Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A few thoughts on the Blues Hall of Fame

One of my friends, who may be on the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame Committee, inquired about my suggestions of folks to be considered for the Hall. I provided him with a number of names. The names I submitted included Roy and Grady Gaines (who are both still with us), the Boogie Woogie Trio of Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis and their mentor Jimmy Yancey, the great Esther Phillips and Duke Robillard. I also suggested as Classics of Blues Recordings the compilations that accompanied Sam Charters "The Country Blues," Paul Oliver's "Blues Fell This Morning and the Origin Jazz Library "Really the Country Blues," and a number of the early Yazoo vinyl albums.

 Albert Ammons & Pete Johnson

The artists selected for induction were announced Sunday by the Foundation and include: Mavis Staples, Magic Slim, Johnny Copeland, Henry Gray, Latimore and Willie Johnson. For Classics of Blues Recordings albums they choose John Lee Hooker, The Real Folk Blues (Chess). I do find these artists deserving although I do not believe any of these artists are more deserving than the ones I had suggested. 

I am pleased for the Texas Twister, Johnny Copeland, a singular performer that was always adding new elements to his music.  Magic Slim was one of the biggest and most reliable acts on the blues circuit of the past forty odd years. I was surprised of the selection of Latimore, although pleased that someone in the soul-blues world was honored. Henry Gray has been a solid pianist and vocalist in the over forty years since he moved back to Louisiana, not to mention his tenure with Howling Wolf. Willie Johnson was a major player on Wolf's early recordings (but how can you pick him and also not pick Roy Gaines, who did session work for Duke (with Bobby Bland I believe); Chuck Willis (he was also Willis' band leader); Jimmy Rushing and many more, as well as numerous outstanding recordings on his own, several of which were award-winning ones). 

Johnny Copeland doing "Devil's Hand" in 1984

To my mind, the only questionable selection of a performer is that of Mavis Staples, whose iconic status as a performer is well acknowledged, but one whose performances and recordings are outside the blues. The press-release announcing the selections acknowledges this, stating that she "one of America’s premier singers of gospel and soul music, has expanded her musical mastery with her performances in more blues-based settings in recent years." Performances being in a blues-based setting is not, to me, a strong rationale to induct a non-blues artist, as wonderful as she is, to a Blues Hall of Fame. I understand the rationale, I do not agree with it. 

A few other observations about this year's selections. Once again, with the exception of Son House's "Preaching the Blues" as a classic single, pre-war blues artists and recordings were generally ignored. Also the one album selected, John Lee Hooker, The Real Folk Blues, is not, in my estimation, one of the more important albums of Hooker's music

Of course this represents my opinion, but one resulting from following and listening to blues for a half century.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tami Neilson Don't Be Afraid

Tami Neilson
Don't Be Afraid
Outside Music

New resident in New Zealand, Tami Neilson was born in Canada and grew up in her family's country group. Following the passing of her father Ron, she moved to New Zealand where she established herself as a major country performer while still writing songs with her brother Jay along with her Kiwi collaborator Delaney Davidson, who also is on guitar. Others in her group include guitarist Dave Khan, Ben Woolley on bass and Joe McCallum on drums.

She has been described as a bit of Patsy Cline with Wanda Jackson's sass with a dash of Sharon Jones. When I listen to the title track, the last song her father wrote I am reminded of some of Mavis Staples' recent recordings with the atmosphere of the baking, while "Holy Moses" has a bit more rock and roll flair. Listening to "Lonely," a duet with Marlon Williams, one certainly can hear similarities to Cline, a similarity also present on Davidson's original "So Far Away," where a crisp rocking tempo adds an additional edge. "If Love Was Enough," is another slow, lovely country waltz with austere backing.

"Bury My Body," the last song her father heard before he passed, is another performance evocative of Mavis Staples with its austere, mesmerizing backing complementing the fervent, almost shouted, vocal. It is followed by the rockabilly-latin frenzy of "Loco Mama." "Heavy Heart" with astute use of reverb and vibrato in the backing, is another marvelous country lament, followed by the more traditional country flavored, "Only Tears." The album closes with a moving song for her father, "The First Man," where she sings he was the first man who she ever loved and who held her in his hands.

Not being familiar with Tami Neilson before, I was impressed, to say the least, by this remarkable and moving recording that anyone interested in roots and real country music with some gospel-soul seasoning should look into.

A publicist provided my review copy. This review appeared in the January-February 2017  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 370). Here is a video for "Lonely."

Sunday, February 26, 2017

David Wise Till They Lay Me Down

David Wise
Till They Lay Me Down

"Till They Lay Me Down" is a debut of multi-instrumentalist and composer David Wise. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Wise went to Oberlin College as well as the Oberlin Conservatory of Music where he studied under Gary Bartz. Now Resident in Los Angeles, he regularly plays with the quartet featured on this: Bruce Forman, guitar: Alex Frank, bass; and Jake Reed, drums, while he is on baritone and tenor sax here. Also on this session are special guests Jason Joseph, Laura Mace, Josh Smith, Mitchell Cooper, Glenn Morrissette, R.W. Enoch, Amy K. Bormet, and Mikala Schmitz.

In his liner notes, Wise quotes Gary Bartz "If I'm locked into a category, I'm in a room with walls around me.But music is the universe.' This explains the variety of the performances here that open with a jazzy piece of soul "What More Could One Man Want?" sung by Jason Joseph, with Amy K.Bormet adding electric piano and horns fill the backing with an strong sax break and a fiery blues-rock styled guitar solo from Josh Smith. His quartet is augmented by a cellist for his lovely ballad written for his grandmother "Sylvia," which is where he emerges as a marvelous ballad player with a feathery tone while Forman's chording adding nice accents. It is followed by a lengthier performance, a lovely interpretation of the standard, "Here's That Rainy Day," dedicated to his grandfather with most of his playing being the middle register of the tenor and with Forman adding a fleet, lyrical solo.

"Home" is another ballad that Forman introduces before a ruminative Wise solo with lovely chording by Forman with soft backing from the rhythm. A most unusual selection is the traditional Jewish Yom Kippur prayer "Kol Nidre" that is played on the baritone, and then followed by the title track, a low-key, moody blues performance. "Lullaby" is an aptly titled short performance. It is followed by the closing tracks , "Life is But a Song," starts as a dreamy song which he sings over his saxophone with cello added to the quartet, transitioning into an upbeat celebration well he tells us how happy life is. It is a buoyant end to a recording full of warm saxophone and fresh, simple melodies. David Wise impresses on his debut.

I received my review copy from a publicist. His website is http://www.davidgwise.com. This review appeared in the Jnauary-February Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 370). Here is a video of David Wise performing.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ted Hawkins The Next Hundred Years

Ted Hawkins
The Next Hundred Years

The release of a new Ted Hawkins album on David Geffen’s label is a surprising one for a major label, and has gotten Hawkins coverage on CNN. The LA street singer’s Rounder albums have just been issued on compact disc. He might be described as acoustic folk-soul or Sam Cooke unplugged. The Next Hundred Years has a country feel from the backing on most songs which are mostly originals dealing with the vagaries of human relationships. The opening Strange Conversation relates to a phone conversation where his baby tells him that his next lover is going to be the blues. His lyrics have a force because of their simplicity and slight naivete. In addition to the originals, there is a stirring cover of John Fogerty’s Long As I Can See the Light. This is a captivating release at the intersection of southern soul and country.

