Saturday, February 29, 2020

Take 5 with Louis Jordan

Louis Jordan was one of the kings of the Juke Box for the forties until the early fifties. His place in the music world was such that The Beat!!! devoted a show to him in the mid-1960s, after his ruling of the record charts had ended.

We are fortunate that so much actual video of him performing exists. We start off this brief playlist with what may be his most famous song, "Caldonia."

Next up is a clip of him doing a song that later was used for a musical devoted to his music, "Five Guys Named Moe."

Louis Jordan's "Let the Good Times Roll" would be covered by B.B. King, Ray Charles, Koko Taylor and so many more.

Then there is rambunctious humor of "Saturday Night Fish Fry."

We close this brief sampling of Louis Jordan with a performance from The Beat!!! TV show of "GI Jive."

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Jimmys Gotta Have It

The Jimmys
Gotta Have It
Brown Cow Productions

I wrote, reviewing the last album by The Jimmy's "Live From Transylvania." "Led by keyboardist and vocalist (as well as one who helps on his family's 1500 acre Dairy farm), Jimmy Voegeli, The Jimmys, is one of the hottest blues bands out of Wisconsin with its mix of modern and jump blues." Mr. Voegeli and the group have returned with a new album. It is produced by Tony Braunagel, who also plays drums on it. Besides Voegeli, The Jimmys consists of Chris Sandoval, drums; John Wartenweiler, bass; Perry Weber, guitar and vocals; Pete Ross, saxophone; Mike Boman, trumpet; and Joe Goltz, trombone. Braunagel replaces Sandoval on this recording, and Kyle Samuelson and/or Kevan Feyzi are on trombone instead of Goltz. Al Falaschi on baritone sax and Kat Shipe fill out the horns on the recording. Marcia Ball does a duet with Voegeli and provides background vocals along with Melodye Perry and Mike Finnigan, while Wally Ingram adds percussion.

Voegeli and Weber contributed to most of the songs here, and both take lead vocals with Voegeli being the stronger singer, while Weber has a bit coarser delivery. Both are standout players as well.  Voegeli is a rollicking jump blues rooted pianist and a sterling organist. Weber is a terrific idiomatic guitarist, whether channeling gulf coast swamp-blues guitar or B.B. King single note playing. The rhythm section is superb, and the horns add a strong supporting presence.

Things kick off with the rock and roll of Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," with Weber's enthusiastic singing and Voegeli's rollicking piano. "Write a Hit" is a terrific vocal duet by Voegeli and Marcia Ball. Set against a New Orleans to Gulf Coast groove, they trade lines about their relationship breaking up. Voegeli regrets losing his house, car, and especially the dog to which Ball responds he blew it, and the dog was her and comes back when she calls the dog's name. Then there is a relaxed rocking blues, Voegeli's "She's Gotta Have It," followed by Weber's "Starting Up Again." The latter number is a talking blues in the musical vein of Slim Harpo's "Scratch My Back," with some apt trebly guitar.

"Hotel Stebbins" is a rocking boogie-woogie party song with a superb piano break, while Weber's "Drinkin''" is a straight blues by Weber about getting into trouble when he starts drinking. The is a Little Feat feel to Voegeli's "When You Got Love," with Weber's crying slide guitar adding to the mood. Gary Nicholson and Kevin McKendree wrote "Always a Woman," whose melody evokes Billy Boy Arnold's "I Wish You Would." There is some greasy organ and Ross' honking sax on this track. Jim Liban's "Someday Baby" is reminiscent of Freddie King's "Someday After Awhile." with Weber adding some excellent guitar to go with his brawny singing.

An instrumental "Jose," that sounds like a contrafact to "Ode to Billie Joe," closes another sterling recording by this terrific band with excellent songs and first-rate performances.

I received a review copy from a publicist. here is a video of The Jimmys in performance from 2019.


Thursday, February 27, 2020

Vinicius Cantuaria & Bill Frisell
Lagrimas Mexicanas
One Music

Lagrimas Mexicanas” is a new collaboration between Brazilian guitarist and vocalist Vinicius Cantuaria and American guitarist Bill Frisell. I am familiar with Frisell who has engaged in many interesting projects over the years, but Cantuaria is a totally new name, He brings his vocals, acoustic guitar and percussion while Frisell brings his guitar and tape loops to this recording.

The music is in part a result of Cantuaria moving to New York from his native Brazil and being struck by an amalgamation of sounds emanating from the streets of New York City. In particular, the diversity of Spanish-speaking people affected him.

Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Venezuelans, Mexicans and countless others formed a rich multicultural collage which is reflected in the songs here. The two collaborated in fusing traditional Latin rhythms with improvisational jazz methods.

Cantuaria’s vocals convey a dreaming romanticism with his guitar and soothing vocals supported by Frisell’s atmospheric painting of sound with his guitar both from his own runs and his use of effects.

The results are delightful and enchanting performances with a light Brazilian rhythm often underlying the performances. The delights include “Calle 7” inspired by Cantuaria’s strolls down 7th Avenue in Park Slope Brooklyn as well as the lightly textured instrumental “La Curva.”

The title track has an irresistible and infectious rhythm with Cantuaria overdubbing his vocals against the loops and mesmerizing interplay between the guitars.

