Saturday, November 30, 2019

Take 5 With Sonny Boy Williamson II

For this week's Take 5, we have a short playlist of Rice Miller, aka Sonny Boy Williamson II. A wizard in the harmonica, a seductive singer and a marvelous songwriter, he was a major figure in the Delta Blues, most notably with his King Biscuit Time broadcasts. He was associated with most major the Trumpet Records label, "Eyesight to the Blind."

Sonny Boy moved to the Chess family of labels and recorded many stunning recordings including "Don't Start Me To Talking."

One of my favorites is his recording of "Help Me" which is musically adapted from the Booker T and the MGs' hit "Green Onions."

Another gem is "All My Love In Vain."

Finally, here is a video of Sonny Boy recorded in Europe during one of his European tours doing "Bye Bye Bird."

Friday, November 29, 2019

Jane Bunnett and Maqueque On Firm Ground/ Tierra Firme

Jane Bunnett and Maqueque
On Firm Ground/ Tierra Firme
Linus Entertainment

The award-winning soprano saxophonist and flutist, Jane Bunnett has recently turned her bands and recordings into showcases for Afro-Cuban jazz. With Maqueque, Bunnett has created something phenomenal. Originally it was a project to record and mentor young brilliant Cuban female musicians, and in 5 years has become one of the top groups on the North American jazz scene. The other members of this collective are Joanna Tendai Majoko, vocals; Yissy García, drums; Tailin Marrero Zamora, bass and vocals; Dánae Olano, piano and vocals; and MaryPaz Fernández percussion and vocals. Also appearing with Maqueque are Dayme Arocena, vocals; Melvis Santa, vocals; and Nicole Nikki D Brown, steel guitar and vocals. Each member contributed at least one composition to this fascinating recording.

This a superb band as established from the beginning with "La Linea (The Line-up)" with spirited vocals and playing. Bunnett and Olana both shine on Bunnett's "Monkey See, Monkey New" with lyrics by Santa. Santa also takes the lead on the vocal and rap over the hot tropical grooves. Bunnett soars on the flute over the incendiary percussion on "Momentum," while Brown's piercing steel guitar whine adds to the title track. That number has a superb Bunnett soprano sax, a relaxed, spirited tempo and on a performance that builds to a volcanic climax.

The musical temperature drops for the leisurely, stately tempo at the beginning of "Habana De Noche (Havana at Night)." Marrero plays superbly along with Bunnett's swirling soprano sax and the fabulous rhythm section that throughout makes the listener want to get up and dance. "Reêncuentro (Re-United)" sounds like a samba over burning coals with group vocals and the snake-charm soprano sax floating over the Dánae Olana's two-fisted piano accompaniment and the rousing percussion. Brown's "Broken Heart" has a more melancholy feel that infuses Bunnett's soprano sax along with Brown's tart sounding steel guitar.

Listening to this recording, one understands how they made the top ten jazz combos in DownBeat magazine's critic's poll. They are a superb Afro-Cuban jazz band as heard on the excellent, often thrilling, music on "On Firm Ground/ Tierra Firme."

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here Jane Bunnett and Maqueque perform "La Linea."

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Rosana Eckert Sailing Home

Rosana Eckert
Sailing Home
OA2 Records

Texas-based vocalist and songwriter Rosana Eckert collaborated with her renowned New York composer/singer friend Peter Eldridge to produce "Sailing Home." Eckert is joined by a simpatico band including Corey Christiansen on guitar, bassist Young Heo, and drummer Steve Barnes, plus special guests. Rosana Eckert grew up in the Bordertown of El Paso, Texas and later attended North Texas State University on a scholarship based on her French Horn playing. On a lark, she auditioned to the University of North Texas Jazz Singers, the school's premier jazz vocal ensemble. She eventually became section leader, lead soprano, featured soloist, and arranger, later singing with the school’s One O’Clock Lab Band and various other ensembles. She earned a Masters in Jazz Studies and was hired as the school's first private jazz voice teacher. At the same time, she had a parallel career as a working musician in nearby Dallas, performing with her own jazz band and doing commercial singing and voiceover work. She also began writing her own songs and recorded three albums.

"Sailing Home", her fourth album is her first in nine-year and is hard to pigeon-hole as a jazz vocal recording. It has a definite pop flavor infused with her honey-toned jazz leanings. The is a bright and perky spirit to the opening "Sailing Home" with its bubbly rhythm. Dedicated to her husband Gary, "Garby the Great" is a charming song of her love for him with some delightful scatting. Set to a reggae groove "Waiting" is a homage to pregnant women in waiting rooms waiting for their doctors. Ginny Mac provides the attractive accordion that engages in a call and response with Eckert's "la la la" scatting on this lighthearted performance that illustrates her beautiful, melodic voice along with clean diction and relaxed delivery of lyrics.

Other notable performances include "Coriander Stomp" has a roots-rock tone with a hint of New Orleans in the groove and is a showcase for guitarist Christiansen who has a tinge of twang with his jazzy single note runs. "Empty Room" has a heartbreaking lyric conveyed by her moving wistful performance. Set against a bossa nova groove, "Lovely Ever After," is a song dedicated to her daughter who was four when Eckert wrote it. It is an endearing and spirited performance with a wonderful vocal along with Daniel Pardo's winsome alto flute. "For Good" was inspired by a character on the TV show "Mad Men" who committed endless infidelity. It opens as a duet with bassist Heo with the other players eventually filling out the understated accompaniment.

Rosana Eckert sings of love, friendships and hopes on an exquisite recording that enchants listeners with Rosana Eckert's lovely, nuanced vocals and the apt and supportive accompaniment. "Sailing Home" is a jazz-pop gem.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here is Rosana performing "For Good" as part of a NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records; The Definitive Collection

Various Artists
Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records; The Definitive Collection
Earwig Records

This deluxe box set, which contains the recording legacy of Narvel Eatmon (better known as Cadillac Baby), is a labor of love that Michael Frank of Earwig Records spent years producing. The box set contains 4 CDs of blues, doo-wop, gospel, comedy, and even rap along with substantial interview segments with Cadillac Baby with Steve Cushing from a 1983 Blues Before Sunrise radio program. The 4 CDs are housed in a hardback book which reproduces Jim O'Neal's interview with Cadillac Baby from an early issue of "Living Blues" and has O'Neal's update that corrects and updates the information there. Bill Dahl provides biographies, and concise analysis of the blues and other secular music Robert M. Marovich does the same for the gospel recordings. Michael Frank provides an overview of how this box set came about.

There are nearly 5 hours of music and interviews to provide anything other than an overview of some highlights. The interview segments and the printed interview in the book will give you an idea of Cadillac Baby's personality. He was a character. One of the interview segments discusses how he got into music and how he started presenting shows in the south, including one with the Mississippi Sheiks before he came to Chicago and opened a club. He began making records to hopefully make some money from musicians who owed him money and hopefully make some money as well.

