Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Tamuz Nissim Capturing Clouds

Tamuz Nissim
Capturing Clouds
Street of Stars Records

This is the fourth album from Tamuz Nissim, an Israeli born vocalist who has been living in New York City for the past five years. Her vocals are supported by guitarist George Nazos, bassist Harvie S, and drummer Tony Jefferson. In her album notes, Nissim compares jazz to the impossibility of capturing clouds, and how the freedom to improvise make the same song sound different, just like clouds transform and remold their shapes. Her intent o is to bring this freshness to the songs she performs.

She displays an ability to bring a fresh approach to the opening "On the Sunny Side of the Street" backed just by bass and drums. She enchants with her alluring voice, her pitch, and flute-like phrasing set against the restrained backing. Furthermore, she fascinates with her scatting here and on her original "Make It Last," with Nazos taking a winsome solo along with drummer Jefferson. She also wrote the title song with a soft, dreamy vocal. Another standard, "Like Someone In Love," also has her enchanting singing backed solely by bass and drums with Harvie S soloing. Nissim's original, "What a Pair," is an exquisite duet between her scatting and bassist Harvie S.

Nissim displays a perky side on her rendition of Tom Waits' "I Don't Want To Grow Up," one of several unusual song interpretations she performs here. Another one is her thoughtful approach to Nick Drake's "Saturday Sun," with Nazos providing gorgeous guitar accompaniment. On "Rhapsody For Trane (I Hear a Rhapsody)," she crafted lyrics to John Coltrane's solo on "I Hear a Rhapsody" from Trane's "Lush Life" album and dazzles with her vocalese singing.

The final selection is a sweet, relaxed version of George Harrison's "Here Comes The Sun," accompanied solely by guitar. It is a captivating close to this most appealing recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the March-April 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 389). Here she performs "On the Sunny Side of the Street."

Monday, March 30, 2020

Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story
By Randy Fox
2018: BMG: 184 pp.

This is among two the first in these pocket-sized paperbacks devoted to various independent record labels that have played a significant role in the recording industry of the past 75 years. While subtitled The Excello Records Story," this volume is devoted to the various labels that Ernie Young established including Nashboro, Abet, and others in addition to Excello. While Excello is the best known of these labels, it was not the only significant one.

The story begins with Nashville after the Second World War. While viewed as a country town, there has always been a vital African-American music scene perhaps best manifested by Cecil Gant, whose recordings included one "Nashville Jumps." Fox introduces us to Ernie Young, who got into the jukebox and pinball business and eventually, the record business. Then there is the legendary radio station, WLAC. Late at night after the network broadcast ended. Deejay Gene Nobles would broadcast. Students from Fisk University brought some boogie-woogie and jump blues records to Nobles, which he played and got a great response. This response led to local stores that sold records purchasing blocks of time to advertise mail-order sales Stores included those owned by Randy Wood from outside of Nashville and Ernie Young. They would offer packs of records that included some of the favorites played on WLAC. Eventually, to help fill out these packs of 45s (that they sold C.O.D.), the store owners set up their own record labels. Randy Wood established Dot Records, while Young started the Nashboro group of labels.

Young had started his Record Store in 1945, before establishing the Nashboro label in 1950, and it had quite a business catering to African Americans. Nashboro focused on gospel music. Fox observes:
 Through mail-order sales, the Record Mart sold thousands of discs. A few indie R&B labels—Peacock, Specialty, Savoy, Apollo, Old Town—released black gospel records, but many others ignored the field. … Young believed starting his own gospel label was a win-win—increasing the supply of new gospel titles meant more sales of gospel packages and, by cutting out the middleman, the Record Mart's share of the profits would increase.
The lack of competing gospel labels worked in Young's favor in other ways, as well. Many popular touring gospel groups were eager to secure recording contracts.

Young first recorded other gospel acts before recording Nashville based acts. He first recorded at the WLAC studios, but the thrift-minded Young purchased a recording machine and eventually constructed a studio in the building with his store. He hired a scout for gospel and other talents. He added some hillbilly releases to the label, but this was a short-lived addition. Fox then details the recording of blues and R&B starting with the blues pianist Sherman Johnson, and then Young purchased some J.O.B. masters, including one by Alfred' Fat Man' Wallace.

In 1952, Young started the Excello label, and its acts included Skippy Brooks, a member of Gatemouth brown's Nashville band, Thomas "Shy Guy" Douglas,  Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers, Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers, Ted Jarrett, Earl Gaines, Kid King's Combo, Larry Birdsong, Arthur Gunter, Jerry McCain, and others. Ted Jarrett, of course, also was important as a talent scout and a songwriter.  This is a lead-in to Ernie Young's agreement with Crowley, Louisiana producer Jay Miller that started with a 1955 agreement that was described as "Excello Signs Lightnin' Slim." Fox provides, in this book, a condensed history of the relationship between the Excello and Miller.  This history previously had been discussed by John Broven in his book "Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock' n' Roll Pioneers," and Martin Hawkins in "Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge."

The arrangement between Young and Miller is described;
The arrangement established between Young and Miller became the standard for all artists Miller brought to Excello. The artists were technically signed to Miller's production company, not Excello Records. Miller delivered finished master tapes to Young. Excello owned the completed masters, and Excellorec administered the publishing rights. Young paid Miller the negotiated royalty rate for each record sold to cover both record sales (for the artist) and publishing (for the songwriter). Any further royalties due to the songwriter for cover versions of the song were also paid to Miller. Miller was then responsible for passing the appropriate amount on to the individual artists and writers.
Fox provides short bios of Lightnin' Slim, Guitar Gabriel, Lonesome Sundown, Lazy Lester, Slim Harpo, Carol Fran, and others as well as an overview of their recordings. There is also a discussion of Miller's role as a songwriter and a producer, such as his urging Slim Harpo to sing more nasally such as country stars Hank Williams and Webb Pierce.

At the same time as Excello was providing a steady stream of blues releases, Morgan Babb brought both gospel artists and R&B talents like Lillian Offitt ("Miss You So"), the Marigolds (formerly known as The Prisonaires, and The Gladiolas ("Little Darlin'"). Young also started the Nasco label, which released some Jay Miller sides, as well as recordings by Cliff Curry, The Crescendos, rockabilly platters from Excello hillbilly stalwart Jack Toombs and hillbilly bop brothers Bob & Ray Wicks. Fox also details issues arising from Young succumbing to the payola practices prevalent at the time.

There is also discussion of some of the more significant recordings such as Gene Allison's "You Can Make It If You Try," and those by Roscoe Shelton. While Jay Miller's Crowley studio continued to supply much of the Excello output, Young "had accumulated a stable of versatile local musicians he utilized for various types of sessions: downhome blues, rock' n' roll, and soul." Slim Harpo became a major selling artist at the time, and with the prospering record labels, Ernie's retail and mail-order business continued to be a vibrant business.

