Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Billy Price Reckoning

Billy Price

This latest recording by the blue-eyed soul blues singer had him team with guitarist and producer, Kid Andersen. It was recorded at Andersen's Greaseland Studio with Anderson on guitar (and organ on two tracks), Alex Pettersen on drums, Jerry Jemmott on bass, Jim Pugh on keyboards, Johnny Bones on sax, and Konstantins Jemeljanovs on trumpet with Nancy Wright taking a tenor sax solo on one selection among others guesting here. There are originals from Price, Jim Britton, and French guitarist Fred Chapellier, along with songs previously recorded by the likes of Bobby Bland, Otis Redding, Swamp Dogg, and Johnny Rawls.

Price has been singing this music for decades. This writer remembers hearing his strong renditions of songs associated with of O.V. Wight on the Bama Hour over WPFW hosted by the late Jerry Washington. One can't have a stronger endorsement than this of how strong a singer Price was, and is, in this musical vein. This latest recording shows he still brings everything into the fervent, soulful music here.

There are so many gems here starting with the bluesy and driving "39 Steps," that opens the program, followed by his straight reworking of "Dreamer," the title track of a 1974 Bobby Bland album. It has a nice arrangement, strings and vocal chorus. The title track is composed by William Troiani and Hakon Hoye and opens with a brief excerpt of old-time preaching. It is a funky soul performance with punchy horns to which Andersen adds some punchy guitar. There is a driving take on J.J. Cale's "No Time" followed by a nice rendition of an Otis Redding soul ballad, "I Love You More Than Words Can Say," with one of his finest vocals here. It is followed by an uptempo rendition of Johnny Rawls' "I Keep Holding On." Other strong performances include his insistent vocal on Denise Lasalle's "Get Your Lie Straight," the original "Expert Witness," with a riff evocative of the Five Royales' classic "Think," and Swamp Dogg's topical "Synthetic World," with its call for a more natural world.

With Kid Andersen's crisp production and strong studio support for the stalwart blue-eyed soul-blues singer, "Reckoning" is another welcome addition to Billy Price's body of recordings.

I received  my review copy from VizzTone. This review has appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379), although I have made a few minor stylistic changes to the published review for clarity's sake. Billy Price's website is http://billyprice.com. Here is a video on the making of "Reckoning."

Monday, July 30, 2018

McClenty Hunter Jr. The Groove Hunter

McClenty Hunter Jr.
The Groove Hunter

Familiar to this writer as a member of Dave Stryker's organ trio, drummer McClenty Hunter Jr. studied at Howard University with Grady Tate and Juilliard with Carl Allen. He was a member of Kenny Garrett's Quintet and has played with Lou Donaldson, Eric Reed, Curtis Fuller, Javon Jackson and others in addition to Stryker.I believe "The Groove Hunter" is his first recording as a leader. Produced by Stryker and Hunter, there are some serious players to be heard here including pianists Eric Reed and Christian Sands; bassists Corcoran Holt and Eric Wheeler; guitarist Stryker; trumpeter Eddie Henderson; alto saxophonist Donald Harrison; and tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard. They collaborate in various combinations on the four Hunter compositions and five interpretations heard here.

There is plenty of fire with Eric Reed dazzling on piano for a driving, fiery trip take of Herbie Nichols' "Blue Chopsticks," with Holt anchoring the performance with Hunter pushing the heated groove. In contrast, Reed is exquisite on Hunter's, "My Love," shifting from a lovely ballad mode to comping behind Dillard's robust, burning tenor sax and then soloing in a Tyner-esque fashion. Wayne Shorter's "The Big Push" has all three of the horns along with Reed and Holt. Dillard's robust tenor sax is impressive while Dr. Henderson delights with his attack. There are also strong statements from Reed and Harrison who plays in a turbulent manner. Stryker is featured on the rendition of Stevie Wonder's "That Girl," with Sands also outstanding on this bouncy performance. Gary McFarland's "Sack Full of Dreams" is a feature for some lovely, delicate playing from pianist Sands and guitarist Stryker, with Hunter employing a light touch. Hunter's drums kick off a brisk version of John Coltrane's "Countdown," with Harrison riveting alto sax with a good portion of the performance being a duet with Hunter before Reed and Holt join in.