A sense of Cadillac Baby's personality can be heard on the opening track, "Welcome to Cadillac Baby's Show Lounge." It originally was on a vinyl LP "Colossal Blues" that reissued some of his 45s on the Bea & Baby and associated labels. Set against the piano of Sunnyland Slim's piano and Willie Williams drums, Cadillac Baby introduces us to a who's who of Chicago radio and blues personalities. There is overdubbed audience noise and clapping. It is followed by two excellent songs by Eddie Boyd with a band that included Robert Lockwood's distinctive guitar. There are ten tracks by Boyd, eight with Lockwood, and two with another group. Boyd is superb as he sings, "The Blues Are Here To Stay." Two songs are remastered with an overdubbed vocal chorus. There are also two songs by L.C. McKinley, whose guitar style is indebted to T-Bone Walker. His band included tenor saxophonist Red Holloway and also backed a vocal group on two selections.

Arguably the biggest record that Cadillac Baby produced was Bobby Saxton's "Try To Make A Living" that was backed by an Earl Hooker instrumental, "Dynamite." These sides also were leased to Chess, who issued them on a Checker Records single. Mac Simmons, as Little Mac and St. Louis Mac, is heard on the most selections. These include "Times Are Getting Tougher," reminiscent of some of Little Milton's recordings of the time, and on fine covers of songs from Junior Parker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters. Backing Mac Simmons are such players as pianist Detroit Junior and guitarist Eddie King Milton. Detroit Junior's first recording is present, along with an interview segment where Cadillac Baby tells how he gave the pianist-singer his name.

Detroit Junior was not the only artist whose first recording is heard. Hound Dog Taylor was very much under the influence of Elmore James when he recorded "My Baby Is Coming Home." Sunnyland Slim was another artist who recorded for Bea & Baby, while James Cotton waxed a couple of blues. Lee Jackson's "Juanita" is a powerful modern blues, and he is also heard on a Christmas blues. Other significant Chicago blues artists heard include Homesick James, Andre 'Blueblood' McMahon, Arlean Brown, and Willie Williams. Eddie Taylor and Hubert Sumlin are among the sidemen on these sessions. Also, a tape was found with previously unissued selections by the legendary Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon, four of which are reproduced here. Clyde Lasley, best known as a comedian, talks-sings "Santa Came Home Drunk" backed by Lee Jackson and band. He possibly may be on three comedy selections that sound like Amos'n'Andy outtakes. There are some more teen singers, and a rap single produced by Cadillac Baby and Michael Frank before the box set closes with stirring gospel music.

As stated, there is quite a variety of solid blues and other music here. The interview segments with Cadillac Baby are fascinating to listen to, although one suspects some listeners will skip them after hearing them once or a few times. The packaging is superb, and the accompanying book wonderfully illustrated. Michale Frank sought to honor the memory of Cadillac Baby, and this box set certainly accomplishes that. It will also undoubtedly make a wonderful holiday gift for a Blues Lover.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here is Bobby Saxton's "Trying to Make a Living."

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Jon Batiste Anatomy of Angels - Live at the Village Vanguard

Jon Batiste
Anatomy of Angels - Live at the Village Vanguard
Verve Records

Jon Batiste's latest recording brings together performances from different shows during a 6-night residency at New York City's fabled Village Vanguard, Batiste is, of course, best known as the bandleader for Late Night with Stephen Colbert. Still, this writer has been aware of him long before his present celebrity from seeing him performing at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival where his set crossed genres. Of course, he comes from one of the great musical families of New Orleans, which include Alvin Batiste, Lionel Batiste, Harold Battiste, Russell Batiste, and David Batiste. The first recording of his that I noticed was an exuberant rendition of Thelonious Monk's "Green Chimneys," but seeing him a couple of times since he impressed not merely by his mastery of the piano but the joy that he conveys when playing.

His recent collaboration with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra devoted to the music of John Lewis comes highly recommended. This, like that recording, showcases the jazz side of Batiste whose music still continues to generally transcend classification. He is backed by his long-time collaborators, bassist Phil Kuehn, and drummer Joe Saylor. Also present on some selections are vocalist Rachael Price; tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, alto saxophonist Patrick Bartley, trumpeters Giveton Gelin and Jon Lampley, percussionist and guitarist Louis Cato, and percussionist Nêgah Santos.

About the five selections, Batiste states, "The music on this release is all live, no edits or retakes. It's a snapshot of live art. I composed and arranged these songs as vehicles for exploration, to be dissected and put back together, live in action, never to be played the same way twice." He composed three selections, arranged a Thelonious Monk composition, and arranged a song from the American songbook.

 "Creative" is the opening composition. Batiste states that "Creative' was first written in 2011 as a part of a suite I was commissioned to do for The Museum of Arts and Design. I approached it like a builder. The architecture of this composition is akin to blending different styles of design. It's all about the balance of each section and how we maintain our equilibrium while navigating the sections. It is a fascinating trio performance with one section having a Monk-like simplicity with another having in him playing in a free vein while Kuehn and Saylor easily navigate the transitions into a different section. Then there is the tour de force "Dusk Train To Doha," with Batiste spellbinding on this blues original. Raechel Price is heard singing the standard "The Very Thought of You." She sings beautifully and coveys the melancholy of the lyrics framed by Batiste's restrained, understated accompaniment.

On "Round Midnight," Batiste shows how much he has absorbed Monk's music, while not attempting to copy Monk, but rather interpret the composition in his own style. After his piano introduction, the horns come in with some hot trumpet followed by riveting sax from Pennicott and Bartley. As he says in his notes, the band is on fire here. The final song "Anatomy Of Angels" is a long-form composition that is a part of a suite inspired by the celestial context of humanity. The lengthiest track, it is a multi-dimensional performance that ranges from a genial swinging portion with a melodious trumpet to an intense, post-Coltrane hot segment. There is exhilarating blistering trumpet, followed by Bartley employing the higher registers of his sax, and Pennicott's exploiting the full range of the tenor sax especially the lower registers. It is an enthralling close to this superb Jon Batiste recording.

I received a download to review from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 386). Here Jon Batiste backs Corinne Bailey Rae on the Ray Noble classic "The Very Thought of You."

Monday, November 25, 2019

Dave Stryker Eight Track Christmas

Dave Stryker
Eight Track Christmas
Strikezone Records

Dave Stryker's Eight Track series of recordings has been straight-ahead jazz comfort food of a high level. Here, guitarist Stryker is joined by vibraphonist Stefon Harris, organist Jared Gold, and drummer McClenty Hunter. On one track of this 10-track CD of Christmas favorites, Steve Nelson replaces Harris on the closing track "O Tannenbaum.".

Like the previous albums, the performances are delightful renditions of familiar songs that are performed with spirit, humor, and imagination. Harris' at times shimmering vibes complements Strykers, fleet lean lines and solo note runs with Gold providing a greasy organ foundation and Hunter pushing the song along crisply. The performances are both melodic and inventive, and the interplay is marvelous. In addition to well-known carols such as "Greensleeves" and "We Three Kings," songs performed include Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," to John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (The War Is Over)," and "Blue Christmas."

