Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rawls & Luckett Can’t Sleep At Night

Rawls & Luckett
Can’t Sleep At Night
Rooster Blues / Rounder

Johnny Rawls and L.C. Luckett are veterans of the chitlin’ circuit having formed the nucleus of deep soul singer O.V. Wright’s last band as well as backing Latimore, Lynn White, Willie Cobbs, Z.Z. Hill, and Little Johnny Taylor.

This is their debut album as leaders, and it offers a hearty mix of deep southern soul and blues with a dash of gospel. Material is mostly originals by the pair although two tracks are associated with Wright, I Don’t Do Windows and a medley of I’d Rather Be Blind/ Crippled and Crazy coupled with Ace of Spades. While Wright’s influence can be heard in the pleading urgency of several performances, including the title track and What Makes a Good Man Go Bad, the mood on others, like the soulful ballad Can We Talk It Over, owes as much to Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Sam and Dave.

Their blues generally are not as distinctive lyrically or instrumentally as their hard soul tunes, but the impassioned singing and playing makes If You Not Home By Tomorrow a particularly arresting track. The dance number Shake It, Shake It Baby (“let me see you pop,”) is a lightweight funky dance number that suggests a slightly uptempo Get Out Of My Life Woman. Most of their songs though are solid performances, capturing a range of moods and settings - from deep soul to the slight swamp/pop flavor of Soul to Soul.

Rawls and Luckett overdub on guitar, bass and keyboards with horns added to several tracks, and Arthneice ‘Gas Man’ Jones adds harp to Be Fair To People and If You’re Not Home Till Tomorrow. Certainly this album compares very favorably with most of the recent similar efforts from the Ichiban and Malaco labels, and it’s well worth more than a listen.

This review originally appeared in the March 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 199). I received my review copy from the record company. This should still be available from various sources. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi Sonny & Brownie's Last Train

Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi
Sonny & Brownie's Last Train
M.C. Records

Guy Davis' latest release, with his partner harmonica player Fabrizio Poggi is a tribute to the legendary duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. While Terry & McGhee were among the leading exponents of the Piedmont blues style, Davis' approach is most assuredly his own. For example on "Shortnin' Bread," his guitar style employing a repeated riff is more akin to the Mississippi Delta and Memphis artists than heard in Carolina tobacco towns. Similarly, Davis' guitar accompaniment of "Baby Please Don't Go Back To New Orleans," evokes Mississippi Fred McDowell and Leadbelly. This is not a criticism but an observation. There are times they do play in the easy flowing Piedmont style as in the cover of Elizabeth Cotten's "Freight Train," although Davis modeled his playing here on Cotten's original (as he observes in his liner notes). This is not a criticism as Davis and Poggi deliver this performance in their own manner, and not as simple revivalists.

The album opens with Davis' title track, an affectionate tribute to the pair. The remainder are songs to some extent associated with Terry & McGhee, even if from other sources and several are probably more associated with Leadbelly such as "Shortnin' Bread," "Take This Hammer" and "The Midnight Special." "Take This Hammer," is an interesting performance with the accompaniment suggesting the gospel tune, "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah."

Among the performances rendered in the Piedmont style are the afore-mentioned "Freight Train," the superb "Hooray, Hooray These Women Is Killing Me," and "Step It Up and Go," associated with Josh White and Blind Boy Fuller, which Davis has recorded before. There is a strong rendition of "Walk On," one of the songs most associated with Terry & McGhee. If the rendition of St. Louis Jimmy's "Going Down Slow," is similar to the somewhat generic treatment Terry & McGhee gave it, Davis and Poggi are more in a Delta Blues style for Johnny Temple's "Louise, Louise" as opposed to the Broonzy cover that influenced Terry and McGhee.

Regardless of the manner specific songs are performed, there is plenty to enjoy on "Sonny & Brownie's Last Train." If Davis' somewhat gruff singing lacks some of the easy flowing quality of particularly Brownie McGhee, the interplay between him and Poggi is in its own manner as marvelous and Terry and McGhee. In his liner notes, Davis provides a written appreciation of Terry and McGhee and in an insert provides notes on the songs (although the notes on "Louise, Louise" fail to mention Johnny Temple's original) along with lyrics. This is an intriguing and welcome release, and one I suspect Terry and McGhee would appreciate if they still were with us.

I received my review copy from the record company. Here Guy and Fabrizio perform the title track. 


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Anat Cohen's Brazilian Collaborations

Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves
Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos
Anzic Records

Anat Cohen and Trio Brasileiro
Rosa Dos Ventos
Anzic Records

One of the most prominent clarinetists in jazz today, the Israeli born Anat Cohen has been delving into the richness of Brazilian music for some time. Now she has two new releases of Brazilian music, recorded in recorded in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia as close collaborations with native musicians. Since Anat first visited the country in 2000, Brazil has become a home away from home for her, a frequent destination for her to explore in depth music that has captured her heart.Her previous seven albums as a leader have included Brazilian classics and original pieces she composed under the influence of Brazilian music. Marcello Gonçalves, the 7-string guitarist who collaborated with Cohen on "Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos," says about her, "Anat has such a great passion for Brazil. She speaks Portuguese far better than I speak English. More than that, Anat can play Brazilian music better than many Brazilian musicians. Her accent is perfect."

As indicated by its title "Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos" is devoted to the music of the innovative composer, arranger and educator who influenced countless Brazilian musicians including Baden Powell and Sergio Mendes. For this recording, Gonçalves arranged a dozen Santos pieces from their large-ensemble scores into intimate, lyrical duets, with Anat often employing the clarinet's rich lower register and Gonçalves channeling the orchestral textures of the originals into his 7-string guitar (which has an extra bass string). The two recorded besides each other and without headphones to allow the music sound as natural as possible.

There is playfulness during the opening "Amphilbious," with the two musically dancing with each other whether playing in unison of interweaving their lines and the warmth and sportive quality of Cohen's clarinet and the spirited solo from Gonçalves with Cohen comping is delightful. In contrast, "Coisa No. 1" is a beautifully played ballad with the two exchanging leads and one appreciates the tone of Gonçalves' guitar as well as his playing on this gorgeous sounding duet. "Nanã (Coisa No. 5)" is perhaps Santos' most famous composition having been recorded over 100 times, and after some almost hard guitar chords emulating the horns on the original, turns into a light-hearted duet full of lyricism warmth, and wit with Cohen's soaring phrases complimented by the nimble mix of chords and single note runs. It is followed by the lovely, wistful "Coisa No. 9," and then the two have some fascinating interplay on "Mae Iracema." The joy and camaraderie the two have for each other, Santos' music and Gonçalves' arrangements is evident throughout this stunning recording. I suspect some, like I already have, will start to explore Santo's own recordings after hearing this.

Cohen's musical encounter with Trio Brasileiro is similarly delightful. The trio was formed in 2011, and is dedicated performing traditional choro music (a music contemporaneous with ragtime) as well as their own compositions that put a contemporary spin on choro. The group comprises percussionist Alexandre Lora (whose array includes the pitched "hand pan"), guitarist Douglas Lora and Dudu Maia, one of Brazil's finest mandolinists (who plays a special 10-string bandolim mandolin on "Rosa Dos Ventos"). Cohen expresses part of the allure of choro, "As with the style of early New Orleans jazz, choro functions on group polyphony where everyone has a role yet it's open and free-spirited, with simultaneous melodies happening. It can be groove-oriented like a party, or it can be full of saudade, of longing. It was actually choro that brought me back to the clarinet after years of concentrating on the saxophone." There are differences of course between Cohen's duets Gonçalves and the interaction she has playing with this trio, but the results are very similar in the lively recorded performances.

