Monday, September 30, 2019

Peter Hand Big Band Out of Hand

Peter Hand Big Band
Out of Hand

A few years ago, guitarist Peter Hand led a big band, featuring tenor saxophonist Houston Person on a wonderful live recording on Savant “The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to Harold Arlen.” The Peter Hand Big Band returns with a new studio recording, also on Savant, “Out of Hand.” Again, Person is present (on three selections), and a number of top-notch players are heard here including saxophonists Bruce Williams, Kenny Berger, Don Braden, and Ralph LaLama; trumpeters Eddie Allen, John Bailey and Valery Ponomarev; trombonists John Mosca and Vincent Gardner; and a terrific rhythm section of pianist James Weidman, bassist Harvie S and drummer Steve Johns.

Person is featured on three selections, a swinging rendition of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny”; the classic Harold Arlen torch song “Blues in the Night”; and the Strayhorn/Ellington classic “Day Dream.” Person brings his warm, rich tone and the melodic quality of his improvisations set against Hand’s wonderful arrangements as well as Hand's own clean, crisp guitar. On the opening Sunny,” trumpeter Ponomarev takes one of several sharp-toned solos that exhibit an authority similar to that of Person. Selections like these evoke a classic Oliver Nelson Big Band album “Live in Los Angeles” that featured guitarist Mel Brown on a couple selections as well as Nelson’s arrangements for some of Wes Montgomery’s Verve recordings.

Hand is a wonderful guitarist in the vein of a Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and the like with a definite blues sensibility. Hand’s original “Out of Print Blues” (called Out of Hand Blues” in Donald Elfman’s liner notes) is a nice swinging blues with strong solos from Bruce Williams, Harvie S and Vincent Gardner in addition to the leader. Another Hand original is the waltz “Listen to Your Heart” with its effective use of muted brass, flute, flugelhorn and soprano saxophone with Braden taking a nice soprano sax solo set against the riffing horns while Ponomarev is in more melodic vein.

Hand displays a romantic sensibility of a lovely ballad “Barbara Rose,” while the up-tempo “The Elevator” is a feature for LaLama’s robust and forceful playing and will evoke the Ellington classic “Cottontail.” After the light Latin groove of “Night Echo” (Hand, Bailey, and Weidman stand out here); we are treated the splendid “Day Dream,” before Hand enlivens “Summertime” with his arrangement in 6/4 and employment of flute, clarinet, bass clarinet and muted brass to provide musical colors for Allen’s vibrant trumpet and Weidman’s piano. It is a superb close to this splendid big band recording.

I received my review copy as a download from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 359). Peter Hand Big Band has a new CD out that I will be reviewing shortly. Here is "Sunny" from "Out of Hand."

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Steve Howell and Jason Weinheimer History Rhymes

Steve Howell and Jason Weinheimer
History Rhymes
Out of the Past Music

Guitarist and vocalist Steve Howell continues his activities in reviving the music of an earlier era on this latest album with bassist Weinheimer. Joining them are Dan Sumner on guitar and David Dodson on banjo and mandolin. Howell has recently published a guide, "Fingerpicking Early Jazz Standards," and the repertoire on this album includes early blues, traditional folk, and older jazz standards. The performances are similar to those on the previous record by Howell and Weinheimer, "A Hundred Years From Today."

Howell is a genial, adept fingerstyle guitarist who sings in a neutral, dispassionate fashion. Weinheimer and company ably support Howell. The strength of the recording is the broad swath of material they interpret. Ranging from "They'll Be Some Changes Made," to Bukka White's "Pine Bluff, Arkansas," they play an easy to listen to set of performances. On few albums will one find the Academy Award-nominated "Blues in the Night." The traditional "Jack of Diamonds" is taken as a folk waltz with a nice vocal and lovely mandolin in the accompaniment. The lilting "Frosty Morn" is a charming interpretation of an old fiddle tune.

"If I Had My Way," is derived from Reverend Gary Davis and Howell's vocal is more animated than he exhibits elsewhere. The light swing and amiable vocal on "Everybody Loves My Baby" lacks the vitality of the original Clarence Williams Blue Five recording with Eva Taylor's vocal and Louis Armstrong's cornet. Howell's, almost whispered, singing is more convincing on his version of the country classic "You Don't Know Me," while the performance of "I Got a Right to Sing the Blues," has a definite allure to it. There is also the traditional "Texas Rangers - The Falls of Richmond," that he dedicates to his father and Rangers of earlier generations.

Those who have enjoyed Steve Howell's prior recordings may have an idea of what to expect concerning these well-performed songs. Listeners may differ in how they react to Howell's dispassionate vocals, but indeed his efforts to update older songs merits appreciation.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 386). Here are the two performing "Everybody Loves My Baby."


Friday, September 27, 2019

Gaye Adegbalola The Griot

Gaye Adegbalola
The Griot

On the back cover of Gaye Adegbalola's new album, "The Griot," she provides a definition of The Griot as "a member of a class of traveling poets, musicians, and storytellers who maintain a tradition of oral history on parts of West Africa … and on this CD." On the second selection of this Cd "Definition: The Griot," she does a recitation set against Jackie Merritt's bones accompaniment that among other things observes The Griot is also "a REPOSITORY, a LIVING ARCHIVE … of Oral History." Additionally, the griot is, in part, a singer, seeker, teacher, preacher, "the entertainer, the unchainer, the keeper of our history, the remover of whitewashed mystery." This should give a sense of the spirit that infuses this recording, much of which might be termed 'protest' songs, but I prefer the term truth songs that the late street gospel singer Flora Molton termed some of her recordings. On this latest musical journey of mostly original songs, she is backed by her co-producer Jeff Covert on electric and acoustics, drums, bass, banjo and keyboards; her own acoustic guitar and harmonica; Roddy Barnes on piano on several selections; Reesa Gibbs on chant and backing vocals on several tracks; Jackie Merritt on bones on three tracks and a horn section led by trumpeter Zack Smith.