While I am not conversant in Spanish or Portuguese (although the closing “Forinfas” is in English which had a definite untutored charm), “Lagrimas Mexicanas” captivated me throughout. Recommended.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May 1- June 15, 2011 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 335). Here is a video of Vinicius Cantuaria & Bill Frisell


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Jonathan Ng The Sphynx

Jonathan Ng
The Sphynx

"The Sphynx" is the sophomore by Seattle-based jazz violinist, vocalist, and bandleader Jonathan Ng. Ng specializes in the style of small-group swing jazz, which in part draws upon his experience and expertise as a lindy hop, balboa, and blues dancer. This album is a six-song EP of ebullient, toe-tapping swing jazz in the manner of early swing small groups such as Chu Berry-Roy Eldridge or Count Basie's small combos, with a touch of Gypsy Jazz tossed in. Supporting Ng and his violin Albert Alva: tenor saxophone; Luca Pino: Guitar; Chris Dawson: Piano; Seth Ford-Young: Upright Bass; and Josh Collazo: Drums

Ng has a full-rich tone on the violin, and an outstanding ensemble backs him. He leads us through a varied set of numbers starting with the title number where his trumpet-like lines (think Stuff Smith) and the burly tenor sax of Alva (think of a mix of Ben Webster and Illinois Jacquet) impress while Dawson comps and Pino plays rhythm like Freddie Green. Kudos to Ford-Young and Collazo as they consistently swing the music.

The rest of the program includes Chu Berry's turbulent "Maelstrom," with Pino adds some Django Reinhardt inflected guitar. On an excellent rendition of Ray Charles' "Rockhouse," Dawson evokes Charles on piano. Pino plays more in the manner of Charlie Christian than Django on this selection. The interplay between Alva and Ng, along with their meaty soloing, is excellent throughout such as on the renditions of Erskine Hawkins' "Gin Mill Special," and Illinois Jacquet's "Embryo." The rhythm section provides a lilting swing on these wonderfully paced performances.

Alva sits out the lovely rendition of gypsy jazz styled performance "Stardust." Ng's version of "Stardust" contrasts with the other performances on this recording that are more in the vein of the swing era small combo jazz. It closes a superb, if too short, collection of swing jazz performances. This available from Bandcamp among other stores.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a video for "The Sphynx."


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Bones and Tones

Bones and Tones
Freedom Art Records

Bones & Tones was formed after Lloyd Haber was invited to put together a group for the Long Beach Jazz Festival. Haber wanted a group with a different sound and with Marimba and vibraphone as the lead voices. The group consists of Abdou Mboup on percussion, vocals and kora; Haber on marimba, bells and percussion; Jaribu Shahid on bass and percussion; and Warren Smith on vibraphone and percussion. Haber and Shahid have produced this group’s first eponymously titled recording for Freedom Art Records that should have appeal to fans of jazz and world music.

The opening track, “Breathing Water,” a collaboration between Haber and Mboup, brings an Asian tinge to the African rhythms and percussion as Mboup adds haunting vocals. Smith’s “228” mixes percussion interludes with segments featuring the vibes and marimba. Haber’s own “Dance For Suwoo” has a bouncy ambiance from the interplay by the vibes and marimba over bass and percussion, while his “Configuration” has Mboup and Shahid providing a mesmerizing rhythm for Haber and Smith. The beginning of “Songs For the Old Ones” is suggestive of the Art Ensemble with the use of little percussive instruments before Mboup gets a driving rhythm started before the theme is presented.

Smith and Ray Mantilla wrote “Carajillo Con Mantilla” originally for the percussion group “M’Boom.” The lively Latin rhythms add spice to this performance. Smith’s “MR7” is built upon an insistent vamp upon which Smith develops his vibes solo. I presume it is Mboup that takes the percussion solo on this leading into more mallet play. Mboup’s kora playing and vocal lends “In the Valley of Dreams” with a delightful African flavor to close this delightful recording.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May 1-June 15, 2011 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 335). Here is a performance of  In the Valley of Dreams.”

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Phantom Blues Band Is Still Cookin'

The Phantom Blues Band
Still Cookin'

Coming to prominence with their collaboration with Taj Mahal, the Phantom Blues Band can still be depended on for some strong blues, rock and soul performances. The band has remained pretty stable in personnel for the past decade or so. Members include Tony Braunagel on drums, Mike Finnigan on keyboards and vocals, Larry Fulcher on bass and vocals, Johnny Lee Schell on guitar and vocals, Joe Sublett on tenor saxophone and Les Lovitt on trombone. I believe Lovitt is a recent addition to the band replacing Darrell Leonard who adds his trumpet to two tracks. Lenny Castro adds percussion.

Those familiar with their music from their performances or recordings certainly will not be disappointed by their latest CD which is a mix of covers of lesser-known tunes and choice originals with Finnigan, Fulcher, and Schell sharing the vocals. Things start off on a funky number with a cover of a Wilson Pickett grinder "Don't Fight It," with Sublett taking a rousing sax solo. Jeff Paris contributed "Stop Runnin'" on which he adds Wurlitzer piano behind Fulcher's fervent vocal. Schell handles the vocal on the swampy funk groove of "Wingin' My Way," where he plays some crying slide guitar. Finnigan takes the groove down into the alley on the heartfelt rendition of David Egan's "Blues How They Linger." "Shine On" is a refreshing change of pace with Fulcher and Finnigan trading verses against a reggae groove.