"This Christmas" opens this splendid recording with some dazzling playing followed by "Greensleeves," with Stryker's solo ingeniously working over the changes with Hunter's shimmering cymbals bring the tune to a close. An imaginative rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman," is pushed along by Hunter's funk groove. The funk groove also is present on a vibrant "Soulful Frosty," Steve Nelson's mash-up of "Soulful Strut" with "Frosty the Snow Man." There is an alluring, reflective interpretation of Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here," with an enchanting vibes solo. "Sleigh Ride" is an exhilarating romp with Gold's dazzling organ followed by Stryker's scintillating fretwork. Elvis' "Blues Christmas" is given a well-played bluesy interpretation although the tempo drags a bit.

"Eight Track Christmas" is another wonderfully played chapter in Dave Stryker's series. Mixing in familiar material with his arrangements and his superb band, Dave Stryker has a holiday recording with several performances that will be enjoyed year-round.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "O Tannenbaum."

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Dirty Dozen Brass Band What’s Going On

Dirty Dozen Brass Band
What’s Going On
Shout Factory

Like others from their home city of New Orleans, the members of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band have been greatly affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They recorded this new album with some friends which reinterprets the classic Marvin Gaye album on a recording that is very relevant in light of the catastrophic events of last year in which the band members, like so many, lost their homes, and so much more.

More than their homes, they were distressed about the loss of their communities and personal treasures; photo albums and mementos of their travels were all destroyed. “I’m not talking about clothes and shoes and material things, but family albums,” says Roger Lewis. “I have a 7-year old daughter. I had pictures of myself as a child, but I can’t share them with her because they were destroyed. All she’s really going to know is her dad as a 64-year-old man.”

The album opens with Chuck D rapping on the title track with a justified bitterness as the Dozen provides a sobering backing with Revert Andrews contributing a strong trombone solo. This is followed by a Betty Lavette take on "What’s Happening Brother" as she sings “Are things really getting better like the newspaper says ... I just don’t understand what’s going on in this land ... will the Tigers win the pennant, do they stand a chance ...” with the tenor sax reaching to the higher registers behind her. "Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky)," is taken at a medium tempo with a rather nice rendering of it before the tempo picks up as the members chant “Help Me Somebody,” with some nice spirited playing as the tune rides out. Some nice trumpet leads "Save the Children" which also includes some nice sax work including Roger Lewis’ baritone, and original member Kirk Joseph provides a foundation on the sousaphone and Jamie Mclean’s guitar brings African flavoring and rhythm. Ivan Neville guests on God Is Love, as Joseph and Lewis add the deep bottom behind his vocal as the brass punctuate the lyrics. G. Love raps the lyrics "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" with the Dozen providing a sharp funk groove before they get another groove going on "Right On," as Revert Andrews takes the lead on trombone prior to Kevin Harris’ tenor sax. The last instrumental, "Holy Holy," is rendered almost as a funeral dirge before they conclude with Guru rapping on "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," concluding a very thoughtful and moving recording.

A portion of the proceeds from this CD will be donated to the Tiptina’s Foundation, benefiting the musical community of New Orleans.

I am not sure if I received from Shout Factory or a publicist. This review originally appeared in the October 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 287). I made a couple minor corrections. Here the Dirty Dozen performs "What's Going On."


Saturday, November 23, 2019

Take 5 With Art Tatum

In a documentary on the legendary Art Tatum, Les Paul recalls being overwhelmed by seeing Tatum that he gave up piano. Similarly, Fats Waller announced "God is in the house" when Tatum entered a club he was playing at. Today's short playlist simply gives a few highlights from the musical legacy of him. We first start with a brief clip of him playing "Yesterdays."

Now we go to his rendition of "Tea For Two."

Here we have Tatum playing a piece of Ellingtonia, "Caravan."

Tatum recorded a staggering amount of solo and small group performances for Norman Granz. These recordings were made available on Granz's Pablo Records. Here is a solo performance of "On the Sunny Side of the Street."

The final recording will be from the Pablo Group Masterpieces with Ben Webster on tenor sax, Red Callendar on bass and Bill Douglas on drums performing "Gone With the Wind."

Friday, November 22, 2019

Poncho Sanchez Trane's Delight

Poncho Sanchez
Trane's Delight
Concord Picante

With his first recording in seven years, Latin Jazz Legend Poncho Sanchez celebrates the life and music of John Coltrane. Included are several reimaginings of Coltrane classics, some new songs composed in his honor and several other Latin jazz pieces. Sanchez stated, "I've always loved John Coltrane ever since I was a kid and first learned about jazz. I've recorded tributes to a lot of my heroes in life — Mongo Santamaria, Tiro Puente, Cal Tjader — so I thought it was definitely time to do a tribute to the great John Coltrane."

This CD is his 20th album for Concord Picante for which he has recorded for 30 years (His relationship with Concord itself extends 37 years and now includes 27 albums). This album features the conguero's longtime band of trombonist and musical director Francisco Torres, trumpet and flugelhorn master Ron Blake, saxophonist Robert Hardt, pianist Andy Langham, bassists Rene Camacho and Ross Schodek, and percussionists Joey DeLeon and Giancarlo Anderson. It is a fabulous band whether the very original reworking of Coltrane's "Giant Steps," or the closing performance of Bobby Manrique's hot salsa, "Toro Termino," with an exquisite vocal from Norell Thompson of Los Angeles' salsa scene and some brilliant sizzling trumpet from Blake.

As to the aforementioned "Giant Steps," one has to admire how this quartet piece is orchestrated for Sanchez's larger ensemble with its harmonious setting. The melodic theme implicit in this composition becomes visible in a performance that does not focus on Trane's still startling 'sheets of sound' virtuosity." Made into a rumba, it opens with Langham's a scintillating piano solo over the heated percussion, Hardt takes a tenor solo that showcases his command of the tenor sax with attractive rhythmic accents before Sanchez, and the percussionists take the spotlight supported by a vamp laid down by Langham. There is a marvelous rendering of "Duke Ellington's "The Feeling of Jazz" with a lovely arrangement and piano Langham before Torres takes the first solo with his gritty, tailgate tone followed by Camacho's robust bass solo.

Other Coltrane compositions include "Liberia" from "Coltrane's Sound" and the track to the classic "Blue Train." This latter number is taken as a relaxed cha-cha-chá with solos Torres and Hardt on soprano saxophone before Langham vamps a bass motif for the percussionists. Sanchez and Torres contributed two originals, including the high-spirited title track with Blake's fiery trumpet. A bolero, "Si Te Decen," slows the groove down with Sanchez delivering a heartfelt vocal on a revival of Joe Cuba's 1966 recording.

This album is a welcome return to the recording world by Poncho Sanchez. "Trane's Delight" is a superb musical tribute as well as a fabulous Latin Jazz recording by one of our living masters.

I received my review copy from Concord Records. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 386). Here is a performance by Poncho Sanchez of "The Feeling of Jazz."

