Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Justin Mullens The Cornucopiad

Justin Mullens
The Cornucopiad
BJU Records

Justin Mullens is known for his work as an instrumentalist, composer and bandleader in pushing the boundaries of the French Horn as an improvising instrument in jazz. "The Cornucopiad," his new Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records release plays new compositions along with thee standards to display his flair as a improvisor as well as composer. He is accompanied with his octet that also includes Chris Cheek (Alto Sax & Clarinet), Peter Hess (Bass Clarinet), Ohad Talmor (Tenor Sax), Peter Thompson (Guitar), Desmond White (Bass), Matt Ray (Piano), and Marko Djordjevic (Drums).

While the French Horn has often been used to add tonal colors, Mullens is at the forefront of expanding the instruments role, borrowing technique more in line with what might expect from a saxophonist or trumpeter, yet still retaining the character of the French Horn. While featuring his playing, this recording also provides plenty of space for the various members to display their various talents. The leader opens the soloing on Freddie Hubbard's "Hub-Tones" and the tonal quality is not far from a trombone. He is followed by a sharp, yet dry-toned tenor sax solo, then piano and then guitarist Thompson whose ostinato figure first provides a foundation for Djordjevic and then the ensemble to conclude the performance.

After a brief short horn-guitar duo, one of three originals, "Amalthea," (named after the goat-nymph that reared Zeus, who accidentally broke off her horn which became the cornucopia), the displays not simply the leader's compositional skills but the wonderful tones of the ensemble with the bass clarinet helping fill out the bottom. White is featured on bass before Mullens solos with Thompson chording in support and certainly further demonstrates his skill and imagination. Two other originals "The Goatfish" (named after Aegipan, Amalthea's son who was reared with Zeus) and "The River Horn" (refers to the horn of Amalthea that Heracles received after battling the river god Achelous).

Mullens provides a very fresh setting for "You Stepped Out Of A Dream," with a bit of funk at the opening before he at first embellishes off the melody before crafting a solo taking off from the song's structure with considerable imagination and followed by Thompson's solo which also displays similar invention followed by Hess' woody bass clarinet before Mullens restates the melody for the coda. The octet also treats listeners to a very imaginative and lovely rendition of John Coltrane's "Naima," with Cheek contributing a bright solo on alto sax. The briskly paced "River Horn" first spotlights Talmor's singing tenor sax followed by Mullens spirited soloing and then Hess' serpentine bass clarinet.

"The Cornucopiad," is much more than a novelty of a jazz recording featuring a French Horn. Mullens certainly shows it to be quite capable of being more than part of an horn section and with his Octet has produced a recording that contains marvelous original compositions and quite original renditions of familiar standards that result in very wonderful listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 365). Here is the Justin Mullens Octet performing "You Stepped Out Of a Dream," at Smalls in Greenwich Village, New York City.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Infinite Spirit Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band

Infinite Spirit
Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band
FMR Records

Pianist Bob Gluck authored "You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band” (University of Chicago Press, 2012), and in the course of writing the book had conversations with the members of this legendary band. This was inspiration for Infinite Spirit, a quartet that includes Gluck on piano and electronics, Christopher Dean Sullivan on bass, and members of the Mwandishi Band, Eddie Henderson on trumpet and Billy Hart on drums on three songs from that band, one number that is interlaced with a Gluck original and an original from Sullivan.

There have been a number of recent recordings that have reexamined similar music of this period in an acoustic manner. This release is partly (and most successfully) in that manner. Hancock played an electronic piano (Fender Rhodes) on some of the originals from this period, while Gluck adds to this an array of electronic sounds. It is a combination that to my mind is not completely successful. I mean listening to the wonderful development of Hancock's motif's on "Sleeping Giant" from Gluck on piano along with the haunting playing of Henderson as well as Hart's superb drumming (and Sullivan is a rock on bass) gets mesmerizing until about three/fourths of the way through one is assaulted with electronic effects that overwhelm the listener. Much better is the poignant performance of "You'll Know When You Get There," as well as "Quasar" in which there are sound effects layered among the performance, but do not overwhelm Henderson's marvelous playing over the ostinato bass, Gluck's chords and Hart's shifting groove. The electronics sound more integrated into the opening of "Spirits Unleashed," another display of Henderson's ability to paint a mood, and then some musical fireworks between him and Gluck with the electronic effects at the end again not overwhelming the musicians. And while the original "Water Torture" employed electronics, it was employed more successfully on the original where it was employed like an instrument and not simply sonic effects.

An intriguing recording but the electronics at times is a distraction and even unlistenable, particularly on the first of the five tracks. This is unfortunate because there is much here that is compelling.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 365). Here is a promo video for this album.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Stryker/Slagle Band Routes

The Stryker/Slagle Band (Expanded)

"Routes" is a new release by an expanded edition of The Stryker/Slagle Band. To guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist/flautist Steve Slagle, along with bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer McLenty Hunter are added John Clark on french horn, Billy Drewes on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Clark Gayton on trombone and tuba, and Bill O'Connell on piano (including Fender Rhodes). The full eight pieces are heard on six of the nine performances. Of the remaining three, one is a sextet, one is a quintet and one features the quartet. Stryker and Slagle each contribute four compositions and the ninth piece is from Charles Mingus (Slagle is a significant contributor to the Mingus Big Band), and one can detect Mingus' influence in the hard driving performances contained in this recording.

Certainly the driving "City of Angels," Slagle's salute to his home town, establishes this feel, with the horn voicings contributing to the lively solos from the leaders. Drewes' bass clarinet riff and O'Connell's floating fender rhodes set the mood on Stryker's 'Nothin' Wrong With It," with the interplay and counterpoint between Slagle's serpentine soprano sax and the bass clarinet with Slagle, and then Stryker soloing. The ensemble does a lovely rendition of Slagle's arrangement of the Charles Mingus ballad, "Self-portrait In Three Colors," with the leaders and bassist showcased. Slagle's "Fort Greene Scene," with O'Connell on fender rhodes, evokes  Les McCann in the driving performance. Gayton is featured on trombone and tuba for Stryker's "Great Plains" while Slagle's flute adds coloring to the sounds The quartet performance "Extensity," is a lively blues-rooted "burner" quoting annotator Rick Simpson, while "Gardena," another homage to his home town of Los Angeles from Slagle, is another composition that suggests a definite Mingus influence (hardly unexpected with Slagle's time with the Mingus Big band), with excellent solos from O'Donnell, Slagle, and Stryker and fresh support from the horns.

The closing "Lickety Split Lounge," is a brisk bluesy shuffle named after the lounge where Stryker auditioned for Jack McDuff and joined the legendary organist's group that included Slagle with some hot blowing from the leaders, O'Donnell and trombonist Gayton. It provides a lively coda to this strong recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally ran in the March-April Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 365). Here is a video of The Stryker/Slagle Band (Expanded) playing "Great Plains."


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Trio Da Paz 30

Trio Da Paz
Zoho Music

The Brazilians comprising Trio Da Paz (Romero Lubambo (Acoustic & Electric Guitars), Nilson Matta (Acoustic Bass), and Duduka Da Fonseca (Drums)) first came together three decades ago, accounting for the title of their new album "30." In the ensuing three decades they have developed into a dazzling ensemble as the incorporate elements of samba and bossa nova with bebop, and other sounds that is on display on the ten performances here, nine of which were penned by members of the trio.