The horns are featured in the Spanish-tinged instrumental "Tequila Con Yerba," with the band interjecting shouts of the song title. Sublett, Lovitt, and Finnigan each add grease and spice. Other tracks of note include Finnigan's "Bad Blood," with a terrific vocal and Schell's stinging guitar, followed by Schell's soulful "Fess On Up," with its lyrics that one better fess up to one's baby to make things right. Schell sings the solid shuffle "I'm Just Your Fool." This is a fine shuffle performance that sounds based on Little Walter's recording and features a booting sax solo.

Given how long The Phantom Blues Band has been together, one should not be surprised how tight a group they are as well as how excellent the music here is. With first-rate material, they have produced another outstanding recording. Indeed after all these years, The Phantom Blues Band is still cooking.

I received my review copy from Vizztone. Here is The Phantom Blues Festival from a 2019 Festival appearance in Panama.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Take 5 With Henry Gray

Legendary blues pianist and singer Henry Gray passed away on February 17 at the age of 95. The Louisiana native was an important part of the Chicago blues scene from 1946-1968, including spending 12 years with Howlin' Wolf. One of a number of pianists who were influenced by big Maceo, Gray was a strong two-handed player who played on recordings by Wolf, Morris Pejoe, Jimmy Reed, Junior Wells, Billy boy Arnold and others.

In 1968, he moved back to Louisiana and became an important part of the Baton Rouge blues scene. I believe his first recordings were on an Arhoolie Anthology, but he would record for a number of labels over the next 50+ years, as well as toured blues clubs and festivals throughout the world. Here is a short playlist of some of the recordings he played on as a sideman and as a leader.

First up is "Matchbox Blues" which Henry recorded for Chess Records.

Next up is Henry backing Billy Boy Arnold on the Vee-Jay recording, "I Was Fooled."

Henry played on a number of Howlin' Wolf recordings including "I Ain't Superstitious."

After he moved to Louisiana he recorded more frequently under his own name. Here is a selection for his "Lucky Man" album, "Finger Snappin' Boogie."

Finally, we leave with him performing "Blues Won't Let Me Take My Rest."

Friday, February 21, 2020

Jeff Rupert - George Garzone The Ripple

Jeff Rupert - George Garzone
The Ripple
Rupe Media

"The Ripple," the title of the new CD by tenor saxophonists Jeff Rupert and George Garzone, refers "to the far-reaching effect of Lester Young's voice in music." Rupert is the director of The Flying Horse Band out of the University of Central Florida's Jazz Program. Besides being a master of the tenor saxophone, Garzone is a revered educator, with noted students including Joshua Redman, Branford Marsalis, and Donny McCaslin. Besides being educators, they are both superior tenor saxophonists. Backing them is a first-rate rhythm section of Richard Drexler on piano, Jeremy Allen on bass, and Marty Morrell on drums, all of whom have a lengthy association with Rupert.

There are no compositions by Young, or songs recorded by him, on this album. Instead, it features pieces recorded or composed by some of the musicians influenced by Young, including Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Eddie Harris, Zoot Sims, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Henderson. Of course, tenor sax pairings go back to the Basie days, and in recent years we have been graced with the likes of Johnny Griffin and Lockjaw Davis, Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons, and Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. Rupert and Garzone are another stellar tenor sax pairing.

The music on this recording is exquisite starting with a marvelous bossa nova "Bahia" first recorded by Stan Getz, and if both display ties to Lester Young's Legacy, they each have their own voice. Rupert perhaps employs a slightly more legato approach, while Garzone's attack at times shows his incorporation of aspects of the styles of Coltrane and Rollins. This is most obvious on Garzone's startling opening to "Stardust." Rupert's original, "GO-GO," is a brisk swinging number that derives from a Lockjaw Davis tune. Other highlights of this recording include a terrific rendition of "Without a Song"; the relaxed swing of "The Red Door" from Gerry Mulligan and Zoot Sims; a relaxed take of Lionel Hampton's "Red Top" that opens with the rhythm section quoting Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage"; and the inspired "Hoboken," a contrafact derived from Monk's "Hackensack."

After a spirited "Lester Left Town," this recording closes with an unaccompanied duet by the two, "Alone Together." Rupert and Garzone are superb saxophonists playing some marvelous songs and backed by a first-rate rhythm section. The result is this extraordinary recording.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of Jeff Rupert performing with a quartet including Richard Drexler and Marty Morell.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Eldar Djangirov Three Stories

Eldar Djangirov
Three Stories
Masterworks Jazz

The piano virtuoso, Eldar Djangirov has a new CD, “Three Stories” (Masterworks Jazz), which is his first solo recording. The title of this recording refers not only to one of the tracks which is a three-movement composition but also that the recordings consist of his “interpretations and arrangements of predominantly three musical facets: standards, originals and classical.” So we have some original compositions, performances of Gershwin and Bach and interpretations of Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen, Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, and Charlie Parker, all displaying his amazing technique.

Comparisons to Art Tatum might be suggested by the marvelous playing on “I Should Care,” but even that display is exceeded by the astonishing rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Prelude in C# Major.” It is not simply the dazzling speed, but the preciseness of his playing and his touch that astonishes. On “Darn That Dream,” he uses a sparser piano attack, along with an impressionistic approach in deconstructing the melody of the standard, and followed by a rendition of Chick Corea’s “Windows” that again displays his facility as well as restraint. His background in the classical tradition is not always a positive. His rendition of “In Walked Bud” is a fascinating breakdown of the Monk classic but, to these ears, it lacks the warmth and playfulness that Monk, among others, brought to this composition.