The playful and lively sounds here opens with "Baião Da Esperança," which is the first sample of the interplay between the Trio and Cohen with Alexandre Lora's percussion accenting her and the stringed instruments. Maia and Cohen are the focus as Douglas Lora's percussive guitar here serves as a foundation for Cohen's clarinet flourishes and Maia's dazzling mandolin runs. "Pra Você, Uma Flor," is a more pensive performance with its lyrical quality a result of the the intricate interplay of the musicians. Douglas Lora composed the first two, while Maia wrote the lively "Das Nieves," while Cohen's "Valsa Do Sul," opens with the warmth of Cohen's clarinet followed by nimble guitar and mandolin runs. Alexandre Lora's "Flamenco," evokes images of Flamenco dancers and guitars with the composer's hand percussion and the guitar of his brother, while the title track is a delightful duet by Cohen (with swoops and swirls in her playing) and Alexandre Lora.

There are also the fascinating evocation of Indian classical music with its characteristic drone on “O Ocidente Que Se Oriente,” while Maia's appealing, "Lulubia," has Cohen embellishing the simple guitar accompaniment and Maia's spare mandolin lead. Like Cohen's duets with Marcello Gonçalves, the collaboration of Cohen and Trio Brasileiro is not simply marvelously played, but also makes for captivating listening.

I received downloads of both from a publicist. Here is Anat Cohen and Marcello Gonçalves.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Jazzmeia Horn Social Call

Jazzmeia Horn
Social Call

The first time I saw the remarkable vocalist, Jazzmeia Horn, was as a member of drummer Winard Harper's group at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. I have had the pleasure of seeing her several times subsequent to that time and have been impressed everytime. She was the winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition that was devoted to jazz vocals. One of the prizes was a recording contract with Concord Records which is issuing her debut album on the reactivated Prestige label. On this recording she is supported by Victor Gould on piano, Stacy Dillard on saxophone, trumpeter Josh Evans, trombonist Frank Lacy, bassist Ben Williams (himself a previous Monk Competition winner); and drummer Jerome Jennings.

Originally inspired by Sarah Vaughan, and mentored by Rachelle Farrell, she also was guided by Bobby McFerrin, Abby Lincoln and Betty Carter. She posseses a remarkable vocal range, and with her perfect pitch and her horn-like scatting and phrasing, one is struck by the clarity, vitality and expressiveness of Jazzmeia's sining. She has an exceptional vocal instrument that is displayed on the performances with a terrific backing band and a well-conceived program of standards, hard bop classics and adaptations of contemporary material. This opens with a compelling rendition of Betty Carter's "Tight," with terrific backing. Dillard takes a terrific short solo, before she scats and trade fours with him. Her rendition of the standard "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)," has a wonderful solo from Gould along with more scatting. It is followed by the full band lending a little big band feel for the Sister Rosetta Tharpe classic, "Up Above My Head," with a lovely delivery of the lyric with light scatting before Frank Lacy takes a gruff solo.

Gigi Gryce's "Social Call," opens with her singing Jon Hendricks' lyrics only accompanied by Williams' bass before the full rhythm enters with wonderful playing from Gould and Jennings' light touch driving this gem. Her spoken social commentary set against Williams' bass and Jennings cymbal work begins a stunning reworking of The Stylistics "People Make The World Go Round." This is taken at a brisker tempo than the original. In addition to the precise enunciation, she adds emphasis by speeding up and then extending her phrasing as the horns adding to the atmosphere with quasi-frenzied interplay.

When I first saw her with Winard Harper, I recall her performing the classic "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Here she sings it accompanied with Gould's accompaniment which segues into a full band rendition of Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'," with her scatting followed by a brief segment from Lacy and a blistering chorus from Evans, a walking bass solo, before she closes this taking her voice to the stratosphere. The lovely rendition of "The Peacocks," has a fine accompaniment from Young to which Evans adds some nice brass, and followed by a whirlwind paced "I Remember You,"with a brief drum break.

On this superb recording, a highlight might be the medley of "Medley: Afro Blues/ Eye See You / Wade in the Water." It begins with an imaginative, tour de force reworking of the Mongo Santamaria classic, initially performed as a duet with Jennings before the rhythm enters and has some operatic vocalizing at the upper reaches of her extensive range. This segues into a spoken social commentary rap before transitioning into the spiritual with gutbucket trombone also heard. The album closes with a lively and uplifting cover of Mary J. Blige's "I'm Going Down." Again, she her vocal soars while she delivers a message for brothers and sisters to hold on and stay strong in trying times

Jazzmeia Horn is a most gifted singer whose originality, horn-like phrasing, timbre and timing will enthrall listeners on this auspicious debut.

I received a review copy from Concord Records. Here she performs Thelonious Monk's "Evidence," at the Mink vocal competition semi-finals.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Percy Mayfield Lost Love: The Singles As & Bs 1947-1962

Percy Mayfield
Lost Love: The Singles As & Bs 1947-1962
Jasmine (UK)

Another English public domain reissue of vintage rhythm and blues brings us Percy Mayfield's first 27 singles (whether 78s or 45s) and a previously unissued couple of tracks. While Mayfield's Specialty recordings were subject of classic reissues some time ago, they may hard to find. Furthermore, here are his recordings for Gru-Tone and Supreme that predate his joining Specialty, and also are recordings Checker, Cash, Imperial, 7 Arts, and Tangerine.

The album opens with the two part jump and jive "Jack You Ain't Nowhere," and then his first recording of "Two Years of Torture," both with an unidentified band although his vocal is under-recorded on the latter two. When he signed with Supreme he had a pair of singles including a remake of "Two Years of Torture," with a band that included Maxwell Davis, Marshall Royal, and Chuck Norris and much better recorded presaging the time with Specialty. His first record for Specialty, with a band that included Maxwell Davis as well as Jack McVea, Gene Phillips, Red Callender and Lee Young, had the classics "Please Send Me Someone To Love," and "Strange Things Happening." So many classics are here including "Lost Love (Baby Please Come Back to Me)," "The Hunt Is One," "The River's Invitation," "The Bachelor Blues," "My Heart Is Crying," with Maxwell Davis being a constant on these. Besides his tenor saxophonist, I suspect Davis was responsible for the arrangements and leading the studio band.

 While Davis is not present on the recordings for Cash and Checker, those sides produced gems like "No.43 (My Story About A Woman)," with a choice Fred Clark tenor saxophone solo, and the moody "The Bluest Blues." "Please Believe Me" is an unusual ballad recording with a sweeter sound than earlier selections, while he produced a urban blues gem "My Heart is a Prisoner," with the guitar more prominent in the backing along with some tough tenor sax. One of his last Specialty singles was the jazzy cocktail ballad, "When Did You Leave Heaven" while for 7 Arts he recorded "Ha Ha In The Daytime, Boo Hoo At Night," a tune he would remake a bit more emphatically later. A Tangerine coupling included Ray Charles, Hank Crawford, Teddy Edwards and Chuck Norris include the hard swinging big band groove of "Never No More," which would also be on his LPs that he recorded for Ray Charles' label. Mayfield would continue to make strong music beyond the singles documented here including albums for Brunswick and RCA Victor along with a single for Atlantic.

Besides one of the great songwriters of the blues leading him to be called "The Poet Laureate of the Blues," Percy Mayfield was a suave, sophisticated singer and a major touring attraction until his face was heavily disfigured in an automobile accident. While his career as a star was over, the music here shows that his music remained original and distinctive. Some of the material (the non-Specialty recordings) on this is rare and even those having the Specialty reissues might want this to fill-in gaps in their collection of his recordings. There is a discography of the songs here and astute notes from Dave Penny. For those not having much by him, this does present the core of his recorded legacy.

I purchased this. Here is a later recording than that on this collection of "The River's Invitation."

