Sunday, August 21, 2016

Uh Oh! It's Lou Caputo Not So Big Band

Lou Caputo Not So Big Band
Uh Oh!
JazzCat 47 Records

Lou Caputo's Not So Big Band is a working big band that has 12 pieces, not the typical sixteen piece or larger variety. It has been together for over ten years playing various venues in New York City. Caputo is a multi-instrumentalist heard here on various saxophones and flute who has played in various show bands ranging from Motown to Harry Connick Jr, as well as Howard Johnson's 5 Bari Saxophone Group (Beartones), Warren Smith's Jazz Composer's Orchestra and the Ellington and Basie bands.

Others in the Not So Big Band include percussionist Eddie Montalvo (Grammy nominee, Latin Grammy winner, Fania All-Stars), saxophonist Virginia Mayhew (Saxophone Journal Saxophonist of the Year), trumpeter John Eckart (performed with Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lee Konitz), legendary bassist and jazz author Bill Crow (performed with Gerry Mulligan and Phil Woods), Geoffrey Burke (performs with Harry Connick Jr.) and percussionist and vibraphonist Warren Smith who has performed with everyone from John Cage and Gil Evans to Barbra Streisand. I am most familiar with Smith's work and also guitarist Joel Perry who I met decades ago in Buffalo (and who also spent years playing second guitar behind legendary blues man, Johnny 'Clyde' Copeland).

This is a marvelous swinging modern big band recording with some terrific renditions of jazz staples from the pens of Joe Henderson, Leo Wright, Jack DeJohnette, Oliver Nelson, Bill Crow, Chick Corea Tadd Dameron, Dexter Gordon, Mary Lou Williams and others. The disc kicks off with a driving rendition of Henderson's "Black Nile," that Caputo takes the first solo with his robust baritone sax followed by Perry's fleet guitar against Geoffrey Burke's arrangement. Trombonist Jason Ingram contributed and arranged the Latin jazz original "Los Cielos De Ayer," with Caputo on soprano, with other solos from trumpeter Dave Smith and guitarist Perry. Don Elliot's composed title track was apparently a popular number by the Nutty Squirrels. The loping groove and sound of the reeds give it a somewhat cool flavor with Warren Smith taking the first solo on vibes, followed by Kohn Eckert's nice middle range trumpet, Caputo's brawny baritone and a short bass solo from Crow.

Leo Wright's "Midnight in Berlin," is a  favorite selection with the late Chris White's arrangement and Caputo's outstanding alto (suggestive of John Handy) lending this a Mingus-like feel, with pianist Don Smith and Warren Smith adding solos. A Caribbean carnival feel marks the ebullient rendition of DeJohnette's "Festival" with Caputo's airy flute showcased along with the alto sax of Geoffrey Burke, drummer Mike Campenni before guitarist Perry's acoustic guitar leads to the close. Ryan Krewer's arrangement for "Stolen Moments" gives it a fresh sound as does Caputo's use of soprano and the performance also has Dale Turk's tuba solo. Chick Corea's "Guijara," is another latin flavored number with Caputo on flute (with trumpet like lines) followed by Perry's fiery electric guitar (evoking a jazzy Santana perhaps) and then some wonderful trombone from Ingram (set against Chris Rinaman's marvelous arrangement).

Bill Whited provided arrangements for the lovely rendition of Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now" (with marvelous ballad playing by Caputo on the baritone) and Dexter Gordon's "Fried Bananas." with Caputo on soprano, Dan Stein on piano and Virginia Mayhew on tenor sax. Virginia Mayhew arranged the closing performance, Mary Lou Williams' "Busy Busy Busy." Caputo is a superb player, and his Not So Big band is a sterling aggregation with a marvelous book, terrific arrangements as well as soloists and a marvelous rhythm section. The result is this excellent recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of this outstanding band.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Toby Walker's Music Get's Much Mileage

Long Island's Toby Walker is among the most gifted acoustic blues and roots performers around today who has just released his latest album "Mileage." The title comes from the miles of traveling Walker has taken over the decades of his career illustrated from the stickers on his guitar case pictured on the cover. There is a nice mix of finger picking blues, some Doc Watson styled flat-picking and a Muddy Waters' cover ("She Moves Me") where his steel slide playing evoked the Black Ace.

