Friday, January 31, 2020

Negroni's Trio Acústico

Negroni's Trio
Sony Music/ Latin

Negroni’s Trio is comprised of a “father and son team,” José Negroni, on piano and keyboards,  Nomar Negroni, on drums and percussions, completing the trio for this recording is bassist Josh Allen. José, who was born in Puerto Rico, is a classically trained pianist, composer, and arranger while his son, Nomar, followed in his father’s footsteps and developed into a consummate percussionist. The father and son have created their own unique voice performing traditionally known jazz classics, Latin jazz, and jazz fusion. "Acústico" is their latest recording and one that will mesmerize listeners with the mix of the trio's virtuosity, and the charged rhythmic romanticism of the performances of 8 originals and three covers.

Nomar's composition "Let's Go Camping" opens in a fiery matter with plenty of percussive fireworks before segueing into a more lyrical mood. Bassist Allen provides an anchor for the dialogue between pianist and drummer with the energy building back up as José develops his solo over a memorable riff. José's "Air" showcases his graceful and fluid touch while his son provides heat with the groove and the accents he gives. On the atmospheric opening of "Puerto Del Sol," Allen's arco bass meshes with José's plucking of his piano strings before the pianist's lyrical romanticism comes to the fore.

There is a strong Spanish tinge to José's solo that opens "Maria Cervantes." A middle segment in this recording is launched by ardent drumming from Nomar. A closing solo piano one follows this segment. With all of the outstanding originals, there is also an excellent interpretation of Bud Powell's "Tempus Fugit." It is taken at a slower tempo than Powell's original. Bassist Allen is showcased here along with Jose's imaginative inventive soloing and Nomar's vigorous Latin rhythmic groove.

"Monica's Drum's" is a solo feature for Nomar, capping of this brilliant and compelling piano trio recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388). Here is Negroni's Trio performing Tempus Fugit."

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Mitch Woods A Tip of the Hats to Fats

Mitch Woods
A Tip of the Hats to Fats
Blind Pig

If one is already familiar with Mitch woods, then you will know what to expect with the live recording from the 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Woods has been playing boogie-woogie and jump blues piano for decades and in the past couple of decades, has added a heavy dose of New Orleans R&B gumbo to his musical mix. He is a terrific pianist and a warm, natural singer who always brings a good-time party.

For this live recording, he had a band with Roger Lewis on baritone sax, Amadee Castenell and Brian 'Breeze' Cayolle on sax, John Fohl on guitar, Cornell Williams on bass, and Terence Higgins on drums. It is a tight band that captures the classic New Orleans sound on Woods' idiomatic original, "Solid Gold Cadillac," and his tribute to Professor Longhair, "Mojo Mambo." The last number is derived from Earl King's "Big Chief." The centerpiece of this lively set was three numbers associated with Fats Domino to whom the 2018 Festival was dedicated. Booting sax solos from Cayolle and Lewis enliven a relaxed "Blue Monday," and Lewis storms through his baritone sax solo on "Jambalaya." Then there is a terrific rendition of "Walking To New Orleans." The classic old Clarence Garlow recording, "Crawfishin'," is a rocking New Orleans flavored jump blues with a superb John Fohl guitar solo and more rousing baritone sax from Lewis, while "Rocket 88" becomes a storming boogie-woogie."

A closing rendition of the classic pop boogie-woogie number, "House of Blue Lights," puts a close to the party that Woods was leading at the Blues Tent that JazzFest day. Well recorded by Munck Music, this is another wonderfully performed Mitch Woods performance to add to his marvelous body of recordings.

I purchased this recording. Here is Mitch Woods doing a 2019 in-store appearance at the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans to promote "A Tip of the Hats to Fats."

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Jack Mack & The Heart Attack Live From Centennial Park-Atlanta 1996

Jack Mack & The Heart Attack
Live From Centennial Park-Atlanta 1996
Free Roll Records

Jack Mack & The Heart Attack are veterans of the LA scene with a classic Memphis-Muscle Shoals soul sound that undoubtedly was this he backdrop for many a party. This recording was memorialized when they performed at Centennial Park in Atlanta as part of the Atlanta Olympics cultural celebrations. It is a performance cut off abruptly at the end by the sound of an explosion as a pipe bomb went off near the stage, killing one person and injuring 111. The CD is being released at the same time, the movie "Richard Jewell," about the security guard wrongfully accused of being the bomber. Two of the songs from this recording are used in the Clint Eastwood film.

The personnel of Jack Mack & The Heart Attack in 1996 included Andrew Kastner (guitar and vocals), Bill Bergman (tenor sax and vocals), John Paruolo (Hammond B-3 and vocals), Lester Lovitt (Trumpet and vocals), Tim Scott (bass and vocals), TC Moses (lead vocals) and Alvino Bennett (drums). There is not much to say about the music here other than it is exceptionally played soul and R&B of the period. Moses was a powerful singer that night, and the band provided robust sympathies backing starting from the cover of the Dyke and the Blazers funky "(We Got) More Soul" to the sweet soul of the band's original "I Walked Alone" that closes this recording. Standout tracks include an inspired rendition of The Staples' "Respect Yourself," and a funky treatment of James Brown's "Sex Machine" (where tenor saxophonist Bergman takes a fiery solo and Paruolo quotes the Wide World of Sports theme in his Hammond B-3 solo), and a spectacular medley of Sly and The Family Stone songs.

Add in Band originals that fit right in with the covers, and one has one terrific performance documented by this superb recording, although the act of domestic terrorism put a damper at the event.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388) although a couple stylistic changes and corrections have been made. Here is "(We Got) More Soul" from this performance.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Jeff Chaz No Paint

Jeff Chaz
No Paint
JCP Records

This new release by New Orleans based blues musician, Jeff Chaz, is his first in three years and first with his trio of bass guitarist Augie Joachim and drummer Rick Jones. Chaz is a triple threat as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter, and he wrote 9 of the ten songs heard here.

I found Chaz a striking guitarist and a very robust singer with gravelly delivered shouting suggestive of Omar Dykes. At times it might sound a bit overbearing as on "You Ain 't Shackin' No More," but generally, his robust delivery is very satisfying. The opening track, a cover of the old Tyrone Davis hit "Turn Back the Hands of Time," is one of the high points as he hammers out chords along with single notes runs. A straight blues original "The Stars Are Out," where he pours out his heart in his vocal. His use of dynamics in his guitar playing is notable as he plays tremolo-laced bass lines to high-end single note flurries. A similar track is "Lowdown, Dirty Blues."

Chaz is a witty lyricist who wrote some memorable verses, such as the tagline of the song "Life Is Like Coffee," "Life is like coffee, it never tastes as good as it smells." For "Blues Buffet," he wonders what blues she is serving up today as he recalls what she served last night, and he is really trying to make things work while she works overtime. He takes a very imaginative and impressive solo on this.

