Saturday, April 23, 2016

Hendrik Meurkens Harmonicus Rex

The remarkable jazz harmonica wizard, Hendrik Meurkens, may be best known for his magic in the realm of Brazilian jazz, but on his latest release, "Harmonicus Rex," his focus is on straight ahead jazz. On this session he is joined by the legendary Jimmy Cobb on drums, along with bassist Marco Panascia and pianist Dado Moroni. Joe Magnarelli on trumpet and Anders Bostrom on alto flute are each heard on four of the eleven tracks (one on which they both are heard). The program on this release are five originals as well as six interpretations of standards.

Meurkens' "Mundell's Mood" is a bright, swinging number that opens this with the leader and Magnarelli stating the theme before the trumpeter takes the first solo before Meurkens takes the first of his solos on his chromatic harmonica with his melodic invention and horn like phrasing (if not tone) at the fore before a break from Moroni with Magnarelli and the leader trading fours prior to the coda. Its the beginning of a delightful, and wide-ranging, recording with the rhythm section exemplary throughout. The groove of Meurkens' "Slidin'" has Meurkens sounding a bit more wistful at first before he solos vigorously followed by Bostrom's lovely flute.

Moroni rumbles a bit to set the mood for a lovely quartet rendition of Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way." Then there is a lovely, bluesy original ballad performance, "Afternoon" with Magnarelli on flugelhorn contributing to the mood that Meurkens' engenders here. Both Magnarelli and Bostrom are present for the lively rendition of Milt Jackson's blues, "SKJ," while Meurkens' fluidity, melodic playing and invention is showcased on the Rodgers-Hart classic "Falling in Love With Love," with Moroni and Panascia also showcased. "A Summer in San Francisco" is a lovely, lazy original that features Bostrom while Magnarelli adds his bright tone to a relaxed, rendition of Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring."

The album closes with marvelous quartet performances of the standards "Darn That Dream" and "What's New." And one cannot emphasize how exceptional the rhythm section is throughout nearly one hour of delightful, straight-ahead jazz on "Harmonicus Rex."

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here Meurkens is heard performing "Up Jumped Swing" with Cobb and Moroni by Ray Drummond on bass.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue

The eponymously titled Electro-Fi album by the Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue brings together singer and harmonica player Mark Hummel with guitarists Little Charlie Baty and Anson Funderburgh, R.W. Grisby on bass and Wes Starr on drums. They are friends although only some have played together prior to this revue. They are joined by Jim Pugh on keyboards, along with saxophonists Eric Spaulding and Jack Sanford for this recording that Chris "Kid" Andersen recorded at his Greaseland Studios.

Its a terrific set of all blues with any lumpy or rocky filler that contains a mix of interpretations of  lesser known blues gems along with originals penned by Hummel. Hummel has been and remains a real good vocalist and here this starts with the opening rendition of Gatemouth Brown's "Midnight Hour." In addition to Hummerl's vocal there is  plenty of slashing guitar by Baty and Funderburgh, both of whom delight with their contrasting styles. Hummel plays harp on Billy Boy Arnold's "Here's My Picture," followed by Hummel's original shuffle "Prove It To Me" with some greasy fafisa sounding organ and terrific guitar (I suspect from Charlie Baty). Hummel's moody "Cool to Be Your Fool," with backing from just piano and rhythm, borrows the "Sittin' on Top of the World" melody.

Lowell Fulson's "Check Yourself" takes listeners  into a jump blues vein with Hummel taking a harp solo followed by some blistering playing (likely from Funderburgh). Baty trades fours with Hummel's harp in the relaxed rendition of Mose Allison's "Stop This World," with Pugh terrific again. An older Jimmy McCracklin tune "Take a Chance," takes us uptown on a rocking number that sounds like it would have if Junior Parker had done it. "Walking With Mr. Lee" is a terrific feature for Hummel's harp, while the Grisby penned "Detroit Blues," is a nice lazy Jimmy Reed-style shuffle. Among the other selections is a solid cover of J.B. Hutto's "Dim Lights" if Hummel can't match the fervor of Hutto, it still has terrific slide guitar.