This review originally appeared in the September 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 194). I likely received a review copy from either the publication or the record company. This appears to be either  available new and/or used, or as a download. Here is Long As I Can See The Light.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Jazz Loves Disney

Jazz Loves Disney

A new album offers jazz interpretations of songs associated with Disney Movies. **Jay Newland produced this album of mostly big band orchestral settings (including strings) for jazz vocals that was arranged and directed by Rob Mounsey. Such vocalists as Gregory Porter, Jamie Cullum, Melody Gardot, and Stacey Kent, lend their talents to this project that brings forth songs from such films as "Cinderella," "Lady and the Tramp," "The Jungle Book," "101 Dalmatians" and others.

Jamie Cullum gets things of with the playful "Everybody Wants To Be a Cat," with Mounsey's arrangements handsomely providing the setting for the first part before the band and Cullum erupts into a quasi Dixieland frenzy. Melody Gardot lends a smoky and sultry flavor to "He's a Tramp," with strings adding a lush, but not syrupy feel, with a marvelous saxophone solo. Stacey Kent is delightful singing in French, "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo," followed by Gregory Porter delivering a dreamy "When You Wish Upon A Star."

I am not familiar with China Moses whose rendition of the Lil Green classic "Why Don't You Do Right," is patterned on Peggy Lee's famous rendition, with the bass very prominent in the backing. I am also not familiar with Raphael Gualazzi but he delights on the latin rhumba groove of "I Wanna Be Like You." He and Melody Gardot duet on the peppy "The Bare Necessities." The Rob Mounsey Orchestra is featured on " A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes," opening with some atmospheric muted trumpet to play the lyrics.

Hugh Colman's vocal on "You've Got A Friend In Me" is suggestive of Harry Connick without being imitative. I found Anne Sila sort of out of place with her pop-flavored styling on "Let It Go," while Laika's romanticism sounds matched well with "Once Upon A Dream." Nikki Yanofsky delightfully transforms "Someday My Prince Will Come" into French on "Un Jour Mon Prince Viendra," while The Hot Sardines, only the only track without the Mounsey Orchestra, closes this thoroughly delightful recording with a spirited "I Wanna Be Like You."

I received a download from a publicist. This review appeared in the January-February 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 370).  Here is a sample of the album.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Scott Ramminger Do What Your Heart Says To

Scott Ramminger
Do What Your Heart Says To
Arbor Lane Music

What a pleasure it is to have a new CD from Mid-Atlantic saxophonist-singer-songwriter Scott Ramminger that is full of the bluesy, roots-rock gumbo with a heavy dash of New Orleans flavor. Backing Ramminger is a Crescent City studio band of David Torkanowsky on keyboards; Shane Theriot on guitar; George Porter on bass; and Doug Belote on drums, with Roland Guerin replacing Porter and Johnny Vidacovich replacing Belote on two tracks. Trombones and trumpet with Ramminger provide a full horn section and there are guest vocalists supporting Scott that include Tommy Malone, Bekka Bramlett, Francine Reed, The McCrary Sisters, Janiva Magness and Roddie Romero (who plays accordion on one track).

Scott writes good songs, full of humor and a perspective on the affairs of the heart and sings in an appealing, natural, rustic style. He also adds fluent, idiomatic big-toned sax to these selections backed by the stellar rhythm section. The album gets off with a New Orleans funk groove of "Living Too Fast" as he tells his tale about this woman with brains, looks and the like who poured his bottle into the ocean, cigarettes in the trash, coming to the conclusion Scott was living too fast (with Malone adding harmony), and while on May 1 he thought she was the one, by Labor Day she had extinguished all his fun with a booting sax solo and some New Orleans piano from Torkanowsky. With Bekka Bramlett adding support, "Someone New To Disappoint," is a nice hard rock number with Scott as someone who won't be changed so he is looking for someone else to disappoint. On the title track Scott deals with being battered by a lover, and sometimes instead of using one's brain, one should "Do What Your Heart Says To," with him taking another booting sax solo followed by Torkanowsky with some idiomatic Crescent City piano and Francine Reed on backing vocal.

Scott's has taken a beating and has not slept since she left and he's "Hoping That The Sun Won't Shine," with Bekka Bramlett supporting his vocal and Scott playing baritone as well as tenor sax on this blue ballad. "Winter Is Always Worse" is a strong slow performance that opens with some sizzling guitar from Theriot while "Get Back Up," with Guerin and Vidacovich, gets into a funk groove as he sings about getting back up when dealing with life throws at you while The McCrary Sisters add vocal backing and a short trombone break is followed by some deep in the gut baritone sax, guitar and chicken fried organ. Janiva Magness guests backing Scott on the easy rocking shuffle "It's Hard To Be Me," as Scott sings about his trouble and coming up with these lies and make up stories to hold on to a love.

"Off My Mind" is another solid slow blues while "My Girl For Life," is a swamp pop styled ballad. Roddie Romero's accordion lends a Tex-Mex accent to the rock and roll groove of "Stubborn Man," with honking sax, brief blistering guitar, and hot piano to take this  and the album to a rollicking close. Like he has done on his excellent prior recordings, Scott has produced some seriously entertaining music with plenty of substance. He writes real good songs, is a most engaging singer and a strong saxophonist who backs himself with some stellar players. The result is another helping of real fine musical gumbo.

A publicist provided me with the review copy. Here is a video of Scott performing at a CD release party.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason

Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason
Edited by Toby Gleason
New Haven: Yale University Press
2016: 328 pp

This is a companion to the recently published "Conversations In Jazz; The Ralph Gleason Interviews," which was transcripts of interviews with jazz musicians by the late journalist and television host. The present volume is a compilation of newspaper articles and reviews, liner notes, essays for scholarly publications and the like including some of his writings for Rolling Stone that Ralph Gleason co-founded. Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner provides the foreword here and Paul Scanlon provides an introduction. The book is organized into four parts. The lengthiest is devoted to jazz and blues followed by one on folk, pop and rock. After a part on comedy the book concludes with a part on politics and culture.

Gleason may be the only person to interview Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, B.B. King, and Hank Williams. Yes Hank Williams, several months before his early passing. I have no doubt that the portion of the book devoted to music will be of the greatest interest to many. The very first piece is on jazz and blues entitled "Jazz: Black Art/ American Art," with a condensed distillation of the music's history along with blues folk like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy waters, B.B. King and others along with brief mentions of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Lester Young, John Coltrane and others.This 1969 essay won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for Excellence in Music Journalism. Other essays on jazz and blues include his liner notes to Jimmy Witherspoon "At the Monterey Jazz Festival," John Coltrane "Ole Coltrane," Billie Holiday "The Golden Years Volume 2," B.B. King "Completely Well" and Miles Davis "Bitches Brew." There is an article on the San Francisco Jazz Scene of the Time, a review of Louis Armstrong playing the Claremont Hotel, appreciations of Johnny Hodges after he passed, and Ben Webster from Rolling Stone , and lengthy appreciations of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington after they had died.