But of course, this success did not continue. Fox chronicles the decline in the Excello's business, the impact of The British Invasion, and Young's declining interest in the record business that led him to sell the Record Company and the record store. The acquiring company, The Crescent Company, initially opened movie theaters. Crescent's holdings included chains of movie theaters, bowling alleys, and skating rinks throughout Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi. It was after Crescent acquired Excello that a dispute with Miller involving Slim Harpo signing directly with Excello ended the longstanding relationship between the two. Slim Harpo's subsequent recordings and early death are discussed as well as the new owner's efforts at recording soul music such as The Kelly Brothers and Kip Anderson, gospel on the newly named Crescent label, which changed to the Creed label because of trademark issues.

There were further gospel recordings and some albums directed at the pop market. Licensing of some of the classic Excello recordings to the British Blue Horizon label foreshadowed later rises of the Nashboro-Excello label's recordings years down the line. Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams was brought in as an independent producer with his releases on the new Mankind label, including Freddie North's "She's All I Got." Williams also produced a homecoming project for one of Excello's biggest stars. Lightnin Slim's "High and Low Down," as well as Z.Z. Hill's 'The Brand New Z. Z. Hill."

Times were changing though, as WLAC changed its format, which impacted the evening R&b shows, which in turn affected Ernie's Record Store and by 1977, the Excello and the A-Bet subsidiary, and issued their last singles. Eventually, the body of recordings would be mined for reissues over the years by AVI itself and Ace Records in the UK. 'Between 1994 and 1997, AVI reissued over thirty CD compilations of Excello, Nashboro, and Nasco recordings. While some were domestic reissues from Ace Records, the majority were original compilations featuring extensive liner notes and previously unpublished photographs." Then in "1997, AVI was purchased by Universal Music, and a significant amount of Excello material was released on Universal's Hip-O reissue imprint." Other reissues included a box set of gospel recordings and Bear Family's Slim Harpo box set. As Fox observes, "After more than six decades, records with the magical blue and orange record label shipped from Ernie's Record Mart to eager customers around the world continue to excite music fans."

Fox weaves the threads of the Excello story in a concise, well-written manner. This writer wishes a bit more space had been devoted to the gospel recordings, including how such artists as Brother Joe May ended up on Nashboro. However, I suspect that Fox expected the focus on blues and soul to be of most interest to his readers, and there is only so much space he had available. In any event, "Shake Your Hips" is a very welcome history of a very significant independent blues, soul, and gospel label.

I received a pdf download of this book from a publicist. Here is the late Lazy Lester, one of Excello's major blues artists.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Take 5 with Body & Soul

"Body & Soul" is one of the most iconic standards in jazz that has been recorded countless times since Louis Armstrong among others recorded it. Per Wikipedia" "Body and Soul" was written in New York City for the British actress and singer Gertrude Lawrence, who introduced it to London audiences. Published in England, it was first performed in the United States by Libby Holman in the 1930 Broadway revue Three's a Crowd. In Britain the orchestras of Jack Hylton and Ambrose recorded the ballad first in the same week in February 1930. by the end of 1930 at least 11 American bands had recorded it with Louis Armstrong having recorded the first jazz version. After Coleman Hawkins made his famous recordings, it has become a requirement, to paraphrase Dexter Gordon, for all tenor saxophonists to play and/or record it. This will be the first of my Take 5 blog posts devoted to this standard. I will focus on performances that predate Hawkins.

First up is Louis Armstrong's 1930 recording.

The highly underrated trumpeter Henry 'Red' Allen recorded it in 1934 with a band that included Dickie wells and Chu Berry.

The Benny Goodman Trio with Teddy Wilson on piano and Gene Krupa did a version in 1935.

Chu Berry with Roy Eldridge in his band recorded it in 1938.

Finally, we have the great Art Tatum from 1938.

This sets us up for next week when we will start with the classic Coleman Hawkins recording.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Mississippi Juke Joint Confidential:House Parties, Hustlers & the Blues Life by Roger Stolle

Mississippi Juke Joint Confidential:House Parties, Hustlers & the Blues Life
Roger Stolle with photographs by Lou Bopp
Charleston SC: The History Press
2019: 176 pp + 16 pages color photos:

Subtitled "House Parties, Hustlers & the Blues Life" is, per the description on the back cover, an effort "to tell the tales, canonize the characters and explain the special brand of blues bottled in the quasi-legal establishments. Roger Stolle has owned the Clarksdale, Mississippi, Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art store since 2002. A contributor to various publications, founder of several festivals, producer of several blues albums and documentaries including the fascinating "We Juke It Up in Here," Stolle brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the present volume. Lou Bopp is a commercial photographer who has also photographed so many of the artists in today's delta from James 'T-Model' Ford to 'Big' George Brock, and his blues photography graced Stolle's previous book, "Hidden History of Mississippi Blues."

Stolle has skillfully mixed his text, based on his years of observations, with interview quotes from juke joint operators, musicians, patrons, and others in a well-rounded overview. He quickly dismisses the notion that every blues club is a juke joint. In an early chapter, he observes that a real juke joint comes from the African American culture of the old South. It is like a house party, except not at the owner's house. Some characteristics include that a juke joint does not typically have a phone number or regular hours. They exist on the fringes of society and are cash economies. Some offer food, although one should not expect to look for a health department permit. Bluesman Jimmy 'Duck' Holmes, owner of Bentonia's Blues Front CafĂ©, says 'A juke house was where anything …" while Red Paden observes that "A juke joint has been our play world. You know, you get out and blow some steam.

Chapters provide background on some of the characters in this world, such as Robert 'Bilbo' Walker, who played juke joints and finally became an owner. Stolle has Walker tell his story and realized his dream before dying not long after that. In a sense, a juke joint is a field of musical dreams. Then, to illustrate the nature of juke joints and the blues life, Stolle brings together interview excerpts from many persons. These persons include Red Paden, Cadillac John Nolden, John Horton, James 'T-Model' Ford, Terry 'Harmonica' Bean, Big George Brock, Sam Carr, CeDell Davis, R. L. Boyce, Mary Ann 'Action' Jackson, Robert 'Wolfman' Belfour, and Louis 'Gearshifter' Youngblood.

There is also a chapter on Moonshine or white whiskey which Stolle first sampled at the late Junior Kimbrough's old juke and discusses going on a moonshine run. There is a chapter on Po Monkey's Lounge and its proprietor, the colorful Willie Seaberry. Another chapter is devoted to the Riverside Hotel with an overview of its history from the African-American hospital where Bessie Smith passed away to becoming the hotel where blacks traveling in the area could stay. Red Paden is a colorful figure, and there is a chapter devoted to Red's Lounge. This chapter introduces us to such juke joint characters as Miss Mae, Coburn, Dingo, and Big Charles. Stolle also provides tales from taking the juke joint performers on the road and the origins of the annual Juke Joint Festival.

In addition to Stolle's engaging and enlightening text, Lou Bopp's photographs cover a wide range of subjects from the juke joints themselves (interiors and exteriors), patrons, operators, performers, customers, and much more. There are black and white photos interspersed through a text and a sixteen-page section of color photos. Relevant web-links are provided at the end of the text. References and resources and an index follow these. This book is not merely a labor of love, but a book that will become an essential part of the libraries of many blues lovers.

