Monday, January 29, 2018

Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers Big Road

Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers
Big Road
Juicy Juju Records/ Vizztone Records

The sophomore album by the Boston-based Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers brings together more small band adaptations of vintage blues classics along with some rock-oriented and world music tinged originals. Along with her vocals, guitar, washboard and percussion, she is joined by her husband Jim Countryman on bass, Matt 'Charles' Prozialeck on harmonicas and Matt 'Charles' Prozialeck on drum kit and percussion.

Harpe is a wonderful singer and a superb traditional blues guitarist who has shown an affinity on for delta blues and Memphis blues, although to these ears, not everything is completely successful here. The opening rendition of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Kokomo," is a solid performance, if too arranged with a tad too much amplification for these ears. Harpe takes credit for "Lonely Leavin' Town," a strong adaptation of some delta blues lyrics followed by a choppy "Big Road Blues," well sung but this writer prefer's Canned Heat's rendition. Canned Heat used an arrangement adapted from Poor Willie Lofton's "Dark Road Blues." The rhythm section on these two tracks come across to these ears as slightly mechanical.

Better to these ears is a marvelous acoustic interpretation of Mississippi John Hurt's "Frankie," with agile, deft guitar, honey vocal and nice supporting harmonica. It is followed by a cover of Slim Harpo "Shake You Hips," that becomes an extended jam and is the longest selection here. John Hurt is also the source for "Casey Jones, another acoustic performance with drums added and once again Prozialeck stands out on harmonica and Harpe sings strongly. A solid band blues "Voodoo Blues," is nicely performed before another adaptation of traditional blues, "Stop and Listen," which is based to some extent on the Mississippi Sheiks classic, follows and is taken at a breakneck clip mixing lyrics from Cannon Jug Stompers' "Viola Lee Blues" with the Sheiks classic.

A terrific acoustic rendition of Randy Newman's "Guilty," is followed by the closing "Gimme That Somethin' Special," a funky jam that displays her impressive guitar playing in a slightly different setting along with more strong singing. "Big Road" is an intriguing mix of material and musical style. There is some very fine music mixed in with interesting, if to these ears less compelling, music. It does certainly merit attention from blues and roots music lovers.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here they perform Lonely Leavin' Town Blues."

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Billy Lester Trio Italy 2016

The Billy Lester Trio
Italy 2016
Ultra Sound Records

Yonkers, NY native Billy Lester recorded this latest recording (not sure if this is his seventh or eighth over 20 years) in Italy after meeting and touring with bassist Marcello Testa and drummer Nicola Stranieri starting in 2014. Lester grew up listening to the likes of Bud Powell, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge while showing an affinity for piano as a young child. He was mentored by Sal Mosca and studied with Lennie Tristano, and he cites these two as his biggest influences. While under Mosca's tutelage, he studied and absorbed aspects of Lester Young's style.

One can certainly hear Tristano's influence in how Lester plays and develops his solos and the arhythmic sense of the rhythm section at times on this program of six originals, but his technique and drive in his playing also evokes Bud Powell's at times. This is a fascinating set of terrific piano trio music. "To Julia," a contrafact of the standard "Body and Soul," on which bassist Testa also solos while Stranieri keeps a fluid pulse going on the lengthiest of the performances here. The driving "Consolidation" is another strong effort by Lester and his trio, but all the music here is of a consistently high level on a superlative CD.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Billy Lester performing.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Tim Armacost Time Being

Tim Armacost
Time Being
Whirlwind Recordings

Saxophonist Tim Armacost, who recently impressed this listener as part of the NYSQ has his Whirlwind Recordings backed by a crackerjack rhythm section of Robert Hurst (double bass), and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums) with David Kikoski (piano) on a few selections. The result is a striking album from start to finish as Armacost comes across as a player with tone and intensity, imagination and drive starting with the opening "Alawain" with a sound that has hints of Coltrane, Hank Mobley and others. This is simply an analogy, but Watts comes across as explosive as Elvin Jones while Hurst is a rock anchoring this performance.

The title track is begins as a smokey lament with Armacost employing an effective vibrato in his dark tone with Watts in a free pulse accenting the sax before a slight shift in tempo and a looser mood before the first of three interlude-type numbers titled in part "Sculpture." Kikoski adds his lyrical touch to "The Next 20," a lovely ballad performance from the quartet with some affecting playing from Armacost. The trio next is heard playing authoritatively on Monk's "Teo," which wonderful solo and responsive backing. Kikoski is also present on "One in Four," an attractive composition that might hint at the classic Coltrane Quartet with Armacost delving in the lower reaches of the tenor with Kikoski's chording and Watts being particularly explosive. Ornette Coleman's poignant "Lonely Woman," has his aching tenor interacting with Hurst's urgent bass lines on a superb interpretation and followed by a solid hard bop original "53rd St. Theme."