This is a terrific revue and reports of their shows seems consistent with the music here. The performances are marvelously performed and backed by an excellent rhythm section. Fans of real deal blues are in for a treat with this gem.

I received my copy from a publicist. Here is a recent performance by them.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Guy King Truth

It was at the Montreal Jazz Festival that I first discovered the Israeli-born, Chicago blues guitarist and vocalist Guy King and was first struck by King's sophisticated and jazz-inflected blues. I believe it was the following summer when I was in Chicago for business when Dick Shurman recommended catching him at Andy's Jazz Club where he was leading his jazz organ combo on a set that was musically different, but equally satisfying. When word came out that Shurman was producing an album by King for Delmark, I was delighted, and the recently issued CD, "Truth," fulfills expectations.

Writer (and songwriter) David Ritz, in the liner notes, credits Buddy Guy for telling him about King This led to Ritz catching him a number of times and becoming impressed by King's vocals (Ritz notes the influence of Ray Charles and Percy Mayfield) and  guitar playing (influences include Wes Montgomery, Albert King, B.B. King, Albert Collins, and Johnny Guitar Watson) lending to King developing his own personal approach to blues and jazz. His blues on this CD has a jazzy, swinging flavor, yet retaining plenty of of grit and funk. King is backed by a sextet and produces strong renditions of songs associated with Charles, B.B. King and others along with three originals co-written with Ritz, and a fresh original instrumental.

The Ray Charles flavor is more felt in the arrangements of several songs and some of King's vocal phrasing as opposed to trying to capture Charles' gospel inflected sound. This can be heard on the opening rendition of Charles' "The Same Thing That Can Make You Laugh (Can Make You Cry)." Here King's fervent singing is complemented by some Albert King-styled fretwork with brassy horn riffs accenting his driving solo. The title track is one of the King-Ritz collaborations with an urbane, jazzy flavor matching some smoldering singing.

The King-Ritz song, "My Happiness," is a delightful vocal duet with Sarah Marie Young, and King channeling B.B. King in a manner that also evokes the late gentleman of the blues, Johnnie Bassett. It is followed by a cover of the late Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's "It's About The Dollar Bill," that captures the funky spirit of the Gangster of Love's original, both in the rendition and King's guitar playing here. The last King-Ritz collaboration, "A Day In A Life With The Blues," is a late night blues with outstanding contributions from Christopher Neal on tenor sax and Marques Carroll on trumpet.

Also nice are covers of B.B. King's 'Bad Case of Love," and the Doc Pomus-Dr. John penned "There Must Be A Better World Somewhere." Guy King captures much of the humor inherent in Percy Mayfield's "Cookin' in Style," with Amr Marcin Fahmy on Fender Rhodes and Carroll on trumpet spotlighted while ably crooning on "I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues." This latter number spotlights his fleet jazz-inflected playing here (debts to Wes and Grant Green amongst others). "King Thing" is a strong guitar feature set against a relaxed groove. Among the other delights is a cover of Albert King's recording, "If The Washing Didn't Get You (The Rinsing Will)," as King's vocal captures the lyric's ironic humor while King's guitar pays homage to Albert King.

If there was one quibble, it might be King's versatility has him heard in several different styles as opposed to there being a specific Guy King style (such as one heard from Ray Charles or Albert King). Some will not find that an issue and, in any event, this is an excellent recording.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here Guy King performs "If The Washing Didn't Get You (The Rinsing Will)."

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ernie Watts' Wheel of Time

"Wheel of Time" is veteran saxophonist Ernie Watt's latest release on Watts' Flying Dolphin Records label. On this he is backed by his European Quartet consisting of pianist Christof Saenger, bassist Rudi Engel and drummer Heinrich Koebberling. This band has been together for 15 years and each members has contributed to the originals here along with four new ones from Watts. The title track is a dedication to the late Charlie Haden with whom Watts played in Haden's Quartet West for 30 years. Also included is an interpretation of Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge."

