Saturday, December 31, 2016



Sackville has followed their wonderful Jay McShann and 'Buddy Tate duet album with another duet recording of two older jazz stylists. Sammy Price is one of the few true surviving boogie woogie pianists left, though his playing also incorporates some stride and swing elements. Doc Cheatham is representative of the blues-drenched trumpet stylings of the twenties. Together they do some wonderful earthy interpretations of traditional jazz staples like "Tishomingo Blues" and "Sheik of Araby." Fats Walter's "Ain't Misbehavin" and "Honeysuckle Rose" receive lively takes. The empathy of Price and Cheatham is quite high and they produce a most rewarding set for which we should be thankful to Sackville and Doc and Sammy for giving us. Here's hoping Sackville continues this series of traditional jazz stylists in duo settings. Incidentally the order of tunes on the record Iabel and jacket is erroneous though listening makes it clear which is "Summertime" and which is "The Sheik of Araby.

I do not remember how I acquired this release back in 1978. Delmark has since acquired the Sackville catalog and I am not sure if the reissue program of Sackville has yet reached the two albums by the pair. The review appeared originally in the June 1978 Buffalo Jazz Report (Issue 52). Here is a video of a group led by Sammy Price that includes Doc Cheatham doing "One O'Clock Jump."

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ricardo Bacelar Concerto Para Moviola

Ricardo Bacelar
Concerto Para Moviola
Bacelar Produções

This new album by the Brazilian pianist, composer, and arranger Ricardo Bacelar, puts jazz fusion of the 1970s and 1980s in the spotlight as it documents a performance specially produced for the traditional Guaramiranga Jazz and Blues Festival, held annually in Guaramiranga, Brazil, during the renowned Carnival celebration. Recorded at the Via Sul Theatre, "Concerto para Moviola" showcases Bacelar’s deep fascination with ’70s and ’80s jazz fusion, as he is heard on a blend of analog synthesizers, Brazilian music, and acoustic piano with his band that included guitar, saxophones and flute, violin along with a rhythm section and percussion. Mixed in are classics from the jazz-fusion sphere from Joe Zawinul Pat Metheny and Bob Mintzer of the Yellowjackets, several jazz standards from Benny Golson and Horace Silver, along with several Brazilian gems from Jobim, Egberto Gismonti and Ivans Lins and several original compositions from the leader.

Its a pretty varied and lively program and Bacelar and his ensemble transverse his brief lively warm-up number "Cordillera," which leads into a driving rendition of the Weather Report classic "Birdland." Benny Golson's classic "Killer Joe," employs Quincy Jones' arrangement and receives a funky reworking with Marcio Resende ripping a hot tenor sax solo.There is a dreamy feel to the treatment of Metheny's "So May It Secretly Begin," which is followed by the strident Mintzer composed "March Majestic," with some bluesy tenor followed by the soft fusion take on Michel Legrand's "The Windmills of Your Mind" with Resende almost whispering on the sax while Marcus Vinicius Cardoso's violin is quite striking, and is followed by an intriguing "Senor Blues," with percolating percussion on an adaptation of David Sanborn's arrangement.

"Moviola" is a lovely original named after an cinema editing machine and has a lovely waltz-like feel. Several Brazilian classics include the somber rendition of the Buarque-Jobin "Sabiá"; the lovely Gismonti-Carneiro composition "Palhaço," with lovely violin as well as piano; the breezy "Setembro" from Ivan Lins/Vitor Martins/Gilson Peranzzetta; and "Água de Beber," one of the greatest of all of Jobim's songs (co-written with Vinicius de Moraes) with marvelous flute and violin along with the crisp, bouncy ensemble playing. Bacelar's "Apartheid Blues," is a nice blues interpretation with guitarist Ronaldo Pessoa takes off on a blues-rock solo that suggests John Scofeld before Bacelar adds his own jazzy take on the blues.

Chick Corea influenced Bacelar and an energetic take on Corea's "Blues Miles" closes this document of one night's performance with Bacelar on electric piano and solos from Resende and Pessoa. It concludes a live recording mixing a variety of material with a certain freshness in approach and performance.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here is "Killer Joe" from this performance.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

JJ Thames Raw Sugar

JJ Thames
Raw Sugar
DeChamp Records

JJ Thames impressed on her debut recording "Tell You What I Know," where the Jackson Mississippi based vocalist impressed "as a singer who certainly can belt out a vocal, but displays a nuanced vocal approach and admirable vocal dynamics." "Raw Sugar," produced by Guitarist Eddie Cotton who also co-wrote the songs here (with one exception), is another recording that hopefully will get her better known among blues audiences.

Thames may have formal vocal training but her delivery here as on the earlier recording shows how natural she sounds starting with the opening gospel lament "Oh Lord" (that she penned herself) with Ben Hunter's mandolin and Cotton's guitar while the rollicking rock and roll of "Hattie Pearl" which comes across as a Ike and Tina styled rave-up. and followed by a brisk blues shuffle "I'm Leavin'," first thing in the morning as she has had enough of her man's lying and cheating with some nice idiomatic guitar from Cotton.

"Leftovers" is a southern soul gem in the vein of Barbara Carr with a nice vocal and illustrative of Cotton's production touches with the backing and keyboardist Darryl Sanford contributed to the arrangements. Another excellent track in this vein is the soulful ballad "Only Fool Was Me," while "Bad Man," takes us back in the alley with Cotton playing aggressively. The rest of "Raw Sugar" is equally interesting, making this another impressive recording by Ms. Thames.

I reeeived my review copy from a publicist. Here is JJ Thames in performance.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bob Mintzer All L.A. Band

Bob Mintzer
All L.A. Band
Fuzzy Music

While perhaps best known for his tenure with the Yellowjackets, saxophonist-composer-arranger Bob Mintzer has been writing and leading big bands for some 40 years. His new album "All L.A. Band" on Fuzzy Records revisits ten of his compositions that he had written over the years. Drummer Peter Erskine produced this recording as well as anchored the rhythm section for this studio big band. Few of the band members are familiar to this listener and with few exceptions, the soloists are not identified.

There is a mix in material and grooves with several numbers having a definite Afro-Cuban slant, others a Basie-ite flavor and others a funk/R&B flavor. The mood is set with the tropical flavor of the lively opener "El Caborojeno," followed by a Count Basie Band styled "Havin' Some Fun," and then "Home Basie" with a mix of R&B and Basie swing with terrific blues-rooted tenor sax playing (and while I might suspect Mintzer of being the player here he refers to the soloist in the third person in the liner notes). "Ellis Island" is another Afro-Cuban laced number with striking interplay between brass and reeds and a strong baritone sax solo.