A rhythm guitarist or a keyboard player may have added to the range of tonal colors. Still, his playing is impressive, as are Chaz's engaging performances on a fascinating recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388), although I have made some clarifying changes. Here is "Blues Buffett" from the album.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Doug MacDonald & the Tarmac Ensemble Live at Hanger 18: Jazz Marathon 4

Doug MacDonald & the Tarmac Ensemble
Live at Hanger 18: Jazz Marathon 4

This is the fourth recording of a "jazz marathon" event put on by Don Thomson. Alternating between two separate ensembles, one has the format for continuous music for the event held at the Hanger 18 restaurant at the Marriott LAX Hotel. The Tarmac Ensemble is, of course, a play on the fact this takes place at an airport hotel. I have been quite impressed with guitarist MacDonald's recent recordings. He is the leader here joined by vibes player Charlie Shoemake, pianist Joe Bagg, alto saxophonist, flutist and arranger Kim Richmond, trumpeter Ron Stout, trombonist Ira Nepus, and tenor saxophonist Rickey Woodward. Harvey Newkirk and John B Williams are on bass, and Kendall Kay and Roy McCurdy are on drums. There are 14 jazz classics and standards performed, and MacDonald contributed two originals. In the brief liner notes, the contribution of Kim Richmond to the West Coast jazz scene of the 196s is stated.

This is a collection of sixteen wonderfully played straight-ahead jazz starting with MacDonald's swinging "San Fernando Boulevard." MacDonald is a fluid, fleet, and inventive guitarist, whether soloing or chording behind Richmond on flute. It is followed by a lovely ballad, "Dreamsville," with Shoemake's crystalline vibes adding to the delight of this elegant performance. There is a playful "Lollipops and Roses" that again features MacDonald and Shoemake. "I Thought About You" is an excellent solo guitar performance. Except for the opening track with Richmond and the solo performance, these selections are only with the rhythm section, including Harvey Newkirk and Kendall Kay.

Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" has John B Williams and Roy McCurdy as part of the rhythm section. It is taken slightly quicker than Hancock's original recording. Stout takes a fiery trumpet solo, after which MacDonald displays his taste and creativity, and followed by saxophonist Woodward's robust tenor sax. There is the hard-swinging "Pennies From Heaven," that opens with trombonist Nepus soaring over the other horns over a performance graced by Richmond's exquisite arrangement.

While the back cover indicates the Gershwins' "Strike Up the Band," closes the first CD, it, in fact, opens the second CD, which returns us the same group that began this recording. Shoemake and the leader are featured while bassist Newkirk anchors and propels this rendition. Richmond's flute adds to the charm of MacDonald's other original, "LL." The rhythms sway like a breezy day on a Rio beach for the bossa nova, "Someone To Light Up My Life." It is a feature for MacDonald while Shoemake's vibes provide a shimmering backdrop. Richmond did the handsome arrangement for a relaxed interpretation of "Body and Soul." This is a feature for Stout's romantic trumpet and Richmond's alto sax. On "Where or When," Woodward shows what a superb ballad player he is.

Everybody takes their turn on a rousing "Tune Up" that provides a coda on nearly two hours of outstanding jazz that took flight from Hanger 18 that memorable July 2019 evening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388). Here is "Tune Up" from this recording.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

More Take 5 With St. James Infirmary.

This is a second short playlist of versions of the classic American song, "St. James Infirmary," to follow up on the initial list presented last Saturday.

We start with a version from George E. Lee & His Orchestra. Lee was the older brother of Julia Lee who became quite popular as a pianist and vocalist.

One of the great New Orleans trumpeters to come out of New Orleans after Louis Armstrong, Henry 'Red' Allen performed this song while touring England with the Alex Welsh band. Incidentally, Allen was with King Oliver's Band when this was recorded in 1930 under Oliver's name.

There have been so many great recordings from this from the likes of Eric Burdon, Lou Rawls, and Van Morrison. In this vein we have Tom Jones and Rhiannon Giddens singing it.

Next up is the great James Booker.

There are so many other choices I could have chosen including solo acoustic renditions from Josh White Snooks Eaglin,  Doc Watson or Dave Van Ronk. Other versions I might have selected include those Trombone Shorty at the White House, various Brass Bands, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dee Dee Bridgewater, or Cassandra Wilson. To end this playlist though I have selected Jon Batiste & Stay Human from the 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Django Orchestra

The Django Orchestra
The Django Orchestra

When browsing at Bandcamp's website, this seemed to be an interesting recording, and indeed it is. Albert Bello (solo guitar) is the artistic director and co-producer of this excellent big band album from Barcelona. Musically, this is big band jazz mixed with Quintette du Hot Club de France renditions of mostly Django Reinhardt's music (the one exception being "Tea For Two"). Sort of like Django meets the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. The lengthy "Blues en Mineur Suite" is a tour de force with a terrific big band exploration of the theme with a brief segment played by a small group in the vein of the Hot Club of France. Vocalist Elisenda Julià is featured on a delightful "Tea For Two," with Oriol Saña's violin providing obligatos under her vocal, which is followed by some fine muted trumpet. This is a captivating selection in a fascinating, engrossing album.

A fabulous "Minor Swing" closes this CD, with an exhilarating acoustic quintet segueing into an explosive big band close. The Django Orchestra is a first-rate big band, and the arrangements and engineering allow the acoustic guitar of Bello and the violin of Saña to be front and center. Kudos to Sergi Vergés, who provided all of the arrangements and was co-producer of this recording that is a celebration of the legacy of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli.

I purchased this from from which one can buy this as a download or CD (which includes a download. One also gets unlimited streaming of one's Bandcamp purchases. Here is the Bandcamp link, Here is a video of The Django Orchestra performing "Viper's Dream," one of the tunes on the CD.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

John Allee Bardfly

John Allee

Portuguese Knees Music

The title of the veteran stage and TV actor, and singer-songwriter John Allee's album is a play on the word Barfly. "Bardfly" is a hip way of expressing the fusion of his dual lifelong passions for all things Shakespeare and jazz. Allee has performed in a number of productions of Shakespeare. "Bardfly" itself arose from Allee's role as Twelfth Night's Feste the Clown in a theatrical mashup called "Barfly Shakespeare," presented at a night club in North Hollywood. For this recording, Allee mines verses from a wide swath of Shakespeare's canon from Othello to Henry IV as a foundation everything from blues, ballads, and hymns to spoken word and swinging ditties. I lack the background in the Bard's work to identify specific sources of specific lyrics, but that has not prevented the enjoyment of this recording.

Adopting the persona of Feste "The Bardfly" Johnson, who is introduced in the opening selection, a talking blues "Bardfly Blues/Samingo." On the opening selection, Allee introduces us to his alter ego against a jazzy backdrop. Allee's recitation reminds me of that by Jean Shepard for Charles Mingus' "The Clown." The backing is more a straight late-night blues vamp played by pianist Maleesh Balasooriya, drummer Aaron Mclendon, bassist Dominic Thiroux, saxophonist Javier Vergaga, and trumpeter Matt Von Roderick with the horn players tossing in phrases from "Take the A Train," Harlem Nocturne," and "Epistrophy," and to highlight the narration. It is undoubtedly an entertaining description at the Three Kings Bar, then shifting into a well-spun blues vocal.

