Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Singer Simone Kopmajer Places Spotlight On Jazz

Simone Kopmajer
Spotlight On Jazz
Lucky Mojo Blues

This recording is the 13th album by Simone Kopmajer, an Austrian born vocalist, who has developed an international reputation. Kopmajer is accompanied by tenor-saxophonist Terry Myers, guitarist Martin Spitzer, pianist Paul Urbanek, bassist Karl Sayer, and drummer Reinhardt Winkler. The songs include six standards and seven originals (by Kopmajer, Myers and Urbanek).

Kopmajer impresses listeners with her vocals clarity, her musicality, the purity of her tone, her phrasing and her clean diction. It also helps to have a solid swinging band handle a variety of material that includes a swinging "Pennies From Heaven," and a delicate rendition of "Poinciana." Other songs includethe is a second-line strut on "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." Drummer Winkler struts onhis solo while clarinetist Meyers is superb in his accompaniment and solo. Kopmajer is quite charming on "Exactly Like You" with a gentle vocal and playful scatting. Myers again is heard on clarinet.

Myers' tenor sax is marvelous on the swinging "Stompin' at the Savoy," and displays considerable warmth on "A Gift From Buddy," a ballad Kopmajer and Myers wrote. The swinging "We're Goin' In," has strong guitar from Spitzer and terrific piano by Urbanek. The playful, mostly wordless, singing on "Dig That Riff," is also heard as a remixed bonus track. Simone Kopmajer and her marvelous band deserve kudos from an engaging and charming vocal jazz recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 383), although I have made minor changes. Here is a video of he performing.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tim Gartland Satisfied

Tim Gartland
Taste Good Music.

This is the 4th album by the Nashville based singer-harmonica player-songwriter. I found his prior album "If You Want A Good Woman," to be a "rollicking set of blues and rockers." Like that recording, this was recorded by Kevin McKendree (and his son Yates) at McKendree's The Rock House studio. While Tom West plays keyboards on most of this, McKendree also adds keyboards to several selections. Robert Frahm handles most of the guitar here with Tom Britt playing slide on a couple of selections. Steve Mackey on bass and Tom Bruno round out this fine studio band with Wendy Moten on backup vocals.

"Drinking For Two" is the first song with a driving, second-line groove and Gartland's world-weary vocals and full-bodied harmonica, McKendree's piano and Britt's slide guitar. Gartland is a limited, straight-forward singer although with a modest vocal range. His harmonica playing has a fat-tone and he plays with plenty of drive and swing. His backing is first-rate with a solid rhythm section. Robert Frahm, who I saw when he lived in the Washington DC area, displays his chops with a crisp solo on "Don't Make No Trouble." This song also displays his ability to craft songs with memorable hooks. There is also plenty of variety in the songs including the country-soul flavor of "Blues For Free," the rollicking of "Can't Paint a Prettier Picture," with its Chuck Berry feel, with Tom West channeling Johnnie Johnson and Frahm channeling Berry while trading fours with the leader's harmonica.

The title track is a lovely lament with a slight Tex-Mex accent and atmospheric chromatic harmonica. Frahm's tremolo-laced guitar and West's organ lend a swampy tone to "Walk On" with co-writer Ray Desilvis contributing an effective backing vocal. The variety here is also displayed by the reggae groove employed for "Why Does The Room Begin to Sway?" One can suggest that the use of a reggae groove certainly would be welcome in more blues performances and recordings, but it remains rare.

While Gartland may have limitations as a singer, he remains a capable vocalist. He writes intriguing songs, is a distinct harmonica player and is accompanied by a splendid studio band on a most enjoyable release.

I received my review copy a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 384) although I have made minor changes. Here is a brief clip of Tim Gartland performing.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Zac Harmon Enjoys A Mississippi BarBQ

Zac Harmon
Mississippi BarBQ
Catfood Records

It has been over a decade since I first saw Zac Harmon perform. It was on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise after he won the International Blues Challenge and he certainly established himself as a singer, songwriter and guitarist in the blues world at that time. It was at that time he had issued a recording "The Blues According to Zachariah" which included some of the songs he was performing and became a favorite with his covers of "Mannish Boy" and "It Hurts Me Too," the joyous gospel of "The Mighty High" and "Who's That Knockin'," an original that even on CD gave an indication of how good a showman Zac Harmon was and is.

About his 2012 album, "Music Is Medicine," I wrote "'Music Is Medicine' is a terrific demonstration of Zac Harman’s musical healing arts. He is one of the few artists today that can bridge the various blues scenes today, appealing to blues cruisers as well as those who turn out to hear their favorite soul-blues and southern blues acts on the chitlin circuit and this recording can similarly bridge a wide range of listening audiences." This remains true with his latest release, his first on Catfood Records. On 7 of the 11 tracks Zac's guitar and Catfood's house band, The Rays that includes Bob Trenchard (also the executive producer) on bass, Johnny McGhee on guitar and Dan Ferguson on keyboards with a four piece horn section. The other four selections have his own band with Corey Carmichael on keyboards, Chris Gipson on bass, Ralph Forrest on drums and Texas Slim on guitar. Harmon wrote or co-wrote eight of the performances, many with Trenchard.

Those familiar with Harmon's soul-drenched vocals and his excellent, concise guitar playing will find no surprises with the performances on this CD. This CD opens with the Trey Hardin-Sandy Carroll penned "Gypsy Road," where he sings about his restless soul taking a long drive down the gypsy road. Brassy horns lend a Memphis feel to a soul-blues ballad "So Cold" which is about a hot romance going cold with his lover's touch becoming as cold as ice. He sings about a smooth, deceptive lover whose love was fading away, "Smoke and Mirrors." It is followed by the  title song celebrating having ribs, drinking and a summer time party. It has a relaxed, slow-dance groove.

A Chicago blues styled shuffle, "Honey Pleez," has Bob Corritore's harmonica added to Harmon's Band. "Make a Dollar Out of Fifteen Cents," is a song about hard times as Harmon sings about trying to pay his bills because as soon as he gets money is as soon as its gone. His guitar solo on this track suggests the latter-day Johnny 'Guitar' Watson.

Closing this recording, Harmon sings intensely (and takes a searing guitar solo on his interpretation of Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door." It caps this latest excellent addition to Harmon's body of recordings.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a promo video for "Mississippi BBQ."

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Tomislav Goluban Chicago Rambler

Tomislav Goluban
Chicago Rambler

I recently reviewed a fascinating recording by the Croatian harmonica player Tomislav Goluban with the keyboards of Toni Starešinić which resulted in some fascinating sonic explorations. The present CD is more in the vein of Chicago styled blues and was produced in a Chicago studio with a band consisting of Eric Noden on guitar; E.G. McDaniel on bass; and Kenny 'Beedy Eyes' Smith on drums with Joe Filisko adding harmonica on two songs. Goluban wrote eleven of the twelve songs. The other song is a traditional Croatian song.