The part on folk, pop and rock opens with liner notes on The Limeliters, a review of Joan Baez in concert, an article previewing a Pete Seeger appearance, a review of the incomparable Odetta in concert, several pieces on Bob Dylan (who Gleason was an early advocate of) including a 1964 concert review, early article on The Beatles, liner notes to the first Jefferson Airplane album, his appreciation of Hank Williams that includes quotes from the Oakland, California interview he did six months before Williams passed away, liner notes to Simon and Garfunkel's "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme." and consideration of San Francisco as the American Liverpool. I wish I had Gleason's ability to so concisely (and so clearly) describe his musical subject and what is on the recording or the significance of the performance. And whether talking about jazz or folk and rock, he provides  insights about the subject one may not have had.

For the part on comedy there are brief pieces on Dick Gregory, Jonathan Winter, and Bill Cosby before a lengthy biographical essay on Lenny Bruce that served as liner notes for a Fantasy album of Bruce's comedy and social commentary. The Politics and Culture part has pieces on the Free Speech Movement, Hippie Culture, Music and social change of the time, and related matter of the times including his opposition to President Nixon. Gleason was what we call a progressive voice today and while some of his observations may be time bound, one can imagine how he would write about today's world.

Ralph Gleason was only 57 when he passed in 1975 and his centenary is in 2017. This and the companion volume of jazz interviews seems like the proper way to celebrate what he left us. Highly recommended.

I purchased this.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Michael Blanco Spirit Forward

Michael Blanco
Spirit Forward
Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records

"Spirit Forward" the title of bassist-composer Michael Blanco's new album, is a bartending term for a type of cocktail made with strong spirits (like the Manhattan or Martini) that seeks to highlight and enhance the flavor of the base spirit, not to mask its flavor. Blanco states, "When choosing Spirit Forward for the album title, I had this definition in mind and how it relates to my music. It's a good metaphor for how strong musical personalities can come together and create a dynamic unit, while still maintaining their individuality." This refers to the Michael Blanco Quartet featuring John Ellis (tenor saxophone), Kevin Hays (piano) and Clarence Penn (drums). He also observed "I like the idea that the act of releasing an album of original music is akin to putting your 'spirit forward' out into the world, as well as the way the word spirit can be used to mean motion (like 'spirit away'), so Spirit Forward also means forward motion and continuing progress."

Saxophonist Ellis has been a long-time friend and musical collaborator with Blanco, whereas the pianist Hays and drummer Penn (who I am most familiar with) are more recent additions to his group. And the band did a number of dates in 2015 working out on these compositions before actually going into the stdio resulting in this imaginative and intriguing recording. This is suggested by the first composition, "The Mystic Chord" which Blanco observes "The Mystic Chord is a six-note chord used by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, and believed by Scriabin to have mystical properties. While practicing at home one day, I discovered that I could create a bass line with an interesting 6/4 groove by spelling out this chord one note at a time." The resulting melody has a "funky, lopsided quality," and the quartet explores the possibilities of this chord with Ellis' tenor providing a fluid, light sound.

"Notes From the Underground" was inspired by the Cornelia Street Cafe, and employs a low-register piano/bass counter-melody hat offsets Ellis' tenor at several points as well as impresses with his own solo. Blanco notes that so many of his favorite jazz clubs are basement rooms, hence the double entendre of the title. "Song Without Words" is a pretty number where the quartet displays its lyricism with Hays displaying his nice touch here, while the swinging title track evokes some classic 70s hard bop compositions with Hayes, Ellis and the leader stretching out. Then there is a quirky blues "Last Stable Orbit," (title is astronomical term that denotes" last orbit possible before an object (planet, spaceship, etc) gets sucked into a black hole.") with Ellis on soprano sax with a bit of squeal in his tone. A Neal LaBute play is the source of the tile for "Reasons To Be Pretty," a slow number opening with Ellis, again on soprano sax setting the mood before Hays takes a beautiful solo. Penn's cymbals play, whether with brushes or sticks, merits mention here, but is expectedly superb throughout.

Blanco's prior two albums have both garnered considerable praise. Listening to "Spirit Forward," one can understand why. There is so much to enjoy on this sparkling recording. Here is Michael Blanco and John Ellis with a different rhythm section.

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

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hard Swimmin' Fish True Believer

Hard Swimmin' Fish
True Believer

Acme Blues Company, a former Northern Virginia group that included harmonica player and vocalist Waverly Milor, once described themselves as 'Industrial Strength Blues." Such a description might be applied to Milor's present group, Hard Swimmin' Fish, also based in Northern and Central Virginia. Its other members are Demian Lewis on guitar, banjo and vocals, Randy Ball on bass, and Jason Walker on drums and percussion. On their latest self-produced album, they are supported by the organ of John Sharrar on one selection.

On their website, they describe themselves, "Hard Swimmin’ Fish is an ensemble deeply rooted in the traditions of American music. Our down home roots sound pilfers from the best that early American music has to offer including blues, jazz, funk and swing, and churn it all up into a spicy brew that is familiar yet uniquely our own." Listening to this latest release, one is struct by the blues center of the performances and the impressive ensemble playing that overshadows the instrumental solos which are quick and to the point.

The tenor of their sound is set with the insistent, machine-like groove of the opening title song as Milor gruffly delivers the lyrics of being a true believer tied to the stake with his overdubbed harmonica adding feel of the performance. Plenty of grit follows on "Five Years Hard Labor," with its chugging rhythm and his being let go from his job for his five years of hard labor and having his woman walk out the door. "Come Together" is not the Beatles number, but a Lewis original with him laying down some hot acoustic slide guitar set against a tight groove. Covers include a straight, rocking treatment of Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' For My Darling"; an atmospheric reworking of Little Willie John's classic "Need Your Love So Bad," with one of the nicest vocals on this and organ from Sharrar; and a warp speed rendition of the classic Ray Charles stomp "Mess Around."

A traditional gospel number, "Don't Let the Devil Ride" which segues into "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down,"closes out this latest release that perhaps exhibits why Hard Swimmin' Fish has been developing a following around Northern and Central Virginia and parts of Maryland.

Received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here Hard Swimmin' Fish perform "True Believer."


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ray Obiedo Latin Jazz Project Vol. 1

Ray Obiedo
Latin Jazz Project Vol. 1
Rhythmus Records

Those wanting an easy to listen to album of straightforward Latin Jazz need go no further than the new album from guitarist and composer, Ray Obiedo, "Latin Jazz Project Vol. 1." Obiedo comes from the San Francisco Bay area where the sounds of Miles Davis, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Henry Mancini and Motown helped form his early musical persona, which later was further shaped by the James Brown revue. His career has included stints with Johnny Hammond Smith, then touring with trombonist Julian Priester, followed by a long association with the great percussionist Pete Escovedo and whose daughter Sheila was part of his funk/fusion band. Sheila and her brother Peter Michael Escovedo participate on this session which also includes Santana members David K. Mathews, Karl Perazzo and Jeff Cressman, Yellowjackets reedman Bob Mintzer, flutists Elena Pinderhughes and Roger Glenn, trumpeter Ray Vega, timbale master Orestes Vilató, vocalist Sandy Cressman, sax and flute player Norbert Stachel, steel pan player Phil Hawkins, and brothers Marc and Paul van Wageningen on bass and drums.

