingerstyle guitarists alive, while Thompson is amongst the leading interpreters of traditional jazz and ragtime piano. Thompson, mentored by the late Little Brother Montgomery, shows himself here to be quite a fine blues pianist, while Donohue got to see Big Joe Williams, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Jesse Fuller in the seventies before becoming one of the most accomplished guitarists in the tradition of a Blind Blake and Big Bill Broonzy, both of whom were comfortable playing with jazz musicians. Blake for example recorded with the likes of Johnny Dodds.

The album has them interpreting a number of classic blues from Leroy Carr, Blake, Jelly roll Morton and Little Brother Montgomery as well as early jazz numbers from Clarence Williams and Clarence Johnson, and King Oliver. The pair also contribute five originals as well as a composition Thompson collaborated with Little Brother. From the opening moments of Carr’s Midnight Hour Blues to the closing Thompson original Yancey Blues, their deft and imaginative playing and Donohue’s natural and heartfelt singing make for a truly delightful recording.

The opening Midnight Hour Blues certainly displays the empathy the two have four each other (and the melody was lifted by Robert Johnson for From Four Until Late). Its followed by Carr’s most famous song, How Long, How Long Blues with Thompson’s playing evidencing his love for Jimmy Yancey’s wistful style. The vocal and playing on Blind Blake’s gambling blues, Poker Woman (“I won a woman in a poker game, I lost her to another just the same”) evokes to me some of Big Bill Broonzy’s recordings with pianist Black Bob. Thompson conjures up Little Brother Montgomery’s piano style for Vicksburg Blues with Donohue singing strongly and sparely adding his guitar here.

Thompson’s velvety clarinet comes to the fore on If I Had You, while another Leroy Carr, Papa’s On the Housetop is a playful and rollicking performance, true to the spirit of the eighty year old original recording and followed by the pensive rendition of Jelly Roll Morton’s 219 Blues. Better Days is a lively feature for Donohue’s fluid playing followed by his Blues For Two, where he plays National Resonator style guitar in the vein of Tampa Red with Thompson adding his solid piano. Sunday Rag is a lovely original rag that Thompson and Montgomery co-wrote. Thompson plays straight ragtime here with Donohue’s complimenting him in a fashion I think Reverend Gary davis would have approved of. More lovely clarinet is heard from Thompson on James P. Johnson’s You Can’t Lose a Broken Heart.

Instrumentals, such as King Oliver’s Workingman Blues, takes us back to the early twenties with the interesting, if subdued playing. After the lively original “That D Strain,” the album closes with the melancholy Yancey Blues, Thompson’s tribute to the legendary Jimmy Yancey. It concludes this truly splendid album of traditionally oriented blues and jazz. This is simply the finest album of blues piano and guitar duets in a number of years and certainly one of the finest new blues albums I have heard in 2012.

I received my review copy from Red House Records.  This is scheduled for release on August 14. Here is Butch Thompson doing an instrumental How Long, How Long Blues in the vein of Jimmy Yancey and then Pat Donohue doing Mississippi John Hurt's Spike Driver Blues.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Craig Horton Is In The Spirit

Craig Horton is an unfamiliar name but In My Spirit on Big Daddy Records should change this. Originally part of the Chicago blues and rhythm scene (he was in Little Walter’s band for a spell and toured with the Dells), he relocated to the West Coast making a considerable contribution to the San Francisco Bay Area Blues scene. In My Spirit is his first album although he apparently recorded in the past including with the Mississippi Delta Blues band when it was fronted by Sammy Myers. With a little help from friends that include Rusty Zinn, Horton is heard on a collection of originals that evoke B.B. King, T-Bone Walker and other urban blues masters.

The opening Chest Pain Blues suggests the Butterfield Blues Band’s recording of Walking Blues crossed with B.B. King’s Why I Sing the Blues with its funky groove. 3 Days and 3 Nights opens with a piano part that sounds like the opening of T-Bone Shuffle, with Horton’s playing being in the T-Bone Walker vein. Elsewhere his playing is more akin to B.B. King. Horton is a very engaging singer whose suggests B.B. King and Bobby Bland. Although there are a few loose spots in the generally solid backing, it does not detract from the flavor of this disc. The only downside is that the closing track, Midnight Shuffle, is used as a soundtrack for spoken recollections by Horton which takes attention from his playing on this selection. A couple other tracks are effectively introduced by short spoken recollections.

There is a nice mix of material here and Horton’s spirited performances makes one wonder why it took so long to get him into the studio.

This review appeared in the December 2001-January 2002 DC Blues Calendar and I likely received a review copy from the label although I may have purchased it. Horton had a subsequent release in 2004 on Big Daddy Records, Touch of a Bluesman. One wonders whether he will make it back in the studio. He apparently is still performing around the San Francisco area.

Here is Craig Horton performing in Holland.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Linsey Alexander Has Been There Done That

There are several songs on Linsey Alexander's Delmark debut Been There Done That that if were recorded thirty years ago would be viewed as blues classics. Mississippi born and growing up in Memphis, he has been part of the Chicago blues scene and even produced some independent CDs and finally has this CD for an established label.

He and his guitar is backed by a terrific band of Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards, Breezy Rodio and Mike Wheeler on guitar, Greg McDaniel on bass and James Wilson on drums. Several tracks have Ryan Nyther on trumpet and Bryan Fritz on tenor saxophone, while Billy Branch adds his harmonica to three tracks. Alexander wrote (or co-wrote) all but one of the twelve songs, the exception being a Willie Kent number. Listening to this recording I was reminded of some of the Willie Kent Delmark albums as well as some other from Lefty Dizz, Big Moose Walker and Willie James Lyons from the seventies. 

Raffle Ticket, opens with some strong harp in the backing as Alexander asks his baby, "what is the name of that game you playing on me" as she came back on a Wednesday night with a diamond ring which she claimed she won with a lottery. This is a classic Chicago blues performance with Branch wailing on the harmonica and the band hitting that groove as Alexander tells his woman when she goes out Saturday night to get her raffle ticket wet. His singing is so natural and full of feeling, although his buzz-tone guitar solo is a bit generic. The next track Bad Man has a crisp, funky groove and riffing horns as he sings about smoking his "pipe till I go to hell," with nice guitar from Rodio and him here. I Had a Dream is a straight, slow blues that he delivers in a very intense manner.