Starting listening to "Until the Break of Day," one is readily impressed. His backing band is terrific (Vergaga is exceptional here, and he has a relaxed, lyrical vocal style. Von Roderick's muted trumpet along with his growls adds plenty of flavor to "Tomorrow is St. Valentine's Day," which has a New Orleans inspired groove. Pianist Balasooriya is excellent here, as well. Besides jazz, Albee has an obvious affection for the blues on "Philomel/Hold That Peace," with the two horns adding a classic urban blues feel with sensors saxophone lines. Then there is the wistful delivery of the ballad "Mistress Mine," with lovely muted trumpet. A walking bass opens up Allee's evocative, and hip recitation of "The Hungry Lion," with the horns adding coloring.

The rest of this recording is equally intriguing and captivating. Whether reciting the lyrics or singing, John Allee is quite an engaging performer, whether singing or recitation lyrics. With the splendid backing provided here, he has produced the excellent, delightful jazz-Shakespeare musical fusion, "Bardfly."

I received a download to review from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388).

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Hudspeth & Taylor Folie a Deux

Hudspeth & Taylor
Folie a Deux

This duo is comprised of guitarist Brandon Hudspeth and vocalist-percussionist Jaisson Taylor. I am familiar with Hudspeth from the band Levee Town, whose music struck me as mostly generic blues-rock with enjoyable but generally lacking stand-out vocals. Hudspeth did impress me as a guitarist, if not as a singer. This duo shifts things into an unplugged blues vein with his guitar matched with Taylor, who I found to be an impressive vocalist. The pair are responsible for 12 of the 13 songs here.

This is an easy recording to kick back and simply enjoy. The opening "Big Fat Hairy Lie" has Taylor straight-forward singing about this woman telling him he loved him, but it was a bit fat lie with slid guitar backing. Taylor's unforced natural delivery and clean delivery of the lyrics impress as does Hudspeth's boogie guitar break. "Walking Down the Road," (with Taylor wishing could be with his baby) is an intriguing performance. One can imagine a band performing this as a Jimmy Reed styled shuffle from Hudspeth's boogie guitar backing. Hudspeth's percussive slide guitar attack supports Taylor's forceful singing on "I'll Be Right Back." "Candy Man" is not the Mississippi John Hurt song, but an original by the pair that Taylor sings with genial warmth. Hudspeth's fingerstyle guitar backing is excellent. Adding variety to the music here is the jazzy backing to "Silly Dilly," a song with plenty of wordplays. "Rock With Me Baby" is a boogie shuffle that I find evoking Juke Boy Bonner. There is a country-folk feel to "Low Down Dealer Man," a lament about losing at a gambling table. The title track is a charming instrumental on which Hudspeth exhibits his first-rate fingerstyle guitar. One other track to highlight is "When You Comin' Home," with Hudspeth playing a nifty guitar riff.

In summary, "Folie a Deux" is a well-played, superbly sung collection of entertaining acoustic blues performances.

I likely received a review copy of this from a publicist. Here is a clip from a few years ago of Hudspeth & Taylor in performance.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Karl Berger- Jason Kao Hwang Conjure

Karl Berger- Jason Kao Hwang
True Sound Recordings

This is a recording of two major artists of the modern 'free' jazz world. Karl Berger heard on piano and vibes, is a veteran of the new music scene. He has collaborated with numerous legends such as Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, Lee Konitz, Ray Anderson, Dave Holland, and Pharaoh sanders as well as founded the Creative Music Studio. Jason Kao Hwang, heard on violin and viola, is likewise a significant artist having worked with William Parker, Tomeka Reid, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, and Reggie Workman. The present recording is a series of musical duets that were performed without any written scores.

This is very much a recording of musical conversations between the two as opposed to tune based performances. If one is going to use a label, new music might be appropriate. Listening to this dialogue does have its rewards, and these selections might be considered the musical equivalent of two abstract artists collaborating on a painting, alternating in who applies the brush.

Hwang is a fascinating musician who brings forth a variety of colors ranging from cat-like scratches to a cantorial viola solo. Berger plays dark chords on the piano and shimmering tones on the vibraphone. This contrast adds to the fascination of the performances here. This is challenging music, which may not be for everyone. This listener found "Conjure" fascinating and often compelling.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388).

Monday, January 20, 2020

The 44's Twist the Knife

The 44's
Twist the Knife
Ripcat Records

This is the first recording from The Forty Fours in seven years. Bandleader-Guitarist-vocalist Johnny Main spent the past few years rebuilding the 44's. This all-new lineup includes Eric Von Herzen on harmonica, Mike Hightower on bass, and Gary Ferguson on drums. Junior Watson plays guitar on seven of these eight songs that mostly straight, no-nonsense Chicago blues.

Main is a solid guitarist and robust singer, who sometimes sounds like a Howlin' Wolf imitator as on Wolf's "Howlin' For My Darling," and part of Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer." They turn the old Dirty Red classic "Too Many Drivers" into a relaxed, rocking Chicago shuffle. Von Herzen is outstanding on harmonica while Hightower and Ferguson propel this nicely paced performances. The opening instrumental "Cuttin' Up" showcases Main displaying Albert Collins' influence in his tone here. They convert T-Bone Walker's "T-Bone Shuffle" into a nifty Chicago styled blues, "44's Shuffle."

There is a bit of a psychedelic freakout on the rendition of Doyle Bramhall II's "Rosie," which is the only bum selection to these ears. Also, the playing time is only 33 minutes. These points aside, this is still primarily an entertaining collection of straight-forward Chicago-styled blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388). Here is a recent performance by The 44s.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Take 5 With St. James Infirmary

One of the best-known jazz & blues songs associated with the City of New Orleans, St. James Infirmary has been subject to many recordings and interpretations for decades. Artists such as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Chris Thomas King, and many others have recorded it. Also, it has been subject to scholarly study by Robert W. Harwood (and I recommend this volume) going through its origins and its history. Here is a link with more information about this book.

Today's Take 5 is a short playlist of renditions of this classic tune. And I could easily have included another dozen renditions.

We start today's playlist with the great Louis Armstrong. This was not the first recording. That was by Fess Williams under the title of "Gambler's Blues."  This recording is from 1928 and includes the great Earl Hines on piano.

Next, we turn to the great Cab Calloway who recorded it originally in 1930 but also did a 'soundie' of the tune.

Bobby Bland made one of my favorite recordings of this song. It was the flip side of his No. 2 R&B hit "Don't Cry No More." I have included the original recording and not a live performance as he performed an abbreviated version on the videos available. I note that soul-blues singer Geater Davis also did a recording that was modeled on Bland's version.

Chris Thomas King, son of Baton Rouge blues legend Tabby Thomas, is a highly underrated blues performer and so much more. His moving rendition was included as part of 'Rise," his post-Katrina recording. Here he performs it at The Beeches Jazz Festival in Toronto.

We conclude this with a performance by Shamarr Allen who recorded this for his 'Meet Me on Frenchman Street" album.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Sam Fazio Let's Go

Sam Fazio
Let's Go

Chicago-based vocalist Sam Fazio handles a variety of jazz and pop numbers on this new recording, which is produced by Tuck & Patti. Fazio is a singer of warmth who subtly phrases the songs to reveal the nuances of meaning in the lyrics he delivers. For this recording, his core band members of pianist Chris White and guitarist Tom Fitzgerald traveled with him to the San Francisco area. There the three set up shop in Tuck & Patti's home and studio. They were joined on this recording by Michael Peloquin, harmonica; Leon Joyce, drums; James Henry, percussion; Ron Belcher, bass; and Tuck Andress, bass. Fazio sings songs from the Great American songbook, some pop tunes, and originals from his pen and those of Tuck & Patti.