After the title composition, he interprets Dave Matthews’ “So Damn Lucky,” with a light, skittering approach that suggests Chick Corea to this listener. His rendition of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” is an intriguing mix of virtuosity and wistfulness that is fascinating to listen to while his “Russian Lullaby,” builds, in an understated manner, upon folkloric elements and is quite charming. Another original, “Impromptu,” is followed by “Rhapsody on Blue” in which he has added original cadenzas for a virtuosic performance of this Gershwin classic. It is the lengthiest performance here (just under 15 minutes) and one is dazzled by the preciseness of his touch and dynamics, not simply how cleanly he executes his playing and the original elements he has incorporated here. The album concludes with a dazzling rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee.”

Eldar’s virtuosity and command of the classical and jazz traditions is astonishing, although I suspect I am not alone in finding some his solo jazz performances to be more interesting as technical exercises, and occasionally missing the heart. Still, this is most impressive.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May 1- June 15, 2011 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 335). Here is a trio performance of "Donna Lee."

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Albare Plays Jobim

Plays Jobim
Alfi Records

Twenty-five years have passed since the death of Antonio Carlos Jobim. The guitarist Albare pays tribute to the legendary father of bossa nova with renditions of nine of Jobim's signature songs along with classic "Brazil." Produced by Phil Turcio, Albare is accompanied by Joe Chindamo on piano, Antonio Sanchez on drums, and Ricardo 'Ricky' Rodriguez on bass. Chindamo also wrote the string arrangements and conducted the strings.

Albare is a romanticist as a guitarist, with his guitar (whether electric or acoustic) in a melodic and lyrical mode. His single-note runs sing the lyrics while adding with genial embellishments to the melody while provided a light, subtle backing. The strings add to the lush, relaxed mood of the renditions of such numbers as "Corcovado," "Chega De Saudade," "Desafinado," "Água de Beber," "Áquas de Março," and "Wave."

Admittedly, this is easy to listen to instrumental music. Still, Albare, with his deliberate and deft touch and lovely tone, has produced a tribute to Jobim that is full of charm and captures the beauty of the songs Jobim left us.

I received my review copy from a publicist.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

RIP Henry Gray

Henry Gray at the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Just got word that blues pianist and singer Henry Gray passed away at the age of 95. The Louisiana native was part of the vibrant Chicago blues scene from the late 1940s to 1968 including spending 12 years as pianist with Howlin' Wolf. In addition to the Wolf, Gray worked and recorded with such other artists as morris Pejoe, Jimmy Rogers, Junior Wells, and Jimmy Reed.

In 1968, he returned to Louisiana where he became part of the Baton Rouge blues scene. He had recorded while in Chicago, but after returning to Louisiana, he recorded a number of songs and albums under his own name. I believe his first recordings after his return to Louisiana were as part of a Louisiana Blues anthology for Arhoolie records. This would lead to a number of recordings for a variety of labels.

In 2015, reviewing a Henry Gray album that Bob Corritore put together I wrote:

"Gray has been overshadowed by Pinetop Perkins amongst his contemporaries in general recognition, and while folks might argue on who is the stronger pianist, Gray, although an untrained singer, is more forceful and displays more personality, as reflected on his impassioned singing on the title track (most associated with Jimmy Rogers). But he certainly captures the spirit of shouter Grant Jones’ “Let’s Get High” and Hot Lips Page “They Raided The Joint.” On several tracks, he provides strong support behind some legendary figures including Robert Lockwood, Jr. on “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” and Nappy Brown on a superb rendition of “Worried Life Blues” that was a signature song of Gray’s major piano influence, Big Maceo. Dave Riley tackled “Ride With Your Daddy Tonight” while John Brim sings “That Ain’t Right.” Lowell Fulson’s “Trouble Blues” features one of Gray’s top vocals here with Bob Margolin adding slide guitar while Tail Dragger adds some color commentary to the rollicking “Boogie Woogie Ball.”"

Here is a link to an obituary for Henry Gray. Here is a video of Henry performing with Kid Ramos and others in a video celebrating the late Floyd Dixon.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Ginetta's Vendetta Pocketful Of Cool

Ginetta's Vendetta
Pocketful Of Cool
Kickin Wiccan Music

Pocket trumpeter, vocalist, and composer, Ginetta Vendetta, leads a quintet on a solid set that might be superficially labeled 'hard bop.' The title of this CD "Pocketful Of Cool" is a pun on the fact that she plays the compact pocket trumpet, but the music is far from compact. She is joined here by four top-notch players: Danny Walsh: tenor saxophone, Jon Davis: piano, Eric "The Big O" Halvorson: drums, and Belden Bullock: bass. They are heard on seven covers (two also presented in alternate takes) and two originals that evoke such classic bands as Cannonball Adderly, Miles Davis, and Horace Silver.

Ms. Vendetta is a lyrically based trumpet, at times evoking Miles Davis' haunting sound as on her original "All Choke & No Slide." and other places the warmth of Nat Adderly and Clark Terry, as on the Jobim classic, "Corcovado." The and is superb backing her with bassist Bullock providing an anchoring ostinato bass figure for Horace Silver's "African Queen," a number on which Halvorson also shines with his crisp, varying attack. Saxophonist Walsh is a robust post-Coltrane player, whether playing wonderfully in a ballad mode as on the two takes of "Come Rain or Shine" where Vendetta plays with a mute, or in a more energized manner on "African Queen." With Halvorson and Bullock laying down a Latin groove, Vendetta and Walsh (sounding more like Hank Mobley than Coltrane) shine on Charlie Parker's "My Little Suede Shoes." Vendetta's trumpet here has a definite charm with her mix of moans and slurs, while Davis takes a thoughtful, deft, and concise solo.

