Friday, August 31, 2018

Johnny & the Headhunters That's All I Need

Johnny & the Headhunters
That's All I Need

Washington DC radio personality Steve Hoffman observes that "There are flashier Guitar players around, but no DC area blues band that gets into that soulful blues groove like this trio does." I may not agree that no DC area band does what Johnny & the Headhunters does, but they certainly do indeed hit some soulful grooves here. Formerly Louisiana Red's lead guitarist, Johnny Ticktin's vocals and guitar are supported by Brian McGregor, Steve Shaw, Pete Kanaras and El Toro Gamble on bass; Clark Matthews, El Toro Gamble or Robbie McGruder on drums; and Tam Sullivan on keyboards, with Dru Lore adding guitar to one selection.

Ticktin has put together a nice mix of rarely rerecorded songs that are sung and played with restraint. This is evident on the opening title track, a nicely rendered cover of Magic Sam's title track, sung with grit yet restraint, and then followed by a similarly appealing rendition of "Lead Me On," from the Bobby Bland songbook, again with a similar enticing soulful vocal. I do not believe I have heard many covers of Johnny Adams' recording "Body and Fender Man" (written by Duke Robillard and Doc Pomus). Ticktin again delivers a  fine vocal and Sullivan's organ adds to the quality of the performance.

There is some rockabilly feel on "Chicken House," which is followed by a nice shuffle groove on Lowell Fulson's "Rock 'Em Dead." Ticktin opens his treatment of "Shake Your Money Maker" playing slide sounding like J.B. Hutto on speed. His high adrenalin playing will get folks boogieing. It is followed by the reverb-heavy garage band tribute to Link Wray, "Ace of Spades," again displaying his taste and thoughtful playing. "Watch and Chain (Hey Gyp)" is credited to Donovan, but is the same song as "Chevrolet," an old Jim Kweskin Jug Band duet between Geoff and Maria Muldaur. Liz Springer joins this for a delightful vocal duet which is set against a punchy Bo Diddley groove.

After another solid, wonderfully sung and played performance of a Magic Sam song, "All My Whole Life," the album closes with a Latin-tinged tribute to Albert Collins, "Collins Mambo," where Ticktin incorporates some of the Telecaster legend's riffs and tone. This marvelous recording shows that one can play and sing with restraint and still play strong, soulful blues and roots music.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a relatively recent performance by Johnny & the Headhunters.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Anthony Geraci Why Did You Have To Go

Anthony Geraci
Why Did You Have To Go
Shining Stone Records

Pianist and organist Anthony Geraci brings his four decades plus experience with Sugar Ray and the BlueTones to a second album under his own name. He has brought together quite a group of folks including vocalists Sugar Ray Norcia, Sugaray Rayford, Michelle “Evil Gal” Willson, Willie J. Laws, Dennis Brennan and Brian Templeton; guitarists Ronnie Earl, Monster Mike Welch, Kid Ramos, and Troy Gonyea; bassists Willie J. Campbell and Michael 'Mudcat' Ward; drummers Jimi Bott; Marty Richards, and Neil Gouvin; and horn players Sax Gordon and Doug Woolverton.

Geraci wrote all thirteen of the songs and they cover a variety of tempos and styles starting with the opening "Why Did You Have To Go" wonderfully sung by Norcia with some terrific Texas to West Coast slashing guitar from Welch. It is followed by a hot shuffle, "Don't the Grass Look Greener," with some shattering guitar from Kid Ramos along with a hot Rayford vocal. Ramos takes the lead on the Chicago blues shuffle groove of "Fly on the Wall." Willie J. Laws handles the vocal on a song that sounds like an unissued Johnny Young number while Ramos plays more in a traditional Chicago vein and Geraci superbly channels Otis Spann This number contrasts with the late night feel of "Angelina, Angelina," where Rayford pleads vocal about his woman leaving him stranded at the Courthouse door. "Long Way Home" has a New Orleans groove with horns adding punch  (Woolverton soars on his trumpet solo), while Geraci plays solid Crescent City styled piano.

"Two Steps Away From The Blues" sounds like a classic 50s Texas urban blues wonderfully sung by Michelle Wilson, while more Chicago styled blues can be heard in "Time's Running Out," with Norcia singing wonderfully and Ronnie Earl taking the lead guitar solo. "Baptized in the River Yazoo," is a delightful down-home Willie Laws vocal backed solely by Geraci's superb backing. Dennis Brennan, while not bad, is perhaps the less striking singer on this recording, although the backing he receives on "Too Many Bad Decisions" is excellent. "What About Me" is a nicely done vocal duet between Michelle Wilson and Brian Templeton.

After Geraci channels Spann again behind a first-rate Norcia vocal on "My Last Goodbye," (with more sterling Ronnie Earl guitar), this album closes with his jazzy instrumental "A Minor Affair," a swinging cool number with Woolverton plays with a nice middle-range tone, followed by a driving solo from Gordon. There is so much to enjoy on this recording from the fresh, varied material from Geraci, his own consistently strong playing, a solid studio band and terrific singing and playing. "Why Did You Have To Go" is superb.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Anthony Geraci live.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ori Dagan Nathaniel: A Tribute To Nat King Cole

Ori Dagan
Nathaniel: A Tribute To Nat King Cole
ScatCat Records ODCD03

Unlike Gregory Porter's superb recent Nat King Cole tribute album, singer Dagan's homage takes a different tact, In addition to singing songs from Cole's repertoire but also sings 5 original songs inspired by facets of Cole’s life, music and legacy, On this he has assistance from highly esteemed special guests Sheila Jordan, Alex Pangman and Jane Bunnett. Also related to this is his also doing this as a first visual album in the jazz genre: a collection of 12 music videos. Backing Dagan are, Mark Kieswetter - piano, Nathan Hiltz - guitar, and Ross MacIntyre - bass. Mark Kelso is on drums on five songs, Jane Bunnett adds soprano sax to two and flute on one, Magdelys Savigne adds percussion to two and Sheila Jordan and Alex Pangman each add vocals to one song.

Dagan is an interesting vocalist whose performance range from a straight reading of the lyrics to  horn-like scatting flights. The band swings nicely behind him as on the opening "Linette," with Hiltz's guitar sparkling in backing. It is followed by the brisk, "Sting of the Cactus," with more strong guitar (both lead and Freddie Greene like chording) and piano. There is a Latin tinge (with effective use of stop-time breaks) given to one of the songs Cole helped make a standard, "Nature Boy," That has more excellent piano and guitar.

Other delights include a duet with Sheila Jordan on "Straighten Up and Fly Right," where they trade fours scatting; the ballad "Pretend," a charming vocal duet with Alex Pangman, and Dagan's lively original "Keep Simple," with James Bunnett on soprano sax. On this, Dagan scatting and trading fours with Kieswetter, and Hiltz. Kelso taking a short drum solo on this as well. Jane Bunnett adds flute to "El Bodeguero," one of the jaunty Cuban songs Cole recorded.  This tribute closes with the quick tempoed "Unforgettable," that opens with just MacIntyre's bass accompaniment before Hiltz and then Kieswetter join in.