The title track is more in a soulful vein (suggestive of Tyrone Davis) and sung as naturally in this vein as he sings straight blues. If he is looking down from Heaven, Willie Kent has to be smiling at Alexander's cover of Look's Like It's Going To Rain, while he continues with the traditional Chicago blues sound on My Mama Gave Me The Blues. It opens singing about his elders telling him when you sing the blues when you die you will go straight to hell, but Linsey is still on earth and has his story to tell. Billy Branch channels Little Walter on chromatic harmonica with terrific playing on this song. Branch also is present on the excellent The Same Time I Could Tell Myself, with lyrics about Linsey not wanting a woman to tell him things he already knows or will go wrong cheating and lying.

On the closing Saving Robert Johnson, he sings about going to Highway 61 where it runs into 49 where Robert Johnson sold his soul and Linsey said email the devil or poke him on Facebook so Linsey can meet the Devil at the Crossroads to free Robert Johnson's soul. It has perhaps a silly lyric although the performance is solid. It may be the weakest track on Been There Done That, but that does not diminish the fact that this is a most impressive blues recording which is one of the finer blues albums I have heard this year. His is a voice I want to here more from.

I received this from the record company. Here is a performance by Linsey.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Jerry Ricks Traveled Many Miles of Blues

There is a picture of Jerry Ricks with Mississippi John Hurt taken from a mid-sixties Philadelphia Blues Festival that was recently published in Big City Blues. It’s a picture that would not be out of place in the booklet accompanying Ricks’ second Rooster Blues album, Many Miles of Blues.

The musical link to Hurt is most obvious on the nice rendition of Louis Collins Blues. The flowing guitar and vocal of the opening Missouri River Blues, a Ricks original, also captures some of the same feel found in the music of Hurt and Furry Lewis. It is Lewis to whom Ricks pays respect to on I Will Turn Your Money Green. In addition to his originals that sound like they were written decades ago such as his County Farm Blues, he transforms pianist Little Brother Montgomery’s Vicksburg Blues into a slowed down Beale Street guitar blues, while paying respects to Skip James on a deft treatment of Special Rider Blues.

A traditionalist perhaps in his approach, Ricks shows he absorbed the lessons he gotten first-hand, and has moulded his own distinctive approach, evoking his mentors but in his own style.

This review of Jerry Ricks appeared in the January-February 2001 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 249) which I have made some minor editing errors. Jerry Ricks unfortunately passed away (it will be five years in December 2007). A marvelous interpreter of classic country blues and a superb exponent of this tradition he is missed for his warmth, humor and wisdom as well as his music. I likely received my review copy from a publicist.

This may be hard to find but well worth the effort.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Marvelous Coffee Table Book Celebrates John Philip Sousa

John Philip Sousa's America: The Patriot's Life in Images and Songs
by John Philip Sousa IV with Loras John Schissel
GIA Publications

The America of John Philip Sousa was a far different, and perhaps simpler, time than now, but there is little doubt that John Philip Sousa, as the Director of the United States Marine Band, as a composer of marches (leading him to become known as "The March King") and then leader of the Sousa Band, became one of the best-known Americans of his time and his music became a part of the fabric of the United States and still performed today including The Stars and Stripes Forever.

John Philip Sousa's America is a look at his life, mostly through a wealth of unpublished and rare photographs, newspaper clippings, caricatures, publicity stills, and other archival material that accompany the reflections of Sousa's great-grandson on the March King's life, from his upbringing in Washington DC through the Civil War, his marriage, his initial forays into march music and the remarkable career that ended with his death in 1932. It was a career that included tours across the United States and through Europe and Asia. He was also a recording star in the early days of musical recordings and alumni of his band included Arthur Pryor who had a successful career leading a similar band to Sousa's, and Meredith Willson, who brought us the classic Broadway musical, The Music Man. Today, his music is played world-wide, and not simply for Presidents.

In this narrative, Sousa's great-grandson is assisted by Lora John Schissel a senior musicologist at the Library of Congress. This is not a full scholarly biography of Sousa, but rather an affectionate look back at his remarkable life. This profusely illustrated book (hundreds of photos and illustrations) is a visual feast. Also included is a CD comprised mostly of performances of Sousa's music by the United States Marine Band with a brief spoken recording of Sousa, there is a recording by the Sousa Band performing The Stars and Stripes Forever. It is an invaluable addition to the literature on the music of the post-Civil War to World War I era, and part of musical environment from which jazz and modern popular music emerged out of.

I received a review copy of this book from a publicist. Here is a video of the United States Marine Band Performs The Stars and Stripes Forever.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Eddie 'The Chief' Clearwater Is No Flimdoozie

Eddy ‘The Chief’ Clearwater is a favorite among blues fans. The following review appeared in the DC Blues Calendar in 2001 at the time Rooster Blues reissued one of his 1980’s albums on compact disc. I likely received my review copy from the label.

A reissue on Rooster Blue is Eddy Clearwater’s Flimdoozie, a mid 1980’s session with Sugar Blue on harmonica, Abb Locke on saxophone and Otis Rush sharing guitar leads with Clearwater. Its not a bad album, particularly with the all-star sidemen, and some of the tracks like the rocking Sugar Baby with a great Sugar Blue harp solo and Clearwater belting out the vocal like Carey Bell are pretty good. Some of the material is pretty lightweight including the title track and Do This Town Tonight, but played well.

Clearwater’s mushy diction undercuts the long slow blues, a medley of Black Night with Clearwater’s Fallin’ Down Heavy. Rush is in terrific form on the five tracks on which he is heard, but despite his presence, this is a secondary work in Clearwater’s discography.

Here is Eddy performing at the Chicago Blues Festival in 1991.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cassandra Wilson's Another Country

Cassandra Wilson's newest album, Another Country (eOne Music), is a collaboration with the Italian guitarist and producer, Fabrizio Sotti. Produced by the two, "Another Country" was recorded in Florence, Italy with some additional recordings done at Piety Street Studios in New Orleans and Sotti Studio New York. In addition to Sotti's guitar (which has some gypsy jazz tinge), the complementary backing makes judicious use of percussionists Mino Cinelu and Lekan Babalola, the electric bass of Nicola Sorato, as well as accordionist Julien Labro.

The ten performances on Another Country, recording includes eight vocals from Wilson and two acoustic guitar solos from Sotti. Wilson's eight vocals are mostly originals (Sotti collaborated on six songs). From the opening moments of Red Guitar, to the closing Olumutoro, Wilson's sultry and intimate vocals benefits from the backing. It is not simply Sotti's guitar accompaniment but also Labro's subtle embellishments from his accordion that enhance the mood of the opening number. Then there is her haunting vocal on No More Blues, with a nice single string solo over which Wilson lightly scats.