The opening song is "Pure Imagination" by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. White's understated accompaniment provides the foundation for Fazio's delivery of the lyrics. The selection also is a showcase for Peloquin's harmonica accompaniment and solo. Fazio's warmth and nuanced phrasing is quite evident starting here. The spare setting is followed by the effervescent "Let's Go," composed by Fazio, guitarist Fitzgerald, and Patty Cathcart Andress." Joyce's drums and Henry's percussion help propel his swinging performance along with concise solos from White and Fitzpatrick.

Other intriguing performances include the reflective rendition of Patti's "Reverie," and a perky "S'Wonderful," both with Chris White's thoughtful, restrained backing. Then there is a standout interpretation of Tom Waits' "Downtown Train." Fitzgerald's guitar and Peloquin's harmonica provide the foundation for a performance that displays Fazio's interpretive skills. Tuck Andress' bass provides the backing for a straight-forward reading of "Eleanor Rigby," while Fitzgerald's guitar provides the support for an energetic vocal on "Teach Me Tonight." Fitzgerald leads a small combo that provides a Latin-tinged backing for "Do You Want To Dance."

Sam Fazio's marvelous singing and the understated backing he receives results in a thoroughly captivating recording.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388). Here is a video of Sam Fazio performing.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Dave Specter Knows The Blues From the Inside

Dave Specter
Blues From the Inside
Delmark Records

This latest recording by the veteran Chicago blues artist Dave Specter is the first to sport his vocals, in addition to his ingenious, twisty guitar and songwriting. He has a number of musicians supporting him, including Brother John Kattke on keyboards and vocals, Harlan Terson on bass, Marty Binder on drums, and the Liquid Soul Horns on three selections. Also, Jorma Kaukonen guests on guitar for two tracks.

Specter wrote 11 of the 12 songs (some with Bill Britcha) opening with the title track with its more memorable lyrics about various hardships and paying the dues and playing the blues. It is one of three selections on which he sings, and if not a great singer, he sings quite credibly. His guitar playing is terrific as his band gets a nicely paced shuffle groove together. Specter and Britcha also wrote the lively "Ponchatoula Way," with its Crescent City groove that Kattke takes the soulful vocal on. There are some tempo shifts. Still, it is fascinating listening to Specter builds his solos as the horns riff. Kattke, on piano, also solos here. Kattke also takes a soulful vocal on "March Through the Darkness," a number with a Muscle Shoals feel, with Tad Robinson and Devin Thompson providing the vocal backing. Of course, Specter dazzles again on guitar with his taste and solo construction with Kattke soloing on the organ.

"Sanctifunkious" is a funky instrumental in the manner of a classic Meters recordings. Another instrumental is the Latin-flavored "Minor Shout," that sounds inspired by Santana. Like his playing throughout this recording, Specter's playing is sterling, full of unexpected, imaginative twists with his thoughtful, uncluttered attack. Jorma Kaukonen adds guitar to "How Low Can One Man Go?" with Specter delivering a convincing partially talking vocal with the two trading guitar lines. He also wrote the lyrics to "The Blues Ain't Nothing," a gem of an uptown blues with another first-rate vocal from Kattke and superlative guitar from Specter and then Kaukonen. Sarah Marie Young sings the gospel-blues ballad from Bill Britcha, "Wave's Gonna Come." Britcha plays acoustic guitar on this song while Specter's fretwork accents her superb, gospel-rooted vocal.

An atmospheric instrumental "String Chillin'" closes another recording from Specter that is wonderfully recorded and has excellent material, some first-rate singing, and outstanding playing. It is another notable addition to Specter's body of recordings.

I received my review copy from Delmark Records. This review appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388). Here is a video of "How Low Can One Man Go?"

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Jerome Jennings Solidarity

Jerome Jennings
Iola Records

 Drummer Jerome Jennings may be best known as a member of Christian McBride's band. He has quite a resume. This includes playing on many recordings that I have heard by such artists as Christian Sands, Jazzmeia Horn, Hillary Gardner, Ernestine Anderson, and Houston Person. As a leader, this is his second album showcases his writing. He has assembled for this recording its core unit of trumpeter Josh Evans, tenor and soprano saxophonist Stacy Dillard, trombonist Andrae Murchison, pianist Zaccai Curtis, and Jennings's friend and mentor, legendary bassist Christian McBride. There are also special guests, including saxophonist-flutist Tia Fuller, tenor saxophonist-vocalist Camille Thurman, bassist Endea Owens, and percussionist Carlos Maldonado. The eleven tunes performed include seven originals and four covers that are imaginatively arranged. In his liner notes, he provides comments on each of the selections, including how he was inspired by various subjects. He observes, "This album documents my journey in educating myself and trying to understand the struggles of the most vulnerable people in our society."

Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop" opens with a hip-hop flavor and provides a showcase for the three horns as well as Jennings' crisp, economical, and energetic playing. The first of his originals, "Recy's Lament," is a sober, blues-infused composition inspired by the case of the rape of a Black woman by six white men on her way home from church. The women would later press charges with help from Rosa Parks. While Jennings provides a loping groove, Curtis, Murchison, Dillard, and McBride provide solos to match the gravity conveyed by this composition. Then there is "Marielle (For Marielle Franco)," A Brazilian Black activist against injustice who was assassinated in 2018. There is plenty of fire in this performance with a heated groove, and spirited solos from Evans, Curtis, Fuller, and percussion from Jennings and Maldonado.

The title track opens with the leader's volcanic playing on "a statement of allyship with those most vulnerable in our society." It is followed by McBride developing the four-bar ostinato at its heart before the full band joins in on a highly charged performance with Murchison and Curtis outstanding. One also notes Jennings' excellent scoring of the ensemble horn parts here, which is a backdrop for Jennings volcanic playing for the last several measures of this superb performance. Camille Thurman sings on Jennings' arrangement of "I Love Your Smile," a hit for Shanice in 1991. After Jennings' remarkable solo performance "Heart," is a superb rendition of Woody Shaw's "Three Muses," that captures the feel of Shaw's own groups. Dillard, Evans, and Curtis are quite inspired here. Of the remaining selections, one moving selection is "Convo With Senator Flowers." It is set against his drum accompaniment presents her passionate speech against a proposed "Stand Your Ground" law in Arkansas.

The album closes with a beautiful rendition of Perry Como's theme, "You Are Never Far Away From Me." Both Christian McBride (who I believe is playing arco) and Endea Owens are on bass, and Curtis takes a lovely solo. Jennings is a superb leader drummer and composer who has produced this outstanding recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a rendition of "Bebop," with Jerome Jennings on drums.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Alan Rosenthal Elbow Grease

Alan Rosenthal
Elbow Grease
Street of Stars Records

While classically brained, pianist-composer Alan Rosenthal has become immersed in the New York jazz scene. The brother of author David Rosenthal (author of "Hard Bop"), he is a pianist of some reputation. This new mainstream jazz release has him joined by various combinations of musicians including Alan Chaubert - trumpet; Patience Higgins - tenor sax; Peter Brainin - soprano and tenor sax; Scott Reeves - trombone; Bill Ware - vibes; Brian Glassman - bass; John Loehrke - bass; Steve Johns – drums; and Mike Campenni - drums.