Monday, April 24, 2017

Hayes McMullan Everyday Seem Like Murder Here

Hayes McMullan
Everyday Seem Like Murder Here
Light in the Attic Records

Gayle Dean Wardlow was traveling in Black communities in his native Mississippi in the mid-sixties looking for old blues 78s when his comment regarding Charlie Patton 78s to Hayes McMullan was answered by Hayes who told Wardlow he knew and played with Patton. Wardlow recorded interviews with McMullan where he discussed experiences with Patton, Willie Brown, Ishman Bracey and others. Also Wardlow recorded performances by him on several occasions, even though McMullan had stopped playing music in the early 1930s, so he had to practice and had some song lyrics written down as he had forgotten them over the years. The interview materials have been incorporated in Wardlow's work on Patton (including the biography of Patton co-authored with the late Stephen Calt and currently being rewritten by Wardlow). Now, a half century after this encounter, Light in the Attic Records has issued a CD of the music from around a half century with some brief interview excerpts, such as what it was like to play a party-dance with Patton, or what songs Patton regularly played.

McMullan was recorded over several occasions and had different instruments to play. Given the fact he had stopped playing decades earlier after his brother had been poisoned, one might hear some rust or tentativeness in some of these performances, but he still had a certain robustness in his music on many of these starting with on an 8-bar blues "Fast Old Train," heard after a short interview segment when he talks about himself. It is followed by a terrific "Look-a Here Woman Blues," a solid blues that musically evokes Tommy Johnson along with the incorporation in the second verse of "No Special Rider Blues."

There are short false starts (like for "Back Water Blues") followed by a fine "Goin' Away Mama Blues," followed by his take on a girl every day theme, "Every Day in the Week," which John Miller, in his astute musical analysis in the accompanying booklet, observes is a rare instance of a Mississippi bluesman recording in A, although his simple self-accompaniment has a strong rhythmic emphasis. Listening to "Hurry Sundown," one is reminded of some of the field recordings from this period in terms of the gristle in the voice and the rhythmic aspect of the playing, although it ends abruptly (issue with tape recorded on perhaps). "Smoke Like Lightning" is influenced by Charlie Patton opening with the "chips flying everywhere" verse, with a Tommy Johnson falsetto although his vocal sounds a bit tentative.

There are so many intriguing things that strike a listen like his variation in his accompaniment of "Goin' Where The Chilly Winds Don't Blow," or his comments of Patton's music and what he was playing with Patton's "High Water" is playing in the background. There is a driving rendition of the parlor guitar piece, Spanish Fandango," a tantalizing fragment of another Patton number "Hitch Up My Pony," and the title selection with the underlying triplet feel in the accompaniment showing kinship to Skip James' "Special Rider Blues," as he sings about packing up and going. Another variation on getting a girl everyday of the week is "Gonna Get Me A Woman (Aka Sunday Woman)," with a simple accompaniment.

The repertoire is fascinating and includes "Kansas City Blues," a rendition of the Jim Jackson "hit" that Jackson recorded several times and Patton covered changing the location to Alabama. Also he has a unique take in "Bo Weevil Blues," a common theme and then two short takes of "'Bout a Spoonful," with some very nimble picking. "No Triflin' Kid," is a short performance with some Patton like beating on the guitar and a Tommy Johnson falsetto, followed by an instrumental, "Delta Walk," and his robust self-accompaniment of "Roll and Tumble."

The closing "I'm Goin', Don't You Wanna Go?," might suggest Furry Lewis at places and the lyric has him incorporating "hurry sundown, let tomorrow come," and hearing "Billy and Stagolee arguin' in the dark." McMullan turned down the opportunity to go North to record with Patton (and Son House and Willie Brown) and one can only imagine what he might have sounded if he recorded then. The performances, with some imperfections and tentativeness, stand up well a half century later and show what a strong Delta blues musician he was. Rather than be part of the blues scene, McMullan was a church deacon, involved in civil rights work and trying to get blacks registered to vote as well as worked on a plantation. He did perform for a 1979 Mississippi Public Television documentary narrated by B.B. King. In this writer's humble opinion, "Everyday Seem Like Murder Here," is the major country blues release of the past couple years.

I purchased this. Here is "Fast Old Train."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Eddie Burks Comin’ Home

Eddie Burks
Comin’ Home
Rising Son Blues

Eddie Burks has a brand new album on Rising Son Blues, a label dedicated to his music. Burks was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and moved to Chicago, working in a steel mill. He made scattered singles and one-shot recordings until his 1991 debut album, Vampire Woman.

While he is not among the first rank of the harp players, he employs it effectively and is an effective, ebullient vocalist with a touch of melancholy. There is an interesting mix of tempos and musical seasonings from the country on the opening Dead or Live, while Sugar Hill Blues, about a part of the ghetto which is the ghetto resident’s dream, free from the drug users and dealers and the ever present Mr. Needmore. Maxwell Street Jump is an instrumental take on Dust My Broom and there are attractive covers of I’m a Man and Worried Life Blues. The backing band has some ragged edges. Lead guitar Shad Davis plays some biting lines, and Carl Snyder’s keyboards helps hold everything together.

In summary this is a very entertaining, if not exceptional, set of gritty performances. If you can’t find this one, you can contact Rising Son Blues at P.O. Box 288752, Chicago, Il 60626 or you can call 1-800-4-RISING.

This review originally appeared in the November 1994 Jazz and Blues Report Issue 196). I do not remember if i purchased this or received a review copy. This is likely available used. Here is Sugar Hill Blues.

Friday, April 21, 2017

John Primer & Bob Corritore Ain't Nothing You Can Do!

John Primer & Bob Corritore
Ain't Nothing You Can Do!
Delta Groove Music

Delta Groove just issued a new recording by the Chicago veteran John Primer and harmonica player Bob Corritore, who is one of the co-producers of this as well. Bring some the likes of Henry Gray or the late Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, Big John Atkinson or Chris James on guitar, Troy Sandow or Patrick Rynn on bass and Brian Fahey on drums and one has a terrific band for the traditional Chicago Blues follow-up to the acclaimed 2013 "Knockin' Around These Blues."

The material is a mix of strong originals and choice covers with the music evoking the late Muddy Waters (Primer was guitarist in Waters final band) with a touch of Magic Slim, with whom Primer played with for many years with the driving, insistent groove. The instrumentation here also lends this the sound of a Muddy Waters recording (with Corritore's harp lending the feel of the Waters Band when James Cotton was in it), although I believe Waters only recorded John Lee 'Sonny Boy' Williamson's "Elevate Me Mama," which has terrific piano from the late Barrelhouse Chuck.

Originals like the topical, opening "Poor Man Blues," who is living the best way he can, and the closing slow, closing Muddy Waters-styled "When I Leave Home," bookend terrific renditions of Johnny Temple's "Big Legged Woman," with Muddy Waters' styled slide; Snooky Pryor's Vee-Jay classic, "Hold Me In Your Arms," has Henry Gray on piano; Magic Slim's chugging "Gambling Blues"; and a Corritore feature, "Harmonica Boogaloo." The Chuck Brooks-penned title track was originally recorded by Albert King. It is a slow blues where Primer authoritatively tells his woman know that no matter what she does, nothing will stop John from loving her or drive him away. With solos from Henry Gray, Corritore Jon Atkinson and Primer himself, Primer and band conjures up the Mississippi King Bee (Muddy Waters) himself here (and elsewhere).

A rendition of Don Nix's "For a Love of a Woman" and Howlin' Wolf's "May I Have Talk With You," where Primer plays some Elmore James's style slide on a rollicking shuffle adaptation of Wolf's song round out a terrific recording that is as a good an evocation of classic Chicago blues (particularly the great Muddy Waters band of the late fifties through early seventies) as has been heard in the past few years.

I received a review copy from Delta Groove. Here is an album teaser.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

John Brim Ice Cream Man

John Brim
Ice Cream Man
Tone Cool / Rounder

John Brim made several classic Chicago blues recordings in the 1950s, and he occasionally has surfaced over the past four decades. He guested on Bob Margolin’s recent Alligator album and Margolin has helped Brim with this, his first ever full album. 