Not everything is in an indigo vein. There is the brazilian rhythms of Almost Twelve with more marvelous playing from Sotti. An unusual selection is Wilson's folk-jazz arrangement of O Sole Mio, bringing a understated blues tinge to the operatic standard with a lovely guitar solo. Sotti's own atmospheric guitar solos, Deep Blue and Letting You Go, fit in the tenor of the vocal performances.

On Another Country, Wilson and Sotti display a rapport with each other that results in the enchantment heard here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here Cassandra talks about Another Country.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Previously Unissued Otis Spann Someday - Great Music & Poor Packaging

An album of previously unissued Otis Spann performances, Someday (Silk City), is welcome, but alas the cheap packaging does not match the quality of the music. This is a collection of band and solo performances by the piano blues legend. Unfortunately the sparse packaging lacks any discographical information and the biography of Spann appears like it was copied from a second rate on-line website and incompletely discusses his recording career (the notes totally omit his Bluesway and BluesTime albums as well the terrific Super Black Blues recording with T-Bone Walker and Big Joe Turner). The cover graphics are simple and hardly stand out.

Compensating for the mediocrity of the packaging is the music which is very good. It opens with Spann leading an unidentified band through Chicken Shack, followed by terrific solo renditions of Country Boy, and Worried Life Blues, mis-titled as Someday. I find it hard to believe the producer of this disc did not know the correct song title. Also appealing is the solo rendition of Walter Davis’ classic Come Back, Baby, and a nice slow blues Blind Man.

In addition to Chicken Shack, band selections include the congenially rocking Meet Me In The Bottom; a solid rendition of Worried Life Blues; and a cover of T-Bone Walker’s Cold, Cold Feeling. These also have nice harmonica and guitar in addition to Spann’s piano. There is also a rollicking instrumental, Back Bay Shuffle. Spann Blues, with sparse rhythmic backing is a lively boogie based track, while the closing Blues Don’t Love Nobody, is a medium tempo-ed blues with the recording makes Spann’s vocal sound a bit muffled.

There is some very fine music on Someday, and many fans of Otis Spann will likely want the music here, which is represented as previously unissued. There is only about 37 minutes of music on this and as stated, the presentation of the material is pretty shoddy. This is not an essential release, but the music here deserved better packaging than it received.

I purchased this CD.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

William Clarke Was Rockin' The Boat

Watchdog Records has just reissued Rockin’ the Boat, a live performance by the late William Clarke that was recorded at the Starboard Attitude in April 1987 and originally issued on Rivera Records. It has Clarke backed by an excellent band of Joel Foy on guitar; Willie Brinlee on the acoustic bass; Fred Kaplan on piano; and Eddie ‘Lips’ Clark on drums with Leonardo Watkins singing on one of the eight selections here.

The William Clarke Blues Band sounded pretty solid this evening opening with Clarke’s Deal The Cards, an original shuffle that sports Clarke’s convincing vocals and big-tone on the harmonica with the band solidly behind him and Foy takes an incisive solo. Clarke and Band reworks Sonny Boy Williamson’s Keep It To Yourself, setting it to the Help Me/ Green Onions, melody with Foy blasting off on a tough solo. It is followed by a feature for Foy on Jimmy McGriff’s All About My Girl, that will be familiar from Albert Collins recording of it. Foy displays considerable technique and imagination in his driving guitar workout.

St. Louis Jimmy’s I Had My Fun (aka Going Down Slow) is taken at a nice medium pace opening with Clarke ‘s vigorous vocal and dynamic harmonica and Kaplan comping behind the vocal before taking a solo. It is followed by Watkins singing a medley of Jimi Hendrix’s Red House and B.B. King’s Just a Little Bit of Love. It is taken as a shuffle with Clarke adding some solid saxophone-like harmonica playing. A lengthy rendition of Iodine In My Coffee follows with swinging and rocking solos from Clarke (telling everybody “let me play my harmonica”) and Kaplan, while Foy adds fills and chords to help push the performance on.

Clarke lays out for the atmospheric After Hours that puts the spotlight Kaplan with his late night piano feel before launching into the closing feverish jump blues,Boogie Woogie Woman, with Foy channeling Willie Johnson and Joe Willie Wilkins in his accompaniment. Its a rocking conclusion to a welcome Clarke reissue. Clarke would grow and mature as a performer and songwriter in the years following this performance, but there is nothing immature about the music heard here. He may have been rocking the boat that April night, but the music still will rock most any house today.

I purchased this from bluebeatmusic.com. I note the CD is not listed as available from amazon but it is available as mp3 files.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Magic Sam Live in Berkeley in 1969

With a small body of studio recordings augmented by live recordings, a new CD of club performances by the legendary Magic Sam is certain to be warmly received by West Side Chicago blues lovers. 17 performances (Nearly 80 minutes of music) from Mandrake’s in Berkeley, California are made available on Live 1969 - Raw Blues on the Rock Beat label. These July, 1969 performances date are five months before his passing, and give a strong display of the blues world’s loss. I believe Sam’s legendary Ann Arbor Blues Festival performance was shortly thereafter. On these club recordings Magic Sam was backed by Bruce Barlow (later with Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen) on bass and Sam Lay on drums. These were the same musicians that were with Sam at his legendary Ann Arbor Blues Festival appearance.

Songs include familiar items of his repertoire from his Cobra recordings and his Delmark albums such as All You Love, J. B. Lenoir’s Mama Talk To Your Daughter, Willie Cobb’s You Don’t Love Me, Junior Parker’s I Feel So Good, Bobby Bland’s I Don’t Want No Woman, Freddie King’s instrumental San-Ho-Zay, and his own instrumental Looking Good. Less familiar material includes renditions of B.B. King’s I Got Papers On You, and You Done Lost Your Good Thing, as well as Albert Collins’ Tremble, and Freddie King’s Just Pickin’.

There are some minor variations from his recordings such as in the guitar accompaniment on You Don’t Love Me, which is a bit simpler than the “Black Magic” rendition. On I Feel So Good, and Looking Good, the tempo goes into warp drive while Sam avoids sounding frenzied. The performance of “”I Got Papers On you Baby” is representative of the intensity he invested his performances with.

The album closes with a fiery Sweet Home Chicago. It was Sam’s recording and performances of this perhaps had a role in making it the blues anthem it has become. The accompanying booklet includes Mark A. Humphrey’s astute overview of the music and sam’s career and legacy. Sound is not high fidelity but not terrible with the power of his searing guitar and soaring vocals evident. Magic Sam’s Live 1969 - Raw Blues, undoubtedly will be on many lists of the best blues releases of 2012. The music is that good.