Rosenthal composed 8 of the 9 compositions performed in various configurations. The disc opens with a thoughtful, measured solo performance, "Another Sky." It is followed by "Up The Kazoo," a bright, bouncy sextet with striking riffing horns set against a marching groove. Ware's vibes add attractive colors in the ensemble before his solo with the leader lightly comping under him. Bassist Glassman is also showcased here.

Five of the 9 tunes are performed by a piano trio of Rosenthal, Glassman, and Campenni. "Blue J" is a charming piece that shows the close interplay between the three, as well as reveals Rosenthal's skillful touch and ability to construct intriguing, intricate solo. The energetic "Drop Me Here" exhibits the subtle shifts in timbre and dynamics of his approach. Bassist Glassman is more prominent in his supporting role on "Guitar Knee," on which Campenni's understated, but skillful percussion adds to this performance.

Two selections have a quartet of saxophonist Peter Brainin, bassist Loehrke, and drummer Johns. "Monk Over Marrakesh," places the spotlight on Brainin on both soprano and tenor sax and bassist Loehrke with the leader's skeletal accompaniment. "Dextrously" is a strong hard-bop number with robust tenor sax propelled by the rhythm section. Rosenthal's solo here is one of the highlights of the recording. The one cover is the trio's performance of Jerome Kern's "They Didn't Believe Me," with Rosenthal quoting "Fascinating Rhythm" and other standards in his rendition.

Alan Rosenthal plays with both "Elbow Grease" and thoughtful restraint on a marvelously played and very engaging piano jazz release.

I received my review copy from a publicist.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The DIVA Jazz Orchestra & the Boys

The DIVA Jazz Orchestra
DIVA & the Boys
MCG Jazz

This latest album by The DIVA Jazz Orchestra is part of a celebration of 3 years of MCG Jazz, a label with which they have been associated with for over 25 years. This recording memorializes performances by the DIVA Jazz Orchestra at the Manchester Craftsman's Guild on March 10 and 11, 2017. These evenings they were joined by special guests clarinetist, Ken Peplowski, trumpeter Claudio Rodoti, trombonist Jay Ashby and guitarist Marty Ashby. Under the leadership of drummer Sherrie Maricle, the members of the Orchestra were Alexa Tarantino- alto sax, soprano sax, flute, and clarinet; Scheila Gonzales - alto sax, flute, and clarinet; Janelle Reichman tenor sax and clarinet; Roxy Cross, tenor sax, flute, and clarinet; Leigh Pilzer - baritone sax and bass clarinet; Tanya Darby - lead trumpet & flugelhorn; Jami Dauber - trumpet & flugelhorn; Rachel Therrien - trumpet & flugelhorn; Barbara Laronga- trumpet & flugelhorn; Jennifer Krupa - lead trombone; Linda Landis - trombone; Leslie Havens - bass trombone; Tomoko Ohno - piano; and Noriko Ueda - bass.

About the Diva Jazz Orchestra I commented in a review of their last CD, "25th Anniversary Project," that "Certain things should be taken for granted about this recording including the excellent playing, ensemble work, and a first-rate rhythm section, along with marvelous arrangements and orchestrations resulting in a terrific modern big band recording." The same applies here to the eight compositions, and their solos are of equal quality to their famous guests. This is evident during the first selection, Noriko Ueda's arrangement of Benny Goodman's "Slipped Disc," which features Ken Peplowski and Janelle Reichman on clarinet. The two who swap lines while the rhythm section briskly propels them, and the full band joins in, and the orchestra trades four with Marcie before the tempo rockets to the close. Jobim's "A Felicidade" is one of three bossa nova compositions heard here. Besides Rodoti's mellifluous trumpet, Roxy Cross's lyrical tenor saxophone is spotlighted along with bassist Ueda. Jay Ashby contributed "Deference to Diz," a relaxed big band bop-flavored number that incorporates phrases from some Gillespie classics. Peplowski, Roditi, and Jay Ashby solo along with pianist Ohno with the full band riffing in support.

Jay Ashby also arranged the Ivan Lins-Vitor Martins' composition "Noturna" with Jay's melodic trombone in focus while Marty Ashby plays chords on acoustic guitar. It is a beautiful performance. Peplowski opens "The One I Love Belongs to Someone Else." Trumpeter Jamie Dauber is showcased playing with a mute and pianist Ohno displaying her fluid approach while the arrangement allows the intensity to build to an explosive close. Roditi takes up the piccolo trumpet his "Piccolo Blues," a performance on which The DIVA Jazz Orchestra evokes the later Count Basie Band. Besides Roditi, Jennifer Krupa's trombone and Alexa Tarantino's soprano saxophone are featured on this.

Closing this recording, there is an elegant rendition of "Estate," featuring Peplowski's clarinet, and a rousing rendition of Plas Johnson's "Bucket O' Blues." The latter number showcases all the members of the saxophone section who trade fours with each other before pianist Ohno channels Junior Mance and Harold Mabern for her solo. The full band takes out "Bucket O' Blues" in a highly animated fashion. It caps another exceptional recording by The DIVA Jazz Orchestra.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a recent performance by The DIVA Jazz Orchestra.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Take 5 With Amos MIlburn

I was a senior in college when I went to Cleveland's VA Hospital to see the legendary Amos Milburn who was being treated for a stroke. A few years after this he was able to use one hand in playing and recorded for Johnny Otis. Milburn was one of the biggest rhythm and blues artists of the late 40s and early 50s with his suave singing style and his superb boogie-woogie piano.

One of his early recordings was a cover of "Down the Road a Piece." Here is a version he recorded for the "Showtime at the Apollo" TV show with the Paul Williams Band backing him.

His music was often simply good time music as heard here on "Let's Have a Party."

The great Maxwell Davis arranged and played on many of his recordings including a vocal version of "Flying Home," best known from Lionel Hampton's recording with Illinois Jacquet. Lieber and Stroller wrote the lyrics for this stomping boogie.

Milburn was known for drinking blues as well as hot rocking boogie jump tunes. His hits included "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," 'Bad bad whiskey," Thinking and Drinking," and "Let Me Go Home Whiskey." Here is "Thinking and Drinking."

 Finally, one of his biggest hits was "Chicken Shack Boogie,' which has been reworked by the likes of Floyd Dixon, Jimmy McCracklin and jump blues revivalists Big Joe and the Dynaflows. The original was a major #1 hit on the R&B charts. Here is Milburn's remake of the song for Imperial backed by Dave Bartholomew's Band with Lee Allen and Earl Palmer. It is hotter than a NASA rocket at lift-off.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Frank Kohl The Crossing

Frank Kohl
The Crossing

Originally from New York, guitarist Frank Kohl currently resides in Seattle. Early inspirations included Wes Montgomery and the original Tony Williams Lifetime that he saw live. He studied at Berklee at the time John Scofield and Pat Metheny were there. His early career was based in New York before moving to San Francisco and then Seattle. This is his fifth album and finds him joined by John Stowell on guitar and nylon string guitar, and bassist Steve LaSpina.