Margolin is joined by harmonica player Jerry Portnoy and others to help Brim reprise three of his Parrot/Chess recordings, Tough Times, Ice Cream Man and Be Careful. Margolin’s presence is major a factor in why this captures much of the feel of Brim’s fifties recordings on these three, on Brim’s originals (the topical Wake Up America) and versions of Muddy Water’s Standin’ Around Cryin’ (with splendid Margolin slide) and Little Walter’s Can’t Hold Out Much Longer. Brim, like Jimmy Rogers, sings in a cleanly articulated, relaxed manner. 

While he may sound a tad rusty four decades older, he still sings with a warm, relaxed honesty. Margolin’s dedication to perpetuating the classic Chicago blues sound makes this a solid session of interest to any with an interest in Chicago blues.

This review originally appeared in the November 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 194). I likely received a review copy from Rounder Records.Here is his original rendition of the title track. This may be only available used or as a download.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Professor Louie & the Crowmatix Crowin' the Blues

Professor Louie & the Crowmatix
Crowin' the Blues
Woodstock Records

Professor Louie & the Crowmatix is a Woodstock, New York based Americana/roots musical group led by Aaron Louis Hurwitz, who collaborated with The Band for over fifteen years. He is a musician and producer, nicknamed "Professor Louie" by Rick Danko, and also a regular at the workshops of Common ground on the Hill in Maryland. Originally a studio band, the Woodstock NY based aggregation who now perform regularly and this is their third album. The Crowmatix are Professor Louie (vocals, accordion, piano, Hammond organ, keyboards); Miss Marie (vocals, percussion, piano); Gary Burke (drums, percussion); Frank Campbell (bass, vocals); John Platania (electric /acoustic guitars); Josh Colow (lead guitar) and special guest Michael Falzarano (guitar).

This is a solid and a very likable set of well played straight-forward blues and roots tunes. Professor Louie and Miss Marie are solid vocalists, although this listener would not call either an outstanding singer. The tone is set on the opening rendition of Marie Adams "I'm Gonna Play the Honky Tonks," with the Professor handling the vocal and taking a nice piano solo. There is chugging groove on the original "Prisoner of Sound" and followed by their rendition of "High Hell Sneakers," with Platania taking a short solo. Miss Marie handles the lead on the melancholy ballad "Love is Killing Me," while there is some rollicking piano and slide on a credible cover of Elmore James' "Fine Little Mama."

Professor Louie handles the vocal on Jimmy McCracklin's "I Finally Got You," with an insistent, driving rhythm. It sounds like an accordion creates hornlike riffs on Big Bill Broonzy's "Why Did You Do That to Me,"  a performance that  suggests the classic "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor." There is a creative reworking of the Jay McShann-Walter Brown classic "Confessing the Blues," erroneously credited to B.B. King. Miss Marie ably handles the lyrics against a solid backing that sounds derived from Ray Sharpe's "Linda Lu." Similarly, they rework the Jimmy Reed shuffle "Bright Lights, Big City," into a slow R&B flavored groove. Jimmy Rogers' "That's Alright," has been covered so often that it takes more than the listenable performance here to leave a deep impression. The album closes with Professor Louie on a bouncy instrumental, "Blues For Buckwheat," an affectionate tribute to the late zydeco legend.

This is a well played and sung recording, with a nice choice of material, but overall while there is  good music here, nothing left a deep impression. I have a feeling I might enjoy them more live than on this recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "Love is Killing Me," from the recording.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Billy Flynn Takes the Lonesome Highway

Billy Flynn
Lonesome Highway
Delmark Records

As Tom Hyslop observes, for all the recordings Billy Flynn has played on for Delmark over several decades “it is hard to believe” that this release is first his for the label as a leader which places him in the spotlight, not simply as the fluid, straight no chaser, blues guitarist (and harmonica player and percussionist), but as a songwriter and an able vocalist. With a core backing band of Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards, E.G. McDaniel on bass and Andrew ‘Blaze ’ Thomas on drums, Flynn contributes sixteen idiomatic originals along with a cover of “The In Crowd.” Several tracks employ horns and Deitra Farr duets with him on two selections.

Flynn has provided a nice variety of songs which provides him a chance to display his versatility as a guitarist with a dash of harmonica as well. There is a rock and roll flavor to his guitar (evocative of Chuck Berry who just passed away as I write this) on the opening “Good Navigator,” which is a delightful duet with Farr. “Small Town” is a nice, low-key performance with a sober vocal and guitar suggestive of Earl Hooker with a dash of harmonica for good measure. The title track is a strong Otis Rush styled West Side Chicago blues with a strong vocal and some superb Rush-like guitar soloing, while the instrumental take of The ‘In’ Crowd" is a driving instrumental (shades of Jimmy Dawkins) with some strong organ under Flynn’s funky mix of chords and single note runs. Another solid West Side Styled blues is ”The Lucky Kind."

Hold On,” with more harmonica, is another duet with Farr set to a Jimmy Reed groove with crisply played guitar (echoes of Eddie Taylor) and harmonica breaks. “Jackson Street” sounds inspired by Robert Nighthawk’s “Jackson Town Gal” and Flynn adds some solid Nighthawk influenced slide guitar, while the rollicking “Long Long Time” is akin to J. B. Lenoir’s “How Much More.” The funky “I Feel ‘Um“ opens with Christopher Neal’s booting tenor sax with some jazz-inflected playing akin to Fenton Robinson. The instrumental ”Blues Express“ finds Flynn’s string-bending suggesting Freddie King, while his guitar playing and deliberate vocal on ”Sufferin’ With the Blues” is modeled after Albert King, and his playing emulates B.B. King on the closing “Christmas Blues.”

In addition to his chameleon like ability to suggest a number of legendary blues guitarists, Flynn’s idiomatic originals,  choice harmonica playing and  natural, heartfelt singing, make this a gem of a recording. It does not hurt to have such crisp backing throughout on this gem of a new blues album.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is Billy Flynn in performance.

Monday, April 17, 2017

LazyEye Pocket The Black; Live at Chapel Lane

Pocket The Black; Live at Chapel Lane

LazyEye is an Australian blues trio consisting of Evan Whetter, vocals, organ and harmonica; Erica Graf, guitar and backing vocals; and Mario Marino, drums & backing vocals. Very popular and honored down-under, they competed in the Blues Foundation's 2016 International Blues Challenge. "Pocket The Black" was recorded live at the Chapel Lane Studio with a studio audience. This is not unprecedented as Otis Spann's Bluesway album, "The Blues Is Where It's At" was recorded with a studio audience. While noting a studio recording allows one to capture as close to perfect a performance and make overdubs to correct minor imperfections. However, given the live approach they chose for this recording the best 'feeling' takes rather than seek perfection.

This band is new to this reviewer, but the trio impressed, especially instrumentally from the first moments of "Keepin' From Lovin'," to the ending "Swing From Marz." This is not to take anything away from Whetter's very capable singing and Graf's very fine guitar playing. Her well thought out lines set against Whetter's punchy organ and Marino's crisp drumming stands out on these performances that are nicely paced and nicely balanced. The title track is a swinging shuffle with a nice use of billiard metaphors with a jazzy solo from Graf. "Let Me Down Easy" is not the Bettye Lavette soul classic, but an original slow blues with understated organ and marvelous guitar to support the grainy vocal. "Mucho Jalapeño" is an outstanding instrumental akin to Kenny Burrell's "Chitlins Con Carne," with a nice latin groove. Whetter provides some grease on the organ followed followed by Graf's carefully articulated, jazzy fretwork.