Ori Dagan's vocals, and the excellent small group backing, provide much to entertain listeners on this very enjoyable tribute.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review was originally in the March-April Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 377) but I have made some stylistic changes for clarity. Here is his video for "Sting of the Cactus."

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Buddy Guy says The Blues Is Alive and Well

Buddy Guy
The Blues Is Alive and Well
Silvertone/ RCA Records

According to the press materials, this is Buddy Guy's 18th solo album. It is produced by Tom Hambridge who has been a recent producer and collaborator with Guy, who also had a hand of nearly every song here and plays drums. The rest of the core backing band here is Kevin McKendree on keyboards, Willie Weeks on bass and Rob McNelly on rhythm or slide guitar m(although he sits out some tracks). Also heard here are guest appearances from Jeff Beck (who called Guy his favorite guitarist decades ago), Keith Richards, James Bay and Mick Jagger.

It is a solid, straight-forward recording pretty much in the vein of Guy's recent recordings. There is plenty of punch in the backing and the tone of Guy's guitar and his vocals belie his age of 81 years. There is an in-your-face quality to his fretwork on the opening "A Few Good Years," supporting his strong vocal on one of a number of strong originals here. It is followed by a rollicking shuffle "Guilty as Charged," with McKendree outstanding in his accompaniment while Guy plays more blistering guitar. Jeff Beck and Keith Richards add their guitar to "Cognac," with Beck especially pulling out all the stops as Guy sings about the merits of "Cognac," which has "liquid gold in every sip." The Muscle Shoals Horns add punch to the backing on the title track, with Guy singing soulfully about her woman having another man. I do not who James Bay but he adds his guitar and vocals to "Blue No More," with its low-key manner and is it may be Bay who contributes the B.B. King styled playing here.

Hambridge contributes a sledge hammer groove with a drum loop along with Guy's hammering out his guitar as he shouts about "Whiskey For Sale," with the McCrary Sisters adding vocal harmony on this minor entry here. Mick Jagger adds some nice harmonica adding to the late night feel of a slow blues, "You Did the Crime." The Muscle Shoals Horns return for "Old Fashioned" which is perhaps a bit over-the-top for these ears as Hambridge anchors the driving backing here. Rice Miler's "Nine Below Zero" is transformed into a hard hitting Muddy Waters' styled number followed by a Memphis styled rocker, "Ooh Daddy."

"End of the Line" is a Jimmy Reed-styled shuffle with Guy's easy going vocal, shattering guitar along with punchy horns before the album closes with a brief "Milking Muther For Ya," where Guy sings a verse of the Dirty Red song accompanied only by his guitar. 15 very different performances on this album which certainly will satisfy those wanting Guy's sizzling guitar playing, but also displays his fine singing as well.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). Here is the audio of Buddy Guy's performance of "Cognac" with guests Jeff Beck and Keith Richards from this CD.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Hot Texas Swing Band is Off the Beaten Trail

Hot Texas Swing Band
Off the Beaten Trail
Indie 1701

A modern, jazzy updating of the classic Bob Wills and more recent Asleep at the Wheel, the Hot Texas Swing Band is comprised of leader Alex Dormont- Vocals and Upright Bass, Selena Rosanbalm- Vocals, Liz Morphis- Vocals, Cat Clemons- Guitar, Ileana Nina- Fiddle, Stephen Bidwell- Drums, Joey Colarusso- Sax, Jimmy Shortell- Trumpet, Dave Biller- Steel Guitar, Dan Walton- Piano.

The opening title track, with Dormont's baritone, comes off a classic Texas Swing styled number (slightly evocative of Ernest Tubb) with the horns a bit more upfront in the backing. Selena sings the bouncy "I Hear You Talkin'" while Liz takes the brisk "How Do I Not." Both of the women are expressive singers displaying engaging intonation while cleanly articulating the lyrics.  Backing them, the horns solo strongly in a modern vein. Dormont's baritone is heard on the a nicely played waltz, "Headed Back To The Barn," with a unison horn break. The band's versatility is heard behind Liz on a latin jazz flavored "This Time," followed by Dormont on the rollicking "Texas Plains," and then Liz on the country-boogie, "Cow Cow Boogie," that originally recorded by Freddie Slack,

There is an enjoyable Dormont original honky tonk romp s"Snow in Amarillo," with a booting sax solo, scintillating steel guitar and guitar that sounds like something Spade Colley could have done. Selena is outstanding in a Julie London vein on "Cry Me a River," with outstanding fretwork by Clemons, while "Bull Whip" is a bright instrumental that allows all to strut their playing. It is followed by Liz's charming singing on "Baton Rouge Waltz," with accordion and fiddle in the backing. Horns, rockabilly guitar and booting tenor sax, give George Jones' "White Lightnin'" a fresh take.

The album closes with another delightful waltz, "My Blue Guitar." This is their 4th CD, and the lively, fun performances shows why they are so popular among contemporary Western Swing enthusiasts. Well played, sung with heart, the engaging performances here should entertain roots music lovers.

I received my review copy from a  publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 377). This is available at usual sources but also from their Bandcamp page, Here is the Hot Texas Swing Band performing a Western Swing classic, "Miles and iles of Texas"

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Trudy Lynn Blues Come Knockin'

Trudy Lynn
Blues Come Knockin'
Connor Ray Music

A new release from the Houston Blues Queen, has her performing some classic songs along with the title track, which she wrote. On this Rock Romano production, she is supported by Backing Trudy’s vocals on the new disc are musicians Steve Krase – harmonica; David Carter – guitar; Randy Wall, keyboards; Terry Dry – bass; Matt Johnson – drums; Jim Brady – trumpet; and Dan Carpenter – sax; with special guests Bob Lanza and Carolyn Wonderland on guitar.

Lynn is in good voice and the veteran realizes that subtle shifts in timbre or volume make up for forced bellowing and solidly backed throughout she does nice personal renditions of a couple of Big Maybelle recordings, "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show," and "Pitiful." The latter is an especially strong performance and benefits from Bob Lanza's hot guitar and Steve Krase's harmonica embellishments. Lanza is also present on the rollicking rock and roll of the opening track "Blues Ain't Nothin'," which is led off by Krase's harmonica with Wall taking a honky tonk solo while Lanza's guitar is a mix of blues runs and Chuck Berry licks. 

A surprising cover here is of the Three Dog Night here "Never Been To Spain," that displays again how good a singer she is and her mastery of vocal dynamics, with Krase's harmonica also welcome. Horns are present on a strong rendition of Big Bill Broonzy's "When I Been Drinkin'," sung with humor and vitality along with growing trumpet from Jim Brady and Dan Carpenter's booting tenor sax. After a fine cover of Deanna Bogart's "Won't Be Long" (with Wall's boogie inflected piano and Krase's harmonica), this album closes with a heartfelt rendition of Etta James' soulful lament "Would It Make Any Difference To You," with especially fine guitar contributed by Carolyn Wonderland. 