I purchased this.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Hank Jones Live at Jazzhus Slukefter 1983

Hank Jones
Live at Jazzhus Slukefter 1983
Storyville Records

Recorded at a Copenhagen jazz club, this location recording has the great pianist Hank Jones leadings trip with bassist Mads Vinding and drummer Shelley Manne on a selection of standards and bebop classics. Ably supported by Vinding and Manne, Jones was in full mastery of his skills and interpretative powers this night. He dazzles on Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From the Apple" and "Au Private," as well as on Bud Powell's "Budo." At the same time, his lyricism is to the fore on standards such as "Just Friends," "It Could Happen To You," and "What's New." 

"Live at Jazzhus Slukefter 1983" is a wonderful addition to Hank Jones' recorded legacy.

I purchased this recording as a download from Bandcamp.com. It is also available as a CD from there and other sources. Here is a video, with a different trio from the CD, of Hank Jones performing Charlie Parker's "Au Private."

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Chris Shutters With Special Guest Jimmy Burns Good Gone Bad

Chris Shutters With Special Guest Jimmy Burns
Good Gone Bad
Third Street Cigar Records

The genesis of this collaboration is from when Strutters played at an open mike that Burns was hosting at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago. They connected that night, shared stories, and exchanged phone numbers. Almost ten years later, Shutters called Burns, and that ended up with them making hopeful plans for what became this recording. They share the vocals, and both play guitar. Shutters also plays bass and drums on some tracks. Others on this recording include bassists Bryon Harris Jr. (who also plays drums), Frank May, drummer Danny Jahns, harmonica player Tony Shutters, saxophonist Art Bishop, and keyboards from Rick Warner and Mike Huffman.

It is a well-played and sung recording even if Chris Shutters occasionally leans towards a blues-rock guitar style. There is an interesting contrast on the four tracks that Burns takes the lead vocal with those by Shutters. The feel of Burns' performances being pretty much in the manner of his Delmark albums. The relaxed grooves are quite similar, and Burns guitar and singing are in fine form. This relaxed approach is in contrast to Shutters' sometimes frenzied approach as on the opening title track with its race neck tempo.

A particularly exceptional track is Burns' "Miss Annie Lou," which also features a strong sax solo. Other selections by Shutters are a bit more relaxed, such as his tribute to B.B. King, "Can't Play The Blues Like B.B." At the slower tempo here, he sings with assured authority. Despite its blues-rock trappings including the wah-wah guitar, "Unwind" also displays Shutters' singing to considerable effect. Shutters pulls out all the stops on his guitar for the driving "Keep You Satisfied," with Burns adding a backing vocal.

If at times Chris Shutters rocks his blues a bit too much for this listener's taste, this is overall, a solid collaboration. Burns is in excellent form, and Shutters is mostly an authoritative singer. There is a nice mix of material, and "Good Gone Bad" should appeal to a wide range of blues lovers.

I received my review copy from Third Street Cigar Records. This review appeared in the March-April 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 389) although a few minor changes have been made to the review as published. Here is a video of Chris Shutters performing.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bill Blue The King of Crazy Town

Bill Blue
The King of Crazy Town
Conch Town Music

Long a resident of Key West, Florida, Bill Blue (real name) began his blues journey on the road playing with Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup. After Crudup passed on, he signed with Adelphi and toured for about a decade. Tired of the road, he settled in on a houseboat in the Keys and didn't record again until a chance meeting with British producer Ian Shaw led to "Mojolation" in 2013. Shaw returned to produce this new recording featuring Blue's singing and guitar. There is a pretty big cast of backing musicians, the most notable being Mack Backer on guitar, harmonica and a vocal on one selection, Eric Erickson on keyboards, and a full horn section.

The strength of this recording is Blue's honest, gravelly singing and the sound production on a program of blues and blues-based rock. A good number of the songs here deal with irony and hypocrisy, starting with the opening "Do What I Say Don't Do What I Do," with the backing featuring a swampy tremolo guitar and a stunning slide guitar solo. It is followed by a tribute to his home state, "Carolina Time," with its insistent groove and searing guitar. The one song that Blue had no hand in writing is the driving interpretation of Eddie Hinton's "I Want It All," with a frenzied vocal and riffing horns. "Hunker Down" is inspired by the attitude of the Key West folks and is apparently a favorite during hurricane season. Then there is "Everybody's Leaving Town" with its droning slide guitar backing about people leaving town. The title track is an exuberant celebration of a night out in Key West.

"You Ain't Fun Anymore," is a vocal duet with Matt Backer and the rollicking performance certainly disproves that Blue ain't fun anymore. This writer's favorite track might be the low-key, atmospheric "Closing Time," about playing the band's set, while the staff of a club are sweeping the floor and placing chairs on tables. The album closes with the instrumental " Mojolation," with is a feature for Blue's slide guitar. Bill Blue has plenty of personality that is displayed throughout this splendid blues-rock album.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the March-April 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 389) although a few minor changes have been made. Here is a video of Bill Blue in performance.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Sweet Bitter Blues: Washington DC's Homemade Blues by Phil Wiggins and Frank Matheis

Sweet Bitter Blues: Washington DC's Homemade Blues
Phil Wiggins and Frank Matheis
2020: University of Mississippi Press: 286 pp

It is welcome that this long-awaited collaboration between bluesman Phil Wiggins and journalist Frank Matheis has finally arrived in print. Centered around Phil Wiggins' recollection of his life and his career as a blues artist, he and Matheis provide welcome documentation of the Washington D.C. acoustic blues scene and community over the past half-century or so. In addition to Phil Wiggins autobiography, they give an overview of the D.C. blues scene in the 1960s, of performers that have been and are part of the D.C. acoustic blues scene, Phil Wiggins' tips for harmonica players, and Barry Lee Person's interviews with John Cephas and Archie Edwards.

The book observes the rise of interest in whites for the blues that took place in the 1960s when the likes of Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James would play Ontario Place and other venues. At the same time as D.C.'s own homemade acoustic blues scene was being carried on by members of the African American such as Mother Scott, Flora Bolton, Chief Ellis, Archie Edwards, John Jackson, John Cephas & Phil Wiggins who were carrying forward with a songster and Piedmont blues tradition.

In this introductory chapter, Wiggins & Matheis observe that a convergence of cultural forces helped make Washington, D.C. so special to sustain a thriving country blues scene for forty years. Archie Edwards' Barbershop, with its Saturday afternoon jam sessions, was, and is, a central meeting point for blues musicians, young and old. There were also chroniclers such as Barry Lee Pearson and Otis Williams. The Smithsonian Institution, with its Folklife Center and annual Folklife Festival, provided opportunities for performances before substantial crowds. In contrast, organizations like the National Council for the Traditional Arts and the Travellin' Blues Workshop, publications like Unicorn Times, musical venues, blues radio programs on WPFW by the likes of Bill Barlow, Nap Turner and Jerry 'The Mama' Washington, and other local radio stations provided a foundation. Also prominent was an older generation being willing to carry on the acoustic blues traditions.

Phil's story is split into three parts. The first part deals with his early life, how he started playing music, his entrance into the D.C. acoustic blues community and the beginning of his career as a musician. The lengthiest part of Phil's story is devoted to his partnership with John Cephas. The final section is dedicated to Phil's various activities since John Cephas passed.