Included here are Latin Jazz standards and three Obiedo originals are this album starting with the rendition of Tito Puente's "Picadillo" with Glenn's flute and Matthews piano standing out along with the leader on acoustic guitar and Peter Michael Escovedo on congas and timbales. it sets the breezy for this album that has more of a controlled heat than jet engine bursts of energy. Pinderhughes' flute along with the wordless vocalizing of Cressman are featured on Walter Bishop's "Coral Keys," followed by Stachel's serpentine soprano sax featured on a lively rendition of the Ellington-Tizol classic "Caravan." A spirited interpretation of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas," includes the Hawkins' steel pans, the leader's intriguing single note runs and Stachel's dancing tenor sax along with a a percussion heavy segment with the piano and steel pans comping. Obiedo's original, "Cubo Azul," is a latin-accented hard-bop styled number that Mintzer's tenor is featured on, while flutist Roger Glenn contributed "Santa Cruz," a saucy number with a strong Afro-Cuban foundation as Vega's trumpet and Cressman's trombone provide support for Glenn's soloing here and Matthews takes a strong solo on piano here while there is a short, uncredited vocal break as well, while Vega takes flight leading this performance to a fade.

"Latin Jazz Project Vol. 1" closes with a percussion duet between Sheila E and her brother Peter Michael Escovedo, concluding a solid and very engaging recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here is some vintage Ray Obiedo.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Johnny Nicholas Fresh Air

Johnny Nicholas
Fresh Air

It has been about four decades when I saw Guitar Johnny and the Rhythm Rockers along with blues legends Walter Horton and Johnny Shines outside Buffalo NY. Of course the chance to see Horton and Shines may have been my prime motivation, but Johnny Nicholas and his band were outstanding on their own, not simply as a backing band to Horton and Shines. That was part of a tour promoting albums by Nicholas, Horton and Shines and it was quite a memorable nite. Nicholas, part of a New England scene that included Duke Robillard, Sugar Ray and the BlueTones, and Roomful of Blues, would eventually move to Austin, Texas where he became part of that music scene as well as expanding his musical palette to include Western Swing in a tenure with Asleep at the Wheel.

Nicholas has a new album "Fresh Air," with blues and roots songs where he and his multi-instrumental talents (piano, guitars and more) is joined by an all-star cast that includes Scrappy Jud Newcomb (guitars, mandolin, mandocello), John Chipman (drums, percussion, vocals) and Bruce Hughes (bass, vocals, percussion), plus a guest list that includes Cindy Cashdollar (lap steel and additional guitars), and Steve Riley on button accordion. There are interpretations of Sleepy John Estes' "Kid Man Blues" and Howlin' Wolf's classic recording, "Back Door Man," along with eleven originals that he penned or had a hand in writing.

His blues roots are evident of his opener, "Moonlight Train" where he sings about dreaming about the falling rain and a chill down his spine when he heard that moonlight train set against a reworking of the "Rollin' and Tumblin'" melody. It is followed by his original take of Estes' "Kid Man Blues," adding a country accent, almost in the manner of the late Levon Helm. "Red Light" is a stomping rocker with Cindy Cashdollar's steel guitar with Nicholas pounding the piano and Steve Riley adding accordion breaks almost in the manner of Spade Cooley or Garth Hudson. "Sweet Katrina" has him recalling hoboing on freight trains from Chicago to Memphis and meeting Katrina, initially a sweet woman but who got meaner than a one-eyed dog," and might evoke classic Little Feat for some. Then there is his woman who wants Johnny to "Play Me (Like You Play Your Guitar)," a neat lyric by him and Gary Nicholson. "How Do You Follow a Broken Heart" is a lovely blues-ballad that will conjure up some classic West Coast blues from Charles Brown and early Ray Charles with lovely Cashdollar steel guitar adding to its appeal, while "Roll On Mississippi" is reflective folk-country ballad, with Newcomb's mandolin adding to the song's mood. Other high points includes a very imaginative recasting of "Backdoor Man," and the title song, a lovely country ballad.

The playing from Nicholas and his band is terrific, and Nicholas sings with heart and authority throughout making this a superb album of American roots in the tradition of The Band, Levon Helm, Anders Osborne, and others.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369).  His website is http://johnnynicholasblues.com/. Here is Johnny performing "Back Door Man" and "Fresh Air."

Friday, February 17, 2017

Mitch Kashmar West Coast Toast

Mitch Kashmar
West Coast Toast
Delta Groove

Scott Dirks, in his brief liner notes to the new Mitch Kashmar album "West Coast Toast," observes that if Chicago was home and proving ground for many legends of blues harmonica, the move to the West Coast of pioneer George 'Harmonica' Smith led to his presence influencing a whole generation and new off-shoot of the blues harmonica sound. The result was the 'West Coast Sound,' which he describes as "a hard-swinging, sophisticated and distinctly different offshoot of the amplified harp sounds familiar in Chicago." Kashmar is described as one of the handful of masters of this California sound, bringing his unique voice as a harpist and a soulful singer, on a release tipping his hat to the West Coast blues legacy with select covers mixed in with his originals.

An opening instrumental, "East of 82nd Street," establishes Kashmar's fat tone and imaginative playing in this tradition, along with the solid studio band of Junior Watson on guitar, Fred Kaplan on keyboards, Bill Stuve on the bass and Marty Dodson on drums. Watson gets to showcase his chops as well in a short break and his comping under the leader's dynamic playing. Kashmar's abilities as a vocalist are established by a cover of Willie Dixon's "Too Many Cooks" (some will be familiar from Robert Cray's cover more than Jesse Fortune's original), with Kaplan laying down an intriguing solo. It is followed by a capable rendition of an old Little Willie John recording, "Young Girl," with a backing and harp evocative of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me."

The tempo picks up on the topical original, "The Petroleum Blues," a rocking performance where he sings about "how much money are we gonna lose," and then slows down on "Mood Indica," with his fat, juicy playing set against Kaplan pounding the 88s, who along with Watson get to take choice solos while Stuve and Dodson push the groove forward. The is an appealing shuffle rendition of Billy Boy Arnold's "Don't Stay Out All Night," while Kashmar on "My Lil' Stumptown Shack," shows he able to construct an original that captures the flavor of classic 50's Chicago blues.

Kashmar's interpretation of John Lee 'Sonny Boy' Williamson's "Alcohol Blues," is nicely played and followed by an easy rocking version of lesser known Lowell Fulson song, "Love Grows Cold," with explosive guitar by Watson. The jazz-tinged instrumental "Canoodlin'," has a late night feel to it and closes a set of strong blues performances.

I received my review copy from Delta Groove. Here is a promotional video for this recording.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lew Jetton & 61 South Rain

Lew Jetton & 61 South
Coffee Street Records

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Lou Jetton and his band 61 South brings a new audio gumbo mix of southern rock, blues and other roots elements to his latest recording "Rain," one of the most appealing recent blues-rock roots efforts this individual has heard recently.

One can hear such influences as the Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Little Feat and others on this set where the Tennessee-born Jetton is backed by his regular lineup of Sam Moore on guitar, Dan Bell on keyboards as guitar, Otis Walker and James Sullivan on bass and Erik Eicholtz on drums. Guests here include thumbpicking guitarist Alonzo Pennington; keyboard player Solon Smith; backup singer Miranda Louise; and harmonica player J.D. Wilkes.