Goluban’s nickname is ‘Little Pigeon’ and the album kicks off with a hard-rocking instrumental that displays his by full-bodied harmonica style, “Pigeon Swing.” It is followed by “Locked Heart,” a charming performance in the manner of Slim Harpo with a low-key vocal and harp and suggests Slim Harpo’s “Raining in My Heart.” Goluban may not be the most expressive singer, but his soft-spoken vocals do display a genuineness. This makes his original “Jerry Ricks on My Mind,” a moving remembrance set to a rhumba groove as he sings “Hey Mister Jerry would you play a song for me …,” with Noden playing atmospheric slide guitar. This is also performed acoustically with the guitarist evoking Ricks finger-style approach.

Besides his appealing singing, the backing adds to the charm of these performances whether the driving shuffle of “Bag Full of Troubles,” with some spectacular harmonica from Filisko or the moody slow blues “Can’t Find Myself,” with a marvelous harp solo that adds to the song’s feel. Then there is “One Way Ticket” which opens as an unaccompanied harmonica train solo before morphing into small group train blues. “Do the Right Thing,” is an original using the Bo Diddley beat, followed by the autobiographical “Little Pigeon” with Filisko on harp set against a classic Muddy Waters styled backing.

An easy rocking rendition of a traditional Croatian song “Išem budem v kleticu (I’ll Go to My Cottage),” closes a surprisingly engaging recording that delights with each listening.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 383). Here is a video of "Locked Heart."

Friday, July 26, 2019

3 Nights in LA with George Garzone, Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua, and Darek Oles

George Garzone, Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua, and Darek Oles
3 Nights in LA
Fuzzy Music

"3 Nights in LA" documents a January 2019 performance at a new Los Angeles club, Sam First. Peter Erskine took to the bandstand with pianist Alan Pasqua and bassist Darek Oles, his fellow faculty members at University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music joined by tenor saxophone player George Garzone, in town to teach a master class, for three nights, two sets a night. The result is this three-disc release, with each disc representing a different night with a total of 20 tracks and over three hours of music.

Erskine is likely the best known of these players from his time with Weather Report as well as playing with the likes of Steps Ahead, John Abercrombie, Kenny Wheeler, and Marc Johnson. Pianist Pasqua, a veteran of the New Tony Williams Lifetime and Allan Holdsworth, and bassist Oles, one of the most sought after bassists on the West Coast, have been playing with Erskine for over a decade. Tenor saxophonist Garzone, besides being a formidable master of the saxophone is a revered educator, with noted students including Joshua Redman, Branford Marsalis, and Donny McCaslin. Garzone first played with Erskine in 1998, an experience that left a deep impression and they have crossed paths several times since.

Those three nights in January produced some superb music. Erskine and his trio would be delightful to hear by themselves, but add Garzone's tenor saxophone, and the music is excellent in the vein of the classic John Coltrane Quartet as well as the '70s and '80s music of Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper. One may hear elements of Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Hank Crawford and others in Garzone's full-toned, robust playing. The Coltrane tone may be most evident on the excellent rendition of the blues, "Equinox," the lovely ballad "I Want To Talk About You," but also on Garzone's "Tutti Italiani," where he builds his solo with fire followed by Pasqua's lyrical solo. There are three superb, different interpretations of "Have You Met Miss Jones?" and a rousing rendition of Bronisław Kaper's "Invitation."

There is also Garzone's original "Dedicated to Michael Brecker," which sounds like a contrafact of Lerner and Loewe's "If I Ever Would Leave You" from "Camelot." Garzone is fabulously complemented by Pasqua's rhapsodic solo and the support by Oles and Erskine (who takes a thoughtfully constructed solo here). The remaining music of these discs is also superb making "3 Nights in LA" a terrific release.

I received a download to review from a publicist. There is more on this recording at Peter Erksine's website, Here is a promo video for this recording.

Here is a video from the Sam First engagement.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Watermelon Slim Church of the Blues

Watermelon Slim
Church of the Blues
NorthernBlues Music

This is the 13th album by William P. Homans, better known as Watermelon Slim, dating back to 1973 when his "Merry Airbrakes" recording was celebrated as one of the first anti-Vietnam War albums done by a military veteran. It took him 29 years for his second album, "Big Shoes To Fill," which established his acclaimed career. Mississippi Fred McDowell is perhaps his biggest influence, and he developed his slide style as well as his gritty, raspy vocals. He co-produced this album with Chris Hardwick as well as plays harmonica and electric slide guitar. He is backed by his band of John Allouise on bass and Brian Wells on drums. He has guests including guitarists Bob Margolin, Nick Schnebelen, and Joe Louis Walker; vocalists Sherman Holmes and John Nemeth; and keyboardist Red Young. While the guests may add interest to this recording, it is Slim with his strong playing, vocals, and personality that makes this album so enjoyable.

The recording opens with "St. Peter's Ledger,' as he authoritatively delivers Ron Meadow's lyrics about where he might end up in the after-life and displays his strong slide guitar style. He follows up with one of several topical songs, Tom McFarland's 'Tax Man Blues," a strongly performed working man's complaint of having too much taken out of his pay stub. The strong backing enhances his strong singing and slide guitar solo. Muddy Waters' "Gypsy Woman" (with Slim on harp and Bob Margolin adding playing slide) is one of several covers of classic Chicago blues that he avoids copying the original while placing his stamp on the performance. Other similarly strong performances include Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning" and J. B. Hutto's "Too Much Alcohol.' He makes minor changes in the arrangement (no trace of broom dusting on the Hutto number) so that these songs receive a fresh feel along with his powerful singing and playing.

Slim's "Post-Modern Blues," with the strutting horns, has him singing about trying to deal with the rapid changes of the 21st Century, while "Hollar #4" is a moving vocal moan about blues and his own life. His rendition of Allen Toussaint's "Get Out of My Life Woman" with his slide driven accompaniment evokes the early Paul Butterfield cover while a similar funky feel is present on a cover of Gene Barge's "Me and My Woman," the latter tune sporting more fine harmonica. Among other high points include the high-stepping topical blues about protests and the increasing visibility of overt racism "Charlottesville (Blues for My Nation)," with his hope for better days for all. An amusing bonus song, 'Halloween Mama" closes another excellent Watermelon Slim recording.

A received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 383).  I have previously reviewed some Watermelon Slim albums including "Escape From the Chicken Coop," the eponymously titled "Watermelon Slim and the Workers," and "No Paid Holidays." Here is Watermelon Slim performing.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Bryan Lee Sanctuary

Bryan Lee
Earrelevant Records

Some of my most memorable experiences listening to blues live (as well as listening to blues recordings) came from Bryan Lee. This is his latest CD with a variety of backing musicians including Jimmy Voegeli on keyboards, Jack Berry on bass and Matt Liban on drums.

Lee calls this a blues-gospel recording and that might impact one's reaction to this. I do not take away from Lee's convictions, but some might find too much preaching here although Lee sings strongly and plays wonderfully. The band is excellent as well but even on a solid shuffle like "The Gift" where he recites his musical influences he was says Jesus straightened him out and now Bryan knows what to do. Then he sings that "Jesus Gave Me the Blues," that is followed by a rendition of the late Cootie Stark's "U-Haul," with its lyric that we don't owe anything since we can't take it when we pass on. Lee does a fervent new recording of one of his older blues, "Don't Take My Blindness For Weakness," where he sings I'm as good as you, and anytime one makes one, Bryan has to make two. There is also a nice arrangement of "The Lord's Prayer," that Lee sings his heart out.