"Sculpture #3: All the Things You Could Become in the Large Hadron Collider," finds Kikoski's bebop piano set against the leader's jarring tenor sax as they both solo off the chords of the standard "All the Things You Are," before they reach a harmonious accord. Its is an invigorating and imaginative conclusion to a terrific recording. Armacost is superb as is his stellar band mates on a recording that stands out among even so many excellent recent ones.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a clip of Tim Armacost in performance.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tom Principato and Steve Wolf The Long Way Home

Tom Principato and Steve Wolf
The Long Way Home

Longtime friends and musical associates, guitarist Tom Principato and bassist Steve Wolf, come together for a set of mostly musical duets. Principato is best known as for his blues and roots rock performances with his straight-forward parched singing and nuanced, yet high energy guitar that can run from James Burton styled rockabilly to B.B. King styled blues to electrified gypsy guitar. Wolf has been his long-time bassist but also a familiar anchor to a number of Washington DC based groups. There are others heard on several of the eight songs (six composed by Principato and two by Wolf), but they stay mostly in the background.

The performances have an intimate, conversational feel starting with the opening "I Thought Of You," and then followed with Principato displaying his fluid, jazz chops on "Midnight Groove," with Josh Howell's congas helping propel this sparkling performance with Wolf talking a strong solo as Principato lightly chords behind him. Wolf's "Tres Dias Mas," is a charming Tex-Mex flavored ballad, while Principato's "Very Blue," is a low-key, early in the morning instrumental with him playing in a jazzy vein. There is a Flamenco tinge to the lovely "Mi Solea," while "Back Again & Gone," is a relaxed, country-jazz flavored instrumental with Joe Wells' on drums.

There is plenty of wonderful music on "The Long Way Home," which finds Principato and Wolf playing with restraint, but still showing considerable imagination as well as their considerable musical command.

I received the CD to review from one of the artists. Here is a selection from this recording.

Inaugural Oscar Peterson International Jazz Festival to Honor Norman Granz Legacy

The Inaugural Oscar Peterson International Jazz Festival takes place during the weekend of February 16 - 18, 2018 with venues are in the historic Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and nearby City of St. Catharines in the Niagara Wine Country. Spearheaded by Artistic Director, the celebrated jazz pianist Renee Rosnes, the world’s first (and only!) jazz festival bearing the name of Canada’s greatest jazz artist will honor and celebrate the great pianist's legacy of excellence. This Festival is not intended to simply present concerts in tribute to Oscar Peterson, but rather to truly present jazz, showcasing the rich history and the future of the music Oscar loved. In addition to Artistic Director Rosnes, the festival is led by Artistic Producer Kelly Peterson, and Executive Producers Christine Mori and Alexis Spieldenner of Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts.

Cecile McLorin Salvant performing "John Henry." 

The 2018 Festival will be dedicated to Norman Granz, celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth. “Impresario, record producer, civil rights activist, and founder of Jazz at the Philharmonic, Norman Granz is arguably the most important non-musician in jazz history," said Kelly Peterson, noting his use of jazz concerts to attack racial discrimination. Jazz at the Philharmonic (“JATP” as it was known) was a series of all-star jam-session-style concerts that began in 1944 when Granz presented a concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles. The first to present jazz in concert halls, giving it the same respect as classical music, he made it a contractual obligation for there to be no segregation in the concert venues, leading the charge against discrimination long before the Civil Rights Movement began. Granz himself said, “The whole reason for Jazz at the Philharmonic was to take it to places where I could break down segregation and discrimination.”

Jimmy Greene's performing "Beautiful Life” with Javier Colon singing on The Meredith Vieira Show. This was the title track of his Grammy nominated album hich is dedicated to his late daughter, Ana Marquez-Greene, one of the victims of the Dandy Hook School Shootings. 

Friday night, February 16, they will present an International All-Star "Jazz at the Philharmonic" with multiple GRAMMY Award and Jazz Poll winners, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Greene, Michael Dease, Benny Green, Christian McBride, and Kenny Washington. They will be performing in a JATP style program at the Festival’s all-star opening night event at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, in St. Catharines. Saturday afternoon, the historic 1792 St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake will be the venue for screenings on Saturday afternoon of two documentaries produced by Norman Granz (one of which, "Jammin’ the Blues," was nominated for an Oscar), as well as a JATP concert film. Tad Hershorn, jazz archivist and Granz biographer, will moderate, along with Jacques Muyal, long-time associate of Granz.