Perhaps the high point is a dynamic performance of Nat Adderly's "Work Song," which displays more of Walsh's powerful playing and maybe Davis' most potent piano solo. Here, Vendetta quotes "Straight No Chaser" as the horns trade fours with Halvorson. In addition to the charm of Vendetta's trumpet, she impresses as a singer with her arrangement of Little Willie John's classic "Fever." Her adaptation is more influenced by Peggy Lee's rendition, as reflected in her sultry approach and Davis' understated, nimble playing. Walsh takes a short, robust solo on this number and also on the other vocal, "Black Coffee."

"Pocketful Of Cool" is Ginetta Vendetta's 5th album as a leader. With a terrific band and an engaging, varied program, she has put out quite a pocketful of musical gems.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of recording "All Choke & No Slide."

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Take 5 With Clark Terry

December 14, 2020, is the centennial of the birth of the late Clark Terry. Terry was one of the premier jazz trumpeters of the post bebop era who played and recorded with so many giants. how many folks had substantial stints with Count Basie and Duke Ellington? Also, he was with Thelonious Monk for a period, led a group with Bob Brookmeyer as well as led his own Big Bad Band. And he had an irrepressible personality. Today we have a short playlist of him.

First up, we feature him with Quincy Jones, who was a good friend of Clark. Clark is on fluegelhorn for "Moanin'."

Next up is Clark and his Big Band Live in 1974.

Here is Clark with Duke Ellington along with Ray Nance, Shorty Baker, and Cat Anderson.

Next up is "Stardust," from a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert.

Finally, we close with Clark's classic blues, "Mumbles."

Friday, February 14, 2020

Sugar Blue Colors

Sugar Blue
Beeble Music

Richard Whiting, better known as Sugar Blue, is amongst the most astonishing musicians in the blues genre. "Colors" is his latest album and an exciting, imaginative romp in the blues and related genres. With Rico McFarland on guitar and others including John B. Gayden or Ilaria Lantieri on bass, and Brady Williams or Yan Bodhoo on drums, and Damiano Della Torre on keyboards, Sugar Blue is heard on a smorgasbord of music.

Sugar Blue is a virtuoso on the harmonica s evident on the opening, "And the Devil Too," a high energy salute to Bo Diddley with a passionate vocal and astonishing harp playing that explores the full tonal range of the instrument. Not as obviously electrifying, but equally brilliant is his acoustic harp playing on his song about the original Lone Ranger "Bass Reeves," or "We'll Be Alright." The latter number is sung with Africa Riz, a Soweto, South Africa youth choir.

His vocals have a clarity, a clean diction, and warmth that perhaps contrasts with his instrumental virtuosity. Still, he pours everything into a startling cover of The Beatles' "Day Tripper." Max DeBernardi's superb fingerpicking guitar and Washboard Chaz's percolating percussion provide the backdrop to the delightful "Good Ole Days." Singing through his harp mike, he delivers a strong vocal on "Man Like Me," where he tells his lover of she didn't make him feels so good, Sugar Blue wouldn't feel bad. This song has another outstanding harmonica solo. With McFarland's terrific guitar, he delivers a straight-forward blues performance that also is a rebuttal on toxic masculinity. On this song, he sings about needing a blue pill, and if he gets down, he may need help getting up. Then there is a wistful ballad, "Shanghai Sunset," where he pays homage to this vibrant city. Guest Ling Bo solos on the sheng, an ancient Chinese reed instrument with an organ-like quality.

"Colors" is a superb recording that transcends merely being a blues recording. It has first-rate backing, fresh and memorable songs along with Sugar Blue's heartfelt vocals and imaginative, virtuoso musicianship. The result is an extraordinary recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388). The published review has several errors including capitalization issues which have been corrected here. Here is a preview for this recording.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Judy Wexler Crowded Heart

Judy Wexler
Crowded Heart
Jewel City Jazz

This is the fifth album by Judy Wexler and is an effort to present "jazz standards for the 21st century," an anthology of ten timeless modern jazz compositions by contemporary songwriters. The album is arranged by piano great Alan Pasqua (who co-produced this with Wexler). It features a band comprised of some of the finest, first-call musicians in Southern California including Alan Pasqua piano, melodica, whistling; Larry Koonse guitar; Josh Johnson alto sax; Bob Sheppard alto flute; Darek Oles bass; Steve Hass drums; Aaron Serfaty percussion; and Stefanie Fife cello.

When Wexler first conceived of this project, she reached out to jazz historian Ted Gioia, author of "The Jazz Standards," for advice. He told her that jazz stays alive and becomes more than a history lesson or museum piece when a modern composition is embraced and recorded by many vocalists. Gioia himself states that this recording is a joy to listen to and commends "their astuteness in finding and featuring outstanding songs by current-day jazz composers." Some of these composers are Luciana Souza, Larry Klein and David Batteau; Richard Galliano; Kurt Elling; Gregory Porter; Fred Hersch; Norma Winstone; Alan Broadbent; Georgia Mancio; René Marie; Enrico Pieranunzi, Lorraine Feather; Larry Goldings, and Alan Pasqua.

