Saturday, September 29, 2018

Little Freddie King Fried Rice & Chicken

Little Freddie King
Fried Rice & Chicken
Orleans Records

Having Little Freddie King's Orleans' recordings made available again will certainly be welcome by fans of the Crescent City's down-home blues performer. He was 55 in 1995, the year Orleans Records released 'Swamp Boogie,' that was his first album. For much of his career, he played hole-in-the-wall bar gigs in New Orleans, as a sideman for John "Harmonica" Williams, Polka Dot Slim, Bill "Boogie Bill" Webb and "Brother" Percy Randolph. Gary Rouzan brought him to Carlo Ditta and Ditta put together a session of sympathetic players including bassists Earl Stanley (famous for the local classic "Pass the Hatchet"), Robert Wilson and Jason Sipher; drummers Kerry Brown and Bradley Wisham; and organist and pianist "Crazy" Rick Allen. The first six sides of this 11 track CD (and side A of the vinyl LP) are from this session. The last five are live recordings issued initially King's in-concert album "Sing Sang Sung," released in 2000 with his longtime drummer "Wacko" Wade Wright; bassist Anthony Anderson, bass; and harmonica player Bobby Lewis Titullio. There are also recordings from two 1999 shows at the Dream Palace on Frenchmen Street.

Little Freddie King, unlike his namesake, was no virtuoso nor would one call him a great singer, but his exuberance and simple, straight-forward approach provide plenty for a listener (or someone at his shows to enjoy) as he plays driving, danceable songs with plenty of honesty and fervor. Jimmy Reed and the swamp blues tradition of Baton Rouge may be a source of his musical inspirations, but Freddie King's recordings is another one.

Of the eleven tracks, there are six instrumentals starting with the opening "Cleo's Back." Of interest is "The Great Chinese," which starts off as a cover of "Tequila," but only takes off from the first bars of that classic. There is a twangy rendition of "Cotton Fields Back Home, "titled "Kinky Cotton Fields." The live tracks open with "Sing, Sang, Sung," a retitled rendition of Freddie King's " Sen-sa-shun," which itself is an instrumental version of "Got My Mojo Working." Another nod to the Texas Cannonball (Freddie King) is "Hideaway."

The vocals include a nice slow blues "Mean Little Woman," a credible "What'd I Say," and the swamp blues styled "I Used To Be Down," with its Jimmy Reed's touches and it incorporates Reed's "Down in Virginia." There is a tinge of funk on "Do She Ever Think of Me" as he wonders if she ever thinks about poor Freddie and a Jimmy Reed cover, "Honest I Do."

The album closes with "Bad Chicken," a tune he continues to play today with his chicken scratching guitar. It concludes a welcome release that brings together the best of his Orleans recordings that displays the simple exuberant blues he so capably still plays.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Little Freddie King performing.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Kenny 'Blues Boss' Wayne Inspired By The Blues

Kenny 'Blues Boss' Wayne
Inspired By The Blues
Stony Plain Records

The grand master of blues and boogie-woogie piano, Kenny 'Blues Boss' Wayne is back with his fourth album for Stony Plain (and I believe his tenth overall). He has written eleven new songs along with a live cover of "Georgia on My Mind." His vocals, piano, and organ are backed by a band including former B.B. King bassist Russell Jackson; Joey DiMarco on drums; Yuji Ihara on guitar; Dave Babcock on saxophones; and Bob Tildesley on trumpet. There are guest appearances from Billy Branch on harmonic; Duke Robillard on guitar; and Lynne Chwyl on backing vocals. Recorded live in Mexico, there is a different backing band for "Georgia."

Wayne is a strong blues and boogie-woogie piano player, primarily influenced by Fats Domino, Ray Charles, and Johnnie Johnson, but also Amos Milburn and Bill Doggett. He is able to handle a straight Chicago Blues like the opening "I Knew I'd Be Playing The Blues," on which Billy Branch adds his expertise. Then its a bit of rock and roll boogie-woogie on "Start Rockin'," with the lyrics having a bit of his musical philosophy with a choice guitar solo as well. Even though it sounds like he is playing an electric piano on "I Like That Woman," Kenny's playing evokes Amos Milburn. There is some fine guitar that evokes early 50's jazzy blues guitar (is that Robillard playing here), before Wayne takes an organ solo to take this performance to its close.

There is "Jimmy and Johnny," a boogie-woogie rooted song that has a lyrical theme in the vein of "Frankie and Johnny." Tildesley plays outstanding muted trumpet solo, while Wayne plays some of his best, relaxed boogie-woogie playing here on a recording where he consistently plays strongly, "Make Up Your Mind" is a rollicking Chicago blues-styled shuffle that especially shows how solid Russell Jackson and Joey DiMarco are in keeping the groove. After his relaxed, yet rollicking, boogie-woogie piano on the instrumental, "Lake Country Boogie," which also has a booting tenor sax solo, the Blues Boss pays tribute to Fats Domino with "Mr. Blueberry Hill." Wayne's lyrics, as well as his vocal and piano, captures the spirit of the Domino's legendary Crescent City recordings.

The album closes with the live recording from a Mexican concert of "Georgia," with Mati Vaarman's organ adding color as well as a greasy chicken shack solo along with Wayne's electric piano. His vocal, which is in the shadow of Ray Charles, is one of his best here, and guitarists Raul Ukareda and Jevgeni Lamba both take strong solos. Like the rest of this album, this selection is wonderfully played, and Kenny Wayne, a very affable singer, sings and plays wonderfully throughout this splendid new release.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a promotional video for this release.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Andreas Varady The Quest

Andreas Varady
The Quest
Resonance Records

One of a number of younger artists Quincy Jones is currently championing, he discovered the Slovak Varady when introduced to him at the 2012 Montreux Jazz Festival when he was 12. Jones in the liner booklet states, "It's not every day that you see a 15-year-old playing like George Benson! There was something about him and he had the same type of spark that I had seen in some of the musical greats I previously worked with." Varady produced this recording and did all the composing and led this ensemble that includes his brother Adrian on drums, father Bandi on bass, fellow Slovak Radiska on saxophone and the brilliant Venezuelan-born pianist, Benito Gonzalez.