They call "Shack O' Mine" a tribute to Bo Diddley although the performance reminds these ears of Johnny Otis' "Willie and the Hand Jive" and Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," itself built on the famous "a shave and a haircut" beat. There is nice interplay between the band although the lyrics are somewhat inconsequential. "Do You Know How It Feels" is another slow blues, although perhaps the solos could been a bit more concise, perhaps a consequence of recording as a live performance. With Whetter on harmonica and Graf on acoustic guitar, the lazy "Treat Your Lover Right," has a nice Jimmy Reed styled feel. "It Ain't Right," has a spirited groove and unusual twists in its melodic line and the album closes with a jazzy "Swing For Marz," with some greasy B-3 and nice comping from Graf before she takes a sweet single note solo.

Listening to LazyEye here, one appreciates the fact that even when the tempo picks up as on "It Ain't Right," they never sound hurried or frantic. The ensemble sound is wonderful, drummer Marino stays consistently in the pocket and Whetter is a good, personable singer. This is quite an enjoyable recording and this writer would certainly enjoy more from them in the future.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371). Here they are performing "Pocket The Black."

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Patty Reese Let in the Sun

Patty Reese
Let in the Sun
Azalea City Recordings

Washington DC area roots-rock stylist and songwriter Patty Reese is a favorite among audiences in the Nation's Capital area. About this album (her fourth) she states, "This collection of songs is an honest representation of who I am, where I come from and where my heart is. The Blues remains the rock on which I have built every song I’ve ever written. I also love to incorporate songs by artists that inspire me and this time it was Steve Earle and Bob Dylan.” Backing her on the nine originals and two covers guitarist Jonathan Sloane; bassist Sonny Petrosky; drummer Andy Hamburger and Tommy Lepson on keys (co-producer with Reese).

Opening with a swampy blues "Is It Too Late For Me?," she proves adept in mixing in references to black cats and killing chains in a performance about searching for a happy home and saving herself from a devil's campaign with an emphatic groove and blues-rock slide. "Your Love" is a Texas blues-rock shuffle as she celebrates her love as a rock to build her home, a feather to make a bed and more. "Soul Satisfier" is a horn driven piece of danceable funk that she belts out while Sloane rocks out a bit in guitar as Lepson provides some grease with his organ, while she sings in a sultry fashion on "I Won't Let You Down," as she sings that when the world leaves you cold, "I won't you down." Her vocals throughout are full of heart and honesty

Other high-points include "Open A Window, Let In The Sun," a roots rocker with a gospel accent with Brian Simms on keyboards and Dave Chappell on guitar and "Awesome Sauce" a dance-able number with a New Orleans styled groove and blues-rock slide guitar evocative of Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken." "I Hear a Lie" is a moving country-rooted lament followed by a fresh interpretation of Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's Alright."

Steve Earle's lovers lament "Goodbye" is the closing track and Reese heartfelt singing of her regrets on this moving country performance is standout selection on a solid collection of performances that show her range as a performer and songwriter.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2017  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371). Here Patty performs, ""Is It Too Late For Me?"

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ron King Triumph

Ron King
Perseverance Distribution

While classically trained, Ron King has taken his brass chops to a variety of settings working with such artists as George Benson, Ricki Lee Jones, and Marvin Gaye, performing with the Tonight Show Orchestra as well as with Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and others, while doing studio work for films and the like. Currently he leads a quartet as well as a big band, and now has a new album with a variety of grooves and the like with him overdubbing on a variety of instruments while joined by Jeff Lorber and others on this.

The title track opens things up with its tuneful (if programmed) backing and lyrical trumpet along with wordless vocal backing. He switches to flugelhorn on "Luv Vibe" and displays impressive facility and invention. Support on this includes Jeff Lorber on piano (who solos), Bennett Brandeis on guitar and Preston Shepard on French Horn with a easy listening veneer. With full band and strings, "Celtic Horizons," sports lovely flugelhorn along with pianist Andy Langham's solo and Bob Sheppard's flute with the strings adding sweetening. "A Long Way Home," with King on trumpet, Bob Sheppard on tenor sax and Lenny Castro on congas is spicy, straight-ahead latin jazz (with the bass riff akin to that of Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca") with some of King's most exciting playing here as his trumpet blazes into the upper register followed by some very fervent tenor sax and then Langham in a highly charged manner before some hot percussion from drummer Gary Novak and Castro on congas on a standout performance. The closing "Peace and Love" takes us back to the smooth jazz feel of several selections with programmed rhythm and synthesized strings in support his lovely trumpet.

Ron King plays trumpet and flugelhorn with lyricism and invention although this album mixes a straight-ahead performance with others more in an smooth jazz vein, making for some wonderful playing and relaxing listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the March-April 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371).

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Roomful Of Blues Dance All Night

Roomful Of Blues
Dance All Night
Bullseye Blues

I remember first hearing about Roomful of Blues from Big Joe Turner and Lloyd Glenn who had raved about them after being been backed by them. When their first album came out, I was impressed by their faithfulness to the originals, although they were derivative. In the decade and a half since, there have been some personnel changes, but they have maintained their commitment to the jump blues.

Today, the band exhibits more personality and individuality in its music. This is evident in the new album. Fronted by vocalist and harp player Sugar Ray Norcia, the album shows their incorporation of modern urban blues into their repertoire with nice versions of Little Milton’s That Will Never Do and Little Walter’s Up the Line. The Buddy and Ella Johnson classic I’m Just Your Fool and Lillie Mae, derived from a Smiley Lewis recording, are given first-rate readings.

Sugar Ray contributes some strong originals, and his relaxed delivery, reminiscent of Junior Parker, evinces his development as a fine blues vocalist. Chris Vachon ably handles the guitar, Matt McMabe pounds the 88s, and the horns of Bob Enos, Carl Querfurth, Greg Piccolo and Doug James rip through the ensemble parts and solos. This simply is superb jump blues.

I likely received my review copy from the record label. This is still available as a CD or download. This review originally appeared in the July-August 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 193). Here is "Up The Line" from this album.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lisa Biales The Beauty of My Heart

Lisa Biales
The Beauty of My Heart
Big Song Music

A new album from the singer, Lisa Biales, brings together some terrific covers and backing from members of The Phantom Blues Band, drummer Tony Braunagel (who produced this); guitarist Johnny Lee Schell (who engineered this); bassist Larry Fulcher; trumpeter Darrell Leonard and saxophonist Joe Sublett; along with keyboardist Jim Pugh; bassist Larry Taylor; bassist Chuck Berghofer (member of The Wrecking Crew); trumpeter Lee Thornberg; and others. The result is a very appealing recording.

The performances here include the jump blues revival of Mabel Scott's "Disgusted" with a terrific Joe Sublett tenor sax solo; a solid New Orleans funk reworking of Allen Toussaint's "I Don't Wanna Hear It" originally waxed by Betty Harris; a smoldering cover of Nina Simone's "Be My Husband"; a jazzy rendition of Lil Green's "Romance in the Dark" with the legendary Chuck Berghofer on acoustic bass; a moving rendition of Eric Bibb's "Don't Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down" with brief solos by Jim Pugh and Johnny Lee Schell adding to its smokey atmosphere; and a spirited gospel performance of Alex Bradford's "Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody." She may have quite the voice of an Aretha but she puts everything in her delivery of this latter song's simple message affirming one's faith.

This is just an overview of some of the very enjoyable performances on this. One song of special note is "Crying Over You." This song has special significance for Biales, as it recorded in 1947 by her mother Alberta Rogers who also wrote it. The performance opens with the first verse of her mother's recording before Biales completes the performance as she sings yearning for her phone to ring as she is crying for her love. Chuck Berghofer is on double bass and Lee Thornberg plays a delightful trumpet solo behind Biales' charming vocal.