There is a definite tinge of anger in her vocals on such tunes as "Nothing has Changed" where she recalls sit-ins and picket lines, dogs, water hoses, burning crosses and lynchings as well as James Byrd dragged by a truck, and brings us up to date singing about the KKK and Nazis marching in Charlottesville with a chorus of "How Can I Be Angry?" There's been some change it's true. Too slowly in my lifetime, much more we can do." Set against a smoldering blues-rock backing and a bit of acid in her vocal, it sets a tone for this remarkable recording. The mood is present in "Hypocrisy: Liearrhia," where she confronts the discourse of the day "You've got a bad case of liearrhia/ You keep running off at the mouth/ Your tongue comes from the devil/ And your truth is crapping out … ."

She addresses female genital mutilation in "Sexism: FGM," with a middle eastern tinge to the vocal as she sings how she will fight to prevent one from taking a woman's Joy. There are also lyrics addressing poverty in a blues track subtitled "Dirty Sheets" with biting guitar; pollution in "Flint Water" set against a rollicking shuffle groove with Covert's Allman Brothers' inspired slide guitar; and protest on "Kaepernicked" where she proclaims him her new Muhammad Ali.

There are several covers including Doc Pomus and Kenny Hirsch's "(There is Always) One More Time" to illustrate hope; the Bessie Smith classic (also done by Nina Simone) she has been singing since her days with Saffire-the Uppity Blues Women three and a half decades ago, "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl"; and a modern arrangement of Ma Rainey's "Jelly Bean Blues" that closes this CD. "The Groit" has provocative songs along with Gaye Adegbalola's most passionate singing. It makes for compelling listening.

I received my review copy from Vizztone. This review appeared in the July-August 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 385). Here is a video of Gaye Adegbalola performing at a 2019 House Concert.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Quiana Lynell A Little Love

Quiana Lynell
A Little Love
Concord Jazz

Raised in Texas where she grew up singing gospel, Quiana Lynell made her mark in 2017 when she won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition Award. As part of winning, she received a contract with Concord Jazz. Earlier that year she appeared with her trio at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. This appearance led to her performing in Poland with trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s Spike Lee tribute with a 75-piece orchestra and a continued period of mentoring on Blanchard's part. "A Little Love" is her debut album which covers a wide range of songs from Nina Simone to Chaka Khan, from Duke to the Gershwins, from Donny Hathaway to Irma Thomas. The bookends of the album featuring songs by modern artists Alina Engibaryan and Joshuah Campbell.  Backing her is a fabulous band featuring Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Jamison Ross on drums, Ed Cherry on guitars, George DeLancey on bass and Monte Croft on vibes (on several selections).

She has quite an extensive vocal range as well as a broad expressive range and delivers the songs with considerable authority. The clarity, the melodic qualities, and the expressiveness of her vocals is outstanding. There is plenty of positive messages in her songs such as she sings about overcoming “xi," and pushing forth to better times and justice on "Sing Out, March On." One telling performance is a medley of Ellington's "Come Sunday" with Billy Taylor's "I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free)." "Come Sunday" is a magical duet with Chestnut backing her marvelous vocal prayer. The full band joins in for the Taylor composition with guitarist Cherry sparkling behind heartfelt singing.

The authority of her vocals is also exhibited on the standards she performs. This includes a sublime duet with Jamison Ross on the Gershwin's "They All Laughed." Her interpretation of "Just A Little Lovin' (Early In The Morning)" from Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil has considerable charm. she exhibits much warmth in her swinging rendition of Gordon-Revel's "You Hit the Spot." Besides the romanticism of her singing, Cherry and Chestnut both stand out with the clean, crisply played solos.

Additionally, there is a rendition of Irma Thomas' "Hip Shakin' Mama," played by the band with a bit more of a backbeat and a marvelous vocal that hints at her gospel roots along with her interplay with guitarist Cherry. There is no doubt she could do a terrific recording of deep soul in the manner of Irma Thomas. Then there is a marvelous duet with Chestnut on Monte Croft's "What Is Love. With plenty of jazz vocal recordings coming out, "A Little Love" stands out with Quiana Lynell's excellent singing, first-rate backing, and well-chosen repertoire. Given how much I was impressed by this CD, I purchased a download of a more recent New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival performance by her.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 386). Here is a video of her performing "Hip Shakin' Mama" in Marcus Garvey Park in New York City at the 2019 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Terry Robb Confessin' My Dues

Terry Robb
Confessin' My Dues
Nia Sounds

"Confessin' My Dues" is the new album by Terry Robb, hailed as one of the finest fingerstyle blues guitarists. Robb draws on his deep knowledge of Delta blues, ragtime and swing in 13 original songs ranging from blistering instrumental blues and stunning fingerpicking to soulful singing backed by renowned jazz musicians Gary Hobbs and Dave Captein on drums and upright bass throughout the album. Adam Scramstad makes a guest appearance on electric rhythm guitar. The press release for this recording states, "Drawing from the well of country blues to Coltrane, ragtime to Hendrix, Americana to American Primitivism, "Confessin' My Dues" represents a lifetime of musical experiences and influences for Robb. Robb himself is quoted about being excited about recording with Hobbs and Captein, feeling they "they would bring a fresh and unique approach to what I was after."

Robb is a spectacular fingerstyle guitarist as is evident on the opening "Butch Holler Stomp," a performance with several musical strains centered on a Blind Blake-like main strain. Blake's spirit is also detected on the initially wistful, "Death of Blind Arthur," which has a segment with breakneck playing. Both of these tracks display not merely technical proficiency but his relaxed fluid attack. He also handles a classic blues shuffle groove with ease and aplomb on "Still on 101." He has a definite presence as a vocalist, if not as engaging as he is a guitarist.