Matta's brisk "Sampa 67" (named after his home town of Såo Paolo) gives all three a chance to display not only the interplay between them, but their marvelous instrumental skills with the composer's own solos followed by sizzling exchanges between Lubambo gypsy-accented guitar and Da Fonseca's propulsive percussion. The afoxé rhythms on Lubambo's bright "For Donato" (for pianist Joåo Donato) lends a invigorating feel along with the writer's own fleet playing mixing single note runs with series of chords while Da Fonseca brilliantly adds color and Matta provides a steady foundation for the trio. Da Fonseca uses brushes for the breezy, and romantic rendition of "Autumn," Lubambo's bossa nova.

There is plenty of charm in De Fonseca's "Alana" (named after his daughter, with the trio's nimble and buoyant handling of the tempo changes, while Lubambo's "Luisa," named after his daughter, has a sedate lilt in its 3/4 tempo. The breakneck tempo of Baden Powell's "Samba Trieste," belies the title on this spirited performance. Plenty of thought went in sequencing the tunes here as shown by Matta's charming ballad "Åguas Brasileiras" following. The exhilarating "Sweeping the Chimney" (by Lubambo) was inspired by workers at De Fonseca's home, and the composer's fretwork dazzles again while De Fonseca's peppery use on brushes lends the feel of someone playing shakers. De Fonseca's "Flying Over Rio" is another lovely bossa nova.

The closing "LVM/ Direto AO Assunto," opens in a reflective fashion with Matta's solo bridging the performances torrid close, again display the virtuosity of the three and the empathy they have for each other. it is an exciting conclusion to this superb album.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the March-April 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 365). Here from 2007 they perform "Wave."


Friday, January 27, 2017

Tim Williams So Low

Tim Williams
So Low
Lowden Proud Records Ltd

According to his website, "Tim Williams is a blues-based singer / songwriter / multi - instrumentalist. He is a 40 year veteran of the 'Roots' music scene in North America, roots which stretch back to the coffee-house scene of his native California in the mid 60's." Living in Canada since 1970, he has toured throughout the world and was the 2014 International Blues Challenge winner in the solo/duo category. While he performs (and has recorded) a wide range of music, his new recording So Low (Lowden Proud Records Ltd) is a marvelous solo recording (the album title is a play on words on solo) that indicates the talent that won the International Blues Challenge and shows his versatility as he plays a 19th Century Marquette guitar, a Gretsch resonator, a Stella mandolin and a Harmony Sovereign 12-string on various selections.

Listening to his strutting rendition of the opening selection, Mose Allison's "If You Live," one immediately is drawn to his clean, emphatic picking and his grainy, appealing singing and followed by his adept finger picking on the bouncy "More Peppers In Your Chili." One can detect a lot of possible sources to Williams playing including Blind Boy Fuller, Big Bill Broonzy, Charlie McCoy, Tampa Red, Lightnin' Hopkins and Lonnie Johnson. He obviously has listened to a lot of music and adapted elements of these in his own playing which I might liken most to Broonzy, although on Broonzy's "My Big Money," his mandolin accompaniment brings McCoy to mind on a song that employs the same melody as "Sitting on Top of the World." His slide playing on the resonator on "Anywhere c/o The Blues," is a cross between Robert Johnson and the Black Ace as he incorporates a number of blues lines in this nicely paced performance.

Other performances are equally entertaining. "Pistol Snapper" is his rendition of a Blind Boy Fuller and the mix of his backing and natural vocal is a delight followed by a wistful rendition of Tampa Red's "Witching Hour Blues," matching his slide playing with a vocal on another fine performance. "Grizzly Bear," adapted by Geoff Muldaur and others five decades ago, was a take on Jim Jackson's "This Morning She Was Gone." On this, Williams plays some lively 12-string while singing about his gal going to Frisco to dance the Grizzly Bear there. Johnny Cash's "Big River" is transformed into a driving slide blues. After the loping, and pensive, "Midnight after Midnight," inspired by some Lonnie Johnson licks, the recording closes with a tribute to Lightnin' Hopkins entitled "Lightnin'," where Williams suggests the music of Hopkins and sings about Lightnin' playing a juke joint on a Saturday night with cousin Cleveland on a rub-board.

Tim Williams' So Low impresses with his wide ears, his terrific playing and his unforced singing which results in an acoustic blues album of great appeal.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 365). Here he performs Big River.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Marlene Ver Planck The Mood I'm In

Marlene Ver Planck
The Mood I'm In

The many charms of vocalist Marlene Ver Planck are evident as she sings the title track of her latest Audiophile release The Mood I'm In. This bright and brisk vocal displays the warmth she brings backed by a terrific trio of John Pearce, piano, Paul Morgan, Bass, and Bobby Worth, drums, with Mark Nightingale adding trombone behind her marvelous and joyful delivery on this performance. This recording is her 24th for the Audiophile label, and indication of her longevity as a performer and a singer of song. This trio, trombonist Nightingale and saxophonist/flautist Any Panayi recorded this during one of her annual tours of England.

This is a marvelous collection of songs, and while they come from legendary composers and songwriters as Harry Warren, Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, Benny Carter, Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen, and Henry Mancini, these are songs that are not overly well done. These lyrical gems include her reflective delivery of the Kohler-Warren "Me and the Blues" with a deliciously gruff trombone solo on a number Mildred Bailey recorded in 1946, as well the bouncy rendition of the Troup and Mancini penned "Free and Easy," that opens with just her and bassist Morgan before the full trio and a touch of flute. A particular favorite is the lovely ballad,"It Shouldn't Happen To a Dream," from Duke Ellington, Don George and Johnny Hodges. This is another of the performances in which Nightingale's trombone adds so much to the performance. He also does on her wistful rendition of "All Too Soon," another gem from the Ellington songbook with lyrics by Carl Sigman. Billy Eckstine's "I Want To Talk About You" is another marvelous love song with lovely flute by Panayi who switches to tenor for the buoyant treatment of Cahn-VanHeusen's "Come on Strong" where she briefly scats with some highly energetic sax.

There are other delights that Marlene Ver Planck brings us in The Mood I'm In, with wonderful vocals, terrific backing, and a selection of choice, lesser-known songs. 

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here she is in performance.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Lara Price I Mean Business

Lara Price
I Mean Business
Price Productions/ Vizztone

Lara Price was born in the war torn country of Vietnam in 1975. Abandoned at birth, Lara became a part of the controversial Operation Baby Lift, the mass evacuation of orphans from South Vietnam to the United States, and was one of the small number who have survived. She has been singing since a youth and in 1997 moved to the San Francisco Bay area where she has been involved in a variety of musical productions. "This"I Mean Business" is her sixth album (the first for this writer) and is an impressive and mature recording by this Bay Area singer whose career has included several genre spanning recordings.

 Recorded at Kid Andersen's Greaseland Studios, Price is supported by an A-List crew of musicians including Jim Pugh (Robert Cray Band), Chris Cain, and fellow VizzTone label-mates Mighty Mike Schermer (Marcia Ball) and Laura Chavez (who plays with Lara frequently when she’s not touring with Candye Kane), along with Andersen and a tight, punchy horn section and backing vocal chorus. Price also wrote, co-wrote and collected songs for this release (some of the collaborations involved Schermer and Chavez) and the overall feel is of the classic soul and blues of the sixties and seventies.

This feel of classic soul and blues is fostered by her solid covers of the Candi Staton recording "Get It Where I Want It," Ann Peebles' "Slipped, Tripped, Fell In Love," both of which were penned by George Jackson. She has a touch of vibrato in her singing and her vocal dynamics helps add to the power of her singing. Also strong is a strong interpretation of Freddie King's "Pack It Up." Her originals certainly are noteworthy as well including her collaboration with Schermer, "Happy Blue Year," with some terrific guitar from him as well as keyboards from Pugh, to enhance her moving vocal on this blues lament. Chavez (who added some terrific guitar to "Pack It Up") collaborated on the deep soul original "Time," probably the best example of Price's use of dynamics in her vocal with the performance's intensity building to its explosive climax (and Chavez is stunning here as well).

