Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Rockie Charles
Born For You
Orleans Records

A most pleasant surprise is this reissue of the late New Orleans based soul singer's 1996 release. Nicknamed "The President of Soul" after a 1970s recording released on his own label, he returned to recording when Carlos Ditta contacted him after seeing an ad Charles had placed, resulting in this recording. Outside of Smokey Greenwell's harmonica and Jerry Embree's tenor sax, none of the players on this session backing Charles' guitar and vocals is a name I remember. They do a fine job in backing Charles on his eleven originals here.

This was a marvelous soul session with a bit of country flavor in the vein of some of Joe Tex's recordings although Charles' voice is suggestive of Al Green. The album opens in a solid vein with his emotive yearning vocal on the lament "Born For You," with the smoldering heat in his vocal while Embree's tenor sax adds a mournful riff over the understated backing. "Old Black Joe," is a marvelous half-talking piece of story telling in the Joe Tex manner. Greenwell's harmonica adds to the atmosphere of another lament "Oh My Darling, Look What You're Doing to Me," as he sings about wanting to move but his body does not seem able. Another song with a Joe Tex feel is "Something Is Wrong With Our Love," with his plead to find a way out of this with solid idiomatic horn playing. Festis Believe in Justice." There is more of Memphis feel with the chugging rhythms of "I Need Your Love so Bad, I'm About to Loose My Mind," while there is also a fine holiday song, "I Just Called to Wish You a Merry Christmas" (and a Happy New Year."

With steel guitar added to the backing, Charles' lyrical skills are herd on the catchy ""Born For You," was a most welcome return for Rockie Charles which led to a variety of Jazz Fest, Ponderosa Stomp and other performances over the next decade. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform a couple times prior to his passing away in 2010. The soulful performances on this most welcome re-release, are gems of down-home, understated, southern soul.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 376) although I have corrected the year of Rockie Charles' death year as 2010 (the review had 2007). Here is Rockie Charles from an in-store appearance at the Louisiana Music Factory in 2007.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Hilary Gardner & Ehud Asherie The Late Set

Hilary Gardner & Ehud Asherie
The Late Set
Anzic Records

I have not been to Mezzrow, the intimate Greenwich Village club but from what I understand about this small, listening jazz venue, the duo collaboration between vocalist Gardner and pianist Asherie sounds like the type of performance that is featured there. In fact, the credits include special thanks to Spike Wilner, Mitch Borden and Mezzrow, and the cover photographs were taken there.

This is a delightful, informal tour through the American songbook by the two with Gardner's, strong, tuneful alto, along with the clarity in enunciation matched by Asherie's nuanced, often restrained by deft, congenial accompaniment and solos. Another thing that stands out is the fact that the songs are not particularly well known songs except for "After You've Gone," and "Make Someone Happy."

The program opens with a couple of Al Dubin and Harry warren collaborations, "Shadow Waltz," and "Sweet and Slow." The former number opens with a stately piano chorus before Gardner starts her vocal, showcasing her nuanced phrasing and dynamics with a delightful, spare piano solo. It is followed by the unhurried,"Sweet and Slow," where she encourages her partner to take his time while the band is moaning low as Asherie is exquisite in his accompaniment with a late-night, bluesy feel.

After a wistful take on a lesser known Rodgers and Hart number, "A Ship Without a Sail," comes a remarkable rendition of a song going back to the twenties, "After You've Gone." This performance begins as a slow lament with light piano and plaintive vocal and then halfway through Asherie picks up the tempo and gives a propulsive accompaniment as Gardner sings defiantly about he will be the one suffering "after I've gone" with a superb stride piano solo.

"After You've Gone" is a performance that stands out on this mostly lovely program that also includes the cute "I've Never Seen Snow" from Harold Arlen and Truman Capote; the fetching rendition of Irving Berlin's "I Used to Be Color Blind"; the ebullient interpretation of Rodgers and Hart's "Everything I've Got"; the heartfelt, precious "Make Someone Happy"; and a captivating, reflective "Seems Like Old Times" (by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo). Gardner's wonderful singing and Asherie's marvelous piano results in a delightful recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 376). Here is a video of the two at Small's in New York City doing "Autumn in New York."