Vocals serve to add variety thought such as on "How a Free Man Feels," with some dazzling breaks, or "Darkest Road I'm Told," a performance that instrumentally evokes John Lee Hooker, but his vocal about the 61st Highway is not as compelling as his playing. The fascinating "Now Vestapol" is a free-floating instrumental in the vein of American Primitivist guitarists with strains from "Mystery Train" and Robert Wilkins "That's No Way To Get Along" hinted at. "High Desert Everywhere" sounds rooted in Bukka White's slide guitar style while Robb's own picking goes beyond Whites driving bottleneck playing.

As noted, Robb makes much about the presence of Hobbs and Captein, but they seemed superfluous on several of the tracks they play on. Despite this, and his vocal limitations, Terry Robb is a superb guitarist whose facility and invention make for gripping listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Terry Robb from earlier in 2019 performing

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Scott Ramminger Rise Up

Scott Ramminger
Rise Up
Arbor Lane Music

I wrote about Scott Ramminger's last studio album that Scott "writes real good songs, is a most engaging singer and a strong saxophonist who backs himself with some stellar players. The result is another helping of real fine musical gumbo." Since then he issued a live album in the same vein. It included a couple of my photos, so I did not review it. This one is a bit different from his previous studio albums that had been heavy on horn sections and backing vocals. About this recording, Scott says, "I set out trying to make a record that had a slightly different sonic footprint, sort of a stripped down, more acoustic vibe. I hired a fine jazz drummer and upright bass player. And at one point, with my producer hat on, I asked them to play less like we were at Blues Alley (a famous DC jazz club) and more like we were playing in a Brooklyn strip club in about 1960,"

Rise Up features only five players -- Ramminger on vocals and tenor sax; Wes Lanich on piano and Hammond B3, Shane Theriot on guitar, Paul Langosch on upright bass, and Emre Kartari on drums. They tackle eight songs on this CD. Scott's laconic, grainy vocals deliver his sometimes self-deprecating vocals with the right sense of humor and irony, while his sax flows like a nice stiff drink. The band is terrific laying down the right grooves. Pianist Lanich is excellent with his mix of bop and New Orleans rumba, while Theriot (former Neville Brothers guitarist) wails whether playing straight or stinging slide (as on "88 Reasons" where Ramminger's woman gives him reasons to cry).

The material ranges from songs about failing relationships to the topicality of the title track with its funky groove (Lanich on organ) and his acerbic sax as he sings about corrupt politicians, children hungry and immigrants vilified and we have to stop this madness before its too late. He has a robust and passionate sax solo here. Elsewhere his sax is overdubbed to be part of the vocal accompaniment.

Ramminger's songs resonate with memorable lyrics and the rhythm duo of Langosch and Kartari provide a steady groove like in "Lemonade Blues," a slow blues that opens "Life gave me lemons, so I made some lemonade, … I got no sugar in my cupboard, so this stuff don't taste that great." The only complaint is the relatively short playing time, but there is no fat or gristle heard in the eight songs on another entertaining CD from Scott Ramminger.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 385). Here is Scott Ramminger performing.


Monday, September 23, 2019

Rebecca DuMaine and the Dave Miller Combo Chez Nous

Rebecca DuMaine and the Dave Miller Combo
Chez Nous
Summit Records

Starting with Cy Coleman's "When in Rome" and concluding with Charles Trenet (and Albert Askew Beach's English language verses) "Que-Reste-t-il/I Wish You Love," Rebecca DuMaine delights listeners with her playful, perhaps flirty, singing. He pitch and intonation are spot on, and her swinging phasing, as well as her articulation of the lyrics, underscore her inviting musical personality. It also helps that her captivating vocals (including her breezy wordless vocalizing as on Jobim's "So Danco Samba") is wonderfully supported by the Dave Miller Combo with Miller (her father on piano), Chuck Bennett on bass, Bill Belasco on drums and guest Brad Buethe on guitar.

Music was always part of her household growing up, and she heard George Shearing, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, and Nat King Cole growing up. While she earned a drama degree and worked as an actress in New York and discovered she preferred jazz singing over musical theater doing some gigs in NY before returning to Northern California. Dave Miller, her dad, has been leading a trio since the 1970s and particularly loved how Shearing back vocalists. They provide marvelous swinging support with pianist Miller and Buethe very adept in their solos.

This a marvelous set of songs here ranging from her bubbly opening number, "When in Rome," that she first heard from Blossom Dearie. As Scott Yanow observes in the liner notes, Rodgers and Hart's "Everything I've Got Belongs to You," is not a typical love song as she sings "I have eyes for you to give you dirty looks, I have words that do not come from children's book, there's a twist of a knife I am learning to … but everything I got belongs to you." It is taken at a brisk tempo, and drummer Belasco takes a solo. The title track is sung in French followed by a captivating vocal on the Rodgers and Hart classic "I Didn't Know What Time it Was," showcasing her impeccable delivery of the lyrics as well as being in tune. Her father has a light, bouncy solo, Buethe following with a peppy one and Bennett with a short bass solo. There is also a wistful rendition of Lennon and McCartney's "Yesterday," with just her father's piano adding to the reflective mood. Bill Withers' "Just the Two of Us," is among his most famous songs, and she lends it a nostalgic flair with memorable piano and guitar solos.