The album takes it title likely from the three very different numbers than contain rain in their title, but in addition to this there are typical themes of broken relationships and hopes for better times. The opening number, "Who's Texting You," an amusing contemporary song about cheating through the cell phone, showcases Jetton's appeal as a singer as well as being able to lay down well shaped solos that complement agreeable, grainy singing and his amusing lyrics. He rock and rolls things on "Move On Yvonne," with harmonica and Miranda Louise adding her short vocal, and a rollicking piano break, followed by the urgency of his vocal on "Mississippi Rain," hsa swampy tremolo guitar and an insistent groove while he sings about the heavy rain and thunder and how things one knows will never be the same.

"Lay Me Down" is a soulful southern rock ballad evocative of Eric Clapton and is followed by a country gospel boogie "Glory Train," and then a very nice rendition of John Hiatt's "Feel Like Rain." The southern rock groove and vocal "Done Done It" sounds like it would be home on Country Music Television, while there is one nice acoustic guitar that is part of the easy going rocker "Sandy Lee." "Keeping Me Awake" is a hot rocking shuffle which leads to an excellent rendition of Allen Toussaint's "It's Raining." With only piano accompaniment, Jetton's baritone is quite moving in this wonderful performance. It closes a very enjoyable album of varied musical grooves and blues moods.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). Here is Lew Jetton performing "Feels Like Rain."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Gabriel Espinosa Songs of Bacharach and Manzanero

Gabriel Espinosa
Songs of Bacharach and Manzanero
Zoho Music

Growing up as a youth in Merida, in the Yucatan, Mexico, bassist, composer and arranger Gabriel Espinosa, first was exposed to the music of American composer Burt Bacharach and Mexican composer Armando Manzanero in the mid-60's when both came to prominence in their respective countries. Growing up at that time he was member of a band that played both Beatles songs and bossa novas and at the time also getting introduced to jazz. Hearing both Bacharach and Manzanero at that time affected him greatly as they both "wrote beautiful, highly memorable melodies with sophisticated harmonies … ." Espinosa, in fact, worked with Manzanero in the mid-90s helping produce two albums by him.

Exploring common ground between the two, and getting to fulfill his desire to do a vocal album with his favorite songs by the two, he selected five songs from each, and invited the wonderful Tierney Sutton to sing the five Bacharach numbers while he handled five from Manzanero. Among those accompanying Espinosa, a Professor of Jazz Studies at Central College in Pella, Iowa, are pianist Misha Tsiganov, drummer Mauricio Zottarelli, trumpeter Jim Seeley and chromatic harmonica virtuoso Hendrik Meurkens, who he has collaborated with as co-leader on various projects. Espinosa plays bass on three tracks, "Adoro," "Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head," and "Cuando Estoy Contingo," while his arranger’s touch is prevalent throughout. Songs from Bacharach and Manzanero. Joe Martin plays upright bass on three selections while Gustavo Amarante plays electric bass on four.

Espinosa's arrangements and leadership provide the unifying thread of the music which alternates between his Spanish vocals of Manzanero' songs and Sutton's English renditions of the Bacharach songs that will be much more familiar to most listeners. While Sutton has established herself as among the leading jazz vocalists of today, and has dueted with Espinosa before, this is his first album where he has presented himself as a vocalist and ably acquits himself throughout as on the driving rendition "Adoro" as well as "Come Yo Te Aime," with Meurkens contributing his wonderful harmonica here as well as on the poignant "Esta Tarde VI Llover." The most familiar Manzanero song is "Somos Novios" which will be familiar to Americans as "It's Impossible." Espinosa's romanticism is complemented by the warmth of Seeley's flugelhorn.

The Bacharach numbers should be familiar to most listeners. The Carpenters' classic "(They Long To Be) Close To You" opens with a dreamy romanticism before segueing into a lively samba groove with Itai Kriss contributes lovely flute, while "The Look Of Love" is rendered as a bossa nova with Sutton's soft vocal aided by Misha Tsiganov's electric piano and Seeley's melodic trumpet. Sutton provides a restrained "What The World Needs Now," backed by just a trio, with Zottarelli using brushes and Tsiganov's accompaniment a display of restraint and eloquence. Meurkens harmonica contributes to Sutton's melancholic take on "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," as well as her wistful interpretation of "Alfie."

As Bill Milkowski observes in his liner notes, "Espinosa puts his own unique spin on these ten classics with subtle reharmonizations to inject new colors along with new intros, interludes and rhythmic twists that draw on his background in bossa nova, samba and jazz." With the vocals of him and Sutton's, and the fresh arrangements of these songs, one has a delightful album of vocal jazz, where the romance and melody lingers on long after one has finished listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Hendrik Meurkens and Gabriel Espinosa in performance.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Fabulous Thunderbirds Strong Like That

The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Strong Like That
Severn Records

Severn has just issued the latest by The Fabulous Thunderbirds, "Strong Like That." While in its earliest incarnation it was as much associated with both pop tunes and classic blues, this new release is rhythm and blues associated with a distinct Memphis-Muscle Shoals flavor starting with the opening rendition of the Temptations classic "(I Know) I'm Losing You" on which Roosevelt Collier adds steel guitar behind Wilson and this edition of the Thunderbirds of Johnny Moeller on guitar, Kevin Anker on keyboards, Steve Gomes on bass and Robb Stupka on bass. Wilson immediately establishes how authoritative a singer he is and while playing harp, Collier's steel guitar dominates the performance as it takes it out while Wilson adds harp.

Paul Kelly's southern soul classic "Don't Burn Me" follows with a guest appearance from Anson Funderburgh with Wilson's very soulful singing caressed by the solid accompaniment and backing vocals along with Funderburgh's guitar break. It is followed by some swampy blues soul with Moeller's effective use of tremolo and Wilson's harp on "You're Gonna Miss Me." Wilson and band provides a fresh arrangement of an Albert King recording, "Drowning On Dry Land," with some harp that evokes Junior Parker on a terrific, and original performance of this number. Wilson's original "Smooth," has a danceable loping groove and nice harp and the title might aptly describe the character of the performances here, smoothly and cleanly executed by also soulful and far from sterile. Nice punchy horns here led and arranged by trumpeter Kenny Rittenhouse.

After a solid cheating soul number, "Somebody's Getting It," Wilson opens his original "Meet Me On the Corner," with some tough amplified harp, as he tells his lady to meet him when no one can see. Also among the songs here is a nice rendition of the Eddie Floyd classic "I've Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)." Gomes contributed the closing title track, another strong slice of soul-laced blues with some harp, solid horns behind a fine vocal that closes this fine new recording by the Thunderbirds.

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 video of this edition of The Fabulous Thunderbirds from 2016.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Dave Stryker Eight Track II

Dave Stryker
Eight Track II

This is a followup to guitarist Dave Stryker's 2014 recording "Eight Track." In the notes to that release, Stryker observed that the 70's (the time of eight track decks) was “a time when there was a lot of great pop music going on as well as jazz.” On that album, his trio of organist Jared Gold and drummer McClenty Hunter was augmented by vibraphonist Stefon Harris. Gold and Hunter are back for this date, but once again he has added a vibraphonist to the organ trio, in this case Steve Nelson.

There is plenty of pleasures on this new collection of grooves as he re-imagines songs from The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Prince, Cream, The Zombies, James Ingram and John Barry. This is music that is breezy, funky and definitely tied to a groove with Nelson adding unusual textures to the unusual twists taken on a reflective "What's Going On," a driving "I Can't Get Next To You," a bouncy "Time of the Season," a dreamy "Midnight Cowboy," a recrafted "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours," and an organ based shuffle reworking of "Sunshine of Your Love," that sounds like something he might have played with Brother Jack McDuff in the 1970s.