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Arturo O'Farrill & Chucho Valdés Familia

Arturo O'Farrill & Chucho Valdés
Familia: Tribute To Bebo & Chico
Motema Music

Bebo Valdés and Chico O'Farrill, along with Machito and Mario Bauzá, were major innovators of Afro Cuban jazz. On this double CD collaboration, there sons, Arturo and Chucho, along with grandsons, Adam and Zack O'Farrill and Jesse and Leyanis Valdés, play tribute in a wonderful celebration of original music, with a "dazzling display of musicality and striking musicality" to quote executive producer Kahir Sehgal.

The first CD features Bebo and Chico with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra or six spectacular performances starting with a joyous merengue the two composed, "Bebochicochuchoturo," opens with Arturo's cadenza, ending with Chucho's cadenza, with brilliant solos from both as well as blazing trumpet from Jesse Ricardo Anduz, set against a brilliant orchestration and the surging rhythms. The title of Arturo's "Three Revolutions" refers the three generations of the families and the revolutionary musical environments they were affected by and affected. It is the most experimental composition employing atonalism, delayed resolution and free improvisations with Arturo and Chucho dazzling in their respective solos with the swirling horns and vigorous percussion adding to the fireworks here.

While the rest of this first disc is of a similar level, one takes note of the elegant, soaring melody and scrumptious harmonies of "Ecuación" that Bebe composed (with lovely trumpet from Seneca Black); Chucho's tribute to his father "Tema De Bebo" which provides a view at the contrasting, brilliant piano styles of the two leaders; Chico's, "Pianitis," that Machito commissioned Chico to write for his son that opens sonorously before a rhythmic explosion before returning to a melodious conclusion; and "Fathers, Mothers, Sons Daughters," that Arturo composed and includes solos from among others Adam O'Farrill , and Leyanis Valdés (whose solo is for Arturo the highlight here) with Zack O'Farrill guesting on drums.

The second disc features the Third Generations Ensemble, a slightly smaller ensemble (a big little band) than the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra centered on Adam & Zach O'Farrill and Leyanis & Jesse Valdés. Adam contributed "Run and Jump," a bouncy original with a bass ostinato and some swirling clarinet from Ernesto Vega. Jesse wrote, "Recuerdo," dedicated to his grandfather and with a lovely theme that showcases Leyanis lyrical pianistic touch along with the mellow trumpet of Kali Rodríguez-Peña. After another melodious clarinet solo from Vega, Jesse then solos. Zack's "Gonki Gonki," referring to a phrase his father used to describe to his mother gigs he often played, is a lively performance with a scintillating opening piano solo from Leyanis along with a robust tenor sax solo from Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and trumpet fireworks exchanged between Kali Rodríguez-Peña and Jesus Ricardo Anduz on a terrific contemporary composition.

There are sublime solo performances by Arturo and Chucho in honor each other's father, followed by a highly spirited small ensemble performance led by Arturo and Chucho of Bebe's "Con Poco Coco," with Adam's trumpet and a very percussive rhythm section with Gregg August impressing on his bass solo. The album closes with "Raja Ram," composed in part by producer Sehgal and inspired by Gandhi and an arrangement of a favorite tune of Gandhi in part looking at his own heritage. It features Arturo on piano and Anoushka Shankar (daughter of Pandit Ravi Shankar) on sitar who adds her own brilliant contribution. Sehgal notes that he and Arturo have dreamed of recording in India so this might be a hint of a 'future adventure.' It is an intriguing close to a remarkable recording.

I received my review copy from Motema Music. This review originally appeared in the November-December Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here Arturo O'Farrill & Chucho Valdés perform "Three Revolutions."

Friday, March 09, 2018

Uri Gurvich Kinship

Uri Gurvich
Jazz Family

Per its publicity materials, the Israeli born saxophonist latest release "deals with tribal and familial connections between different cultures and individuals, representing "kinship" in various forms." Gurvich is joined by his quartet of the past decade including Argentine pianist Leo Genovese, Bulgarian bassist Peter Slavov and Cuban drummer Francisco Mela. On one selection, "El Chubut," Bernardo Palombo provided and sang lyrics to Gurvich's theme.

On the opening "Song For Kate," Gurvich quickly establishes himself as a saxophonist full of warmth and invention with Genovese comping under the driving, twisting solo before he himself takes a torrid solo. Genovese further shines brilliantly on "Dance of the Ñañigos," with its surging rhythm (Slavov is outstanding) with another authoritative alto sax solo from the leader as Mela propels the performance. Palombo recites a poem from a political prisoner during the Argentine dictatorship of the 1980s to open the somber "El Chubut" and then dramatically sings against stately backing with the leader intensely soloing and accompanying him. A Middle Eastern tone is present on the energetic "Twelve Tribes," with its reference to the tribes of Ancient Israel as Gurvich impresses with the fullness of his tone and there is  an impressive Mela solo also here.