This was a purchase from bluebeatmusic.com, although it should be readily available from better retailers.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Roberta Gambarini and Hank Jones Were There

Roberta Gambarini certainly has come a long way in a few years since coming to the United States in 1998 from her native Italy. Within two weeks of her arrival, she was a finalist at the Thelonious Monk Competition, devoted to jazz vocalists that year along with Jane Monheit and Terry Thornton. Since then her career has slowly taken off, accelerating in more recent years after the release of her first American recording, Easy to Love, and now her major label debut with the great Hank Jones on Emarcy, You Are There. In the interim she has been nominated for a Grammy, selected by the Jazz Journalists Association as best female jazz vocalist and selected as Talent Deserving Wider Recognition in the Downbeat Critics Poll, while making acclaimed concert and festival appearances with some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world including Roy Hargrove’s Big Band and the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Orchestra.

Hank Jones and Roberta Gambarini at the 2007 Duke Ellington Jazz Festival
Roberta Gambarini possesses such a beautiful voice and if one can here some echoes of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, she has become such a marvelous singer in her own right. Her pitch perfect, her phrasing exquisite, her enunciation of the lyrics so magical. Between her delivery of the lyrics and her scatting her voice is another instrument. Backed by only Hank Jones’ piano, she takes us on at our of some of the great songs, such as Deep Purple, Just Squeeze Me, Lush Life and Stardust. She introduces us to lesser known gems like a Benny Carter song, When Lights Are Low, and a Gigi Gyrce and Jon Hendricks ballad, Reminiscing. Most interesting is Irving Berlin’s Suppertime, that is done in tribute to Ethel Waters who first sang this moving song in the musical revue, As Thousands Cheered. As Ms. Gambarini notes, this was “the first song to address the unspeakable evil of racial lynching.” The lyrics do not describe the strange fruit of southern tress, but rather the heartache of the wife and mother who knows her husband and the children’s father is not coming home. “I know I should set the table cause it’s Suppertime,” but is unable ‘because that man of mine ain’t coming home no more.” With Jones understated accompaniment here, this is simply a powerful performance.

Elsewhere Jones gets a number of opportunities to stretch out as on the Ellington classic, Just Squeeze Me. After his solo, she scats and then trades fours with him. The delight the two have making music together comes across throughout this recording that certainly will be among the most highly recorded vocal jazz recordings issued in the United States this year. Having the pleasure of having seen the two performing this past fall, this writer has been awaiting the US release of this 2005 recording session, and it has certainly been waiting for.

This was a purchase. Here is Roberta Gambarini and Hank Jones with a rhythm section performing.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Papa" John DeFrancesco Is Himself a Big Shot

Fans of organ jazz certain have a delightful new release from "Papa" John DeFrancesco, Big Shot on Savant. Father of Joey DeFrancesco, the renown organist, Papa John himself has been a celebrated organist of the years. Joey is present, playing piano and other keyboards in a supportive role, while another son,John Jr., handles guitar. The rest of the band is comprised by Jerry Weldon’s tenor sax, Mike Boone’s bass and Bryon Landham’s drums.

They deliver a program of blues drenched numbers starting with a walking tempo rendition of Red Top, a classic since Gene Ammons made it his own with slower tempo here making for a relaxed groove as Weldon states the theme followed by John Jr.’s solid single note playing and a tasty solo on the Diversi organ that Papa John plays that captures the sound of the Hammond with perhaps a fuller tone in the foot-pedal bass.

From Gene Ammons to the Doors as Joey’s keyboards sets the dreamy atmosphere for Riders in the Storm, with Papa John taking the first solo after Weldon states the theme and then the saxophonist takes a vigorous solo. Next up is a solid ballad performance, Too Young to Go Steady, with Joey’s piano setting the mood followed by some lovely tenor sax and Papa John’s moody organ offset by Joey’s piano and some nice brush work from Landham.

Nolo, picks up the tempo with his funky groove and John Jr is prominent with some fine playing as Weldon riffs behind him with Papa John suggesting Jimmy Smith’s mojo here. The title track is a solid walking blues, while Maricopa, has a light Latin groove with Weldon, Papa John, John Jr., and Joey all prominent here. Down Home, is a moody late night blues while the disc closes with the funk of What, with Joey coming off like Billy Preston while Weldon shows his funk sax groove while John Jr. is a it more electric in his playing that perhaps come off least interesting track here.

The fact that the music here may not stretch boundaries and makes for comfortable listening should not be viewed as a criticism but the recognition of the strengths of Big Shot which is characteristic of what makes the best organ jazz, soul-blues grooves with tenor sax and other musicians who are fine storytellers. Recommended.

This review originally appeared in the January 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 323). I received my review copy from the publication. Here is "Papa" John performing a Jimmy Smith classic.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Freddie Redd and Butch Warren Live Tomorrow

Blue Note Legends Freddie Redd and Butch Warren 
at the Museum of American Art

Persons living and/or working in the DC Area should be aware the Smithsonian's American Art Museum, 8th & F Streets, NW in the Gallery Place area of Washington near the Verizon Center is presenting a performance, tomorrow evening, that will feature a couple of legends who are associated with Blue Note Records, pianist  Freddie Redd and bassist Butch Warren.  The free performance takes place at the Museum's Kogod Courtyard and will start at around 5:00PM.

Pianist and composer Redd recorded for Blue Note in the early 1960s, including the music he contributed the the play, The Connection, which later was one of his Blue Note albums that was reissued on the Mosaic label.  DC native Warren was part of a rhythm section with the late pianist Sonny Clark and late drummer Billy Higgins and played on countless Blue Note sessions in the early 1960s including sessions by Clark, Donald Byrd, Grant Green, Jackie Mclean and Dexter Gordon. Warren also played on Herbie Hancock’s Takin’ Off album and plays bass on the original recording of Watermelon Man. He also spent about a year playing with Thelonious Monk. Warren had the first two albums under his own name in the past few years and was subject of a feature in JazzTimes

The band will also include two of DC’s most accomplished saxophonists, Brian Settles and Brad Linde. It will be an exceptional evening of jazz and its free.

Here is a clip of the Freddie Redd & Butch Warren at Bohemian Gardens

Here is Thelonious Monk in Japan with Butch Warren on bass doing Evidence.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Debbie Davies Solid New Recording - After The Fall

Its been nearly two decades since Debbie Davies debuted on Blind Pig Records after leaving Albert Collins' Band. Over the ensuing period she has toured the world and established herself as a significant talent. She has her first new CD in several years on MC-Records, After The Fall and it displays the strengths her prior recordings and her performances exhibited.