I have known Phil Wiggins for over 30 years and admired him as a musician and a person. Still, there was so much about him that goes beyond his musical persona. In telling his story, he gives a glimpse of the D.C. blues community in which he was mentored, then one he flourished in and became a mentor to many today. Phil also provides us with a perspective of someone from the blues culture. Many of those writing about the music (myself included) are outsiders, no matter how much we love this music.

Phil grew up during the time that Jim Crow was being dismantled, which lends insight into how this affected him. He describes starting to music, and his relationship with Flora Molton, Ed Morris, Mother Scott, Archie Edwards, and John Jackson. He would also meet and learn from Johnny Shines, Robert Lockwood, Jr., and Henry Townsend. Then at the 1976 Folklife Festival, Phil would meet big Chief Ellis and John Cephas, with whom he started playing with as the Barrelhouse Rockers.

Big Chief Ellis would return to his home state of Alabama and pass away, which led to Cephas and Wiggins becoming a duo. There is plenty of insight on John Cephas, and others in this lengthy chapter. There was much he experienced and learned from, such as Archie Edwards' Bunker Hill Road barbershop being the center of this acoustic blues community. But also I learned much about Cephas' career as a carpenter at the D.C. National Guard Armory, as well as being one of the foremost fingerstyle guitarists. While born in the Foggy Bottom section of Washington, he loved living in the country down in Bowling Green, Virginia. John was also a master musician and one of the richest vocalists in the blues (one who evoked Big Bill Broonzy with the depth and warmth of his expressive vocals).

Their first album was recorded for a German label and part of a series "Living Country Blues U.S.A.," and labeled the pair, Bowling Green John Cephas and Harmonica Phil Wiggins, which were stage names they would eventually discard. Phil also played on Flora Molton's album in this series, which also had an album devoted to Archie Edwards. Phil observes that they recorded some of their standard repertoire for this recording. Among the many insights Phil provides is that, for circumstances he describes, he was not satisfied with many of the recordings at the time they were made. Listening to them today, Phil can appreciate them in a manner he previously had not. With John Cephas, Phil traveled throughout the world and had an inquisitiveness about the people and cultures he met that he details in his recollections.

Phil also provides some insight into the founding of the Augusta Heritage Center Blues Week at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. Joan Fenton invited him after John Jackson had recommended Phil, starting a career of teaching the blues as well as playing that continues to today. Sparky Rucker was another instructor. The next year John Cephas was added to the faculty, and over the years, the Augusta Heritage Center Blues Week has become well known plus inspiring similar workshops around the world.

The last part of Phil Wiggins' story involves carrying on his legacy and the various partnerships and projects he has engaged in. He partnered with the Corey Harris, Rick Franklin, Eleanor Ellis, and Nat Reese. Reese, like Howard Armstrong, was a performer of a variety of songs that went beyond the blues. With this inspiration, Phil formed the Chesapeake Sheiks with whom he might perform a ballad that Louis Armstrong recorded, as well as a Slim & Slam number. He regularly still performs with Eleanor Ellis and has a fruitful collaboration with an Australian, Dom Turner, with whom he has performed at the Bryon Bay Blues Festival, and continues to teach and mentor others. As he does elsewhere in his narrative, he intersperses short bits about these persons.

As mentioned, Phil has tips for harmonica players. Also, Barry Lee Pearson interviews of John Cephas and Archie Edwards that appeared in living Blues are reprinted. Finally, there are short portraits of significant persons and institutions that were part of the D.C. acoustic blues scene. These include portraits of Flora Molton; John Jackson; Esther Mae "Mother" Scott; Bill Harris; The Festival of American Folklife; the Gaines Brothers; Eleanor Ellis; and several persons associated with Archie Edwards barbershop including Mike Baytop, Mr. Bones, Nap Brundage, N.J. Warren, Warner Williams and Jay Summerour, and M.S.G. The Acoustic Trio.

The highest compliment I can make of this book, besides how much I enjoyed reading it, is that I learned so much about the D.C. acoustic blues scene. It is also handsomely illustrated. "Sweet Bitter Blues" is an invaluable addition to the literature about the blues.

I purchased this book.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Take 5 - Going Down Slow - Songs of illness and death

Given the devastation and disruption caused by COVID-19, today's Take 5 presents five songs with the theme of disease and death. We start with Victora Spivey's classic recording about TB, "T.B. Blues." John Erby is on piano and Lonnie Johnson on this 1927 recording.

Josh White recorded "Silicosis is Killing Me," under the name of Pinewood Tom.

Memphis based bluesman Big Lucky Carter recorded "AIDS Is Killing Me," about a recent plague.

While some folks equate COVID-19 with the seasonal flu, COVID-19 is worse. But the Flu itself is a dangerous virus as Albert Collins sang  in "Dyin' Flu."

Next up to close out this Take 5 is the original recording of the classic blues about dying from a disease, "Going Down Slow," by St. Louis Jimmy.

Friday, March 20, 2020

J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band Has A New York Moment

J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band
New York Moment
Twee-Jazz Records

The J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band is a Big Little Band that has a regular Saturday Night engagement at the legendary Minton's playhouse. Led by pianist-composer Hopkins, this band has had several vocalists over the years, including Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Queen Esther, Jazzmeia Horn, Alicia Olatuja, and Brianna Thomas. On the present recording, the band supports vocalists Joy Hanson, Nico Sarbanes, Vanisha Gould, Shawn Whitehorn, and Alicyn Yaffee. The rest of the band consists of Nico Sarbanes - trumpet solos, Drew Vandewinckle - tenor sax, Jason Marshall - Baritone sax, Julian Pressley - alto sax, Beserat Taffesse - trombone, Walter Cano - trumpet, Evan Hyde - drums, and Kaisa Maenshivu - upright bass.

Except for Charles Mingus' "Better Git It In Your Soul," Hopkins wrote all of the songs (3 are collaborations) while Drew Vandewinkle arranged all of the tunes. The music here is handsome, Neil Hefty styled big band backed singing starting with the duet between Nico Sarbanes and Joy Hanson on the opening "Beguiled. While these are originals, Hopkins has created pastiches of classic big band songs starting with a brisk swinging original. Their other duet, "We Can Change The World,' is a relaxed swinger. Joy Hanson has an alluring, feathery vocal on "The Wonderful Things To Come," which has a sensual Vandewinkle tenor saxophone. Then there is her affective vocal on the lovely ballad, "Close Your Eyes," with nice muted trumpet. Sarbanes is an attractive crooner on the peppy "Lulu," where he also adds a bit of heat with his trumpet.

Vanisha Gould is a striking, soulful singer on the celebratory "One of These Days," with a groove that hints at "New York, New York." She also delivers an alluring vocal on the ballad "Sublime Beauty." Vandewinkle's arrangement includes an attractive unison horn break. a love song, "Oh Kitty," showcases Shawn Whitehorn vocal and Sarbanes bright, melodic trumpet, while Alicyn Yaffee handles the vocal on the closing blues, "The Children Will Lead Us." If this number has the least alluring horn arrangement, it sports choice jazz-blues guitar by an unidentified guitarist. In addition to these quite enjoyable vocal performances, there is a solid rendition of "Better Git It In Your Soul" that allows band members to stretch out.

