Monday, December 15, 2014

Buddy Tate Is A Texas Tenor

Buddy Tate was both a band mate of, and successor to, fellow Texas tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans. Both had played together in Troy Floyd’s Band and when Evans passed away at a young age, Tate was called to replace him in the Count Basie Band. Like Evans, Tate had a big sound drenched in the blues and like Evans, his playing contrasted with Lester Young. His playing was typical of what has become known as the Texas Tenor sound which includes such other masters as Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb. After leaving Basie in 1949, Tate had a lengthy career leading his own Celebrity Club band in Harlem as well as extensively touring Europe. By the time the Sackville album, that Delmark recently reissued “Texas Tenor,” was recorded in 1978, many artists would travel as single artists and hook up with local rhythm sections. In the present case, Tate was hooked up with the terrific rhythm section of pianist Wray Downes, bassist Dave Young and drummer Pete Magadini for a session of ballads and standards.

This is a wonderful date full of swing and some marvelous ballad playing. The opening tunes “June Night” and “Someday Sweetheart” are swinging renditions of numbers that were popular in Tate’s youth. The latter number was recorded by Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver, although Tate’s version is more modern rhythmically than the versions by those pioneering jazz artists. “If You Could See Me Know” is a wonderful rendition of Tadd Dameron’s ballad displaying the warmth and tenderness generally characteristic of Tate with the rhythm section providing a light touch. The rhythm is hotter on the fine rendition of “I’ll Remember April,” with Downes adding some nice latin accents.

Tate is heard on clarinet on a bluesy take on “Georgia on My Mind,” followed by some somewhat breathy tenor on “Alone Together.” His swinging, nuanced tenor throughly delights on “Bye Bye Blackbird,” where his swinging, nuanced playing thoroughly delights. This Delmark reissue of the Sackville release includes two previously unissued selections, a lovely rendition of the Ellington-Strayhorn collaboration “Isfahan” (Tate evokes later day Ben Webster here), and “Lullaby of the Leaves” which provides another example of his clarinet playing with a woody, bluesy flavor.

Supported by a rhythm section, Tate is terrific throughout the marvelous “Texas Tenor.”

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is Tate doing the classic ballad "Blue and Sentimental."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Freddy Cole's Singing the Blues

There is an appealing weariness in Freddy Cole’s treatment of a Bobby Bland recording “This Time I’m Gone For Good,” that is on  his new High Note album, “Singing the Blues,” On this release, Cole handles classic blues themes and some originals that also include mournful ballads. Simply singing here, he is accompanied by John Di Martino on piano, Harry Allen on tenor sax, Randy Napoleon on guitar Elias Bailey on bass and Curtis Boyd on drums with Theresa Hightower sharing vocals on two of the eleven songs.

Derrick Lucas’ liner notes note that the music on this recording reflects the era in which Cole grew up that was “the final generation of African-Americans to view the blues as their own popular music and culture,” and the renditions contained “reflect the elegance of the blues represented by Charles Brown, Percy Mayfield, Amos Milburn and Ivory Joe Hunter and of course, Freddy’s brother Nat.”

It is 50 years ago when Freddy Cole recorded his first album that contained a rendition of Freddie Spruell’s “Muddy Water Blues.” His current rendition begins this CD in a very appealing manner. A real highlight is the rendition of “Goin’ Down Slow,” which reflects the Oliver Nelson-Stanley Turrentine rendition of the song that is set to the groove of Percy Mayfield’s “River’s Invitation.” Allen’s marvelous tenor sax and Napoleon’s fleet guitar evokes memories of Charles Brown’s terrific 1990s group with the late Clifford Solomon and Danny Caron. Another song that captures this ambiance is brother Nat’s “My Mother Told Me” with terrific short solos from Allen and Napoleon.

Cole’s relaxed vocal is matched with Theresa Hightower’s vivacious one of “All We Need Is a Place” about getting it on to snuggle and more. Cole penned the original blues that lends the album its title as he warns this girl she will be singing the blues one of these mornings, she will be miserable and while he won’t be happy, Freddy will feel great. “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men” is a moody lament about sad young men drifting through their lives while growing. Allen’s tenor adds to the melancholy of the performance.