As stated, "Sanctuary" is musically a solid Bryan Lee performance, but again some may be turned off by the religious content.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the January-February 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 382). Here is an earlier live version of "Don't Take My Blindness For Weakness."

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Aimée Allen Wings Uncaged

Aimée Allen
Wings Uncaged
Azuline Music

One is struck by the performance of the Johnny Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael standrad, "Skylark" that opens this album by the command and presence of Aimée Allen along with the strong backing from bassist Francois Moutin (who has been playing with her for some time), pianist Billy Test and drummer Kush Abadey. She sings with clarity and on pitch, has a pretty wide vocal range while making subtle timbre changes as well as a phrasing that displays a strong sense of dynamics. Most importantly she simply has a lovely voice. The accompaniment is solid and their are imaginative solos from pianist Test (with his judicious use of dissonant chords) and bassist Moutin. "Skylark" is one of the six songs she provides fresh interpretations of and she herself has contributed five originals.

"Skylark" is followed by her original "Shooting Star," an original love song with bassist Moutin providing the only accompaniment for the first verse. It is a good introduction to her gifts as a songwriter, not simply a singer and once again Test and Moutin solo while Abadey colors the performance with rhythmic accents. This writer is most familiar with instrumental renditions of "Invitation," Allen does a marvelous job in delivering Paul Francis Webster's lyrics as she sings about someone being a great temptation. There is a strong bass solo on this. The pace slows down for "In My Web," a moody and dark ballad performance.

Of her originals, perhaps the most remarkable one is a topical song, "Democracy How (Harmony And Dissonance)." with its call of action, asking how we can participate in a system when truth is ridiculed and divisions weaken the common ground we share. She sings movingly about false stories set forth to deceive and divide, about that he need for individual and collective action because democracy is on the line. There is splendid rendering of Jobim's "Fotografia," sung both in Portuguese and English with just piano and bass accompaniment, as well as a marvelous duet with just Moutin's accompaniment on "Autumn Leaves / Les Feuilles Mortes," sung first in French and then English with her phrasing perhaps the most horn-like of the entire recording. On sublime covers of Buddy Johnson's classic ballad, "Save Your Love For Me," and "Midnight Sun," Abadey also sits out while Test plays with restrained elegance.

This is my first exposure to Aimée Allen, although apparently her fifth album. She definitely impressed this listener with some superb singing and material with first-rate backing.

I received as a download from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2018 Jazz & Blues Reort (Issue 381). She is performing at Blues Alley in Washington DC on July 30th. Here is the video preview of this album.


Monday, July 22, 2019

Johnny Griffith Quintet The Lion, Camel & Child

Johnny Griffith Quintet
The Lion, Camel & Child
G-B Records

Toronto saxophonist Griffith leads his Quintet of fellow Toronto jazz All-Stars, Adrean Farrugia - Piano; Jon Maharaj - Bass; and Ethan Ardelli - Drums; along with the great Jeremy Pelt on trumpet. This is Griffith's second recording, and he drew inspiration from the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche - specifically the book Three Metamorphoses. As Griffith explains, “Metamorphoses is concerned with what propels each new phase of human growth, so it seemed fitting to frame this as a suite – each track individual unto itself, yet when listened to as a whole representing the arc of the personal struggle to know more and be more.”

Opening this recording is the four-part title suite illustrates the phases of Nietzsche and the qualities defining: "The Lion," virtuous and rebellious; "The Camel," courageous and dutiful; and "The Child," playful and free of spirit. "The Lion" opens at a brisk tempo with the leader displaying a full robust tone and a fertile musical imagination with Pelt in a melodic vein and centered in the middle range with occasional upper range bursts. One also is impressed by this first-class rhythm section, that transitions into the relaxed walking pace of "The Camel" that features Farrugia's stately piano solo as Maharaj and Ardelli provide a hint of the Mid-East caravan procession enhanced by the joint horns. A solo "Cadenza" by Griffith transitions into "The Child" a vigorous performance opening with heated tenor sax, followed by fiery trumpet and strong two-handed piano and a dynamic drum solo.

Not just the writing, but the entire ensemble displays its considerable virtues throughout this CD. "Narcomedusae," is another notable performance with Pelt exceptional here on a composition that might evoke comparison to classic sixties Blue Note recordings. Then there is the animated hard bop of "Strawberry Qwik," a lovely ballad "Amarone," with Pelt's pretty muted trumpet along with Griffith's own marvelous ballad playing. Other notable performances include the fiery "For a Derailed Painter" with explosive solos from the horns and pianist Farrugia. Bassist Maharaj solos at the beginning of "Deliciously Ambiguous" a relaxed groover with more engaging solos by Griffith, Pelt, and Farrugia.

Johnny Griffith impresses as a composer, saxophonist, and leader He has a fabulous band here with Pelt and a wonderful rhythm section that play superlatively throughout this outstanding recording.

I received a download to review from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 383).

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Cannonball Adderley Swingin' In Seattle

Cannonball Adderley
Swingin' In Seattle, Live At The Penthouse 1966-67
Reel to Real Recordings

This is one of two initial recordings on Real To Real which was launched in early 2017 by jazz impresario (and musician) Cory Weeds and renowned producer Zev Feldman. The label will be focused on important archival jazz releases. Feldman may be known as co-president of Resonance Records, and these releases may be ones that Resonance has passed on. If so, it was not because of the quality of the performances.

The music here comes from radio broadcasts over four nights at the Seattle club where Cannonball and his alto sax lead a quartet with brother and cornetist Nat Adderley, pianist Joe Zawinul, bassist Victor Gaskin and drummer Roy McCurdy, the same band heard on the classic Capitol album, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at 'The Club.'" It includes some radio intros from Seattle radio DJ and the original engineer of the Penthouse, Jim Wilke, along with Cannonball's spoken comments and some exceptional music.

It is a fabulous CD of music by this terrific band starting with the explosive opening tune, Jimmy Heath's "Big 'P,'" taken at a breakneck tempo with scorching solos from the brothers. What is refreshing is that the songs selected here are not the familiar Adderley classics like "Work Song," "Mercy Mercy, Mercy!," "Jive Samba," "This Here," or "Unity 7." Instead, there is a marvelous swinging performance of "The Girl Next Door," with spirited muted cornet, earthy alto sax and rhapsodic piano that transforms this into a relaxed waltz. "Sticks" and "Hippodelphia," were both on "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!" but heard here in lengthy, fiery gutsy performances.

Among the earliest to embrace bossa nova, Cannonball's rendition of "The Morning Of The Carnival (Manhã de Carnaval)" by Luiz Bonfá and Antônio Maria is an energetic one in contrast to Stan Getz's lighter attack. Other pleasures heard include the somewhat understated interpretation of Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere," Zawinul's mesmerizing "74 Miles Away," and the dazzling bebop of Charlie Parker's "Back Home Blues," on which brother Nat sits out.