He may have been a prodigy when Quincy Jones first encountered Varady, who is of Hungarian Roma descent. Varady now displays not simply formidable chops, in what now might be considered traditional guitar vein of Montgomery, Burrell, Grant Green and the like, but is also a composer leading an excellent band. The brief "Lost Memories" introduces this ensemble with a dynamic groove as the leader's fleet runs are matched by the band. "Radio Joint" opens with Varady and Radiska playing the main theme over a repeated piano line before Varady generates a lot of heat in his solo before Radiska barrels forth in an energized post-Coltrane-mode as Gonzalez comps and solos in a manner akin to McCoy Tyner. Like Radiska, Gonzalez shows his own musical personality. There is subtle electronic effects employed at the closing portion of this performance. Gonzalez's lovely opening for "Follow Me" provides a tranquil beginning before the full band add a bit of energy with 15-year-old Adrian displaying a dynamic attack before playing more gently under the lyrical solo from Gonzalez. This is followed by the two brothers playing explosively together.

"The Time is Now" displays Varady's fleet and fluid attack along with his finesse in negotiating the changes, while the brief interlude "Patience" involves some evocative use of effects. The album gets its title from "The Quest to Dopeness." It opens with Gonzalez playing inside the piano with the two brothers add texture and colors before Varady and Radiska state the theme and negotiate the shifting tempos and melodic lines prior to the leader taking a crisp, fleet solo followed by the saxophonist's husky solo (even briefly quoting Coltrane). This is all set against the pianist's block chord and explosive drumming with the younger Varady soloing with the band riffing in support. "Story" is a beautiful composition with Varady and Radiska playing wonderfully in a lyrical manner. "Radiska" finds the group again in a post-Coltrane vein, with magical playing from Gonzalez who again channels Tyner . Also on this is  Varady's own scintillating solo and Radiska's strong sax here. One cannot lose sight of the superb work of Bandi and Adrian in providing a strong foundation. More electronic effects mix with a serene melody for the concluding "Outro."

This is the third recording from Andreas Varady, and showcases his considerable talents along with an excellent band resulting in this superb recording.

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 stylistic changes. Here is the promo video for this album.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

I Wonder About Cecil Gant

Recently checking, I discovered that neither Cecil Gant nor his recording of "I Wonder," a monster selling recording are in the Blues Hall of Fame. This says more about the folks that have been making the selections and their failure to fully appreciate the music's history in making their decisions. "I Wonder" was a major recording and a hit. It helped pave the way for the independent labels that pioneered in issuing post-war blues, country and other forms of music. It was such a smash that it has has been recorded by numerous artists including Louis Armstrong, Roosevelt Sykes, Esther Phillips, Aretha Franklin and even Tony Bennett with K.D. Lang.

Gant, called the GI Sing-sation, had a very productive recording career until his early passing in his thirties in 1951. He recorded enough 78s to fill seven public domain CD reissues (Over 160 sides I believe). He was an outstanding blues singer, often witha dry wit and an exceptional pianist ranging from wry cocktail blues liike Charles Brown and Ivory Joe Hunter to a superb boogie-woogie player who also included some early blues rock and roll. I have included in this blog post several songs to give an idea of his range.

Here is "Nashville Jumps," a rocking performance.

Here is another song that has been done by a number of other blues folks including B.B. King, "I'm a Good Man, I'm a Poor Man."

Here on "New Cecil Boogie," he shows what a fine boogie woogie player he was.

Here we slow the pace down for "Blues in L.A."

Here is a song associated with Nat King Cole (and Sun Ra) that received Gant's wry, ebullient approach, "Hit That Jive Jack."

"Rock Little Baby" anticipates rock and roll.

There is plenty more on youtube of his music for you to check out. His recording career may have been brief in its time-frame (less than a decade), but he was prolific as well as being consistently terrific. He deserves recognition today, not simply as a pioneer, but one of the all-time greats.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Little Boys Blue with Kid Memphis

Little Boys Blue with Kid Memphis
Hard Blue Space

Nothing fancy but some straight-ahead blues performances from the Memphis based Little Boys Blue. Guitarist John Holiday (aka Kid Memphis) played Carl Perkins in the 2005 movie "Walk The Line," while vocalist and harmonica player, JD Taylor, actually played gigs with the rockabilly legend. In addition to these two, Little Boys Blue includes guitarist Alex Taylor, drummer Mark Brooks, and bassist Dave Mallard. Also present are the keyboards of Dave Thomas and the slide guitar of Andrew White, Brad Webb, and Wes Henley.

JD Taylor wrote all 11 songs, with assists from Holiday on two and Alex Taylor on one. Also, the songs are all blues with a variety of moods and tempos ranging from the opening "Six Foot Down" with its incorporation of the "Rollin' and Tumblin'" riff (and fine slide guitar) to the closing Jimmy Reed flavored shuffle "Going Back To Memphis," with his harp in the vein of the second Sonny Boy Williamson. JD is a very good singer who delivers his gritty vocals with a straight-forward honest and unmannered style. He plays strong, effective harp while ably backed by the band here and the material is solid stuff.

Other noteworthy songs include, but are not limited to, the easy-rocking shuffle "Loving Kind," with some nifty guitar lines in the vocal backing; the atmospheric title track with nice slide guitar in addition to the haunting harp; and the late evening slow blues "If the Blues Start Calling." Strong originals, strong vocals, and harp from Taylor and solid backing make "Hard Blue Square" a release worth the attention of blues enthusiasts.

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

Monday, September 24, 2018

Detroit Bop Quintet Two Birds

Detroit Bop Quintet
Two Birds
TQM Recording Co

This digital single is a tribute to the great Charlie Parker and his quintet made up of Miles Davis, Max Roach, Tommy Potter, and Duke Jordan and the legendary recording they made at United Sound Systems in Detroit on December 21st, 1947. United Sound Systems was one of the world’s first independent recording studios, and has a wonderfully rich history, serving artists from John Lee Hooker to Jackie Wilson, Bob Seger to MC5, The Rolling Stones to Aretha Franklin, Issac Hayes to Parliament-Funkadelic to Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was founded by Jimmy Siracuse in the 1930s and has been at its current location, 5840 Second Avenue since the early 1940s. It still exists and is acoustically identical to the way it was when it was first built. The goal of this session was to "recreate the acoustic stamp that is heard on a historic 1947 Charlie Parker session, which was recorded in the very same space back in 1947."

The Detroit Bop Quintet was assembled specifically for this session and made up of four of Detroit's best Jazz musicians and Saxophonist Pete Mills from Columbus, Ohio. Others on this date include trumpeter Dwight Adams; pianist Rick Roe; bassist Paul Keller and drummer Nathaniel Winn. There is nothing surprising about this cover recording of "Bluebird" and "Another Hair Do." These are solid players who show their respect to the Parker Quintet original recordings, although Mills doesn't quite show the bluesy intonation of Parker's alto. Adams acquits himself well, as do the rhythm section, with Roe being impressive.