The Christian McBride Trio of a few years ago, with pianist Christian Sands on piano and Ulysses Owens on drums.
Saturday evening will bring a Gala affair to Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake with Double Portrait, the piano duo of the Festival’s Artistic Director Renee Rosnes, the 5-time JUNO Award-winning pianist, and GRAMMY Award-winning pianist Bill Charlap. The post-concert Gala Reception includes hors d'oeuvres by Chef Horne of Canoe Restaurant, Stratus wine, and Soma chocolate. The Festival concludes on Sunday at Stratus Vineyards with its grand finale, featuring Canadian artists Carol Welsman, Kevin Turcotte, Mike Murley, Robi Botos, Dave Young, and Jim Doxas in another Jazz at the Philharmonic-style concert. Sunday afternoon’s event will also feature the premiere presentation of the newly created Canadian Jazz Master Awards.

Carol Welsman seen performing "Fly Me To The Moon."

The Festival's website is and the email address is They are on Facebook at, the twitter feed is @opjazzfest and the instagram link is @oscarpetersonjazzfest.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Chris Daniels And The Kings (together with Freddi Gowdy Blues With Horns Vol 1

Chris Daniels And The Kings (together with Freddi Gowdy
Blues With Horns Vol 1
Moon Voyage Records

The Colorado based Chris Daniels And The Kings brings together a touch of rock to their soul-blues mix. Both guitarist and vocalist King and vocalist Gowdy are cancer survivors, but still bringing it decades after they first started. The Kings are in their 33rd year while Gowdy's career goes back to the 1960's. The mood of this is funky, horn driven rhythm and blues as a cross between Memphis and New Orleans.

One of King's influences is Little Feet and its evident on the opening "Sweet Memphis" with guest Sonny Landreth's slide guitar (Calvin 'Bones' Jones takes most of the lead guitar on this album). The next number, a homage to age-old juke joints and down-home blues, "Fried Food/Hard Liquor," has Gowdy's authoritatively joining in the vocal after the instrumental breaks from harp (Clay Kirkland who is not credited on the album), guitar runs and sax on a performance with an arrangement that evokes Steely Dan. Gowdy himself co-penned the James Brown styled, "Get Off the Funk," and takes the terrific vocal on Sam Cooke's "Soothe Me," followed another strong performance on the Bobby Bland classic "Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)." There are a couple of solid Johnny 'Guitar' Watson covers ably sung by Daniels, "Baby's In Love With The Radio," and "You Can Stay But That Noise Must Go," with the latter influenced by Walter 'Wolfman' Washington's rendition. Daniels captures the humor of Elvin Bishop's "Can't Even Do Wrong Right," while Gowdy channels Buddy Miles on a blues-rock take on Miles' classic "Them Changes," with everybody joining in on this jam.

The Subdudes' John Magnie on piano joins King on acoustic guitar and harpist Kirkland on the closing "Rain Check," with a back door porch feel. This low-key number contrasts to the strong, horn-driven, soul-funk-blues of the rest of this recording.

Strong vocals, first-rate material and an excellent backing make for some fine listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here they are performing.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dial & Oatts - Rich DeRosa -The WDR Big Band

Dial & Oatts - Rich DeRosa -The WDR Big Band
Rediscovered Ellington
Zoho Music

Produced in cooperation with the maestro's family. His nephew, Steven James, notes that "In 1979, my mother, Ruth Ellington, and I wanted to record and archive all of the Tempo Music catalogue. This included compositions by my uncle, Duke Ellington, and many of his musical associates. We hired Garry Dial to do this job. I am thrilled, that after 38 years, Garry has revisited the more obscure tunes of Duke Ellington."

The trio of Garry Dial - piano, arranger; Dick Oatts - soprano sax, alto sax, flute, arranger and Rich DeRosa - conductor, arranger, big band orchestration undertook this task, but in a manner that did not try to simply recreate the Ellington sound and try to bring something original in a manner that the Duke did when approaching the classical repertoire as he did with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, stating "Rediscovered Ellington is presented in the same respectful manner. To continue Ellington’s legacy, we resurrected these compositions with our perspective through personalized arrangements. Although a few of them suggest a “tip of the hat” to Duke’s sound, most of these renditions showcase how quality music may be transformed into something new and refreshing while respecting the original essence of its composer. We hope you enjoy these compositions in this context."