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920s - Vol. 17

Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920s - Vol. 17
Blues Images

This is the latest Blues Calendar put together by collector John Tefteller. Like past editions, this Calendar for 2020 brings together for each month twelve stellar images taken from rare photographs and record company ads. For each month, the accompanying CD includes a recording by the artist depicted by the picture or ad. There is also brief biographical information for that artist. The CD also includes recordings from other artists that are from rare 78s or test recordings that never been issued before.

Until recently, this series of recordings had a focus on pre-World War II recordings. This year includes a good number of post-World War II rarifies. The cover photo for this year's Calendar is a previously unseen photo of B.B. King at the microphone of WDIA. The accompanying CD opens with one of the King's early recordings, "Got the Blues." There are also publicity photos of Queen Victoria Spivey and Jim Jackson from the set of King Vidor's "Hallelujah." Spivey is represented by a superb "Blood Thirsty Blues" with Lonnie Johnson on guitar, while Jackson's two-part 78, "I'm Going To Move to Kansas City," is included.

Others included on the CD are The Mississippi Sheiks, Bo Carter, Texas Alexander, Charlie Spand, Leola Wilson with Blind Blake on guitar, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Bessie Jackson, and Mississippi Sarah and Daddy Stovepipe. The music includes many superb blues, including the Sheiks blues waltz "Baby Keeps Stealin' Love On Me," Carter's "Howling Tom Cat Blues," pianist Spand's "Ain't Gonna Stand For It," and Jefferson's "Bad Luck Blues." Also heard is Lonnie Johnson's "She's Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight" (with spectacular guitar) and the issued recording of "Shave 'Em Dry" by Lucille Bogan (released under the name Bessie Jackson).

Included on CD are additional selections including three previously unissued demonstration records by Juke Boy Bonner under the name Juke Boy Barner, including two versions of a solid slow blues, "Life is a Cheater," and the lively "I Go Hip To It." Then there is early Virginia songster Willie Moore's "Tillie Lee," along with the other sides of 78s by Leola Wilson with Blind Blake and the Mississippi Sheiks. Then there are both sides of 78s by Blues Boy Bill and Joe Stone. I was not familiar with Blues Boy Bill, but his songs "Come On Baby," and "Little Boy Blue," are well-performed covers of recordings Robert Lockwood had recorded on Bluebird. "Come On Baby" is a rebranded rendition of "Take a Little Walk With Me." Joe Stone is a name for Jaydee Short, and the release of the recently discovered 78 by him is an event. The music by this St. Louis bluesman is top-notch. "It's Hard Time" is a driving performance based on a guitar riff familiar to some from Henry Spaulding's "Cairo Blues." The other side of the 78, "Back Door Blues" is an equally compelling down-home blues performance.

The sound on most of these songs is flawless as Tefteller employed the system employed in the "American Epic" television series to extract every nuanced audio from the original recordings. There are a couple of songs such as Moore's "Tillie Lee," where there is some background hiss. This is because of the condition of source 78s, but this is a minor hindrance, and Moore's actual performance is easy to appreciate. The Calendar includes information on previous Calendars, CDs from those Calendars, posters, T-shirts, and other items for sale. I do wish that information was included on the performers of the artists who are not included in the Calendar. This is a minor complaint about what is another stellar Calendar and CD. This will be a wonderful gift for the blues lover on your gift list as well as a gift to yourself.

This is available from various mail-order sources as well as direct from

I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Keb' Mo' Moonlight, Mistletoe & You

Keb' Mo'
Moonlight, Mistletoe & You
Concord Records

 In his 25 years as recording as Keb' Mo', the award-winning blues and roots performer, has not recorded a holiday music album. "Moonlight, Mistletoe & You" remedies that. This album is a collection of some seasonal favorites and originals in a similar vein. Produced by Keb' himself and recorded by Zach Allen at Stu Stu Studio in Franklin, Tennessee, the malleable artist provides five new songs sprinkled with five covers. There are a variety of musicians backing Keb' Mo' and his guitar, including David Rogers and Phil Madeira on keyboards, Akil Thompson on electric guitar, Steve Mackey, Joe Reed, or Reggie McBride on bass, and Marcus Finnie or Chester Thompson on drums. There are appearances from Gerald Albright, a string section, Melissa Manchester, pianist Shelley Berg, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Steve Jordan.

The backing on this CD ranges from spare, some songs with a string section giving a lush sound, to a straight electric blues setting. This provides musical variety that showcases the warmth of Keb' Mo' on a musical stew that owes as much to classic soul and roots music as blues. The fun starts with a fresh take on Charles Brown's "Please Come Home For Christmas," followed by the original title song with its reflective vocal cushioned by strings and featuring Gerald Albright's saxophone solo. Another original is the buoyant and optimistic "Better Everyday," with punchy riffing horns. "Santa Claus, Santa Claus" is rendered more forcefully than Louis Jordan's original recording. It is a superb modern blues performance. It is followed by "Christmas Is Annoying," where Keb' Mo' sings that now being grown up, that the things he loved as a kid no longer have the same charm while his credit cards get maxed.

After more blues on a cover of Koko Taylor's cheerful Christmas blues, "Merry, Merry Christmas," there is a delightful duet with Melissa Manchester on IrvingBerlin's "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm." It has a jazzy feel, and the opening evokes Mama Cass' recording of "Dream a Little Dream of Me" There is much to delight in the charming vocal duet on this song with strings and horns adding to the performance's mood. There is almost a jug band/hokum flavor to the rendition of Charlie Jordan's "Santa Claus Blues." This is a more relaxed, acoustic blues performance than the Louis Jordan number. Keb' Mo' and Mac Davis collaborated on "When the Children Song" with a message of warm holiday feelings and Christmas spirit. On this, his voice and acoustic guitar are joined by a Children's Choir. As the song goes, "When the children sing, it puts a smile on your face." It put a smile on this listener's face.

The final selection, "One More Year With You," has a jazzy tinge with Shelley Berg's grand piano, Christian McBride's bass, and David Rogers'' horn arrangement contributing along with the string section which is not credited on this selection. It concludes a holiday album with fresh new songs and covers of mostly unfamiliar material. Marvelously sung, the alluring performances here will certainly delight blues and roots listeners.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the audio for "Santa Claus, Santa Claus."

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Rick Vito Soulshaker

Rick Vito

Rick Vito has had quite a career stretching back to the 1970s. He has played or recorded with Bob Seger, Bonnie Raitt, John Mayall, Roger McGuinn, Boz Scaggs, Dolly Parton, John Prine, Delbert McClinton, Roy Orbison, Jackson Browne, and others. Vito also was a member of Fleetwood Mac and fronted Mick Fleetwood's Blues Band for several years. On "Soulshaker," he plays guitar, bass, and keyboards besides singing. He also produced this recording. Charles 'Mojo' Johnson plays drums on nine of the 12 tracks while Rick Reed plays on the other three. Kevin McKendree plays on organ on one track, Mark Horwitz guests on organ and Charles Harrison plays organ on two tracks.