Things get started with a delightful original co-written with Tom Griffith, "Seven-Dy Wonder," a humorous reworking of having a woman every day of the week theme with superb Piedmont styled guitar followed by a slightly rebranding of a classic Blind Lemon Jefferson recording, "See My Grave Is Swept Clean." "Jimmy Brown The Newsboy," is one of several numbers that have him in an old-timey/bluegrass/Irish folk mode reminiscent of Doc Watson, which similar wonderful picking on "Daly's Reel/Stoney Lonesome" and "Temperance Reel." Mookie Wilson's "My Baby Owns A Whiskey Store" is a delightful blues romp about having a new baby who takes care of Toby's needs since "he don't have to buy no more," set against a brisk, propulsive accompaniment.

Toby says he "can hardly get through without cracking up," when he performs Tim Wallace's "You Don't Really Care," and listening to this one wonders how many takes it took to record this delightful performance. It is followed by a classic honky-tonk styled country number, "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke." A brisk "Shortnin' Bread" is followed by a solo, acoustic rendition of Tiny Powell's recording' "My Time After A While." The original 45 was covered for Chess by Buddy Guy who copied Johnny Heartsman's guitar playing on Powell's original. Walker sounds vocally a bit like John Hammond here.

Other pleasures include another Walker-Griffith collaboration, "Shakin' Her Bacon," with amusing, slightly naughty lyrics with his strutting accompaniment, a lively interpretation of Fats Waller's "Lulu's Back In Town, the melancholy ballad "Delia," and the hokum fun of "You're Gonna Look Like A Monkey When You Get Old," where Walker's slide playing sounds like he is in a Western Swing group. It is an exhilarating close to an album of diverse and varied material that is superbly performed. This marvelous recording can be purchased from Toby directly,, as well as better retailers.

I received my copy directly from Toby. This review was written for Jazz & Blues Report which I do not believe has run it it and I apologize for not posting this review earlier. Here is Toby in live performance.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Pennsylvania Blues Festival Celebrates 25 Years Of Pocono Blues.

 Ronnie Baker Brooks is one of this year's headliners

September 16, 17 & 18, 2016, blues returns to the Split Rock Resort in Lake Harmony, Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania Blues Festival. Among the acts on the two stages at this year's Festival will be Ronnie Baker Brooks with special guest Eddie Clearwater, Zac Harmon, Ronnie Earl, Toronzo Cannon, The Delmark Chicago Blues Revue and Gaye Adegbalola & the Wild Rutz.
It was August 1 and 2 of 1992 when the Big Boulder Ski Resort hosted the very first Pocono Blues Festival with a lineup that consisted of Son Seals, Lonnie Brooks, Kenny Neal, Big Jack Johnson & the Oilers, Willie Kent & the Gents with Bonnie Lee, Johnny “Clye” Copeland, Bobby Radcliffe, The Bob Margolin Blues Band, George “Mojo” Buford, The Clarence Spady Band, Queen Bee and the Blue Hornets, and the The Dukes of Destiny. I first attended the Pocono Blues Festival in 1994 for the third festival whose lineup included Johnny Clyde Copeland, Denise LaSalle, Carol Fran & Clarence Holliman, Larry McCray, Sugar Blue, Billy Boy Arnold with Bob Margolin, Long John Hunter, Honeyboy Edwards, Fruteland Jackson, Fenton Robinson and others.

For 19 years Big Boulder hosted what became known as the Blues Lover's Blues Festival. Most every significant blues act (many no longer with us) with the exception of B.B. King performed at the Festival including Buddy Guy, Luther Allison, Guitar Shorty, Lowell Fulson, Little Milton, Otis Rush, koko Taylor, Saffire-The Uppity Blues Women, Shemekia Copeland, Ruth Brown, Smokey Wilson, Mavis Staples, Jerry McCain, Eddie Clearwater, Trudy Lynn, Robert Lockwood Jr, Phillip Walker, Bobby bland, Artie 'Blues Boy' White, Texas Johnnie Brown, Long John Hunter, Otis Clay, Irma Thomas, Marva Wright and many more.