For example the opening "Hey Baby," was originally recorded for Victor in 1946, and is a mid-tempo swinger with some sterling solos from Oatts (soprano sax), Paul Heller (tenor sax), Dial (piano) and Johan Hörlen (alto sax) as well as has multicolored shout sections from the brass section, especially heard at the closing section. "Let The Zoomers Drool," is Ellington-Hodges composition with a bluesy feel, superb Dial piano solo along with trombonist Shannon Barnett, with the Oatts-DeRosa arrangement here providing a definite Ellington Band flavor and Oatts alludes to Jonny Hodges with his alto sax towards the end. There is a pensive ballad, "I Like Singing" from a musical "Saturday Laughter" that was written with lyricist Herbert Martin, that has a lush orchestral setting and solos from Dial and Oatts (on alto sax).

The composer and arranger Onzy Matthews worked with the Duke in the late 1960s and early 1970s and likely composed most of "Just A Gentle Word From You Will Do." While probably performed live, this is the first recording of this composition with its straight-ahead melody recast (by Oatts and DeRosa) across the horn and reed sections and in addition to Dial's lively piano, there is delightful flute from Oatts and spirited, if a tad blustery, trombone by Ludwig Nuss. There are no known recordings of either "Introspection," or "Kiki." The former number is an uptempo swinger that is far from introspective and displays the Big Band's marvelous playing along with outstanding solos from Oatts and.trombonist Andy Hunter. The latter number is a jaunty showcase again for the precision and command of The WDR Big Band along with pianist Dial, Karolina Strassmeyer on alto sax, Jens Neufang's riveting baritone sax solo, and John Marshall who takes blazing trumpet solo (and what marvelous timbre he has) on another performance with a definite Ellington tinge to it.

"Love Came" is a lovely ballad that was issued first on Bob Thiele's Red Baron label (it may have been recorded in 1965 but I do not believe it was issued until a few years later), and this is a quiet, reflective performance. It is followed by "KCOR," likely one of the latter compositions of Ellington, opening in a introspective fashion before enlivened by the full band and Oatts impassioned soprano sax solo. The closing ballad, "I Must Be Mad," has wonderful interplay between Oatts on alto sax and Dial on piano, with the full band entering midway through this lovely closing number.

One might question such the approach of recasting material, that was either rare (that is had a brief public life with Ellington) or unheard, away from an Ellingtonian sound, yet one would be hard-pressed to fault any of the performances here. The trio with the celebrated The WDR Big Band, have provided strong, fresh big band performances of the lesser known, but not lesser in quality works of Duke Ellington on an important and enthralling recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375).

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Jane Ira Bloom Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson

Jane Ira Bloom
Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson

The latest recording by the soprano saxophone master is a two-cd recording that are improvisations inspired by poems of Emily Dickinson. One of the two discs has instrumental performances by her quartet of pianist Dawn Clement, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bobby Previte while on the second disc the quartet is heard with Deborah Rush's recitation of the poems.

Listening to this one is of course struck by the clarity and tone of Ms. Bloom's soprano as well as the logic, imagination and invention of her compositions and her solos not to mention the complementary playing and support her excellent band provides whether the lyricism and drive of pianist Clement, Helias anchoring of the groove and Previte's groove keeping as well as adding rhythmic accents. It starts with "Emily & Her Atoms," with shifts in tempo as well as the group dynamics changing as Helias takes a solo. On "Alone & In a Circumstance," we are again impressed by the command Bloom displays and one only need to listen to a couple selections to understand why she is so highly regarded.

The second disc brings together Deborah Rush and the quartet with a recitation sometimes being a brief line as in "Wild Lines." Her recitations open the performances on the second disc with Clement lightly comping or Previte providing a light pulse for "Emily & Her Atoms," "Alone & In a Circumstance," and "Dangerous Times." After her recitation, the quartet starts in a restrained manner but slowly builds in intensity exhibiting the same lyricism, drive, charm and imagination as on the all instrumental disc. This formula is not followed on every selection. For example "A Star Not Far Enough," has the recitation following the quartet with Bloom's sax adding coloring during the recitation." There are so many pleasures such as her solo on "Dangerous Times," with swirling, then extended lines, or Previte's marching drum lines as Rush recites a celebration of the circus coming to town "Singing the Triangle," before Helias kicks off the quartet's response.