Dillard's soprano sax is supported by Reed, Holt and Hunter on the leader's composition, "Give Thanks," on a lovely spiritually rooted performance. It is the close of a fascinating and enthralling recording by Hunter, who shows himself to be a composer of note as well as a marvelous musician who is joined by a superb cast of supporting musicians.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here is McClenty Hunter Jr as part of Dave Stryker's band.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Marie Knight The Gospel Truth Live

Marie Knight
The Gospel Truth Live
M.C. Records

A surprise is this posthumous concert recording by the late great Gospel singer, Marie Knight. Knight was then one of the last great singers from the Golden Age of Gospel (1940-1960), who may be kn own for association with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the nationally famous gospel singer-guitarist, who she met in 1946. The two became gospel’s preeminent duo of the 1940s, recording hits for Decca Records, including “Didn’t It Rain,” “Up Above My Head,” and the gorgeous “Beams of Heaven.” By the late 1940s, Marie and Rosetta had split to pursue separate musical projects—Marie to do solo gospel work on Decca.

Tharpe and Knight still reunited frequently on stage during the 1950s, however. In addition to singing before thousands of gospel fans in Washington, DC in 1950, and touring with up-and-coming gospel vocalist Wynona Carr in 1954. In the 1960s, Marie cultivated a rhythm-and-blues career, touring with the likes of Brooke Benton, the Drifters, and Clyde McPhatter. After a hiatus, she re-emerged in the mid-1970s to record gospel music. After recording a song on a Sister Rosetta Tharpe tribute album, she recorded an album of the gospel songs of Rev. Gary Davis titled “Let Us Get Together” which came out on M.C. Records in June 2007 and was the last studio album she recorded.

The posthumous "The Gospel Truth Live," was recorded October 19, 2007 at a Gospel Festival at the Church Street Center in North Adams MA. As noted in Bil Carpenter's liner notes, it was a wet and overcast day when she first met with students at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and then headlined the school's Gospel Fest. She was accompanied only by pianist Dave Keyes on a program that is mainly drawn from the songbooks of Tharpe and Davis (not surprising since Knight's album of Davis songs had been released a few months earlier) interspersed with her introductions and parables about life, including a moving reminiscence of performing in California and learning her mother and two children perished in a fire and having to sing between the tears.

Certainly a good portion of the songs will be familiar including "Didn't It Rain," and "Up Around My Head," from her days with Sister Rosetta Tharpe (and the latter number seems very popular today), along with "I Belong to the Band," "12 Gates to the City," "I Am the Light of the World," and "Let Is Get Together," from Reverend Gary Davis. Then she mixes in traditional spiritual numbers like "Jesus Loves Me," "I'll Fly Away," "Closer Walk With Thee (on which Keyes sings) and "For Thine is the Kingdom." Keyes provides a stately, sometimes barrelhouse rooted, boogie backing that supported her wonderful singing, that belied her age of 87 at the time. Time had little affected the power she could invest her nuanced vocals with.

Less than two years later she would pass away, and a cherished voice was silenced. Not having the pleasure of seeing her perform, I can appreciate the honesty and passion of the music here. Thanks to Mark Carpentini for producing this and making this wonderful release available.

I received from my review copy from M.C. Records.  Here she sings Up Above My Head."

Friday, July 27, 2018

Mud Morganfield They Call Me Mud

Mud Morganfield
They Call Me Mud
Severn Records

This is the third Severn release for the late Muddy Waters' son Larry 'Mud ' Morganfield. He is joined by some of Chicago's blues musicians to provide authentic, down-home blues touches. Those heard in addition to guitarist Rich Kreher, Mud's co-producer are: Billy Flynn on guitar, Studebaker John on harmonica and backing vocals, Sumito Ariyo Ariyoshi on piano, E.G. McDaniel on bass and Melvin “Pookie Stix” Carlisle on drums. Guests include Billy Branch on harmonica, Mike Wheeler on guitar and Mud’s daughter Lashunda Williams, who joins her dad on a loving duet, ‘Who Loves You." Several tracks have horns adding a vintage R& B feel.

While there are a couple of new versions of recordings his father made, most of the songs on this are his originals, so this release allows Mud to shine as more than someone recreating his father's music. Certainly the use of horns and original material enables Mud to establish his own personality, despite the similarities of his voice to his father as on the opening title track. This song has some B.B. King styled guitar to the fore while Studebaker John's harp blends in with the horns as Mud boasts about his prowess (likening himself to an earthquake and hurricane). It is followed by a strong modern blues "48 Days," (since his woman has left as he pleads for her to return), and then then a nice soul-blues lament "Cheatin' Is Cheatin'," followed by the churning soulful funk of "Who's Fooling Who?" with biting guitar and harmonica breaks.