After the Fall is produced by guitarist Dave Gross who guests on several tracks. The band includes drummer Don Castagno; bassists Mark Lindsey or Scott Hornick; and organist Bruce Katz. Catagno contributed to eight of the 11 songs (three by himself), while Davies wrote the other three and collaborated with him on three. This recording is dedicated to the late Robin Rogers who touched Debbie and countless others.

She is a singer in the Bonnie Raitt vein with a clean, relaxed vocal style that radiates her honesty and sincerity. Her guitar playing is deft, imaginative and able to display plenty of fire without being cluttered as she explores the relationships with lovers whether singing Don’t Put the Blame on Me, or singing that if one isn’t thinking one can’t fall, one ain’t thinking at all on The Fall, a more general about needing a helping hand to pick oneself off the ground.

True Blue Fool is a lovely ballad wistfully sung, while the mood shifts with the hot shuffle groove of Done Sold Everything, about times being tough and having sold everything and got no more and has got no more. Other standouts tracks include All of My Forgiveness, where if her man doesn’t say he is sorry, all of her forgiveness will be gone, and Goin’ To A Gaggle, with a rollicking second-line groove about partying all night with friends. I’ll Feel Much Better When You Cry, is a nice blues about her pain felt when her man left and hoping he feels that pain when someone walks out on him. R.R. Boogie, dedicated to the late Robin Rogers, is an imaginative instrumental with a tight groove and some sizzling single note runs.

Certainly anyone who has been a fan of Debbie Davies will not be disappointed by this release. After the Fall will be welcome by blues lovers of a diverse range of tastes. Recommended.

I received my review copy from the record label. Here is Debbie in performance.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Milton Hopkins and Jewel Brown Have The Houston Blues

A new release on the Texas Dialtone label is the eponymously titled released by guitarist Milton Hopkins and vocalist Jewel Brown. Hopkins, a cousin of Lightnin’ Hopkins, is a fleet guitarist with a clean tone and jazzy attack that is in the same vein as fellow Houstonians Texas Johnny Brown and the late Clarence Hollimon. He was in fact second guitarist for B.B. King from around 1971 to 1980. Brown made one recording for Don Robey’s Duke label, later moving out to the West Coast and spent a number of years in the 1960s performing with Louis Armstrong. after retiring from music for a number of years, she has returned to performing a few years back.

Producer Eddie Stout put together a solid band to back the two including Mike Keller on rhythm guitar; Corey Keller or Jason Moeller on drums; Nick Connolly on piano, Johnny Bradley on bass and Kaz Kazanoff on saxophones. They provide solid, swinging backing behind Brown’s vocals and Hopkins’ imaginative single note fretwork. Material is pretty straight-forward with the least familiar material perhaps having the biggest impact.

The opening Jerry is a nice uptempo number, while Can’t Get Enough Of You is a slow blues which she delivers with much feeling. While the years may have taken a toll on her range and vocal tone, on such material she shines while Hopkins lays in some stinging guitar fills behind her vocal. She also capably covers Ruth Brown’s hit, Daddy Daddy, and the band sparkles in accompanying her with Hopkins shining on his solo. It is followed by a surprising cover of J.B. Lenoir’s retelling of the Jonah story, The Whale Has Swallowed Me, with Hopkins on acoustic guitar. It is followed by jazzy instrumental showcase for Hopkins, Evening Breeze, that mixes flair and restraint.

There’s a Light is a nice gospel performance but followed by a decent, but hardly remarkable cover of Esther Phillips’ Cry Me A River, with the arrangement based on the one King Curtis engrafted behind Esther Phillips’s live performance (on Esther’s terrific “Burnin’ album) but Brown’s vocal certainly does not approach that of Phillips, nor is the band on the level of Phillips’ trio that was augmented by Curtis in the studio. Hopkins does take a couple nice guitar breaks, but overall a weak performance. Brown does better with her a cover of Little Willie John’s I’m Shakin’.

Another Hopkins’ instrumental, Back To The Shimmy, has a New Orleans flavor and has Hopkins’ playing off Kazanoff’s tenor sax. Another acoustic performance is the rendition of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “I’m Leaving You Now,” as Milton channels his cousin’s guitar style, although Brown’s vocal sounds harsh at spots. After the rollicking gospel of How Can I Lose, the album closes with a jaunty instrumental Texas shuffle, Tater Tots.

The collaboration between Milton Hopkins and Jewel Brown is a mixed affair. Hopkins is among the last of the blues guitarists still playing in this sophisticated, jazz-tinged approach and he is terrific throughout. One wonders how much the years have affected Brown’s voice and she is uneven here. Several performances are very good, but others are relatively lackluster. While there are some faults here, overall the merits outweigh them.

I purchased this CD. Here is a short video clip of the two.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Omar and The Howlers Never Gone

Having recently had the pleasure to consider the excellent overview of the past two decades of Omar and the Howlers Essential Collection on Ruf, I received recently the latest Omar and the Howlers recording I’m Gone (Big Guitar Music). Its a session that has him joined by guitarists Casper Rawls and Derek O’Brien; bassists Ronnie James and Bruce Jones; and drummers Mike Buck and Wes Starr for a rocking collection opf rockabilly and blues.

It starts with the title track, a hot rockabilly stomp that evokes the classic Sun sound and with a forceful, gravelly vocal. All About the Money, is a lazy blues shuffle with a relaxed vocal, some nicely articulated guitar and a nice relaxed pace. Drunkard’s Paradise is a country number about drinking in the darkness with some chicken scratching guitar and steel guitar. Bo Diddley was an inspiration for Omar and Wild and Free, which uses the “Bo Diddley beat” and he employs judicious use of tremolo on it, followed by the driving Dust My Broom groove of Down At The Station.

Lone Star Blues is an atmospheric , straight-ahead blues instrumental which like this recording benefits from the economical backing and playing that benefits as much by what is not played as what is played. The ensuing track, Omar’s Boogie is a solid country-rockabilly instrumental with plenty of twang and followed by the slow Goin’ Back to Texas, which has a swamp blues flavor; a nice, gritty vocal and Casper Rawls’ guitar solo which takes some unexpected twists. Let Me Hold You is a swamp-pop styled ballad followed by a easy rocker, Move Up To Memphis, and then a solid cover of John Lee Hooker’s brooding I’m Mad Again. The booklet misidentifies the track penned by Hooker and it is I’m Mad Again, the 11th track, not the 10th track as stated there.

The closing track is another rockabilly groover, Take Me Back which uses Scotty Moore’s guitar riff from Elvis Presley’s rendition of Mystery Train. Its a lively track, solidly sung by Omar with his gravelly approach. It caps another solid and recommended recording from Omar Dykes.