Singing in French and English "Que Reste-t-il/ I Wish You Love," she provides a memorable close to a playful take on songs mostly about love. She has an endearing quality that is displayed throughout this collection of delightful performances of both well-known standards and lesser-known songs that are also gems.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of Rebecca DuMaine performing with Dave Miller.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Junior Watson Nothing To It But To Do It

Junior Watson
Nothing To It But To Do It
Little Village Foundation

Junior Watson is among the most respected blues guitarists on the West Coast who has played with and recording with such acts as Big Mama Thornton, George Harmonica Smith, Jimmy Rogers, Shakey Jake, Kim Wilson, Charlie Musselwhite, William Clarke and more. He was the original guitarist in The Mighty Flyers with whom he stayed ten years. He has not recorded often as a leader which is rectified on this new CD from the Little Village Foundation. This recording was co-produced by Kid Andersen with Watson and recorded at Andersen's Greaseland Studios. Andersen himself says, "There is no guitarist on earth I value higher than Junior Watson." Making this record with him is one of the greatest honors in my life."

There is a mix of instrumentals and vocals. Watson sings on several tunes, and there are vocals by guests Alabama Mike and Lisa Leuschner Andersen. Others in the studio band are Sax Gordon on saxophone; Jim Pugh on keyboards, Kedar Roy on bass, and Andrew Guterman on drums with Gary Smith on harmonica on one song.

The mood is set with the opening instrumental, "Up and Out," displaying Watson's crisp, twisting attack that evokes to this listener the shattering Memphis attack of Willie Johnson mixed with a touch of Albert Collins and Jimmy Nolen. Gordon is outstanding while Pugh's skating rink organ adds to the atmosphere. Other instrumentals include "Ska-Ra-Van" a ska version of Juan Tizol-Duke Ellington's Caravan." Gordon takes an imaginative tenor sax solo while Pugh' organ adds to the flavor of the performance. There is a Mexican flavored instrumental "Summer of Love" with scintillating guitar, and a raucous shuffle "Space Flight, with Pugh's organ, followed by some blistering guitar." "Pee Wee Classic," a tribute to Pee Wee Crayton, is an exciting spinoff of "Texas Hop."

The five vocals by Lisa Andersen, Kid's wife, are a revelation as she sings with a forcefulness and nuance that suggests such sixties female singers as Carol Fran, Carla Thomas, and Barbara Lewis. Certainly the hard-rocking "Don't Freeze Me Out" is a gripping performance, while "One Way Street" is a further showcase of how good a singer she is while Gordon is excellent on the baritone sax. Another vocal is the James Brown penned "I Found You," a variant of "I Got You." Alabama Mike co-wrote with Watson, an intense slow blues "A Shot in the Dark," on a performance in the vein of Buddy Guy's Chess recordings. Watson himself is an understated, appealing vocal on a shuffle "Louella," as well as a revival of Chicago blues harpist Dusty Brown's "Well, You Know," with Gary Smith adding his harmonica.

Junior Watson, a brilliant guitarist and with the terrific backing band, is showcased on a marvelous recording that displays his considerable talents.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a clip of Junior Watson performing in 2017.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Chick Corea The Spanish Heart Band

Chick Corea
The Spanish Heart Band – Antidote
Concord Jazz

This new Chick Corea album with his new band is simply terrific. Corea's piano and keyboards are supported by his 8 piece band that includes flamenco guitarist Niño Josele; saxophonist/flutist Jorge Pardo; bassist Carlitos Del Puerto; trumpeter Michael Rodriguez; trombonist Steve Davis, drummer Marcus Gilmore; percussionist Luisito Quintero; and the fiery footwork of flamenco dancer Nino de los Reyes. Also heard is the great vocalist Rubén Blades and gifted singers Gayle Moran Corea and Maria Bianca.

Corea states that his "genetics are Italian but my heart is Spanish. I grew up with that music. This new band is a mix of all the wonderful and various aspects of my love and lifetime experience with these rhythms that have been such a big part of my musical heritage." It is a heritage that gets off with the volcanic opening title track with Blades joyfully singing as well as giving Josele and the horns a chance to solo. Corea himself dazzles on acoustic piano and electric keys, while the arrangement and layering of the horns, piano, and guitar add to the joyous fire here.

The music is so wonderfully played but the incorporation of the flamenco dance to open "Duende," a composition and performance of lyricism and passionate romanticism along with the interplay between Pardo's flute and the brass of Rodriguez and Steve Davis. Nino de los Reyes dancing is even more of a presence in "The Yellow Nimbus" that was initially written as a duet between Corea and Flamenco master Paco de Lucía, with the flurries of the dancer matched by Corea's piano and the responses from Josele's guitar.

"My Spanish Heart" was the title of one of Corea's most successful albums in addition to being a beautiful composition. It opens with an introductory vocal choir before Corea introduces it with stark chords as the performance builds in complexity including an enchanting Blades vocal with the horns providing a counterpoint. It is followed by a thrilling rendition of "Armando's Rhumba," with sterling solos by Davis, Pardo, Rodriguez, and Josele in addition to Corea's magnificent playing while comping for some percussive fireworks by Gilmore and Quintero.

Other performances include Paco de Lucía's "Zyryab" with its Spanish and Middle Eastern influences; the smoldering heat in the rendition of Jobim's "Desafinado" with Maria Bianca's heartfelt vocal; Corea's captivating solo piano arrangement of "Pas de Deux" from Stravinsky's ballet "The Fairy's Kiss" that weaves into Corea's original "Admiration." This fabulous recording will undoubtedly on many Best of 2019 lists.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 385).  Here is Chick Corea and the Spanish Heart Band at the 2019 North Sea Jazz Festival.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram
Alligator Records

This CD is Christone "Kingfish" Ingram's long-awaited debut. Called a rising prodigy by NPR music and endorsed by Buddy Guy, Kingfish has been playing to blues audiences for most of his young life. Videos and youtube and performances have led to hype about him. Tom Hambridge produced this debut and plays drums on most selections, with Bob McNelly adding guitar and Tommy McDonald on bass. Others playing on this include Marty Sammon on keyboards, Buddy Guy on guitar and vocals, Keb 'Mo on guitar and vocals and Billy Branch on harmonica. Tom Hambridge was involved in writing most of the 12 songs, many in collaboration with Ingram and others with Richard Fleming. One song is a collaboration between Ingram and Jontavious Willis.