Throughout Stryker displays his clean, imaginatively executed playing while Gold digs deep in the grease with Nelson's shimmering vibes provides additional musical delights for this second helping of organ jazz transformations of 70's pop. And let us not forget Hunter's solid swing driving these performances along. We will need to hope for for Eight Track III in a couple years.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2016  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 368). I have made minor changes to that published review. Here is "Trouble Man."


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Scott Taylor Blues Kitchen

Scott Taylor
Blues Kitchen
Fetal Records

I became familiar with Scott Taylor from a promising recording by a group Electrofied. His new release "Blues Kitchen" features the guitar and bass of Tony Fazio who also recorded this. Others on this are Greg Phillips on drums (Eric Selby on a couple tracks) and Charlie Sayles who adds harmonica on a few tracks. Taylor and Fazio co-wrote ten of the eleven songs (Taylor wrote the other).

Taylor, on a set of fairly straight blues, again shows himself to be a nuanced, powerful singer with a definite personality. Fazio is a capable guitarist and Charlie Sayles enlivens the selections he is on. Despite these positives, the backing is generally basic and skeletal and the performances sound like demos as opposed to finished recordings that would have more vibrancy in the backing. Taken in small samples, this is not much of an issue. However, listening to several tracks at once, and one will notice this. This is a shame, because one can imagine how much more powerful an album this would have been if a fuller band had been employed, along with engineering for a more vibrant sound.

I received from Fetal Records. Here is Scott Taylor performing with Electrofied.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Tom McCormick South Beat

Tom McCormick
South Beat

South Florida saxophonist and flutist Tom McCormick impresses as a musician, composer, arranger and leader on his new self-produced recording, "South Beat." McCormick, a Professor at Miami-Dade, is joined by Pete Wallace on piano, Nick Orta or Eric England on bass, Carlomanga Araya or David Chiverton on drums, Edwin Bonilla on congas, and Humberto Ibarra on guiro, with guest appearances by guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and with trumpet and flugelhorn solos from John Lovell.

This is bouncy, lively latin-flavored straight-ahead jazz that opens with the bouncy title track that displays the leader's robust tenor sax along with crisp solos from Wallace and Lovell. "Iridescence" is another lively number with the rhythm helping percolate the performance before the leader's fruity solo. "Mantra" features the leader's airy flute along with Kriesberg's soaring guitar solo on a selection that has somewhat of an early Return to Forever feel to it. McCormick attractively scores Coltrane's "Naima," for the three horns on this recording as well as provides a nice rendition of this familiar jazz classic with with outstanding backing from his rhythm section. Wallace also takes a choice solo before John Kricker's trombone takes the lead on the performance's closing section. Horace Silver's "Barbara," benefits from the latin flavor McCormick provides and Wallace is again outstanding on this as is the leader who displays a presence with his solo followed by some flugelhorn. The standard "My Foolish Heart" showcases McCormick's very appealing manner with a ballad with considerable warmth in his tone and bassist England also soloing here.

"Blue Cha" again showcase McCormick''s flute along Lovell's trumpet. Guitarist Leo Quintero guests on the soul-jazz tinged "Feel the Spirit," with Wallace's adding a touch of funk before the leader's gritty solo. A lively Latin Jazz take on the Dietz-Schwartz standard, "Alone Together," with marvelous tenor sax, trumpet and piano on a lively close to a recording that displays some of the marvelous talent down in South Florida.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 368). Here is "Blue Cha" from "South Beat."

Friday, February 10, 2017

Sugar Ray and the BlueTones Seeing Is Believing

Sugar Ray and the BlueTones
Seeing Is Believing
Severn Records

"Seeing Is Believing" is the latest from One of today's top blues groups, Sugar Ray and the BlueTones. Once again the quintet has produced a dozen blues grooves including eleven originals from the band members. Ray Norcia has certainly become a most expressive singer while Monster Mike Welch a superlative guitarist such as when he evokes Otis Rush on the title track behind Norcia's Junior Parker-like soulful crooning. Add Anthony Geraci's two-fisted piano, Michael Mudcat Ward's rock solid bass and Neil Gouvin's crisp drumming, and one has one superb band.

One should not be surprised by the variety mix of sounds here including Geraci's rock steady "Noontime Bell," where Norcia sings about leaving his ex-before that noontime bell before taking a charged harmonica solo while Geraci takes a piano break that would have made Otis Spann smile. On "Keep On Sailing," Norcia opens in the manner of one of Rice 'Sonny Boy Williamson' Miller's unaccompanied solo performances with the band joining halfway in, and then followed by a hot shuffle, "Blind Date" that provides another showcase for Norcia's harp as well as Welch coming across like a cross of country swing version of Willie Johnson. Welch is showcased on an instrumental rendition of B.B. King's "You Know That I Love You," suggesting, but not imitating, King's guitar sound. What a nice tribute to the late legend.

The rest of the album is similarly first-rate with strong songs (including the blues ballad "Not Me" and the Muddy Waters' styled "Too Hundred Dollars Long" with terrific slide guitar), fine vocals and a superb band, which should not be surprising since since they have had the same line-up since Welch joined them 16 years ago (and the other four have been together 40 years). Hearing is believing Sugar Ray and the BlueTones with "Seeing Is Believing" being another terrific recording of tough Chicago-styled blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-Octobetr 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 368). Here is Sugar Ray and the BlueTones in a 2016 performance.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Duke Robillard and His All-Star Combo - Blues Full Circle

Duke Robillard and His All-Star Combo
Blues Full Circle
Stony Plain Records

"Blues Full Circle," the title of Duke Robillard's new Stony Plain recording, in part refers to his back to the basics approach of this mostly small band, old school blues. Duke is joined here by his long-time associates Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira on drums with Gordon Beadle and Doug James each adding sax to one track There are guest vocals from Sugar Ray Norcia and Kelley Hunt and Jimmy Vaughan adding his guitar on one selection. Duke contributed eleven songs, eight recent ones (one a collaboration with Vaughn) and three from 30 to 45 years ago. Kelley Hunt contributed one and one was a Jimmy 'Baby Face' Lewis song.

Recording of this album was interrupted after recording of seven songs by rotator cuff surgery and after a year off the remainder was cut. I have noticed that in recent recordings Duke's phrasing of his vocals sound self-consciously deliberate. This can be heard on several tracks here including the opening "Lay a Little Lovin' on Me," although as one listens to the excellent performances here it is a minor issue. The spirit of Eddie 'Guitar Slim' Jones is evident on several selections here including the tribute "Blues For Eddie Jones" as well as "Rain keeps Falling," with the slashing guitar work and the slow "Morning Dove" that also suggests Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, one of numerous guitarists influenced by Slim (also Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, and Earl King).

A nicely paced shuffle "No More Tears," finds Duke more in a B.B. King guitar vein while "Last Night" is influenced by some of the Duke recordings of Bobby Bland and Junior Parker with a superb Sugar Ray Norcia vocal and Sax Beadle adding tenor and baritone. After the New Orleans groove of "Fool About My Money" with terrific piano from Bears, Kelley Hunt takes the vocal and boogie piano (Bears is on organ here) on her rollicking celebration of Duke's home studio "The Mood Room." Doug James adds baritone sax behind Duke and Jimmy Vaughan on their easy rocking instrumental duet "Shufflin' and Scufflin'," with some organ grease from Bears in addition to the expected superb solos from both guitarists.