This is an interesting tribute to a historic record session. For more information visit The website includes a technical description of the session as well as the music including another Parker composition "Klaunstance." This is available as a digital album that includes "Klaunstance," and all three tunes are in mono and stereo versions.

A publicist provided me with a download to review. This review appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). Here is the performance of Another Hair Do."

Saturday, September 22, 2018

St. Louis Blues considered

Arguably W.C. Handy's most famous song might be "St. Louis Blues." I recall the founder of the Blues Foundation, Joe Savarin claimed that it was the most recorded song in the US history. Whatever the truth of this statement, it has been recorded and performed numerous times. Here are simply some of the many recordings of it starting with a 1914 recording from W.C. Handy's Band.

One of the most celebrated versions is by Bessie Smith with Louis Armstrong on cornet.

Louis Armstrong recorded his first version in 1930. I once heard someone suggest the difference between blues and jazz can be heard in the recordings by Bessie Smith and Armstrong.

Here is a more recent rendition from Catherine Russell from the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Mark Shane is the pianist and Jon-Erik Kellso plays the muted trumpet.

Here is the New Orleans clarinetist George Lewis.

Here Nat King Cole sings this classic

Earl 'Fatha' Hines did his "Boogie Woogie on Saint Louis Blues."

Albert Ammons also did a boogie-woogie interpretation.

Here is the legendary Billie Holiday.

One of my favorite versions by a bluesman is the late Johnny Copeland. It was on his first Rounder album "Copeland Special" that included jazz saxophonists Arthur Blythe, Byard Armstrong, and George Adams.

Then there is the great Furry Lewis

And the duo of Sylvester Weaver and Walter Beasley recorded this instrumental version in 1927.

Finally an early version from Duke Ellington with Bing Crosby singing.

There are so many more, but I hope you found these enjoyable.

Friday, September 21, 2018

John Clifton Nightlife

John Clifton
Rip Cat Records

California based Harmonica player and singer (and sometimes guitarist) John Clifton brings together a solid blues-rockabilly mix with touches of rockabilly and soul on "Nightlife." He is backed by Scott Abeyta on guitar, Matt Moulton on bass, either John Shafer or Roman Rivera on drums and Bartek Szopinski on piano or B-3.

The program consists of choice covers and interesting originals. Clifton impresses as a vocalist in the straight-forward manner suggestive of Phil Alvin of The Blasters opening with a hot take of Charlie Musselwhite's "Strange Land," as well as the hot rock and roll of his original "Brand New Way To Walk," with guitarist Abeyta showcasing some slashing rockabilly-tinged, playing.

A cover of Little Walter's "Long As I Have You," is a solid performance full of some explosive harmonica with Szopinski's accompaniment outstanding. Muddy Waters' "Still a Fool" is treated to a solid rendition with a slight distortion of his vocal contributing to the moody version here. It should be noted that Clifton has played and toured with Muddy's son, Big Bill Morganfield, playing on Morganfield's recording "Blood Stains On The Wall." The title track is a brief rocker that is not the familiar Willie Nelson classic. There also is a solid interpretation of Leiber, Stoller and Otis' "Last Clean Shirt."

A moody instrumental, "Swamp Dump," has nice understated, well thought out guitar and harmonica solos. Some spicy chromatic harmonica opens another instrumental, "How About That," that finds Clifton in a Little Walter mode with a sizzling jazzy single note guitar solo and a brief drum solo. "Wild Ride" is a sprite duet between Clifton's acoustic harmonica playing and Szopinski's piano.

The album closes with its longest performance, a terrific slow blues, "Every Now and Then." It has a heartfelt vocal and strong playing from everybody. The rhythm section, whether Shafer or Rivera on drums, bassist Moulton, and pianist Szopinski, is splendid throughout this strong recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378) although I have made some minor edits. Here John Clifton performs "How About That."

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Jonathan Kreisberg & Nelson Veras

Jonathan Kreisberg & Nelson Veras
New For Now

This is a marvelous collection of duets between electric guitarist Kreisberg and Veras who plays a nylon string acoustic guitar. One can marvel at the technical mastery of each as well as their own lyrical attacks, but the interplay of each, where one might take the lead while the other comps, is also worthy of appreciation. The album opens with three originals the Kreisberg penned, and delight whether listening to Veras' chords backing Kreisberg's deft lead runs or Kreisberg lightly placing chords as Veras dazzles. Then there is the charm of "Every Person is a Story" with Veras' almost harp-like picking before Kriesberg's near bell-like single note runs.

Monk's "Bye-Ya" seems amenable to a number of approaches and the two here display as they playfully take the twists and turns of Monk's tune. Veras opens an intriguing version of Milton Nascimento's "Milagre Dos Peixes," with his tender playing. The two ably convey the poignancy of Charles Mingus' musical eulogy for Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," with Kreisberg carefully laying out the theme along with embellishments and improvisation.

Similar pleasure is provided to renditions of lesser-known songs by Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter where the two delight listeners with the nuanced playing, their well-conceived solos, and accompaniment. These superb duets result in a mellifluous and exquisite recording. For more information, check out

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here the two are seen and heard performing "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat."

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Spanish Harlem Orchestra Anniversary

Spanish Harlem Orchestra
15 Anniversary

The title of the latest recording from the celebrated Latin jazz and salsa band is that it celebrates the Spanish Harlem Orchestra's 15th year. After decades of session work, composing, arranging and producing, bandleader Oscar Hernández was approached by producer Aaron Levinson in 2000 about the idea of assembling and recording a Latin jazz orchestra. The result was "Un Gran Dia en el Barrio," the 2002 debut recording which received a Grammy nomination for Best Salsa Album and a Latin Billboard Award for Salsa Album and led to Hernández and SHO touring and wowing audiences. They have won two Grammy Awards in the years since and continue to dazzle audiences.

Certainly, this latest recording will wow listeners with contributions from all the members of this exciting band (with Randy Brecker a guest on one selection). Unquestionably, the opening "Esa Nena" by vocalist Marco Bermúdez and conga player George Delgado gets this very hot recording off. There is plenty of heat, although at a more relaxed tempo on "Yo Te Prometo," with a volcanic trumpet break and crisp solo while the latin percussion trio of Delgado, Luisito Quintero on timbales and Jorge González provide the hot rhythmic percolation with the vocalists of Bermúdez, Carlos Cascante and Jeremy Bosch do their spirited singing while Mitch Frohman's baritone along with Gerardo 'Jerry' Madera's bass helps anchor the performance along while Hernández is superb whether as part of the rhythm section or his imaginative soloing.