There are other delights including the title track with Chris Cain's sharp guitar break and a a strutting groove behind Price's fervent singing and the closing blue lament "Love Lost" with Andersen on lead guitar. Price impressed this writer throughout and sounding convincing whether singing softly or forcefully. With excellent support and Kid Andersen's solid production, Lara Price's "I Mean Business" is a striking recording.

I received a review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 364). Here is Lara Price performing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Joseph Daley The Tuba Trio Chronicles

Joseph Daley
The Tuba Trio Chronicles
Joda Music

Joseph Daley dedicates "The Tuba Trio Chronicles" to the memory of his good friend and mentor, Sam Rivers, with whom he played in the Rivbea Tuba Trio along with Barry Altschul. Daley is heard on this on tuba and euphonium and joined by Warren Smith, heard on a drum set, bass marimba, marimba and a variety of percussion instruments, and Scott Robinson on a variety of reeds including tenor sax, bass sax, a jazzophone, contra alto clarinet and theremin.

As evident from the opening "Interplay" which Daley describes as "An exploration into the intervallic melodic concepts of Sam Rivers …" which underlies improvisations by Daley on Euphonium (and he displays remarkable facility on this) and Robinson on tenor. "Modality" is centered on a modal line as a theme for the three with Daley on tuba, Robinson on bass sax and Smith adding bass marimba accents with remarkable interaction between Daley and Robinson. For "Emergence," Smith is on tympani, gongs, bass drum and Chinese cymbal, Daley on Euphonium while Robinson is on the sour sounding contrabass sarrusophone and the jazzphone (the latter a trumpet sounding instrument) and the feel of the performance is akin to some Art Ensemble of Chicago performances. "Sonorous" is a similar open improvisation vehicle with Robinson's bass sax replacing the sarrusophone and Daley on tuba including playing it with a mute. These performances are like abstract painting with sound as opposed to colors with bit of melody mixing with the tuba's bass lines and the rhythmic accents of gongs and other percussion.

Daley prepared sound textures for 'Terrarium," the longest performance with Smith's marimba adding to his instruments while Robinson in on bass flute, theremin, waterphone and contra alto clarinet on a performance that sounds like a soundtrack to an experimental film and at other times a spellbinding musical kaleidoscope. A lovely rendition of Sam Rivers' "Beatrice" is the only composition that Daley did not write with Smith's vibraphone adding a nice flavor here. The closing "Proclamation" is similar in concept to the opening "Interplay," allowing for some remarkable improvisational segments on tuba and bass sax along with the counterpoint they exhibit at times. Daley, who is exceptional throughout, is remarkable on tuba here.

"The Tuba Trio Chronicles" is an exceptional release of challenging jazz that may not be for those with traditional tastes.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 364).

Monday, January 23, 2017

Jimmy Scott I Go Back Home

Jimmy Scott
I Go Back Home
Eden River Records

Jimmy Scott's career was one of great frustration as for years he was bound to an onerous recording contract with the result that in his prime years, his musical career was stifled. Fortunately starting in the 1980s, Scott's fortune changed. He was amongst the early recipients of the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. Still, despite the efforts of his friends like the late Doc Pomus, it wasn't until a record company exec saw Scott sing at Pomus' funeral that he was signed to a record label. As one close to Doc Pomus noted in the film, "AKA Doc Pomus", it took Pomus to f****ng die for Jimmy Scott to get a recording contract. Fortunately we were blessed with many memorable recordings that displayed his unique vocal styling.

This new album was recorded prior to Scott's passing in 2014 and was the result of the desire of German producer Ralf Kemper to produce Scott, that this elaborate production occurred. Mixed by the late Phil Ramone, Scott is joined by a number of collaborators including Bossa nova icon Oscar Castro-Neves and legendary saxophonist James Moody, both of whom themselves passed away after their contributions to this recording. Scott is wonderfully backed on many songs by drummer Peter Erskine, the great pianist Kenny Barron and organist and trumpet player Joey DeFrancesco. Jazz icon Dee Dee Bridgewater joins Scott on "For Once in My Life," while vocalist Monica Mancini and trumpet master Arturo Sandoval are on "I Remember You," while several tracks have lush orchestrations played by the HBR Studio Symphony Orchestra.

This album is clearly a labor of love from the producer but one would be hard pressed to call this among Scott's finest works. Scott was among the most singular singers whose phrasing, timing and pitch could wring emotion out of what would sound like cliches when sung by lesser vocalists. Yet there are passages here when his vocals sound a tad frayed. Still his ability to move the listener is evident on the opening "Motherless Child," enhanced by Joey DeFrancesco's organ. On "Easy Living" his vocal is half-spoken with a fine DeFrancesco solo. The bossa nova "Love Letters" is an appealing vocal duet with Oscar Castro-Neves who contributes his guitar along with his vocal in Portuguese, while Dee Dee Bridgewater joins Scott for a duet of Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life," with James Moody contributing a terrific tenor sax solo.

Furthermore, some of the other performances another singer is at the fore such as Monica Mancini's marvelous featured vocal on "I Remember You," which also has the with the guitar of Oscar Castro-Neves in the accompaniment and with Sandoval's trumpet. On "Someone to Watch Over Me" (perhaps a song he is most identified with), Scott provides a brief spoken introduction before Renee Olstead sings the vocal in an attractive understated manner. There are two duets with actor Joe Pesci that are among the high points of this recording. Kenny Barron's piano is noteworthy on "The Nearness of You," where Pesci both shows Scott's influence in his approach as well as complements Scott.

There is plenty of poignancy throughout, including the closing "Poor Butterfly," with Gregoire Maret's wistful harmonica, but Scott himself shows his years and perhaps health issues. If one was looking for an introduction to Jimmy Scott, there would be other recordings that one would recommend before this. This is more a recording for those who are already fans of him, and wish to hear his last musical testament, that is wonderfully played even if it has some flaws.

I received for review a download from a publicist. Here is Dee Dee Bridgewater behind the scenes for "For Once in My Life."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Lucky Losers Play A Winning Hand

The Lucky Losers
A Winning Hand
West Tone Records

The Lucky Losers are singer Cathy Lemons and singer-harmonica player Phil Berkowitz backed by a strong band on a program of blues, rhythm and blues classics and blues-rooted rock, "A Winning Hand" (West Tone Records). The backing band includes Marvin Greene and Kid Andersen (with Steve Freund on one track); Steve Evans, Steve Hazelwood or Joe Kyle on bass; Robi Bean or Jay Hansen on drums; and Chris Burns or Kevin Zuffi on keyboards with horns added to a couple of selections. Lemons and Berkowitz each contribute three originals (Berkowitz's were co-written by Danny Caron and there are six covers.

About her 2014 VizzTone album "Black Crow" I observed that "Bay area singer Cathy Lemons brings a rich plate of musical gems including blues and blues-infused rock in a fashion that might suggest Bonnie Raitt." I was impressed by the the "natural, relaxed and soulful quality" of her vocals and am further impressed on that account here as well as how well she and Berkowitz complement each other. While the originals, including the opening Berkowitz-Caron number "Change in the Weather" display this with its soulful flavor, the renditions of the Sam and Dave classic "I Take What I Want" and the Brooks Benton-Dinah Washington golden oldie "Baby, You Got What It Takes," maybe best showcase this as they bring warmth and plenty of humor as well to the later number (which also benefits from Berkowitz's horn-like harp playing. It is interesting to hear a male and female handle the Sam and Dave number, providing a different tenor to the lyrics.