Kohl is a wonderful straight-ahead bop guitarist with an agile, clean attack and tone. Kohl is complemented by Stowell's beautiful nylon string guitar, whether Stowell comps under Kohn or taking some delightful single-note solos. There are many notable selections, including the Jobim-penned ""O Grande Amour," and the delicious swing of "The Masquerade is Over." With LaSpina laying down the rhythmic axis, the Kohl and Stowell each exhibit the nuances of their technique as well as the well-crafted solos. Kohn's own compositions also showcase his and Stowell's own conceptions such as the title track, and a lovely ballad "The Goodbye" that illustrates each player's craftsmanship. Then there is a scintillating rendition of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," and an effervescent Kohl original, "Middle of Nowhere." The latter tune is built around LaSpina's buoyant bass motif. Another Jobim gem, "Brigas Nunca Mais," closes this album. Both guitarists display a delicate touch with their interlacing fingerwork with LaSpina adding some rhythmic accents on a superb bossa nova performance.

This drummer-less trio provides for an intimate feel as well as allows the clarity and every nuance of each guitarist's playing to shine. Kohl is a first-rate guitarist as well as a composer of note, which is on full exhibition on the excellent "The Crossing."

I received my review copy from Kari Gaffney. Here Frank Kohl performs Jobim's "No More Blues."

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Calabria Foti Prelude to a Kiss

Calabria Foti
Prelude to a Kiss
Moco Records

For her 4th CD release, vocalist/violinist Calabria Foti recorded with a large orchestra and legendary arrangers on the podium in an iconic Capital Records recording studio. "Prelude To A Kiss" is full of grand, sweeping, orchestrations from celebrated arrangers, including Johnny Mandel, Roger Kellaway, Jeremy Lubbock, Jorge Calandrelli, and Foti’s husband, Bob McChesney (also the producer on the album). There are also and small band swingers featuring a stellar ensemble of musical greats: Roger Kellaway, piano; Trey Henry, bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; and Bob McChesney, trombone. Singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli guests on “It’s The Mood That I’m In.”

Ms. Foti says, "This album is so special to me because of all the elements: The mix of glorious standards with the original songs, recording in the studio where so many of my heroes have made history, a most audacious team of musicians, with my husband at the helm and my daughters in the booth as I was singing. I was so emotional! My heart was so full and is full to this day. I hope this music touches your heart and draws you closer to your loved ones."

The album is special in part because of Calabria Foti herself. She has a gorgeous voice along with her delivery with marvelous pitch and tone, along with her nuanced phrasing and flawless diction in singing each word. Matching her melodious voice is the immaculate backing, whether those selections with a full orchestra or with a small, swinging combo. This is evident from the beautiful opening title track where the sweet-sounding and the sensual romanticism of her singing is supported by Bob McChesney's lush arrangement. This selection also is one of two songs with a violin solo along with McChesney's lovely trombone solo. Guitarist Larry Koonse is featured on the bossa nova "I Had To Fall in Love With You," which was arranged by McChesney and Johnny Mandel. Koonse's acoustic guitar solo adds to the charm from Ms. Foti's vocal.

"On the Street Where You Live," is an excellent small group recording with Ms. Foti exchanging fours scatting with Peter Erskine. This is followed by a gorgeous vocal on "Waltz For Debby" with a lovely guitar solo from Koonse. Roger Kellaway wrote the wondrous arrangement for "When I Look In Your Eyes," providing a backdrop for the sensualness of her vocal and McChesney's solo. "Goodbye" is an original from Ms.Foti, not the Gordon Jenkins composition that served as Benny Goodman's theme. It is about leaving someone who she does not want to leave and heartfully sung. Another standout selection is the "Backyard Medley." It is a swinging small group mashup of "Back in Your Backyard," "Give Me the Simple Life," and "The Love Nest," which she arranged. In addition to her superb vocal, Kellaway takes a splendid solo here.

Calabria Foti calls this recording a celebration of "all of love, especially the warmth, tenderness, and feeling of belonging that comes from being with family and loved ones." It is a glorious celebration with her outstanding vocals and the impeccable backing provided. She does not record frequently, but each one of her recordings is a treasure.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is the EPK for this recording.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Earprint Easy Listening

Easy Listening
Endectomorph Music

Earprint is a quartet of improvising musicians-trumpeter Tree Palmedo, saxophonist Kevin Sun, bassist Simón Willson, and drummer Dor Herskovits. "Easy Listening" is the second album by the quartet, that in the words of liner notes writer Jacob Shulman, "see modern jazz as an invitation to unleash their creativity, their modern-day influences, and their vision of what a jazz quartet can sound like, which is loosely tethered to the blues but shares the same root system." Shulman further observes that the blues is an important "river" for Earprint, with the streams of both rock and jazz (two major descendants of the blues) playing roles in their sound. "The rough energy of Nirvana meets the transcendent progressivism of Mark Turner; psychedelic tinges of Jimi Hendrix recolor the counterpoint of Thelonious Monk."

Each of the four members contributed compositions for this piano-less quartet. What is impressive is that Earprint, with instrumentation akin to the classic Ornette Coleman Quartet, produces music that mixes elements of freedom with a deep melodic underpinning. Listening to a selection like "Toupée," the band builds a lyrical quality from the horn harmonies. This is not to give short shrift to the players' individual qualities. The spirited "Big Bear" allows Palmedo and Sun to display the fire they can bring before Dor Herskovits' concise drum solo closes the performance. Sun's "Silo" enables Palmedo to display his frayed-toned lyricism. Sun adds counterpoint and the horns riff in unison while Willson solos over Herskovits' rhythmic accents. Then there is the charm of Willson's "Easy Listening," with its delightful Caribbean rhythms supporting the concise improvisations from the horns and the interplay between the horns and the rhythm section.

"Easy Listening" brings together a first-rate group with exceptional soloists on a program of intriguing compositions. The result is this outstanding recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a performance by Earprint.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Champian Fulton & Cory Weeds Dream a Little Dream

Champian Fulton & Cory Weeds
Dream a Little Dream
Cellar Live

In her brief liner notes to this live duo recording with alto saxophonist Cory Weeds, pianist and vocalist Champian Fulton observes that a duo is unique. It allows more freedom to play and interact with the other. "As a pianist, a duo really is one of my favourite formats. I love the looseness of it – being able to follow or lead when I want, to hear the bare bones of the song as expressed by a linear instrument, with no drums or bass to muddy the waters. It takes a special kind of horn player to be able to feel comfortable in that setting because you're so exposed." Weeds observes that they "recorded this in a house that has been the scene of many wonderful concerts over the past eight years. It is owned by two dear friends of mine, Will and Norah Johnston." The home is a comfortable setting for an intimate performance allowing, "Two good friends simply making music together: that's what it's all about."

And the friends certainly made good music today. Fulton's vocals range from hopeful to bluesy as she goes from the title track to "Fly Me to The Moon," in a rendition that is a bit more reflective than the iconic Sinatra recording. In addition to her wonderful vocal, there are some marvelous solos from both here. Fulton composed the bouncy instrumental "Lullaby For Art," which showcases both players. Another instrumental showcase for the two is the swinging rendition of "Once I Had a Secret Love." Here Weeds bop-inflected sax is accompanied by Fulton's adept use of chords.