While I understand Vito is well known for his slide work, I did not know what to expect when I started listening to "She's Just Too Fine." It is one of the ten songs Vito wrote or co-wrote. This performance was quite striking with its Jimmy Reed styled boogie groove, Vito's distinctive, focused driving slide guitar and a relaxed, natural vocal delivery. It set the tone for this entire recording no matter whether it was more in a blues-rock vein. His restraint as a singer and a musician adds to the impact of his performances. His ability to create an atmosphere during a performance is heard on "I've Got a Secret." It is followed by the high stepping boogie groove of "I Do Believe," with more dazzling slide guitar.

With Kevin McKendree on organ, he revives the classic Jackie Wilson recording "Doggin' Around," while evoking Santo and Johnny with his playing. Another fascinating instrumental is his original "Soul Shadows" with supportive drumming from 'Mojo' Johnson. "Dancin' Little Sister" is an excellent rock and roll blues taken at a brisk tempo, but not too fast. Vito sings the catchy lyric and dazzles with his slide guitar. The pace gets even hotter on his exuberant gospel, blues-rocker, "I'm Going to Heaven." On "Promise Land," he again returns to a Jimmy Reed groove with some engaging resonator guitar playing against his relaxed singing.

"Soulshaker" closes with a stunning instrumental rendition of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." Vito's slide guitar tone, his musical ideas, and the restraint he plays with are all exhibited here. Rick Vito impressed this listener with his songs, his singing and sterling musicianship. The result is this fabulous CD.

I received my review copy from Vizztone. This review appeared in the September-October 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 386), although I made minor stylistic changes. Here is Rick performing
"A Change Is Gonna Come."

Monday, November 18, 2019

Teymur Phell Master Volume

Teymur Phell
Master Volume

Teymur Phell was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1987, and began playing the bass guitar when he was 13. He graduated high school when 18 and continued his studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, studying classical upright bass with maestro Michael Klinghoffer. He came to New York in 2011, built his reputation as a vibrant and virtuosic player and has become a sought-after bassist, performing with artists such as Danielia Cotton, Alex Young, Leni Stern, Lafayette Harris, and landing major gigs with jazz greats such as Mike Stern and Arturo Sandoval. On this debut recording he is joined by varying musicians including Nitzan Gavrieli on piano and keyboards; Lionel Cordew on drums; Chad Lefkowitz Brown on tenor sax;/ Mike Stern on guitar; Dennis Chambers on drums; Daniel Sadownick on percussion; Itai Kriss on flute; Albert Leusink on trumpet; Brian Bonvissuto; on trombone; and Wisam Khoury on Darbuka.

Phell is a virtuoso on the electric bass (he also plays keyboards) that is demonstrated throughout starting on "Zero To Sixty." This composition is evocative of Weather Report, and Phell's remarkable playing suggests he is quite familiar with Jaco Pastorious. Brown plays quite energetically here. A similar hot, fusion mood is present on "Papano Kimono," with a propulsive, highly charged solos by Mike Stern and Brown. Dennis Chambers on drums helps provide the funk groove. The title track is a spirited funk performance with shifting time. Gavrieli is particularly impressive on this number. Itai Kriss' flute is spotlighted against riffing horns on "Worth the Wait" with its Latin tine, A solo bass performances, "Old Window," displays the underlying lyrical quality to his playing. "Unfinished Business" is another funky performance with Stern and Chambers joining Phell and Gavrieli, with a dazzling solo by Phell.

After a virtuosic bass solo, "Heyvanhana," the final three numbers are trio performances with pianist Gavrieli and drummer Cordew. Starting as a duet by Phell and Cordew, "Sweet Sweep" develops into a vibrant, bouncy track. It is followed by the more reflective, melodic "Chances Are," with Phell playing as if he was playing a guitar. The closing tune is the bop-flavored "Blues For Who?" where all three solos. Teymur Phell shows himself to be not only a superb electric bass player but also a composer of merit. The excellent playing and varied compositions make "Master Volume" a very engaging recording.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is Teymur Phell with Mike Stern performing John Coltrane's"Mr. P.C."


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Calabria Foti In the Still of the Night

Calabria Foti
In the Still of the Night
MoCo Records

It has been almost a decade since Calabria Foti last had a recording under her name. A singer who has the likes of Johnny Mathis and Johnny Mandel boosting her, her album “A Lovely Way to Spend An Evening,” was a treasure of romanticism and sensuousness as she brought her own voice to the American songbook. The present release is certainly welcome and turns her voice to the wonderful works of Cole Porter. On this, she is backed by Michael Patterson, piano; Eddie Daniels, clarinet; Gene Bertoncini, guitar; Richard Locker, cello; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ike Sturm, bass; and Jared Schonig, drums in various combinations.

Like her last recording, Foti brings a mix of sensuousness and romanticism. The clarity in her delivery, her use of vocal dynamics, phrasing, pitch, and timing plus her voice’s own quality help make for some wonderful renditions of these classic American songs with the sublime, imaginative and understated backing. Bertoncini’s guitar and Daniels’ clarinet embellish the opening “Just One of Those Things,” Locker’s cello adds unusual coloring to her wistful performance of “Miss Otis Regrets,” while McChesney’s gruff trombone complements the slow tempo treatment of “Anything Goes” with her deliberate phasing matched by the uncluttered backing.

Patterson’s accompaniments are a significant additional factor underlying the sublime music here such as his solo accompaniment that opens “What Is This Thing Called Love” with Sturm’s firm bass and Schonig’s adroit use of brushes backing her wonderful handling of this ballad with Daniels providing a clarinet solo, and his obligatos on a relaxed “Night and Day,” add to its charm which also includes some unison vocalizing by Foti with Daniels, while the presence of cello and guitar contribute to the poignancy of the delivery of “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” “Its Alright With Me” is perhaps the liveliest of vocals here with a smoky, twisting clarinet solo. The romanticism she can bring to a lyric is most evident on “i.”

Her superb heartfelt rendition of the title track with Locker’s cello establishing the mood closes this superb, engrossing tribute to one of the 20th Century’s greatest songwriters. Hopefully, we will not have to wait almost a decade for Calabria Foti’s next recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 376).  She has a new release, "Prelude to a Kiss" which I will post a review of shortly. Here is a video of Calabria Foti backed by guitarist John Fox performing Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone."

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Take 5 With Clifton Chenier

This edition of Take 5 brings us a short playlist of Clifton Chenier, The King of Zydeco who left us so many years ago. Zydeco is the music of the Black Creole French Speaking People of Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas. A musical cousin of Louisiana Cajun music, zydeco's roots also included blues and Caribbean influences. The accordion is the lead instrument. Unlike cajun music where a button accordion is used, Zydeco accordion players vary in the type of accordion they play. In the case of Chenier, he played a piano accordion and often came off sounding liking like a one-man big band. The Louisiana born Chenier was based in Texas Cities like Port Arthur and Houston as bayou communities like Lake Charles and Lafayette.

His first recordings were made for the small Elko label, but in the mid-50s he recorded for Specialty and with Specialty had his first hit record, "Ay Tete Fee," with a band that included guitarists Lonesome Sundown and Phillip Walker.