With five engaging singers, intriguing idiomatic originals, and an excellent big little band, J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band provides some very memorable musical moments here.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video of the J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band with vocalist Queen Esther at Minton's in Harlem.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Duchess Live at the Jazz Standard

Live at the Jazz Standard
Anzic Records

After two delightful studio albums, Duchess, the flirty and fun jazz vocal trio of Amy Cervini, Hillary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou, have a new recording catching their entertaining act at The Jazz Standard in New York City. Backing Duchess is a swinging quartet of Michael Cabe – piano, Jesse Lewis – guitar, Matt Aronoff – bass, and Jared Schonig – drums on a selection of songs, some of which are from the two prior recordings.

The trio's girl harmony harks back to classic swing vocal groups like the Boswell Sisters and The Andrew Sisters. They sing "(We) Love Being Here With You," which is followed by "Swing Brother Swing," both of which also feature Lewis' biting guitar in addition to the charm of their singing. The brief spoken interludes add to the appeal here. Other notable selections include a cover of The Boswell Sisters' recording, "Herbie Jeebies," with definite showmanship and an effervescent "On the Sunny Side of the Street." Then there is the wisdom of "A Little Jive Is Good for You," and a marvelous rendition of Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call." Wycliffe Gordon provided the handsome arrangement of this latter number, which they offer an affecting performance with their wordless vocal harmonies.

There is plenty of manic orderly chaos on "Everybody Loves My Baby," with tempo changes and even a kazoo solo to close this cd. "Live at the Jazz Standard" is another delightful album of serious fun from Duchess.

I received my review copy from Anzic Records. here they are performing Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call."

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Kid Ramos' West Coast House Party

Kid Ramos
West Coast House Party

Kid Ramos' second Evidence album, West Coast House Party, features a who's who of some of the more prominent blues guitar pickers on the West Coast blues scene along with a variety of vocalists and other players.

Musically, this album leans to the jump blues scene that thrived on the West Coast, with two takes of a T-Bone walker instrumental,  Strollin  With Bone, spotlighting Gatemouth Brown and Duke Robillard along with Kid Ramos, sandwiching other tracks. Other guitarists here include Junior Watson, Rick Holmstrom, Rusty Zinn, and Charlie Baty, while Zinn, Robillard, Watson, James Intveld, Kim Wilson, Janiva Magness, Big Sandy Williams, and James Harman handle the vocals. Jeff Turmes anchors the horns, while Fred Kaplan is on piano, LarryTaylor on bass, and Stephen Hodges is on drums.

It is a tight band that swings, and Ramos gets to trade guitar solos with his peers and special guests. The vocals are generally quite good, although overshadowed by the originals. James Intveld is a capable singer on Roy Brown's  Love Don't Love Nobody,  but not merely in Brown's league as a singer (admittedly few are), and even Kim Wilson can't quite equal a Smiley Lewis on a jump blues like Real Gone Lover.

Within its admitted limitations, this record still possesses considerable appeal. The music is wonderfully played and the result is a lively blues party disc great for dancing and/or listening.

I wrote this review in 2000 and it likely was published in the D.C. Blues Calendar. I likely received a review copy from Evidence Records or a publicist. Here is Kid Ramos as part of The Fabulous Thunderbirds from 2003.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Watermelon Slim Traveling Man

Watermelon Slim
Traveling Man
Northern Blues

Watermelon Slim's new recording is a 2-CD set of live solo performances of him on vocals, guitar, and harmonica. This album was co-produced by Slim with Chris Hardwick, who engineered these performances from The Blue Door in Oklahoma City, and The Depot in Norman, Oklahoma. With a career spanning five decades and many recordings, Slim remains a compelling performer, even without supporting musicians.

Slim worked as a forklift driver, funeral officiator, watermelon farmer, newspaper reporter, saw miller, and truck driver for industrial water, among others. From these experiences come some of his original songs. Many of these songs have traveling as a theme, including the originals "Blue Freightliner," "Truck Driving Songs," "Scalemaster Blues," and "300 Miles." Also traveling seems a theme of renditions of Fred McDowell's "61 Highway Blues," and "Frisco Line," and a mashup of Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning" with Muddy Waters' "Two Trains Running."

Even when performing well-known blues songs, Slim remakes them into his own as opposed to copying the original, with considerable improvisation in the lyrics. Besides his robust vocals, he impresses with his driving guitar playing, especially his very personal slide guitar style. On his reworking of Cat Iron's "Jimmy Bell," he adds some rowdy harmonica. A few numbers like "Into the Sunset" have more of a country music flavor to them, adding to the variety and appeal of this recording.

They talk about athletes giving it all and wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Much the same can be said of Watermelon Slim with his growling, gravelly-voiced vocals, and his propulsive rhythmic self-accompaniment. He wears his blues on his sleeves, and the result is this superb recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the March-April 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 389). Here, from 2005, is Watermelon Slim performing "Smokestack Lightning."

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Coachella Valley Trio Mid Century Modern

The Coachella Valley Trio
Mid Century Modern

A guitar trio featuring guitarist Doug MacDonald takes its name from the fact that MacDonald and his fellow musicians settled in Palm Springs, in California's Coachella Valley. Besides MacDonald, the trio consists of Larry Holloway on bass and Tim Pleasant on drums. They started playing a regular gig in 2016 at A.J.'s on the Green, and they really clicked, inspiring MacDonald to capture the trio on tape. Big Black playing djembe is a guest on 6 of the 11 selections, four of which are MacDonald originals.

As MacDonald observes in his brief liner notes, the trio soon found they had a close rhythmic connection, that is evident in the performances heard here. MacDonald is an excellent bop-styled guitarist with a melodic core to his playing with a deft touch. His playing echoes the message of Lester Young of knowing the lyrics of the tunes one plays, while he ably constructs very sophisticated solos. His bandmates complement his performances, which include charming renditions of such standards as "My Shining Hour," "What's New," "Give Me The Simple Life," "Woody 'N You," and "The Way You Look Tonight."

MacDonald adds in delightful originals, including "Lance Or Lot," and "Cat City Samba." This latter song, with a percolating drum solo, is one of two Brazilian-oriented compositions that the trio give scintillating performances to. It complements the interpretations of the standards on a first-rate bop-styled jazz guitar recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the March-April 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 389). 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Take 5 With Lester Young With Billie Holiday

A few months ago I posted a Take 5 of Lester Young during his time with Count Basie. At the time of his first recordings with the count, he was also on many recordings the great singer, Billie Holiday made. This Take 5 focuses on the music they made together.

First up is "Without Your Love."

Next up from 1937 is "All of Me."

Then there is "When You're Smiling."

Here is "I Must Have That Man."

All of those above recordings were small group sessions led by the great pianist, Teddy Wilson. to close this edition of Take 5, we have this celebrated video clip from the legendary TV show "The Sound of Jazz," with Holiday singing "Fine and Mellow" with a band that included Young, Coleman Hawkins, and Ben Webster.