The mix of their excellent musicianship and improvisations, and Fulton's warm, nuanced singing lead to sublime interpretations of "Darn That Dream," and "I'd Give a Dollar For a Dime." The album closes with the relaxed swing of "Save Your Love For Me," with Weeds alto lead punctuated by Fulton's piano chords. Fulton and Weeds were two good friends making some marvelous music that February 2019 night at Will and Norah's Vancouver, BC home when this was recorded. The result is this gem of a recording.

I purchased this. Here is Champian Fulton backed by a quartet including Corey Weeds performing "If I Had You."


Monday, January 06, 2020

11 Guys Quartet Small Blues and Grooves

11 Guys Quartet
Small Blues and Grooves

The 11th Hour Band was an early 1980s band comprised of Paul Lenart on guitar, Bill 'Coach' Mather on bass, Chuck Purro on drums and Richard Rosenblatt on harmonica. In 1985 they released an album on the fledging Tone-Cool label, and then went on various pursuits, although still playing off and on together. In 2008 they got in the studio to record some instrumentals which now are issued for the first time.

There is nothing fancy or overly flashy relating to these tight, straight-forward blues instrumentals recorded without any pretense. There are lively grooves and allusions to some famous blues numbers such as "Road Trippin,'" which evokes "Hideaway," and the country-tinged "Jackrabbit," that hints at "Steel Guitar Rag." Both Rosenblatt's atmospheric harmonica playing and Lenart's mix of chords and sizzling single-note runs are provided solid functional support by Mather and Purro. There is the moody "Sleepless" with Rosenblatt's harp taking the lead which contrasts with the hard-rocking "East Cambridge Cannonball" where Rosenblatt takes the first solo with Lenart's biting guitar prominent towards the end.

With plenty of trebly guitar, Lenart's guitar lead is supported by Rosenblatt's vocalized harp playing on the appropriately named "Down and Dirty." "Hey Daddyo" sounds like a tribute to Bo Diddley with Lenart evoking the late legend's sound. "Midnight Streetcar," is a moody instrumental that showcases Rosenblatt's fine harmonica playing. With echoes of Slim Harpo's "Tip On In," the swamp-blues flavored "Swamp Ride" closes a very entertaining recording. I won't make any claim that this is a timeless, classic blues recording. Still, the 11 Guys Quartet has produced an all-instrumental blues album that is well-played and thoroughly engaging.

I received my review copy from VizzTone.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Johnny Adams Man Of My World

Johnny Adams
Man Of My World

Johnny Adams' new album will be a welcome surprise to the Tan Canary's many fans. The choice selections of songs and a great backing band provide the foundation, but Adams sings here with few signs of his recent health problems. More importantly, he seems to be investing his performances with even more of his heart and soul than some of his acclaimed recordings of the past, even employing his falsetto throughout. Maybe when he had recuperated enough to record this he was thinking he might never get another chance, so let's get it out. Whatever, this may be as good an album as any he has recorded.

Given the circumstances, one might be accused of reading a bit more into his performances of songs expressing regrets about past mistakes as "Looking Back'" ('over my life, I can see where I caused strife, but I know, ooh yes I know I'll never make that same mistake again) or William Bell's "You Don't Miss Your Water" ("until your well runs dry"). In both cases, Adams' performances are as least as stunning as earlier recordings of these songs by Otis Rush and Otis Redding respectively. The tenor of the opening track, "Even Now," has a similar reflective quality as Adams regretfully sings about his woman leaving him. And even now Johnny still loves her, he wishes her the best, "but I guess we're even now." Of course, this isn't simply an album of looking back on his past mistakes. After all he asks that they dare call the bread white bread, and he doesn't want decaf on the funky 'It Ain't the Same Thing." And sometimes Johnny's mistake was coming back to the woman as he sings on the slow blues. "This Time I'm Gone For Good." Sometimes you don't want to face one's past, as on the country-flavored soul ballad 'I Don't Want to Know," where he sings "I do not want to go to New Orleans no more; I am too afraid, I might see her face, that I couldn't take." That's a pretty strong line, but its typical of this record with great material, playing and singing.

And after the blues and soul performances, the album closes with an enthralling acappella gospel performance "Never Alone," where Adams is joined by Aaron Neville. It is the cap of an almost flawless album that is one of the best blues albums issued yet this year.

This review originally appeared in issue 234 of Jazz & Blues Report in 1998. I received a review copy from Rounder Records. I did not include the personnel in the original review, but among those playing on this were David Torknowsky, Walter 'Wolfman' Washington, Jim Spake and Michael Toles. Also, I note that David Egan and Buddy Flett wrote "Even Now" and Bobby Charles wrote, "I Don't Want to Know." Other songwriters represented on this include Dan Penn. Spooner Oldham, Carson Whitsett, and Clyde Otis. Here is 'I Don't Want to Know" from this recording.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Take 5 With Canned Heat

This latest of my weekly playlists is devoted to the blues-rock pioneers, Canned Heat. Led by vocalist Bob Hite, guitarist and sometimes vocalist Alan Wilson and guitarist Henry Vestine, their recordings drew inspiration from classic blues recordings that they adapted as well as originals in this tradition. I have little interest in the music made after Wilson's passing, and especially after Hite died. The recent versions are to me, essentially a tribute band. On this playlist, I will include some of the original recordings as well.

To start this playlist, I present their updating of a Tommy McClennan recording, "Whiskey Headed Woman," even adapting McClennan's intro from McLennan's follow-up, Whiskey Headed Man."

Here is McClennan's "Whiskey Headed Man," although it lacks the spoken intro.

Henry Vestine was obviously a fan of the great Guitar Slim, as heard on a remake of Slim's "Story of My Life."

Here is Guitar Slim's original.

Canned Heat's most famous recording was a reworking of a Henry Thomas number. Here is "Going Up the Country," from their performance at Woodstock.

Here is Henry Thomas' "Bull Doze Blues."

There are covers of songs from so many artists. Here is a tune based on Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues," here heard in live performance.

Here is Tommy Johnson's original.

Another rendition of this number that may have shaped Canned Heat's adaptation is Willie Lofton's "Dark Road Blues."

We close this playlist with a selection from the classic "Hooker & Heat" album, doing a remake of "Burnin' Hell," which features Alan Wilson on harp.

I hope you enjoyed this.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Blues Meets Girl

Blues Meets Girl
Bad Inglish Records

Blues Meets Girl is a duo comprised of British born bluesman Stephen Inglish, aka Mr. Downchild and Texas Born singer Kasimira Vogel. I am familiar with Mr. Downchild and believe I reviewed his album, "They Call Me Mr. Downchild" in 1994. He was mentored and praised by Robert Lockwood Jr., who appeared on "They Call Me Mr.Downchild" along with Sam Carr. He has recorded and released several albums since which received critical acclaim. He first met Kasimira at a festival in 2012, and a couple years later, they formed Blues Meets Girl.