Wexler has a delightful, sometimes dreamy voice that conveys joy and heartbreak with her swing, phrasing, clear diction, and sweet-tone. This is clear on the opening "Circus Life" (from Sousa, Klein, and Batteau), with the supple backing, including Koonse's guitar, which adds a samba-tinge, Pasqua's understated support, and whistling, and Wexler's overdubbed second vocal part. Then there is the charm of her vocal that expresses the longing inherent in Galliano and Elling's "Parisian Heartbreak." Pasqua's melodica solo adds to the allure of this performance. Then there is her rendition of the title track about a relationship ending as she realizes it is time to part which is delivered with style.

While I enjoy Wexler's interpretation of Gregory Porter's "Painted on Canvas" with Josh Jackson's sonorous alto sax, and Pasqua's ingenious arrangement, her mellifluous vocal is overshadowed by Porter's original. Bob Sheppard's alto flute adds to the allure of "The Last Goodbye," another song of remembrance and longing. Then there is Wexler's unabashed romanticism singing René Marie's "Take My Breath Away," with a stunning Koonse acoustic guitar solo. In a program of mostly ballads, the gentle swing of "I Took Your Hand," is a nice change of pace.

Pasqua collaborated with Kirk Elling and Philip Edward Galdston in writing "And We Will Fly" with the dreaming vocal supported by the lovely backing with Fife's cello adding color along with another choice acoustic guitar solo. It closes a beautiful, first-rate vocal jazz recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "The Last Goodbye" from this CD.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Shuffle Demons Crazy Time

Shuffle Demons
Crazy Time
Stubby Records

The Toronto-based Shuffle Demons have just issued their 9th album and first studio CD in 6 years. This three-sax, bass, and drum band has been together 35 years. They play ten new compositions here. The current group is Richard Underhill - alto & baritone saxophones, lead vocals; Stich Wynston - drums, percussion, backing vocals; Kelly Jefferson - tenor saxophone, backing vocals; Matt Lagan - tenor saxophone, backing vocals; and Mike Downes - bass, backing vocals. Two original members, Mike Murley - tenor saxophone and Jim Vivian - bass, return to play on 5 of the ten tracks. Underhill composed nine of the ten songs while Jefferson penned one.

The music here is funky and groove-oriented with the melodies usually stated through uniform horn lines. The individual musicians, including the bass and drums, have their spotlight. There are stunning solos such as by Underhill and Lagan during the opening "Cat Walk," as Downes' bass anchoring the groove. Underhill raps on societal issues on "Have a Good One," as the horns riff in support. There is the stirring "Wandering Heart" with more excellent tenor sax and the driving topical "Crazy Time," as Underhill raps-sings about living in these crazy times. There is also an unusual blues, "Even Demons Get the Blues," on which Mike Downes contributes a steady bass ostinato and solo. It is possibly Kelly Jefferson, the tune's composer, who provides a wailing tenor sax solo here. More of a bluesy groove can be heard on the closing "Blue Chameleon," with more gutbucket tenor sax, perhaps from Mike Murley.

One can not ignore just how crucial bassists Downes and Vivian, along with drummer Wynston are to the success of the music here. Wynston is an especially exciting drummer playing with explosiveness at times. While there is a dance quality to this music, there is also plenty of substance in the various solos. "Crazy Time" is a lively recording with plenty of musical substance.

I received a download to review from a publicist.  Here is a video of the Shuffle Demons performing at the 2018 Panama Jazz Festival.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Emilio Solla Tango Jazz Orchestra Emilio Solla Tango Jazz Orchestra

Emilio Solla Tango Jazz Orchestra
Puertos: Music from International Waters
Avantango Records
In 1986, Astor Piazolla praised Argentine-born and NY-based pianist and composer Emilio Solla's first band, Apertura, who was praised by Astor Piazzolla himself as providing some of the most interesting new sounds in the Buenos Aires scene. Today, with eleven CDs as a bandleader and more than forty as arranger/ producer, Solla is considered one of the most outstanding and personal voices in Tango-jazz, as the fusion of modern Argentine tango and folk with jazz and other contemporary music styles is generally known.

He continues to tour Europe with his Barcelona's based quintet, Emilio Solla & Afines while working as a free-lance arranger and pianist in different projects in NY. He leads a 9- piece orchestra, La Inestable de Brooklyn, and in November 2014, his first symphonic work had its World Premiere at the Palau de la Musica, during the Barcelona Jazz Festival and its US Premier at the Chicago Symphony Hall by the Chicago Sinfonietta. In 2018, he started composing for his brand-new project, the Tango Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece big band using a bandoneon, using his blend of Latin American sounds and jazz, The result is the recording which is inspired by the fact that traveling by water has been a principal pathway of migration. Tracing these routes of migration doesn't just yield insights into our collective history but also our musical one, which we explore from the collisions of different countries and civilizations. As Solla observes having lived in the port cities of Buenos Aires and New York, "Both are integral to unique forms of music: jazz and tango. Foreigners made these port cities home and, in turn, made their place in the world." He began writing and arranging music that invoking this theme of the role of ports in a cultural collision.