Slavov is outstanding on bass on delightful, bouncy Sasha Argov composition "I'm Tirtzi," while the rendition of the spiritual "Go Down Moses," likely will evoke the classic Coltrane Quartet with Gurvich on soprano solo, Genovese in a McCoy Tyner mode and Mela channelling Elvin Jones. Both of these performances have the group chanting towards the close. "Ha'im Ha'im," (also composed by Sasha Argov) is introduced with a bass solo on another performance that might evoke for some the classic Coltrane Quartet for some and again Mela is superb while Genovese also sounds inspired in his own manner. The title track, in contrast, might suggest Keith Jarrett's European Quartet, with Genovese's playing an impressionistic solo.

This is a superb group of which I am most familiar with Genovese from a tour I saw him part of. They all play with considerable authority and fervor resulting in some enthralling listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375) although I made minor edits to that review. Here is a video of Gurvich and band.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Nick Moss Band Feat. Dennis Gruenling

The Nick Moss Band Feat. Dennis Gruenling
The High Cost Of Low Living
Alligator Records

As Tom Hyslop observes in his liner notes to this new Nick Moss recording, it marks Moss' return "to traditional Chicago and jump blues and old school rock'n'roll after his recent explorations into bluesy rock and jam blues stylings." Moss apprenticed with the likes of Jimmy Dawkins, The Legendary Blues Band and Jimmy Rogers. before his own solo career. He has recorded 12 albums on his own Blue Bella label before this Alligator Records debut. Moss' influences include B.B. King, Freddie King, Earl Hooker, Magic Slim and other groundbreaking players.

Moss' new band includes the vocals and harmonica of Dennis Gruenling, whose full throated harmonica reflects the inspiration of James Cotton, Little Walter and George “Harmonica” Smith and saxophonists, including Lester Young and Red Prysock. Like Moss, he has seven fine solo recordings to his credit. Others heard on this recording are Taylor Streiff on piano, Nick Fane on bass and Patrick Seals on drums. Also present on several selections are Kid Andersen (who engineered this and co-produced this with Moss) on guitar and shakers; Jim Pugh on organ; Eric Spaulding on tenor sax and Jack Sanford on baritone sax. Moss contributed eight songs, Gruenling two, and there are three covers.

This return to straight, real deal Chicago blues by Moss is superb. The original material is first-rate (full of wit and pathos), Moss and Gruenling are solid vocalists, and playing (leads and backing) is top-notch. With horns in the background, Moss kicks off this recording with some Johnny Guitar Watson sounding guitar on "Crazy Mixed Up Baby," with Gruenling coming in for the first solo break before Moss explodes on the second break on a crisp West Coast blues. It is followed by an amusing shuffle "Get Right Before You Get Left," with a groove updating Howlin' Wolf's Memphis boogie recordings. It has  more terrific harp and Moss sounds like he's channeling Willie Johnson. Some tough Elmore James flavored slide and rollicking piano help propel the driving title track with its ironic lyrics. Gruenling's "Count on Me," is a bit of classic rock and roll led by his full-toned harmonica and more strong piano.

There is a solid cover of Otis Spann's "Get Your Hands Out Of My Pockets," that has Gruenling evoking vintage James Cotton. "Tight Grip On Your Leash," is a rollicking shuffle about this 'cool little number." The title "He Walked With Giants (Ode To Barrelhouse Chuck)," says it all with an affectionate lyric delivered with plenty of heart by Moss with Streiff again standing out. These ears detect Jimmy Dawkins' influence on Moss' guitar here, while Gruenling just kills it on chromatic harmonica. "All Night Diner," is a hot instrumental feature for Gruenling, with organist Pugh and Moss playing in a jazzy vein.

A bouncy rendition of Boyd Gilmore's recording "Rambling On My Mind," strongly closes this recording. As stated, there is strong and varied material (including choice songs to cover), very good singing, and excellent playing. This is also wonderfully recorded resulting in a superb straight-no-chaser Chicago blues recording.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Here is a clip of the Nick Moss with Dennis Gruenling