At the outset, Ingram is a terrific guitarist with a heavy blues-rock pull out all the stops on most of the electric tracks on this. I really don't enjoy his guitar fireworks as much as I do his singing. He is an outstanding vocalist with plenty of warmth and expressiveness with an unforced delivery. So even if the opening "Outside of This Town," is a bit heavy musically, his singing knocks out. It is followed by a terrific duet with Buddy Guy with another excellent vocal and some of his best electric blues guitar here who is not overshadowed by Guy who is in fine form here.

Billy Branch adds harmonica while Ken 'Mo also is on guitar on the driving "If You Love Me," with an energetic guitar break followed by Branch's solo. "Listen" is a duet with Keb 'Mo and a pop-blues in the vein of Keb 'Mo's music with the backing more restrained. "Believe These Blues" has some of his more interesting guitar solos with exciting twists and turns urns along with his effective use of tonal dynamics. "Trouble" is a rocking number set against a New Orleans second-line groove.

"Been Here Before" is one of the acoustic blues here, with remembrances of his grandma singing and Ingram not sure how he became the way he is. Again he sings the lyrics with clarity and feeling. "Hard Times" is a traditional sounding acoustic blues with Ingram's vocal backed by Keb 'Mo's adept Resonator slide guitar. The closing "That's Fine By Me" is a heartfelt blues ballad that is evocative of some classic Chuck Willis with an excellent piano solo in addition to effective blistering guitar.

I do not deny he is an excellent guitarist, just not to my taste. Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram is a superb blue singer and with strong songs (and one reason I may view the songs so highly is because of how good a singer he is) and the firm support and production, "Kingfish" is a terrific recording, not merely an excellent debut.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. This review appeared in the July-August 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 385). Here is a video for "Outside of This Town."

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

David Finck BASSically Jazz

David Finck
BASSically Jazz
Burton Avenue Music

James Gavin writes about bassist David Finck, that he "may be the most versatile bassist in or out of jazz, fluent in the musical languages of Dizzy Gillespie, André Previn, Rosemary Clooney, George Michael, Phil Woods, Kenny Rankin, Hank Jones, Paquito D'Rivera, Ivan Lins, and Sheila Jordan, to name just a few of the stars on his resume." in his 40 years performing, he has explored and developed a remarkable voice on the bass.

This is his third album as a leader and puts his playing in full displaying with its full sound and his passion for melody and songwriting. He is joined on this recording by Joe Locke on vibes; Jim Ridl on piano; Cliff Almond on drums; Ali Ryerson on flute; Bob Mann on Guitar; Kevin Winard on percussion; and Mike Davis on trombone. Linda Ever and Alexis Cole are guest vocalists.

The embrace of melody is captured on "Old Devil Moon," that features Joe Locke's shimmering vibes, Ridl's tasteful piano and the graceful touch of Almond. Finck bass provides an anchor for a buoyant performance. Finck's bass kicks off the brisk pace of "The Song Is You." Ridl's crisp, rolling solo leads into a brief solo by Locke before Finck showcases his touch, tone and drive on several choruses. These selections also exhibit the marvelous ensemble playing that is present throughout the CD.

Guitarist Mann, with his nylon string guitar, is added to the captivating interpretation of the bossa nova classic "O Barquinho." Finck actually played "The Summer Knows" with its composer Michel Legrand and later with Broadway's Linda Eder who sings the lovely version here. Finck plays an atmospheric bowed bass solo here. "When I Look Into Your Eyes," from the movie "Dr. Doolittle," also showcases Finck's captivating Arco bass playing. His strong Pizzicato bass technique is showcased on "Alfie." Alexis Cole, the other guest vocalist, is featured on Finck's "I Love You So" where she ably handles the unusual rhythms and changing keys. Her clean, melodious delivery is also showcased on Toots Thielemans classic "Bluesette," which features Ali Ryerson's flute along with a brief bass break.

Ridl and Locke both are excellent on the swinging rendition of John Coltrane's "Moments Notice." Finck also takes a robust solo chorus, and Almond adds a crisp drum solo. Trombonist Davis displays a gravelly melodicism on the interpretation of "Tuyo (Theme From Narcos)" with Winard providing the breezy Latin rhythms. Finck even takes a vocal showcasing an attractive low-key style on the closing "All My Tomorrows."

"BASSically," provides David Finck with a showcase of his complete command of the bass. With his marvelous ensemble and the melodic compositions, he has produced an exquisite recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 386). Here is a video of David Finck in 2006 playing "Blue Bossa" as part of The Great Jazz Trio with pianist Hank Jones.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Soul Message Band Soulful Days

Soul Message Band
Soulful Days
Delmark Records

While at the Chicago Blues Festival, a photographer-blues deejay I knew mentioned he was going to catch The Joel Paterson Trio in part because of organist Chris Foreman being part of the trio. I made sure to see a portion of their Festival set to see Foreman, one of the most outstanding Hammond B-3 players in the world. He did not fail to astonish. I was aware of Foreman from his playing as part of the Deep Blue Organ Trio on a Delmark album as well as his playing on a Red Holloway Delmark album. All these albums include drummer Greg Rockingham, and the other member of the Deep Blue Organ Trio is famed guitarist Bobby Broom. Other members of this band include guitarist Lee Rothenberg and Greg Ward on alto sax. Geof Bradford on tenor sax replaces Ward on two of the 9 performances, and both saxophones are heard on one track.

There is some spectacular music to be heard here starting with the strutting blues groove of Rothenberg's "Sir Charles," named for Barkley and then organist Earland. Ward displays a sharp bluesy tone, while Rothenberg shows his facility and taste in constructing his solo. Foreman quickly exhibits why he is among the top practitioners of the Hammond B-3 on the planet, Of course, Foreman and Rockingham have been playing so long together that one should not be surprised how tight the groove they lay down is.