The duo also do a marvelous rendition of a lesser know Allen Toussaint number "What is Success," while Lemons rendition of her original "Suicide By Law" has a bit of whimsy in the jazz-tinged sophisticated vocal. In contrast, her "Detroit City Man," is a driving styled boogie rocker musically evocative of a seventies John Lee Hooker recording with some choice harp backing from Berkowitz while Andersen adds stinging guitar fills as Lemons sings about a wrong doing man. Lemons wrote title track, a number that has to these ears the feel of a Crosby, Nash and Young number.

While the spotlight is on Lemons and Berkowitz, the splendid backing is noteworthy with the light, unhurried feel that contributes to the pleasures in listening to this. There is not a bad moment on this recording. While Lemons and Berkowitz may call themselves The Lucky Losers, they have provided listeners a royal flush with "A Winning Hand."

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review was written in 2015 for Jazz & Blues Report but it did not run. Here The Lucky Losers perform an Allen Toussaint tribute.

Received from Frank Roszak

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Young Masters Coming of Age

The Young Masters
Coming of Age
Live The Spirit Residency

Live The Spirit Residency is a grass roots education and performance program associated with Ernest Dawkins, one of today's most accomplished saxophonists, educator and composer, The Young Masters are one of the student ensembles he has mentored and includes Dawkins on alto saxophone and director; Isaiah Collier on tenor saxophone; Jeremiah Collier on drums, Alexis Lombre on piano and James Wenzel on bass. All four of the young masters have contributed to the compositions presented here. Several of these were in response to victims of gun violence in Chicago. The compositions were also performed in public at parks in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood.

This recording opens with Lombre's "Blues in Tyme," that evokes the classic Coltrane Quartet in Lombre's marvelous piano that hints at McCoy Tyner whose influence shapes her playing with her own voice. Isaiah Collier's robust tenor similarly is influenced by John Coltrane, but likewiase he has his own voice and has his own ideas to share for listeners. Dawkins also solos and the rhythm duo is excellent. While the title might suggest it was a tribute to Tyner, it was first performed in Chicago's Dawes Park in memory of Tyshawn Lee, a 9 year old victim of Chicago's gun violence. This terrific performance  shows how these young players have learned from their ancestors and are becoming  young masters. Lombre's other composition "I'm Tired" is a moody blues with the light backing from Wenzel and Jeremiah Collier (on brushes).

Isaiah Collier composed the ruminative "Before You Go" in memory of a classmate that had been murdered in 2014, and the spotlight here shines on both him and pianist Lombre. He also contributed a bouncy "Heath's Groove," that one surmises is dedicated to the great tenor saxophonist, composer and educator, Jimmy Heath. The quartet marvelously performs Wenzel's lovely ballad, "Conflicts Cadence." Dawkins joins in for the lively quintet performance of Wenzel's "Finish Line," with Isaiah Collier taking an energetic solo, followed by Dawkins' blues-inflected alto and the composer.

"June 11" is a duet performance between the Collier Brothers and Isaiah's fiery tenor suggesting the late Johnny Griffin and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis with brother Jeremiah pushing this along. Then there is "Crash," another performance that sounds rooted in the hard bop to free jazz of the sixties and seventies (to these ears suggestive of Pharaoh Sanders) in the robust, high energy tenor sax.

It is impressive to note the youthfulness of Lombre and Isaiah Collier who graduated high school not that long prior to this recording, and I believe Jeremiah Collier is in 10th Grade, while bassist Wenzel likely has finished his Bachelor's at University of Illinois at Chicago. I mention this because there is nothing of the music suggests their youth. They play with a technical facility as well as a musical maturity that transcends their youth. Indeed they have Come of Age. They join the many musicians  Dawkins has mentored over the years including trumpeters Marquis Hill, Maurice Brown and Corey Wilkes; flutist Nicole Mitchell; saxophonists David Boykin, Aaron Getsug, and Greg Ward; trombonist Norman Palm; and drummer Isaiah Spencer.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a clip of Alexis Lombre and Isaiah Collier performing together. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

David Benoit Featuring Jane Monheit 2 In Love

David Benoit Featuring Jane Monheit
2 In Love

When asked for something new after over 30 instrumental albums, David Benoit thought that an album featuring vocals might be what is needed. He decided to write new songs, but not a lyricist he had friends Lorraine Feather and Mark Winkler as well as new friend Spencer Day to wed his songs that were all over the place and then recruited Jane Monheit to sing these new songs that were "all over the place stylistically". The result is a new Concord album by Benoit featuring Jane Monheit, "2 In Love."

Its a really lovely musical combination, as Monheit's lovely voice is able to handle the spanish-tinged jazz of the opening "Barcelona Nights" (and Pat Kelly's acoustic guitar enhances the performance). In contrast, "This Dance" sounds like a sophisticated cabaret combo's rendition of a superior Broadway tune." "Two in Love" is a lovely bit of sophisticated jazzy pop with a delicious vocal and a nice latin touch with a stately piano solo. "Dragonfly," has a piano trio is augmented by strings behind Monheit's as she hopes about love waiting for her. The clarity of Monheit's phrasing and her marvelous pitch is displayed on "Love Will Light the Way," which is another song that suggests how marvelous Monheit might be on the musical stage. "Fly Away" has a folk-like feel to its melody while "Something's Gotta Give" is another gem that sounds like it was written for the stage.

Tim Weisberg plays flute on the relaxed "instrumental "Love in Hyde Park," and the album closes with a solo Benoit performance of a medley "Love Theme from Candide / Send in the Clowns," that is marvelously played in a fairly straight-forward manner. Marvelously played and sang, "2 In Love" is a recording that evokes a posh cabaret and a sophisticated musical audience that would be appreciating the magic Benoit and Monheit spin.

I received my review copy from Concord. This review appeared originally in the September-October 2015  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 362). Here is a preview of "Two in Love."

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Shemekia Copeland Outskirts of Love

Shemekia Copeland
Outskirts of Love
Alligator Records

Returning to Alligator Records, Shemekia Copeland has just issued "Outskirts of Love," an album of blues, roots rock, and R&B that certainly will appeal to her many fans. Produced in Nashville by Oliver Wood, who plays guitar and adds backing vocals, the recording also includes Jano Rix on drums, percussion and keyboards and Lex Price on bass, with guest appearances by Billy Gibbons, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Robert Randolph. Also heard are guitarist Will Kimbrough and Arthur Neilson (from Shemekia's touring band), and steel guitarist Pete Finney. Wood and Executive Producer John Hahn (and Shemekia's manager) collaborated for a number of three songs and Hahn also collaborated with Ian Siegel on another. There are also renditions of songs from Shemekia's late father, Johnny Copeland, along with Albert King, John Fogerty, Jessie Mae Hemphill amongst others.

The title track is a rocking number that would not be out of place on an album rock station which Shemekia quickly lends her vocal authority to the Hahn-Wood lyrics. A highlight is the reworking of her father's "Devil's Hand" with a smoldering backing that builds in intensity along with her assured, blues shouting. Alvin Hart lends some down-home blues flavor with his guitar and vocal to the Hahn-Siegel "Cardboard Box," where she has no pillow, "mine is made out of rocks," and the "blues come calling, no it never knocks, life is so simple, in a cardboard box." "Drivin' Out of Nashville," is a country rocker although the tagline "country music ain't nothing but blues with a twang," may be memorable, if not true.