The performers on this recording include Alejandro Aviles (soprano, alto, piccolo, flute), Todd Bashore (alto, flute, clarinet), Tim Armacost (tenor, alto flute, clarinet), John Ellis (tenor, soprano, clarinet, flute), Terry Goss (baritone, bass clarinet), Alex Norris (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jim Seeley (trumpet, flugelhorn), Brad Mason (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jonathan Powell (trumpet, flugelhorn), Noah Bless (trombone), Mike Fahie (trombone), Eric Miller (trombone), James Rodgers (bass trombone), Julien Labro (bandoneon, accordina), Emilio Solla (piano, conductor), Pablo Aslan (double-bass), and Ferenc Nemeth (drums). There are guest percussionists Samuel Torres (congas on track 1), Arturo Prendez (percussion on track 2), and Franco Pinna (bombo legüero on track 6). Arturo O'Farrill (piano on track 2) and Edmar Castañeda (harp on track 6) are special guests,

What stands out about this recording is how gorgeous Solla's compositions and arrangements with the transitions in tempos and mood within all these performances. There is the energy of the opening "Sol La, al Sol" with standout tenor sax and trombone solos, as well as the interplay between the horn sections along with crisp rhythmic backing. There is the bop-Latin fusion of "Chacafrik", with inspired alto sax along with Solla's fresh, piano, with the rhythm section supporting the superlative horn section. The lovely "La Novena" showcases Labro's marvelous organ-like soloing on the bandoneon as well as Terry Goss' burly baritone sax, both set against the stormy atmospheric setting.

"Four For Miles" provides a showcase for the brass with open-ended trumpet and trombone interplaying with muted brass and the energetic reeds with Labor weaving his lines in and out. This composition showcases the trumpeters who initially display plenty of fire exchanging choruses before transitioning to a muted trumpet's smoldering heat. Again, Solla's orchestration is sublime. Edmar Castañeda plucking of the harp provides a different flavor to "Allegrón," as he duets with Franco Pinna on the bombo legüero, with the horns adding accents and musical colors to his remarkable playing. This exceptional session concludes with an unusual blues composition, "a" again displaying the imagination and ingenuity of the leader with outstanding trombone, trumpet and baritone sax solos over the leader's comping along with some superb ensemble sections.

With the inspired compositions and arrangements, exquisite ensemble playing and inspired solos, Emilio Solla's "Puertos: Music from International Waters" is among the most compelling big band recordings of recent years.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is a performance of "La Novena."

Monday, February 10, 2020

Eric Alexander With Strings

Eric Alexander
With Strings
High Note Records

Eric Alexander has over three decades, established himself as a tenor saxophone virtuoso with considerable technical skill. His fluent, stirring work has gained him countless fans among his fellow musicians as well as listeners. As Steve Futterman observes in the liner notes, Alexander's technical proficiency "can often obscure gifts for lyricism and openly expressive offerings… ." This recording with strings fulfills a long-held dream for Alexander. It has him and his quartet of David Hazeltine on piano, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums augmented by a string orchestra arranged and conducted by Dave Rivello.

This release allows Alexander's lyricism and gift for embellishing melody to shine against the lush string setting as his rhythm section pushes the performances along. Things get off to a terrific start on his original "Gently." Then there is a superb rendition of Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time," where he takes off on with some highly animated, not merely pretty playing. Other highpoints include the euphonic rendition of Horace Silver's "Lonely Woman," and a hauntingly beautiful version of the standard (not the B.B. King hit), "The Thrill Is Gone," with lovely flute and french horn heard in the swing orchestra.

While the playing time is relatively short, Eric Alexander's playing is terrific, placing his lyrical expressiveness at the forefront. While this CD was recorded in 2013, it was worth the wait to have it released.

I received a review copy from High Note/ Savant Records. While without strings, this video has Eric Alexander performing "Embraceable You" with a group that included the late Harold Mabern on piano, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums.


Saturday, February 08, 2020

Take 5 With Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters (real name McKinley Morganfield) was one of the greatest of all the post-World War II blues artists associated with the city of Chicago. I was fortunate to see him perform several times in my life. Born in Mississippi, he moved to Chicago and electrified the deep Delta Blues. His music influenced countless other blues artists as well as rock artists. One of the most famous rock bands, as well as music magazines, took their name from one of his records, "Rolling Stone." Here is a small selection of his musical legacy with a focus on his pre-1950 recordings.

One of his first recordings made for the Library of Congress was "Country Blues." Reflecting the influence of Son House and Robert Johnson, it is a brilliant country blues performance.

After he moved to Chicago, Muddy made some recordings for Columbia that went unissued for some time. His first issued recordings were not even under his own name including a cover of a Robert Lockwood, Jr. recording. Circumstances had Sunnyland Slim bring him to Leonard Chess at Aristocrat Records where he started his legendary recording career. one of the early recordings he made with Slim was "Gypsy Woman."

Next up is a song Muddy learned from Robert Lockwood, Jr.  It is a cover of a recording Lockwood made for Bluebird, "Mean Red Spider." muddy first recorded this with James 'Sweet Lucy 'Carter under whose name it was released. Here is the recording Muddy made for Aristocrat.

Next up is a song that gave Peter Guralnick the title of one of his first books," I Feel Like Going Home."

The last selection of this brief playlist is "Burying Ground" with Big Crawford on bass. Big Crawford was the bassist on many of Muddy's early recordings

 I will be presenting Muddy Waters in the weeks to come.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Frank Bey All My Dues Are Paid

Frank Bey
All My Dues Are Paid
Nola Blue

Take a veteran soul singer, pair him with a terrific backing band, and have them record a choice collection of under-recorded covers and new songs, and one has Frank Bey's new soul-blues recording. " All My Dues Are Paid" is produced by Kid Andersen (Rick Estrin is co-producer) and recorded at Andersen's Greaseland studio. Andersen adds his guitar to this session, and other backing musicians include Jim Pugh on keyboards, Jerry Jemmott on bass, Alex Pettersen on drums, Eric Spaulding, and Nancy Wright on saxophones. Lisa Leuschner Andersen and D'Mar are among the backing vocalists here.