While the chief attraction is the music, this comes with a booklet with rare photos by Lee Tanner, Tom Copi, and others. Music journalist Bill Kopp contributes an essay placing Cannonball's music in historical context, including discussing the songs included. An interview with Jim Wilke by Seattle-based saxophonist and jazz writer Steve Griggs delves into what the scene was like at the Penthouse in the 1960s and Cannonball's relationship to the club over the years. There are also interviews with Cannonball's widow and head of the Julian Adderley estate, Olga Adderley Chandler, and acclaimed saxophonist Vincent Herring. It is an excellent booklet to go with the superb music on a fabulous release.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 382). Here is a video of this same band playing in Europe a couple years later. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Nancy Wright Alive & Blue

Nancy Wright
Alive & Blue
Direct Hit Records/VizzTone

It has been almost three years since saxophonist-vocalist Nancy Wright's prior recording "Playdate!" As I commented about that recording, "Listening to Wright's raspy sax (with plenty of vibrato) I am reminded of Junior Walker and Eddie Shaw, which certainly has an appeal." I would through also a mention of King Curtis whose "Soul Serenade" she performs on this live recording from the San Francisco venue, Saloon. The Saloon is where she first played in the mid-80s. While her prior CD had several guest appearances, this one features her and her Rhythm and Roots band: Nancy on sax and vocals, drummer Paul Revelli, Tony Lufrano on keys and background vocals, Jeff Tamelier on guitar and background vocals, and Karl Sevareid on bass. She contributed five of the twelve numbers here.

The album kicks off with a funky instrumental "Bugalu," with her chicken scratching sax ably backed by the band. Organist Lufrano and guitarist Tamelier provide riffs and licks that enhance her playing as well as take their idiomatic solos while Savareid and Revelli lock down the groove. It sets the table for this most entertaining live recording. Wright is a very capable singer with a relaxed, natural delivery. A solid example if her singing on an old Bobby Bland classic "I Don't Want No Man," with blistering solos from her, Lufrano on piano and guitarist Tamelier. Another choice performance is the soulful "In Between Tears," with a groove and guitar riff that evokes in part "Mr. Big Stuff."

Wright's original jazzy instrumental "Jo-Jo" may have her most interesting solo and Lufrano is superb on this. It is followed by a relaxed vocal on her cover of Lazy Lester's recording, "Sugar Coated Love," with Lufrano on an electric piano as well as her booting sax. After a nice original blues-ballad, "Warranty," is some belly rubbing music, "Bernie's Blues," with Temelier particularly superb on this early-morning, after-midnight instrumental. "Keep Your Hands Off of Him," set to the groove of "Got My Moho Workin'," is played with an almost frenzied, high stepping tempo with torrid tenor sax, piano, and chicken scratching guitar solos. Another notable track is the lengthy rendition of King Curtis' classic "Soul Serenade."

Recorded by Robby Yamilov at the Saloon in late 2018 and mixed by Kid Andersen, this very entertaining release certainly will please not only Nancy Wright's fans but also those into blues and classic soul.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review appeared in the July-August 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 385). Here is Nancy performing "Keep Your Hands Off of Him," from 2015.


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Paul Oscher Cool Cat

Paul Oscher
Cool Cat
Blues Fidelity

In his liner notes to "Cool Cat," Paul Oscher notes his long friendship with the late James Cotton including unexpectedly moving three doors down from him when Oscher moved to Austin from Los Angeles in 2012. After mainly doing out of town gigs, he tells how he started playing with his neck rack, guitar, and mic at a BBQ place, but after several months the property the place was on was sold to a developer. Then he started playing at another club, and after trying his solo gig, he started playing with a five-piece band that included Mike Keller on guitar, Corey Keller on drums, Sarah Brown on bass, and Tommy Robinson on sax. They are heard behind Oscher, except for Corey Keller, on this new release. Others heard include bassist Johnny Ace, drummer Russell Lee, guitarist Mike Schermer, Tomas Ramirez on tenor sax, Russell Lee and Lavelle White on vocals, Kid Andersen on bass and June Core on drums.

Oscher is mostly heard playing piano but also heard on guitar and harmonica in addition to his singing and contributed an intriguing set of originals except for a cover of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" credited to Muddy Waters. It is a well-played mixed set of performances opening with a bit of New Orleans flavor, "Money Makin' Woman," where he displays his piano chops and ability as a singer. "Blues and Trouble" is a strong, slow blues that displays the influence of Otis Spann on his piano (and vocal) with Mike Schermer contributing solid guitar fills, while "Hide Out Baby," is a rocking shuffle with him playing guitar and neck rack harmonica with interplay between his guitar and that of Schermer and then a strong harmonica solo. "Work That Stuff" finds his harmonica in a Sonny Boy Williamson II mode with a spare, effective backing.

He does a monologue (some amusing storytelling) that is a prologue to the title track that leads into a jazz quartet performance of the title track with saxophonist Ramirez standing out on a diverting performance. This group is also present for the brief "On the Edge," where Ramirez again stands out. Russell Lee recites Oscher's poem "Mississippi Poem," before Lee's spoken vocal "Ain't That a Man," Oscher's tribute to James Cotton backed by Oscher's guitar and Keller's bass line. Lee also sings strongly on "Poor Man Blues." Miss Lavelle White is featured on "Dirty Dealin' Mama," set to a "Hootchie Kootchie Man" groove, authoritatively belting out the lyric.

A more extended, R&B rendition of the title track showcases Robinson's gritty sax closes an entertaining recording by a very cool blues cat.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the January-February 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 382). Here is Paul on slide guitar performing Muddy Waters' "Honey Bee."

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary Stephen Calt

Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary
Stephen Calt
University of Illinois Press
2009, 320 pages

Several years ago, Debra DeSalvo's "The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu," attempted to present a lexicon on blues terminology, that a flawed effort.  It was described as an anecdotal dictionary of the blues, but it was far from authoritative or comprehensive. It focused on some 150 words and phrases emphasizing the African roots of the blues, but usually to the exclusion of other possible meanings. She focused on terms related to sex and hoodoo, but her book had very very little on traveling, which is also a significant theme of the blues. She included interviews of significant blues artists, but such material rarely contributed to elucidating the meaning of the terms and phrases.

Stephen Calt has contributed a more scholarly effort with "Barrelhouse Words." In contrast to the 150 odd phrases of the earlier volume, Calt has over 1200 entries, although some words or phrases are represented by multiple entries. Calt as a blues writer and scholar often has been acerbic in his writing, and occasionally some of his commentary here has tinges of that, but it's more to be emphatic about points. He has a selected bibliography of dictionary sources which include various volumes dealing with colloquial terms, regional and ethnic language ranging from John Russell Bartlett’s “A Dictionary of Americanisms” that was published in 1877 and the first American Dictionary devoted to colloquial terms; Dan Burley’s Original Handbook of Harlem Jive, published in 1944 was an elaboration of an earlier pamphlet by Cab Calloway; Clarence Major’s “Dictionary of African-American Slang” and “Juba to Jive,”  various volumes of the Harvard University Press’ “Dictionary of American Regional English;” “The Oxford English Dictionary,” and Mitford Mathews’ “A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles.” This latter work was published in 1951 and Calt describes Mathews as the leading American language scholar of his era. DeSalvo’s book is dismissed in his bibliography as “An ill-informed work containing chronically faulty definitions and etymologies."