On this eponymously titled recording, they are accompanied by guitarist Sean Carney, Scott Flowers on drums, and Ray Deforest on bass with Mr. Downchild on harmonica, guitar, CBG, and stompbox besides his vocals. With one exception, Mr. Downchild and Kasimira wrote all the songs. The music is mostly straight-forward Chicago styled blues starting with the opening "Nightgown." With a guitar riff evoking "Twine Time," Mr. Downchild sings vigorously about his new relationship joined in by Kasimira. Carney has a solid guitar solo, followed by Mr. Downchild's powerful harmonica. Downchild's singing also impresses or the driving rock'n'roll flavored, "Didn't See It Coming." I am not overwhelmed by Kasimira as a blues singer, although one can't fault her pitch or phrasing. I suspect she would be better suited to singing jazz or sophisticated adult pop. Still, the solid shuffle backing on "Listen Here Boys" provides a definite appeal to her singing. Her singing shows more personality on "Oh Baby," and thankfully, she never comes across as a screamer or shrill. Your ears might disagree, but I suggest her vocal on "Special Man," with jazzy backing from Carney, suggest how good she would be singing jazz.

I believe Mr. Downchild is playing the 12-string guitar on a couple numbers, including "Backstabber," where his playing suggests Leadbelly. He also adds hearty-sounding rack harmonica on this. "Snapshot," with a Howlin' Wolf evoking backing, is an intriguing performance with a whispered, almost talking, blues from Kasimira. "Home To My Baby" has an excellent vocal from Mr. Downchild set against a swamp-blues, rumba groove. Carney's solo displays his concern for tone and his restraint. Another rendition of this song is taken as a Chicago blues shuffle with Downchild blowing amplified harp. It is a bonus track for the CD. Sean Carney composed the swinging instrumental "Swinging With Hank," a scintillating feature for his imaginative, jazz-tinged playing.

Despite 'my' reservations of Kasimira's vocals, overall, there was plenty to like about "Blues Meets Girl." Mr. Downchild continues to show why Robert Lockwood, Jr. once said, "Son, I knew you was good but … I didn't know you was "That Good!" Sean Carney is superb, and the rhythm section excellent. This is a marvelous Chicago styled blues recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 387). Here is "Nightgown," from this recording.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Jimmy Johnson Every Day Of Your Life

Jimmy Johnson
Every Day Of Your Life
Delmark Records

Going to the 2019 Chicago Blues Festival, one of the acts I was most anxious to see was Jimmy Johnson, who was celebrating his 90th birthday. I had not seen him since he played the Pocono Blues Festival in 2007, and his performance that night did not disappoint. Johnson's new CD does not disappoint, and it is striking how strong his vocals are as well as his guitar playing.

On this recording of five originals and four interpretations, Johnson is supported by two different groups. Those playing behind him include guitarist Rico McFarland on guitar, Roosevelt Purify or Brother John Kattke on keyboards, J.R. Fuller or Curt Bley on bass, and Pooky Styx or Ernie Adams on drums. On one selection, Johnson accompanies himself on piano.

There is an appealing mix of material opening with the title song that Johnson wrote about living one's life as if it is one's last. A marvelously paced performance, his soulful tenor is complemented by a thoughtful, well-constructed guitar solo demonstrating his lean tone and twisting rapier-like playing. Purifoy also songs strongly here.  A  relaxed, first-rate cover of "I Need Your Love So Bad," is followed by "My Ring." Set against a reggae groove, it has poignant lyrics as he remembers getting married, and that was the last time he saw his woman smiled. Among the other auditory delights here is a marvelous rendition of Fenton Robinson's "Somebody Loan Me a Dime," and Percy Mayfield's "Strange Things Happening." Then there are fascinating, well-crafted originals like "Rattlesnake" and "Down in the Valley."

Accompanied solely by his piano, Johnson caps off this recording with a moving, thoughtful rendition of a Bobby Bland classic "Lead Me On." Johnson still performs at a high level and is provided with excellent support here. Add in the terrific originals and covers, and the result is one of the best new blues albums of 2019.

I received my review copy from Delmark Records. Here he is seen performing a Curtis Mayfield number at the 2019 Chicago Blues Festival.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Wayne Alpern Skeleton

Wayne Alpern

The publicity for composer-arranger Wayne Alpern states that he "is a New York City composer, arranger, and scholar who integrates popular and jazz idioms with classical techniques and repertoire to create a sophisticated contemporary style of cross-genre or even post-genre music. … Alpern's innovative compositions, recompositions, and rearrangements have been performed and recorded by distinguished artists from diverse musical traditions."

Alpern describes "Skeleton" as "a new dance of old bones, songs of ourselves." Further, he writes, "I studied classical music, but grew up with Motown and played in rock bands. That's a resourceful (and characteristically American) aesthetic dialectic. I gradually came to view popular styles, conventions, and songs as treasures of aural archeology, found objects, musical tissue, vehicles for creative transformation to be re-purposed and revived as original art through the redemptive act of arrangement, rearrangement or recomposition at a higher level of synthesis."

For this recording, he assembled, to play his arrangements, a brass ensemble with shifting personnel and sometimes a rhythm section. There is one tune by Alpern along with compositions from Charlie Parker, Dave Brubeck, Jessie J, Richard Rogers, Joe Zawinul, Jerome Kern, Donald Fagen, Clifford Brown, and others. On the opening selection, singer-songwriter Jessie J's "Domino," two trumpets, two trombones, bass, and drums, deliver a fetching, lyrical performance highlighted by Michael Davis's trombone solo. Charlie Parker's "Anthropology" is performed at a relaxed pace by a trombone quintet and drums. Various members including, James Rogers on bass trombone, soloing. The intricate arrangement allows for fascinating interplay between the players.

Billy Test's piano introduces a swinging rendition of Brubeck's "Take 5," with David Smith's heated trumpet. Mike Boschen's euphonic trombone is spotlighted on a trombone quintet rendition of "Blue Moon." A trombone trio and full rhythm section interpret Joe Zawinul's classic "Mercy Mercy Mercy," with Jason Jackson's taking the solo while pianist Billy Test lays down bluesy chords and a brief solo. Sam Hoyt's fluegelhorn shines on Frank Loesser's "I've Never Been in Love Before," while Alpern's "Blue Bones" sounds like a Kurt Weill composition with four trombones prancing around. Bassist Evan Gregor and drummer Josh Bailey complement the playful spirit of the performance.

 A quartet of trombones (Noah Bless (trb), Matt McDonald (trb), Nick Grinder (trb), and James Rogers (btrb)), bass and drums charm us on Jerome Kern's "I'm Old Fashioned." The bass and drums introduce the same four on Mack Gordon and Harry Warren's "At Last," with Bless soloing. The album incorrectly attributes the song to Etta James, who had the most famous recording of this song. These four trombones also captivate listeners with their rendition of "If I Only Had a Brain," from "The Wizard of Oz." Other selections include a chamber music-grounded version of a Handel composition by a trombone quintet and drums. Billy Test's bass and Josh Bailey's drums lay down a reggae groove for trumpeters Sam Hoyt and David Smith along with trombonists Michael Davis and Nick Grinder on David Fagen's "I.G.Y." A mellifluous trombone quartet rendition of Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring," closes this album.

It was such a pleasure to listen to "Skeleton." Alpern's arrangements and the various configurations for brass ensembles have produced a thoroughly enchanting, irresistible recording

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a woodwinds quartet performing an Alpern arrangement of "If I Only Had a Brain."