As usual, Duke's band is in top form, and whatever quibbles I might have about Duke's singing (and it is a minor point), the music on "Blues Full Circle" is exceptional.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369) although there are corrections and minor revisions from that published review. Here is Duke and Monster Mike Welch along with Duke's band.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

John Coltrane Trane 90

John Coltrane
Trane 90

Issued to coinide with the 90th Anniversary of the birth of John Coltrane, Acrobat's public domain 4-CD small box "Trane 90," provides a brief survey of the bulk of John Coltrane's astonishing musical career. It doesn't fully cover Coltrane's career because of changes in copyright law in Europe made the original studio recording of "My Favorite Things" (issued in the UK 1964), along with "A Love Supreme" and his last (free jazz) recordings including "Interstellar Space," unavailable.

I trust most of those reading this will be aware of a fair amount of Coltrane's recordings, so a brief summary describing each disc will probably be most helpful. Disc 1 is subtitled "Stablemates - Coltrane the Sideman" and includes Coltrane as a member of assorted Miles Davis groups along with a couple of performances with Thelonious Monk. Included in the selections on this disc includes "Stablemates," the composition by Coltrane's close friend Benny Golson, with Miles and other selections with Miles include Stan Getz's "Dear Old Stockholm," Monk's "Straight No Chaser," "So What" from "Kind of Blue," and a live performance of "On Green Dolphin Street," along with "Monk's Mood" and "Trinkle Tinkle" with Monk himself.

Disc 2 is titled "Straight Street - Coltrane the Leader" and opens with "Straight Street" from an early Prestige date, followed by "Moment's Notice" from his Blue Note album "Blue Train" with a terrific band that included Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. Other noteworthy tracks include "Giant Steps,""Naima," and "Blues For Bechet," in which we see the evolution of Coltrane's quartet (except Steve Davis is on bass on this last number). This disc concludes with the lengthy "Africa" with the classic quartet with orchestra and the spectacular live "Chasin' the Trane" that is almost a duet with drummer Jones.

Disc 3 is "Just Friends - Coltrane Collaborations" and opens with his guest appearance on Sonny Rollins' "Tenor Madness." Noteworthy here is Tadd Dameron's "Soultrane" from a Dameron led prestige date, "Two Bass Hit" from a Red Garland recording, his participation in a George Russell Orchestra date that produced "Manhattan," playing on a Cecil Taylor date for "Just Friends," A session with Milt Jackson that produced "Bags & Trane," and his own "Grand Central," from a Cannonball Adderly session with Miles Davis' then rhythm section.

Disc 4, the final disc is titled "Impressions - Coltrane broadcasts and private tapes," has some fascinating selections starting with Trane with Dizzy Gillespie and Johnny Hodges, then a performance with Miles that was on the Tonight show hosted by Steve Allen in 1955 and another with Miles in 1956 from Philadelphia. The disc and the music closes with classic Coltrane performances of "My Favorite Things" from Newport, "Impressions" from Finland and "Body and Soul," from Birdland in 1962.

As an be seen, there is a generous amount of Coltrane, including some material that most may not be familiar with (thinking about the early live performances on Disc 4). In addition to the four hours and 45 minutes of music, the set comes with a booklet with a fascinating essay by Simon Spillett that discusses Coltrane's legacy, the controversies his music generated and the veneration he still hold over us today. This is very reasonably priced and likely would make a wonderful gift (or stocking stuffer) for a novice jazz listener.

I received from Clint Weiler at MVD Entertainment and this was published in the 2016 Jazz & Blues Report Megal Gift Guide that can be found at jazz-blues.com.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Raphael Wressnig & Igor Prado The Soul Connection

Raphael Wressnig & Igor Prado
The Soul Connection
Chico Blues Records

I became aware of the Austrian organist Raphael Wressnig from a social media posting of a selection by him and this led me to purchase as a download an album of his with guitarist Alex Schultz, "Soul." A few weeks later I was pleasantly surprised to receive in the mail a new recording by Wressnig with the wonderful Brazilian guitarist, Igor Prado, "The Soul Connection," that was recorded in San Paolo. Joining the two are Yuri Prado on drums, Rodrigo Mantovani on bass, horns led by Sax Gordon Beadle on several tracks and vocalists Wee Willie Walker, David Hudson, and Leon Beal. Mixed between soulful vocal tracks and tight combo instrumentals, "The Soul Connection" is  terrific.

Willie Walker was brought along for the project. Based in Memphis in the 1970s, Walker was originally supposed to record "Trying To Live My Life Without You," but it was done first by the great Otis Clay who was interested in doing it again, but Clay passed away before they could recofrd it with him. Walker opens this CD with a fabulous vocal on this that conjures up Clay's original. There are tough horns riffing on this while Wressnig greases the backing. Walker is also present for four terrific renditions of songs associated with Little Willie John starting with a terrific "Suffering With the Blues," backed by just the organ combo. There is a terrific organ solo on this while Prado plays in a Billy Butler-Sonny Forriest groove. "Home at Last" brings back horns on a number some Junior Wells fans may recognize as "Country Girl," with Prado channeling T-Bone Walker. "My Love Is" has finger snapping and a very low-key backing with acoustic bass along with organ, while the shuffle "Heartbreak," has Sax Gordon riffing like the sax on the original while Wressnig provides a greasy foundation with more jazzy playing from Prado.

David Hudson sings solidly on his cover of Tyrone Davis' classic "Turning Point," while Leon Beal does a fervent rendition of the Bobby Bland hit "Don't Cry No More," with Prado coming across as B.B. King meets Clarence Holliman in his solo. The instrumentals include a organ combo rendition of Little Willie John's recording "Young Girl," with some stinging guitar from Prado after the organ lead. "No-La-Fun-Ky," from Prado and Mantovani evokes the classic Meters sound, while the Wressnig-penned "Turnip Greens," conjures up Booker T and MGs. "The Face Slap Thing No. 05" is taken at warp speed and features some blistering playing from Wressnig and Prado and followed by a nice relaxed rendition of "Grazing In The Grass," with the leader making use of the full range of sound textures from his organ. It is terrific, but that is true of all the performances here.

This superb recording is available as a CD, download and vinyl. There is also a deluxe recording which is a 2-CD Digipack that also includes "Captured Live," a nine-song CD by the Soul Gift Band with a guest appearance by Deitra Farr. I have not heard that, but based on what I have heard by Wressnig, I suspect it is a gas.

I received from the artist. Here are Raphael Wressnig & Igor Prado performing "Young Girl" live.


Monday, February 06, 2017

Si Cranstoun Old School

Si Cranstoun
Old School
Ruf Records

From busking on British Streets for a couple decades to being dubbed "The King of Vintage" by a British newspaper, Si Cranstoun's latest recording (the first I have heard) is a retro-rock release with a touch of rockabilly, blues, R&B and more. With a vibrato in his voice shows a bit of Jackie Wilson influence he kicks off running with the rockabilly-laced "Old School" followed by "Vegas Baby," which is in the spirit of Elvis. "Nighttime" is an offshoot of the Nappy Brown blues nicely delivered followed by the bouncy "Run Free" where he sings of running to free his soul.