Clifton had an up and down musical career until Lightnin' Hopkins took Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records to see Hopkins' cousin, Clifton Chenier at a Houston bar. It would lead Strachwitz to record Chenier which began a long-standing relationship. Also, bu this time Clifton had reunited with his brother Cleveland who would play the frottoir, a fabricated aluminum rubboard that Clifton invented that replaced the washboard as a percussion instrument. For Arhoolie, Clifton recorded some of the rhythm and blues he performed and Strachwitz got him to record half of the album, "Louisiana Blues and Zydeco" in French. Here is "Louisiana Blues" sung in French.

There are so many recordings I could highlight by Chenier, but one of my favorites is his rendition of Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go," with his uncle Morris Chenier on the gut-bucket fiddle.

Just with a drummer or his brother on frottoir, Clifton could fill a ballroom up with dancers. There are many two-steps and other hot numbers. Here he revives a big band number associated with Glenn Miller, "In the Mood."

Finally, we close with the bluesy slow dance, "I'm Coming Home."  

There is so much more Clifton Chenier one could choose. He still remains one of my favorites.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The McNaMarr Project Holla & Moan

The McNaMarr Project
Holla & Moan
Bahool Records

The McNaMarr Project consists of guitarist-vocalist John McNamara and vocalist Andrea Marr. The two are amongst the leading performers on the soul and blues scene in their native Australia. "Holla & Moan" is their first release and recorded in Memphis at the famed Royal Studios. The studio band includes a rhythm section of guitarist Bobby Manuel, bassist Ray Griffin, drummer Willie Hall, keyboardist Lester Snell. There is a brassy horn section with Scott Thompson on trumpet, Lannie McMillan on tenor sax, and Jim Spake on baritone sax. Lester Snell provided all the arrangements of the nine originals the two have written.

From the title track's first notes to the final moments of "Blues Brought Me Home," This recording almost sounds like a lost Stax recording session. Think about duets by William Bell or Eddie Floyd, and Mavis Staples or Johnnie Taylor and Carla Thomas (and also the blue-eyed soul of Delaney and Bonnie). Marr and McNamara suggest those classic duets as well as the church preaching approach of Sam and Dave or Bobby & James Purify. There is the deep soul rocker title track or the deep southern soul ballad of "Missing You." The publicity compares Marr to Bettye Lavette and vintage Tina Turner, and her vocal on "Throwing Down a Little Love" suggests a comparison to Lavette is not far-fetched. McNamara sounds equally natural and persuasive and throughout throws in well-placed guitar licks. His guitar is well-featured on "Keep It Rollin'."

Perhaps the soul ballad "History" is the high point, but the entire recording is superb. With stellar backing and idiomatic originals the two brought to the recording session, The McNaMarr Project will surprise those who might not believe that a duo from down-under can get down so well. "Holla & Moan" is highly recommended.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here The McNaMarr Project is seen performing "Missing You."

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Surefire Sweat

Surefire Sweat
Surefire Sweat

On its website, Surefire Sweat describes itself as "made up of a diverse and multi-generational roster of Toronto-based artists. The music, composed by Juno-nominated drummer, Larry Graves, draws on an amalgam of Funk, Jazz, Brass Band, Blues, and Worldly rhythms." Led by Graves, others members of this group include Rob Neal Christian - Flute; Elena Kapeleris - Tenor Sax; Vocals;  Paul Metcalfe - Baritone Sax; Brad Eaton - Trumpet; Paul MacDougall - Guitar; Vocals; Liam Smith - Bass Guitar, Rhodes, Vocals; and Dave Chan - Percussion, Hammond Organ, Vocals.

According to some of the press materials, the original intention for this project "was to provide audiences with a sort of innovative dance music, but the music seems to be as successful in 'listening room' as with environments offering a 'dance floor.'" Indeed that is established on the opening "Threshold" with is driving Afro[pop groove, unison horn parts and Brad Eaton's hot, yet lyrical trumpet solo, where if one is not at least tapping one's feet, then one's pulse should be checked. Much can be said about the other tracks with powerful, focused ensemble playing and excellent soloing. Guitarist Paul MacDougall is an especially striking player as on "Sunshine Interference" where he is the leading voice with African-accented riffs before his scintillating solo. A group chant opens "A Tale of Two Times" with a more sedate tempo and Metcalfe's brawny baritone sax trading fours with MacDougall's bell-ringing guitar before Metcalfe's intense, full-throated solo.

There is a contagious playful spirit on a number of the songs including "RH Factor" with Graves taking several short drum breaks at the beginning of a lively performance which also provides a spotlight for bassist Liam Smith and trumpeter Eaton. "Number Nine" is a vibrant tribute to the great Nigerian drummer Tony Allen with superb trumpet while Graves' driving attack provides an irresistible pulse. "Scoffle Strut" was inspired by guitarist John Scofield and the recording exhibits a bit of a fusion tone. Chan adds color on organ, while Kapeleris' burly tenor sax makes its presence felt on with MacDougall playing with a bit more twang and a touch of reverb. It provides a close to an excellent recording that is wonderfully played and makes for high-spirited, captivating listening.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is a video of Surefire Sweat performing "A Tale of Two Times."

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Paul Combs Unknown Dameron

Paul Combs
Unknown Dameron
Summit Records

Paul Combs, author of "Dameronia: The Life and Music of Tadd Dameron," is the leader of this celebration of lesser-known and previously unrecorded works by Tadd Dameron. Dameron's music has long inspired Combs. "I loved his melodies, as well as his notion that our purpose as musicians should be to create something of beauty as a balm for the ugliness in the world - or as Art Blakey, Tadd's colleague, and friend but it 'to wash the dirt of the day off of people.'" He plays all the saxophones and provided all of the arrangements on this project. Among those joining him are Alex Aspinall, Charles Ruggiero or Richard Sellers, drums; Ken Cook, Bill Cunliffe, piano, Melonie Grinnell, or Kamau Kenyatta, piano; Jeff Denson, Alex Frank, or Rob Thorsen, bass; Derek Cannon, trumpet; and Danielle Wertz, voice. Unfortunately, my download did not include the personnel on specific tracks.

About the music, Combs states, "While Dameron is fairly well-known for the eight compositions that have become part of the jazz canon, there are many more of his works that deserve our attention. Of the twelve selections recorded here seven were never recorded, and two only recorded once. The three songs with words have only been available on rather rare recordings, although there seems to be a renewed interest in them." This recording is likely to instill interest in all these songs.

While some of the melody lines and harmonies might hint at such classics as "Hot House," "Our Delight," "Lady Bird," and the ballad "If You Could See Me Know," these compositions stand on their own starting with "Conversation," which was initially written for Harlan Leonard's Kansas City Rockets but not recorded. Besides that he handsome arrangement, Combs delivers a rousing baritone sax solo which is followed by some excellent trumpet by Derek Cannon set against a relaxed tempo. "Take a Chance on Spring" has been recorded previously and showcases Wertz's delightful singing and scatting. This selection also has a terrific piano solo and some trading fours between Wertz and Combs.