"New Rochelle" was originally composed for The Yellowjackets and later recorded by Mintzer's big band and again is a lively swinging number set against a back beat. Mintzer describes "Runferyerlife" as "a rhythm changes tune taken at a pretty good clip," and his notes imply he takes the tenor solo with his use of shorter percussive phrases to blend with the rhythm section. There is nice scoring of the horns also backing a suitably blustery trombone solo. After the relaxed fun of "Latin Dance" with its funky bass line, Mintzer revisits the aptly titled, "Slo Funk," which was originally written for Buddy Rich's Big Band years ago.

The closing "Tribute" is another Basie styled number dedicated to "Thad Lewis and all of the great musicians who came out of the Basie band." Nice piano from Russ Ferrante to set the tune and the rhythm of Edwin Livingston on bass and Peter Erskine is first-rate here as on this entire recording. There is plenty of wonderful playing on this recording enhanced by the arrangements and the lively compositions. Not only does this make for fine listening, but all the music was originally recorded for the MINTZER Big Band Essentials play-along app, for all instruments which is available at the App Store.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a selection for you to sample this recording.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Roberto Fonseca ABUC

Roberto Fonseca

Grammy nominated pianist Roberto Fonseca has been exploring and celebrating the music of his native Cuba for some time as a composer, producer, solo artist and collaborator with other Latin American music luminaries, bringing forth richly melodic compositions and recordings that capture the irrepressible Cuban sound and its rich musical history. His latest effort "ABUC" continues, and as the title is Cuba spelled backwards, this present effort might be said to "look backward at the evolution of Cuban jazz," with Fonseca writing or co-writing nearly all 14 of the tracks. "I wanted to review the Cuban music history - not only the styles that have influenced me most, but in a broader sense, so people could have a better idea of how the orchestras used to sound in those times." Its a wonderful mix of material with also Fonseca attempting to capture sound of music when audio technology was not so advanced.

Things start on a very hot note with Ray Bryant's "Cubano Chant" with the heat of the performance including a fiery solo from guest Trombone Shorty. "Afro Mambo" is just as raucous, with spirited vocal performances by Daymé Arocena and Carlos Calunga amid the orchestration. "The challenge was to make it sound like the orchestras from the 1940s and 1950s. We invited to EGREM one of the studio's oldest technicians, who really taught us how they recorded back in the day. ...It was really sonic time traveling!" Listening to this one might be forgiven for thinking that Fonseca spliced an older recording onto this performance. "Tumbao de la Unidad," with Eliades Ochoa on guitar and vocal, is Fonseca's call for unity among all cultures set at a much more relaxed tempo, and followed by "Contradanza del Espiritu," which opens with some morose violin before horns set a more stately feeling here with this listener be reminded of Dr. John's performance of "Litanie Des Saints" that was inspired by 18th century composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Fonseca's piano playing, and use of delay, reverb and other enhancements engenders an unusual feel here.

"Tierra Santa" tells the story of a musician from Santiago de Cuba who's invited to play in New Orleans, where he discovers an amazing wind ensemble playing in the streets. "He's awestruck, and he rapidly imagines home these melodies would sound with the Santiago conga rhythm." With the insistent, distinctive congas beat, it comes off almost as a blend Afro-Cuban jazz with Fela Kuti's funk and horns, and a highlight on this exceptional recording. "Family," inspired by memories of listening to the radio at home with his mother when he was a boy in the 1970s and the performance displays a fusion of musical styles with hot trumpet in the accompaniment.

Other noteworthy performances include "Soul Guardians," a melodious performance with an incorporation of a variety of influences, including rap, hip-hop and reggae-ton. The spirited "Asere Monina Bonco" has brilliant flute work from Policarpo "Polo" Tamayo, who passed away shortly after the album was finished along with some very impressive bass playing. The lovely bolero, "Después," has Mercedes Cortés Alfaro, Fonseca's mother, on vocals along with the brilliant Manuel "Guajiro" Mirabal on trumpet. Fonseca's brief solo piano reprise of "Cubano Chant," is the coda for the superb "ABUC." which is highly recommended to lovers of Afro-Cuban music and Latin jazz.

I received a download from a publicist for review purposes. Enjoy this a video for "Afro Mambo."

Monday, December 26, 2016

Joe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys

Going back over issues of the Buffalo Jazz Report, which I wrote for in the mid to late 1970s, I came across the following review of the only full album issued under the late Joe Willie Wilkins' name. This recording unfortunately had limited release and even reviewer's copies are prized collector's items. I received a review copy from the distributor. This review appeared in the June 1978 issue (#52).

When I first put on Joe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys (Adamo ADS 9507) I received a jolt. The opening "Mr. Downchild" and "Muddy Walter's "Sad Letter" (a great version) had all the power of Muddy's great recordings from the early fifties . Wilkins was Robert Lockwood's .successor as Sonny Boy Williamson's accompanist on the famed King Biscuit Time radio program. This album is his first lengthy exposure on wax and if there are occasional bum notes from the assorted accompanists don't let that deter you. Also, much of this album is from a live performance and if the sound isn't perfect, the music is funky and down home. A truly great record of blues that anyone into Muddy, the Wolf or others will dig. My choice for album of the month.

Here is "Mr. Downchild" from another live recording.

Eric Bibb - The Happiest Man In The World

Eric Bibb and North Country Far With Danny Thompson
The Happiest Man In The World
Stony Plain

Eric Bibb has a new release with the band North Country Far on Stony Plain Records, "The Happiest Man In The World." Recorded in the English countryside, it has Bibb's vocals and guitar supported by North Far, musicians he met while living in Finland: Petri Hakala on mandolin and mandola and Olli Haavisto on dobro and weissenborn as well as other slide instruments and Janne Hakala on drums. They are also joined by legendary upright bassist Danny Thompson for this latest installment in the five-decades career of Bibb whose folk and blues roots continues to sprout exuberant as well as poignant new music.