The performances range from cerebral to highly animated ("Big Bill"), but all exquisitely played.
This writer had the pleasure of seeing Jane Ira Bloom and her quartet along with Ms. Rush perform some of the selections here at the Kennedy Center at was a thoroughly enchanting evening. The superb performances on these two discs have the same magic as was witnessed live. Highly recommended.

I received review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a selection from the recording.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sugaray Rayford feat. The Italian Royal Family - The World That We Live In

Sugaray Rayford feat. The Italian Royal Family
The World That We Live In
Blind Faith Records

This new release, which I came across on, features one of the finest blues and soul singers to emerge in the past few years. I assume The Italian Royal Family is the backing band on this terrific new Sugaray Rayford recording that places him more in a straight deep soul vein than his previous recordings. I make this observation as a descriptive comment, not an evaluative as I doubt anyone who has enjoyed Sugaray's 'blues' recordings will be disappointed by this release that fines him singing very strongly and backed by a really excellent band.

There is the Memphis funky groove and strong brassy horns on the opening "Take Me Back," where he sings about not missing his water until his well ran dry, and can't sleep no more because his woman is gone and pleads for her to take him back. The mood shifts to the cooler topical lyrics of the title track where his dynamics, vocal and expressive range come to fore. Then there is "Don't Regret a Mile," that sounds like a vintage Curtis Mayfield (and it may be since I purchased this as a download and have no composer credits or specific personnel information including the wonderful vocal chorus heard on several selections. ). "Keep Moving" is a lovely soul ballad, while "Ain't Got No Business To Die," is another topical number about a poor man having no business to die with a driving groove and punchy horns.

Rather than praise each of the ten tracks, let me simply state that Sugaray Rayford sings fabulously and the backing band superbly provides idiomatic backing (terrific horn arrangements) on first-rate material. Kudos to Italian soul ambassador, Luca Sapio, for making this exceptional recording happen. It is available as a CD and on vinyl but postal costs from Europe would make this very expensive. Hopefully someone will import this to make it more readily accessible in North America. For more information on this visit the recordings Bandcamp page,

I purchased this. Here is a video for "Take Me Back."


Monday, January 15, 2018

Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda Live in Montreal

Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda
Live in Montreal

Recorded at the 2017 Montreal Jazz Festival, this new release brings together the Japanese pianist/composer and the Colombian harpist. The two first met when the harpist opened for Hiromi's Trio project at the 2016 Festival. Catching each other's set, they were enthralled with each other's music. Hiromi herself recalled, "I didn't really know what to expect. When I heard Edmar play I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. It was a jaw-dropping experience. I didn't realize the harp could create such rhythm and groove." Castaneda had a similar reaction to her music observing, "The energy that she produced was the same as I like to play. I realized that we share the same passion for our instruments.”

The pair first played together for a week at the Blue Note in New York City, and they recall the almost instantaneous chemistry that happened and evident in these Montreal performances starting with Castaneda's "A Harp in New York" where they move from tranquility to propulsive drive with their mix of virtuosity and melodic invention and their playing off each other with Castaneda playing harp almost like a manic finger-style guitarist with his flamenco accents, and driving chording complemented by Hiromi's dazzling arpeggios as the two shift tempos and feeling. On his tribute "For Jaco," the two play with each other at the lower register of their instruments before joining in a playful romp in tribute to the bass legend. Hiromi's lovely "Moonlight Sunshine," written in response to the devastating tsunami and earthquake suffered by her native Japan in 2011, exhibits the lyrical side of both before an exhilarating romp through a composition from "Star Wars," John Williams' "Cantina Band," sort of a boogie woogie on hyperdrive.

The centerpiece of the performance was a four-part suite Hiromi composed, "The Elements," that was written specifically with his jazz approach to harp in mind. She explained, "“I was imagining Edmar’s sound and it reminded me a lot of sounds in nature.” Each part imaginatively reflects its subject: the weightless of “air,” the gritty, deep-rooted groove of “earth,” the shimmering fluidity of “water,” the roiling simmer of “fire.” And the four parts each have their own flavor, the light, dancing quality of "Air"; the rumbling undercurrent to "Earth"; the tranquility of "Water"; and the heated intensity of "Fire."