There is a charming "Don't Forget It," written during Dameron's time with Jimmy Lunceford, with Cannon taking the lead on this. Bill Lee previously recorded the ballad "Never Been In Love," with lyrics by Bernie Hanighen on an obscure Strata-East LP. Wertz's singing here is exquisite with the understated piano trio accompaniment. Combs advises that "Sando Latino" was written for a lost recording by Milt Jackson. Whatever the case, the Latin tinge enhances a typical lovely Dameron melodic line with Cannon and Combs (on tenor sax) each negotiating the tunes harmonic scheme.

Combs burly baritone sax shares the spotlight with Cannon on "A La Bridges," which was written for and recorded by Harlan Leonard's Kansas City Rockets. Bridges was Harry Bridges, the Rockets tenor saxophonist who shares composer credits. "Weekend" combines lyrics about a ski weekend with a bossa nova groove which is beautifully sung by Wertz with Combs displaying a gruff, but lyrical talent one on the baritone. Combs' tenor ballad playing is at the forefront of the enchanting "Come Close."

"Unknown Dameron" is a revelation for those only familiar with Tadd Dameron's most famous recordings. A labor of love for Combs, the music here is rich in warmth and melodic qualities. With the first-rate ensembles and superb soloists, it hopefully will be an inspiration for future interpretations of these compositions from Dameron's oeuvre.

I received a download to review from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 386). Here is a promo video for this CD.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Lee Boys Live On The East Coast

The Lee Boys
Live On The East Coast
M.C. Records

It has been 22 years since Arhoolie Records issued "Sacred Steel," a collection of recordings by performers associated with the Church of the Living God. In this church, steel guitar, whether lap steel or pedal steel, played a substantial role in the intense religious music of the member churches. That initial release included performances from Sonny Treadway, Glenn Lee, Willie Eason, Harry Nelson, and Aubrey Ghent. That CD was produced by folklorist Robert Stone who wrote the liner notes for The Lee Brothers "Live on the East Coast." He notes that The Lee Boys were raised in the sacred steel tradition, and this tradition has expanded its reach since the pioneering releases on Arhoolie. They are playing at music clubs and festivals internationally. This music has become popular among roots music fans and jam music fans.

The Lee Brothers, Alvin, Derrick, and Keith started to present their music internationally at the time brother Glenn passed away from cancer. They have helped spread this music worldwide since, along with other artists like The Campbell Brothers and Robert Randolph. The present album was recorded at the Suwanee Roots Festival, the Thanksgathering Festival, and the Reeves Festival from October to December 2018. The members of the Lee Brothers at these shows were Alvin Lee, electric guitar and backing vocals; Derrick Lee, lead and backing vocals; Keith Lee, lead and backing vocals; Chris Johnson, pedal steel; Alvin Cordy, Jr., bass guitar, lead and backing vocals; Earl Walker, drums.

Starting with the opening selection, "In the Morning," the Lee Boys generate such an infectious, driving groove and deliver such spirited, passionate vocals that their appeal among a general music audience who may not be drawn by the religious message of most of their songs. They bring they joyful gospel with an infectious pulse that is similar to that of such North Mississippi blues legends as Mississippi Fred McDowell and R.L. Burnside. Some of the material is traditionally based, including a Brother Joe May hit from 50 years ago, "Don't Let the Devil Ride," along with originals in a similar manner like "Testify" and "Lord, Help Me To Hold Out." There are also stirring renditions of The Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There," and the Bobby Bland classic, "Turn on Your Love Light." Besides the impassioned vocals, there is the tight, heated backing with the vocalized, fiery steel guitar, and Alvin Lee adding his own guitar interjections.

Listening to this, one can imagine thousands of all types of religious persuasion standing and dancing to this album's riveting sacred music performances.

I received my review copy from MC Records. Here are The Lee Boys performing "In the Morning."

Monday, November 11, 2019

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis Big Band Holidays II

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Big Band Holidays II
Blue Engine Records

Among the new recordings to help folks celebrate the winter holidays is "Big Band Holidays II" by Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. This celebrated Orchestra brings big band swing to some holiday favorites and some lesser-known tunes for this time of year. The musicians contributing to these performances from the Orchestra's annual Holiday programs are: Reeds - Sherman Irby –  alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, flute; music director (2015-2016); Ted Nash – alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, flute; Victor Goines – music director (2018); tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet; Walter Blanding (2015–2017) – tenor saxophone, clarinet, shaker; Paul Nedzela – baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; *Camille Thurman (2018) – tenor and soprano saxophones; Trumpets - Marcus Printup; Kenny Rampton; Wynton Marsalis (music director, 2017/18); *Ryan Kisor (2015, 2017-2018);*Greg Gisbert (2016); *Bruce Harris (2016);*Tatum Greenblatt (2017); Trombones - Vincent Gardner; Chris Crenshaw; Elliot Mason (2015-2016, 2018); *Sam Chess (2017); *Eric Miller (2018); and Rhythm Section - Dan Nimmer – piano; Carlos Henriquez – bass; Ali Jackson (2015-2016) – drums; *Marion Felder (2017) – drums; and *Charles Goold (2018) – drums. Those named marked with an asterisk are substitute orchestra members. Guests on this release include Aretha Franklin – vocals and piano; Audrey Shakir – vocals; Denzal Sinclaire vocals; Catherine Russell – vocals; Veronica Swift – vocals; James Chirillo – guitar.

Anyone who has seen the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) knows what a superb band it is whose members are excellent session players and also fabulous soloists. It is a terrific big band in the Count Basie or Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Bands vein. The JLCO members contributing the arrangements for these eleven wonderful performances that open with Wynton Marsalis' arrangement of "Winter Wonderland," where Marsalis' trumpet is only one of the exceptional soloists. Catherine Russell is present for three vocals with her singing on Steve Allan's "Cole Yule" standing out. Sherman Irby arranged this, and he soloed brilliantly. Denzel Sinclaire is heard singing on an animated "We Three Kings" and a bluesy arrangement of "Silent Night." The former number was arranged by Carlos Henriquez and also features Paul Nedzela's superb baritone sax. Victor Goines arranged "Silent Night," which has James Chirillo's bluesy guitar solo. Aretha Franklin is stunning on "O Tannenbaum," accompanied only by her piano. Vocalist Veronica Swift shines on "(Everybody's Waitin' for) The Man with the Bag," with Vincent Gardner's trombone (quoting "Frosty the Snowman") in the spotlight. Walter Blanding is responsible for the swinging arrangement.

The other performances are similarly first-rate, including the buoyant Latin groove of "Brazilian Sleigh Bells." Wynton Marsalis makes the announcements and salutes the various soloists on these excellent, vibrant, toe-tapping, brassy performances. "Big Band Holidays II" will undoubtedly bring plenty of holiday cheer to any holiday celebrations.

I received a download to review from Jazz at Lincoln Center/ Blue Engine Records. Here is the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performing "Sleigh Ride."