Vocally he comes off as honest and convincing as he does on solid cover of Muddy's "Howling Wolf," and "Can't Get No Grindin'." There is some fabulous slide guitar, as well as standout piano and harmonica, on the former number, while Ariyoshi and Studebaker John add to the rollicking flavor of the latter performance. Mike Wheeler contributes strong guitar to the funky "24 Hours," His duet with his daughter is a superb classic soul ballad performance, while "Oh Yeah," is a terrific blues at times suggestive of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom."

The album closes with a captivating, jazz-tinged instrumental "Mud's Groove," that features Billy Branch on harmonica and is one of three selections with Mud on bass. It closes an engaging album that certainly should appeal to anyone wanting to listen to some real straight-ahead blues with a soul touch.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 377) and I have made a few minor stylistic changes. Here is a video of Mud performing his bfather's "The Same Thing."

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio
Something Smells Funky 'Round Here
Alligator Records

This is the second time for Elvin Bishop, Willy Jones and Bob Welsh for another solid recording. Big Fun Trio is an apt description for the mix of blues, R&B classics and more. Bishop of course is on guitar, Welsh plays piano, guitar and organ and Jones plays the cajon and all three contribute vocals. Andre Thierry adds accordion to one selection.

The title track is a topical blues about the stench coming from Washington DC these days with Elvin taking the lead vocal and followed by Willy taking an outstanding vocal on the the Jackie Wilson classic, "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher." This stripped down trio backing provides a husky, driving backing. A Bishop original with a group vocal,"Right Now Is The Hour," evokes Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, as they shout out to have fun with a brief guitar break. It is followed by a cover of Dave Bartholomew's, "Another Mule," that lyrically tracks Fats Domino's reworking of it "Man That's All," with an effective lazy groove and stinging guitar.

The trio get down with a funky groove for "That's The Way Willy Likes It," as Jones sings about what he likes in a lady with Jones taking a cajon drum break followed by Bishop's guitar solo. Welsh is showcased on "Bob's Boogie," a terrific rollicking instrumental followed a cover of "I Can't Stand the Rain," with Welsh on organ providing a solid underpinning for Bishop's guitar and Jones' strong soulful singing. "Stomp" aptly describes the simple driving groove on an instrumental with slide and rocking rhythmic solos. After Bishop's solid straight slow talking blues (with strong piano backing) about growing old and looking good with wrinkles, "Lookin' Good," Andre Thierry joins the trio (Welsh is on piano) for a driving rendition of an old Clifton Chenier recording "My Soul," with Jones taking another strong vocal.

Another album of wonderfully played recording that is is nothing but big fun.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. This review appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379) although I have made some corrections. Here they are seen performing "Higher and Higher."

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sue Foley The Ice Queen

Sue Foley
The Ice Queen
 Stony Plain

Sue Foley's early recordings left me cold in part because her vocals came off flat to these ears, despite he undeniable strengths as a guitarist, What is striking on her latest recording on Stony Plain is how her vocals have dramatically improved. Joining her as special guests is a trio of legendary Texas guitar slingers – Jimmie Vaughan, Z.Z.Top’s Billy F Gibbons and Charlie Sexton - along with other Lone Star State all-stars, including Chris “Whipper” Layton (bass) (and George Rains (drums), Derek O’Brien (guitar), Chris Maresh and Billy Horton (bass) and The Texas Horns: John Mills, Al Gomez, Jimmy Shortell, Randy Zimmerman and Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff. Producer Mike Flanigan adds his keyboards to the striking backing on a set of blues and roots songs.

With two exceptions (from the Bessie Smith and Carter Family songbooks), Foley wrote all the songs (one being a collaboration with Flanigan). The music ranges from blues, blues-infused rock and roots. The performances are solid and Foley's fluid guitar playing displays her virtuosity, but also her musical intelligence and ability to craft marvelous solos with wonderful support. As indicated her singing has improved as heard on her opening "Come To Me," with the restraint in her delivery of slightly nasal singing. Charlie Sexton's slide guitar and backing vocal is noteworthy besides her own smoldering playing. Like the opening track, "81" is more of a blues-infused rock number with her brooding vocal and stinging guitar.