Trudy Lynn sings superbly on this album on a variety of classic songs that have done been done to death. Backed by some fine players, she has produced another notable blues recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a recent performance by Trudy Lynn.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Angelo Divino Love A To Z

Angelo Divino
Love A To Z

A veteran of the jazz and cabaret scene which included performing with the Duke Ellington Legacy Band, write and perform in a show devoted to the Ellington legacy and later did the same with respect to the Frank Sinatra legacy. In the Los Angeles he began an association with the very fine Barbara Morrison. The present album has all original songs from Z Overall that relate to the many facets of love. Backing Divino here are Rich Eames on piano and keyboards; Adrian Rosen on bass; Michael Rosen on drums and harmonica; Doug Webb on saxophone; and Jonathan Dane on trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn.

While I am not enamored with the songs, I do find plenty in charm with Divino's singing. His relaxed delivery, intonation, pitch, phrasing and the clarity of his enunciation have an engaging quality as does the backing band. Webb's tenor on the opening "Hey Life," while pianist Eames shines in his light accompaniment on the lament, "About Last Night," with Dane's lovely flugelhorn solo. There is the playful "Fun and Games," and his plaintive vocal on "Strangers Again" with Dane's fine muted trumpet. Other songs include the amusing, and buoyant "Flying Saucers," with Eames featured on keyboards, and another wistful song, "I Love You, Goodbye," the lovely reflective "I Remember" with Michael Rosen's atmospheric harmonica, and "Love Is a Place To Stay," with a light, Brazilian groove.

There is much to enjoy here in Divino's warm, relaxed singing and the solid, supportive backing Angelo Divino receives. The only fault I might point to are (what I find to be) uninspiring originals, that he so ably performs. He is a singer that I hope to hear from again. 

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378), although I made a few minor changes. Here is a video he made to accompany "Flying Saucers."

Thursday, August 23, 2018

John Mayall Three For The Road

John Mayall
Three For The Road
Forty Below Records

Despite showing him with a guitar, this latest album by the veteran blues stylist has him leading a trio (the Three in the title) on piano and harmonica backed by bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport. It is surpising given his association with so many guitarists in the past, but this live 2017 German recording is a surprising in focusing solely on his effective piano and harmonica and appealing, gravelly, if occasionally stilted, vocals.

There is nothing fancy or contrived about the performances that include 7 covers and two Mayall numbers opening with a relaxed shuffle treatment of the Little Johnny Jones/Eddie Taylor "Big Town Playboy," that is followed by a medium tempo, choppy groove for Chuck Willis' "I Feel So Bad," which is credited to Lightnin' Hopkins. His piano playing comes off better than his limited rack harmonica playing. There is an infectious quality to his piano playing and the backing on Curtis Salgado's "The Sum of Something," with a nice drum solo. Mayall switches to organ for his train blues, "Streamline," with a nice groove and one of his better vocals here. Rzab and Davenport are strong in supporting his bouncy solo.

I believe it was Walter Davis who did the original of Henry Townsend's "Tears
Came Rollin' Down," and with Mayall's somewhat gloomy piano sets somber mood for his vocal on a lengthy rendition of this blues. An unexpected cover is of a Lionel Hampton song, "Ridin' on the L&N," followed a rendition of Jerry Lynn Williams' "Don't Deny Me," with more greasy organ. After a lengthy rendition of his own "Lonely Feelings," he opens Sonny Landreth's "Congo Square" on harmonica before his rhythm join in for a lengthy jam although his vocal suffers compared to others who have done this number.

Certainly a diverting hour or so of music, generally well-played (and again praise to Rzab and Davenport), and credibly sung. In this age of blues-tinged rock, this solidly played set of straight blues has definite charm and appeal.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 377). Here is a relatively recent performance by Mayall and his band.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Gayle Kolb Getting Sentimental

Gayle Kolb
Getting Sentimental

Once having headlined some of the finest night clubs in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and her hometown of Chicago, Gayle Kolb took break from singing. After being away from singing for some time, she has returned but now as a jazz singer who has this debut album. This was produced by the well regarded Chicago bassist Dennis Carroll who assembled the band of guitarist Bobby Broom, in whose trio Carroll has been a longtime member; Cleveland piano phenom Joey Skoch; ace trombonist Tom Garling of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra and Chicago Yestet; and drummer George Fludas.

One of the surprises of this recording is Garling's trombone. His playing is what one first hears on the opening title track. He plays in a swinging fashion under Kolb's low tones and cool, relaxed delivery  Her enunciation, timing and subtle changes in pitch helps convey a lyric's meaning. She also is a pretty fair scatter as can be heard as she delightfully tradies fours with Bobby Broom on Ray Brown's "Gravy Waltz." Her voice has a slightly parched quality that lends it character as can be heard in her marvelous thoughtful singing on the Mancini-Bricusse ballad, "Two For the Road," with precious solos from Broom and Garling, convincingly expressing the mood.

The wonderful swing of her vocal and the backing brings new life to "Second Time Around," with pianist Skoch shining as much as Broom here. She delivers a marvelous, understated vocal on "Wing," a blues that Carroll wrote that opens as a lament with just piano accompaniment before the rest of the band joins in and it becomes  a medium tempo swinger with exciting interplay between Broom and Garling. There is are the unusual medium tempo arrangement of "If You Went Away," with Skoch's electric piano lending a dreaming quality and a wonderful interpretation of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" (a major hit for the late Glen Campbell), a song that benefits from her restraint as well as the sympathetic backing (Skoch's solo is a model of subtlety and inventiveness).

A duet with pianist Skoch, "My Ideal," concludes a delightful debut of Gayle Kolb. Accompanied by a terrific band on a choice selection of songs, Kolb emerges on her debut as a most engaging and vocal storyteller.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Gayle Kolb with a preview of "Getting Sentimental."

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Breezy Rodio Sometime The Blues Got Me

Breezy Rodio
Sometime The Blues Got Me
Delmark Records

Coming to the US as a young immigrant, Breezy Rodio became part of the Chicago blues scene and in fact spent ten years in Linsey Alexander's band. This is his third album, although the first I have heard and his Delmark debut. There is a generous 17 tracks, of which six are interpretations and eleven are his originals. I am not familiar with most of the backing musicians with the exception of organist Chris Foreman. Billy Branch appears on two selections and there is a four piece horn section of which trumpeter Art Davis and saxophonist Ian "The Chief" McGarrie each get to solo.

Musically this is a post-war urban blues recording with B.B. King and Albert King being obvious influences and the horns provide a feel to these selections that evokes the classic B.B. King and Albert King sides of the the fifties and early sixties. Certainly this is evident in renditions of Lee Hazelwood's "Don't Look Now, But I Got the Blues," that B.B. recorded as well as Albert King's "Wrapped Up in Love Again." Rodio's vocals has a pinched vibrato sound at times, similar to that of roots-blues stylist Si Cranstoun, that some might find an acquired taste. Similarly, his originals vary in quality with a few focused on the theme of playing the blues, although the title track has its self-evident hook.