Shemekia's take on Orville Couch and Eddie McDuff's "I Feel a Sin Coming On" transforms this country classic into an intense slice of deep southern soul that sounds like it was recorded in Muscle Shoals. Jesse Winchester's "Isn't That So" is a tough shuffle with a New Orleans groove, while Billy Gibbons adds guitar to the remake of Z.Z. Top's hard rock "Jesus Left Chicago." John Fogerty's songs have recently been inspiration to various blues women (Vaneese Thomas) and Shemekia's maturity as a singer is evident on her interpretation of "Long As I Can See The Light."

After a fresh take on Albert King's "Wrapped Up In Love Again," the album closes with her rendition of Jessie Mae Hemphill's plea "Lord, Help the Poor and Needy," in this land. Its a pretty straightforward vocal enhanced by swampy feel of the backing. Shemekia's phrasing and use of dynamics elevate her beyond simply being a shouter. The performances on "Outskirts of Love" may span musical genres, but throughout, Shemekia Copeland is compelling throughout them.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Here is Shemekia Copeland performing "
Drivin' Out of Nashville."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Lucky Losers In Any Town

The Lucky Losers
In Any Town
Dirty Cat Records

It was a little over a year that this writer praised the debut release by The Lucky Losers, "A Winning Hand." This band led by vocalists Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz (who also plays harmonica), also includes Marvin Greene on guitar; Chris Burns on keyboards, Tim Wagar on bass and Robi Bean on drums. Recorded at Kid Andersen's Greaseland Studio, Andersen also adds guitar, keyboards and percussion as well as co-produced this with Berkowitz and Lemons. Others contributing to this include Terry Hanck, Frank Goldwasser, Jeff Jensen, D'Mar and Michael Peloquin. Berkowitz and Danny Caron contributed four originals, Lemons five and there are a couple of renditions of songs not often covered among blues-roots bands.

Listening to the duo again, I remained especially impressed by Lemons natural and soulful delivery while Berkowitz's own unforced singing complements her so well. This is evident on the opening Berkowitz-Caron original "So High," a strong performance that might evoke Delaney & Bonnie. There is an unexpected, and very playful cover of the June and Johnny Cash duet, "Jackson," that shows the rapport between the two. Lemons' original "Don't Let 'Em SeeYa Cry," is a powerful slow blues set against a backing that recalls some of the Johnnie Taylor blues for Stax in the late 60s and early 70s (for example "Hello Sundown" and "Little Bluebird"). Greene suggests Little Milton with his solo on this which is followed by a nice harp solo from Berkowitz on a potent performance. Berkowitz sings "Blind Man In The Dark," for a nice blue-eyed soul performance. Franck Goldwasser plays slide on the rocking blues duet "I Can't Change Ya," while there is a reflective quality by Lemons on her title track.

A cover of Bobby Charles' "Small Town Talk," closes another fine recording by Lemons and Berkowitz. The quality and variety of material and the crisp, uncluttered and unhurried backing contribute to another superior recording from The Lucky Losers.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the July-August 2016  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367).

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat Live at the Kessler

Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat
Live at the Kessler
Underworld Records

Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat is a Dallas Texas blues-infused rock and roll and roots band based out of Dallas, Texas. Singer-songwriter and guitarist Suhler and the and have been together over two decades and had four albums on Lucky Seven and two prior ones on underworld while Suhler had a solo acoustic release on Topcat. The band includes Jim Suhler (guitar, vocals), Chris Alexander (bass, vocals), Shawn Phares (keyboards) and Beau Chadwell (drums, percussion). On the new release, "Live at the Kessler" they are joined by Tim Alexander on keyboards and Tex Lovera on cigar box guitar. Heard on these live performances from the Dallas venue are 13 songs that originally appeared on the studio albums, "Panther Burn," "Tijuana Bible," "Bad Ju Ju" and the solo acoustic "Dirt Road," plus two new songs, “Doin’ the Best I Can” and “Reverie.”

There is plenty to like from Suhler's straight-forward, heartfelt vocals along with his strong guitar playing that is crisp and focused, leading one to understand why he plays lead guitar with George Thorogood. His band provides tight, well-paced backing adding to the enjoyment of the songs which range from strong rollicking original blues shuffles like "I Declare" and the rollicking "Scattergun" (with some solid slide guitar); the slide-drenched blues-rock of "Panther Burn"; the gritty rootsy depiction of a border city in "Tijuana Bible"; the wistful bluesy feel of "Deja Blue" (with some Tex-Mex flavored accordion in the backing); the Traveling Wilbury's feel of his celebration of the Gulf Coast in "Texassippi"; and his affectionate tribute to Lightnin' Hopkins, "Po' Lightnin'."

There is not a poor moment in "Live at the Kessler," and so good to hear Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat still doing it so well today.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the September- October 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here is a video of Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat performing.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Fat Babies Solid Gassuh

The Fat Babies
Solid Gassuh
Delmark Records

The Chicago classic jazz band The Fat Babies have a new release from their extensive repertoire that includes more idiomatic renditions of songs from the twenties and thirties. The Fats Babies is comprised of leader Beau Sample on bass; Andy Schumm on cornet; Dave Bock on trombone; Paul Asaro on piano and vocals; Jake Sanders on tenor banjo and guitar; Alex Hall on drums; and John Otto on clarinet and saxophones, the same personnel that were on their first album, "Chicago Hot," accounting for the crisp ensemble sound and assured solos. Unlike that earlier album, the songs here are lesser known songs of the era than those on the earlier album. Like that recording, they inject a definite spirit in their recreations.

Ricky Ricccardi, Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, notes that band soften playing such music get hot as playing "nostalgia" or "museum pieces," but suggests that the appeal of The Fat Babies is that they "treat this music as a living, breathing thing." This is something that is difficult to accomplish while trying to say stylistically true to the recordings that are the source for these performances. A lively rendition of the Luis Russell-Paul Barbarin "Doctor Blues" opening this album is a joyful reaffirmation of the quality of their performancers of these vintage numbers. Schumm, who arranged this music, plays his cornet in the spirit of Bix Beiderbecke like on "Slow River," a lesser known Clarence Williams composition.

In its playing, The Fat Babies generally avoids being 'nostalgic,' and also  being campy, but there are exceptions in the vocals. Pianist Asaro's crooning on "Did You Ever See A Dream Walking?" is appealing with Sanders' guitar adding a nice touch here, although his Ted Lewis styling on "Egyptian Ella," comes off as a bit campy. The spirited rendition of Thomas Morris' "Original Charleston Strut" (with Hall's drumming standing out with his rhythmic accents), and the lively rendition of "Alabamy Bound" (one of the most familiar numbers here), are other standout selections. Also noteworthy is the rendition of Arthur Schutt's "Delirium," which Ricccardi suggests they provide "an almost Bix-meets-Raymond Scott treatment," taking what was originally a unique chart and performing "something surprising, unpredictable and even a little haunting," although I might suggest evocative as the mood engendered.

A breakneck tempo rendition of "Maple Leaf Rag," closes "Solid Gassuh," which Riccardi observed would be quite a very high compliment from Louis Armstrong and appropriate to use describing the music herein. If this listener has some reservations about several vocals, there are none about the consistent solid performances by The Fat Babies.

I received my review copy from Delmark Records. Here The Fat Babies perform Jelly Roll Morton.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Little Mike How Long

Little Mike
How Long
Elrob Records

Michael Markowitz, aka Little Mike, has a new set of Chicago-styled blues "How Long," although his usual cohorts, The Tornados are not present. Musically there will be little surprises as Mike brings his harmonica, some piano and vocals to a mix of classic blues and idiomatic originals with varying studio personnel, but stylistically very akin to what he done with the Tornados.