The title track is a nice slow blues with just Billy Horton's bass and George Rains drums with a choice lyric ("all the men agree that I'm too slippery to catch"), and a terrific guitar solo. It is followed by a buoyant duet with Jimmy Vaughan on the shuffle "The Lucky Ones," with them trading vocal lines as well as guitar solos. Another strong track is "Gaslight," with a gusty tenor sax solo from Elias Haslanger along with Foley's own crisp solo against the amusing lyric. Billy Gibbons adds his gravelly vocal, guitar and harmonica to "Fool's Gold," with a lazy shuffle groove and some greasy organ from co-composer Flanigan, before another terrific Foley solo.

"If I Have Forsaken You" is a wonderful song which will evoke the classic Bobby Bland Duke recordings in part to John Mills' arrangement for the Texas Horns. While Foley will never be viewed as a singer on the level of the late Bland, she sings with quiet conviction here, and certainly this is a song one might expect to hear others cover as well. In contrast, her updating of Bessie Smith's "Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair," is more interesting musically than vocally. Much more appealing is the wistful "Death of a Dream," with her on acoustic guitar with standup bass and drums backing. The final two tracks have her on solo acoustic guitar. The flamenco-rooted, "The Dance," is a striking original followed by a adept rendition of the Carter Family's classic "Cannonball Blues."

Overall, this was a delightful surprise to this listener. Sue Foley is an exceptional guitarist, writes intriguing originals, and is now a capable singer with charm and conviction. If there are a couple of imperfect performances, the "The Ice Queen" still is a first-rate album of blues and roots.

I received from Stony Plain via a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2018  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 377). Here Sue Foley performs "The Ice Queen."

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Joyann Parker Hard to Love

Joyann Parker
Hard to Love
Hopeless Romantic Records

"Hard to Love" is an easy to delight in mix of soul, blues, country and roots from the Minnesota based vocalist. Parker with guitarist Mark Lamoine and bass player Michael Carvale, produced this release that features 13 songs co-written by Parker & Lamoine. Joining Joyann Parker (vocals/guitar/piano/trumpet) in the studio are Mark Lamoine (guitar/backing v), Tim Wick (piano/organ), Michael Carvale (bass), Alec Tackmann (drums/percussion) and Gunhild Carling (horns on one track).

While she is a classical trained pianist with a degree in music from the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, Parker sang in Church and a wedding band until she became enthralled with blues and soul, and her band won the Minnesota Blues Society's band competition and in 2015 competed at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. As a performer she has also added old-time country to her repertoire and Parker and Lamoine recently launched a new show, The Music of Patsy Cline.

This is an impressive release full of good songs, solid playing and passionate vocals starting with the blues-tinged southern rock style of the opening "Memphis," where her mix of dynamics as well as her phrasing and clarity impresses while Lamoine adds some biting slide guitar. In contrast to the no nonsense vocal on Memphis, Parker displays her tonal as well as emotional range set against a swampy groove. "Home" is a marvelous gospel original with Parker sings about overcoming the hard times when crying all alone when one will go home where there is peace in the valley. Lamoine adds a superb guitar solo here to accompany her uplifting vocal. "Dizzy" is a driving funky, rocking blues with her emphatic vocal followed by the low-key, heart-fully sung lament "Jigsaw Heart." There is a similar feel to "Bluer Than You," with lovely piano (and a striking solo) as well as her overdubbed trumpet to support her singing, while "Ray" sports an infectious New Orleans groove. Among these strong performances, "Evil Hearted," a late-night blues may be the standout with the superb atmospheric backing and a superb, nuanced vocal, with some jazz-tinged guitar from Lamoine.

After the rock and roll of "What Happened To Me," the album closes with the title track accompanied solely by Wick's piano that again displays her strengths as a vocal with her clarity, timing, phrasing and ability to go from a whisper to a shout without ever sounding shrill or forced. It is a lovely and terrific close to an a very strong roots and blues recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. While written for Jazz & Blues Report, this review has not been previously been published. Here she sings "Evil Hearted."