Bibb's music has always been rooted in good songs, solid singing and guitar and an ear for fresh musical settings. North Country Far provides a definite string-band as well as country flavor to the music here and the songs themselves are usually far from the blues has got me down or mistreating women themes of many blues. The album opens with the title track has a lyric as he celebrates the woman who stands by him. His gruff vocals (reminds me of early Dylan but with the gentleness of a Mississippi John Hurt) are set against a jaunty backing with mandolin and dobro adding to the atmosphere. Bibb's lyrical gift is evident on "I'll Farm For You" in which Bibb incorporates a number of phrases, often used as double entredres, into what he would do for his woman, while on "Born To Be Your Man," where he sings Stevie Wonder was born to be the master blaster, Louis Jordan born to sing 'Caldonia,' Prince was born to sing Purple Rain,' Lazarus was born to rise again, and "You were Born to be my woman and I was born to be your man."

The folk side of Bibb can be heard on the lovely "Creole Café," as he sings about a place in the country, 40 miles west of Newport News where "she serves the gumbo and I serve the blues," with some nice mandolin fills during vocal, on the reflective ballad "Prison of Time," and charming "On the Porch." "Tell Ol' Bill" is a ballad that might not have been out of place in Leadbelly's repertoire (and Bibb recently issued an excellent Leadbelly tribute CD). There is also an atmospheric instrumental, "1912 Skiing Disaster" a love song "Wish I Could Hold You Now," before closing with a low-key cover of The Kinks "You Really Got Me" that after a pause segues into a short instrumental take of, "King-Sized Bed," as a bonus track.

There is so much to like about marvelous Eric Bibb's latest album. Perhaps not an album of deep acoustic blues, but with some wonderful songs (several worthy of covering) congenial quality and charm of these performances has considerable merit.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here, Eric Bibb performs with Olli Haavisto and Petri Hakala.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge
Martin Hawkins
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press
2016: 416pp

Its has been over 45 years since James Moore, aka Slim Harpo, passed away at the age of 45. It was a tragic early death for a blues performer who had just started crossing over to a broader National audience and about to go on his first European visit. Last year Bear Family issued a 5-CD box (near 7 hours of music), "Buzzin' The Blues," and Martin Hawkins, who wrote the book that accompanied that came with that set, has written a  biography of the short-lived, but influential, artist that takes us from his youth to the aftermath of his passing.

Hawkins traces not simply Slim Harpo's life, but provides the background both in terms of his ancestry and the history of the rural part of Baton Rouge that Harpo was born in. In addition to tracing his youth and development as a musician, he gives an overview of the blues and Black Music scene in the region along with the context of the segregated society. Emerging first as Harmonica Slim, his growth as a musician is set against the burgeoning swamp blues scene centered with Crowley, Louisiana producer Jay Miller as well as the more general context of small label Louisiana music.

Jay Miller had been recording folks like Lightnin' Slim before Harpo came to record with Slim. It was Miller who hanged his performing name to Slim Harpo and Hawkins traces the recording career of Moore, including his frustrations with Miller at times along with the commercial success that Harpo had on Excello. These frustrations led to a session for Imperial that was squelched by Miller and eventually to Harpo recording directly with Excello after a contract had expired, a factor that led Miller to discontinue his relationship with Excello.

In addition to fully tracing Harpo's recordings, he also describes the various clubs and performances Harpo made, including the ill-fated trip to Chicago made with Lightnin' Slim, Lazy Lester, Katie Webster and others that was the subject of a talking blues from Slim. Slim was popular on the southern fraternity circuit as well as playing Black and White clubs in Baton Rouge and playing armory shows with swamp pop acts like John Fred, or R&B shows with Bobby Bland and others. Included is a discussion of the live recording, that was originally issued on Ace in the UK and later in the Bear Family box, as Hawkins provides details on how the recording came to happen, how it was preserved and then considers the music from that live recording of him in his prime.

Towards the end of his career, he was just starting to break into the 'hippie circuit,' and Hawkins describes Harpo's time performing at Steve Paul's The Scene in New York City and similar performances, and he was about to tour Europe when he tragically died. Hawkins goes into some of the circumstances that likely contributed to the rupture of an artery that killed him, likely resulting from working on a car and something heavy falling on his chest.

Hawkins fills out a portrait of Harpo as a family man who was far from the stereotypical hard drinking blues artist some might have, He also worked at various employments to help sustain his family. In addition he interweaves Harpo with other members of Baton Rouge's blues scene (and the swamp blues scene in general) and artists such as Tabby Thomas, Lonesome Sundown and Lazy Lester have their music and careers discussed.

There is a full discography of Harpo's music along with a listing of recordings of other Baton Rouge artists, recommended listening and reading and a musical appreciation of Slim Harpo by Stephen Coleridge. Hawkins made use of existing interviews of Harpo as well as interviewed surviving members of his band, family members and others to provide this detailed, fully researched, yet highly readable account of a major blues artist whose career seems to been overlooked in recent years. Along with the Bear Family reissue, this superb biography certainly will help reestablish his reputation as a major blues original.

I purchased this. Here is Slim Harpo's recording of "Shake Your Hips," a song still popular with blues groups.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Corey Dennison Band

Corey Dennison Band
Delmark Records

Corey Dennison has been playing and singing soul and blues for sometime around Chicago. He played eight years behind Carl Weathersby, but also got to know folks like Howard Scott, Chico Banks and Walter Scott. Around 2007 he met multi-instrumentalist guitar and organ) Gary Hundt and they are the core of the Corey Dennison Band who also consist of Nik Skilnik on bass and Joel Baer on drums. The band has just issued an eponymously titled release on Delmark that certainly will wake up some listeners with the dynamic and riving soul-blues stew.

Dennison's singing has a pinched quality but come out so soulfully and matched by his biting guitar and the insistent, punchy backing by the band that superficially might be likened to the swamp rock of a Tony Joe White meeting Magic Slim & the Teardrops starting with the opening track about moonshine, "Getcha' Pull." with a swampy feel to the closing Jimmy Reed-styled shuffle "Good Enuff" played with the drive of Magic Slim and the Teardrops with penetrating guitar.

The mix of tempos and moods on the 13 originals make for entertaining listening. There is the funk groove of "The Deacon," with terrific, and unpredictable, guitar while "Room To Breathe" is a solid southern soul styled blues ballad and "She's No Good" is a easy rocker with the melody suggesting the Valentino's "It's All Over Now." Another strong number is "Don't Say You're Sorry," with its country soul feel followed by a terrific slow, early in the morning, slow blues, "A Fool's Goodbye" with echoes of Albert King in Dennison's guitar playing. It is followed by the instrumental, "Jasper's Hop."