There is so much great Billie Holiday with Lester Young, I will be doing another playlist soon.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The Forrest McDonald Band Blues in a Bucket

The Forrest McDonald Band
Blues in a Bucket
World Talent Records

"Blues in a Bucket" is a new album by singer-songwriter-guitarist Forrest McDonald. Black Jack Ketchum, an Atlanta DJ, writes that "McDonald has been performing and recording earth-shaking, soul-stirring music distilled in the blues for nearly six decades." This CD is his 15th album and dedicated to his brother Steve who passed away in 2019 of cancer. His many credits include recording with Bob Seger and is the guitarist soloing on "Old Time Rock and Roll." Among those heard on this album are vocalists Andrew Black and Becky Wright, bassist Lee Gammon, keyboardist Matthew Wauchope, drummer John McKnight, and harmonica player Pix Ensign along with a horn section and backup vocalists. McDonald wrote all 11 songs.

McDonald impresses as a guitarist with his fiery B.B King-styled guitar lines, and thoughtful, well-constructed solos. Black, a superb soulful blue-eyed vocalist, sings most of the songs. He brings plenty of energy and fervor, whether handling the New Orleans groove of "Boogie Me Till I Drop," and the gutbucket slow blues, "Blues in the Basement." These are terrific, idiomatic blues with Black digging deep in his vocals with superb solos from McDonald. The rhythm section is first-rate throughout.

Other standout tracks include "Blues in the Bucket" with its nice groove, "Blue Morning Sun," a song he wrote after his brother passed away, and another intense slow blues, Windy City Blues," where Black sings about going back to Memphis. McDonald is outstanding, as is keyboardist Wauchope with the horns adding atmosphere. "Go To The Light" is a soulful groover with punchy horns and backing vocal chorus. Pix Ensign's harmonica adds flavor behind McDonald's robust vocal on "Misery and Blues." Becky Wright impresses with her forceful vocal on "Powerhouse," with its rock-solid groove and more harmonica.

Overall "Blues in a Bucket" is an exceptional recording with first-singing, superb playing, and excellent ensemble playing. This is certainly a disc that will energize any blues party.

I received my review copy from a publicist. here is the official video for "Blues in a Bucket."


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Blues Kings of Baton Rouge

Various Artists
Blues Kings of Baton Rouge
Bear Family

The celebrated reissue label, Bear Family, recently issued this double-CD survey of blues from this Louisiana city. As Martin Hawkins, who produced this reissue and wrote the liner notes, this is not an exhaustive history of blues in Baton Rouge as we do not know what blues might have sounded like before the first recordings were produced in 1954. It covers the period of 1954-1971, with many of the 53 recordings compiled here originally produced by Jay Miller for Excello Records. There are also field recordings that folklorist Harry Oster issued on the Folk Lyric label, which was later acquired by Arhoolie Records.

Talking blues by Slim Harpo, "Blues Hang-Over" and an alternate take entitled "Talking Blues" serve as bookends for the recordings here. There are a number of classic swamp blues including "Bad Luck Blues," "Rooster Blues" and "Winter Time Blues" by Lightnin' Slim; and "I'm a King Bee," "Rainin' in My Heart," and "Baby Scratch My Back" by Slim Harpo. Also included are "They Call Me Lazy" and "I'm a Lover Not a Fighter" by Lazy Lester; "My Home Is a Prison" by Lonesome Sundown; and Hoodo Party' by Tabby Thomas; "Naggin'" by Jimmy Anderson; "Trouble at Home Blues," "Dark Clouds Rollin'," by Silas Hogan; and "Showers of Rain" by Henry Gray. These are lowdown, gutbucket blues with understated backing, and somber lyrics.

Also included are stunning country jam recordings by Butch Cage and Willie B. Thomas, the unique sober blues of Robert Pete Williams including "Angola Special," and a tribute song "Goodbye Slim Harpo"; and the down-home approach of Clarence Samuels. There is good value in the 53 tracks and nearly two-and-a-half hours of music. This is packaged as a digipack and includes a 52-page booklet with copious notes on each song from Martin Hawkins, author of "Slim Harpo; Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge." "Blues Kings of Baton Rouge" is a superb reissue that serves both as an introduction to the Baton Rouge down-home blues scene as well as an overall survey of this vital blues scene.

I purchased this CD. Here is Lightnin' Slim with Whispering Smith on harmonica.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

John Lee Hooker & Nappy Brown

John Lee Hooker & Nappy Brown

Atlantic has two new releases in its Savoy Blues Legends series. Both spotlight a great of the post-World War II blues scene. John Lee Hooker, Detroit Blues 1948-1949 finally makes available on compact disc, Hooker’s Savoy recordings. Recorded by Elmer Barbee a few days after the landmark Boogie Chillen session, the first twelve selections here were his second recording session in November 1948, discounting some demos. The other eight selections come from February 1949 sessions and include four acoustic recordings by Hooker (he would not record acoustically until his  Folk sessions a decade later), and four with a small, sometimes chaotic, combo. The solo Hooker sides range from moody, introspective songs to hot boogies where he plays his guitar mixing in intricate picked runs with heavy percussive chordal playing.  Those who are unfamiliar with John Lee Hooker’s early recordings should give a listen to these sides. It may be a bit demanding at times of the listener, but the rewards are great. Hooker authority, Dave Sax, contributes liner notes that help understand the originality of Hooker s music. Whether one needs this for their blues collection depends on part how much John Lee Hooker of the late forties and early fifties one already has. There is some first-rate John lee Hooker to be heard here.

Nappy Brown’s  Night Time is the Right Time, collects the 36 recordings Brown waxed for Savoy on two discs. Colin Escott captures the mood of Nappy Brown’s music, Instant Soul. There is no other way to describe Nappy Brown. Brown is still a great, commanding singer. These fifties recordings do suggest his gospel roots, but also showcase him as a powerful blues shouter. His false stutter on several numbers like Don’t Be Angry, Piddley Piddley Patter or Well, Well, Well Baby La, easily could have become a short-lived novelty with a lesser singer. Brown’s use of this device avoids it becoming cliched. Brown also benefits from terrific New York studio bands which included such giants as Mickey Baker, Sam “The Man” Taylor, Budd Johnson, Al Sears, Panama Francis, Sammy Price, and Ray Barretto. He further benefitted from some great songs from the hand of R&B songwriting legend Rose Marie McCoy. He was a pretty fair songwriter himself.  Some of the songs like Well Well Well Baby La (done by Snooks Eaglin and Johnny Copeland) and The Right Time  (covered by Ray Charles), have since become blues standards. There are a few songs that may be musically and/or lyrically second-rate, but overall, the recordings showcase Brown’s forceful musical persona and the performances have aged well.

I likely received these recordings from the record company or a publicist. This review likely appeared in the DC Blues Calendar in late 2000. These may be out of print, so you may need to check used CD sources or online auctions. Here is Nappy doing Don't Be Angry.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Amber Weekes Pure Imagination

Amber Weekes
Pure Imagination
Amber Inn Productions

A fixture on the Los Angeles jazz scene, and mentored by (among others) Sue Raney, Amber Weekes showcases her distinctive musical personality on a collection of American songbook classics and some more recent musical delicacies. Among those heard backing her are guitarists Mitchell Long and Ramon Stagnaro, flutist Justo Almario, altoist Keith Fiddmont, baritone saxophonist, Dale Fielder, violinist-arranger Mark Cargill, vibraphonist Nick Mancini, and bassist Trevor Ware. Cargill, who also conducted the string section, and bassist Trevor Ware are co-producers of this album.