Monday, July 23, 2018

Mark Wenner’s Blues Warriors

Mark Wenner’s Blues Warriors
EllerSoul Records

Talking about the Blues Warriors, Mark Wenner observes, “This band is actually a blues band,” says Wenner, addressing comparisons to the ‘Hawks. “The Nighthawks are a blues and roots-rock band. This band, with upright bass, is more authentic, old school and swinging. It’s closer to the Cash Box Kings than J. Geils; a whole different animal.” Having seen some of the Blues Warriors early performances at JV's, the Falls Church, Virginia local roadhouse, I am pleased to see this eponymously titled recording document the band. Joining Wenner on harmonica and vocals are fellow Nighthawks mate Mark Stutso (drums, vocals), Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner (guitar, vocals), Zach Sweeney (guitar) and Steve Wolf (upright bass). Turner is a popular performer on the DC blues and music scene (He wonder the DC Blues Society's Battle of Bands several years ago), while Wolf has played with so many blues and roots performers including Danny Gatton, Tom Principato and most recently with Memphis Gold, and like Wenner, I remember Zach Sweeney when he was too young to play blues jams without his parents. He recently returned to the area after some serious road experience with Wayne Hancock.

Musically there will be little to surprise the listener with the 12 performances, only one of which is an original. These are solid performances starting off with Turner's revival of Muddy Waters' "Diamonds at Your Feet." This is one of several fine vocals by Turner which also include a lesser known Big Joe Turner recording "Rock a While"; Muddy Waters' "Just to Be with You" and Elmore James' "Dust My Broom." Wenner's harp and the piano-less quintet provide a different feel to these especially on the Joe Turner and Elmore James numbers (with Wenner's harmonica dominating the backing on the latter number)..

Wenner is strong in reviving Elvis' "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear," as a blues as well as his rendition of "Checkin' On My Baby" which owes more to Junior Wells than Sonny Boy Williamson. Among Wenner's other vocals is a straight reading of Slim Harpo's "King Bee," a stomping swamp blues rendition of the Fats Domino "Hello Josephine," and an instrumental Jimmy Reed tribute, "Just For Jimmy." Mark Stutso, who is highly underrated as a singer does a superb take on B.B. King's "It's My Own Fault." There is a fine take of "The Hucklebuck" that showcases Sweeney's impressive, jazz-laced single note runs along with a fine Steve Wolf bass solo. Sweeney also impresses on his solo on "Rock A While."

While several of these performances are modeled after the source recordings, Wenner's harp and the lack of piano provide a fresh take on several numbers including "Teddy Bear," "Rock A While," and "Dust My Broom." As previously stated, these are solid performances, played with much conviction and result in a very entertaining recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review has appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). Here they are seen performing "The Hucklebuck," at their regular performance at JV's in Falls Church, Virginia.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty Tribute to Carey Bell

Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty
Tribute to Carey Bell
Delmark Records

Guitarist and vocalist Lurrie Bell is joined by his siblings Steve on harmonica, Tyson on bass and James on drums and vocals on a tribute recording to their late father, legendary harmonica wizard, Carey Bell. Also present on most of this is Eddie Taylor Jr., whose father had a long association with the elderly Bell. Guests on several tracks are Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, Billy Branch on harmonica and vocals and Sumito 'Ariyo' Ariyoshi on piano. Included are a number of songs associated with Carey, one original from James Bell and one from Billy Branch.

This is one of the better recent blues tribute recordings I have heard as the Bell Dynasty is a real fine band and the sharing of vocals between Lurrie (7), James (3) and Billy Branch (2), adds variety along with the solid vocals. One has to be impressed by Lurrie who opens on a rocking shuffle, Muddy Waters "Gone on Main Street" with Steve displaying his strong harmonica chops while Lurrie tosses in a neat solo. A rollicking take on Little Walter's "I Got To Go," has Musselwhite and Steve Bell both playing with their interplay energizing but Lurrie and Taylor also play to great effect. James Bell shows himself to be a singer of considerable merit on a fine slow original "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize." It is followed by a hot shuffle performance of "Tomorrow Night," while it is Billy Branch I believe who is heard on chromatic harp (with Steve Bell also playing) as well as taking the vocal on another fine slow blues, "So Hard To Be Alone." Branch's own "Carey Bell Was A Friend Of Mine," set to a John Lee Hooker boogie groove showcases the interplay between the two harpists along with Branch's heartfelt singing and lyrics.

