Thursday, September 18, 2014

How Long How Long Blues

Today's blog is devoted to simply presenting a number of renditions of a song most associated with Leroy Carr, How Long, How Long Blues. This was a major hot for Carr and became one of the true blues classics.

First up is Carr's original recording

Second is Tampa Red although I wish we just had the music, not the video and audio of a 78 playing.

Ida Cox's How Long Daddy speaks about that southbound train. It predates Carr's recording. Cox was one of the early blues greatest talents.

Kokomo Arnold also did a terrific rendition of this

Let us not forget some superb instrumental piano renditions including Count Basie

And no instrumemntal rendition touches me as much as that by the great Jimmy Yancey.

A year before he died, Jimmy Yancey did this with Mama Yancey singing wonderfully

Carr' song was a favorite of blues shouters like Jimmy Rushing, Jimmy Witherspoon and Big Joe Turner. Here is the Boss of the Blues singing it from the essential album The Boss of the Blues Sings Kansas City Jazz.

Other singer-pianists have done including Memphis Slim and Champion Jack Dupree. I have included Dupree's rendition from 1945.

It has been a song that jazz performers have interpreted such as Coleman Hawkins. There is a superb duet performance by Archie Shepp and pianist Horace Parlan on the terrific album Trouble in Mind. Here is Coleman Hawkins.

Among recent blues renditions, I consider the best to be from pianist Butch Thompson and guitarist Pat Donohue. Here is Thompson channeling Jimmy Yancey as I close this blog post.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Cookers Time and Time Again

Of course it is simplistic to describe The Cookers as an band of Hard Bop All Stars, but certainly the music here has its roots in the over 250 years of aggregate experience its members have. With one exception, Donald Harrison replacing Craig Handy on alto sax, the group’s line-up remains the same with Billy Harper on tenor sax, Dr. Eddie Henderson and David Weiss on trumpet; George Cables on piano, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums. The members of The Cookers have experience playing with some of the greatest jazz artists of the past half century including Art Pepper, Dexter Gordon, Lee Morgan, Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd, Max Roach, and Art Blakey. Additionally, every member is a leader of their own right as well as being notable composers and players.

Motema Music has issued their fourth CD, Time and Time Again and the album brings forth some vintage compositions such as Billy Harper’s Sir Galahad which was from his 1973 debut album Capra Black, while Cecil McBee contributes two new compositions. Other compositions are from the pens of Cables, Weiss and Hart for a program of music whose vitality is convincing proof that band’s name is deserved on the nine performances heard here

The tone is set with the opening Sir Galahad which opens with some very robust playing from Hart, followed by Weiss, Harrison and Cables. McBee’s original blues Slippin’ and Slidin’ provides a chance for the members to show the continual relevance of the blues with Harper, Weiss and McBee showcased with fine work. Cables Double Or Nothing is another burner with Harrison and Weiss shining before Hart explodes in his solo. It is followed by Cables tribute to the late Mulgrew Miller, Farewell Mulgrew with Weiss’ providing the horns arrangement whose ensemble playing sets the atmosphere for Cables playing being stately and moving. Harper again displays just how riveting a tenor saxophonist he is on Weiss Three Fall followed by the composer’s hot trumpet and terrific support from the rhythm section.

The title track, a Harper original is built upon a bass ostinato from McBee and includes more stirring playing from Harper, Henderson and Cables along with the superb rhythm section. The mix of strong compositions, solid ensemble playing with the superb rhythm section and the mix of technical mastery, passion, imagination and inventiveness make Time and Time Again another outstanding recording by The Cookers.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video related to Sir Galahad and the album.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Corey Harris - Fulton Blues

Corey Harris’ Fulton Blues, originally issued by Corey, has been reissued with a couple of bonus tracks added on Blues Boulevard Records. As noted on his Corey’s website, “Fulton is a community in Richmond, VA that is older than the city itself. From its docks on the James River, the first African captives were marched to the city’s slave market to be sold into bondage. This Black town on the east end of the city endured for more than 300 years until its land was seized and the families living there were forcibly evicted in the name of greed masquerading as progress.”

Fulton Blues presented some new and classic blues songs and “the fourteen songs on the album range from love, loss and longing to celebration, tragedy and triumph.” In addition to Corey Harris vocals, guitar and banjo, others on this recording include Chris ‘Peanut’ Whitley on keyboards; Gordon ‘Saxman’ Jones on saxophones and horn arrangements; Jason “Brother’ Morgan on bass; Ken ‘Trini Jo’ Joseph on drums, Hook Herrera on harmonica and Joshua Achalam on percussion.