The album opens with 'Pure Imagination" from "Willa Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," a delightful duet with Sue Raney with some amusing banter at its end. Weekes has an engaging, intimate, and flirty vocal approach. She swings vigorously despite an understated, almost whispering, vocal style with the swinging orchestral backing for "It's All Right With Me." Then there is her charming singing on "When He Makes Music" with Cargill's insistent violin solo.

Weekes is a great fan of Oscar Brown's songs. Brown's songs heard here includes a seductively sung, almost whispered, rendition of "The Snake." This track is built around Trevor Ware's bass backing. Peter Smith adds piano and Scotty Barnhart moaning trumpet obligatos and muted trumpet solo. It is followed by the sparkling, swinging "Gotta Be This or That," with some terrific saxophone from Fiddmont. Trevor Ware's bowed bass provides the sole backing for the hauntingly beautiful interpretation of Oscar Brown's "Brown Baby."

There is some splendid, uncredited guitar on the twenties' jazz classic "After Your Gone," and superb New Orleans brass band backing on Paul Simon's "Gone At Last," set to the music of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." Then there is her charming bossa performance of the Barry Manilow & Johnny mercer penned "When October Goes" with lovely flute from Danilo Lorenzo." Another Oscar Brown song, "Mr. Kicks," is given an exuberant treatment with more exceptional saxophone from Fiddmont.

Weekes provides an introspective ballad rendition of "When October Goes," which is a bonus track. This interpretation closes this captivating set of distinctive jazz vocals.

I received my review copy from a publicist. here is a video of her performing "The Snake."

Monday, March 09, 2020

In a Roomful of Blues

Roomful of Blues
In a Roomful of Blues
Alligator Records

Roomful of Blues has been delivering its brand of rocking, horn-driven blues for over a half-century. It has been led by the likes of Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, and Sugar Ray Norcia. Currently, it is co-led by guitarist Chris Vachon (been with the band for 22 years) and saxophonist Rich Lataille (who has been in the group since 1970). The other members of Roomful on this cd are vocalist Phil Pemberton, drummer Chris Anzalone, bassist John Turner, keyboardist Rusty Scott, saxophonist Alek Razdan, and trumpeter Carl Gerhard.

Roomful of Blues has received so many accolades and awards over the years. This latest recording is sure to add to those. Vachon and others contributed the original songs that dominate this release, although there are two covers of some obscure blues songs. It has been fascinating to see Roomful evolve from a jump blues and boogie-woogie band based in the sounds of T-Bone Walker and Big Joe Turner into a modern urban blues band rooted in the sounds of the Duke recordings of Bobby Bland and Junior Parker, and the Memphis sounds from Stax and Hi Records. They still can dig into the jump blues vein as shown by the arresting cover of an early Doc Pomus recording, "Too Much Boogie." There is also a driving rendition of Buddy Ace's "What Can I Do" with the horns displaying the influence of the great Joe Scott, who arranged so many Duke Records classics.

The album sports fabulous original material including the humorous "Phone Zombies" about folk glued to their smartphones; the rollicking rock and roll of "We'd Have a Love Sublime"; a touch of zydeco for "Have You Heard"; and "Carcinoma Blues," about the real blues dealing with treatment for cancer. Phil Pemberton sings as well as he ever has, and the band is consistently superb in support of the vocals. The horn arrangements are first-rate, and Vachon and the horns have plenty of space to shine. Roomful has produced some excellent music over the years, and this recording may be one of their best.

I received my review copy from Alligator. This will be out on March 13. Here is a promo video for the CD.


Saturday, March 07, 2020

Take 5 With T-Bone Walker

Aaron 'T-Bone' Walker is sometimes referred to as the Father of Modern Blues Guitar. His distinctive style influenced practically electric blues guitarists from B.B. King to Fenton Robinson and Otis Rush. He was also an urbane singer in the vein of Leroy Carr, Nat King Cole, and Billy Eckstine.

For this week's Take 5, we start off with perhaps his most famous recording, "Call It Stormy Monday." This is the original recording and should not be confused with the Earl Hines Big Band recording "Stormy Monday Blues" that Billy Eckstine sang. That is a totally different song.

Next up is "T-Bone Shuffle," which has been covered and/or adapted by a number of blues artists.

One of my favorite T-Bone Walker performances is his rendition of "Evenin'.''

Next up is a jump blues, "The Hustle Is On."

Finally, we have a video of T-Bone performing with B.B. King. 

Friday, March 06, 2020

Brian Scanlon Brain Scan

Brian Scanlon
Brain Scan
Scan Man Music

Having worked as a studio musician for recordings, movies, and television shows, veteran saxophonist Brian Scanlon has a debut album as a leader. In addition to studio work, he has played behind some great names and perhaps is best known for his work with The Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band. Originally from New Jersey, it was while playing with the touring company of "Pippin," which led him to become a member of Ben Vereen's road band. Eventually, he ended up in Los Angeles, which led to his work as a studio musician.

On "Brain Scan," he plays both tenor and alto saxophones, composed eight originals, and interpreted one older tune. His backing musicians include including Tom Ranier and Ed Czach on piano, Trey Henry on bass, Peter Erskine on drums, Andrew Synowiec, Larry Koonse, and Avery Scanlon on guitar, and Joey De Leon on percussion. His compositions display a bunch of influences, including an affinity for funk and Latin grooves, with ingenious use of tempo changes.

The album starts with the title track, a playful number that evokes classic Blue Note recordings. His bright, fluid alto sax is complemented by Czach's comping and spirited guitar from his son Avery. "El Entrometido," with its percolating Latin groove, showcases his robust, driving tenor sax. Trey Henry and Peter Erskine are superb here and throughout this album, while Tom Ranier adds a choice piano solo. 'Re-Entry" takes us in more of a Grover Washington or David Sanborn funk-jazz vein while "Not Watching (For Nancy)" is a beautiful ballad performance with Scanlan on alto sax. Synowiec's guitar enhances it.

An energetic rendition of "Harlem Nocturne" is the one non-original and benefits Scanlan's arrangement for the quartet and the tempo shifts. With the rapid tempo, Scanlan impresses with his facility, clean delivery, and imaginative solo. Ranier and Erskine both solo on this number. Guitarist Koonse is present on the loping lament "Mark's Time." Scanlon wrote if for his brother who died of AIDS in 1992. Koonse adds a thoughtful solo in addition to that from Scanlon. Scanlon's son Avery returns for the closing "Scandalized," with its late-night mood.

There is plenty of excellent music to be heard on "Brain Scan." With excellent tunes, the leader's warm, and robust saxophone, and a terrific studio band, Brian Scanlon's debut as a leader is quite auspicious.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of Brian Scanlon performing.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Mick Kolassa Blind Lemon Sessions

Mick Kolassa
Blind Lemon Sessions
Endless Blues Records

Mick Kolassa explains in the liner notes to his new recording that it began when he was invited to perform in Germany by the head of Blind Lemon Records. He recorded a few songs for a compilation album and others, including the present recording, which is named after the label. This all-acoustic recording allowed him to record some favorite blues, as well as some other songs, including a couple of originals. He plays various guitars, ukulele, banjolele, and percussion in addition to his vocals. Others present include David Dunavent on slide guitar, banjo and percussion, Seth Hill or Bill Ruffino on bass, Eric Hughes on harmonica, and Alice Hansen on violin.