Their inspired playing as well as how they complement and interact with the other, results in some brilliant, enthralling performances, that concludes with a vigorous take on Astor Piazzolla's "Liberating," adding fieriness to the romantic core of the tango. "Live in Montreal" is a superb debut of a duet that one hopes to have more to enjoy in the not too distant future.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the performance of "Fire," from the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Down Home Blues • Chicago: Fine Boogie

Various Artists 
Down Home Blues • Chicago: Fine Boogie 

If you are thinking about a gift for the blues lover in your life, this public domain 5 CD box set certainly is well worthy considering. With 134 songs from both famous and obscure blues performers, and an 88 page booklet with an overview of the post-war Chicago blues scene and the artists heard, along with a full sessionography, it provides over 6 hours of prime Chicago blues. The mastering is as good as one can expect with some of this material coming from rare acetates or 78s. 

Musically, this compilation takes us from recordings in the relaxed band sound that some scholars termed “the Bluebird Beat,” to the more familiar impassioned ensemble blues of Mississippi natives Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Elmore James. Included are the earliest commercial recordings of Muddy Waters and Johnny Shines, that were not issued until a couple decades later. There are recordings from small independent labels like the Maxwell Street based Ora Nelle label with Johnny Young’s “Money Taking Woman,” the J.O.B. label with Johnny Shines’ “Ramblin’,” Old Swingmaster for Snooky & Moody’s “Keep what You Got,” Parrot with Dusty Brown’s “He Don’t Love You,” Cool Records with Billy Boy Arnold’s “Hello Stranger,” and more.

There are artists new to me such as Grey Haired Bill, Mildred White (who recorded at a session with Pete Franklin (with Tampa Red on piano), and ‘Blues Boy’ Bill, along with representative recordings of Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf, with some of these being alternate takes to those on 78s and 45s and only available on out-of-print album reissues on labels like Blues Classics, Nighthawk, Muskadine, Flyright and others. There are also rarities from Birmingham Jones, St. Louis Jimmy, Robert Nighthawk Albert King, Baby Face Leroy Foster, J.B. Hutto, Pete Franklin, Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Boyd, Memphis Minnie and Po’ Joe Williams (aka (Big Joe).

While not every one of the 134 songs is a blues classic, this collection is filled with so many gems as well as some entertaining selections that give an solid overview of early blues recording in Chicago. Add the 88 page booklet from Blues Scholar Mike Rowe, and this release is invaluable to lovers of Chicago blues. There is almost 6 and 1/2 hours of music on these five CDs which does not duplicate any of the selections on another reissue collection, the four-disc “Down Home Blues Classics Vol. 3:Chicago” on Boulevard Vintage) which is also highly recommended if you can find it.

I purchased this and it was originally submitted as a review for a Holiday issue of Jazz & Blues Report that was issued, but has appeared in the Jan-Feb 2018 issue (Issue 376). For a taste of some of the music, here is Dusty Brown's recording of "He Don't Love You,"

and Johnny Shines' JOB recording, "Ramblin'."

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ilya Portnov Strong Brew

Ilya Portnov
Strong Brew

Russian born harmonica player Portnov impresses on this most enjoyable collection of blues, gypsy jazz and other roots music. A background that included studying classical piano, he also absorbed rock and blues growing up. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music wherever he received a Masters Degree. He was the first person accepted in NEC with the diatonic harmonica s his main instrument. Taught in Russia to play the harmonica, his teacher Alex Bratetsky showed him an overflow technique, and introduced him to harmonica innovators, Howard Levy, Jason Ricci and Carlos del Junco, making him realize he could play anything on the harmonica. Moving to the US enabled him to meet and study with them, and delve deeper into blues and other roots music including Brazilian choro.

On this nine song program Portnov is supported by Kid Andersen on guitar and bass, Chris Burns on piano and keyboards, June Core on drums with Ben Andrews (a member of Portnov's band Choro Bastardo) adding violin to two tracks, Rob Vye, adding guitar on one track and percussion on another, Robby Yamilov adding bass to one track. It was the recorded by Kid Andersen at his Greaseland Studios.

It opens with the very appealing, old time country tinged "Sunny Afternoon Blues," where his harmonica and Andrews' violin make for a very engaging performance with his playing evocative of jazz harmonica players such as Henrik Meurkens. Against an energetic gypsy flavor (Burns keyboards adds to the flavor with Andersen channeling the Ventures and other surf guitar instrumentals), Portnov dazzles with his sax-like lines.On "Dance Of A Lonely Doll," his wonderful playing is in a gypsy jazz vein with Burns deft piano accompaniment along with very light bass and drums. Rob Vye's guitar introduces Rev Gary Davis' "Cincinnati Flow Rag" with some wonderful fingerstyle picking before Portnov joins in and then the full ensemble on a lively acoustic band number.