This is the first recording I have heard Harris in a urban blues setting as on the opening Crying Blues, a lyric of lonesomeness with Saxman Jones providing simple horn riffs in support. It sounds like he may be playing two saxophones at the same time which may account for the somewhat simplistic horn arrangements. The solo Underground sounds like a blues about the underground railroad with its allusions to the devil being out on in the broad daylight and how the devil broke up the family. With its simple backing that evokes the late Ali Farka Toure, and Harris’ performance here is similarly mesmerizing. A solo original, Black Woman Blues, exhibits a John Lee Hooker-North Mississippi Hills groove.

While Harris is known is best known for his adaptation of delta styled blues, the title track is a start lyric about the now gone community set against a adept Piedmont finger style accompaniment with Herrera adding support. Herrera is also present on Harris’ moving rendition of Skip James’ classic Devil Got My Woman. Harris’ banjo feature, Black Rag is a lively number with lyrics suggestive of Blind Willie McTell’s Kill It Kid Rag, and also sports a nice saxophone break. An insistent R&B styled rendition of Catfish Blues, has strong sax playing. It is followed by a delightful cover of Blind Blake’s That Will Happen No More, and then Lynch Blues with an accompaniment that evokes Cherry Ball Blues, but stark lyrics that open “What do I see hangin’ beneath the tree …” Harris’ deep singing, his repeated guitar riffs and Herrera’s harmonica make for a deeply moving performance.

The original release of Fulton Blues closed with the full band on an instrumental Fat Duck’s Groove, that allowed Harris to display his electric guitar playing with his crisp and clean fretwork. A couple of live performances are bonus tracks that were not included on the original release. Both Better Way and Esta Loco reflect Caribbean influences on Harris, ska on the former and latin on the latter. These are pleasant performances, if not having quite the gravitas of the rest of this CD. Fulton Blues is an impressive recording that illustrates Corey Harris’ ability to revive and invigorate older blues songs and styles. 

I received my copy from the publicist or the record company. I had purchased a copy of the original release. Here is Crying Blues from Fulton Blues.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Nighthawks 444

It has been a couple of years since The Nighthawks had a new recordings and EllerSoul has just issued 444. This is the second CD since drummer Mark Stutso joined original Nighthawk, Mark Wenner (harmonica), Paul Bell (guitar) and Johnny Castle (bass) and is a nice mix of blues and real rock and roll that continues the band’s four decades plus musical journey.

The music is a mix of originals and forgotten musical gems such as The Du Droppers Walk That Walk that kicks this disc off on a rocking groove followed by a solid rendition of the Tracy Nelson-Gary Nicholson Living the Blues that showcases Wenner’s formidable harmonica playing along with the crisp instrumental and vocal backing. Castle wrote 444 A.M. which provided the album with its title with Bell adding some rockabilly touches on his solo (reminiscent of Castle’s one-time employer, Bill Kirchen) on a bit of kick-ass rock and roll. Stutso takes the vocal on the impressive bluesy reworking of You’re Gone, a bluegrass original borrowed from Stutso’s brother-in-law.

Wenner’s Honky Tonk Queen comes off as a cross of early seventies Rolling Stones and honky tonk country followed by the hot rockabilly reworking of Got a Lot of Livin’ from Elvis’ movie Lovin’ You. In contrast the rendition of Crawfish, from the film, King Creole, has a swampy feel. Castle sings High Snakes, a moody lament of lost love, that he co-wrote with Bill Kirchen. Stutso provides a forceful vocal on a Gary Nicholson’s Nothin’ But The Blues. Wenner does a straight cover of the Muddy Waters classic, Louisiana Blues, before the album closes with Castle’s lovely country-folk number Roadside Cross that closes this recording on a different musical tenor.

444 is more of a roots recording with country and rock influences mixed with the band’s blues foundations. Solidly played and performed, the appeal of 444 will extend beyond the band’s existing fans to those who love American roots music.

I purchased this as well as subsequently received a review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video of them in performance doing a couple songs from the recording.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

John Mayall - A Special Life

John Mayall returns with his first album in 5 years, “A Special Life” (Forty Below Records) with Rocky Athas on guitar; Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums with C.J. Chenier singing on two tracks and playing accordion on one. There are three new Mayall originals along with one of his older compositions and one by Rzab, to go along with covers of songs from Clifton Chenier, Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Sonny Landreth, Albert King, and Jimmy McCracklin.