After 19 Festivals, the owners of Big Boulder decided for a change in the off-season activities and the Festival, rechristened the Pennsylvania Blues Festival moved to Blue Mountain Ski Area for 4 years and presented such performers as Otis Clay, Shemekia Copeland, Lil' Ed&The Blues Imperials, Magic Slim &The Teardrops, Kenny Neal, Bettye LaVette, Brooks Family Dynasty, Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues with Lurrie Bell, Demetria Taylor & Carlos Johnson, Joe Louis Walker, Teeny Tucker, Otis Taylor, Eugene Hideaway Bridges, Corey Harris, Bobby Rush, Ruthie Foster, Sista Monica, John Primer, Alexis P Suter, Guy Davis, Eddie & Vaan Shaw, James Cotton, Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, Barbara Carr, Jarekus Singleton and many more. Then in 2015 the Festival moved to Split Rock with a line-up that included Shemekia Copeland, Lil' Ed &The Blues Imperials, Walter "Wolfman" Washington & the Roadmasters, John Nemeth, Victor Wainwright & the Wild Roots, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, Selwyn Birchwood, Vaneese Thomas, and Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers.
Mikey Junior Revue helps the Festival Get Underway. Here he is seen from 2015 Festival

This is an impressive history of performers that will be celebrated by this year's event. Friday night's line-up in the Split Rock Galleria Governor's Ballroom features the Mikey Junior Revue starring the marvelous harmonica player and his band and a number of blues performers from the Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Northern Delaware region. It should be quite an enjoyable early evening event for blues enthusiasts.

On Saturday the Festival gets into full swing. At 11;00 AM in the Galleria Governor's Ballroom, Ronnie Earl will offer a guitar master class (separate charge will apply). At 1;00PM, Slam Allen opens the Main Stage with his highly entertaining set. The guitarist and vocalist fronted James Cotton's band for a number of years and on his own puts on a superb live show. Reviewing his album "Feel These Blues" I wrote "There is nothing fancy about Slam Allen with his rocking, B.B. King influenced guitar and his strong vocals. His vocals strike me as his greatest strength although he is no slouch as a guitarist." Up next on the main stage is Zac Harmon. Harmon, a former winner of the International Blues Challenge, certainly has established himself on the blues circuit, becoming a favorite attraction, especially on the Festival circuit, with his hot guitar, varied repertoire and gospel-soul rooted vocals.

 Zac Harmon always puts on a great show

Pianist Anthony Geraci may be best known for being with Sugar Ray & the BluetOnes, but last year he put together a wonderful album with the Boston Blues All Stars and they follow Zac Harmon on the main stage. Reviewing his Delta Groove release "50 Shades of Blue" I wrote "Anthony Geraci is a first-rate blues songwriter and a terrific keyboard player." I expect his live revue will certainly be as entertaining as that terrific recording. Geraci is followed by Kenny Neal who will bring us his his own very personal style, rooted in the swamp blues of his father Raful and the likes of Slim Harpo. A threat on guitar, lap steel and vocals, Kenny Neal always delivers strong deep blues.

Closing the Main Stage on Saturday will be the high energy blues of Ronnie Bake Brooks who will have a full horn section and also special guest, Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Eddie 'The Chief' Clearwater. Son of blues legend Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie helps keep the family blues tradition alive and replaces the originally scheduled Buckwheat Zydeco who has health issues.

Guy Davis will be a highlight in Saturday's tent stage performers

In the Tent Stage will be performances by the marvelous singer-guitarist Guy Davis along with Canada's Blackburn Brothers who will be joined for one set by Harrison Kennedy. Slam Allen will also perform a set in the Text Stage. After the main festival acts conclude, there will be performances by Beareather Reddy and Zac Harmon in a special showcase at the Resort.

Gaye Adegbalola & the Wild Rutz perform at the Blues Brunch

Sunday, September 18 opens with a blues brunch that features music from Gaye Adegbalola & the Wild Rutz. Gaye, a founding member of Saffire-The Uppity Blues Women, founded this vocal quartet (with occasional guitar and percussion accompaniment) that is focused on their marvelous vocals and harmonies. There debut VizzTone album "Is It Still Good to Ya?" only hints at how wonderful this group is.