The consistency of performances from Dennison's guitar and vocals to the fine support his band provides makes for a sterling Delmark Records debut by the Corey Dennison Band.

I received a review copy from Delmark. Here is a video of the Band.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Hector Martignon's Banda Grande The Big Band Theory

Hector Martignon's Banda Grande
The Big Band Theory
Zoho Music

As Hector Martingnon writes "Should you be insane enough to want to start a Big Band…. do it in New York! … It was at that veteran of all venerable old Manhattan venues, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side, where my flirts with the Big Band format became a love affair, with all its challenges and intricacies. Starting off as an experimental workshop, with personnel, compositions and arrangements varying every week, some suitable for the dance needs of the crowd and some suitable for a full concert, Hector Martignon's Banda Grande slowly but surely came of age."

The 20 or so instrumentalists provides a composer and arranger with a wide palette of musical colors and styles which are explored here, "from the Baroque sinfonía concertante, visiting the inquiring language of the sixties' and seventies’ Jazz, to the Brazilian eccentricities of a Hermeto Pascoal, adding, of course, my own honest attempts at composing and arranging." Budgetary and space issues forced him "to divide the recording into four sessions, each of which left (almost) untouched: 1. rhythm section plus some soloists, 2. horns, 3. strings and 4. some solo overdubs."

The breath of his musical ambitions is heard early on in the opening "Hell's Kitchen Sarabande" with its contrasting musical colors set against a latin-infused funky groove that celebrates Hell's Kitchen's strangely alluring decay before it became an extension of the touristy Times Square. There is marvelous alto sax (Alex Han?) heard here set against a surging background, followed by Andy Hunt's gruff but melodic trombone. The salsa flavored "99 Macdougal Street" was inspired by a year living on that Village street and was written while a member of Ray Barretto's New World Spirit. The leader's piano, Samuel Torres' percussion and Christos Rafalides' vibraphone, along with David De Jesus hard bop styled alto sax stand out on this multi-layered performance that shifts from salsa to straight hard bop.

Martignon's creation of interesting instrumental voicings is also displayed on the rendition of the bossa standard of Bruno Martino, "Estate," with the leader playing accordion along with Christos Rafalides' vibraphone underpinning Chris Washburne's trombone along with tenor sax by Chelsea Baratz, with the leader's arrangement providing a swirling setting for the strong solo statements and the fresh take on this classic. This lively rendition is followed by songs inspired by his stay in Germany and the Christmas markets there. Inspire by groups of trombones playing Christmas songs there inspired "Trombone Chorale" with its integration of a string quartet with the big band sonorities and all the four members of the trombone section all spotlighted. Similarly bridging the classical and jazz worlds is a standard of European Sacred Music, "Erbarme Dich," one of the most haunting Arias (No. 47) out of the "St. Matthew Passion" by J.S. Bach, with an alto vocal by Brenda Feliciano.

A playful rendition of Bill Evans' "Interplay" has muted trumpets while Enrique Fernández' baritone helps anchors the performance with solos from Chelsea Baratz on tenor sax, John Benitez on bass, Vince Cherico on drums and Samuel Torres on congas and maracas. Martignon observes "Nostalgias del Futuro is the first movement of a “Concerto for Harp and Orchestra” I wrote for my fellow Colombian and harp virtuoso Edmar Castañeda." This also showcases his deftness in arranging strings in a big band context and avoiding a syrupy tone. "Maestra" was the first composition of Martignon for a big band and this Cumbia has Martin Vejarano on the indigenous Gaita (a sort of flute with reeds).

The closing "The Fruit Vendor's Last Dream" was inspired by the fruit vendor who immolated himself on January 4, 2011, protesting against the corruption and abuse of power exercised by the authorities in Tunisia, giving rise to the Arab Spring. This performance has a stately quality with the centerpiece being a moving solo from bassist Benitez. It serves as a coda to a marvelous big band recording that will intrigue and fascinate listeners who will discover new delights with repeated listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here is Hector Martignon's Banda Grande playing "Interplay."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Nick Schnebelen Band Live at Knuckleheads Vol. 1

Nick Schnebelen Band
Live at Knuckleheads Vol. 1

Part of the International Blues Challenge winning sibling band, Trampled Under Foot (and selected for the Albert King Guitar Award at the time), Nick Schnebelen now leads his own band and VizzTone has issued their debut album, "Live at Knuckleheads Vol. 1," recorded at the famed Kansas City club. The singer and guitarist is joined by Heather Newman on guitar and vocals, Cliff Moore on bass and Joe Voye on drums for a hard rocking collection of blues and blues-infused roots rock.

Schnebelen and Newman share vocals with Newman being the more engaging singer, while Schnebelen is uneven. He comes across well on the rockabilly tinged opening track "I'm Goin'" but his heavier approach on the blues-rock Muddy Waters' influenced "Break of Day" (akin to "Walking Blues") is not as natural sounding. There may be a touch of country in Newman's vocals and there are times I wish Newman would tone her singing down at spots, but this is a quibble as her phrasing and pitch is spot on her performances, and this is also a recording of a live performance.

Schnebelen's guitar is quite fiery and inventive. He might rock a bit for my taste, but when he picks up the slide and quotes Muddy's "I Be's Troubled" backing Heather on "Tailgate Swing," his considerable technical skills and musical sense is quite evident. he is quite a player and he ably takes the heat down on the low-key "Who Will Comfort Me." Perhaps he bellows his vocal a bit on his forceful, and fresh, rendition of "Spoonful," with Heather adding vocal backing. Then he picks up the steel guitar for a nice cover of the Santo and Johnny's hit "Sleep Walk."

A terrific cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" further illustrates the band's virtuosity followed by an high-energy rendition of the Gary US Bonds hit "New Orleans" with  Hound Dog Yaylor meets George Thorogood slide backing the husky vocal that ends this  animated and highly engaging live blues and roots set that will have many wanting more.

I received a review copy from VizzTone. Here is a video of them in performance.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Oleg Kireyev & Keith Javors The Meeting

Oleg Kireyev & Keith Javors
The Meeting
Inarhyme Records

The title of the new album by Russian saxophonist Oleg Kireyev and American pianist, Keith Javors, "The Meeting," might suggest a first-time pairing of the two. In fact it is their second recorded collaboration after 2010's " Rhyme & Reason." The two here are joined by trumpet icon Tom Harrell and a terrific rhythm duo of bassist Ben Williams and drummer E.J. Strickland (who was on the earlier release by the two). This new recording has four originals by the pair (with two alternate takes) and fresh renderings of three standards.