While one might be hard-pressed to call myself a Mayall follower, I found this recording enjoyable with several real fine performances here. The CD opens with C.J. joining Mayall on a solid rendition of Clifton Chenier’s blues Where Did You Go Last Night.  C.J. plays his piano accordion to go  with Mayall’s piano  on this performance played at such a nice tempo. The rendition of Sonny Landreth’s Speak of the Devil is more in the vein of blues-rock in its execution and Athas’ guitar playing although crisply played is in this vein. Mayall’s cover of Jimmy Rogers classic That’s All Right is taken a bit faster than normal (although not rushed or frantic). Mayall's  harmonica and Athas’ guitar accompaniment are effective in its simplicity and restraint. World Gone Crazy is an original about the madness we experience throughout the world as we are “guilty living in our crazy times.”

Mayall is on lead guitar (and contributes the organ backing) on a cover of Albert King’s Floodin’ In California, and takes a nice solo, if somewhat generic sounding one. He picks up the harmonica as well lay down some rollicking piano on a reworking of Eddie Taylor’s recording of Big Town Playboy (Little Johnny Jones had recorded it first) that is one of the best selections here with its peppy (not frenzied) shuffle groove. The title track is a reflective look back at the good fortune he has enjoyed with a refreshingly understated backing. C.J. Chenier joins to help on the vocal for McCracklin’s I Want To Know. Like a Fool by Athas and Rzab is a nice slow original with Mayall singing that it ain’t right his woman toys with his affections and left him feeling like a fool.

The closing Just a Memory is a wistful Mayall original reflecting about a past love and closes this release on an enjoyable note. John Mayall’s music might not make my best of 2014 list, but there are more than enough pleasures to enjoy in A Special Life.
I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the opening track Where Did You Go Last Night. The youtube post includes a link to purchase this on amazon.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ruthie Foster Sees The Promise of a Brand New Day

Ruthie Foster is one of the most thrilling singers in American vernacular music today. A singer and songwriter with roots in gospel and classic R&B, she has also been embraced by roots and blues audiences for her stirring performances. For her most recent recording Promise of a Brand New Day (Blue Corn Music), she recruited Meshell Ndegeocello to produce it (as well as contribute bass). Ndegeocello observed that she “wanted this album to highlight Ruthie’s voice and also communicate her vibe, give a fuller picture of her artistry and ability. She really trusted me with the music and I think we've made something that complements and holds its own alongside the power of her voice.”

Ndegeocello played bass and enlisted her regular guitarist, Chris Bruce (Sheryl Crow), and keyboardist Jebin Bruni (Aimee Mann), plus drummer Ivan Edwards and backing vocalist Nayanna Holley. Foster did request two special guests: guitarist Doyle Bramhall II and singer Toshi Reagon. Promise of a Brand New Day includes seven songs written or co-written by Foster, most of them “songs with messages—because that’s important to what I do,” she explains. “Maybe that’s from growing up with people like Mavis [Staples] and a lot of strong women who have come before me, who are great singers but also have a message.” Furthermore the other songs themselves are also very strong in this same manner.

Singing the Blues is a strong R&B performance about finding a new home, writing a new song, and finding a rhythm to help her get through things as she keeps singing the blues which never gets old to her. Let Me Know, which features Doyle Bramhall II’s guitar, has a gospel-inflected vocal set against a steady rocking groove which contrasts with the country soul feel of My Kinda Lover. The Ghetto was originally recorded by The Staples Singers with its evocative lyrics that bring inner city life alive while the late Willie King’s Second Coming is a folk-blues protest song noting that they could kill Ruthie’s body but not kill her mind like they could kill John Brown but not his mind. With the simple acoustic guitar backing and spare organ accompaniment it is a powerful performance.

Other remarkable songs include a collaboration with Stax legend William Bell, It Might Not Be Right, about gay love where she notes that it might not be right for some folk, but it is all right for this girl. Other songs include the ballad Learning to Fly, with its memorable line “Everybody knows that a seed must die so a flower must grow” sung with the warmth and genuineness that marks Foster’s singing throughout. After the moving a cappella Brand New Day there is, Complicated Love, a bittersweet song of dealing with difficult times in a relationship.