The material range from the blues to hard bop and a standard tossed in. There is Cal Massey's reflective "These Are Soulful Days," with Bradford featured, a terrific rendition of Wayne Shorter's hard bop classic from his Art Blakey days, "Hammer Head," with both saxophones heard with the band's feel evoking Jimmy Smith's classic album "The Sermon." In fact, there is a rousing rendition of Smith's hot blues, "J.O.S." from that album. If not possessing a heavy vibrato like Ben Webster, Bradford is marvelous on a reflective performance of Rodgers and Hart "Little Girl Blue."

A rendition of Freddie Hubbard's "Thermo," another song first done by Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Ward leads off with sparks flying before Foreman takes over with his deep-fried organ grease. It is a marvelous close to this terrific album.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review appeared in the July-August 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 385). Here is a video of the Soul Message Band performing, and backing a vocalist Hinda Hoffman.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Toronzo Cannon
The Preacher, The Politician and The Pimp
Alligator Records

This is the Toronzo Cannon's fifth album, second for Alligator, and brings more of searing guitar, intense vocals and intriguing original songs. His lyrics arise from today's headlines, his experiences as a veteran bus driver in Chicago as well as the wisdom of his grandparents, who raised him and often have stories that make for compelling listening. On this release he is supported by Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards, Marvin Little on bass and Melvin 'Pooky Styx" Carlisle on drums. There are also appearances by Norma Jean on vocals, Billy Branch on harmonica, Joanna Connor on slide guitar, Lynne Jordan, Cedric Chaney and Maria Luz Carball on vocals, and horns arranged by trumpeter Joe Clark.

He writes lyrics that lay bare the similarities between "The Preacher, The Politician and The Pimp," or the humor-filled stories of male braggadocio on "Stop Me When I'm Lying." The former number is taken at a nice relaxed pace while the latter is an exuberant performance with a New Orleans groove and punchy horns. "The Chicago Way," mixes a ZZ Top rocking boogie groove with stop-time and hot single note runs as Cannon sings about breaking the rules, paying his dues and that he will play his blues without an apology, the Chicago Way. He blasts off on this song with a closing guitar solo. There is also a rollicking duet with Nora Jean "That's What I Love About 'Cha." After each noting the other's shortcomings, they also know that the other is "mine all mine."

Then there is the black humor of "Insurance" with lyrics about dealing with doctors and insurance that many will be able to relate to. Alligator's chief honcho, Bruce Iglauer, makes a brief cameo as a doctor while Billy Branch adds his harmonica on this performance. "She Loved Me (Again)" is an original about domestic abuse. In it, Toronzo couldn't take a man beating his woman anymore, and he shot the man. When the cops burst in, she had Toronzo's gun in her hand and said she was the one that shot that man. Cannon's intense singing, and blistering, scorching guitar playing result in perhaps the CD's most compelling performance.

"She Loved Me (Again)" is followed by "The Silence of Friends." This is another message song in which Toronzo observes that too often when wrong things are said or done, 'friends' are silent and not supportive. The closing number, "I'm Not Scared," is sung by Lynne Jordan, Cedric Chaney, and Maria Luz Carball, who sing about no longer being victims, whether from taking abuse from a lover or taking abuse for being gay. Joanna Connor adds slide guitar while Cannon's uses wah-wah and other her effects. After a searing guitar solo, this song, and album ends with Purifoy's reflective piano solo.

Toronzo Cannon follows his inspiration and does things his own way, the Chicago Way. He continues to mature as a songwriter as well as a performer. The result is a compelling, superlative blues recording.

I received my review copy from Alligator. This will be available on September 20.  This review appeared in the September-October 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 386).  Here is Toronzo performing at the 2019 Chicago Blues Festival.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Dave Wilson Quartet One Night at Chris'

The Dave Wilson Quartet
One Night at Chris'
Dave Wilson Music

This is the fifth release of The Dave Wilson Quartet, recorded live at the famous Chris' Jazz Cafe 'in Philadelphia, PA in March of 2018. The quartet, comprised of Wilson on Tenor and Soprano Saxophones; Kirk Reese on Piano; Tony Marino on Acoustic Bass; and Dan Monaghan on Drums are heard playing four Wilson originals and six re-arrangements by/of pop/rock favorites. As noted in the publicity materials, this recording is a document of one evening of music recorded live, no overdubs, no second takes and with all the nuances, surprises and magic known as Jazz. Wilson studied with Bill Barron, although he fell under John Coltrane's spell as a teenager. Dexter Gordon is another influence on this along with some of the jam bands for this Lancaster, Pennsylvania resident.

"One Night at Chris'" opens with the swinging boogaloo of "Ocean Blues," where Wilson displays his authority playing over the tenor saxophone's entire range as the backing trio help drive this performance with pianist also taking a solo that shows his chops and melodic invention. Reese's brisk, liquid piano opens the interpretation of the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" (arranged by Wilson), although Wilson's soprano saxophone's squeaky tone makes this less appealing despite his serpentine improvisation and the excellent backing with Monaghan taking a crisp solo. More satisfying is the rendition of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" based on Herbie Hancock's arrangement. There is both robustness as well as his warmth on this lovely performance with exquisite backing by the rhythm section with bassist Marino taking a solo.

I am not familiar with Creed's original of "My Own Prison," but Wilson's performance provides an appealing gutbucket tone. Then there is Wilson's "Movin' On," with an unusual time signature (12/8) and some brawny, sinuous tenor sax along with Reese's surging lines. I find the soprano sax playing a bit more appealing on Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows," with Monaghan laying down an easy swinging pulse. "Untitled Modal Tune," is a burning number with Reese playing vigorously in a McCoy Tyner vein before Wilson wails on tenor here. Wilson lends an Afro-Cuban flavor to a superb performance of "Summertime," with some free blowing at times, crisp piano and some sparks in a spirited drum solo.