There are other selections of note including the jump blues flavored "I Walked Away," with terrific horns including McGarrie's booting tenor sax solo to go with his jazzier guitar playing here and the instrumental "A Cool Breeze in Hell," with some impressive Albert King styled guitar. Also he does a fine take of B.B. King's "Make Me Blue." Then he remakes the Delmore Brothers' "Blues Stay Away From Me" into a fervent urban blues, while Billy Branch channels the second Sonny Boy Williamson to enliven a relaxed shuffle, "Doctor From the Hood." On "Fall in British Columbia," is an atmospheric, wistful ballad with a lovely trumpet solo, while set against Foreman's greasy organ, Rodio conjures up Albert Collins on an strong original, "One of a Kind." Branch adds some strong harmonica and shares the vocal with Rodio on the closing "Chicago Is Loaded With the Blues."

Some may find Breezy Rodio's vocals a tad harsh and the original songs are uneven, but he performs with passion and is a terrific guitarist. He is handsomely supported on these wonderfully played, if perhaps imperfect, performances.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here is a preview video for the album from

Monday, August 20, 2018

Bob Mintzer Big Band - New York Voices Meeting of Minds

Bob Mintzer Big Band - New York Voices
Meeting of Minds

This new recording represents "the integration of voices with [Mintzer's] Big Band," and is a wonderful success as Mintzer (on various reeds) leads a big band that includes Bob Shepard on Alto Saxophone, Roger Rosenberg on baritone sax, Scott Wendholt on trumpet, Jeff Bush on trombone, Phil Markowitz on piano, Jay Anderson on bass, and John Riley on drums, with the celebrated vocal group, New York Voices who are comprised of Kim Nazarian, Lauren Kinhan, Damon Meader and Peter Eldridge. Mintzer arranged all but two of the band arrangements with Meader arranging all of the vocal arrangements and two (one with Eldridge) of the band arrangements.

The arrangements provide a freshness to the very well known standards heard here starting with "Autumn Leaves," with lovely lead vocals from Nazarian and Kinhan wonderfully supported by the band and then the Voices scatting make turn them into an additional horn section during the middle break with pianist Markowitz standing out. Eldridge takes the lead vocal on "I Concentrate on You," with the Voices adding with their vocal harmony as well as vocal interplay another fresh touch with Rosenberg adding a burly baritone sax solo. The instrumental rendition of "I Want to Be Happy" again sports a superb band arrangement before terrific solos by Wendholt and Markowitz with a crisp drum break by Riley. Eldridge is on piano as well takes the lead vocal on "I Get Along Without You Very Well," with the scoring of the reeds (with flutes and clarinet) providing a sober atmosphere for this performance. Again the vocal arrangement and the integration with the big band is exemplary.

I could similarly rave about the leads of Nazarian and Eldridge on "The Way You Like Tonight," or the creativity of Mintzer in his band arrangement (also his tenor sax solo), or Mintzer's entrancing original "Weird Blues," another instrumental with  unusual voicings (especially of the trombones) with him and Rosenberg taking strong solos along with bassist Anderson. Then there is Mintzer's employment of muted trumpets on "Speak Low," along with the strong propulsive swing of the band. "Meeting of the Minds" is a superb meeting of a terrific big band with the wonderful New York Voices, resulting in an extraordinary recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). Here is the performance of "Autumn Leaves."

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Russ Green City Soul

Russ Green
City Soul
Cleopatra Records

Russ Green is a name that I remember as one of the players on the Chicago Blues Harmonica Project albums. This Chicago native has an interesting career that has seen him becoming involved in film production as well as music. His harmonica playing shows the influence of Sugar Blue and Billy Branch and on this debut album he wrote all of the songs (one in collaboration with Eric Bibb). He is backed by a band that includes Giles Corey on guitar, Marvin Little on bass, Ricky Nelson on drums, Vince Agwada on slide guitar and Joe Munroe on the Hammond B3, with Eric Bibb singing an adding acoustic guitar on one selection.

There is some hot music to be heard here, starting with the hyper-kinetic boogie, "First Thing Smokin'" with Agwada's slide guitar adding to a near frantic pace. Green certainly has no problem with the tempo whether his blazing harp playing and his soulful singing and one is struck by the clarity of his phrasing. "Believe in Love" has a more relaxed, reggae-tinged groove as again he impresses with his singing as well as his horn-like harp playing, set against a crisp, low-key backing. The longest track here is "The Edge," a funky blues that opens with his wet, full-bodied harp before his sings about empty bottles on the table and floor with his mind shaking dealing with poverty and staying on the edge with a razor blade and no shoes on his feet.

Eric Bibb joins on "Goin' Down South," where the two share the vocal to see where their people come from, where they live the blues, and see the ghost of ole Jim Crow. Green's harp playing here is a bit more down-home, owing a more to Billy Branch here, while Bibb takes an acoustic guitar solo. Munroe is more prominent on the funky blues "Lover Man," with more fat-toned harp playing, while a stark bass figure underlies the topical "Train of Pain." There is a bluesy rock flavor to "Somethin' New," with some slide guitar adding to the mood here, while the closing "Love to Give," has more of a soul groover on

There is plenty to impress the listener on "City Soul" from Green's very modern blues harp, his relaxed baritone vocals and the solid studio band. Add to the fine playing here,  striking original material and one has a memorable debut album.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Russ Green's recording of "Believe in Love."

Friday, August 17, 2018

Anat Cohen & Fred Hersch Live at Healdsburg

Anat Cohen & Fred Hersch
Live at Healdsburg
Anzic Records

This album of duets (actually musical conversations) by the marvelous clarinetist and pianist was recorded in June 2106 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg, California as part of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. It must been a delightful performance as heard here with the delightful interplay throughout the eight compositions in this intimate context. Hersch contributed three tunes, Cohen one, and there are four covers.

Hersch's "A Lark," is the first track which allows Cohen's singing clarinet to dance over the textures Hersch lays down before his own explorations. It is followed by another delightful Hersch original, "Child's Song," with the clarity and inventiveness of their playing. The overall tone here and throughout the performances is restrained elegance. Cohen's "The Purple Piece" displays the way the pair employ dynamics in unhurriedly building the intensity here. Then there is an enchanting rendition of Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan," and Hersch's understated lyricism complements Cohen's explorations from a deep, warm chalumeau register to the upper altissimo. Hersch's "Lee's Dream," finds them in a more playful mood followed by a lovely, ruminative rendition of "The Peacocks." Then there is Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" played with a restrained buoyancy with Cohen's swirling clarinet flights set against rumbling riffs.

Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" served as the concert's encore with Cohen's playing displaying the warmth so invests in her playing complemented by Hersch's spare accompaniment. It is a delightful close to the beautiful musical conversations that the two performed that night.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here the two perform Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Joe Goldmark Blue Steel

Joe Goldmark
Blue Steel
Lo-Vall Records

Goldmark is a new name to these ears but is a pedal steel guitarist from the San Francisco Bay area who got the bug to play the pedal steel from seeing Jerry Garcia play with the New Riders of the Purple Sage decades ago. He continued to play pedal steel even after getting married and having a pizza business and then became a partner at Amoeba Music, but all this time continued to play. There is a variety of supporting musicians with drummer Paul Rivelli being the most familiar to me. There are seven vocals here split between ex-Hoodoo Rhythm Devils lead singer Glenn Walters and chanteuse Dallis Craft, while long-time Goldmark compadre, Jim Campilongo, who guests on electric guitar.