The entries are taken from Race Recordings (that is recordings produced for sale to Blacks) from between 1923 and 1949. In addition to his scholarly sources, he also employed information culled from interviews of blues artists between 1964 and 1971 including Ted Bogan, Sam Chatmon, Gary Davis, Son House, Skip James, Pete Franklin, and Bessie Jones. Unlike DeSalvo’s book, there are no sidebars on these performers, but rather the interviews are cited as supporting the meaning of the phrase Calt provides.

Each entry is followed by a couplet from a recording after which the meaning is provided with sources as appropriate and occasional other couplets to further illustrate the meaning.  It is necessary to present a few examples of Calt’s entries.

hoodoo (a.)
    I’m getting so I can’t rest
    You almost ruined me, with that lowdown hoodoo mess.
    —Freddie Nicholson, You’re Gonna Miss Me Blues 1930
    Conjuring; in this instance, by means of black (destructive) magic.

hoodoo (n.)
    Aw she went to the hoodoo, she went there all alone
    ‘Cause everytime I leave her I have to hurry home
    —Charlie Lincoln, “Mojoe Blues,” 1927
    Conjurer, sometimes referred to as a hoodoo doctor. Both terms date back to 1875. (DAH).

DAH is an abbreviation for Mathews, Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles.

cookie (n.)
    Papa wants a cookie, papa wants a cookie
    Papa wants a cookie right now now now now
    Papa wants a cookie, papa need a cookie
    Papa’s gonna get it somehow.
    —Leroy Carr, “Papa Wants a Cookie” 1930
    A black slang term for female genitals (DAS).

DAS is an abbreviation for Wentworth and Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang.

These are relatively short and simple samples, although some have more discussion such as dust one’s broom which is illustrated from a couplet from Kokomo Arnold’s 1934 recording “Sagefield Woman Blues.”

Calt notes the phrase means to leave hurriedly, and although Burley cites this as a Harlem jive phrase, Calt notes its earlier occurrence in Arnold’s song and Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom,” indicates a southern origin and was a blending of two conventional slang synonyms. “To Broom,” meant to run away while “to get up and dust” meant to depart hastily. I have not repeated the lengthier entry here, but rather give a sense of how he does contribute new understanding to terms that crop up in the blues.

Another phrase, “sleep in a hollow log, to drink muddy water and,” was familiar from the 1930s recording by Eddie Miller, “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” but Calt observes its use in Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Wartime Blues,” and Charlie Lincoln’s 1928 “Depot Blues,” whose verse anticipates Miller’s lyrics. The phrase means to live outdoor in the manner of a vagrant rather than be mistreated.

There is a sense of authoritativeness to Calt’s work here that lends the reader with confidence as to the meaning, and the entries provide a valuable reference to understanding these dated lyrics.  This is a significant contribution to the literature of the blues and an invaluable addition to any library of blues books and a foundation upon which future blues dictionaries will build upon.

I believe I was provided a review copy of this book, but do not remember.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Jared Sims The New York Sessions

Jared Sims
The New York Sessions

While his prior album, "Change of Address" focused on his baritone playing, Jared Sims' new release presents him also on tenor sax as he focuses on what New York City meant to him when he lived there and performed regularly at clubs like The Knitting Factory, Wetland's, and Brooklyn's Tea Lounge. Now Director of Jazz Studies at West Virginia University, he leads a quartet of Chris McCarthy on piano, Alex Tremblay on bass and Evan Hyde on drums for what is simplistically described as a straight-ahead, hard-bop recording.

Sims opens with "Tribeca Tap Bar," a swinging performance with a Brazilian tinge begins with Sims taking a relaxed, energetic solo followed by solos from McCarthy and Tremblay. The rhythm section gets an emphatic groove going on "Wetlands Preserved," with Sims playing forcefully on a number that commemorates a now closed venue. "Brooklyn Tea" has a reflective quality as the pace cools with Sims playing authoritatively on baritone sax. From the title, "The Bodega," one might expect a salsa groove, but the performance is a charming number on which Sims exhibits a lyrical and romantic quality.  The closing "Pelham" is enlivened by an imaginative drum solo.

In addition to Sims' robust saxophone, his rhythm section deserves applause in how they support and complement him along with thoughtful and well-constructed solos. These ingredients make for an impressive recording.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 382), Here is "Tribeca Tap Bar," from "The New York Sessions."

Monday, July 15, 2019

Alberta Hunter Downhearted Blues: Live at the Cookery

Alberta Hunter
Downhearted Blues: Live at the Cookery
Rock Beat

This recording brings back memories of a couple of evenings this writer had in the late 1970s when the legendary Miss Hunter was a regular feature at Barney Josephson's "The Cookery" in Greenwich Village with pianist Gerald Cook and bassist Jimmy Lewis. Alberta Hunter was, of course, one of the legendary so-called 'classic' blues singers, but her career extended decades. She is famous for writing "Downhearted Blues," that is most famous from Bessie Smith's famous recording (and as she tells the audience, she was still collecting royalties from when this performance was recorded in 1980).

Hunter also recorded at a famous recording session with Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet in the twenties and continued to perform until the 1960s. She started working as a nurse in 1957 until she was forced to retire by hospital regulations in 1974. She was bored until Josephson invited her to a six-week engagement at The Cookery and her star was ignited once again, recording four albums, writing songs for a Robert Altman film and delighting audiences.

The performances here were featured in the documentary "Alberta Hunter: My Castle's Rockin'," and what a marvelous set of music we have starting with her exuberant, sassy opener "My Castle's Rockin'," with he getting the audience to clap along with her. It is a wonderful program including her rendition of "Downhearted Blues," "The Love I Have For You" which she wrote for a Robert Altman film, a marvelous "I Got Rhythm," the bawdy "Two-Fisted Double-Jointed Rough and Ready Man," "The Dark Town Strutter's Ball," a strong rendition of "I Got a Mind To Ramble," "When Your Smiling," "Georgia on My Mind," and "Handy Man." Supported by Cook's marvelous accompaniment, she displays plenty of feisty sassiness and also tenderness. More important, she swings hard and leads her accompanists in this manner. I imagine how striking her fist into the palm of the other hand as she got The Cookery audience rocking on so many nights.

I purchased this. This review appeared in the January-February Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 382).   He she performs "Two-Fisted Double-Jointed Rough and Ready Man."

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Carlos Henriquez Dizzy Con Clave: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

Carlos Henriquez
Dizzy Con Clave: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola
RodBros Music

Henriquez, the bassist with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for the past twenty years, leads an octet on an exciting Afro-Cuban tribute to Dizzy Gillespie that was recorded live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in late 2017. His band consisted of trumpeters Michael Rodriguez and Terrell Stafford, trombonist Marshall Gilkes, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, pianist Manuel Valera, drummer Obed Calvaire, and congas/vocalist Anthony Almonte.

It goes without saying that Dizzy Gillespie helped create the 'Cubop' era inspired by trumpeter Mario Bauza and percussionist Chano Pozo. Henriquez devised the superb arrangements of Gillespie's compositions, whether bebop classics like "A Night in Tunisia" or "Groovin' High," or the Afro-Cuban classics such as "Manteca" and "Con Alma" that are performed so powerfully here.