Steve Allen’s “An Old Piano Plays the Blues” closes this album with Allen’s tenor again complementing Cole’s mournful vocal along with a deftly played solo from Di Martino. Freddy Cole’s “Singing the Blues” indeed captures the sophisticated eloquence of the blues of late forties and early fifties. Not simply Freddy Cole’s fans, but fans of the late Charles Brown and his contemporaries should enjoy this recording of late night blues and ballads.

I received my review copy from High Note Records.  Here Freddy Cole is performing Muddy Water Blues.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Charles Davis For the Love of Lori

With a six decade career that includes associations with such iconic artists as Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sun Ra, Ben Webster, Kenny Dorham, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, Illinois Jacquet, Freddie Hubbard, Johnny Griffin, Ahmad Jamal, John Coltrane, Clifford Jordan, Cedar Walton, Sam Jones, Billy Higgins and countless others, Charles Davis has not recorded as frequently as a leader as his talent as a saxophonist, composer and arranger merited. Perhaps best known as a baritone saxophonist, he is on tenor sax on his new recording “For the Love of Lori” (Reade Street Records). On this session he is joined by a superb band that includes pianist Rick Germanson; trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, trombonist Steve Davis; bassist David Williams and drummer Neil Smith.

The Lori, on the beautiful title track, is his late wife Lori Samet-Davis who passed away and the beautiful ballad is one way of his coping with the loss. His wife’s passing was not the only loss Davis suffered as his long-time musical collaborator, Cedar Walton, was supposed to be on this recording but passed away prior to the September 2013 recording date so Rich Germanson replaced him while Walton’s long-time bassist Williams helps anchor this album along with the marvelous drummer, Neil Smith.

The wonderful opening selection “Beques” displays the authority of the ensemble, whether soling or playing as an ensemble. Davis’ arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” provides a lazy feel and after Davis states the theme on tenor, Magnarelli mades judicious use of a mute before Steve Davis masterful solo which is one of the album’s many pleasures. Julian Priester’s “Juliano” is a bright swinger as Steve Davis swings gruffly followed by Magnarelli’s forceful trumpet that segues into the leader’s robust tenor as the rhythm section pushes the performance along (Germanson takes a well conceived solo as well). It is followed by the leader’s salute to Kenny Dorham, “KD” that spotlights Magnarelli’s lyrical and driving playing.

Charles Davis warmth, strength and lyricism as a ballad player is evident on the title track while Smith’s drumming is wonderful in adding embellishments under the solos and the ensemble portions. In addition to his wonderful playing, Germanson contributed the arrangement for the first-rate hard bop rendition of Cedar Walton’s “Cedar’s Blues,” which also allows him to stretch out with the first solo over Williams walking bass line and Smith’s subtle rhythmic accents. The closing “I'll Be Seeing You” is a nicely paced and wistful rendition of this standard.

From the loss of his soul mate and a close friend, Charles Davis has found the strength to bring together the excellent band and music that makes “For The Love of Lori” such a delightful and marvelous hard bop recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Charles Davis in performance.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold

Produced by Duke Robillard, Billy Boy Arnold’s new Stony Plain recording “The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold” has him performing songs he has long loved along with originals, early R&B songs, blues/jazz standards and some rare soul gems. Arnold’s vocals and harmonica are backed by Robillard’s guitar and band with Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira’s drums with a horn section of regular Robillard associates Rich Lataille, Mark Earley and Doug Wooverton.

Arnold can be an effective vocalist but with some exceptions, including a compelling West Side Chicago blues-styled remake of B.B. King’s “Worried Dream” (with some great Robillard guilt), and the classic Chicago blues shuffle groove of Arnold’s original “What’s on the Menu Mama,” most of this is simply pleasant. Arnold’s use of harp on an old Mack Rice soul classic “Coal Man” gives it a different flavor, but his limited range and simple vocal style doesn't render a strong impression on the old Eddie Miller classic “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” or “Nat Adderly’s “Work Song” (with Oscar brown’s lyrics). These are not bad performances, but there are many better recordings of “Muddy Water” (thinking Lou Rawls and Carmen Bradford) and Gregory Porter has placed his stamp on “Work Song.”