The title song is the J.B. Lenoir classic, although Mike's rendition is reminiscent of that by Pinetop Perkins with whom Mike played with numerous times. The studio band is quite tight behind him, even at a breakneck tempo (perhaps a tad too fast) as on "Smokin'," where he sings about cigarettes gonna kill him and he can't quit no matter how hard he tries. There is a surprising take on the Bobby Timmons hard bop classic "Moanin'," with some twisting harp lines and nice guitar. His brisk shuffle "When My Baby Left Me," is followed by a feverish take of Johnny Young's instrumental "Slam Hammer." Other highlights include a cover of Eddie Taylor's "Bad Boy," where he adds rollicking piano behind his harp and earnest vocal, and the atmospheric "Not What Mama Planned," with some nifty guitar.

In an interview excerpted in the liner notes, Mike describes his blues as "deep, hard hitting and raw." Certainly there is little contrived here, just straight-forward blues that fans of Little Mike will be quite familiar and others will find to their taste.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December issue of the Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here Little Mike is seen with the Tornados.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Woody Shaw - Louis Hayes The Tour Volume One

Woody Shaw - Louis Hayes
The Tour Volume One
High Note

Word of a release of a previously unissued recording by the Louis Hayes-Junior Cook Quintet from a 1976 tour was the cause of great anticipation. Released under trumpeter Woody Shaw's name, that reflects the fact that the late Shaw became subsequently one of the most brilliant trumpeters, composers and band-leaders of the seventies and eighties. Not long after this European tour, saxophonist Cook left and Shaw took over as co-leader with Rene McLean (Jackie's son) replacing him, but with the same rhythm section of the highly under-appreciated pianist, Ronnie Matthews, Stafford James on bass and Louis Hayes on drum making for one of the most formidable rhythm sections of that times. I saw the Hayes-Shaw band at the original downstairs Tralfamadore Cafe in Buffalo in winter 1976-1977 and there is a live recording of the Hayes-Shaw group from Lausanne Switzerland from 1977 available.

That 1977 recording is very good indeed, but this March 19676 recording simply has become my favorite Shaw recording, opening with "Moontrane," which Shaw wrote when he was 18 and had recorded with organist Larry Young. Explosive is an understatement of this performance with Matthews really playing a such a high level, and then listening to James under the Shaw's solo while Hayes pushes things along. Things don't cool at all on Larry Young's "Obsequious," which features Cook's hot playing followed by Shaw along with the astounding rhythm section. Things cool down just so slightly on a terrific rendition of Walter Booker's up-tempo bossa/samba, "Book's Bossa," before the band takes flight again on pianist Matthews' burner "Ichi-ban" (the title track of a studio album the group made). This stellar recording closes with a standard by Bronislaw Kaper, "Invitation," which gets a very personalized interpretation by this group.

Listening to Shaw here one cannot help but be astonished by his ability to compose his ideas at such a fast tempo, the brilliant execution, articulation of his playing and the warmth of his tone. It is why such major trumpeters of today as Brian Lynch and Terrence Blanchard regard Shaw and his legacy so highly. Of course when you add the more than impressive playing of Cook, and the superb rhythm section that characterized what was, in it somewhat brief existence, one of the great jazz groups of seventies. Woody Shaw III, Woody's son contributes the liner notes in the accompanying booklet for this CD release which is available as a pdf file on the iTunes download of this CD (which is where I purchased this). I do not know if the liner notes accompany downloads from other sites. With the superb music here, one hopes that Volume 2 will be coming out shortly, as this music here is that good.

This was an iTunes purchase as mentioned in the review. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 368). Here is a video of this group with Joe Henderson in place of Junior Cook from 1976.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Terry Hanck Band From Roadhouse To Your House Live!

The Terry Hanck Band
From Roadhouse To Your House Live

Two years after The Terry Hanck Band's last release, VizzTone has issued a new live recording by them "From Roadhouse To Your House Live!," recorded at the California State Fair by Chris 'Kid' Andersen. the band consists of Hanck on saxophone and vocals, guitarist Johnny ‘Cat’ Soubrand, bassist Tim Wager and drummer Butch Cousins, with special guest Jimmy Pugh on keyboards. About their last album, "Gotta Bring It On Home To You," I noted the range of music from lively R&B, straight blues, swamp blues and pop and if anything, they continue in this vein on what must have been quite a performance for those at the Fair that day.

Hanck is quite a congenial vocalist with a bit of grizzle whose robust saxophone with a mix of King Curtis yackety-yak with Junior Walker honking. Wager and Cousins provide a solid foundation with Pugh (who also gets to display his Hammond B-3 sound on the opening track, Hanck's "Good Good Rockin' Going On," an updating of "Good Rockin' Tonight," on which Soubrand tears off one of his blistering solos. Some yackety-yak sax opens the rollicking cover of T.V. Slim's "Flatfoot Sam," with Pugh's boogie-infused piano leading into a crisp guitar break. Hanck's "Junior's Walk," is the leader's tribute to the Motown legend while Soubrand's tremolo on Chuck Willis' "Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Baby Leaves You," gives the performance the feel of some of Little Willie John's recordings. Hanck's "Smilin' Through My Tears," is an appealing swamp pop-styled ballad with a booting sax solo.

The remainder of this performance is equally varied and entertaining including a cover of Louis Jordan's "Ain't That Just Like A Woman," which opens with Hanck playing Cleanhead Vinson's "Kidney Stew" followed by a bit of "Chattanooga Choo Choo," before launching into the Jordan song. This is followed by a cover of Tyrone Davis' classic "Can I Change My Mind" (there is also a nice rendition of "Slip Away" here). Dave Spector's "Octavate'n," is an instrumental with Soubrand featured and pulling out all the stops. Hanck's original, "Peace of Mind," is evocative of some of Magic Sam's recordings and Soubrand's guitar evokes Sam here.

"From Roadhouse To Your House Live!" captures the engaging and strong blues, R&B and rock of the Terry Hanck Band in very strong form.

I received from my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here Terry in performance.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cafe Society (Soundtrack)

Cafe Society (Soundtrack)
Sony Classical

A soundtrack to the new Woody Allen film of the same name, "Cafe Society" is a curious collection of a number of new performances of classic songs by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks mixed with several from classic 78s. 8 of the 15 songs (selected by Allen) were composed by Rogers and Hart, and the other songs mostly are classics of the American songbook. I have not seen the film so make no comment on it .

The personnel for Giordano and his group includes Giordano on bass, Chris Flory or Vinny Raniola on guitar, Mark Shane on piano and Christopher Gelb on drums. What is surprising is the lack of horns in the band and while the crisply played performances may be delightful, if the movie is supposed to conjure up swing music that was featured at the actual Cafe Society, Barney Josephson's pioneering club that was the first racially integrated nightclub in the United States. The Nighthawks come across almost as a gypsy jazz band with the music not bearing relationship to what was played by the Boogie Woogie Trio, Billie Holiday, Hazel Scott, Lena Horne, Al Casey, Eddie Barefield, and the likes. A vocal by Kat Edmondson backed by The Nighthawks on Rogers & Hart's "Mountain Greenery" has charm but far removed from Holiday singing "Strange Fruit."