The album gets off the a breezy start with the easy swing of Kireyev's "April," and the easy, swinging tempo set up by Javors and rhythm is followed by the lyricism of both Harrell and Kireyev. Javors himself establishes his fluidity, deft touch and his melodicism. Javors' lovely ballad "Inwardly" contrasts with his bouncy title track. Bruno Martino's classic samba "Estate," is done just be the rhythm trio and while the opening hints at Herbie Hancock, the performance quickly transitions into a lovely, wistful number. The rendition of "Caravan" opens with a middle-Eastern flavor with Kireyev adding a snatch of Tuvan throat singing before the groove kicks in and their is wonderful interplay between sax and piano over the smoldering rhythm section. Kireyev offers a very appealing, tenor solo (evoking Ben Webster and Chu Berry) on "Body and Soul," made perhaps more striking set against a hip hop-tinged groove of Williams and Strickland. The closing "Fresh Blues" is a brisk hard bop flavored groover with Harrell, and both leaders soloing strongly with Strickland standing out.

The deluxe edition of this includes additional takes of "April" and "Fresh Blues," completing this delightful musical collaboration.

The record company provided my review copy. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2106 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369).Here is a promotional video for the recording.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hendrik Meurkens Harmonicus Rex

Hendrik Meurkens
Harmonicus Rex
Height Advantage

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. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 366). Here Hendrik Meurkens performs "Darn That Dream."

Monday, December 19, 2016

Roger Davidson Solo Piano at Cafe Vivaldi

Roger Davidson
Live at Cafe Vivaldi Volume 3
Soundbrush Records

In 2012, Soundbrush Records started a regular Wednesday night performance series at the venerable Caffe Vivaldi in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The timeless cafe became their informal home. In 2013 Soundbrush Records began recording these performances. "Live at Cafe Vivaldi Volume 3," is the third release featuring pianist, composer and label founder Roger Davidson who is best known as a classical artist. The first two were duo and trio recordings, and this one is a solo recording.

14 of the 16 selections are Davidson's Brazilian inspired compositions with renditions of Cole Porter's "I Love You," and Joseph Kosma's "Autumn Leaves." Davidson impresses as a pianist and composer with the touch and fluidity of his playing as well as the liveliness of the performances starting with the opening "Alegria Brasiliera," while at other times his playing has a stately eloquence as on "Bossa Para Você." He can convey considerable beauty ("Amazing You" and "Saudade Do Brasil") and charm ("Amor Brasileiro"). At times his compositions recall jazz classics as "Dia Feliz," a musical cousin to "Back Home In Indiana," which also sports some of his most intriguing improvisations as does his first lyrical rendering and then imaginative deconstruction of "I Love You."

This is a wonderfully recorded by Luis Bacque with the audience audible at the conclusion of these most charming and delightful performances.

I received my review copy from a  publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 368). Here is a video of Roger Davidson performing (with a bassist).

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records

A Robert Mugge Film
Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records

Among recent Robert Mugge films getting reworked for Blue-Ray release is his 1992 film, "Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records." This film was centered around a Philadelphia Concert during Alligator's 20th Anniversary Tour," that featured performances by Koko Taylor and Her Blues Machine; the Lonnie Brooks Band; Elvin Bishop; Katie Webster; and Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials. Interspersed with the performances are interviews with Bruce Iglauer and others involved with Alligator, along with clips of staff meetings and discussions that give of sense of what was involved in running this independent blues label that is now celebrating forty-five years.

The core of the film is the musical performances withe exceptional performances by all the named performers. Seeing Katie Webster was especially moving with her solo boogie and blues piano and vocals standing out even in such august company as Koko Taylor and Lonnie Brooks whose own performances are splendid. Everybody comes together for a closing, and rousing "Sweet Home Chicago," that is the musical climax of this wonderfully constructed documentary that marvelous integrates the performances and documentary segments. It is so welcome to have this new improved release.

I received my review copy from MVD Visual. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here is the trailer for this movie.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

In Layman's Terms - Tangled

In Layman's Terms

A couple years back, this writer heard the teenagers, Logan and Cole Layman at a DC Blues Society fundraiser. With their mother on drums, it was clear that they had considerable talent but were to some extent a novelty because of their youth. Here they are, still in high school and have issued their first recording under the rubric of In Layman's Terms, "Tangled." In a program of 5 originals from them, 2 from Holly Montgomery and covers of Howlin' Wolf and Janis Joplin, this writer was surprised at their musical growth and the considerable promise the performances here indicate. The production of drummer drummer Rob Lowder, Jr., and the different settings he has for the bass and vocals of Logan and the guitar of Cole has made this recording one with something for a variety of musical tastes.

Immediately striking the listener on the opening title track is the strength of Logan's vocals. Her phasing, intonation as well as the power she invests gets the listener's attention, and while there might be a few spots one might want less heat in her singing, she avoids coming across as shrill or blustery. Whether singing a straight blues like "Heartbroken" or covering Joplin's "Move Over" she sings with (to these ears surprising) authority. Brother Cole is quite a guitarist, moving from biting fills on the opening title track, to more blues-rock pyrotechnics on other ones. One track where I felt the Logan's was not completely convincing, Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightnin'," Cole's playing was very intriguing.

I was impressed by the performances of "Tangled," although I cannot claim the original material stood out as much as Logan and Cole did. They are still young and they are maturing and will continue to develop their musical identity, but they should be congratulated for their accomplishment here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2016  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 366). Here they are performing "Tangled."

Friday, December 16, 2016

Mike Wheeler Band Turn Up !!

Mike Wheeler Band
Turn Up !!
Delmark Records

The Mike Wheeler Band follows up their Delmark debut "Self Made Man" with "Turn Up !!" Guitarist-vocalist-songwriter Wheeler's band has not changed with Brian James on keyboards, Larry Williams on bass and Cleo Cole on drums with Kenny Anderson's trumpet and Hank Ford's tenor sax adding musical seasoning to the proceedings. Wheeler wrote 12 of the 13 songs (two in collaboration with bandmates) and there is one cover of a Little Milton number. About "Self-Made Man" I wrote that Wheeler's performances had quite a bit of fervor with "plenty of drive in his playing and urgency in his impassioned vocals."