The waltz "In a Town Garden" is another charming gypsy-flavored tune with some nicely played harmonica and organ from Burns. "Behind The Wall," is a solid instrumental in a Little Walter vein with some fat toned Mississippi saxophone while Burns and Anderson lay down some solid support and Core is superb on this easy rocking instrumental. The title track is a laid back, four o'clock in morning, blues instrumental played relatively softly with tasteful solos from Burns and Andersen in addition to the leader. "1928" is a lovely tango which also features Ben Andrews' violin.

Its back to the blues on the closing "Till Early Morning," with its infectious Bo Diddley groove and enticing tremolo employed in Andersen's guitar playing. Portnov is a marvelous harmonica player and is backed by the marvelous studio band on this marvelous recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a performance by Robert Vye and Ilya Portnov.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

RIp Denise Lasalle

Denise Lasalle at Lamont's in Indian Head, Maryland, August 13, 2005. Photo © Ron Weinstock.
Soul-Blues Queen Denise Lasalle passed away on Monday Night, January 8, 2018 at the age of 83 (some reports have her 78). According to The Boogie Report (from which some of this information is taken), she passed away from complications from recent surgery.

Born near Sidon, Misssisppi, Lasalle was not simply a terrific blues singer, but also a songwriter and producer. She had a minor hit on Chess before she founded were her then husband, Bill Jones," independent production company, Crajon, with her then husband Bill Jones. Her song "Trapped By A Thing Called Love" (1971) was released on Detroit-based Westbound Records. This was a number 1 Rhythm & Blues hit, charted on the pop charts and certified as a gold record. She had more recordings for Westbound and then ABC Records while her songs were recorded by otghers including country singer Barbara Mandrell.

In the 1980s she recorded a number of acclaimed albums for Malaco Records that established her as a prominent singer on the southern soul and blues circles particularly and her comments about being ignored by some blues circles led the Blues Foundation in a Living Blues interview led to the creation of the soul-blues category in the W.C. Handy Awards (now the Blues Music Awards). After recording for Malaco for years, she recorded three albums for Ecko Records before returning to Malaco in 2010.

Denise was inducted to the Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame in 2011 and was inducted on 2015 into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. In recent years, she had been living with her husband James E. Wolfe, in Jackson, Tennessee. 

Here is Denise LaSalle performing a medley of "Give Me Yo' Strongest Whiskey" and "The Blues Is Alright."

Here she sings a medley of "Someone Else Is Steppin' In" and "Down Home Blues."

Friday, January 05, 2018

Tinsley Ellis Winning Hand

Tinsley Ellis
Winning Hand
Alligator Records

Near thirty years since he first recorded for Alligator Records (and twenty since his last Alligator album, Tinsley Ellis returns with an album of house rocking blues and rock, showcasing his brawny, volcanic guitar and husky singing. He is joined by Kevin McKendree on keyboards (who co-produced this with Ellis), Steve Mackey on bass and Lynn Williams on drums that was engineered and mixed by McKendree at The Rock House.

Nine of the ten songs are Ellis originals and display the range of his music starting with the searing, hold no prisoners opening blues-rock of "Sound of a Broken Man." In contrast, the easy rocking shuffle blues, "Nothing But Fine," illustrates the clarity and precision, along with fire of his playing along with a more relaxed vocal, while "Gamblin' Man," is a nice original blues performance (the melody slightly evocative of Box Scaggs recording of "Someone Loan Me a Dime"), with a well-shaped, fiery guitar solo and a heartfelt, expressive vocal. Another fine blues performance is "Don't Turn Off The Light." There is also high energy blues-rock of "Kiss This World" with its swelling groove and the rock and roll of "Satisfied," with McKendree's rollicking road house piano in addition to Ellis' guitar. The one cover, Leon Russell's "Dixie Lullaby," sports more rollicking piano (and organ grease) along with some fiery Freddie King inspired guitar.

This is another impressive collection of music from Ellis whose playing shows him still to be a tone master and a fiery guitar slinger. His high energy playing is firmly backed by the terrific studio band. Ellis is also a most congenial, expressive singer and contributed some solid original blues on this memorable blues-rock release.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. For those in the Washington DC area, he will be at Blues Alley on Wednesday January 17 and playing the Creative Alliance in Baltimore on Thursday January 18. Here is Tinsley from an October, 2017 performance. A fuller listing of upcoming shows is at

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Returns President's Day Weekend

 Warren Wolf and Joe Locke will be featured at a Vibes Summit on Saturday night February 17.

Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Returns to Rockville MD, President's Day Weekend, February 16-18, 2018. Presented by the Jazz Academy of Music to support and spotlight Jazz Education as well as present a range of top-notch Jazz performances, this year's Festival will be highlighted by a Jazz Vibes summit, and several stellar Jazz Vocalists. Headline performers include Warren Wolf, Jazzmeia Horn, Buster Williams, Joe Locke, Paul Carr, Carmen Bradford, Wycliffe Gordon, Eric Byrd Trio, Matthew Whittaker, Craig Handy and Carmen Lundy It takes place at the Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel Executive Meeting Center, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland 20852.

The Festival is held in various stages at the Hotel. The main stage is the Ronnie Wells Main Stage, and on Friday Night will have performances by Warren Wolf and the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate All Stars featuring the Baltimore, Maryland native who is a great vibraphone player, and currently a member of the San Francisco Jazz Ensemble. He played several years with Christian McBride as well as led his own groups. He will be followed by vocalist Jazzmeia Horn (seen in the video above), winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition and who has worked with such artists as Winard Harper (with whom she has appeared at a prior MAJF), Junior Mance, Billy Harper, Delfeayo Marsalis, Mike LeDonne, Peter Bernstein, Johnny O’Neal, Vincent Herring, Kirk Lightsey, Frank Wess, and Ellis Marsalis. She thrilled audiences at the Kennedy Center last season and will be joined by saxophonist Joel Frahm for her performance here. Closing out the Friday Night performances will be the great Buster Williams and Something More. Williams, one of the great jazz bassists of all time has worked with a who's who of modern jazz including Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Carmen McRae, Chet Baker, Chick Corea, Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Heath, Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Herbie Hancock, Larry Coryell, Lee Konitz, McCoy Tyner, Illinois Jacquet, Nancy Wilson, Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, the Jazz Crusaders, Ron Carter, Woody Shaw, Sarah Vaughan, Benny Golson, Mary Lou Williams, Hank Jones, and so many more.

Saturday afternoon's program on the Ronnie Wells stage will include two Discovery Acts selected from performers who submitted to Paul Carr’s 2018 Discovery Act Competition. There performance will be followed by Lydia Harrell, the Boston-based winner of the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Voice competition. Saturday evening's performance starts with the Paul Carr Quartet with special guest, vocalist Carmen Bradford (Seen above with the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Orchestra at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival). Carr is a strong, hard-bop centered saxophonist as well as educator and will have the great Ms. Bradford, formerly with Count Basie as part of his set.  After his set there will be a Vibes Summit with Warren Wolf, Joe Locke and another player to be announced. The evening closes with a performance by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Orchestra.

Sunday afternoon opens with Carmen Bradford and the Jazz Academy Orchestra which is followed by the Eric Byrd Trio. The Baltimore based Byrd is a superb pianist rooted in blues and gospel as well as bop and they will celebrate their new CD release "Saints Are Still Marching." They will be followed by one of my favorite singers from the DMV area, Janine Gilbert-Carter (seen in video above from 2009 where she was backed with Eric Byrd and others) who also has a new release, "My Foolish Heart." Sunday evening opens with a fabulous young pianist, Matthew Whitaker, followed by saxophonist Craig Handy and Second Line Smith with another great vocalist, Carmen Lundy closing out the main stage.

In addition to the Main Stage, there are many performers in the more intimate MAJF Club, including saxophonists Terry Koger and Braxton Cook (seen above), and vocalists Candice Bostwick, Petra Martin, and Chad Carter. Every night the Wes Biles Trio hosts a jam session in the MAJF Club. There are also a number of High School Big Band and Ensembles that perform with the High School Band Competition Finals taking place Saturday Afternoon in the Ronnie Wells Main Stage. There are also Films show, artist interviews and workshops for young musicians offered during the Festival.

The festival is presented by the Jazz Academy of Music. The Jazz Academy of Music Inc, a non-profit 501c3 organization, established in 2002, is a manifestation of a longtime dream of Paul Carr (seen performing at the 2011 Mid-Atalntic Jazz Festival), its Music Director, to extend the music education opportunities afforded him, as an inner city youth, to others. The Jazz Academy programs draw from and build upon the disciplines of music education Paul experienced in his youth. The mission of the Academy is to advance and preserve Jazz music through education. Its website is

For more information on the performers and the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, including artist bios (and video clips), tickets, accommodations and more, visit or email