Despite the mix of roots country, blues and soul, Goldmark's playing sounds rooted mostly in the country tradition, as compared to the more vocalized steel guitar stylings of Sacred Steel players and Bay area bluesman Freddie Roulette. This is evident listening to the opening "Night Flight," where he displays his clear delivery (and Gary Fullerton's twangy tremolo guitar. After the easy to listen to the opening track, things heat up with Walters blue-eyed soulful vocal on a rendition of Rufus Thomas' "All Night Worker," as Jeff Ervin's baritone sax helps add to the bottom while Goldmark takes a crisp solo. Walters also is heard on a heated cover of Jimmy McCracklin's "The Wobble" with some sizzling steel guitar and also B.B. King's "Beautician Blues," with some more astonishing steel guitar to go with Walters' forceful singing

The four vocals feating Dallis Craft are in the vein of old-school country (think the Bakersfield School), starting with Jeffrey Lynne's honky-tonk ballad, "I Want To Be With You Forever"; Graham Parker's "Howlin' Wind," which incorporates a reggae groove; Lefty Frizell's honky-tonk classic "Look What Will Thoughts Will Do"; and her lament "True Love Travels On a Gravel Road," that closes this recording. Among the other instrumentals, there is the lovely "Warm Rain," a calypso-infused arrangement of Bob Marley's "Natty Dread," and Jim Campilongo's country waltz, "I Want To Be With You Forever."

Never less than easy to listen too, this is a most appealing genre-crossing release that likely will have its greatest appeal to fans of old-school country and Americana, but entertaining to anyone who might sample this tasty recording

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here from "Blue Steel" is "I Want to Be with You Forever."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Tribute: Delmark's 65th Anniversary

Various artists
Tribute: Delmark's 65th Anniversary
Delmark Records

As Delmark celebrates 65 years since founded in St. Louis by Bob Koester, new has come out that the label has been sold which hopefully will keep this historic and visionary blues and jazz label healthy for years to come. This "Tribute" recording has eleven newly recorded blues to help in the celebration. It should be noted that these are new recordings of prior recordings by various blues artists on Delmark. There is a house band with either Mike Wheeler and/or Billy Flynn on guitar on several tracks, Roosevelt Purify on keyboards, Melvin Smith on bass and Willie Hayes on drums.

Omar Coleman sings strongly and plays nice harp on his tribute to Junior Wells, "Train I Ride," with guitar from Wheeler and booting sax by Hank Ford. Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty with Eddie Taylor Jr do Carey Bell's "One Day You're Gonna Get Lucky," likely recorded at the same session that produced their Tribute to Carey Bell album. Steve Bell's harmonica shines on this. Billy Flynn emulates the late Jimmy Dawkins' distinctive guitar style behind Linsey Alexander's fervent vocal on Dawkins' "All For Business." Demetria Taylor effectively growls performing Big Time Sarah's "Riverboat." Jimmy Burns performs his amiable take on Big Joe Williams' "She Left Me A Mule To Ride," without band accompaniment. His performance is not as percussive as that of Williams but he sings quite ably.

Lil Ed Williams and Dave Weld cover "Speak My Mind," by his uncle J.B. Hutto and it is a solid rendition if Ed does not quite match J.B.'s vocal here. Jimmy Johnson with Dave Spector do a strong Magic Sam's "Out of Bad Luck," with Sumito 'Ariyo' Ariyoshi adding some fine piano behind Johnson's marvelous vocal and fine guitar from him and Spector. Corey Dennison and Gerry Hundt provide a lively acoustic duet on Sleepy John Estes' "Broke and Hungry" with tight mandolin runs against the rhythmic guitar, with a strong crying vocal. Mike Wheeler evokes Jimmy Johnson on a fine cover of an Otis Rush classic, "So Many Roads," which is followed by Shirley Johnson's fine singing on the Little Willie John classic "Need Your Love So Bad," that Bonnie Lee previously waxed for Delmark.

Ken Saydak's solo piano and vocal barrelhouses Roosevelt Sykes' rollicking "Boot That Thang," closing this most entertaining collection of fresh blues cover recordings.

I received my review copy from Delmark Records. This review appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379).  Here is Bob Koester interviewed about Delmark about 5 years ago.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Marcia Ball Shine Bright

Marcia Ball
Shine Bright
Alligator Records

It's been a 50 year run for Marcia Ball performing her mix of Gulf Coast blues and rhythm music and this is her seventh album for Alligator to go along 8 similar albums for Capitol, Antone's and Rounder. With her mix of a rollicking piano in the vein of Professor Longhair and Fats Domino and soulful singing influenced by the great Irma Thomas, she has been thrilling blues and roots audiences as a touring performer for nearly forty years. This latest recording was produced by Steve Berlin who adds baritone sax to many tracks with others heard here including guitarist Mike Schermer, organist Red Young, bassist Lee Allen Zeno and guitarist and accordionist Roddie Romero. Of course, Ball herself is at the center with her soul-laced singing and New Orleans-rooted boogie piano, as well as contributed nine originals to go with three interpretations of songs from other sources.

As to be expected there are plenty of hot grooves, rocking piano and searing guitar starting off with the title track and her fervent message of hope in these times and then followed by the second line funk of Ernie K-Doe's "I Got to Find Somebody" to love her right. Her piano captures on this the spirit of Allen Toussaint (who this album is dedicated to along with Fats Domino and Buckwheat Zydeco) and Eric Bernhardt's tenor sax solo is firming in the classic New Orleans tradition. There is more Crescent City fun on an original she wrote with Shelly King and Tim Cook, "When the Mardi Gras Is Over."

Gary Nicholson co-wrote, "They Don't Make 'Em Like That," with its complaint that the music of today doesn't hold up or is as lasting as the blues and country of yesteryear. Bernhardt shining. Mike Schermer co-wrote "Life of the Party," with its calypso groove along with Enrique Chi's fiery trumpet, followed by her heartfelt blues singing on Ray Charles' "What Would I Do." "Once in a Lifetime" is a soulful original where she advises the guys if it is really true love, make sure you treat her fine. Schermer takes a tightly constructed short solo. Then there is her heartfelt hope that we all come together on "World Full of Love," with just her piano, Young's organ and Schermer's acoustic guitar providing the effective, austere backing.

A boisterous zydeco-inspired rendition of Jesse Winchester's "Take a Little Louisiana," with Romero channeling Buckwheat Zydeco on accordion, is the finale of this Ball recording. This superb recording is full of first-rate material and splendidly sung and played music, that one has come to expect from Marcia Ball.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Here is a live studio session to promote "Shine Bright."

Monday, August 13, 2018

JD Allen
Americana: Musings on Blues and Jazz 
Savant Records 

The remarkable tenor saxophonist JD Allen describe’s his newest album, “Americana,” as his “personal investigation of the blues at this point in my evolution as a musician.” With the exception of two selections, his seven original compositions are based on I-IV-V-I blues progressions, although listening to earlier blues artists he realized that structurally the 12 bar blues form and the so-called blues scale actually have very little to do with the blues. 