Other tracks to note highlight include a couple from Hernández, "Goza El Ritmo" and "Somos Uno," with the latter features some brilliant Randy Brecker trumpet, as well as a lyrical solo from the leader. One could easily discuss all of the other performances as the Spanish Harlem Orchestra dazzles throughout with their vibrant music that will thrill dancers and listeners on a terrific recording.

I received my copy from Artistshare as a participant. This review appeared in the September-October 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 380) although I have made minor stylistic edits. Here they perform "Somos Uno" live.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Bill O'Connell Jazz Latin

Bill O'Connell
Jazz Latin
Savant Records

Pianist O'Connell scores with his latest release with selections from his excellent trio, with Lincoln Goines on electric bass and Bobby Ameen on drums, with whom he played with as part of the Dave Valentin Band. Guests here include Randy Brecker, Craig Handy, and Conrad Herwig. The eleven selections include seven originals and cover a range of styles and instrumentation.

The disc opens with a celebratory salute to the 44th President, "Obama Samba" with all three soloing. There is a solid, hard swinging rendition of the Cole Porter standard "Just One of Those Things," before O'Connell switches to electric piano with Craig Handy joining in for "It's OK," followed by the trio paying respects to their late leader Valentin on winsome reflective interpretation of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." Goines sounds excellent on this. Next is a ballad that slowly builds its tempo, "Goodbye My Friend." On this Randy Brecker employs the lower register of his trumpet. After a very appealing piano solo, Daniel Carillo adds some excellent guitar.

Flautist Andrea Brachfeld enhances "Quicksand," with is percolating groove and skittering electric piano, while "Tip Toes" is a Monk influenced original with interesting intervals and chording with some of O'Connell's most inspired playing. With Conrad Herwig adding his trombone, O'Connell provides a latin arrangement for a dazzling reinvention of Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz." Ameen's drumming is most noteworthy here, along with an appropriately heated trombone solo from Herwig.

A tribute to his mother, "Mom's Song" includes some hauntingly beautiful guitar from Carillo along with O'Connell's moving piano. Carillo is also heard on the jazz waltz interpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Zingaro." The brief, galloping original "What Is This," brings to a close this outstanding recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here is "Puttin' on the Ritz," from "Jazz Latin."

Monday, September 17, 2018

Willie Jackson Chosen By the Blues

Willie Jackson
Chosen By the Blues

Savannah, Georgia based Willie Jackson is a full-throated blues shouter backed by a solid, efficient band. On this self-produced release he is backed by Jon Willis on bass, Dillon Young on guitar, Paxton Eugene on drums and Ace Anderson on harmonica. This is an EP with 6 straight-forward originals with a definite down-home flavor from Jackson's brawny baritone that is full of humor, his lyrics and the simple backing, especially Anderson's atmospheric harmonica.

He can be a clever lyricist as in his use of a fishing metaphor on "I'll Throw You Back," as he tells his woman she may think she's hot but wait till Willie gets her in his frying pan. Then when his woman isn't fulfilling her duties, he starts looking for someone else as she got caught "Sleepin' on the Job," and don't work here anymore. Guitarist Young takes perhaps his best solo here. Nothing earth-shattering perhaps, but Jackson does bring much passion to his performances.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here is "Big Boned Woman," from this album.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Jim McNeely & the Frankfurt Radio Big Band Barefoot Dances and Other Visions

Jim McNeely & the Frankfurt Radio Big Band
Barefoot Dances and Other Visions
Planet Arts Recordings

This is another collaboration between an American jazz musician and a European Radio Big Band. McNeely has worked with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band over several years and this CD is a suite of seven scenes he conjured up. He notes that a couple of compositions imagine the return of great musicians no longer with us. Other compositions begin with a chamber-size vision before the whole band develops the performance. McNeely conducts the big band on this recording which he himself states "is truly a collaboration between the members of the band and myself."

The opening track, "Bob's Here" is dedicated to one of McNeely's mentors, the trombonist, and composer Bob Brookmeyer. It begins with an interchange between the rhythm section and brass before the punchy horns start working against the drums. This is followed by Christian Jasko's swirling bass trombone solo and the bluesy guitar of Martin Scales with McNeely's scoring framing these fiery solos. Peter Reiter's solo piano calmly opens "Black Snow" before the rhythm section enters to warm things and has a lovely Martin Auer flügelhorn solo. The festive "Barefoot Dances" was inspired by a Matisse painting with a spirited Günter Bollmann trombone solo over drums followed by a spirited full band section leading to Hans-Dieter Sauerborn's twisting, dancing soprano sax solo. Special mention of drummer Jean Paul Höchstädter's playing throughout this performance.

"A Glimmer of Hope" is in McNeely's words about "optimism struggling to survive in an ocean of darkness." Rainer Haute's baritone sax engages in a conversation with Peter Fell's trombone of Peter Fell followed by Manfred Honetschläger's reflective bass trombone playing. A tribute to the pioneering arranger Don Redman, "Redman Rides Again," McNeely notes Redman wrote fantastic clarinet trios, and opens with a prelude spotlighting Axel Schlosser on flugelhorn set against cascades of sounds before the main body of the piece which includes a swinging actual clarinet trio before a virtual trio of Oscar Leicht and his harmonized clarinet. Then he takes us "Falling Upwards" with a couple tenor sax solos and then a brighter take on one of the themes from "A Glimmer of Hope," before rousing tenor sax from Steffen Weber.

McNeely describes "The Cosmic Hodge-Podge," as "a vision of a cosmic soup where galaxies are replaced by blocks of sound," with sections playing against each other along with some hot solos including Axel Schlosser on trumpet. This stirring performance closes a terrific big band recording with wonderful compositions played superbly.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here Jim McNeely talks about his collaboration with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Eliane Elias Music from Man of La Mancha

Eliane Elias
Music from Man of La Mancha
Concord Records

This new release from Elias was a 1995 recording resulted from the request of Mitch Leigh, composer of the Music for the legendary musical, who loved her album playing the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim and wanted her to similarly arrange and produce a recording of the musical's music. This led to the present recording, originally produced for Leigh's private enjoyment and now with the cooperation of his family finally made available to the public on Concord.