This is not to say there is anything bad about the new performances. Pianist Shane has a deft touch displayed nicely on the ballad "Manhattan" and the sprite treatment of "My Romance," the latter of several tracks where Flory distinguishes himself. Of note is the YeraSon trio's marvelous rendition of "The Peanut Vendor," followed by a restrained rendition of "Out of Nowhere" by Conal Fowkes on piano, Brian Naepka on bass and John Gill on drums. Fowkes' spirited stride-rooted piano does delight on "This Can't Be Love," a performance that perhaps captures the actual Cafe Society spirit. Still the musical highlight of this album is an alternate take of the Count Basie classic, "Taxi War Dance" with some marvelous Lester Young, while Benny Goodman's "I Didn't Know What Time It Is," also notable.

The music on this soundtrack is quite congenial and listenable although not as exciting or passionate as might have been found at the actual Cafe Society where Barney Josephson persuaded Lena Horne to stop singing "When Its Sleepy Time Down South."

I received a review download from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the November-December  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here is a trailer for the movie that I now realize has to do with a Hollywood venue, and not the legendary Greenwich Village venue. Not sure if it would have affected my review of the quality of the music although I would not have made some of the references contained here.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Jim Self and The Tricky Lix Latin Jazz Band !Yo!

Jim Self and The Tricky Lix Latin Jazz Band
Basset Hound Music

What a wonderful new release by tuba player Jim Self and The Tricky Lix Latin Jazz Band. The title "!Yo!" is a translation of self, and the release is a terrific latin jazz recording unusually anchored by Self's Tuba (and on two selections the Fluba, a big tuba sized flugelhorn). Self is a long-time studio musician who can be heard on over 1500 movie scores (his tuba projected those galactic tones as the Voice of Mothership in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”). he has also done a variety of projects and this release is his 13th album. For this, he has brought together a “who’s who” of young West Coast Latin Jazz Musicians (most of whom are on the great Poncho Sanchez Band). Foremost is trombonist/composer/arranger Francisco Torres who produced, wrote or arranged much of the music. The other players (mostly from the great Poncho Sanchez band) are Ron Blake: Trumpet/Flugelhorn; Rob Hardt: Tenor and Soprano Saxes/Flute; Andy Langham: Piano; Rene Camacho: String Bass; Joey De Leon: Timbales, Batá, Shekere; Giancarlo Anderson: Congas and George Ortiz: Bongos.

Evident on the opening mambo by Eddie Cano "Cal's Pals," dedicated to the great Cal Tjader, is the marvelous arrangements that are fluently played with marvelous solos from trumpeter Blake, Self on tuba, Hardt on tenor sax and De Leon on Timbales. The music is bright, lively and bouncy resulting in an infectious performance that is characteristic of the entire recording. The classic "Poinciana," has the ensemble's seamless rendering of Curt Berg's arrangement to frame the leader's solo. In addition to the warmth of the horns, the mix of rhythm with the horns lends such a relaxed feel to this very charming performance. Even when the groove is kicked up a notch, as on Torres' mambo, "For Charlie," there is an relaxed, yet exhilarating quality as Torres on trombone and Self on tuba play a duet before each solos. Self's own "Encognito," is a slow cha-cha with Blake's trumpet solo followed by Self on fluba.

Torres' "Sweetest Blue" is a spicy Afro-Cuban number with a delightful tropical groove, with a choice soprano sax solo from Hardt, an intricate piano solo from Langham and a Batá solo by De Leon and followed by the calmness of his lovely "Quiero Liegar," with Self playing the melody before some gorgeous trombone and piano. Self composed the title track which is a cheerful, and lovely, cha cha. An invigorating interpretation of Tito Puente's "Old Arrival," with a robust trombone solo and the three percussionists trading eights is followed by the closing track, Clare Fischer's "Morning," with an arrangement by Bill Cunliffe and solos by Rob Hardt on flute and Self on Fluba, after which Stanley the Bassett Hound howls to end this latest Basset Hound recording.

"!Yo!" is a complete listening delight. Like New Orleans Brass bands, and Howard Johnson and Gravity (also known as the horns of Taj Mahal's Tuba Band), Jim Self's performances on tuba exhibit imagination and fluidity that far transcend any novelty, and with the superb ensemble and arrangements here, has provided an album of Latin jazz easy to listen to and full of joy.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here is a track from "!Yo!"

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Matthew Skoller Blues Immigrant

Matthew Skoller
Blues Immigrant
Tongue 'N Groove Records

Harmonica player Matthew Skoller has been playing blues in Chicago for decades working with the likes of Jimmy Rodgers Blues Band, Big Daddy Kinsey and the Kinsey Report, Big Time Sarah and the BTS Express, and Deitra Farr Blues Band. Skoller played an important part on the Blues Music Award winning "Chicago Blues: A Living History," produced two albums by Lurrie Bell and plays on Lurrie's new recording, "Can't Shake This Feeling." He has his new release featuring his singing and songwriting in addition to his harp work. On this he is backed by a fine band including Johnny Iguana - Keyboards; Felton Crews - Bass;, Giles Corey - Guitar; Eddie Taylor Jr. - Guitar; Marc Wilson -  Drums; with Mike Avery and Stevie Robinson - Background Vocals and Carlos Johnson - guest Lead Guitarist.

Skoller lays down a varied program of Chicago harmonica blues with some interesting twists and displays flair in harp playing and appeals as a singer. Songs range from the opening topical blues lamenting how the Walmarts and similar stores have shut down the mom and pop stores, "Big Box Store Blues," a modernization of Sonny Boy Williamson I's "Welfare Store Blues," as well as "The Devil Ain't Got No Music", which is why his home is hell. The title song mixes his life with topical themes as well as considers cultural appropriation as he asks does he need a green card to play the blues while observing how Reagan shrunk the government while the war machine expanded. This is followed by his "Only in the Blues" with his ironic lyrics about the latest young sensation outselling B.B. and Buddy, and while Foundations and Clubs claim to be keeping the blues alive, bands make 250 for four or five while playing three 60's singing to drinks.

In between a rant about the greedy with their contempt for the poor ("Story of Greed"), and celebrating "My Get It Done Woman," Skoller covers Cool Papa Sadler's "747" about his woman who left him and caught a 747 because a Greyhound runs to slow and there ain't no tracks in the sky. It is an enjoyable rendition although not as satisfying as the Joe Louis Walker recording of a couple decades back. There is an original instrumental, the appealing, funky "Organ Mouth," a solid rendition of Luther 'Georgia Snake Boy' Johnson's shuffle, "Get Down to the Nitty Gritty" (with some fine piano from Iguana), and a closing slow harmonica feature, Papa Lightfoot's "Blue Lights."

Skoller has provided us with a wonderful recording of varied performances that are splendidly played. The pace of these performances also stand out, as they never come across as hurried or rushed. Matthew Skoller finally has his own fine recording to join those excellent ones he has contributed to.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Matthew performing "Get Down to the Nitty Gritty" from Blues Immigrant.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Madeleine Peyroux Secular Hymns

Madeleine Peyroux
Secular Hymns

Recorded in a small church in the Oxfordshire countryside of England, Madeleine Peyroux's new album "Secular Hymns" is a collection of secular songs she describes "that are very individual, personal, introverted." Accompanied by her touring band-mates of the last two years -electric guitarist Jon Herington and upright bassist Barak Mori, she revisits tunes by seminal blues artists Willie Dixon and Lil Green, classic gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, dub reggae innovator Linton Kwesi Johnson, contemporary craftsmen Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, Allen Toussaint, 19th century American giant Stephen Foster, and an early African-American spiritual.