Great blues artists such as Skip James and Bessie Smith certainly support this argument. ... “In my opinion the blues is the gateway to the past and present of American music, the well from which gospel, jazz, rock, country, rhythm & blues and hip hop are drawn. The spirit of the blues, be it subtle or overt, manages to show itself in every genre of American music. Without a doubt, it is my connection as a person and a musician to the definition of Americana.” 

I do not know if I fully agree that the Blues is the roots of all American vernacular music, but there is no question that J.D. Allen and his trio of bassist Gregg August and Drummer Rudy Royston have produced a remarkable recording of instrumental blues. Allen’s playing has been compared to Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, although in interviews he also mentions Dexter Gordon’s influence. With respect to this recording, Coltrane’s sound perhaps is most evident. I point out the remarkable interpretation of Vera Hall’s lament that was originally recorded for the Library of Congress by Alan Lomax, “Another Man Done Gone.” The tenor echoes the field holler quality of the lament and complemented by August’s stunning Arco bass and Royston’s turbulent turns on the drums. 

Cotton” opens with August’s bass line before Allen’s tenor brings a solemn tone as he constructs his solo here. It is followed by a brighter groove on “Sugar Free,” a blues that has a bit of Ornette Coleman’s influence, followed by “Bigger Thomas,” named after the main character in Richard Wright’s “Native Son.” Allen and the trios playing here is suggestive of Coltrane’s “Chasin’ The Trane,” with Royston, in particular, complementing Allen. A similar feel marks the closing “Lillie Mae Jones,” but “Lightnin’” also merits attention with the Middle-Eastern sonority of Allen’s playing. 

Allen, August and Royston have been playing together for sometime and this is reflected in the cohesiveness of the trio throughout this recording. It is an outstanding exploration of the blues in jazz by one of its leading artists.

I believe I purchased this. This review originally appeared in the September - October 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 368). I wanted to include a video of the current recording but for some reason there was a copyright issue so instead here is  an earlier exploration in the blues of JD Allen playing "Son House," from 2008.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Kitchen Man

This is another post to consider points I made in my review of Rory Block's album "A Woman's Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith." This will be done through comparing her rendition of "Kitchen Man" with several other versions.

Next is the original by Bessie Smith.

Then there is a recent rendition by Catherine Russell

Next, Saffire- The Uppity Uppity Blues Women with the late Ann Rabson taking the vocal

Here is the late Chicago blues woman, Valerie Wellington

A recent recording by a traditional New Orleans styled band, the Yerba Buena Stompers w Miss Ida Blue 

And here one of Bessie's contemporaries, Sara Martin

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Tomislav Goluban feat. Toni Starešinić Velvet Space Love

Tomislav Goluban feat. Toni Starešinić
Velvet Space Love

An intriguing recording by these two Croatian musicians who perform eight originals, three remixes and once cover. Harmonica player Goluban who comes from a blues background is collaborating here with Starešinić who plays a variety of keyboards here is mostly involved in jazz combined with electronic, rock, funk, soul and hip-hop. The publicity for this recording states, "They all combine a classic piano sound, keyboards and a harmonica. In this 'space dance' Goluban and Starešinić combine blues, jazz and electronic, yet flerting (sic) with other styles." Various musicians join on various selections to help sustain the mood of various selections.

The performances here are sound scapes more so than songs starting with the opening "Zero Gravity," where Goluban's harmonica lines are set against the electronic sounds of his partner with time seemingly suspended. Vlado Simcich Vana adds guitar tones adding to sound textures of "Space Drive" as Goluban's horn-like harmonica lines are set against Starešinić's synthesized textures. Goluban adds jewharp and a shaker to his harmonica on the haunting "My Jupiter Mistress," with a jazzy electronic keyboard solo.

On "Hypersleep Dream," there is nice bluesy harmonica played against a synthesized organ backing with Josipar Loncar adding a wordless vocal moan. Electric and acoustic guitar, and drums are added to another spacey track, "10 9 3." while "The Busiest Woman I Ever Loved," is a blues instrumental with Goluban's impressive harmonica playing along with a taut electric piano solo and punchy horns.  "Till the End of Time and Space," is a fascinating duet between harmonica and electronic instruments."Zero Gravity Remix" sounds like the harp is taken out of the mix and replaced by various electronic sounds.

The album closes with echoey, moody harmonica set against the electronic on a cover of Ennio Morricone's "Man With a Harmonica," providing a fresh approach to music that may have been composed for a 'Spaghetti' Western. While one can hear the blues roots in Goluban's accomplished harmonica playing, little of the fascinating music here can be described as blues. The performances here will appeal most to those interested in electronic music, though others hopefully will sample the fascinating sounds here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "The Busiest Woman I Ever Loved."

Friday, August 10, 2018

Dafnis Prieto Big Band Back to the Sunset

Dafnis Prieto Big Band
Back to the Sunset
Dafnison Music

Cuban-born drummer, composer, bandleader, and 2011 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, Dafnis Prieto leads the Dafnis Prieto Big Band’s (DPBB) for their debut album. This was recorded after the DPBB debuted for three nights at the Jazz Standard. Immediately after this engagement, the DPBB recorded in Brooklyn August 28-29, 2017, joined by special guests Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman, and Brian Lynch. The 17-piece DPBB showcases some of the world’s best Latin jazz musicians, many of whom have previously played Prieto’s music in his other bands.

The ensemble features three horn sections (saxophones, trumpets, and trombones) and a rhythm section of piano, bass, congas, and Prieto on drums. The personnel are: Trumpet and Flugelhorn - Mike Rodríguez, Nathan Eklund, Alex Sipiagin, and Josh Deutsch; Reeds - Román Filiú, Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute, Clarinet, Michael Thomas, Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute, Piccolo, Peter Apfelbaum, Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax, Melodica, Joel Frahm, Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax, and Chris Cheek, Bari Sax; Trombones- Tim Albright, Alan Ferber, Jacob Garchik, and Jeff Nelson; Manuel Valera, Piano; Ricky Rodríguez, Acoustic & Electric Bass; Roberto Quintero, Congas, Bongos, Percussion; and Prieto, Drums & Music Director

This is Prieto’s seventh recording as a leader, and is a deeply personal, handcrafted statement, as well as an acknowledgment of the musical figures that shaped his development. For it, he composed and arranged nine works, showcasing his compositional talents while honoring his musical heroes and mentors including Eddie Palmieri, Chico O'Farrill, Bebo Valdés, Jane Bunnett, and Michel Camilo (in addition to Threadgill, Coleman, and Lynch, among others). Prieto collaborated with GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY-winning producer Eric Oberstein, heralded for his work producing large ensemble recordings, on this.

All the performances are dedicated to influences and masters. The disc opens with the volcanic Afro-Cuban "Una Vez Más" which is (dedicated to Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri and Brian Lynch), with Lynch contributing the searing trumpet. Cheek's' unaccompanied baritone sax opens "Out Of The Bone" (dedicated to Steve Coleman & Michel Camilo) which has unusual twists and voicing while Coleman is featured with his alto sax on "Song For Chico" (dedicated to Chico O’Farrill, Arturo O’Farrill & Mario Bauzá), with the musical fires smoldering behind him (pianist Valera is outstanding in driving the rhythm).