"A Night in Tunisia" certainly gets this recording off to a hot start with Melissa Aldana and Michael Rodriguez both soloing hot against the volcanic rhythm section with a thunderous percussion segment. Muted trumpets open "Groovin' High," before Rodriguez takes off with a blistering Afro-Cuban accented solo before Henriguez displays his facility and imagination before the performance transitions into a hot mambo band romp as Almonte taking the lead vocal with the horns blasting. Like the entire recording, it is an exhilarating contemporary synthesis of modern jazz and the traditional Cuban rhythms.

Then there is the exciting performance of "Bebop," that showcases Stafford's explosive trumpet followed by Aldana's sizzling tenor sax. "Manteca" is taken perhaps at a slightly less blistering pace, but the horn ensemble explodes, and the rhythm percolates like a Yellowstone geyser with Rodriguez brilliant on trumpet here. "Con Alma" is given a lush arrangement and taken at a comfortable pace with all four horns soloing along with pianist Valera. Valera and trombonist Gilkes stand out with their romantic, lyrical playing.

"Dizzy Con Clave" is a wonderful recording by a superb band with compelling performances of the terrific inspired arrangements by the Henriquez that greatly honors the memory and legacy of Dizzy Gillespie.

I received from a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 383).  Here is a video of Carlos Henriguez playing "Bebop" Live From Dizzy's Club Coca Cola.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Richie Cole Cannonball

Richie Cole
Richie Cole Presents

Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley is the veteran alto saxophonist Richie Cole's favorite alto sax player, and this new recording is Cole's homage to the legendary Adderley. Cole leads an ensemble drawn from his home base in Pittsburgh, including Cole's frontline partner on "Cannonball," trombonist Reggie Watkins who is a surrogate for cornetist Nat Adderley. Tenor saxophonist Rick Matt and trumpeter J.D. Chaisson, are present four of the album's 13 tracks, while guitarist Eric Susoeff, keyboardist Kevin Moore, bassist/producer Mark Perna, and drummer Vince Taglieri fill out the rhythm section. There are a dozen songs associated with Adderley along with a Cole original "Bell of the Ball," dedicated to Adderley.

Highlights include Bobby Timmons' "Dat Dere," with Cole preaching here, and a stunning "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," with Cole alludes to Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" in his solo. There is the driving "Jeannine" with the full horn section followed by a relaxed treatment of "Jive Samba." Cole's original, "Bell of the Ball," has the feel of an unrecorded Adderley tune, while "Sack o' Woe" has a guest appearance from former Horace Silver drummer, Roger Humphries.

While Scott Yanow's liner notes suggests turning "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" into a swinging number is innovative, these ears found this transformation not very convincing. Much more satisfying is a bossa nova accented rendition of Buddy Johnson's classic ballad, "Save Your Love For Me," warmly sung in Portuguese by Kenia. Cole and Watkins play sublimely on this performance that guitarist Susoeff arranged. After a barnstorming rendition of Sam Jones "Unit 7," the album closes a bonus track of Kenia singing "Save Your Love For Me" in English.

Cole and his ensemble may not play with the bite of Adderley's original recordings, but how many musicians have the force of nature presence Adderley and band had including a terrific rhythm section that included bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes. Still, these are extremely enjoyable performances with excellent solos and a first-rate backing band.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2018  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 381) to which a few minor changes have been made. Here is a video promoting this recording.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Adam Price Group House Ghosts

The Adam Price Group
House Ghosts

Based in Eastern Pennsylvania, composer and clarinetist Adam Price leads his group on this recording. Others here include pianist Isamu McGregor; bassist Jack Synoski; drummer Spencer Inch and percussionist 
Jeff Hatcher. Kristina Rajgelj adds vocals to several selections. My download did not include information on composers, so I guess that Price is the composer of the compositions and songs.

 While Price has classical training on clarinet, it does not prevent from swinging while displaying his warm tone and his fluid attack. The opening "Mzungu" has a strong African-tinged rhythmic groove while "Chameleon Colored Eyes" also has an energetic force reflected in Price's propulsive playing as well as McGregor's spirited piano solo. A shortened single cut of this track is tacked on the end of this recording. Rajgelj takes one of her two vocals here displaying clear articulation of the song and a horn-like projection of the lyrics while the rhythm section is superb here and throughout.

"The Girl in the White Dress" is a ballad with Price captivating with his playing with understated backing from his fine ensemble. "Rotten Grapes" is an effervescent blues performance with Inch helping propel Price's solo and followed by McGregor's thoughtful solo, while "Summer Thunder (The Last Rain Queen)" is a mellow number with Rajgelj's wordless vocal harmonizing with Price's pensive clarinet here. Rajgelj also adds wordless vocalizing to the title track that starts reflectively before a lightly swinging groove is established and Price twisting, surging so builds up in intensity.

The delightful "Storyville" has the appeal of an evening stroll on Frenchmen Street, just outside New Orleans' French Quarter with the understated bass and drums adding to the performance's charm. The ebullient Brazilian-flavored 'Eu Quero Você" follows it," with Rajgelj adding her wordless singing to the ensemble here. As noted, a single cut of "Chameleon Colored Eyes" closes this recording. Price's superb, exquisite clarinet playing, along with varied, melodic compositions and a marvelous band has resulted in an excellent recording.

I received a review download from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2019 Jazz & Blues report (Issue 382).  Here is "Storyville," from this CD.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Kevin Burt Heartland & Soul

Kevin Burt
Heartland & Soul
Little Village Foundation

Mike Kappus notes he first was exposed to Kevin Burt as a judge for The Blues Foundation's 2018 International Blues Challenge where the Iowan won not only in the single/duo category. Kappus also notes Burt was the first artist in the Competition's 34-year history to sweep the solo categories — also winning the Solo/Duo Cigar Box Guitar Award for the most promising acoustic player and the Lee Oskar Harmonica Award. Once having to work five jobs (two full-time, three part-time) as a young adult in Iowa City after a football injury in his senior year of college derailed his dreams of professional football, he has become a significant new acoustic blues voice.

It is not like he just started playing the music. In 1996, the sesquicentennial both of Iowa and of the Smithsonian, Burt was chosen by the state of Iowa to participate in a project of the American Folklife Center. “I got the opportunity to be a living exhibition at the Smithsonian representing the state of Iowa as a blues artist, and part of my responsibility was to have an educational component, so that’s when I started doing my research to be able to give accurate historical stories for the state of Iowa from the perspective of a musician.” He has also become quite involved in Blues in the School.

I suspect this is his debut recording and Kid Andersen and Jim Pugh produced this CD which was recorded and mixed at Greaseland. Burt, who wrote 11 of the 12 songs, sings and plays acoustic guitar and harmonica. Andersen adds guitar and melodica (on one track), and Pugh keyboards. Others on this include Jerry Jemmott on bass, Derrick 'D'Mar' Martin on drums, Jon Otis on percussion and Lisa Leuschner Andersen on backing vocals.

Listening to Kevin Burt, one is reminded of Ted Hawkins, a similar acoustic singer-songwriter who had deep rhythm and blues roots. Whereas Hawkins displayed a strong Sam Cooke influence, Burt evokes Bill Withers with perhaps a dash of Al Jarreau. Withers is one of Burt's cited vocal influences along Aaron Neville, Bobby Bland, Luther Vandross, and Marvin Gaye. The song that perhaps is most suggestive vocally and stylistically of Withers' is "I Don't Want To See You No More," where he sings about finding a note on the door and not understand why she left him.