My review copy was provided by a publicist. Here is some Omar and the Howlers to enjoy.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Jimmy Reed's Classic Chicago Blues

Shout Factory continues its reissues from the legendary Vee Jay Records catalog and has made available some classic recordings on CD. This is a reissues of the original album and do not appear to be augmented by alternate takes or additional songs. They reproduce the original liner notes and have some contemporary commentary as well. Sound is very good.

Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall makes available the double LP album that was issued in 1961. Reed headlined a blues show at the venerable hall but his performance was not recorded. Instead he recreated the performance in the studio for one of the two discs (the first 11 tracks) while the second LP was comprised of reworking some of his best recordings, a Best of Jimmy Reed with new recordings. With drummer Earl Phillips on most of these recordings, his son, Jimmy Jr. handles guitar on eight of these tracks, while other selections feature Eddie Taylor, Lefty Bates, Lonnie Brooks, Johnny Littlejohn, Remo Biondi and Phil Upchurch.

Albert King is the drummer on the renditions of You Don’t Have to Go and Boogie in the Dark. The renditions of Bright Lights, Big City, Found Joy, Tell Me You Love Me, along with recreations of Baby What You Want me to Do, Honest I Love, and Take Out Some Insurance are done in the deceptively simple boogie shuffle style of Reed with his mush mouth vocals and simple high note harmonica, but delivered with complete sincerity that gave his music a wide-spread appeal.

This review originally appeared in the March 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 303). I believe I received my review copy from the publication. This may be difficult to find. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Its A Hot July Fish Fry For The DC Blues Society

Enjoying the Fish fry
Tomorrow, July 14 DC Blues Society is presenting its 8th Annual Hotter Than July Fish Fry ‘n’ Blues at the American Legion Post 41, 905 Sligo Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland. The entrance is on Fenton and the parking lot and garage. The $12 admission includes a fish sandwich and the music which will start at 4PM and will include 11 bands.

Saskia of the Unruly Blues Band
The blues starts at 4PM and runs until around 11PM and the bands performing are: Almost Blue; Blues Obsession; Dave Panzer & the Bluesicians; DC Blues Society Band with Ayaba Bey; Fast Eddie & the Slow Pokes; Ida Campbell; In Lay Mans Terms; Joyce Ettingoff; Unruly Blues Band; Tan Man Blues Band; and XPress. 2 other bands are waiting if a band can’t make it.

Ida Campbell
Highlights of the bands playing include WPFW’s Ida Campbell who is a fine singer in the Ruth Brown, the Williamsburgh, Virginia band, In Layman’s Terms, with Cole (14 on guitar), sister Logan (11 on bass) and mother Sandy Laymen on drums with a repertoire of classic rock and blues; the Unruly Blues Band featuring the vocalist Saskia that tied at the 2011 DC Blues Society Battle of the Bands and mix a variety of blues styles with terrific showmanship; and David Panzer and the Bluesicians which features the vocal and instrumental skills of Panzer who spent five years with the Midnight Mover, Wilson Pickett. More information on the line-up, including the schedule can be found at www.dcblues.org. Just click on the schedule link on the home page.
Dancing and Partying at the Fish Fry'N'Blues
In addition to the music there will be a Fish Fry includes fish sandwiches, fixings and cake. This starts at 4:30PM and runs until about 9PM. Beverages are available from the Legion staff.

Its the DC Blues Society's Memphis Blues Blowout at Lamont's

Preston Shannon
Next Saturday, July 21, the DC Blues Society and Lamont’s Entertainment Complex Present a Memphis Blues Blowout headlined by Preston Shannon as well as Daddy Mack. The music starts at 1:00PM with the DC Blues Society Band with Ayaba Bey followed at 2:00PM by Dr. S.O. Feelgood and then at 3:30, Jim Bennett, lady Mary and the Unique Creation band will present their brand of Southern Soul. The Daddy Mack Blues Band goes on at 5:00PM and Preston Shannon will start at 6:30PM. Advance tickets are $18 for members and $20 for nonmembers and $25.00 at the door. For information and Ticket Sales: go to the Blues Society’s website, www.dcblues.org or call Lamont’s at 301-322-1808.

Memphis-based guitarist, singer, and songwriter Preston Shannon is well known as one of the finest contemporary Bluesmen in the U.S. He delivers deep, soul-filled vocals, atop his burning, venom-tipped guitar chords - a blend of Southern-fried soul and blues; danceable, grooving tunes; and slow, soulful ballads.

The Daddy Mack Blues Band has been the house band at the Center For Southern Folklore on Beale Street in Memphis since 1998. Daddy Mack’s natural and soulful musical blend has been on stages from BBQ dives in Mississippi to halls in Paris. He’s known for his Albert King-like biting vocals, funky guitar licks, and his uncompromising notion of real Blues.

Jim Bennett
Jim Bennett has been entertaining for 45 years, the last 22 with vocalist Lady Mary and the Unique Creation Band. Bennett, who plays vocals in addition to his warm baritone vocals that have a cool quality like Jerry Butler. Lady Mary gives a contrasting style with more than a bit of sassiness, and they are backed by a bight band that adds the right amount of funk to the southern soul stew.

Dr. S.O. Feelgood adds his own very personable blues and downhome soul style while the DC Blues Society Band features Dr. Ayaba Bey. Dr. Bey is indeed a “griot” (a storyteller, also musician-entertainers from West Africa whose performances include tribal histories). She has traveled to Guyana, Brazil, the Caribbean, and hundreds of colleges/universities across the US sharing her his-torically-based educational theater/music programs.

It’s going to be a party so come prepared to stay the day, and maybe even into the night for the indoor After-Party! Pack your coolers and your lawn chairs (yes, you can bring both, and your cooler can be packed with your favorite alcoholic or non-alcoholic brew, and food). It takes place Rain or shine.

It takes place at Lamont's Entertainment Complex, 4400 Livingston Road, Pomonkey (Accokeek), MD.

Driving Directions From the DC Beltway/I-495, take Exit 3 onto MD-210 South, Indian Head Highway; continue about 14.3 miles and make slight left onto MD-227/ Marshall Hall Rd.; after 1.3 miles, stay straight on MD-224; and after another 1.3 miles, Lamont’s will be on the left.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

RJ Mischo Makes It Good

Veteran harmonica player and singer RJ Mischo has a new recording Make It Good on Delta Groove. On this recording he is mainly backed by guitarist Johnny Moeller (recently of Fabulous Thunderbirds fame), guitarist Nick Curran; bassist Ronnie James Weber; keyboardist Nick Connolly and drummer Wes Starr with two tracks having guitarist Jeremy Johnson from the Twin Cities area in Minnesota.