The variety of influences can be seen on "Back to the Sunset" (dedicated to Henry Threadgill and Andrew Hill), which features Threadgill's acerbic, angular alto sax set against Pietro's orchestration and a languid tempo. The lengthiest performance is, "Danzonish Potpourri" (dedicated to Bebo Valdés, Art Blakey & Jane Bunnett), with the Big band easily navigating tempo shifts. A spirited soprano sax solo set against the stormy orchestration stands out as does Apfelbaum's melodica that closes this out.The closing "The Triumphant Journey," (dedicated to Dizzy Gillespie & Chano Pozo), has a memorable melodic line along with a number of excellent solos.

The other performances are of a comparable level with this Big Band delivering first-rate performances of the varied and challenging compositions that are heard on this exceptional Latin Big Band recording.

I received a download to review from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here is the opening track, "Una Vez Más."

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Laurie Morvan Gravity

Laurie Morvan
Screaming Lizard Records

This is the sixth album from singer, guitarist and songwriter Laurie Morvan for which she enlisted Tony Braunagel to produce. He also plays drums here along with keyboards from Mike Finnigan, Jim Pugh, and Barry Goldberg, and bass from Bob Glaub. They back Morvan on varied blues and blues-rock songs, with the keyboardists adding texture and contrast to Morvan's vocals and fretwork.

The album opens with a high stepping Texas styled blues-rock shuffle, "My Moderation," displaying her singing (comparisons might be made to Stevie Nicks but Morvan sings more openly) and her strong guitar playing that is noteworthy for the clarity of her playing and the logical manner she develops her solos. Finnigan adds some saucy B-3 grease here. Searing guitar opens "Stay With Me," with a tinge of Magic Sam's song in the song's structure with a fervent vocal. Barry Goldberg adds piano on a crisply played shuffle, "Money Talks," while "The Extra Mile" showcases her use of the wah-wah pedal on a volatile blues-rock solo.

The title track has a memorable lyric of "Gravity was nothing, until you gave it a piece of your mind," with a reflective vocal and a nuanced, solo, while "Dance In The Rain," is built on a bass line that suggests classic Jr. Walker as she sings about life feeling like a hurricane with troubles thundering down and one must weather the storm and dance in the rain. Again her fiery guitar is supported by the tight backing. Then she addresses overcoming adversity on "Gotta Dig Deep," and then transcending heartbreak on "The Man Who Left Me." "Too Dumb To Quit" has atmospheric slide guitar (also using the wah-wah pedal) as she questions why she stays with someone who is bad for her and she should be running away to save her mind.

Laurie Morvan makes her mark throughout "Gravity" with her heartfelt singing and strong, driving guitar playing supported by a fine studio band.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here she performs "Dance In The Rain."

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

E.J. Decker Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project

E.J. Decker
Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project
Candela Records

Vocalist Decker pays tribute to one of his major influences, Arthur Prysock on this new release that is devoted to the music of one who Decker terms an "underrepresented, underserved artist." Singing is in Decker's blood and his father replaced Frank Sinatra in the Tommy Dorsey Band, although his father's musical career dried up and he opened up a luncheonette where a young E.J. worked there and would turn the dial away from his father’s preferred mature fare (WNEW) toward current rock and pop stations. But it was while closing up one day with WNEW on and he heard Prysock and he recalled that “this deep voice came up and scared the crap out of me, …” Decker has had a lengthy singing career including working on the folk and rock circuit.

Prysock had a deep baritone and first came up with Buddy Johnson's Band with whom he had his first hits in the latter half of the forties. Later, he recorded as a solo artist for Old Town and Verve through the ’60s. He later was known in the 70's a series of iconic TV ads for Löwenbräu beer and even had a disco hit with Gamble & Huff’s “When Love Is New.” Stephen Holden, in his Prysock obituary for The New York Times, described the singer’s “silky growl, with its careworn texture and tone of pillow-talk intimacy.” It was the late Mark Murphy, briefly a teacher of Decker’s, who urged him to undertake a Prysock project. “I mentioned Prysock and Mark lit up,” Decker says. “He understood that nobody had done a proper tribute, …"

On this tribute Decker is joined by a versatile band that includes baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, trombonist Elizabeth Frascoia, pianist Les Kurtz, guitarist Chris Bergson, bassist Saadi Zain and drummer Tom Melito. The recording includes Prysock hits, both well-known standards and songs that only he recorded. But it also includes songs Prysock did not record: Cole Porter’s “Why Can’t You Behave,” the Gershwins’ “He Loves and She Loves,” Lerner & Loewe’s “On the Street Where You Live.” “On these,” Decker muses, “I found I was taking the same approach that I heard him take, that in essence he taught me. Though he never sang them himself, they still fit right in.”

Decker, like Prysock, is primarily a balladeer and crooner, although his phrasing suggests at times Elvis Presley as well as Prysock. I found this on the opening "You Had Better Change Your Ways." Here as elsewhere the backing is exquisite with pianist Kurtz being a most sympathetic accompanist while guitarist Bergson plays fleetly behind him. Clare Daly's rhapsodic baritone sax, as well as Bergson's chording and single note fills, add to the pleasure of "Autumn in New York" and the easy swinging arrangement of "What a Difference a Day Makes." Daly's solos are superb. Trombonist Frascoia opens "Blue Velvet" and provides a appealing soft growling counter to Decker's ballad mastery.

Ella Johnson did the original recording of her brother Buddy's classic, "Since I Fell For You," but it became part of Prysock's repertoire. Decker's rendition here is akin to Lenny Welch's pop hit with more superb solos from Daly and Bergson. There is marvelous interplay between guitarist Bergson and trombonist Frascoia on a strong blues performance, "Its Too Late Baby Too Late." Among the songs Prysock did not record, Gershwin's "He Loves and She Loves" has a solid, swinging vocal with outstanding solos from Kurtz on piano and Daly on baritone sax, while a lovely rendition of "When I Fall in Love," opens as a duet with Zain who initially plays Arco, before Kurtz and Melito (on brushes) join. Zaid's walking bass line helps begin "On The Street Where You Live," with the rhythm section playing splendidly.

With the backing throughout from a superb band and guests (Clare Daly especially impresses), E.J. Decker has certainly put forth a worthy tribute that hopefully will restore Arthur Prysock to his place in musical history.

I received a download to review from from a publicist. Here he sings "What a Difference a Day Makes." from a CD release party.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

For Andrew Neu Big Band Jazz Is A Catwalk

Andrew Neu
CGN Records

This new release is subtitled "The Big Band Side of Andrew Neu," who according to his website "is one of the most exciting, multi-genre musicians today. He is well respected throughout the industry for his work as a saxophonist, woodwind player, arranger, composer, educator and recording artist." About this he says, "After rehearsing for years with these veteran LA studio musicians I'm thrilled to finally release this exciting and fun collection of modern big band music." He has some special guests to enliven the bright, brassy music here including trumpeters Randy Brecker, Rick Braun and Wayne Bergeron, saxophonists Bob Mintzer, Eric Marienthal and Gordon Goodwin, and bassist Brian Bromberg.