His range as a writer and performer are displayed on the opening selection "Sweet Girl," and then contrasting "You Don't Do Right," with an insistent groove supporting his fervent vocal complaint,  the punching horns and blistering guitar to close this. Brian James also adds considerable musical coloring under the vocal. "Yeah!" is a hard driving funk-blues followed by the heavy metal of "Brand New Cadillac." Others might disagree, but I found the backing and playing here overbearing and the vocal sounds strained. To these ears, that is the only misstep on this recording. It is a relief after that track to hear the swinging shuffle "Talking To Myself," followed by the driving groove of the title track as he celebrates being turned up when around his girl.

Other standout tracks include the marvelous blues-ballad, "Nothing Lasts Forever," the hot funk-blues of the celebratory "Living the Dream"; the early in the morning slow blues, "A Blind Man Can See," with terrific guitar; a funky interpretation of Little Milton's "That's What Love Will Make You Do," and the closing topical blues about wanting to cry watching the TV news, "Sad State of the World," with James' gospel-tinged piano adding to the mood. Once again, Mike Wheeler, and his outstanding band, has delivered a terrific set of straight-ahead, soul-rooted modern blues. 

I received my review copy from Delmark. I have made minor revisions in the review that originally appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here Mike Wheeler is performing Little Milton's "That's What Love Will Make You Do" from several years ago.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Tweed Funk
Come Together
Tweed Tone Records

"Come Together" is the new release from the Milwaukee based blues and soul band Tweed Funk. Since the group's last release, there has been some change in personal; but constants are vocalist Joseph 'Smokey' Holman, guitarist JD Optekar, bassist and keyboardist Eric Madunic with new members including Dave Schoepke on drums, Andrew Spadafora on saxophones and Doug Woolverton on trumpet. The brief liner notes observes that there was more of a focus on songwriting with more members involved in the process here.

There is plenty of strong performances her in a Memphis to Chicago soul. As sung in the somewhat autobiographical, "Sweet Music," Holman's career took him to Memphis where Stax and Hi records beckoned but a later connection with Curtis Mayfield and Curtom Records had an even more significant impact. There are messages in his songs like on "Don't Give Up," with a message of keep striving to one's goals and the title track, not the Beatles' song but about coming together to make things better for us all. Particular high lights for this listen is the swamp pop-tinged "Embrace," which Holman sings with the feel of a Percy Sledge and on which Spadafora takes a booting solo. The funky instrumental "Who Is This" has some blistering trumpet from Woolverton ("Don't Give Up" is another track with superlative trumpet). "Bullet" opens with atmospheric amplified muted trumpet before Smokey sings about the four horseman and fighting the fear and how a bullet took away his last chance. Woolverton's obligatos and solo set the atmosphere while the spare backing also contributes to this powerful, somber blues.

Tweed Funk has produced another very choice recording . There may have been some personnel changes, but they keep up the funk. The only down news is that Smokey Holman is currently experiencing serious health issues from which we can only hope he recovers because he is certainly a most wonderful talent.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the May-June 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 366). Here is a promotional video for this release.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mary Jo Curry Impresses

Mary Jo Curry
Guitar Angel Records

A veteran of touring theater companies, Mary Jo Curry discovered a love for the blues five years ago. Now she has an eponymously titled debut album produced by James Armstrong comprised of four originals and five covers. Curry wrote two of the originals and her husband Michael Rapier wrote two as well as shares guitar duties with Armstrong. Others on the album are bassists Darryl Wright and Lawrence Baulden, drummer Andrew Blaze Thomas, keyboardist Brett Donovan, a horn section of Dick Garretson (trumpet), Mike Gillette (sax) and Larry Niehaus (trombone) and backing vocals from L.A. Davison.

Curry impresses as a singer throughout this nicely produced straight-ahead set of blues. Her pitch, her phrasing and dynamics underlie her very expressive and soulful vocals. The backing is also very nice, handling a nice range of material from the opening Curry original jump-blues shuffle, "Ooooo Weeee," where she celebrates her wrong-doing man having left and she is finally free to Rapier's closing, funky "Smellin'," where she confronts her cheating man who is smelling like sex again with nice slide guitar from him as well. Themes of relationships in trouble are also present on Rapier's "Husband #2," an urban blues with some solid guitar (thinking it may be Armstrong taking lead here) and riffing horns, as she advises watch one says and do, as she is looking for Husband #2.

Covers include a nice rendition of Junior Wells' "Little By Little," as well Koko Taylor's "Voodoo Woman," although she doesn't quite match Koko's original (which few could reach in any event). "When a Woman's Had Enough"  originally recorded by Bettye Lavette and later by Shemekia Copeland, on which Curry produces a fine vocal that perhaps best displays her vocal range on thismarvelous song. Not previously having heard of Mary Jo Curry, this listener were delighted by this solid debut. Kudos to James Armstrong for the tight, uncluttered production and to the musicians who played on this fine recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist.Here is a clip of her performing in public.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mississippi Heat - Cab Driving Man

Mississippi Heat
Cab Driving Man
Delmark Records

No surprises with Mississippi Heat's new album, "Cab Driving Man." It is the latest reording in the 25 year career of this Chicago-based band, and the seventh by Pierre Lacocque and band for Delmark. In addition to the harmonica of Lacocque (who contributed most of the songs), he is joined by the present line-up of vocalist Inetta Visor, guitarist and sometimes vocalist Michael Dotson, bassist Brian Quinn, and drummer Terrence Williams, with several tracks having Giles Corey and guitar (and he shares a vocal on one track with Visor), Ricky Nelson on bass and Kenny Smith on drums. Chris 'Hambone Cameron' plays keyboards except on two tracks by Sumito Ariyo. Sax Gordon adds horns to five selections, Dave Spector adds guitar to one and Ruben Alvarez adds percussion to four tracks. Lacocque wrote ten of the 16 tracks, co-wrote one with Cameron, Dotson wrote thee, and there are two covers.

Those familiar with Mississippi Heat from having seen them perform or previous recordings will find little to surprise them. This is a nice collection of Chicago blues performed in a sterling manner from the opening notes of "Cupid Bound," a solid shuffle (with melodic hints of Little Walter's "Just Your Fool") with strong harmonica, a typical fine vocal from Visor and blistering guitar break from Dotson to the closing instrumental feature for Lacocque's chromatic playing, "Hey Pipo!"