It has been said that some singers could make reciting the phone book sound good. Ruthie Foster makes one want to recite it with her. Promise of a Brand New Day is simply the latest marvelous chapter in her body of recordings.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is her singing Brand New Day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

B.B. King: The Life of Riley

B.B. King: The Life of Riley (Emperor Media/MVDVisual) is a documentary film by John Brewer that traces the King of the Blues career from his days growing up as a poor Black in Mississippi to his present iconic musical stature reflected by the countless awards he has received including the Kennedy Center Honors and the Polar Music Prize. The film is narrated by Morgan Freeman and incorporates interview clips from King, childhood acquaintances, music peers, and contemporary rock artists who have been influenced by King’s music, particularly his guitar playing.

The documentary traces Riley King from his very humble beginnings growing up in a plantation economy to his emergence as a major rhythm and blues artist to the period of crossing over and his current status as a musical icon. There are interviews which those who knew B.B. when he was growing up along with folks who played a part in his emerging career including Rufus Thomas, Joe Bihari (who produced so many of B.B.’s greatest recordings for the Modern group of labels) and Robert Lockwood as we get the picture of the plantation youngster who develops his musical skills, becomes a music personality and becomes a consistent recording star while starting a grind of hundreds of touring dates a year that he only is starting to slow down from today.

The film takes us from these humble beginnings to his iconic status today as his crossover from the Chitlin Circuit to the mass market is detailed with discussions of his signing to ABC-Paramount; the recording of The Thrill Is Gone; the performance and recording of Live at Cook County Jail: his participation in the legendary concert associated with the Ali-Foreman Rumble in the Jungle; other recording sessions including those with Leon Russell and members of the Crusaders; and his collaborations with Eric Clapton and U2. In addition to appreciations from a various pop-rock luminaries including Clapton; Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi; Kenny Wayne Shepard, Carlos Santana, Slash and others, there are a variety of performance clips including some from his appearance on Ralph Gleason’s Jazz Casual TV show, and some from a recent DVD of a concert at Royal Albert Hall (I cannot recommend the DVD from this performance). Also included is a clip of King receiving the Polar Music Award (the equivalent of a Nobel Prize) from Swedish King Gustav.

There is little, if anything, about King’s very successful collaboration with Bobby Bland in the mid-70s (and a clip from Soul Train of the two would have been quite enjoyable). Also, while some of B.B.’s band members are interviewed, one wishes that they had interviewed folks like Ron Levy (who played piano with B.B. in the 1970s (he was with B.B. King in Africa) and whose stories about playing with King would have been enlightening). Also in lieu of, or in addition to, the rock stars, it would have been illuminating if more performers of color, such as his contemporary Lloyd Price (who would have insights on the African concert that Price helped organize), and contemporary guitarists such as Vernon Reid and James Blood Ulmer, had been asked for their insights with respect to B.B. King’s influence and legacy. Extras in the DVD package include a portion of the  Royal Albert Hall concert and some interviews with some of the rock stars who appear in this documentary. Life of Riley is a well put together documentary that the general audience should enjoy, although long-time King followers will be not fully satisfied with it.

I received a review copy from the MVD Entertainment Group. Here is a trailer for the film.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Christian Jacob's Beautiful Jazz: A Private Concert

Raised as a classical pianist, exposure to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five at the age of 9, turned Christian Jacob onto jazz. The pianist continued studying classical piano (he studied at the Paris Conservatory) but after finishing these studies he attended Berklee where he studied and played with Herb Pomeroy, Phil Wilson, Hal Crook, and Gary Burton amongst others. He is perhaps best known for being co-leader, arranger and pianist with the Tierney Sutton Band. He has also performed with (amongst others) Maynard Ferguson (who produced his first albums), Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, Randy Brecker, Miroslav Vitous, Benny Golson and Bill Holman. Now he has produced his first solo piano recording, Beautiful Jazz: A Private Concert, (Wilder Jazz) with his renditions of thirteen timeless standards.

This was recorded in Los Angeles at the Zipper Concert Hall on a Hamburg Steinway Model D Grand, although without a live audience and the sound is wonderful, although one may need to listen on headphones, or turn up the volume, to hear all the nuances of Christian Jacob’s playing. It goes without saying that he brings considerable technique to his interpretations of such songs as How Long Has This Been Going On, That’s All, It Might As Well Be Spring, Tea For Two, One Note Samba, Body and Soul and Giant Steps, along with Stravinsky’s Etude No. 4 F# Major. This latter number might be the simple best example of his piano technique while the other performances display his lyricism and thoughtful improvisations with the performances of That’s All, My Romance, Tea For Two, One Note Samba, and Giant Steps standing out, along with remarkable interpretations of Body and Soul and September Song.