After the brunch folks can head to the Main Stage for the spectacular sacred steel of The Campbell Brothers who present the opening Sunday afternoon gospel blues set. They are followed by the Andy T Nick Nixon Band bring the solid guitar playing of Andy T and the strong vocals of Nick Nixon. About this Nashville based band, and their debut recording on Delta Groove, "Drink Drank Drunk," I wrote "Andy T impresses with his fluidity, tone and taste while Nixon brings pretty of heart and soul to his nuanced vocals." I am looking forward to finally hearing this band.

Alligator artist Toronzo Cannon plays today's Chicago Blues

Chicago takes over the main stage next with Toronzo Cannon whose Alligator album, "The Chicago Way" is getting much well-deserved praise. Cannon, who is a bus driver in Chicago, brings together his life experiences and what he observes to his powerful songs. After two terrific albums on Delmark, he signed with Alligator and about "The Chicago Way" I wrote, "As a songwriter, as well as a singer-guitarist, Toronzo Cannon brings grit and passion. His playing is varied ranging from blues-rock to jazzy flavored while his singing is robust resulting in the mostly compelling performances here. "The Chicago Way" is one of most striking recent new blues releases."

Following Cannon will be the Delmark Chicago Revue featuring The Mike Wheeler Band with Jimmy Burns & Peaches Staten. Wheeler is a wonderful singer-guitarist who brings in a deep dish of soul and funk to his blues. A veteran of Big James Montgomery and the Chicago Playboys, his 2013 Delmark debut "Self Made Man" was quite impressive and indicated a very distinctive talent. Appearing with Wheeler is the marvelous singer-guitarist Jimmy Burns who also mixes rhythm and blues with his Chicago (and delta) blues roots. Vocalist Staten is a tough vocalist with influences from Koko Taylor, Mavis Staples and Etta James amongst others. She had a wonderful album on the short-lived Swississippi Records label that Mike Wheeler played on.

Ronnie Earl closes Sunday's Main Festival Stage

The Main Stage closes with Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters.Earl's career included stints in Sugar Ray & the Blue Notes, then replacing Duke Robillard in Roomful of Blues before his own solo career leading the Broadcasters. Among the most accomplished guitarists, Earl is not simply known as a virtuoso, but a player of impeccable taste, tone, nuance and imagination. Recently listening to some of the legendary Earl Hooker's club recordings, Earl was one of the few contemporary guitarists who evokes Hooker's style without copying or imitating. His most recent recording was a tribute to Otis Rush and Magic Sam, and his sterling playing on it similarly calls to mine their originals while coming out as all Ronnie Earl.

The Tent stage opens with Harrison Kennedy for the first of his two sets. Kennedy a former member of The chairman of the Board is a compelling singer and astute songwriter. Also performing with be singer saxophonist Vanessa Collier who this writer has heard great things about along with additional sets from The Campbell Brothers and the Andy T Nick Nixon Band.

Michael Cloeren, who puts together the Festival, has certainly does it again with this sterling line-up. For more information on the Pennsylvania Blues Festival including videos of the performers, ticket and lodging information, visit

It should be noted that six weeks after the Pennsylvania Blues Festival, Split Rock will host the first Pennsylvania Music Festival. Also produced by Michael Cloeren, this festival brings a variety of performers from assorted musical genres including blues, roots rock, bluegrass and the like. Notable performers of interest to blues fans includes the zydeco of CJ Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band, the riveting singing of Alexis Suter, and the blues-rock of Devon Allman and the Royal Southern Brotherhood. Other performers include the country roots rock of Girls, Gun and Glory, and roots-rock songwriter Paul Thorn. For more information on the Pennsylvania Music Festival visit

This preview of the Festival appeared originally in the July-August 2016 Jazz & Blues Report. There are more videos of the performers and a more detailed preview of the Festival on the Festival's website which is linked above. One month from the date of this post, the Festival will be in full swing.