While it is hard to single out specific tracks, "Flowers on My Tombstone," has a terrific lyric as Visor sings "it would be a miracle when I die, if you lay flowers on my tombstone," sounding as if she feels like a wild goose with a hunter aiming at her to claim his prize as she swallows her pride and could have left her husband a long time ago, but stayed for the kids to watch them grow. The backing is simply classic Chicago band blues with pumping piano, solid drumming from Kenny Smith and great harp. The feel shifts on the following track "Icy Blue," which has a more funky feel and there is slide guitar adding to its flavor.

Giles Corey joins Visor for a solid cover of the Fontella Bass and Bobby McClure classic "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing." Michael Dotson may not be as distinctive singing, but he provides a contrasting approach on his straight-forward style perhaps best sampled on the boogie blues "The Last Go Round." Also nice is the jazz-tinged "Life Is Too Short," as Visor again captivates with her vocal. The rest of this recording is of a similar level with wonderful playing, blues singing and strong, varied, mostly original material. Lovers of Chicago blues can not go wrong with Mississippi Heat, as "Cab Driving Man" again provides proof.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is Mississippi Heat in performance in 2016.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Hot Sardines French Fries & Champagne

The Hot Sardines
French Fries & Champagne
Universal Music Classics

The Hot Sardines, led by bandleader Evan Palazzo and lead singer Elizabeth Bougerol, might be simplistically described as a retro-swing jazz ensemble, featuring lively, crisp, brassy band accompaniments to Ms. Bougerol's flirty vocals, that evoke in part the music 52nd Street and Paris cabarets. The band includes the trumpet of Jason Prover, drummer Alex Raderman, saxophone and clarinet by Nick Myers, and trombone and cornet from Mike Sailors with a number of selections effectively employing a string section.

As a vocalist Ms. Bougerol might invite comparisons to Cyrille Aimee and delights with her voice and her understated delivery that is so delightful on the unexpected rearrangement of Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love," as well as the Doris Day-like novelty "Sweet Pea." The jazz standard (song by Billie Holiday among many others) "Come Love," opens as a minuet (piano and strings) before Ms. Bougerol sings in her native French before a stride piano break followed by her turning to English with some brassy horns led by Prover's blistering trumpet and Myers clarinet. Similarly original is the rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "People Will Say We’re In Love" taken as a tango with string embellishments adding to the performances flavor.

Alan Cummings duets with Ms. Bougerol on "When I Get Low I Get High," which Ella Fitzgerald popularized and songs like a soundtrack from a late thirties' cartoon. The country-tinged Bougerol original "Here You Are Again" receives an urbane pop treatment followed by a lovely rendition of "Until The Real Thing Comes Along," that was made famous by Pha Terrell's vocal on the Andy Kirk original. The title track might lightly celebrate having a frolic even when times might not justify them. After "La Fille Aux Cheveux Roux (Weed Smoker's Dream)," sung in French to the melody of Kansas Joe McCoy's "Weed Smoker's Dream," that itself evolved into the better known "Why Don't You Do Right?" "Since"La Fille Aux Cheveux Roux" translates as "Women With Red Hair," I suspect this might have original lyrics in French.

After Palazzo's instrumental tribute to his own neighborhood "Gramercy Sunset," has a nice trombone solo along with his almost cocktail-styled piano with a lush strings overlay," that provides a coda to a recording that may not break any new ground, but certainly entertains with these gems of performances.

I received downloads from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 368). Here is a video for one of the selections on this, "Running Wild."

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Johnny Winter Live in Sweden 1987

Johnny Winter
Live in Sweden 1987   

A live performance by Doctor John on which his trio is joined by Dr. John for several tracks, "Live in Sweden 1987" has been issued on CD and DVD. This performance is around his time recording Alligator with his trio of Jon Paris, bass and harmonica, and Tom Compton on drums. It is a pretty straightforward set, and the video is square format, not wide by any means.

This is typical Johnny Winter with his high energy attack with a rock edge. The set opens with a rocking rendition of his mentor, Clarence Garlow's "Sound the Bell," which is followed by a nice rendition of "Don't Take Advantage of Me," and then a rollicking treatment of J.B. Lenoir's "Mojo Boogie," with Paris adding harp behind Winter's slide guitar. Dr. John adds some New Orleans piano and vocal on "You Lie Too Much," with Winter providing solid backing, followed by a rocking treatment of Muddy Waters' "Sugar Sweet" with Paris adding harp and Dr. John taking some of the vocal. They also share verses on "Love Life & Money," with some fiery Winter guitar. The album closes with a furious tempoed, "Jumpin' Jack Flash." The DVD has a bonus song, "Prodigal Son" from a 1972 performance.

Very little here that will surprise Johnny Winter fans. The DVD comes from pretty straight-forward video of the performers (with a brief bit of Winter and band on the bus before the gig). There is a fair amount of Johnny Winter available on DVD and this may appeal more to his fans or to those not already having much by him on DVD or CD.

I received a review copy from the company issuing the DVD.This review originally appeared in the July-August 2016  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367).  Here is a performance of "Mojo Boogie."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Wynonie Harris - Don’t You Want To Rock?

Wynonie Harris 
Don’t You Want To Rock? 
The King & Deluxe Acetate series 
Ace Records 2-CD set UK Import 

Wynonie Harris, the great blue shouter known as “Mr. Blues,” is the subject of a superb double-CD reissue on the English Ace label which the label describes on its website as “23 of the R&B superstar’s seminal King sides in best-ever sound, plus an entire CD of alternates, all mastered from fresh transfers from the original acetates.” These are Harris’ first recordings for the Cincinnati based King Records label and find him backed by Dexter Gordon, Hot Lips Page, Tom Archia and many others with songs that would become classics, including his cover of Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” heard with an alternate take and a breakdown take. There are the big band renditions of Louis Prima’s “Oh Babe!” and the Ruth Brown hit “Teardrops From My Eyes,” bawdy numbers like “She Just Won’t Sell No More,” and “I Like My Baby’s Pudding,” and the humor of “Grandma Plays the Numbers.” There is a lavish booklet with session-by-session annotation that comes with this. It is probably this writer’s favorite blues reissue of 2015. 

 I purchased this and it was published the the 2015 Jazz & Blues Report Gift Guide (downloadable from website as a pdf file that includes 2016 Gift Guide and Gift Guides from prior years).  Here is the Wynonie Harris recording of  "Grandma Plays the Numbers."