Beautiful Jazz is an appropriate title as this is an album full of fresh, thoughtful, and lovely interpretations of the standards heard here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. While not a solo performance, here is Christian Jacob playing in his trio.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

New Dr. John CD Is Good But Little Spirit of Satchmo

Purported to be a tribute to Louis Armstrong, Dr. John’s new Concord Records album even reflects that in its title, She-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit Of Satch. Listening to this I find it more satisfying as listening to this as simply a Dr. John album with songs somehow associated with Louis Armstrong. With arrangements primarily by his trombonist Sarah Morrow and the good Doctor, the music is more in the spirit of Dr. John and for a tribute to a gentleman whose legacy might be summed up by a title he recorded, Swing That Music, there is little swing but plenty of funk. This is despite the presence of such marvelous guests as Nicholas Payton, Terence Blanchard, Wendell Brunious, James Andrews, the Five Blind Boys, Ledisi, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Bonnie Raitt, Shemekia Copeland, the Dirty Dozen and Arturo Sandoval along with Reginald Veal, Herlin Riley, Pancho Sanchez and Ed Petersen among those playing on these sessions.

One does notice the omission of anyone with direct ties to Louis Armstrong here such as Jewel Brown who was a member of Armstrong’s touring band for years, and Catherine Russell, daughter of Luis Russell, the leader Louis Armstrong’s big band for years before in disbanded. Russell herself has revived a number of Armstrong songs on her wonderful recent recordings (and most definitely in the spirit of Satchmo) and would have made as wonderful a participant as anybody here.

Looking at the material, there are only a few numbers that have a strong connection with Armstrong and core to his performance while several core songs of Armstrong’s music including When It’s Sleepy Time Down South (Armstrong’s theme song) and When the Saints Go Marching In (Armstrong’s recording with his big band popularized a number that has become overplayed perhaps).  That’s My Home is a musical cousin to Sleepy Time, and one can understand Dr. John being uncomfortable with the its lyrics. While Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child was performed by Armstrong, and is a nice vehicle for singer Anthony Hamilton, there is nothing about this song or performance that makes one think of Armstrong. The same can be said with Sweet Hunk O’Trash that Armstrong performed with Billie Holiday in a movie and seems to be chosen as a vehicle for a duet with Copeland. Armstrong played on the original Trouble in Mind, and one wonders that a more inspired vehicle for Copeland might have been this with simply Dr. John and just Nicholas Payton on trumpet.

There is a lovely rendition of What a Wonderful World (although hardly a core part of Armstrong’s repertoire when he was alive) with the Five Blind Boys to open this album and there is a fresh, funk and hip-hop rendition of “Mack the Knife” with Mike Ladd adding a rap. Also Tight Like That, with Arturo Sandoval’s trumpet is totally reworked into a Latin number. The duet with Bonnie Raitt on I’ve Got the World on a String is nice but the only thing Dr. John’s “Gut Bucket Blues” has in common with Armstrong’s Hot Five recording is its title. The performance bears little resemblance to Armstrong’s original although Payton is brilliant here and it is a nice blues vocal and performance. Despite some bombast in the arrangement, Dippermouth Blues is also far removed from King Oliver’s original or the various renditions (including under the name Sugarfoot Stomp, and becomes rollicking New Orleans funk with James Andrews (Trombone Shorty’s brother) playing  hot trumpet while Doctor John sings some scat phrases he wrote (including the title of this album), That’s My Home is one of the songs here that most evokes Armstrong’s music as does Memories of You with some outstanding playing from trumpeter Sandoval.

The closing When You’re Smiling, with the Dirty Dozen, has a lively Afro-Cuban groove and a solid vocal from the good Doctor. And there is certainly nothing to fault Dr. John’s performances here. The problem is the subtitle of the album, The Spirit of Satch. If you simply called this Ske-Dat-De-Dat, I suspect few would make a connection with Louis Armstrong from listening to it other than observe several songs were associated with Armstrong. At the same time, viewed as a Dr. John album it certainly will appeal to his many fans and on that basis I have no problem recommending this.

 I received a review copy from Concord Records. Here is the song Gutbucket Blues as performed by Dr. John followed by the Armstrong Hot Five recording, Gutbucket Blues.