There are two sessions represented. One with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette and the other with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Satoshi Takeishi with percussionist Manolo Badrena on all but one of the nine songs heard. Many will be more familiar with Elias as a singer, but starting with the opening "To Each His Dulcinea," she displays a crisp, fluid and imaginative attack with the adept accompaniment provided. There is the reflectiveness of "Dulcinea" with some superb playing by Gomez and DeJohnette's use of brushes and the lively swing of "What Does He Want of Me," with her romanticism matched by the light, complementary backing. Elias' touch is more emphatic on "I'm Only Thinking of Him," while DeJohnette opens "Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)," with a crisp rhythmic figure, echoed by Gomez before Elias enters ruminatively. With Johnson and Takeishi, she provides a Brazilian flavor for a memorable, driving interpretation of the musical's most famous song, "The Impossible Dream."

Concord is to be thanked for helping arrange for the release of this superb piano jazz recording that allows us to appreciate a side of Eliane Elias talent that gets overshadowed by her fine vocal jazz recordings.

I received my review copy from Concord Records. I have made minor changes from my review that originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378).  Here is an interview with Eliane Elias talking about the history of this recording.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Markey Blue - Ric Latina Project Raised in Muddy Water

Markey Blue - Ric Latina Project
Raised in Muddy Water
Ellersoul Records

It has been several years that singer Jeannette Markey (Markey Blue) and guitarist Latina impressed on her recording "Hey Hey." About that recording I concluded "There is so much to enjoy about this release from the strong backing, good original songs and Ms. Markey’s heartfelt, persuasive vocals. Markey Blue certain makes fans of blues and soul take note with this." Certainly much can be said about this recording of blues-tinged rock, swampy soul and blues. Listening to the impressive opening title track and "Corinne Shine," I think more of southern rock and Little Feat than Jimmy Reed and Jody Williams, but that is simply categorizing these finely performed songs. Markey is a really good singer with plenty of heart and Latino is a noteworthy guitarist as he shows behind her very fervent singing on "A Little More I Die (An Ode to John Payne)."

Credit must be given to her backing band of John Marcus on bass, Marcus Finnie on drums, Shannon Winnie on keyboards, Jim Williamson on trumpet and Doug Moffet on saxophone. But the songs are excellent as the afore-mentioned "A Little More I Die," or the driving shuffle "Red Room," on which Ronnie Owens is overdubbed on harmonica, "Mississippi Soul," with Latino's atmospheric Duane Allman styled slide or the rocking boogaloo rocker with Eddie Clearwater and horns added, "I Like It Like This." There there is a terrific, moody blues "Walking Over This Line," where Markey sings about a love gone wrong and taking too long to leave.

There is the swampy blues rock of the Delbert McClinton tribute "Come and Go," and the closing bonus track that was recorded live, a lively blue shuffle, "Drowning in His Ocean," as she joyously celebrates a lover. Markey Blue continues to deliver as a singer and songwriter with some strong guitar and excellent backing making for another notable recording.

I received from my review copy from Ellersoul. This review appears in the September-October 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 380). Here is a live 2017 performance clip of the Markey Blue - Ric Latina Project

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

John Colianni I Never Knew

John Colianni
I Never Knew
Patuxent Music

Renowned for his work as accompanist for Mel Tormé and Les Paul among others, pianist Colianni leads a sextet for a swing rooted recording. His prior recordings featured a two guitar quintet but the present sextet is fronted by tenor saxophonists Grant Stewart and John David Simon, with guitarist Matt Chertkoff, bassist Ralph Hamperian and drummer Bernard Linette completing the rhythm section. band Colianni sees this sextet as an offshoot of his big band, the John Colianni Jazz Orchestra. “It’s sort of a band within a band, reflecting my admiration for the Ellington and Goodman small groups." Also the two tenor aspect has its precedent, not simply in Frank Foster and Frank Wess, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Johnny Griffin, and Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt as Rusty Hassan observes in his annotation, but the great Count Basie Band of the thirties and early forties with the contrasting styles of Lester Young and Herschel Evans/Buddy Tate. Stewart and Simon have similar contrasting styles, and both are driving players with an affinity for the blues.

Colianni is a pianist rooted in the Hines-Wilson-Tatum piano lineage, who also displays awareness of more modern harmonic approaches and is a wonderful accompanist on the four originals and four covers that include the opening title number that was memorably performed by Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. Basie recorded it for Columbia and two new location recordings from the Famous Door were issued as part of the recent release of materials from the Savory Collection. Colianni's rendition is swinging and the tenor players acquit themselves although they don't match Young nor is the rhythm section quite as propulsive as Basie's legendary one, but it is a swinging small group and the leader displays a deft touch. A Beethoven adaptation, Fur Elise," displays his incorporation of stride piano as well on this clever performance.

"I Didn't Know About You" is a Duke Ellington number that Colianni played behind Tony Bennett and is a lovely composition with a finely developed solo with the tenor saxes adding color. Guitarist Chertkoff gets to shine on a solid blues, "Blues For Naomi" which he observed was a tribute to “a lady who used to watch over us young players cutting our teeth at One Step Down in Washington, DC, where I grew up," and both saxophonists acquit themselves strongly. Illinois Jacquet's "Achtung," is what might be called a barn-burner with the two taking off here as if Lockjaw Davis and Johnny Griffin with Colianni's intro and stride-rooted comping evoking the early Basie.

A competitor in the first Thelonious Monk competition, Colianni and group tackles Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie," which seems taken from the Hal Overton Town Hall Concert arrangement with strong solos from Stewart and Simon before Colianni develops his own, well conceived solo and followed by some fine playing from Chertkoff. If this does not break new grounds, it is a strongly played mainstream small group jazz session that will appeal to many.

I received my review download a publicist. This review appears in the September-October 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 380). Here the John Colianni sextet performs "I Never Knew."

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Jared Gold Reemergence

Jared Gold

Organist Gold has been a significant part of guitarist Dave Stryker's organ trio along with drummer McClenty Hunter. Among the more recent group of jazz organists, Gold has become a significant part of the NY jazz scene playing with such heavyweights as Oliver Lake and the late John Abercrombie along with Stryker. he has recorded 8 albums although it has been three years since his last as a leader. On this recording, produced by Stryker, legendary drummer Billy Hart joins the pair (and it is a working trio), with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt adding his brass to three of the nine selections. Gold contributed two originals to this recording with others coming from Gershwin, Stevie Wonder, Ornette Coleman, Doris Akers and Lennon and McCartney.