It is a varied program starting with the lively groove on the opening "Day Day" singing about he makes her whole body grins but she will miss him if she leaves more than he will miss her. The performance has a nice harmonica break with the percolating backing behind the singing. Then there is an austere cover of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," backed by his solo guitar, where his phrasing and other vocal dynamics stands out. Pugh's organ helps establish the mood for his expression of thanks for letting him be himself. The percolating groove of "Real Love" reminds me of the Doobie Brothers as he sings about a love they should hang on to and wants to share with nobody else with some rhythmic guitar and crying harmonica.

While the songs on this are more soul than blues, "Never" is a strong, evocative blues with Pugh's piano and Andersen's guitar standing out in the backing against Burt's passionate singing. Another blues has him playing slide and harp for the first verse of "Smack Dab in the Middle," an original and not the song associated with Count Basie and Joe Williams, where he sings about going to the Crossroads and not having done nobody wrong. While there is nothing wrong with the band backing and he has a nice harp break, this performance to these ears would have been stronger if it remained a solo performance. This is a small quibble on an impressive recording full of memorable performances. Kevin Burt shows himself to be an exceptional artist.

I received from my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 381). Here is a clip of Kevin Burt performing "Eleanor Rigby," at the 218 International Blues Challenge finals.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Harpdog Brown For Love & Money

Harpdog Brown
For Love & Money
Dog House Records

Canadian husky-voiced blues vocalist and harmonica player, Harpdog Brown, has a new recording rooted in the post-war jump blues and the blues shouters like Big Joe Turner, Wyonnie Harris and Smiley Lewis with a touch of Chicago blues. Brown has a gravelly voice similar to Dr. John with a bit of Louis Armstrong, and besides his full-throated singing and harmonica, contributed three originals while Wayne Berezan added two and both Skye Lambourne and Brandon Issak one. There are songs from the repertoires of Louis Jordan, Memphis Slim, and Amos Milburn. Those backing Brown include Brown are Dave Webb on keyboards; Robert Vail Grant on drums; Jeremy Holmes on bass; Steve Dawson, who produced this recording, on guitar; William James Abbott on clarinet and alto sax; Skye Lambourne on trombone; and Jerry Cook on tenor and baritone sax.

This is horn-driven, blues shouting with hot grooves. Indeed the temperature is heated with the opening "No Eyes For Me," although the horn arrangement is a bit trite. More impressive is Webb's organ solo. The groove is a bit more relaxed for the cover of Louis Jordan's "Blue Light Boogie," with Abbott's bluesy alto standing out with the horns adding punch with a very appealing vocal, Webb takes an excellent piano solo, and Brown takes a harmonica solo displaying a big tone, sax-like phrasing and a mastery of dynamics. Even if his vocal on "The Comeback," is overshadowed by the great Joe Williams-Count Basie recording, Brown delivers more than a credible vocal with Abbott displaying considerable finesse here while Dawson adds some stinging guitar fills.

Lambourne rousing trombone opens Brown's "Reefin' Lovin' Blues," a first-rate original jump blues with another tough harmonica solo. Plunger mute growling trombone provides a counter voice to Brown's vocal on the slow blues by Berezan, "A New Day Is Dawning," with Abbott's twisting clarinet solo framed by Dawson's guitar chords with the accompaniment's intensity building as the performance goes on. There are a couple of robust interpretations of Amos Milburn's drinking blues, "Vicious Vodka," and "Thinkin' and Drinkin'." Pianist Webb is superb channeling Milburn's own boogie-woogie rooted style.

Brandon Issak's "I'll Make It Up To You," has a lighter, swinging feel with Webb, Abbott, Lambourne soloing before Brown takes a harp solo in a Rice Miller vein. Then there is the philosophical, New Orleans flavor of Webb's "For Love & Money," with a melody that evokes "Stagger Lee." Webb stands out on this. Brown's harp enlivens his interpretation of the late Wynonnie Harris' "Buzzard Luck." Brown is not as convincing singing Lambourne's love song "Sasha's Lullaby," written when Lambourne was 14, but his forte is being a shouter, not a crooner. It is not a terrible track, but a minor blemish on an extremely entertaining jump blues recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a clip of him performing "For Love & Money."

Monday, July 08, 2019

Ms Zeno The Mojo Queen Back in Love

Ms Zeno The Mojo Queen
Back in Love
Blue Lotus Recordings

While I heard about Ms Zeno, it was not until I heard perform with my friend Memphis Gold, that I had a chance to experience this powerful singer. Originally from Louisiana, she moved to Memphis after Little Milton heard her, and had her join his backing vocal group. After several years she launched her solo career with Albert King helping introduce her to Beale Street where she became an institution. When B.B. King's Memphis Club opened, Ms Zeno & the Famous Unknowns became the house band. Recently after some personal issues were resolved, she signed with Blue Lotus Recordings and made this album of twelve original songs.

This session is produced by label head Paul Niehaus IV who plays bass, guitar, drums, keys, tenor sax, vocals, mandolin, and French horn on this along with Kevin O’Connor who contributes drums, guitar, keys, baritone & tenor sax, and trumpet as well. Special guests include guitarist G Weevil who appears on 4 selections and harmonica wizard Brandon Santini who appears on two. Guest vocals are provided on various tracks by Gene Jackson and Roland Johnson, while Dustin Shrum contributes trumpet, and Tom Martin lends his accordion to one selection. The strings of Andy Hainz on cello; Mark Hochberg on viola; and Abbie Steiling on violin sweeten three selections. Ms Zeno, Paul Niehaus IV and Gene Jackson have their hand in the twelve originals here.

As mentioned, I have seen Ms Zeno appearing with Memphis Gold, but as much as enjoyed seeing her perform, listening to her here impressed me even more on a recording centered on deep soul and soul-blues. As a singer, she impresses with not simply her power or sense of dynamics (ranging a pussycat's purr to a lioness roar), but the authority she manifests that is evident on the opening title track, a surging Memphis soul number. After her celebrating being back in love, she sings a bluesy lament. "In My Shoes," as her romance is falling apart. It is one of several tracks with strings and has a feel of a classic Hi Records recording.

There is the brassy "That's How I Know," with a groove reminiscent of Tyrone Davis and other deep soul Chicago singers, as she sings about her man being satisfied with her and she is satisfied with how he treats her. Then the mood shifts to the down-home blues of "Willie Brown," with the effective guitar-harmonica accompaniment from Little G Weevil and Brandon Santini and rhythm. There is even a touch of zydeco on "Mojo Queen," and a topical "Rise Up," "Love Is Like a Flower" is another terrific performance with striking lyrics and a fervent, commanding vocal and tough horn-driven arrangement, while Weevil and Santini are on "Call My Name," a duet with Gene Jackson set against an insistent groove.