Reviewing Bey's album with the Anthony Paule Band, "Soul of the Blues," I noted how he evoked the late Solomon Burke and Mighty Sam McClain. Listening to this recording, one also hears tinges of Brook Benton, Percy Sledge, Jimmy McCracklin, and Percy Mayfield. Things start on a high note with "Idle Hands," which was originally recorded by Eddie Palmieri and Harlem River Drive. Against the churning groove and brassy backing with a blistering Eric Spaulding tenor sax solo, Bey delivers this topical song. It is followed by the Billy T Band's break-up song, "One of These Days," where is gritty baritone is supported by a lazy, swampy backing. Another notable performance is the soulful rendition of Mike Schermer's "It's a Pleasure." Rick Estrin contributed an old Nightcats classic "Calling All Fools," an excellent swinging, uptown blues with Nancy Wright blasting off on tenor sax after Jim Pugh's piano solo. There is plenty of grit in Bey's singing here.

The title track is an autobiographical bit of funk penned by Bey, Kathy Murray, Estrin, and Andersen, as Bey authoritatively sings about always pushing against whatever obstacles he faced, and now is his time to shine. Jack Sanford takes a vibrato-laden tenor sax solo on this track. He pours plenty of heart into his interpretation of a George Jones hit, "He Stopped Loving Her Today," which has strings added in the backing. A choice rendition of another Estrin penned Nightcats number, "I'll Bet I Never Crossed Your Mind," follows. With booting sax from Nancy Wright, Bey evokes the legendary Jimmy McCracklin on this performance. A couple of Percy Mayfield numbers follow. There is a horn-driven treatment of "Never No More" with Lorenzo Farrell's chicken shack organ and some sizzling guitar from Andersen to support Bey's shouting. In contrast, "Ha Ha in the Daytime," is performed in a more intimate, laconic setting with Jim Pugh on piano and Eric Spaulding on tenor sax backing Bey's more reflective vocal.

Among the other selections is a cover of Arthur Alexander's southern soul tune "If It's Really Got To Be This Way," a reflective interpretation of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," and an intense rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," that builds with a gospel-rooted intensity. The latter number closes this superb showcase of Frank Bey's passionate, nuanced singing.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 388). Here is Frank Bey singing "Imagine."


Thursday, February 06, 2020

Mark Hummel Way Back Machine

Mark Hummel
Way Back Machine
Electro-Fi Records

This is the latest recording in Mark Hummel's quite distinguished 35-odd year career with over 33 recordings, including several documenting his Blues Harmonica Blowouts. A substantial portion of this new release documents his relationship with The Deep Basement Shakers, who specialize in primal, joint-rockin', barrelhouse blues n' boogie. This East Bay Duo is Aaron Hammerman on piano and guitar and Dave Eagle on percussion, washboard/spoons/train whistles/animal calls/etc. Other playing on this include Kid Andersen on bass, Billy Flynn and Rusty Zinn on guitar, and Alex Pettersen on drums. Joe Beard adds guitar and vocals to three selections.

This recording focuses on the blues that pre-dated the electrified Chicago blues of the post-World War II era, along with a few choice originals. On this recording, Hummel sings with his usual authority, although his harmonica playing on this album is more in the vein of John Lee 'Sonny Boy I' Williamson than Little Walter. The band captures an easy rocking swing while guitarist Flynn (heard on most of this) is typically excellent as he channels Willie Lacey and Big Bill Broonzy.

Standout tracks include the topical original from RW Grigsby "Flim Flam," about the scammers in the world; Baby Boy Warren's "Hello Stranger"; Tampa Red's "So Much Trouble"; "Play With Your Poodle"; and Sonny Boy Williamson 1's "Cut That Out," which some may know from Junior Wells' recording. "Road Dog", with just the Barrelhouse Shakers is an imaginative skiffle style blues et to the medley of "Sloppy Drunk." Percussionist Eagle I found goes a bit over the top here and a couple of places elsewhere (including a rendition of Blind Boy Fuller's "Rag Mama Rag" and the instrumental "Breathtaking Blues," which is rooted in "Saint James Infirmary"). Hammerman, however, is a reliable, straight-forward pianist. Still, with solid blues performances like Robert Nighthawk's "Pepper Mama," and Jazz Gillum's "Gillum's Windy Blues," there is much to delight listeners. The latter number displays Hummel's ability to capture the reedy harmonica style of Gillum, with Flynn's sparkling guitar, a feature of an overall skiffle blues styled performance.

The three selections with Joe Beard's delta-rooted vocals are highlights here. With Kid Anderson on bass and Alex Pettersen on drums, Beard turns a sterling cover of Eddie Boyd's "Five Long Years," with a simple groove and terrific harmonica. Hummel contributed an original, "Say You Will," that Beard turns into a droning blues in the manner of early John Lee Hooker. A lively rendition of "Mean Old Frisco," provides a close to this album of first-rate performances of older blues gems mixed with a few choice originals.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Mark performing as part of a Little Walter tribute band at last year's Calgary Blues Festival.