Lisa Biales has proven to be a real fine interpreter of blues and roots with her honeyed voice and natural, unforced delivery. She enchants here and, with superb backing, has produced another gem.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371). Here is Lisa performing "Romance in the Dark."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pressed For All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums

Pressed For All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums From Louis Armstrong And Billie Holiday To Miles Davis And Diana Krall
Michael Jarrett
Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press
2016: 336 pp

Michael Jarrett, has a fascinating new book out which considers the role of the producers in making the great jazz recordings happen. Jarrett, who has written about music for a variety of publications, is a Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University. Through oral histories with producers, engineers, musicians and label executives, he traces the role of the producers from 78 era to the present day digital recording era. He weaves the interviews in a manner that provides insight on how various classic jazz recordings happened.

The book opens with a Cadenza from Don Schlitten on producing jazz records who notes the transition from large companies with their Artist & Repertoire person to the modern jazz producer as well as noting when he started in the business, recordings whether tape or acetate were still made direct with no mixing or the like and this has evolved. Multi-track taping changed things. Schlitten's overview is very helpful to understand what is going on later.

As Jarrett observes that with recording onto tape, the A&R person evolved into the producer since the tape allowed more control over the entire recording process and some producers even became independent. The book is organized into four chapters. Chapter 1 (1934-49) has us in the pre-tape era when music recorded to acetate or lacquer masters. Chapters 2 (1950-66) and 3 (67-90) involve music recorded and mastered on tape, whereas in Chapter 4 (1991-present) involve recordings in the digital age, even if not recorded to hard drives when albums meant CDs, digital downloads and vinyl for enthusiasts.

It should be noted that Jarrett will associate an album with a producer (and also integrate comments from others involved with that recording), sometimes the album is at best tangentially discussed in connection with the illustrated album. Still it is quite fascinating to understand the history of jazz albums which initially were compilations of 78s in an album package. Milt Gabler recalls how he reissued 78s in the 1930s of records from the 1920s, as well as recording Lester Young and then the legendary Billie Holiday "Strange Fruit" session. George Avakian, in discussing Billie Holiday's Vocation 78 of "Billie's Blues," discusses John Hammond in not the most favorable terms. Avakian also claims to have produced the first jazz album that was of new recordings, not simply reissues of prior releases, when he supervised the recording of "Chicago Jazz Album" issued on Decca on 78s in 1940.

It is fascinating in Chapter 2 to hear how tape and eventually multi-track tape, as well as moving from 78s to first 10" and then 12" LPS changed things dramatically such as allowing longer performances to be recorded and issued. While associated when the Columbia release of Benny Goodman's Carnegie Hall Concerts, Avakian gives some history of how he convinced the heads to issue LPs, including extended works by Erroll Garner and Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong's W.C. Handy album (of which another producer, Ed Michel, comments that "Avakian invented LP programming." Also discussed is the "Ellington at Newport." Bob Weinstock (no relation) provides an overview of Miles Davis' "Dig" album (and later Sonny Rollins' "Saxophone Colossus") while Gabler recalls recording Peggy Lee's "Lover." There are discussions about splices (and hiding them) in producing a tape masters, as well as reissues from these masters. Orrin Keepnews initially produced reissues of classic Paramount jazz and blues recordings and later would produce Cannonball Adderly, Wes Montgomery Thelonious Monk and others. Then there is discussion of engineers, including Rudy Van Gelder who would be very secretive of some of his techniques. Tom Dowd discusses engineering Charles MIngus while John Koenig's, whose father Lester ran Contemporary Records mentions the influence of Neshui Ertegun (who was Atlantic's primary jazz producer) had on him. Then there is engineer Esmond Edwards on producing Coltrane, and Eric Dolphy for Prestige and Ramsey Lewis for Argo, Creed Taylor on producing Stan Getz, Gil Evans, Ray Charles, Oliver Nelson and John Coltrane, Nat Hentoff on Mingus Presents Mingus, Bob Thiele on producing Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, and Teo Macero on producing Miles Davis.

Chapter 3 involves more advanced productions involving tape, and sometimes its manipulation as well as more elaborate and orchestrated productions. There are the Miles Davis' electric albums such as "Bitches Brew" and the like which involved making tracks from splices of partial performances. Also in this chapter we have Creed Taylor's productions of Wes Montgomery, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Freddie Hubbard and others for A&M and CTI. Joel Dorn provides insights on the Atlantic recordings by Eddie Harris, Rashaan Roland Kirk and Gary Burton, while Bob Porter discusses some of the Prestige organ-based recordings he produced for Prestige and how Don Schlitten hired him for those because he did not want to work the soul jazz roster. Don Schlitten tells how he got Jaki Byard's "Solo Piano" done and also a late Jimmy Rushing recording. Tom Dowd talked about what was involved to make Herbie Mann's "Memphis Underground" happen. Other recordings discussed here include some of Ed Michel's Impulse productions including those by Archie Shepp, Sam Rivers and Pharaoh Sanders. Other backstories include Anthony Braxton's "Creative Orchestra Music," Weather Report's "Black Market," Charlie Haden's album of duets, "Closeness," Herbie Hancock's "Rockit," the Bill Evans-Tony Bennett duets, James Blood Ulmer's "Tales of Captain Black," and Illinois Jacquet and His Big Band, "Jacquet's Got It!" ( Bob Porter produced this for Atlantic).

Chapter 4, as indicated is of the age in which, no matter how recorded, recordings started being issued digitally as opposed to vinyl LPs and cassettes. Bill Laswell discusses Sonny Sharrocks' "Ask the Ages," while John Synder discusses recordings by Kenny Drew, Jr., and Mel Torme. Other recordings here include memorable ones by Randy Weston, "The Spirits of Our Ancestors" and "Volcano Blues." Craig Street tells what was involved with Cassandra Wilson's "Blue Light Until Dawn," while Jay Newland, an engineer discussed how he recorded Keith Jarrett's "Bye Bye Blackbird." Newland also describes recording Etta James' Billie Holiday "Mystery Lady," and how they had to cancel the first recording day when Cedar Walton said he couldn't play the piano in the studio because it was terrible. they cancelled and brought in a Steinway. There are of course many recordings here, as well as in the other chapters, that I have not mentioned.

Reading this book, I thought about the documentary "The Wrecking Crew" that weaved interviews, film and music clips to tell the story of the legendary Los Angeles studio musicians that were behind some many popular records of the fifties and sixties, as well as heard on movie and TV soundtracks. In like fashion, the weaving of these interview excerpts provide a fascinating overview of the production of jazz recordings, both then and now. This was lively and highly informative read.

I purchased this.

Monday, April 10, 2017

In the Midnight Hour: The Life and Soul of Wilson Pickett by Tony Fletcher

In the Midnight Hour: The Life and Soul of Wilson Pickett
Tony Fletcher
New York: Oxford University Press
2017: 302 + xviii pages

I first heard about this biography of the great soul legend Wilson Pickett from the social media post of Curtis Pope, the Washington area musician who led Pickett's band for a number of years. The enthusiasm expressed about this biography made it an easy choice for purchase. Upon reading it, the hopes I had about this book was more than realized.

Taken from interviews with family members, band-members, interviews held with the great soul singer, Tony Fletcher provides a well-knit story of Pickett's life from the poverty of growing up in Jim Crow Alabama, to moving to Detroit and his development on the gospel circuit, then crossing over and making recordings as a member of the Falcons to his remarkable career as one of the greatest of the deep soul artists to emerge in the 1960s.

Fletcher tells the story with warts and all starting from his childhood where he first displayed the mean streak that would be part of his personality for years, the suffering of deep physical punishment growing up, spending time in rural Alabama and Detroit as he grew up and emerged into his career. Through interviews with family members, fellow members of the groups he performed in, the studio bands on his recordings, the musicians in his touring band we get inside the studio when with The Falcons he recorded "I Found a Love" with his vocal set against Robert Ward's fiery, echoey guitar playing.