From Jared's opening title track to the closing "Nomad" by Stryker, Gold and his organ trio certainly delight organ jazz fans starting with an unusual blues that Pelt's vibrant trumpet adds fire to the unusual burning blues line. Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So" displays his melodic touch as well as orchestral sound while providing a strong setting for Stryker's dazzling playing. There is a wistful reading of The Beatles' "She's Leaving Home." Pelt is present on "Looking For Another Pure Love," which contrasts with the solid funk of "One For John A," where Pelt adds his trumpet to Gold's chicken shack grease. Hart provides a light Brazilian groove to "How Long Has This Been Getting On," which is followed by a slowed down rendition of Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation," where Gold's use of dynamics adds to the impressiveness of the trio's performance.

While organ jazz might be viewed by some as jazz comfort food, one cannot deny how outstanding Jared Gold and trio are on this superb recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here is a short live clip of this trio.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Lady A Is Doin' Fine

Lady A
Doin' Fine

Seattle's Blues Diva, Lady A (Anita White), has a new soul-blues recording that should appeal to a broad spectrum of blues fans. Produced by guitarist and bassist Dexter Allen (of the Bobby Rush Band) and pianist Joey Robinson (who plays some drums here), this recording is mostly comprised of originals that evoke some of the classic Malaco and Elko Records.

This is solidly played and she is a very solid vocalist who suggests Denise LaSalle on the opening title track. Here  she sings about waking up and being ready for the weekend, loving life and doing fine as Mississippi is like her second home and also  tells of singing her heart out at B.B. King's. The band shines with tight backing with Allen providing a nifty repeated figure. It is followed by a walking tempo funky blues, "The Ride," with its hook line "Life is like a ride," but one must keep the faith in everything you do but the road can turn on you. An adaptation of Junior Parker's "Next Time You See Me" is presented as "Next Time U C Me" and credited to Lady A (it does appear she may have contributed some new lyrics), and is a nice shuffle performance with Allen taking a solid solo while Richardson plays organ as well as piano.

"Tryin' To Get Over," is a soulful number with an outstanding vocal, where Allen's use of wah-wah along with the groove evokes some of Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's later recordings. "That Man" is a tough soul-blues number that againsuggests classic Denise LaSalle with a bass line that evokes Johnny Taylor's hit, "Last Two Dollars." "Throw Down" is a funky party blues where she instructs partying folks on the dance floor to throw hands in the air or clap in a soulful fashion.

Lady A distinguishes herself with her heartfelt vocals, while the backing led by Allen and Richardson supports and enhances the first-rate soul-blues here.

I received from my review copy from Lady A. Here is her performing The Beatles' "Come Together," as she says in her own way.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Trouble In Mind (1926)

One of the most celebrated blues of all time is Richard Jones' "Trouble in Mind." Here is the celebrated original recording that featured Jones piano and the cornet of Louis Armstrong. It was a recording that Armstrong celebrated being part of and redid this for his musical autobiography in 1957 which he introduced.

One of my favorite recordings of this is Dinah Washington's 1952 Mercury recording with Ben Webster taking the tenor sax solo.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is one of many who put their own stamp on this classic.

Here is Lightnin' Hopkins putting his distinctive touch to this.

It is a song that has become a staple of American music. Here is Merle Haggard doing a Western Swing based rendition. Bob Wills, a major influence on Merle, recorded this years before.

Here is Big Bill Broonzy.

Here is B.B. King performing it. Sounds like one of his many recordings for the Bihari Brothers in the 1950s or early 1960s with probably a Maxwell Davis arrangement.

Here is the legendary Sam Cooke's take on this classic.

Finally the greatly neglected Georgia White

Hope you enjoyed this look at a blues classic and some of its interpretations.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

The Diva Jazz Orchestra 25th Anniversary Project

The Diva Jazz Orchestra
25th Anniversary Project

Sherrie Muncie was playing drums in a band that Stanley Kay, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich, was conducting. Struck by on her extraordinary talent, he began to wonder if there were other women players who could perform at the same level. The search was on and through nationwide auditions, the foundation for DIVA was poured in June 1992, with its first performance on March 30, 1993 at New York University. Since their premiere performance, DIVA has toured the world to critical and popular acclaim and long ago transcended whatever novelty some may have initially viewed them.

In the subsequent quarter center they have become one of the most respected jazz big bands as Diva exudes the excitement and force found in the tradition of the historic big bands but with an eye towards today’s progressive sound and originality, performing all over the world at clubs and festivals in among such cities as New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Montreal, Paris, Rome, Zagreb and Bern. They have shared stages with some of the most revered performers including Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Diane Schuur, Carmen Bradford, Marlena Shaw, DeeDee Bridgewater, Rosemary Clooney, Clark Terry, Dr. Billy Taylor, Tommy Newsom, Randy Brecker, Dave Brubeck and many more.

The personnel on this celebration of a quarter century of music is Sherrie Maricle - Music Director/drummer; Noriko Ueda - bass; Tomoko Ohno - piano; Leslie Havens - bass trombone; Sara Jacovino - trombone; Jennifer Krupa - trombone; Rachel Therrien - trumpet, flugelhorn; Barbara Laronga  - trumpet, flugelhorn; Jami Dauber -  trumpet, flugelhorn, manager; Liesl Whitaker - trumpet, flugelhorn; Leigh Pilzer - baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Erica von Kleist - tenor saxophone; Janelle Reichman - tenor saxophone, clarinet; Mercedes Beckman - alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; and Alexa Tarantino - alto saxophone, soprano saxophone. Not only are these outstanding musicians, but twelve of them are composers and arrangers with nine of them contributing the twelve originals here.

Certain things should be taken for granted about this recording including the excellent playing, ensemble work, and a first rate rhythm section, along with marvelous arrangements and orchestrations resulting in a terrific modern big band recording. Just to touch on a few of the ten tracks this disc opens with the driving, swinging swagger of Leigh Pilzer's "East Coast Andy," that has searing trumpet from trumpeter Jami Dauber along with Pilzer's husky baritone. This listener detects a middle-eastern flavor to Janelle Reichman's hauntingly lovely "Middleground," with a neat, short electric piano solo from Tomoko Ohno before Reichman's clarinet solo. Reichman and Ohno's arrangement handsomely frames her twisting, invention solo which is full of warmth. There is a retro tinge to Barbara Larongo's "Jami's Tune," with nicely played muted brass before the reeds blast in leading into Liesl Whitaker's muted trumpet solo with Marcie's crisp drums leading to some nice middle register trumpet and then trading lines between the two featured players. Tomoko Ohno's "La Americana" has a latin flavor with the composer soloing along with drummer Marcie, clarinetist Reichman, and guest soloist, Marcia Callas on congas.