"Right Girl" comes off as a pastiche to some of the vocal groups of the fifties, while "Elise The Brazilian," is a delightful novelty with a latin groove with a melodramatic vocal, while "Count on Me" is 60's style country number (think perhaps Porter Wagoner meets Jackie Wilson), and "Around Midnight" is a blues performance with a dash of Sam Cooke in his vocal. "A Christmas Twist" is a bouncy holiday number as he sings everyone have a ball and peace and happiness for all. A honking baritone sax kicks off a cover of "Big Bess," a spirited cover of less known Jimmy Rushing recording followed by another cover, a rendition of Jackie Wilson's "Lover Please."

I am not sure the source of the closing "Happy Birthday" which is not the Birthday song most are familiar with. It includes a booting tenor sax solo. It provides a peppy end to this most entertaining recording that does a fine job of evoking the classic tunes of the fifties and sixties in a most original way.

I received my copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the January-February 2017 Jazz & Blues Reprt (Issue 370). Here is the official video for "Old School."

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Tim Gartland If You Want A Good Woman

Tim Gartland
If You Want A Good Woman

Resident in Nashville, Tim Gartland first honed his blues skills in Chicago, then in Boston before moving to Nashville. "If You Want A Good Woman" is apparently his third recording and his slightly grizzled singing and sure sounding harp playing is featured here along with his songwriting on this recording of originals (some penned by his keyboard player Tom West). Others on this include Wendy Moten on supporting vocals; Tom Britt on guitar; Lynn Williams drums; and Steve Mackey on bass. Former Delbert McClinton band member Kevin McKendree recorded this, co-produced this with Gartland, and added organ and piano to a few selections.

Gartland certainly is ingratiating as a singer and harmonica player with his band providing able support, although much of this I would classify as blues-based roadhouse rock in the vein of Delbert McClinton. This is a descriptive observation, and does not relate to the quality of the music. Gartland has written some exceptional original songs (he has a way with words), and he and the band deliver very strong performances. His vocal on the opening "What The Blues Look Like," reminded me of Paul Butterfield, with some tasty harp and slide guitar. This is a terrific song that one can see many folks covering. "Hours Worth" is a rocker where he sings about having a hours worth of whiskey, and of rent that is a month past due. Wendy Moten provides backing vocals and there is a rollicky piano break.

His vocal on "I Had It" has some of the qualities of the recent world weary sounding singing from Charlie Musselwhite as Gartland expresses regrets about having had it all wrong. The title track is built around a reggae riff as he sings about a good woman that stay home if the man is doing her wrong, and after all a good woman simply wants a good man. Gartland does not overwhelm with his harmonica playing, but rather it ably complements his singing. The instrumental "Eight Ball" allows him to display his thoughtful, vocalized sound on harmonica

There is also a fair amount of humor to be heard here. On "Too Many Groceries," where tells this lady that she is as subtle as a train wreck, and she has too many groceries for her bag. Another wonderful song is a homage to Willie Dixon, "Willie That's Who." The lyric here laced with subtle references to some of the late blues giant's songs and lyrics. A driving instrumental "Go West," provides a lively coda to Gartland's rollicking set of blues and rockers that is wonderfully recorded.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. Here is Tim Gartland in performance.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Southern Avenue Tells Us Don't Give Up

Southern Avenue
Stax Records

In the new Stax Records group, Southern Avenue, one can hear a variety of blues, gospel and soul influences on their self-titled debut recording. Southern Avenue is comprised of Memphis-born, church-bred sisters Tierinii and Tikyra Jackson, respectively a soulful, charismatic singer and a subtle, powerful drummer; guitarist Ori Naftaly, an Israeli-born blues disciple who first came to America as an acclaimed solo artist; versatile jazz-inspired bassist Daniel McKee; and the band's newest addition, keyboardist Jeremy Powell, an early alumnus of Stax's legendary music academy. Guesting on the group's self-named 10-song album are Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and trumpeter Marc Franklin of the Bo-Keys.

One hears echoes of the Staples Singers with the opening message song "Don't Give Up," with Tierinii's fervent vocal with supporting vocals and Naftaly's atmospheric searing slide. It is followed by a the funky groove of "What Did I Do" introduced by a guitar riff before the heartfelt song of giving her man her best and need to make things right. And like the rest of the recording, the simple, strong groove anchors powerful vocals with horns embellishing the performance and help the tension build. Then there is a lovely soulful ballad "Love Me Right." "80 Miles From Memphis" is a peppy rocker where Tierinii sings about crying her blues away because she is away from home as she has stones in her passage and only ten dollars in her pocket as Naftaly throws in with a rockabilly-tinged solo an additional delight. Tierinii's vocals remind me of Shemekia Copeland sharing similar tonal qualities and poise.

The one cover, Ann Pebbles' "Slipped Tripped And Fell In Love" seamlessly fits in with the band's originals, and has a nice piano break from Jeremy Powell. "Peace Will Come," another Staples Singers' styled message song closes this excellent debut recording, by a group that you can certainly expect to hear much more about.

I received my review copy from Concord Records. For folks in the Washington DC area, they are appearing at Jammin Java in Vienna Virginia on Sunday evening, February 26, http://www.ticketfly.com/event/1401833-southern-avenue-stax-records-vienna/. Here is a video of them performing "Don't Give Up."

Friday, February 03, 2017

John Hart Exit From Brooklyn

John Hart
Exit From Brooklyn
Zoho Music

Moving to New York in 1984, fresh out of college, guitarist and composer John Hart initially landed in Brooklyn, although he eventually moved to the suburbs. In his notes to his new Zoho Music release, "Exit From Brooklyn," he mentions the vibrant jazz scene in that Borough which was part of his thirty years in the City experiencing virtually every facet of New York's jazz scene, including spending 16 years with organist Brother Jack McDuff. He met his partners in his trio, bassist Bill Moring and drummer Tim Horner, shortly after moving to New York, and while running into each other at apartment jam sessions and whatever, they formed a trio around 2000 and "Exit from Brooklyn" is their fourth CD together. Currently Hart is director of Jazz Guitar Studies at the University of Miami Frost School of Music and spends more time there, but this does not that affect his status as a performing jazz musician.

"Exit From Brooklyn" has the trio performing three originals and seven standards and from the opening rendition of "Here's That Rainy Day" to the closing "Where or When," there is much to enjoy from the leader's fleet fretwork and the support and solos from Moring and Horner. There are plenty of nice touches, such as the 6/8 rhythm for "Here's That Rainy Day," along with the twists and turns of his improvisation. In contrast, Hart's title track evolves and expands out of a riff Hart introduces at the beginning and on which Moring also solos and then followed by a lovely rendition of Billy Strayhorn's "Star Crossed Lovers," with Horner on brushes.

Another highlight is when Hart and trio interpret "April in Paris" that he performed with Jack McDuff. The performance here is based on the Wild Bill Davis arrangement of famous Count Basie recording, and in addition to some of Hart's choicest playing, Moring (a Basie alumni) solos and then Hart and Horner trade fours. Again on "Just Friends," one is impressed by the fresh twist Hart gives this familiar standard. More twists and turns are heard on an brisk original blues "I Mean It!," followed by two Thelonious Monk compositions including an exquisite rendition of "Ask Me Now." These are among the pleasures of "Exit From Brooklyn," that make it so appealing.

I received my review copy from a publicist. I do not believe this review has previously been published. Here is John Hart with a different rhythm section.