The success of the Falcons led to his time with Atlantic Records and Fletcher takes us to the sessions in which so many classic recordings such as "In the Midnight Hour," "634-5789," "Land of a Thousand Dances, "Mustang Sally" and so many others. We are there as he improvises around the lyrics of "Thousand Dances" and go down to Muscle Shoals for the inspired cover of The Beatles' "Hey Jude" with his vocal and Duane Allman's celebrated slide guitar created so much magic. His friendship with Don Covay as well as Solomon Burke (from whom he covered "Everybody Needs Someone to Love") and the rivalry with James Brown are part of his legacy.

Fletcher takes us to Europe, the Apollo and other concerts, shows and festivals by Pickett as well and the legendary Soul Clan recording that was bittersweet because of the tragic passing of Otis Redding. Then there is the decline in his career as well as some of the personal troubles he had with substance abuse and domestic violence issues as well by the revival of his recording and performing career before his passing.

This is a wonderful written and documented biography of one of the greatest singers and performers to emerge in the sixties and seventies that I had difficulty putting down before I finished it. This has my highest recommendation.

I purchased this. Here is the Wicked Pickett doing his classic take of "Land of a Thousand Dances."

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Joe Louis Walker JLW

Joe Louis Walker

Joe Louis Walker’s new Verve release may be his breakthrough album with respect to reaching beyond the core blues audience. The material and the production may a bit more accessible without losing the music’s edge.

Perhaps the rhythm is recorded a little heavier, and Rain on My Mind sounds similar to some Stones’ tune. Those not familiar with the blues world of today may think it is Bonnie Raitt, not Angela Strelhi, on the soulful duet, Hold On. Besides Strelhi, guest appearances are made by the Tower of Power Horns on a couple tracks, Branford Marsalis on the nice soulful Inner City Man, and James Cotton on an acoustic Going to Canada - bassist Henry Oden’s take on the Dust My Broom riff.

What is unusual about this album is that Walker did not pen most of the songs.. There’s the intense version of the oldie Need Your Lovin’ Every Day, and the excellent rendition of Otis Blackwell’s On That Powerline that Walker had been recorded for the Otis Blackwell tribute album on Shanachie that also appears here. Walker himself is the source of the best material. 12-Step Lovin’ (co-written with Laurie Basson) has a clever lyric analogizing love as an addiction with the 12-step treatments for addiction, while Alone is a nice jazzy, soulful blues. Walker throughout sings and plays with the conviction and imagination that has always characterized his recordings and performances.

While it may not be as varied or jazz-inflected as his previous Blues Survivor, JLW is still typical of a Joe Louis Walker recording. It is first rate.

This review originally appeared in the October 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 295). I likely received a review copy from the record company but may have purchased it. Here from over a decade after JLW, Walker is with Billy Branch doiig a Robert Johnson-Elmore James classic. 

Friday, April 07, 2017

Doug Munro and La Pompe Attack - The Harry Warren Songbook

Doug Munro and La Pompe Attack
The Harry Warren Songbook
Got Music Records

Harry Warren was an American composer who is known for his work on films with a number of the songs he collaborated on becoming standards (such as "At Last" written for a 1942 film "Orchestra Wives"). Other songs he was associated with (In collaboration with Mack Gordon, Johnny Mercer, Al Dubin and others) include "Lullaby of Broadway," "Jeepers Creepers," "I Only Have Eyes For You," "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "The More I See You," "September in the Rain," "Forty Second Street, "We're in the Money" and others. He was the great uncle of guitarist Doug Munro who arranged 14 songs in the manner of Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France and recruited celebrated guitarists Harold Alden, Vic Juris, Vinny Raniolo and violinist Andrei Matorin to help make this project happen. There were four sessions involved and Munro contributed two originals as well.

This is this writer's first exposure to Munro who has recorded in a wide variety of contexts over the past three decades, which starts off on a lively note with "Lullaby of Broadway," with dazzling guitar as Alden, Raniolo and Munro each get a chance to solo here with the backing rhythm helping propel things here. "Serenade in Blue" is a lovely rendition of this Warren/Gordon ballad while Raniolo and Munro are featured on "Nagasaki." a novelty number popular in the swing era, although we could have been spared the novelty vocal on this. Matorin's violin joins in for exhilarating "Jeepers Creepers," and "Chattanooga Choo Choo," that contrast with the reflective rendition of "I Only Have Eyes For You."

Vic Juris' contributes lovely playing to "The More I See You," while he and Munro each contribute to "September in the Rain," that ends with a quote of Jimi Hendrix's "Wind Cries Mary." A tribute to Warren, "Blues For Harry," is one of the two originals and has some fine playing from Raniolo, Ted Gottsegen as well as Munro. "Forty Second Street," is taken at a walking tempo with Bujese's violin outstanding. A lively "We're in the Money" has sizzling playing from Raniolo, Gottsegen and Munro, although again the vocal could have been dispensed with. The tango rendition of "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," comes across as perhaps a bit melodramatic, while the breakneck "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby," is a fun performance

A lovely rendition of "At Last," the arrangement of which sounds inspired by the classic Etta James recording, closes this tribute to one of the great American film composers It also stands up as a marvelous album for gypsy jazz and jazz guitar aficionados.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared originally in the March-April 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371). Here is Doug Munro performing "42nd Street."


Thursday, April 06, 2017

Howard Johnson and Gravity Testimony

Howard Johnson and Gravity
Tuscarora Records

Nate Chinen proclaimed in the New York Times in 2006 that Howard Johnson was the individual "most responsible for the tuba's current status as a full-fledged jazz instrument." Certainly in more than five decades, his musicianship, invention and imagination has lifted the tuba to its present position as more than a novelty or simply being part of the early history of jazz. He played with the ensembles of Charles Mingus, Carla Bley and Gil Evans (to name a few) as well as a founding member of the Saturday Night Band and pop icons like Paul Simon and Taj Mahal.

Gravity is a tuba-centered band whose current membership includes other tuba players Velvet Brown, Joe Bargeron, Earl McIntyre, Joseph Daley, and Bob Stewart with a rhythm section including Carlton Holmes on piano, Melissa Slocum on bass, and Buddy Williams on drums. Joe Exley guests on tuba for 5 of the 8 songs while Nedra Johnson wrote and sang one number. McIntyre, Daley and Stewart are long-time associates and members of Gravity and the four appeared with Johnson as part of Taj Mahal's Tuba Band (Taj has sung, performed and recorded with Gravity as well in the past).

Johnson contributed a couple of originals and the handsome arrangements here and the presence of the rhythm section contributes to the attractiveness of the performances. The title track opens this on a lovely fashion with first his percolating solo followed by one from Bargeron with the other low brass adding to the atmosphere with swinging backing and solos from pianist Holmes and a short drum break from Williams as the ensemble takes this number out with some gruff tuba. Up next is a jaunty blues "Working for the Jones" with a very nice vocal from Howard's daughter, Nedra who sings about doing things she swore she would never do. Holmes and the rhythm are excellent supporting her (while the and then her father's robust solo.

There are two McCoy Tyner compositions included here including a fresh take of "Fly With the Wind," which might seem an unusual choice, but the tubas collectively play a role similar to strings on Tyner's originally and Johnson continues to impress with his fluidity and expressiveness. On the other Tyner composition, the bouncy "High Priest," Johnson is heard playing some driving baritone sax with Bargeron and McIntyre standing out among the tuba ensemble. Bassist Slocum solos strongly here. In between these two numbers is a lovely take on the Carole King classic "A Natural Woman," with Velvet Brown playing the melody and improvisation while Johnson handles the ensemble lead.Johnson's "Little Black Lucille," has Johnson opening unaccompanied on the penny-whistle whose high register is far removed from the other selections. His playful playing is joined by Holmes and then ensemble who provide a frame for his solo which is followed by Holme's stately, gospel-tinged piano.