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Take 5 with Fletcher Henderson

Today's edition of Take 5 is a short playlist of Fletcher Henderson's Big Band. There are so many excellent tunes one might select, but I just want to give a brief sense of how great this band was. To delve more deeply you might want to check out "A Study in Frustration," an import CD set of the original 4 LP reissue. 

While Louis Armstrong's time with Fletcher Henderson was a brief one, it had a definite impact on not only the musicians in Henderson's Band and others. Here is the Fletcher Henderson Band when Armstrong was a member performing "Sugarfoot Stomp." This is an orchestral arrangement of King Oliver's "Dippermouth Blues" that King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band recorded with Armstrong on second cornet." The arranger was Don Redman who also played alto sax in the band at the time. Redman would be a very influential bandleader and arranger.

Next up is a rendition of "The Stampede," which was recorded shortly after Armstrong had left Henderson. The cornetist on this is Rex Stewart who was with Henderson for several years. Stewart is best remembered for his time with Duke Ellington, starting in 1934. also in the band from the 1920s is Coleman Hawkins (he is on "Sugarfoot Stomp").

One of Henderson's most famous recordings was "New King Porter's Stomp." Rex Stewart opens up with his muted cornet with Coleman Hawkins also featured. Henderson's arrangement would reach even more ears when Benny Goodman used it.

Later, Henry 'Red' Allen' joined Henderson's Band. Among the numbers Henderson recorded while Allen was in the band, was the futuristic sounding "Queer Notions," with solos by Coleman Hawkins and Allen

For the last Henderson recording, we will listen to a selection after Hawkins and Allen had left the band. Among their replacements were Roy Eldridge and Chu Berry. Here the band performs a favorite during the swing era, "Blue Lou."

Friday, November 08, 2019

Alabama Mike Hip You To My Blues

Alabama Mike
Hip You To My Blues
Big Tone Records

It was a surprise to learn about a new release by Alabama Mike (real name Michael A. Benjamin) on Big Jon Atkinson's new label. Alabama Mike's earlier recordings, such as those with The Andy T Band in 1997's "Double Strike," often displayed a gospel-rooted vocal style in the manner of Little Johnnie Taylor. This new release finds him in a down-home blues vein with a dose of Lightnin' Hopkins flavor along with some tracks that evoke early 50s Chicago flavor. This recording reflects Alabama Mike's long-burning desire to "do a record in the classic style of early electric blues pioneers… ." The backing musicians on this set of retro blues include Kim Wilson on harmonica, Big Jon Atkinson guitar, Danny Michel on guitar, Troy Sandow on bass, Kedar Roy on bass, Joe Lempkowski on harmonica, June Core on drums, Malachi Johnson on drums, Robert Welsh on keyboards, on retro-sounding performances.

Alabama Mike certain invests his vocals with intensity and soul. The Lightnin' Hopkins influence can best be heard on the opening "Black Cadillac" (with Atkinson on guitar) as well as the revival of Hopkins' "Hello Central" with Danny Michel on guitar, Kim Wilson on harmonica and Marty Dodson on drums lending the performance a swamp blues flavor. Danny Michel also channels Hopkins guitar on the swamp blues "California Blues," with choice Joe Lempkowski harmonica accompaniment.

A reworking of John Lee 'Sonny Boy' Williamson's "Cut That Out" sounds as a down-home version of Junior Wells fifties recording. Kim Wilson is on harmonica, Atkinson on guitar and Dodson on drums. Welsh provides the greasy organ on "Diabetic Man" with Wilson on the harp. On "How You Want Your Rollin Done," Atkinson plays some excellent T-Bone Walker styled guitar. On Big Bill Broonzy's "I Feel So Good," Alabama Mike delivers a strong vocal in the manner of Muddy Waters with J.B. Hutto styled slide guitar in the backing. "Keep My Grave Clean" is an ingenious band reworking of what was Blind Lemon Jefferson's most famous recording, while the cover of J.B. Hutto's "Too Much Alcohol" sticks close to the arrangement of Hutto's Delmark recording.

A moody rendition of Willie Love's "V-8 Food" with Atkinson and Welsh closes a release of notable down-home blues performances. There are a couple of times the backing may be a tad skeletal, but Alabama Mike's singing and the idiomatic support result in a most entertaining blues album.

I purchased this. Here is Alabama Mike performing "Let Me Hip You To My Blues."

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Paul Gabriel Man of Many Blues

Paul Gabriel
Man of Many Blues
Smoke Ring Records

of Many Blues" is the latest CD from New England based guitarist-singer Paul Gabriel. Duke Robillard, who also plays on this recording, produced it. Gabriels performs 13 originals and is backed by an all-star cast of musicians, including Duke Robillard (acoustic archtop guitar, electric guitar); Scott Spray (a veteran of both Edgar and Johnny Winter bands), long-time Gabriel friend and band member Frank Davis and Paul Opalach (bass); Mark Teixeira (drums); Sugar Ray Norcia (harmonica); Bruce Bears (piano and Hammond organ); Lonnie Gasperini (Hammond organ); Howard Eldridge (vocals); Christine Ohlman (backing vocals); Mark Earley (tenor and baritone sax); and Doug James (baritone sax). This is the second album by Gabriel that Robillard has produced and it is dedicated to Gabriel's friend Georgia Louis, a 1960s Gospel and Blues singer.

The recording has a varied program of blues, blues-infused rhythm and blues and pop. Gabriel, to these ears, strength is his vocals. He sings naturally with a relaxed sense of timing that this listener finds appealing. He has written several memorable, adult songs that are handsomely played with some strong solos, but the performances are vocal focused. There is a celebration of music on the opening track, a New Orleans blues "I Feel Good." On the pop-flavored "Cold Cold Cold" with Mark Earley's tenor sax adds flavor to a song that has hints of the music of Steely Dan, and Hall and Oates. Sugar Ray Norcia adds his harmonica to the folk-blues lament, "I'll Be That Way Sometime." There is a Johnny 'Guitar' Watson funk flavor to "No Finance No Romance" on which Howard Eldridge shares the vocal.

"Blues For Georgia," dedicated to Georgia Louis, is a jazzy R&B instrumental displaying Gabriel's thoughtful, non-flashy guitar playing. There is the world-weary humor of "Second Story Man," as he traipses all across town with a woman who can't find her key when she gets home. Both Gabriel and Robillard have concise solos on this. Musically "Man of Many Blues" evokes some of Johnny Adams' Rounder recordings. It has a lyric about a person who took some abuse in his life but never took shortcuts with some biting jazz-inflected blues guitar. "Face Full of Frown" is a lively jump blues shuffle with a driving guitar solo. Dear John Letter" closes this CD in an album rock vein with some searing guitar.

 I do have one complaint, and that is the text on the album cover is very difficult to read. The red type on the dark brown background does not help the legibility of text. About the music, I enjoyed it very much. I might not call this is the best thing since sliced toast with orange marmalade, but Paul Gabriel brings sophistication and a deep blues feeling to these well-recorded, well-performed and delightful musical performances.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 386), although I made minor stylistic changes. Here he performs "Blues For Georgia."