Then there is a spirited "Spiral," the title track of a previous Wilson album, with animated piano from Reese, burly tenor sax from the leader and a driving, pulsating groove. As Bill Milkowski concludes, "The crackling intensity of One Night at Chris' is a testament to what can happen on the bandstand on any given night. And this was a particularly good night indeed." The result is this excellent live recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 385). Here is a video of The Dave Wilson Quartet performing"Ocean Blues."

Friday, September 13, 2019

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats Contemporary

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
Alligator Records

If one counts the nine albums when Little Charlie Baty led the Nightcats, this is the fourteenth album by the tight West Coast ensemble. It is the fifth since Rick Estrin took over leadership after Baty retired from touring. With Christoffer "Kid" Andersen on guitar (who also doubles on bass and others instruments), Lorenzo Farrell on keyboards and Derrick "D'Mar" Martin on drums, the Nightcats remain one of the tightest blues bands going. Others heard on this recording include Alex Pettersen on drums; Quantae Johnson on bass and background vocals; Lisa Leuschner Andersen on background Vocals; Jim Pugh on organ and The Sons Of The Soul Revivers on background vocals. This was recorded at Andersen's Greaseland Studios.

Rick Estrin wrote nine of the twelve tracks, Andersen and Farrell one each and there is one 'obscure' cover. Besides being one of today's t blues harmonica players, Estrin is among the blues finest songwriters. His songs are usually laced with ironic humor, and sometimes biting commentary, and one has a combination hard to beat. Estrin wrote nine of the twelve tracks, Andersen and Farrell one each and there is one 'obscure' cover. Nothing showcases the ironic humor and his commentary better than "Root of Evil." On this song, Estrin asks if money is the root of all evil, what does one call being broke. It is a typically well-played, well-paced performance with a thoughtful unamplified harp solo and a short Farrell solo. The title track starts as a brisk shuffle blues as Estrin sings about the blues not going out of style. It morphs into Estrin's humorous escape into making his music 'contemporary.' Andersen adds a chorus of blues-rock guitar, even having a rap from D'Mar Martin thrown in with a jam band freakout.

Estrin always seems to find himself in strange relationships as in "She's Nuts." On this performance, he has a superb harmonica solo in the vein of Rice "Sonny Boy Williamson' Miller.  Elsewhere, he sings about the older man with his young lover who has her hands in his pocket in "Nothing But Love," the one cover. He has a superb amplified harp solo with swooping saxophone-like lines as Andersen provides subtle backing. There is the soulful blues "New Shape (Remembering Junior Parker)" with a harp solo that evokes the legendary blues giant.

Estrin is also not afraid to showcase the band as on Andersen's instrumental "House of Grease" which sounds inspired by Freddie King performing "Big Legged Woman." Besides Andersen's excellent playing, Farrell has a tasty piano solo. Farrell wrote the jazzy instrumental "Cupcakin'," a jazzy instrumental with Andersen's fleet, jazz-inflected playing complementing Farrell's organ grooves. Estrin also adds his own wide-open harp. Estrin's "Bo Dee's Bounce," is a lively instrumental that showcases Estrin's driving harmonica with Andersen taking a short, imaginative guitar break. It closes another terrific recording by Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, full of excellent material and superb playing.

I received my review copy from Alligator. This will be available on September 20. Here is a video of a recent performance by Rick Estrin & the Nightcats.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Shawn Purcell Symmetricity

Shawn Purcell
Armored Records

While originally from Pittsburgh, guitarist-composer-arranger-educator  Shawn Purcell currently is based in Washington DC area after having spent over 15 years as a member of various big bands of the Armed Forces in Washington DC. From 1996-2004, Purcell was the guitarist in the US Air Force premier jazz ensemble. Shawn currently is the guitarist with the Washington DC-based US Navy Band "Commodores" jazz ensemble, The Airmen of Note. He currently serves as an adjunct professor of jazz studies at George Mason University.

His musical influences include guitarists Pat Martino, Grant Green, Mike Stern, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, and Peter Bernstein, as well as Clifford Brown and Freddie Hubbard. Purcell has shared the stage, recorded with, and toured with top jazz artists including Terell Stafford, Nicholas Payton, Tim Warfield, Sean Jones, The Chicago Jazz Ensemble, The Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra, and many others. He has played at such venues as Blues Alley, Smalls, The Jazz Kitchen, The Blue Wisp, The Jazz Factory, and Club Bonafide and can be heard on nearly 30 recordings. "Symmetricity" is his first album as a leader and is supported by a dynamic rhythm section of pianist Todd Simon, bassist Regan Brough, and drummer Stockton Helbing. There also are notable performances by guests, vocalist Darden Purcell and tenor saxophonist Luis Hernandez.

Purcell has put together a tight, swinging backing group who mark their presence felt backing him on the opening "Swirl." Purcell, at first comes off displaying a bright, clean tone in the manner of a Wes Montgomery, and playing a unison chorus with saxophonist Hernandez. Hernandez exhibits a robust sound soloing before Purcell takes his solo. Purcell employs some tonal effects as he takes a blistering solo with the band helping build the performance's intensity. The pace lightens on the light swing of "Steady Comin' At Ya." Bassist Brough is featured after Purcell's clean lines with Helbing on brushes before Simon's solo. Purcell brings some heat for the latter portion of this performance. Purcell again makes use of a somewhat distorted tone to build horn-like lines on the funky musical delight, "Red Velvet Cake." With Darden Parcell's wordless vocalizing and Purcell's lovely single-note playing, "A Bela (For Darden)" in a very alluring performance. "Symmetricity in the Linear Evolution" is a straight-ahead groover. Purcell's subtle use of tonal effects here lend a  horn-like flavor to his playing to go with Hernandez's robust tenor sax solo.