Friday, December 09, 2016

Big Harp George Wash My Horse In Champagne

Big Harp George
Wash My Horse In Champagne
Blues Mountain Records

A follow-up to his widely acclaimed "Chromaticism," Big Harp George (Bisharat) has another superb album featuring his swinging acoustic chromatic playing and natural unforced vocals full of feeling and humor. Recorded at Kid Andersen's Greaseland Studios, Kid supplies bass or guitar on much of this with Chris Burns on keyboards and Raja Kawar on drums. Little Charlie Baty is on guitar for 7 of the 13 selections while Kedar Roy adds bass to 5 tracks and horns are present on 6 songs.

It is hard to single out any specific song as they are generally wonderfully played and sung. Andersen's guitar runs stick out on the amusing "Road Kill," while the title track has, interesting lyrics, an intriguing groove along with Baty's flamenco tinged acoustic guitar before some chromatic harp magic. This selection illustrates how some old school, real deal blues players can make something fresh and contemporary without rocking out. Then he evokes some 40's Slim & Slam jive with the peppy "Cool Mistake," "followed by a terrific slow blues "My Bright Future" whose tune is suggestive of the classic moody West Coast Blues, "Black Night."

The first track with horns is the easy swinging "I Ain't the Judge of You," and beside more clever lyrics, there is a terrific sax solo from Michael Peloquin and jazz-tinged guitar from Baty. The blues ballad, "I Wasn't Ready," is a delightful musical cousin of "Since I Feel For You," with more fine playing by Peloquin and Baty (the interplay of Peloquin and Big Harp George at the beginning is noteworthy, Baty's solo is terrific, while the leader's own horn like phrasing and tone is stunning). A terrific jumping blues, "If Only," stands out with more clever word play and some solid piano.

"Mojo Waltz" is a terrific instrumental with Peloquin on baritone sax (and overdubbed other saxes and Mike Rinta's trombone) that help frame some more startling harmonica, guitar (this time from Andersen) and a trombone solo. Another instrumental, "Size Matters," swings and there is some judicious use of the chromatic's lower register on this while the closing "Justice is My Time," is a superb track with just Andersen's bass providing the backing.

With "Wash My Horse In Champagne" Big George Harp again has another winner of a recording. The mix of strong songs, a terrific band, solid singing and fabulous harmonica results in the stellar music here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 366). Here is a video clip from his CD release show for this CD.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Our Thing Manhattan Style

Our Thing
Manhattan Style

The group, Our Thing, is a collaboration between guitarist Roni Ben-Hur whose roots are in Tunisia and Israel, bassist Santi Debriano who was born in Panama and grew up in Brooklyn, and percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca whose roots are in Brazil and their latest effort is "Manhattan Style (Jazzheads). In the publicity materials for this release, mention is made of 'home' as a theme underlying the album whether in the originals from the trio or the covers of compositions from Ellington, Coleman and Jobim.

The music here is breezy, uplifting, reflective and exuberant. Ben-Hur's "Home" opens on an exhilarating fashion as he exhibits marvelous technique and tone displayed before solos from Debriano and then Da Fonseca on an scintillating opening track. Ornette Coleman's mid-tempo blues, "The Blessing," is another vehicle for Ben-Hur to showcase his touch, tone and musical sense that evokes Wes Montgomery and Grant Green to these ears before another taut Debriano solo while the trio's rendition of Jobim's "Polo Pony," further evidences their sophisticated interplay, with the deft support of Ben-Hur's wonderful playing. Ellington's "African Flower" just may be the diamond of this recording of many musical jewels, as Da Fonseca uses mallets and percussion to accent Ben-Hur as he states the theme with a marvelous Arco solo from Debriano the centerpiece. The sober, melancholic tone of Debriano's "Imaginary Guinea" reflects it being composed during the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Its title is a reference to Vodun, whose followers in Haiti believe that Guinea is where their ancestors reside and that they will be reunited with them there in death. Guinea also represents Africa.

This superb recording closes with the lively title track that Da Fonseca composed after seeing Freddie Hubbard at the Blue Note in the 1980s where Hubbard was was “playing his butt off.” This selection opens with Ben-Hur's vibrant lead before Da Fonseca takes an explosive solo. "Manhattan Style" is simply terrific.

I received a download of this from the record company.This review appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here is a video clip of the three.


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Deb Ryder Grit Grease & Tears

Deb Ryder
Grit Grease & Tears
Bejeb Music

Deb Ryder impresses right off the back with "It Ain't Gonna Be Easy," the opening track of her third album, "Grit Grease & Tears." As she shouts on this hot jumping blues, it ain't gonna be easy but its gonna be a helluva lot of fun, and that is what this album is, a helluva lot of fun. Ryder cites Etta James and Koko Taylor, and she has captured not only the powerful approaches they employed, but also their expressive abilities and nuanced aspects of their singing. Add to this her abilities as a songwriter (she contributed all the songs here) and the production of Tony Braunagel, Johnny Schell's engineering, and a fine studio band including her husband Rick on bass, Braunagel on drums, Schell on guitar, Mike Finnigan on keyboards with Kirk Fletcher adding guitar to half the twelve songs, Albert Lee to one and harp added by Pieter Van Der Pluijm or Bob Corritore, and one has some hard hitting blues and rocking R&B.

Deb Ryder has a presence that the musicians enhance throughout the variations in mood and songs. Sugaray Rayford duets with her on a funky blues "Get a Little Steam Up," while the guitars of Schell and Fletcher and Van Der Pluijm's harmonica create a swampy feel for the powerful title track where she prays for a miracle as "you can't try anymore and I can't cry anymore," as she sings about being "a moth to your flame," with the band adding an insistent backing. It is followed by "Sweet Mary Anne," a song recalling the summer of 1968, and sweet Mary Anne who everyone loved but who wanted to leave that town with crisp, punchy horns from Jim Sublett and Darrell Leonard adding to the flavor of this retro-soul rocker, while "Lord Knows I Do," is a terrific slow blues with some scintillating B.B. King styled guitar set against a stop-time accompaniment. The consistency of the performances here is noteworthy including the "River's Forgiveness," with Schell's guitar and Corritore's harp adding to the flavor of this moody performance contrasting with the frenzied boogie of "Prisoner of War," but even at this tempo, Ryder's vocal does not sound hurried or rushed.

The easy rocking shuffle "Right Side of the Grass" closes this recording. Special kudos to Finnigan's keyboards and Braunagel's solid drumming throughout this strong latest striking effort from Deb Ryder, who certainly has more than fulfilled the promise of her excellent earlier recordings.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here is a promotional video for this recording.