The Quartet is a terrific band su[p[orting the veteran saxophonist whose career spans from the sixties until today. Watts continues to display a vibrant, expressive sound and dynamic attack although I find his vibrato on the opening "Letter From Home," somewhat harsh which detracts from my enjoyment of the track despite his invention and the energy his playing displays. More satisfying is his energetic rendition of "Inner Urge," while "Andi's Blues" is a nifty blue performance with bassist Engel and pianist Saenger both taking solid solos. Watts' own high energy blues playing is followed by Koebberling nimbly using his brushes.

"L'Agua Azul" is a terrific Brazilian jazz performance on which Watts displays a softer side while the aptly titled "Velocity" is a torrid workout that is influenced by "Giant Steps." It further showcases the leader's virtuosity. The title track opens with Engel's bass, then becoming a lovely duet with Watts before the full quartet enters. Saenger and Koebberling exercise restraint in their accompaniment and  Saenger'ss solo is a marvelous example of taste and restraint, before Engel eloquently takes out this moving performance.

Ernie Watts continues to be a formidable saxophonist who brings considerable passion and invention to his music. His European Quartet does a superb job in accompanying him and making their own statements on a fine recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here us a performance by The Ernie Watts Quartet.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

M.S.G. Acoustic Blues Trio - The Flood

While M.S.G. Acoustic Blues Trio, has issued their fourth recording, "The Flood," which was produced by Cathy Fink and wonderfully recorded by Jim Robeson with appearances by Cathy Fink, Phil Wiggins, David Jackson, Ralph Gordon and others. M.S.G. consists of Jackie Merritt (vocals, harmonica, uke bass, soprano uke and guitar); Miles Spicer (vocals and guitar); and Resa Gibbs (vocals, washboard,cigar box strumstick, bike horn and bells). Jackie Merritt did the marvelous graphic design and cover art.

I have known Miles for years as a member of the D.C. Blues Society, and Jackie and Resa as M.S.G. started performing after meeting at the late Archie Edwards' Barbershop. I have had the pleasure of attending their concerts and house parties and have observed how wonderful performers they are. On this latest release they revisit songs they have recorded before, such as Resa's riveting rendition of John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery," along with new songs, some from the pens of Miles and his collaborator David Bird, and dome from Jackie Merritt.

The title track from Miles and Bird is a driving trio number followed by Jackie's original "Money Makes You Crazy."  Her vocal here is supported by harmonies from Resa and Miles as well as the trio's hand jive. Resa sings wonderfull on a fresh acoustic reworking of Fats Domino's "Going to the River." It is followed by a stunning rendition of Son House's "Grinnin' In Your Face." Backed by just her strumstick, she does not sing with the fervency of House's rendition, but her deliberate, well-paced rendition perhaps lead to the lyrics hitting deeper. Contrast this superb interpretation this to Tom Waits awful mimicry of House's "John the Revelator" on a recent Blind Willie Johnson tribute album.

Miles sings a lively updating of the late Archie Edwards' "I'm Down Today," about the sun going to sun shine on my back door some day;" while there a string-band, washboard feel on Jackie Merritt's "Front Porch Blues," a song remembering older and simpler days. Resa has a stunning a cappella vocal on the lament, "New Familiar," that Jackie Merritt wrote. There are also wonderful traditional performances of gospel numbers, "I'll Fly Away," and "Glory, Glory Hallelujah." Phil Wiggins adds his harmonica to that of Jackie on the latter number and also on a hauntingly beautiful harmonica duet rendition of "Amazing Grace," that leads into "Glory, Glory Hallelujah."

Frank Matheis' on the back cover describes the music of M.S.G. Acoustic Blues Trio as "a lovely amalgam of folk-roots-spirituals-blues." While their prior recordings have been excellent, I believe that "The Flood," with superb vocals and marvelous backing, is their finest recording.

I received my review copy from the group. Here is a rendition of "Angel From Montgomery."