The 13 selections are all Mischo originals and with the exception of the rock and roll of the opening Trouble Belt, are Chicago and Memphis styled blues. While Mischo’s hoarse vocal might be a little over-the-top on Trouble Belt, Connolly conjures up Johnny Johnson while both Curran and Moeller take hot guitar breaks. The Frozen Pickle is a spirited shuffle instrumental that allows Mischo’s to showcase his wet and full harp tone, while Connolly on organ helps lay the foundation before taking a solid solo followed by some choice guitar. The title track with Mischo shouting the vocal has skeletal backing from Johnson’s reverb heavy guitar and Richard Medek’s drums.

Another instrumental, Papa’s S.T. Special has a driving groove and harmonica with some Sonny Terry styled whoops interjected while Mischo channel’s Rice Miller on a lazy shuffle, Minnesota Woman, that the rhythm section nails the groove on. Miller and the King Biscuit Boys are also conjured on the slow blues Not Your Good Man, with Moeller taking a pretty tight solo. The Biscuit Is Back is another song in a similar vein with a lyrical allusion to the King Biscuit Time theme with Moeller evoking Willie Johnson and Joe Willie Wilkins.

The two-part Arumbula is a harp feature with a latin tinge and Connolly also prominent, while another instrumental with Johnson on guitar, Up to The Brim is a lovely instrumental rendition of the late John Brim’s recording, Rattlesnake, with Mischo working in the Little Walter vein while Johnson added the right touch with his guitar and bass drum.

RJ Mischo’s Make It Good is a spirited album of rocking harmonica blues performances. Mischo’s energetic and rousing playing and the strong backing band results in a recording that should appeal to a a wide range of listeners.

Delta Groove provided me the review copy. Here RJ performs Up to The Brim from March 2012.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I'm John Lee Hooker Brings Together Classic Vee-Jay Hooker Recordings

Shout Factory continues its reissues from the legendary Vee-Jay Records catalog and has made available some classic recordings on CD. This is a reissue of the original album and does not appear to be augmented by alternate takes or additional songs. They reproduce the original liner notes and have some contemporary commentary as well. Sound is very good.

I’m John Lee Hooker was a 1959 compilation of the first sides that the great John Lee had waxed for Vee-Jay. Included are solo re-workings of In the Mood, Boogie Chillum, Hobo Blues and Crawlin’ King Snake that are compelling in their own way as he stomps the rhythm and playing his signature hypnotic guitar. Other tracks such as Dimples, Maudie, I Love You Honey and Time Is Marching, have him backed by a supportive ensemble who do quite a credible job in following Hooker’s often unusual song structures. Eddie Taylor’s guitar work is especially noteworthy on these and Jimmy Reed plays the harp on Time is Marching.

This is a most welcome reissue and the band sides are pretty strong as are his recreations of his earlier recordings.

This review originally appeared in the March 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 303). I believe I received my review copy from the publication. Here is John Lee Hooker performing on BBC around the time of these recordings.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Royal Southern Brotherhood Get Rocking Hard

Royal Southern Brotherhood (RSB) is a 'supergroup' comprised of Cyril Neville, Devon Allman, Mike Zito, Charlie Wooten and Yontico Scott. It has been booked and played at a variety of music (including blues) festivals and as I write this its eponymously titled Ruf Records debut is high on the Billboard Blues charts although to these ears this is a rock record, with very little blues on it. However one classifies RSB does not go to the quality of the music and the music on this is excellent.

The hard-hitting New Horizon musically evokes the Rolling Stones’ rendition of Harlem Shuffle as Cyril takes the lead vocal about a new day dawning and at the crossroads where one chooses peace over politics with some hard rocking guitar with nice interplaying between Zito and Allman. It is followed by the Santana-like groove of Fired Up!, a celebration about a woman who can make Cyril feel higher than low. Devon Allman takes the lead on his wistful Left My Heart in Memphis, with his vocal and the band exhibiting a fine sense of musical dynamics.

The lyric to Moonlight Over the Mississippi by Zito and Neville incorporates some blues songs and lyrics. I presume that it is Zito taking the marvelous and soulful vocal and there is some strong guitar playing. Fire on the Mountain incorporates a lazy island groove while Ways About You is a terrific bluesy Zito performance of a break-up song as his woman was singing about freedom sing their love was first cast with some nicely shaped blues-rock guitar (and again exhibiting some terrific interplay between Zito and Allman. Allman and Neville collaborated on Got to Keep Rockin’, a driving hard rock number, while Hurt My Heart has an Allman Brothers feel and a lyric about homelessness, rich people in their mansion and how things hurts his heart. Neville’s Sweet Jelly Donut, is a straight blues with an amusing lyric that allows Cyril to talk about taking her to some of his favorite New Orleans haunts while the band gets into a rocking groove.

A hot instrumental Brotherhood closes this impressive hard rocking recording. This is a terrific contemporary band that brings together a wide range of musical influences together including blues, southern rock, soul country and more. With three vocalists who leave strong impressions on the listeners, two fine guitarists and a solid rhythm section, they have produced a debut album that will make people take notice. The eponymous debut by Royal Southern Brotherhood is not a blues album anymore than it is a ragtime album. This does not change the fact that it is a terrific recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video for the song New Horizon.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Louis Armstrong and the Allstars in Zurich

TCOB Music calls itself The Montreux Jazz Label ™ and has several different series which can be distinguished by the color of the CD spine. Red is devoted to bebop, hardbop and postbop, green is devoted to the Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series and has vintage jazz concerts recorded by Swiss radio (I have heard an excellent live Art Blakey set), while blue is devoted to the music of the forties and fifties in general.One of its recent productions in the blue series presents Louis Armstrong’s All Stars.

Armstrong’s Live in Zurich, Switzerland, dates from October, 1949 and features (I believe) the original All Stars lineup of Armstrong, trumpet and vocals; Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocals; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Earl Hines, piano; Arvell Shaw, bass, Cozy Cole, drums; and Velma Middleton on vocals.

There is nothing too fancy or surprising with the repertoire. These tunes and this band helped define the ‘Dixieland’ repertoire such as That’s A Plenty, Basin Street Blues (a feature for Teagarden’s relaxed singing and trombone before Armstrong adds his magic); Royal Garden Blues; Armstrong’s classic Struttin’ With Some Barbecue; Fats Waller’s (What Did I Do To Be So) Black & Blue and Honeysuckle Rose; High Society and Do You Know What it Means (to Miss New Orleans).