She has certainly evolved from being a Billie Holiday imitator first with a low-key introverted take on a R&B classic "Got You on My Mind," followed by a bit more melodramatic attack on Tom Waits' "Tango Till They're Sore," with Herington's guitar and Mori's Arco bass adding to the drama of the performance. Townes Van Zandt's "The Highway Kind" is a more reflective tune with Herington more in a folk guitar mode, while Allen Toussaint's "Everything I Do Is Gonna Be Funky" benefits from the swampy-sounding backing.

The varied repertoire includes Stephen Foster's lament, "Hard Times Come Again No More", the playful Lil Green blues "Hello Babe," the reggae groove of Linton Kwesi Johnson's "More Time" with its lyrics of wanting more time for pleasure and leisure if things are really getting better, a spritely rendition of one of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's most famous songs, "Shout Sister Shout," before this unusual collection of mostly contemporary songs closes with a traditional spiritual "Tampin." It is a lovely performance that ends this very charming recording that displays Peyroux has become s singer of considerable appeal with the splendid support of her band-mates.

I received a download for review purposes from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). There have been a few stylistic edits made to that review. Here is a sample of this recording.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Dennis Gruenling Ready Or Not

Dennis Gruenling
Ready Or Not

Harmonica wizard Dennis Gruenling has a new release on VizzTone, "Ready Or Not." Like his previous recording, 2012's "Rockin’ All Day," he is backed by guitarist Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones (bassist Andrew Gohman and drummer Michael Bram). Also, Dave Keyes adds piano to 4 tracks and Doug Sasfai adds saxophone to 4 selections and producer Steve Conte adds acoustic guitar to one selection. The liner notes note that the album was focused on a rock and roll styled record, harking back to the 1950s with artists like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Fats Domino. Gruenling wrote all the songs (some in collaboration) and for the first time takes all the vocals and he comes across credibly with his straight-forward delivery, although his vocals are not on the same level as his harmonica playing. The Jewel Tones and the others certainly do their bit to help create the feel and the lyrics have a school hop flavor.

There are many pleasures starting with the opening Little Richard flavored "Knockin' My Knees," that evokes some of the recordings of Kid Thomas (although Gruenling is somewhat straight-laced compared to Kid Thomas frenzied singing). "Simmer Down" is musically related (not lyrically related) to the Roy Montrell classic "(Everytime I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone" and featured some tasty interplay between Gruenling and Deming. The groove on "Little Sugar," suggests some Gary U.S. Bonds recordings with  very tasty guitar along with a nice harmonica solo, while on "Ready To Burn," it sounds like he sings through his harp mike, giving his vocal a distorted feel matched the hot harp on this. There are two instrumentals, the blistering, "Rockin' With The Rev," and the moody sounding "Count Chromatic," where his fat tone is marked by Deming's Luther Tucker sounding fills that closes the 13 song recording.

"Ready Or Not" is another highly enjoyable recording that fans of Gruenling and Deming will certainly love, and for those unfamiliar with the two, it is musically a solid introduction to the music.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 368). I made a few minor revisions to the review. Here is a video of Dennis performing Count Chromatic."

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing Skronky Tonk

Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing
Skronky Tonk
EllerSoul Records

While best known for his blues guitar Little Charlie Baty has been including playing some jazz-like material with Little Charlie and the Nightcats. While with that band, he did a solo project in 2005 rooted in the swing era that Alligator passed on. A few years later he had an opportunity to do a blues and jazz CD which he was delighted with, but alas still as not been released. He since has left fronting the Nightcats and engaging in a variety of different musical activities including touring with Anson Funderburgh and James Harmon, playing gypsy jazz and other jazz settings. In any event as Baty says, the third time is the charm, as EllerSoul has issued his first jazz recording by Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing, "Skronky Tonk" with Lorenzo Farrell on the Hammond B-3 (and bass on one track) and J Hansen on drums and percussion.

The mood is set on the opening title track, a blues, that provides the trio's sound and feel, with Baty displaying the taste and technique and musical imagination one expects. Listening to this recording one can hear a variety of influences at different times, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel and Les Paul. Paul's influence perhaps is most evident on passages of "How High The Moon," but even here Baty mixes in some bebop later. One can't underestimate Farrell's contributions whether comping or taking some greasy solos. Django Reinhardt's "Nuages" may be this listener's favorite track, with Baty outstanding with his nicely nuanced playing and warm tone and followed by his mix of single note runs and chords on "Pennies From Heaven," which also sports some deep fried grease from Farrell.

Baty's original bop tune, "Gerontology" is followed an evocative rendition of John Lewis' tribute to Reinhardt "Django," with Farrell evoking a church organ on this chamber jazz-type performance. Then there is the peppy Charlie Christian classic "Swing to Bop," and a nice rendition of the Brazilian choro classic from Pixinguinha, "Um a Zero." "Flying Home" closes this very solid guitar-organ trio album. I have not mentioned J. Hansen's contribution, but he is constantly in the pocket and pushing this swinging recording along. Farrell's Hammond B-3 playing is a revelation for a person who is known as a bass player, but displays his mastery of the organ here. Charlie Baty, with his consistently inventive, fluid jazz guitar, exhibits a side of his musical personality that many have not previously heard. One looks forward to more from him in this vein.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 368). I made a few minor revisions to the review. Here is Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing performing Kenny Burrell's "Chitlins Con Carne."

Friday, January 06, 2017

Lurrie Bell Can't Shake This Feeling

Lurrie Bell
Can't Shake This Feeling

The Mercurial Son, Lurrie Bell has a new recording on Delmark "Cant Shake This Feeling" finding this singular guitarist and singer backed by a first-rate band of Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards, Matthew Skoller on harmonica, Melvin Smith on bass and Willie Hayes on drums. Produced by Dick Shurman, Lurrie wrote or co-wrote 4 of the 13 songs, and the other songs here are not ones that have been over-recorded with perhaps "Sinner's Prayer" being the best known.

Lurrie's unpredictability makes him such a fascinating guitarist to listen to and this is evident starting with the opening "Blues Is Trying to Keep up with Me," which he penned as well as his solo on Eddie Boyd's shuffle "Drifting," with Skoller and Purifoy also soloing. Lurrie's natural, slightly gritty vocals add to the appeal. There is some nice string popping on a lesser know T-Bone Walker number "I Get So Weary," while he unplugs for "One-Eyed Woman" backed only by Skoller. Another strong original, the slow, moody "This Worrisome Feeling in My Heart," is followed by a cover of one of Willie Dixon's lesser songs, "Sit Down Baby." Lurrie can not do much on this cover of Otis Rush's Cobra recording of this song.

A brisk Little Milton cover "Hold Me Tight," is followed by a nice interpretation of "Sinner's Prayer," that sounds adapted from Ray Charles. There is a nice walking groove of Lurrie's "I Can't Shake This Feeling," a gem that sounds like it came from Willie Dixon's pen with Skoller's backing harp sounding strong along with a typically distinctive Bell solo. Lurrie sings and plays his heart out on Buster Benton's "Born With The Blues," followed by Carey Bell's shuffle "Do You Hear." Bell also does a rendition of Willie Dixon's "Hidden Charms." If Lurrie is among the few guitarists who can conjure up Hubert Sumlin, he lacks Howlin' Wolf's vocal authority, which exposes this song as a lesser Willie Dixon lyric.

"Can't Shake This Feeling" closes with the reflective original (co-penned with Shurman) "Faith and Music" with just Lurrie on electric guitar. The music here is generally exceptional although there are a couple of lesser performances. Still, Lurrie Bell is one of most singular talents today in the blues.

I received my review copy from Delmark. I have revised for this blog the review that originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369) (downloadable at jazz-blues.com). Here is Lurrie in performance.