James Bell's singing also stands out on terrific performances of "What My Momma Told Me" and "Break It Up," which is given a fresh arrangement from the more familiar versions by Bell and the late Bobby Parker, who had this as a staple of his performances for decades. Among the remaining songs is another superb slow blues "Heartaches and Pain," but the level of these performances is consistently high. In summary, a tribute to Carey Bell full of first-rate Chicago blues.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review has appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). Here is a video of Lurrie Bell and Carey Bell from 2005.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Gus Spenos It's Lovin' I Guarantee

Gus Spenos
It's Lovin' I Guarantee

Gus Spenos is a sax-playing bluesman who plays and sings in the vein of the great blues shouters while also being a top neurologist in Indianapolis. This is his latest recording and he recorded it in Hoboken with a terrific big band that includes Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and Cecil Brooks III on drums. The rest of the rhythm section also includes Brandon McCune on keyboards and Brad Williams on guitar. Others present include Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, Bruce Williams on alto sax, and Jason Marshall on baritone sax. These gentleman along with Gordon, McCune and Williams are heard on solos throughout.

Spenos and his collaborator, Collin DeJoseph, wrote 4 originals and there are 9 covers here. DeJoseph who also played piano did the arrangements. This is solid jump blues that is wonderfully played with plenty of hot horn solos and tight rocking grooves. The originals such as the title track and "Every Tic's Got a Toc," are solid originals in the jump blues tradition while songs covered are not songs that have been covered to death.

Spenos is an adequate, if at times awkward sounding, singer who does invest a lot of spirit in his vocals although he is overshadowed by his inspirations. A the same time, the horns and band are wonderful with Gordon contributing some terrific growling trombone on Jimmy Rushing "Fool's Blues," where the leader takes a one of several terrific booting tenor sax solos here. Guitarist Williams takes a fleet solo on TNT Tribble's "She Walks Right In," followed by Hendrix's blistering trumpet. On Eddie Boyd's "Hush Baby Don't You Cry," Jason Marshall's burly baritone sax is followed by Gordon's gutbucket play while McCune lays down some hot buttered fried soul on the B-3.

Brad Williams opens "Livin' is a Cry" when some T-Bone Walker styled chords and then chords under Spenos tough tenor sax opening on a solid slow original with Gordon's growling obligatos adding plenty to the feel of this performance and is followed by Buddy Johnson's "Lil Dog," a wonderful instrumental that showcases Spenos tenor sax as well as Gordon's gutbucket trombone, Bruce Williams alto sax and Hendrix's sizzling trumpet. Another solid number here is Eddie Mack's "King Loving Daddy." It is a nice jump blues by a lesser known shouter.

The only reservation about this recording is that Spenos is not a compelling singer. However, the excellence of the musical performances here may merit attention from fans of jump blues and classic rhythm'n'blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378) although I have made a few minor changes.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

George Cotsirilos Mostly in Blue

George Cotsirilos 
Mostly in Blue 
OA2 Records 

Originally from Chicago, San Francisco Bay Area guitarist George Cotsirilos has been a member of the area's jazz community for many years. He has performed with a wide variety of artists including jazz fixtures like Eddie Marshall, Mel Martin, Pharaoh Sanders and Mark Levine as well as soul and blues singer Etta James, and Bill Evans bassist Chuck Israels. This is his new quartet CD with a band that includes pianist Keith Saunders, former Cal Tjader bassist Robb Fisher and drummer Ron Marabuto. 

This is a strong, straight-ahead set of mostly blues-tinged performances with Cotsirilos having contributed six of the eight numbers. Cotsirilos is a marvelous guitarist in the vein of Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Kenny Burrell and the like and his swinging, fluid, inventive, single note inventions are complemented by the backing rhythm section with pianist Saunders also outstanding.

Highlights include the lively title track that opens the CD; the tribute to Wes Montgomery "Wes Side Blues," where he evokes the guitar legend; a lovely Brazilian-tinged performance on the standard "I Wish I Knew," that has a brief unaccompanied guitar opening; a peppy rendition of the Benny Harris bebop classic "Crazeology"; and the late evening mood engendered on "Lights Out." 

Cotsirilos notes that the idea was "to present the music much as one would hear it in live performance … ." The performances were recorded at a single session in first or second takes, and on the evidence of the superior performances here, Cotsirilos and his band is a group I would love to hear live if I had the chance.