There is a nice variety of material and Duke has provided solid settings for Arnold’s singing with solid playing by all including nice slide guitar from Duke on “99 LBs.”  Bears plays some rollicking piano on ”Muddy Water,” and displays a jazzy touch on “St. James Infirmary.” Arnold adds nice harp throughout in his distinctive style and the ensemble give a touch of Southern Soul in the backing for the remakes of “Coal Man” and Joe Tex’s still relevant topical song “A Mother’s Prayer.” They also do a solid job in backing Arnold on a nicely done Ray Charles cover, “Don’t Set Me Free” 

The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold" is an enjoyable recording with a couple of stand-out selections.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is Billy Boy from several decades ago strongly singing a Jimmy McCracklin classic.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chris Smither Is Still On The Levee

Still on the Levee” (Homunculus Music/Mighty Albert) is a double disc retrospective of Chris Smither’s 50 odd year career in new June 2013 recordings. Smither is a singer-songwriter whose performances and songs have a Dylanesque flavor as well as deep blues roots in his direct finger style guitar playing. As Charlie Hunter, his former co-manager observes, Smither’s guitar style is 1/3 Mississippi John Hurt, 1/3 Lightnin’ Hopkins and 1/3 himself.

The two CDs cover a pretty wide range of songs by Smither and display his position as a significant composer and lyricist. There is the wistfulness of "Song of Susan" to a fine original blues "Another Way To Find You" that evokes Robert Johnson riffs with a heartfelt vocal and strong harmonica backing. Allen Toussaint adds his piano to "Train Home" that lends a slightly different flavor behind Smither's vocal as he waits for a train to take him home.

Smither's gravelly vocals have a restrained quality that adds to the appeal. "Lola" is a bluesy folk number with exceptional lyrics and restrained rollicking piano backing. "Shillin' For the Blues,” which features members of Morphine, has interesting backing including softly recorded baritone sax by Dana Colley. Loudon Wainwright III joins Smithers on the lively "What They Say."

With his world weary vocals and the deft, but restrained, accompaniment, it is no wonder that Smither's "Can't Shake These Blues" Produced by David Goodrich (who plays on much of this), “Still on the Levee” is a recording that showcases this remarkable singer-songwriter as he considers some of his favorite and most memorable songs.

I received this from a publicist. Here he performs in concert "Love You Like a Man."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Billy Branch Blues Shock

It has been years since Billy Branch’s last recording, a Japanese CD shared with guitarist Carlos Johnson, a decade ago. Thankfully Blind Pig has issued a new release by Branch and the Sons of the Blues, “Blues Shock,” that is a thoroughly entertaining, wonderfully played recording that showcases Branch’s heartfelt singing and songwriting on an imaginative, varied program. He is joined by Dan Carelli on guitar, Sumito ‘Ariyo’ Ariyoshi on keyboards, Nick Charles on bass and Moses Rutles Jr. on drums (and one vocal). Ronnie Baker Brooks guests on one track on guitar and vocal and the Chicago Horns led by Bill McFarland add punch to three tracks.

There is plenty of funk, down home groves and stellar musicianship. The CD opens with “Sons of the Blues” penned by Branch and poet Sterling Plumpp, on which Branch sings “some people don’t know my name because all they got is a very weak game, I am the son of the blues (2x).” Set against a strutting funk groove Branch lets us know he “is the man who makes the news” before blasting off a fiery harp solo set against the punchy horns. It’s followed by Branch picking up the chromatic for a terrific cover of “Crazy Mixed Up World,” which would make up Little Walter smile, especially his solo and special note should be made of the contributions Carelli and Ariyoshi provide with their fills in supporting the lead.