Trombonist Jennifer Krupa says that what she values most about DIVA is "collaboration, camaraderie, and creativity. I hope when the listeners hear "A Quarter Past the Last Minute," they will feel as joyful, optimistic, resilient, and determined as DIVA!" Those feelings likely are also felt about the entirety of The Diva Jazz Orchestra's remarkable "25th Anniversary Project."

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here is a recent performance from the Diva Jazz Orchestra from this year.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Kathy and the Kilowatts Premonition of Love

Kathy and the Kilowatts
Premonition of Love
Nola Blue Records

This This is the fourth album by the Texas singer, and the first in a new partnership with Nola Blue Records. Kathy Murray has written ten songs and there are three interpretations of previously recorded material. The Kilowatts include her husband, Billy "Monster" Jones, on guitars (and accordion on one track); either Dylan Cavaliere or Jeff Botta on bass; and Nina Singh on drums or percussion. Benny Turner plays bass on four tracks while Floyd Domino and Matt Farrell are heard on keyboards while Dan Torosian and Eric Johnson add horns.

Murray has been part of his he Austin Texas scene since the 1980s and apparently her singing has been described as "the love child of Jimmy Reed and Wanda Jackson." She shares with Reed a laconic attack, and while her vocals have a slight nasal quality, her diction and articulation of the lyrics are removed from Reed's sometimes mush-mouth singing. She sings in a straightforward manner, and if she may not invest her version of "Black Nights," with the authority of Lowell Fulson, her heartfelt vocals certainly have more than a little appeal.

The backing her enhances her vocals greatly whether the West Side Chicago blues setting for 'Beggars Can't Be Choosers," with a horn arrangement that will evoke Otis Rush's "Right Place, Wrong Time," or the boogaloo shuffle groove of "Always Fooling Me," which she invests with a wry humor singing about her "hocus focus baby." There is her atmospheric title track with Murray's strong guitar support, and the rollicking reworking of Cleveland Crochet's cajun rocker "Sugar Bee," with Murray's idiomatic accordion solo. There is an able cover of Magic Sam's "What Have I Done Wrong," and the moody, Muddy Waters' styled "Final Verdict" with Kim Field's harmonica as well as Murray's deep down guitar.

Add the rollicking rock and roll of "All These Questions," with Floyd Domino's boogie inflected piano and the relaxed shuffle groove of "I Got This," and one has a varied and entertaining, well-produced set of blues with a couple of roots rocker added for spice.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here is a video clip of Kathy and the Kilowatts performing "Grow Some.".

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Gretchen and the Pickpockets Falling Rising

Gretchen and the Pickpockets
Falling Rising
Pickpocket Records

Described as a soul/jazz/rock band, Gretchen and the Pickpockets present a fresh musical sound led by the singing of Gretchen Klempa who leads this band with her brother bassist Mike Klempa. The rest of the band consists of Ryan O’Connell on trumpet and guitar; Tom O’Connell on drums and percussion; Richie Smith on guitar; and Diego Tunjano on saxophone with some other brass added to this recording. Based out of Boston, they been active in new England since 2013.

They are heard on ten originals that have a strong jazz feel manifested by Gretchen's lithe, but sultry, vocals and the loosely structured backings that allow a certain amount of improvisation in these oft atmospheric performances. Gretchen sings subtly but vibrantly, with clarity and subtle shifts in phrasing in her heartfelt delivery of the lyrics. Ryan O'Connell's trumpet makes his presence heard in short solos and obligatos to the vocals on the opening"Keep Talking," and the longing she expresses on "Love You Forever."

The low-key support on"Easy on My Heart" provides an apt setting for her plea to her lover to stay, while there is a country-tinge to her vocal on "Devil's Due." Its melody  hints at The Eagles' "Take It To The Limit," while it also has  a handsome horn arrangement. "Let Me Do My Thing" has a funky feel with a hint at a New Orleans groove, while "Back And Forth," has a Memphis feel to it. There is plenty of variety here with a jazzy flavor present throughout including "Time and Time Ago," with its frenzied close along with haunting trumpet. This caps a wonderfully played and sublime recording that crosses genre lines to great effect.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a clip of Gretchen and the Pickpockets performing "Let Me Do My Thing."

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Fran Vielma and His Venezuelan Jazz Collective Tendencias

Fran Vielma and His Venezuelan Jazz Collective
Papelon Records

Vielma, is a Venezuelan composer, arranger, educator and a multi-percussionist specializing in Venezuelan rhythms and drums. Vielma also leads the ‘Venezuelan Jazz Orchestra,’ and is a producer/teacher of a biannual jazz seminar at The Andes University in his home country. On this recording he is joined by his Venezuelan Jazz Collective that features some of the most important Venezuelan and Latin American players of NY jazz scene like Luis Perdomo, Michael Rodriguez, Miguel Zenon, and Pablo Bencid.

Fran Vielma says about his music, "As a percussionist, I am drawn to the rhythmic elements of Venezuelan and Caribbean music that are full of African heritage. The nuance and variety of classical and world music styles, as well as the freedom of jazz, have constantly nurtured my performance, making me think as a real-time orchestrator, improviser, and an active seeker of sonic textures. These elements allow me to accompany and interact with other players, and to highlight passages or sections that a piece of music entails."

This opens with the invigorating "Monk En Aragua," one gets impressed by the clean, spicy horn lines as well as the thunderous percussion. There is a terrific bass solo from Roberto Koch as well as superb piano (Either from Luis Perdomo or Cesar Orozco) followed by Miguel Zenon's alto sax and then a percussion solo from Vielma. "Cereal De Bobures" may be a bit mellower as the horns are heard over the Rhodes piano with Michael Rodriguez's trumpet featured on a relaxed, tuneful solo that floats over the rhythm before a vocal chorus takes this performance out. The title track has a brisk tempo as well as featuring Angel Subero's wooly trombone set against a cleaver horn arrangement before a percussion solo set against a repeated piano riff. Jeremy Bosch's vocal is at the center of "Pasaje Del Olvido," while Koch's bass solo opens and sets the table for "Hubbardengue," with its airy Rhodes piano and Rodriguez's melodic trumpet.

The percussive heavy, "A Modo Patanemeño," places the spotlight on pianist Orozco, while the closing "Miel De Cayena," is a duet between Vielma and pianist Perdomo with interesting shifts in tempos and dynamics in this engaging musical conversation. It concludes a superb recording with an excellent band, superior compositions and superb soloing.

I received as a download from a publicist. This review appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Nlues Report (issue 378). Here is a video of "Monk En Aragu."