I received my review copy from a publicist.This review appeared originally in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). If you visit www.georgecotsirilos.com and click music, you can hear 5 full tracks, including two from this album (the quartet tracks). Here is George Cotsirilos performing live.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Adrean Farrugia & Joel Frahm Blued Dharma

Adrean Farrugia & Joel Frahm
Blued Dharma

The well respected saxophonist Frahm and the Canadian pianist Farrugia have been musical compatriots since 2008 as part of various groups of drummer (and publicist Ernesto Cervini). As Cervini observes in his liner notes for this release, the two display a very sympathetic relationship playing off each other, almost like they are finishing off each other's sentences, on these intimate, duet performances.

The performances of five Farrugia originals and two standards (there are two performances of "Cherokee") display charm as well as considerable musical vision and inspiration. Farrugia's title track is a lovely composition with Frahm on soprano saxophone as both build their solos upon Farrugia's alluring melody. Then there are the two very different takes of "Cherokee," with the two taking apart and reconstructing the classic Ray Noble melody in each case.

Frahm imbues his tenor sax with a sensuous tone that hints at Ben Webster on a lovely ballad "For Murray Gold," while Farrugia's introduction to the standard "Nobody Else But Me," has a Monkish flavor, before his precise accompaniment to another lovely Frahm tenor saxophone solo, It is followed by Farrugia own choice solo here with his mix of arpeggios and well-placed chords. Farrugia's "Cool Beans" sounds like a contrafact to John Coltrane's "Equinox," and is a spirited blues duet with more excellent tenor sax by Frahm along with Farrugia's tasteful, inventive solo.

This piano-saxophone duet recording by Adrean Farrugia and Joel Frahm is a superb display of the musical magic from these two close musical collaborators.

Received as a download from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). I have made minor revisions to the published review. Here the two are playing together as part of Ernesto Cervini's excellent group, Turboprop.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Keeshea Pratt Band Believe

Keeshea Pratt Band

Based in Houston, the Keeshea Pratt Band was the winner of the Blues Foundation's 2018 International Blues Challenge. In addition to the ear-grabbing vocals of Ms. Pratt, a Mississippi native, this band consists of Music Director, Bassist and Vocals, Shawn Allen; Brian Sowell (Lead Guitar & Vocals); Dan Carpenter (Saxophone); Misaki Nishidate (Trumpet); James Williams III (Trumpet); and Nick Fishman (Drums), while Kid Andersen, Bob Welsh and Little Terry Rogers are among those present.

Pratt really is a terrific singer with a big voice but also her phrasing and her sense of dynamics sets her apart from many singers today. "Make It Good" opens this marvelous album and the horns help lend her pleading vocal a classic soul vibe, "Have a Good Time Y'al" is a joyous reworking of "Let the Good Times Roll," followed by Shawn Allen's "I'm in the Mood," where she is in the mood to sing the blues as she works so hard during the day and now it is the time to play. The music here employs the arrangement B.B. King employed for "The Thrill Is Gone." Again she sings sensationally with the band providing first-rate support and there is a nice guitar solo.

"Its Too Late" is a terrific slow blues again with the horns adding brassy punctuation before her emphatic singing about wanting a real man but getting herself a boy. There is a nice understated piano solo on this. After the New Orleans second line groove of "Shake Off These Blues," with some shattering trumpet, as well as some hot sax and piano solos, there is a rollicking shuffle "Home To Mississippi," with acoustic slide guitar and down home harmonica as Pratt sings about going to the place she first calls home and where folks sing the blues from the king of the blues to the king of rock and roll.

"Monkey See, Monkey Do" is a superb slow blues with the horns adding emphasis and she tells her lover, every time you go creeping, Keeshea goes sees a friend and while her lover hangs with Jane she is with Tarzan. She delivers another powerful vocal on this strong original song with guitarist Sowell adding his instrumental voice along with the horns. The title track opens with electric slide and then the horns before she sings the lyric about believing in one's dreams and if one is going to believe in anything, believe in oneself. It is simply a commanding performance on a recording full of them.

Other songs include a soulfully sung blues ballad, "Can't Stop Now," before another superb slow blues "So Bad Blues," that was recorded live, concludes this outstanding debut recording. Keeshea Pratt is a superb singer, with an excellent band, and they have produced an exceptional recording that is as good as any recent contemporary blues recording this writer has recently heard.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review has appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). Here is the Keeshea Pratt Band at the International Blues Challenge.

I have been letting this blog slide for a bit, but pleased to return to activity with a review of a CD that really impressed me as you will have read.