Bob Neloms composition "Evolution" on which Johnson's arrangement and the composition contribute as much as the solos from him, McIntyre, Bargeron and Stewart along with the personality they each provide with their playing, and this feeling is also heard on the closing number, a rendition of Wilton Felder's "Way Back Home," which provides its own take on this soul jazz classic, originally performed by The Crusaders. Far from being a novelty jazz ensemble because of its instrumentation, Gravity plays music that both moves one with its melodicism as much as the unique instrumental harmonies fashioned by its leader. It has been nearly two decades since I saw them, and another decade since I saw them with Taj Mahal's Tuba Band but like a previous recording by them I have, the music here surprises and consistently delights the listener.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the March-April 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371). Here Howard Johnson and Gravity perform "Fly With The Wind."


Wednesday, April 05, 2017

LaVerne Johnson Shady Lady

LaVerne Johnson
Shady Lady
Blue Moon

Twin City based Blue Moon continues issuing interesting blues from Minneapolis-St. Paul. A new release by LaVerne “Lady Blue” Johnson, Shady Lady, is a debut by a former Ikette. It is comprised mostly of her originals, although several songs allude to other, familiar, songs. Examples include Winds Beneath My Wings (a blues with the title taken from the song for which Bette Midler won a Grammy) and Your Man and Mine (which reminds one of You Can Have My Husband But Please Don’t Mess With My Man).

Lady Blues’ strength is as a singer, and she has a winning way of phrasing a lyric. My only criticism is the backing is too generic. It may be the engineering, and while drummer Bron Westland sets a groove, he comes off stiff and heavy. Bill Connor’s honking sax is one-dimensional and he sounds like he plays in overly loud bands. While Jay Doughty’s guitar is solid, Ivan Wallace’s solo on Your Man and Mine is too busy.

My criticisms should be taken in context. Lady Blue is a real talent and the backing is never less than workmanlike, but she would be better suited to a jazzier backing. Still this is an impressive, if imperfect, debut, and available from Blue Moon Records, PO Box 581364, Minneapolis MN 55458 if unavailable elsewhere.

This review originally appeared in the October 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 195). I likely received a review copy of the CD from Blue Moon which may now be known as Cold Wind Records. Amazon sells this as a CD-R as well as a download and it is available as a download also on itunes.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble Havana Blue

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble
Havana Blue
316 Records

The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP), a 55+ piece jazz-symphonic orchestra dedicated to bringing together audiences of diverse backgrounds through multi-genre projects. It was founded by Orbert Davis trumpeter, composer as well as the Philharmonic's conductor and artistic director along with Mark Ingram, musician, composer, producer and performer. The CJP describes its mission, "Chicago Jazz Philharmonic combines jazz and classical to create new, evolved, “third stream” musical experiences at home and around the world. CJP's third stream approach unites diverse perspectives, expanding the potential of what music brings to life for students, musicians, audiences, and communities."

It emerged out of educational activities by Davis and Ingram, along with an invitation to Davis This performance marked the first time for a resident Chicago Jazz artist to to “think big” when planning his appearance at the 2004 Chicago Jazz Festival, and he did being accompanied by a 55-piece jazz orchestra. It has engaged in a number of multi-genre projects including "Havana Blues," a collaboration with River North Dance that originally was performed in April 2013. Prior to it, Davis and River North Dance Director Frank Chavez visited Cuba in October 2012 where they interacted with Cuban musicians and be inspired by their talents and personalities.

The seven-part "Havana Blue Suite" is the core of this recording, and was recorded on April 23, 2013. Obviously we only have the music and not the accompanying dance that was performed that evening. It is performed by the CJP's Chamber Ensemble, a 19 piece big band that includes a string quartet along with brass, reeds and rhythm section. The Suite opens with the atmospheric "Sabor" with the strings prominent along with Latin percussion before the Spanish tinged theme is expressed with a delightful interplay between the horns and strings. the orchestration is lush and gorgeous with stately piano and trumpet. The second part "Congri" opens with congas and percussion leading into a tropical Afro-Cuban groove that underlies piano and trumpet choruses against a marvelous orchestration.

Pianist Leandro Lopez Varady opens "Solteras" in a romantic mood joined by some lovely fluegelhorn with the strings joining at the coda of this segment, The morose feel of "El Malecon" is established by sober, pensive string quartet section that the horns briefly join into. It is followed by the one segment not composed by Davis, Ernesto Lecuona's lovely "Al Fin Te Vi," a duet between clarinet and bass clarinet. The mood changes with the spirited mambo, "Havana @ 12" with high energy trumpet and soaring horn riffs. The suite concludes with a brief cha cha, "Orlando's Walk (reprise)."

There are four studio performances starting with "Chega De Saudade" from Jobim and Moraes, the performance of which is centered around Varady's electric piano and the leader's flugelhorn. It is followed by Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" on an excellent rendition of this classic. Some excellent solos and ensemble work here as elsewhere. Davis' "Seraphim" is a lovely, dreamy performance with lovely fluegelhorn and electric piano, and followed by a lengthier rendition of the stately "Orlando's Walk" to complete this album. While there are some fine solos, what stands out even more is the writing, orchestrations and the ensemble playing but in several of the suite sections that sound fully (or almost fully) composed) and more jazz-oriented Afro-Cuban jazz segments and numbers.

The music on "Havana Blue" is captivating, energetic and at other times reflective and atmospheric resulting in this wonderful CD. Incidentally proceeds from the CD sales will support the artistic and educational programs of the CJP and for more information visit,

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 370). Here is "Orlando's Walk" from "Havana Blue."

Monday, April 03, 2017

John Lee Hooker Everybody’s Blues

John Lee Hooker
Everybody’s Blues

Fantasy has issued the second of its Specialty John Lee Hooker reissues, Everybody’s Blues. It contains twenty more choice early examples of the King of The Boogie. The first eight recordings were made by Bernie Besman and involve Hooker’s own reworking of traditional blues themes. 

Hooker’s driving boogie accompaniment, with his calculated extension beyond the 12-bar form, makes Do My Baby Think of Me sound completely different from Little Brother Montgomery’s Special Rider Blues. In contrast, the following Three Long Years Today is a brooding Hooker slow blues. Another similarly styled blues, Walkin’ This Highway, is marked by Hooker’s somewhat violent sounding guitar playing. Four Women in My Life (also issued on Modern) is a stunning, relatively straight rendition of a delta blues theme which sounds like someone is playing rhythm with Hooker, although not credited. 

Eight of the performances were recorded with a small jump combo who bring a certain amount of chaos to the talking blues I‘m Mad, where Hooker complains menacingly about working hard to take care of his woman while his woman plays around, Boogie Rambler, derived from Gatemouth Brown’s recordings, the jaunty version of Rosco Gordon’s No More Doggin’, and the title cut which is a recast version of Eddie Boyd’s Five Long Years

The final four tracks find Hooker solo again and the version of Percy Mayfield’s I Need Love So Bad illustrates how Hooker can take straight blues lyrics and through his guitar embellishments, his extending a verse past 12 bars, and through deliberately not rhyming lines, makes a familiar song into what clearly becomes his own slow blues. One would never have guessed its source.The liner notes on this set of vintage Hooker are the same as on Graveyard Blues, the earlier Specialty reissue of Hooker. The two Specialty albums are the two best collections of John Lee Hooker’s early recordings currently available in the United States. 

The English Ace Records has issued The Legendary Modern Recordings 1948-1954 which may be found at better stores carrying imports. This contains most of Hooker’s most commercially successful recordings including Boogie Chillen and the original I’m in the Mood, and one can only hope that Virgin Records’ Flair subsidiary will make this available in the US soon. Other recommended early Hooker includes the Krazy Kat collection of Joe Van battle recordings of Hooker along with some real obscurities, Boogie Awhile, and Do You Remember Me, Hooker’s explosive Federal recordings which are some of the most intense post war country blues recordings made. 

This is available as a download and used. I likely received a review copy from the record company. This review originally appeared in the May 1994  Jazz & Blues Report (issue 191). Here is an early John Lee Hooker rendition of Worried Life Blues.