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Roger Girke Featuring The Wandering Souls Silver Lining

Roger Girke Featuring The Wandering Souls
Silver Lining
Teletone Records

This is the 5th album by Girke, a popular singer-guitarist-songwriter in the Mid-Atlantic. His Wandering Souls include Glenn Ferracone (he also co-produced this with Girke) or Andrew Haley on drums; Bennett Sykes on bass; Tam Sullivan on keyboards; and Dan Gutwein on sax. On a couple tracks Bill Schilling guests on organ and Sykes and Gutwein sit out, on one selection it is a trio with Ferracone on drums and Jimmy Pritchard on bass, and on one selection a trio of horns replace Gutwein.

Girke impresses throughout these nicely played and paced performances. He contributed the twelve originals that resonate with the listener with the memorable lines. There is also Girke's honest, straight-forward, wholehearted vocals, and his lean, sinewy guitar playing. Certainly this is evident on  the opening "Gas and a Match," with its funk groove and touches of Albert King. Here he sings about us burning so hot and other times we don't care. The title track is a relaxed shuffle with more potent guitar as he sings about the silver lining in every dark cloud. "Wandering Soul," has some rock-tinged slide guitar in the backing as Girke sings about inability to hold a woman while wanting to touch her so bad. His spare playing and short, cutting solo are most effective.

Tam Sullivan on piano and organ adds a touch of Crescent City flavor to "Shake It." Shilling is on organ and Sullivan on piano on "Southern Soul Cookin'," providing a greasy underpinning to this relaxed rocker. Girke's rendition of Lloyd Price's "Baby Please Come Home," evokes classic R&B of the fifties and sixties. There is also a punchy updating of Larry Williams' "Slow Down," with Girke's driving guitar solo with his careful, and cleanly articulated single note runs. Schilling is outstanding on this as is saxophonist Chris Farr and trombonist John Swama.

"The Philly Boogaloo" with just Schilling, Ferracone and Girke," is a marvelous jazzy instrumental. The three, with pianist Sullivan added, lay down an atmospheric "The Ride Home" to close this recording on a relaxed, soul jazz mode. These are superbly played like the entire recording. Girke impresses with the passion he sings and the controlled intensity of his guitar or a well programmed variety of material. This is a superb recording.

I received my review copy from Roger Girke. Here is Roger Girke and The Wandering Souls performing the late Lazy Lester's "Sugar Coated Love."

Monday, September 03, 2018

Arianna Neikrug Changes

Arianna Neikrug
Concord Jazz

Winner of the 2015 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition Arianna Neikrug has her Concord Jazz debut backed by a trio produced by Grammy-winning pianist and arranger Laurence Hobgood along with his regular trio mates – drummer Jared Schonig and bassist Matt Clohesy. Musically, this release displays Neikrug’s gift for interpreting tunes from the Great American Songbook, more recent pop and R&B classics from the ’70s as well as two originals she wrote.

On first hearing, Neikrug's soprano suggested to me the young Canadian singer, Nikki Yanofsky. That is simply a reference point as Neikrug quick displays on the opening "No Moon At All," her command of her voice,  clear phrasing, sense of dynamics and her wonderful scatting.  Hobgood initially provides spare accompaniment before the full trio enters for the swinging performance. Hobgood's arrangement for “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,“ is among her favorites. Her vocal  captures the lyrics' meaning and there is a wonderful piano . Another highlight is the wonderful reworking of the Al Green classic "Let's Stay Together," which is slowed down adding to the poignancy of the lyrics and the plea to her lover.

Her songwriting is spotlighted on the title track with its lithe samba rhythm and as she sings about she negotiating a tough period in her life. Her vocal including  marvelous wordless passages and delightful backing. A mashup of “Never Let Me Go/I’ll Be There,” opens as a lament of her and Hobgood of the Evans and Livingston standard, followed by the full trio backing her on a  ballad reading of the Jackson Five hit. Neikrug cleanly and precisely sings Hammerstein and Kern's "The Song is You," which is taken at a torrid tempo, and  transforms the century old "After You're Gone" into a R&B tinged lament. The album closes with a most entertaining mash-up of a couple of Joni Mitchell songs "Help Me/ Be Cool."

This is a marvelous debut by an already accomplished vocalist who is sympathetically backed by Hobgood and his trio. One expects to hear more about Arianna Neikrug in the future.

I received my review copy from Concord Jazz. Here is a preview video for this release.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Rondi Marsh The Pink Room

Rondi Marsh
The Pink Room

This is the fourth album from the Pacific Northwest vocalist, and the second as a jazz singer, as opposed to pop-rock singer. On this she is accompanied by several members of the Seattle-based Gypsy jazz group, Pearl Django, including David Lange: accordion; Michael Gray: violin; Neil Anderson: guitars; and Ryan Donnelly: bass. A variety of other musicians (piano, horns, drums, mandolin) are heard on various selections. The songs include gems from the American songbook to more recent songs from James Hiatt and Danny O'Keefe, along with one original.

This is a delightful recording that with its mix of gypsy swing and Brazilian accents opening with an appealing interpretation of "Flamingo," familiar to some from Duke Ellington's recording that featured vocalist Herb Jeffries. Wouter Kellerman adds flute to the marvelous violin of Gray and wonderful playing all around. Similarly Earl Garner's "Misty" is reworked with a samba rhythm as Marsh charms with her vocal. Lange's accordion is a significant part of these performances with his orchestral ambience as well as melodic solos. Ben Lange's mandolin joins the backing for her wistful vocal on "Boy on a Dolphin."

Other performances include the spirited, "The Bass Song (Slap That Bass/All About the Bass)," a mash-up of songs from George and Ira Gershwin, and Meghan Trainor and Kevin Kadish. Jeff Lange's alto sax solo adds to her heartfelt vocal on Henry Mancini's lugubrious ballad "Slow Hot Wind," while Vince Beard's trumpet adds to the mood of the delightfully tacky "Mambo Italiano." Michael Wansley joins for a high octane vocal duet on Leiber & Stoller's "Black Denim Trousers," a song recorded in 1955 by the Cheers and later reworked by Sha Na Na among others. The vocals by Marsh and Wansley are more striking than the Bells on the original.

Danny O'Keefe's atmospheric lament "Last Call" (with a marvelous accordion solo) provides an apt conclusion to this recording. Rondi Marsh captivates throughout with her tunefulness, phrasing and use of dynamics with the wonderful backing provided on this most appealing CD.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378). Here is Rondi Marsh in performance with Pearl Django and others at a CD release party.