The remainder of this CD is equally appealing whether the light swing of the lovely "You, and You Alone," the sonic explorations of "Missed It By an Inch," and a salute to a jazz legend, "'Trane-ing Wheels." This latter number sounds like a most imaginative contrafact to "Giant Steps." Then there is a sublime reading of the Van Heusen-Burke standard, "Here Comes That Rainy Day." The closing selection, "Norm's View" includes Darden Purcell's wordless vocalizing as additional voices with Simon's electric piano on a mix of electronics and straight-ahead playing.

Guitarists Pat Martino, Peter Bernstein, and Dave Stryker have expressed considerable praise for Shawn Purcell. To quote Bernstein, "Shawn Purcell shows his mastery and maturity as player and composer of the highest level." Indeed this recording merits these praises. Shawn Purcell's compositions and arrangements are as stimulating as his thoughtful, imaginative, and ardent guitar playing. With his terrific band, "Symmetricity" is Purcell's outstanding, if long overdue, debut.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a performance by Shawn Purcell of "Darn That Dream."


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Johnny Hodges - A Short Playlist

Yesterday I reviewed Con Chapman's excellent new biography of Johnny Hodges, Rabbit Blues. Today I thought it would be useful to present a small selection of his music to complement this book. One example is slow bluesy playing on I Got It Bad and that Ain´t Good, with Duke Ellington.

Hodges made so many classics with Duke Ellington from the twenties until his passing and one of my favorites is Rockabye River, as much as for the orchestration as Hodges' blues-infused solo.

There was something magical when Hodges recorded some of Billy Strayhorn's compositions. This performance of Ishafan is from the time Hodges had left Ellington and was on his own.

During his period touring with Jazz at the Philharmonic, Norman Granz got him in the studio with Benny Carter and Charlie Parker. The blues provided a common ground and the three along with Ben Webster, Charlie Shavers and others can be heard on Funky Blues. Hodges solos first, then Parker and then Carter.

We continue with Come Sunday from Duke Ellington's First Concert of Sacred Music.

We close this brief playlist with a Johnny Hodges medley from Duke Ellington's 1947 Carnegie Hall Concert.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges

Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges
Con Chapman
Oxford University Press
New York: Oxford University Press: 232 pages

Nearly fifty years after he passed away, we finally have a full biography of Johnny Hodges. Hodges was arguably the premier alto saxophonist before Charlie Parker. Perhaps it was his close association with Duke Ellington that underscored the absence of a full biography. After all, his musical career was so intertwined with that of Ellington. Also, he was a taciturn person who sought to keep his private life private and was also a person of few words. With this background, we can appreciate Con Chapman's efforts to detail Hodges' life and music.

Chapman has written a straightforward account of the great saxophonists life and his music as he straightens out some facts about his life. In the Prologue, he notes that the first name by which he is known does not appear on his birth certificate and his given name does not appear on his death certificate. While his birth year is cited as 1906, his birth certificate shows he was born in 1907, and he provides several cases where wrong information is given about him. Other misconceptions are corrected here as well as telling Hodges story.

Chapman first examines Hodges roots, tracing his parents back to Virginia before they moved to the Boston area. His family was a musical one, but his attraction to the saxophone was because he found this one soprano saxophone in a store window "looked so pretty." He details Hodges education on the saxophone that included a few lessons from teachers and other players. Sidney Bechet was a significant influence whom he met when Bechet was in a show in Boston. Also, he learned from listening to records, and he gained experience playing with local artists in Boston as well as travel to New York.

In New York, he scuffled playing in dance clubs and jam sessions, before playing with Bechet at a club the New Orleans artist-owned. Eventually, Willie 'The Lion' Smith took over the band, and at some point, he joined Chick Webb's band, which became established at the new Savoy Ballroom. At some point, Otto Hardwick, who played alto, soprano and baritone saxophones with Duke, was injured in a taxicab accident and Ellington sought Hodges to replace him. Ellington has twice before asked Hodges but was rebuffed, but it was Webb who convinced Hodges this time, telling him it would be better for him in the long-time. So began an association that would last, with one significant interruption, until Hodge's death.

A good portion of the book, of course, is concerned with Hodges' time with Duke. This includes discussing some of the recordings, and live performances Hodges had while with the Duke. There is also discussion of small group recordings Hodges made with members of the Ellington Orchestra, and with non-Ellington small groups including accompanying vocalists such as Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey. There is also the relationship he had with Billy Strayhorn and other members of the Orchestra including his fellow Bostonian, Harry Carney, and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster who was influenced by Hodges sound and approach to ballads, blues and more.

Chapman explains the factors causing Hodges to leave Ellington Orchestra, going out on as a leader and featured star performing and recording. Chapman details Hodges participation with Jazz at the Philharmonic and an association with Lawrence Welk. Chapman also notes the circumstances leading to Hodges return to the Ellington orchestra with whom he would remain with for the rest of his life. There are also chapters devoted to Hodges' very distinctive 'Tone,' his rivalry with other alto saxophonists, especially Benny Carter, "The Blues" which was always a significant part of his sound and repertoire, and finally a consideration of Johnny Hodges' legacy in Jazz.

In discussing Hodges music, Chapman does not employ technical musical examples in discussing Hodges playing, but his descriptions help bring his music to life in words as best as one can. A biography of Johnny Hodges has been long overdue and Chapman, not merely has filled a hole in the jazz literature, but provided a thoroughly researched, literate, and engaging biography. In addition to telling Johnny Hodges story, it details Hodges legacy and accomplishments as one of the most influential saxophonists in the history of Jazz.  I note that my advance copy did not include photos or an index. These will be in the actual published book.

I received my copy from a publicist. Tomorrow I will post a short Johnny Hodges playlist.