Throughout, her robust vocals are performed without artifice or hysterics. In addition to Ms Zeno's singing, the backing is superb this throughout. Producer Paul Niehaus IV and Kevin O’Connor put together a marvelous backing even although they obviously employ overdubbing, while the guests are seamlessly incorporated into the songs of this terrific release by Ms Zeno.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 381). Here is a clip of Ms Zeno performing.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Dave Keller Every Soul’s a Star

Dave Keller
Every Soul’s a Star
Catfood Records

This writer has been a fan of the multi-talented Dave Keller since seeing him perform as well as back Johnny Rawls several years ago. This soul-blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist impressed and impressed me enough to support one of his recording projects. His new album is his first for the Catfood Records label, the label of his good friend Rawls, with Jim Gaines handling the production. he is backed by the label's studio band, The Rays, consisting legendary Motown guitarist Johnny McGee, along with Bob Trenchard – bass; Dan Ferguson - Hammond B3, Wurlitzer, keyboards; Richy Puga – drums; Mike Middleton – trumpet; and Nick Flood - tenor and baritone sax; plus backing vocals from Janelle Thompson and Shakara Weston; and percussion from Christopher Serrano.

With a voice that might suggest Delbert McClinton, gets right into a soulful groove with the opening "Don't Let Them Take Your Joy," adding a stinging solo to his stirring vocal, as he urges the listener to remember what makes one happy and fly, fly fly … ." It is a small gem of a performance in part due to the strong support provided by The Rays. The title track is a celebration of folks being who they are and then followed by the one cover, Ronnie Shannon's "Baby, I Love You." McGee takes the guitar lead with Keller's adding his phrasing, including a brief spoken rap, to a fresh interpretation of the Aretha Franklin's hit. Then there is a lovely heartfelt ballad "You Bring the Sunshine" that is so soulfully performed with the Rays coming off like the Swampers or Hi Rhythm Section (and Dan Ferguson shines on this).

Other highlights on a consistently superior recording include "It's All In Your Eyes," and "Kiss Me Like You Miss Me," both with McGee's concise solos. With strong original songs (one can easily imagine some of these being done by other performers), solid and empathic backing from The Rays, and Dave Keller's fervent performances, Keller again has produced another soul-blues gem.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 381).  Here is Dave Keller performing.

For folks in the DMV area, Dave Keller will be performing Fri Aug 2, St. Georges Country Store, St. Georges, DE, band, Sat Aug 3, Route 66 Club, Edgewood, MD, band and on Sun Aug 4, JV's, Falls Church, VA, band w/ Gabe Stillman, tent.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Take 5 with Elmore James

This is the first post of something I will post somewhat irregularly. The title Take 5 refers to five performances by one artist

Elmore is one of my favorite of all blues artists. He is best known as a slide guitar master. Here is a playlist of five songs I have selected by him.

The original Trumpet recording of "Dust My Broom" with Sonny Boy Williamson on harmonica. 

Here is a recording the Allman Brothers would later do, "Done Somebody Wrong."

Here is a "Dust My Broom" variation with the Broomdusters, Elmore, Little Johnny Jones on piano, J.T. Bron on the nanny goat tenor sax,  Ransom Knowling on bass and Odie Payne on drums.

I believe it is Eddie Taylor taking the lead guitar on this rocking shuffle.

We close with a quintessential Elmore James slow blues. There is something in how he builds the tension with his vocal against the smoldering heat of the backing. His vocals got stronger during his recording career. He died way too young. For more on Elmore James, you might check out Steve Franz's biography, "The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James" which has been republished as an e-book and available at and at the apple books store.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Happy Birthday Louis Armstrong

While it has been determined that Louis Armstrong's actual Birthday is August 4, like who is broadcasting 24 hours of Satchmo on July and August 4, let us celebrate his Birthdate with several choice recordings by him.

With his Hot Five, "Cornet Hot Suey" is one of his classics.

Not as well known as "West End Blues", his duet with Earl Hines, "Weatherbird" provided Gary Giddens the name for his Village voice jazz column.

Louis Armstrong's short time with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra helped revolutionize jazz. "Sugar Foot Stomp" was an updating of "Dippermouth Blues" he recorded with King Oliver.

It is amazing what he does with Carmen Lombardo's "Sweethearts on Parade."

Louis was in demand for recording sessions behind a variety of blues singers including Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Sippie Wallace, and Bertha "Chippie' Hill, heard on the original "Trouble in Mind."

Amazing that we have a video of him in Sweden playing "Tiger Rag" in the 1930s.

To close this brief selection of tunes here is "Public Melody Number One" a tune that Catherine Russell, daughter of Luis Russell who led Armstrong's big band on this, has recorded. See you on August 4.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Lyn Stanley London Calling: A Toast To Julie London

Lyn Stanley
London Calling: A Toast To Julie London
A.T. Music LLC

Song stylist Lyn Stanley follows up her two volumes of "Moonlight Sessions," with this tribute to the sultry songstress, Julie London. Most of the songs of this tribute were recorded by the great singer and actress, although Stanley includes a couple that she feels would have been perfect for London, It's Impossible," and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." On this she has brought in a stellar group of musicians including guitarist John Chiodini; pianists Mike Garson and Christian Jacob; bassists Chuck Berghofer and Michael Valerio; percussionists Luis Conte, Brad Dutz, and Aaron Serfaty, and drummer Paul Kreibich for interpretations of songs that are mostly from the Great American Songbook. I was not aware that Berghofer, who played the bass line for Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walking," was London's bassist for a period or guitarist Chiodini was Peggy Lee's guitarist for seven years.

Like London, Stanley does not employ a broad vocal range, and her attack is usually understated and melodic. She is backed by a terrific ensemble starting with "Goody Goody," launched by Valerio's Arco bass opening and a chorus shared guitarist between Chiodini (who is superb throughout with his taste and imagination). Chiodini and percussionist Dutz provide a percolating groove to "Call Me Irresponsible," with Garson's sympathetic comping. The rendition of "Bye Bye Blackbird" is an intimate duet between Stanley and bassist Berghofer. "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" is one of the two performances that imagine songs in a manner London might have performed than with an atmospheric backing that allows Stanley to place the focus on the lyrics,

Of course, any salute to Julie London would be incomplete without a rendition of "Cry Me a River," and Stanley's wonderful, plaintive vocal is wonderfully supported by just Chiodini's exquisite guitar (including a marvelous solo) and Berghofer's bass. In a similar vein is her rendition of the classic Cole Porter ballad, "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," with Chiodini and Berghofer equally superb. There are also two appealing, heartfelt renditions of Gershwin's classic "Summertime" with an understated quintet on one and just pianist Garson on the other. Then there is a sublime interpretation of "It's Impossible," (another song London never recorded) with Chiodini's sublime on his Spanish guitar. Chiodini's superb flamenco-tinged guitar and the band's accompaniment provides on "Light My Fire," a version more akin to Jose Feliciano than The Doors, although Lyn's understated sensuality contrasts with the more explicit feel of Jim Morrison on the original.

This is only a sampling of the marvelous music herd on this. There is also a booklet with Scott Yanow's observations on Lyn and each of the 17 performances (which include Lyn's comments). The sound is wonderful, and the productions, with diverse musical settings, and performances imbued with Lyn Stanley's musical personality result in this superb tribute. This is also available in Limited Edition 33RPM 180g two-disc vinyl and Super-audio CDs.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 384). Here is the official video for this release.