The title track is a punchy number built over Carelli’s slide guitar riff with the horns with Branch singing about a feeling coming over, it ain’t pneumonia or the flu, but its a crazy, funky feeling one can’t shake, the “Blues Shock.” It’s followed by the amusing “Dog House” as Branch and Brooks sing sleeping on the couch and the spouse leaving kibbles and bits for dinner. After this wonderfully paced performance, there is a straight cover of Shorty Long’s early Motown groover, “Function at the Junction” followed by the disc’s most remarkable performance, “Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time,” about Gerri Olivier who owned the legendary Palm Tavern in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood for about 50 years. The Palm was a legendary place near the Regal Theatre and Branch recounts her coming from Jackson, Mississippi as part of the Great Migration and celebrates the Palm and the many legends who performed there before the Palm was torn down a few years back. There is a definite country-soul flavor to this remarkable performance that serves as a tribute to a remarkable lady.

Ariyoshi contributed the instrumental “Back Alley Cat” which allows Branch to showcase his harp set against Ariyoshi’s rolling piano. A rousing boogie rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” is followed by Moses Rutles Jr.’s amusing vocal on”Slow Moe” highlighted by Rutles almost stuttering vocal and effective use of stop time by the band. Branch’s lyric about Slow Moe taking his time, as well as being built to last is supported by some superb harp in his backing. “Baby Let Me Butter Your Corn” is a burning shuttle with an amusing lyric (I’ll keep on churning till that butter comes”) and rollicking piano and harmonica solos.

An instrumental “Song For My Mother” closes this recording exhibiting his marvelous tone as well as his construction of his solo. It concludes one of the most stimulating recent blues recordings. “Blues Shock” mixes a variety of material and moods and will make one laugh as well as listen to Branch’s storytelling here along with some stunning musicianship.

I received my review copy from Blind Pig Records. Here is a video of "Blues Shock.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Linsey Alexander - Come Back Baby

I found Linsey Alexander’s first Delmark album, “Been There Done That” to be “the most impressive blues recording which is one of the finer blues albums I have heard this year (2012).” Now Delmark has issued his follow-up “Come Back Baby!” which has the singer and guitarist joined by a band that includes guitarist Breezy Rodio; keyboards from Roosevelt Purifoy, bassist Greg McDaniel and drummer Pooky Styx with Bill McFarland leading a horn section and Billy Branch contributing harmonica to three selections.

The album opens with “Little Bit of Soap,” one of two songs Alexander did not write. This is a terrific performance as he sings about washing this women out of his life with a great vocal and guitar that brings to mind seventies B.B. King. The album is at its best with his soulful vocals and clever lyrics. The playing behind him is strong and the one criticism I have on several selections would be the buzzsaw guitar tone on several selections including that heard on the intense original “I Got A Woman.” Perhaps the tone is supposed to match the intensity of his vocal her as he tears into the lyric of his woman being more woman than he will every need. The tone detracts from fully enjoying the fiery solo here. This tone is also employed on the reworking of “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” that provides a new arrangement for the Otis Rush classic recording. An excellent slow blues “Too Old To Be A New Fool” showcases some searing guitar with a cleaner tone along with superb chromatic harmonica from Branch.

Alexander’s wit is displayed on the shuffle “Call My Wife,” on which he wants his wife to open the door for poor Linsey, who is so drunk he lost he car and car keys. Billy Branch channels Rice Miller mixed with Walter Horton with some exquisite harmonica on this. Alexander is also known as “The Hootchie Man” as reflected in his funky dance number “Booty Call.” “Things Done Changed” has a serious lyric as Alexander as recalls Jim Crow days, segregated bus stations and buses and the like, set against horn riffs and a solid electric piano solo by the remarkable Purifoy (he also played a strong solo on “Booze and Blues’), followed by strong, stinging guitar.

Despite this writer's reservations on the guitar tone on several tracks (and others will disagree), “Come Back Baby" is a strongly performed recording that exhibits plenty of fire from Alexander with his fervent singing and searing guitar.

I received my review copy copy from Delmark Records. Here is the opening “Little Bit of Soap.”