This is a strong, tight, swinging band whom play with nuance and heat. The opening "Juggernaut" has a jaunty rhythm, displays the crisp, buoyant quality of the band and the freshness of the arrangements. There are strong solos from trombonist Andrew Lippmann along with Neu's husky tenor sax. The rhythm section of pianist Andy Langham, guitarist Matt Hornbeck, bassist David Hughes and Jamey Tate provide a strong foundation with Tate also taking a solo here. The spicy "Zebrano," is a number that would seem to have get a Latin Dance floor full with Brecker featured with a fiery solo here along with Neu and Tate. Craig Fundyga guests on vibraphone on the title track with a prancing groove and muted trumpet in the opening choruses. It has a driving muted trumpet solo from Michael Stever preceding Fundyga's vibes solo with the horns framing his solo.

Neu's arrangement of "Body and Soul" is striking as it opens for a couple choruses at a ballad tempo before Langham's piano leads it into an Afro-Cuban mode and his solo is followed by Mintzer who sounds quite strong. Neu's lovely ballad, "My Neu" is a feature for Eric Marienthal's lovely alto sax solo, while Neu provides a wonderful orchestration for a lively performance of Cole Porter classic, "What Is This Thing Called Love," with memorable solos from Dan Kaneyuki on alto sax, trumpeter Stever and Neu. "Wasamba" is highlighted by Wayne Bergeron's adept trumpet, along with Brian Bromberg's fleet fingered piccolo bass.

The tenor sax of Gordon Goodwin is featured on a crisply played "Too Much of a Good Thing," while Rick Braun's mix of lyricism and heat is heard on Ennio Morricone's marvelous "Cinema Paradiso" on which Neu is also heard. After a lively "Blue Sesame" with a heated muted trumpet solo from Jeff Jarvis, there is a spirited "Alpha Dog," with Brian Bromberg adding a funky electric bass solo, along nice high register work from Anthony Bonsera on trumpet and Tate's drum solo to close this recording. Neu's compositions, arrangements and the strong ensemble work behind the excellent soloists result in a terrific, hard swinging big band recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 377). His website is  Here is
"Juggernaut" from the album.

Monday, August 06, 2018

On Revival Day

To go with my post on Rory Block's Bessie Smith tribute, here is her rendition of "On Revival Day" and contrasting it with some other renditions including Bessie's original.

Then there is the wonderful Lavern Baker version from her classic Bessie Smith tribute album

Then Ruby Turner singing this with Jools Holland's Band

And lastly Carrie Smith.

I would have included Lillian Boutte's rendition which is on her album "The Jazz Book" but could not locate it on youtube.

Rory Block's flawed Bessie Smith Tribute

Rory Block
A Woman's Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith
Stony Plain Records

Having recorded a series of albums paying tribute to some of the great blues artists that influenced her, not simply by their recordings, but also through personal relationships she had with them, Rory Block now turns attention to the iconic early blues women. Block writes in the liner notes, "Power Women of the Blues is a project that has been simmering in my imagination for 54 years.It has been my longstanding mission to identify, celebrate and honor the early founders—men and women—of the blues. This series is dedicated to the music of some of my all-time favorite iconic female blues artists, many of whom were shrouded in mystery during the sixties blues revival, while the recordings of others had simply disappeared."

This writer has mixed feelings about some (not all) of Block's recent recordings which had some vocals that were unlistenable to these ears. Listening to renditions of songs from the Empress of the Blues, the vocals are better, but we are dealing with a body of song that has been performed by a number of women (and men) over the past ninety odd years including albums by Lavern Baker, and Dinah Washington, and countless other performers have recorded songs associated with Bessie including (but hardly limited to) Barbara Dane, Nina Simone, Saffire-the Uppity Blues Women, Catherine Russell, Queen Latifah and Cecile McLorin-Salvant.

If not enamored with Block's singing, I do find her listenable and what is interesting in that she has taken recordings that were rooted in a piano accompaniment (and often with early jazz combos) and transformed them into acoustic guitar blues so we get a slide guitar accompaniment on "Do Your Duty." She does a decent vocal on "Kitchen Man," and her guitar accompaniment is fine but not sure of why she has the rhythm which these ears found distracting. On "Jazzbo Brown from Memphis Town," her vocal would have benefited with a little restraint, and the drumming is pretty mechanical. This is a shame since the slide guitar, evocative of Casey Bill Weldon, is quite good. "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl," is nicely sung and played, but what sounds like overdubbing of backing vocals and mechanical drumming on "On Revival Day," results in a lackluster performance.

I am ambivalent about "Empty Bed Blues," with a vocal that sounds a bit mannered, but has a nice backing. It sort of reflects the ambivalence this listener has on this entire recording. Others have sung tributes to Bessie Smith far better than Rory Block. I imagine if one listens to some of the tracks, and not view this as a tribute, one reasonably might have a more favorable view of this recording than this writer has.

I received from my review copy from a publicist. There are recent videos of Rory singing Bessie Smith from this album but for some reason, they are difficult to import into this post.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine Tasty Tunes

 Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine
 Tasty Tunes

Wow. A fixture in the Southern California scene for 38 years, when this Big Band kicks off with a volcanic "You Don't Know What Love Is," one simply goes along for the equivalent of a Formula One ride with this Big Bad Band with Eric Richards' heated arrangement, a full speed ahead alto sax solo from Christopher Hollyday, and blistering trumpet from Peter Green, before pianist Steve Sibley's reflective piano break. Pianist Sibley leads a terrific rhythm section with bassist Lance Jeppersen, guitarist Alex Ciavarelli, drummer Charlie McGhee and percussionist Mark Lamson.

I am not going to recite all the players in this superb band but simply highlight some of the high-points on this exceptional recording. Guest Eric Marienthal's alto sax is featured on Woody Herman-Ralph Burns composition "Early Autumn," which starts sedately before altering into a more heated tempo that displays Marienthal's fluid, bop-rooted playing that is framed by Tom Kubis' brassy arrangement. The band's vocalist, Janet Hammer, provides a nice treatment of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," followed the strutting "When the Lady Dances." Composer Bob Mintzer (another guest here) takes a full-bodied tenor sax solo followed by Sibley's piano and Ciavarelli's fluid guitar.

Mike Crotty's arrangement of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo," kicked off by drummer McGhee, is a feature for the saxophone section each of whom takes a chorus or two. Baritone saxophonist Ross Rizzo, Jr., stands out among these exceptional players. They also trade fours at the end. Both Janet Hammer's vocal on "Nature Boy" and Holly Hofmann's alto flute solo are enlivened by Carl Murr's arrangement. Ciavarelli's jazz-rock guitar set the mood on "Manhattan Burns" with Peter Green's fiery, high register trumpet followed by similarly hot guitar. Dave Grusin's ebullient "Mountain Dance," opens with sparkling piano, muted trumpets and flute. David Castel De Oro sets a festive tone before there is a jaunty guitar solo that is full of dazzling single note runs.

Ira B. Liss has one high energy big band marked by superior ensemble and solo playing and wonderfully crafted arrangements resulting in an album of exhilarating and compelling performances.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2018  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 377) although I have made some stylistic changes to that review. Here is a clip of the band from several years ago with Janet Hammer singing a song most associated with Etta James with Eric Marienthal adding his sax.