Plenty of high points here as Armstrong is particularly poignant on Black and Blue, with some brilliant piano from Earl Hines behind the horns and Armstrong’s vocal. Velma’s Blues is a mid-tempo blues that features Ms. Middleton trading a variety of traditional blues stanzas, while Fatha Hines is featured with his unique piano style on Honeysuckle Rose, and more rollicking playing on Fine and Dandy, whose melody is so familiar but which I can’t identify. Body and Soul opens with some very nice playing from Bigard for the first two and a half minutes before the All Stars kick up the tempo a notch, which is typical for many renditions of this standard that are not modeled on Coleman Hawkins’ classic rendition.

Back ‘O’ Town Blues is a vocal feature for Louis with Teagarden adding some verbal comments as well as his bluesy trombone solo before Louis takes off in flight which he follows with a spirited High Society, with marvelous clarinet by Bigard, although the tempo may be a bit too fast. Teagarden and Armstrong handle the vocals on Do You Know What It Means, before the All Stars close on The Huckle-Buck, with Ms. Middleton taking the mike.

A very enjoyable collection of performances and valuable for documenting a live performance of the Armstrong’s early Allstars.

This review appeared in slightly different form in the April 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 303). I believe I received my review copy from that publication. This is still available.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

RIP Lionel Batiste

I first met Lionel Batiste when the Tréme Brass Band played the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in the mid-nineties. He was an institution in his home town, beloved by musicians and music lovers (to use the term of Kermit Ruffins). I just found about his passing and just want to express my sadness. He brought so much happiness to so many.

Keith Spera had an obituary of him at nola.com that I am linking, http://www.nola.com/music/index.ssf/2012/07/uncle_lionel_batiste_treme_bra.html

The image at the top was taken at a salute to him 15 years ago during jazzFest at the Funky Butt. The image at the bottom was taken at the 2005 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Duke Ellington and Orchestra in Zurich with Special Guest Don Byas

TCOB Music calls itself The Montreux Jazz Label ™ and has several different series which can be distinguished by the color of the CD spine. Red is devoted to bebop, hardbop and postbop, green is devoted to the Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series and has vintage jazz concerts recorded by Swiss radio (I have heard an excellent live Art Blakey set), while blue is devoted to the music of the forties and fifties in general. One of the recent productions in the blue series presents vintage Duke Ellington & Orchestra.

Live in Zurich, Switzerland presents a May 1950 performance by Ellington in Zurich that certainly will be welcomed by fans of the Duke Ellington. The Ellington Orchestra that day included trumpeters Harold Baker, Ernie Royal and Ray Nance; trombonists Lawrence Brown and Quentin Jackson; saxophonists Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Jimmy Hamilton and special guest Don Byas; the Duke and Billy Strayhorn sharing the piano chair, Wendell Marshall on bass, and Butch Ballard sharing the drums with Sonny Greer.

In addition to Don Byas’ appearance here, the program is quite fresh opening with Suddenly It Jumped, before going into Ring Them Bells. Creole Love Call features Kay Davis’ remarkable vocalizing while Harry Carney gets to showcase his baritone on Paradise. Air Conditioned Jungle showcases Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet, while Byas shines on How High the Moon, which opens as a ballad for two or so minutes before the band kicks up the tempo first moderately, then ratchets it up into hyperdrive before Byas slows it down for its ending.

The Tattooed Bride, which was then a relatively recent composition of the Duke, is the lengthiest performance here with Lawrence Brown’s trombone and Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet prominent Billy Strayhorn takes the piano chair for the band’s his classic, Take the A Train, while Frankie and Johnny features a healthy does of rollicking stride piano from the Duke, some violin from Ray Nance and more clarinet from Hamilton.

More piano is heard in the introductory portion of Rockin’ in Rhythm. Johnny Hodges’ alto is featured on the tone poem, Violet Blue, and the hot blues, Jeep is Jumping. It likely is Ray Nance handling the vocal on W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues, while trumpeter Ernie Royal is showcased on S’Wonderful, opening first using a mute before launching into his bop-inflected saxophone. This is a very welcome addition to the Ellington discography with its interesting personnel and the very interesting selection of material. The sound of this live recording sounds pretty good as well.

This review appeared in slightly different form in the April 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 303). I believe I received my review copy from that publication. This is still available including as mp3s.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Lil ‘Ed & The Blues Imperials Jump Start Their Houserocking Blues

Alligator Records has just released the labels eighth album by Lil ‘Ed & The Blues Imperials, “Jump Start. Only Magic Slim and the Teardrops has a lengthier tenure of playing down classic Chicago blues and like Slim, Lil ‘Ed Williams benefits from having stability in his group. In fact, the present line-up of cousin James ‘Pookie’ Young on bass; Michael Garrett on second guitar and Kelly Littleton on drums has been together for nearly 25 years, since right before Ed’s second album, Chicken Gravy & Biscuits. This helps explain the tightness of the performances heard here.

Fans of Lil ‘Ed & the Blues Imperials will find little new on this collection of hard driving slide blues and Chicago shuffles. With the exception of a J.B. Hutto cover, Ed wrote or co-wrote the songs here. There is a mix of a slow, straight blues such as You Burnt Me, where after being left out on the street Ed asks why would he want her back, and the amusing slide-burner Born Loser, on which Ed sings about living on the edge and walk on the wild side but opportunity knocked and his door was locked, and murphy’s law is his motto. On the driving House of Cards, Ed tells his woman that she was living in a dream and the game has turned around and her house of cards is tumbling down after dealing Ed a bad hand with her dating another man.

Jump Right In, is an amusing song about this woman telling him to jump right in to the pool and she’ll teach him to swim and when he is ready for his swimming test she’ll take him to her deep end. Michael Garrett takes the solo on this. Marty Sammon’s organ adds atmospheric to Life Is A Journey, which he wants to share with his woman. Musical Mechanical Electrical Man musically channels uncle J.B. Hutto’s Please Help, as he tells his woman he will fix her up as he has a plan. Ed’s evokes his uncle further on his fervently performed cover of Hutto’s “If You Change Your Mind” with Sammon adding piano behind Ed’s passionate sining and driving slide guitar. It may be the stand-out performance on an album that is consistently entertaining and full of heartfelt blues.

Like the entire body of recordings by Lil ‘Ed and the Blues Imperials, Jump Start will get the party rocking with its good-time houserockin’ blues.

I received a review copy from Alligator Records. Here is Lil 'Ed & the Blues Imperials at the 1993 Pocono Blues Festival. I was at this show. Nearly two decades later they are still going strong.