Kolassa may not be a deep blues artist, but he is a genial singer in a folk-blues vein. Think of Dave van Ronk, but instead of van Ronk's steel wool textured singing, Kolassa vocals are more like cotton balls. There is a friendly warmth whether he revives Lonnie Johnson's "Jelly Roll Baker," or his original "Text Me Baby," where he asks his baby to light up his telephone. This is simple music with Hansen's violin enhancing the mood on this song, the string band flavored "Keep On Truckin'," and the traditional "St. James Infirmary." Other tracks include ironic humor to "I Want To Be Seduced," and the charming treatment of Taj Mahal's "Cake Walk Into Town," with nice fingerpicking guitar.

Other performances include a delightful cover of Blind Blake's "Ditty Wah Diddy," a reflective interpretation of The Beatles' "Help Me," and his contemplative original folk song, "The Space Between Us." If not very deep blues, there is still plenty of appeal in these amiable performances.

I received my review copy from a publicist. While not from this cd, here is Mick Kolassa performing the old Box Tops hit, "The Letter."

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis Sherman Irby's Inferno

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Sherman Irby's Inferno
Blue Engine Records

"Inferno" is a suite by Sherman Irby, the lead alto saxophonist for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO). The suite is Irby's interpretation of Dante Alighieri's epic poem from "The Divine Comedy," which takes listeners on a musical tour of the underworld's nine circles. This recording is from a May 19, 2012 performance by JLCO, the personnel of which included on Reeds: Sherman Irby (alto saxophone, clarinet, and flute), Ted Nash (alto saxophone, clarinet, and flute), Victor Goines (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, and clarinet), Walter Blanding (tenor saxophone), and special guest Joe Temperley (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet); Trumpets; Ryan Kisor, Marcus Printup, Kenny Rampton, and Wynton Marsalis; Trombones Vincent Gardner, Chris Crenshaw, and Elliot Mason; and the Rhythm Section: Dan Nimmer (piano). Carlos Henriquez (bass), and Ali Jackson (drums).

The download of this recording that I was provided did not include more than a brief description of the music. I also am aware of Dante, but not familiar with his writings. There may be liner notes that explain the seven movements as well as the connection to Dante's writings. Baritone saxophonist Temperley is cast as the voice of Dante, while the various improvisers are intended to give life to the denizens of hell. Even without a fuller context, I was able to appreciate the music and the performance captured here.

One thing that impressed me was an Ellingtonian quality to the music and performances. One might compare the music here to some of Ellington's Suites. The sounds of the horn sections, such as the heralding of the trumpets heralding at the beginning of "Movement I; House of Unbelievers," along with the solos from Ted Nash's flute, Victor Goines' clarinet, and Chris Crenshaw's trombone, as well as the voicings of the horn sections, enhance this feel.

While the JLCO plays at a high level throughout, one standout track is the animated, blues-drenched "Movement III: Beware the Wolf and the Serpent," with Irby's heated alto sax followed by Elliot's equally spirited trombone and Wynton Marsalis fiery trumpet. But there is magic to be heard throughout this first-rate performance of a superb musical composition. "Inferno" is an outstanding recording. I understand that this recording is only available as an MP3 or hi-res WAV digital download from https://store.jazz.org/products/inferno.

I received a download to review from Blue Engine Records.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Ben Webster Valentine's Day 1964! Live

Ben Webster
Valentine's Day 1964! Live
Dot Time Records

"Valentine's Day 1964! Live" is one of Ben Webster's last performances in New York City before he left the USA for Europe, where he spent the final nine years of his life. On this recording, he leads a quartet of Dave Frishberg on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and Grady Tate on drums.

It is a program with several Duke Ellington numbers mixed in with blues and ballads. Webster's brawny tenor sax is well recorded and in the front, although this is not a perfectly engineered recording. As expected, Webster is superb on ballads, including an exquisite "Chelsea Bridge," a marvelous "Danny Boy," and a rhapsodic "Tenderly." His energetic playing animates "Cotton Tail," one of his features with Ellington two decades earlier. An original 'Ben's Blues," opens with Frishberg playing some two-fisted piano before Webster enters with his big tone. A quote of "Without a Song" is incorporated in Webster's solo here, with Davis' bass also quite evident. Davis also anchors the rendition of "52nd Street Theme," with Frishberg laying out during Webster's solo.

Renditions of Juan Tizol's "Caravan" open and close this recording. The opening version is taken at a quick tempo, while the closing performance is at a more relaxed pace, which perhaps better showcases his tone and sound. This recording is a welcome, although hardly indispensable, addition to Webster's legacy. This recording can be purchased as a CD from Dot Time Records at dottimerecords.com. One can buy a digital download at bandcamp.com, https://dottimerecords.bandcamp.com/album/ben-webster-valentines-day-1964-live.

I purchased this as a download. Here is a video of Ben Webster playing "Over the Rainbow."

Monday, March 02, 2020

A Romantic Evening With Jackie Allen: Live at the Rococo

Jackie Allen
A Romantic Evening With Jackie Allen: Live at the Rococo
Avant Bass

Vocalist Jackie Allen has had a career spanning three decades. She has issued 12 albums before this new release. While I am reviewing the CD, this does come as a CD/Blu-Ray set. This CD has her singing a mix of musical styles, including songs associated with Billie Holiday, The Temptations, Paul Simon, Billy Strayhorn, Carly Simon, and Joe Cocker. Her backing band consists of her husband Hans Sturm on bass, Ben Lewis on piano, guitarist John Moulder, percussionist Dane Richeson, and reeds player Bob Sheppard. Allen and Sturm, originally from Chicago, have been living in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Rococo is a former movie theatre that is now an ornate showcase for the arts. The performance was videoed for Nebraska's Educational Television, and a half-hour version has played on several public television stations.

Allen shines as a vocalist with a smokey voice, her phrasing and use of vocal dynamics. Her vocal style, paired with the arrangements she provides, has her convey sassiness, intimacy, or refection while she is marvelously backed. Furthermore, her arrangements give a freshness to the songs. This is evident during the opening 'What a Little Moonlight Can Do." Much of the performance is at a brisk, swinging tempo like Billie Holiday's classic recording, and Allen has no problem navigating the pace. But there is a place where the tempo slows, and this almost becomes a duet by her and the stride-laden piano of Lewis. Lewis also tears into a hot solo as does Sheppard on tenor sax. She continues a celebration of romantic music with a lovely interpretation of Billy Strayhorn's "Daybreak," where the clarity of her phrasing, her enunciation of the words, captivates listeners. Her ability to highlight the meaning of the songs also is showcased on "Everything I Got Belongs To You." Lewis plays the mbira (an African thumb piano) and Sheppard the flute to provide an exotic flavor to "Lazy Afternoon."

Her transformation of rock and soul tunes of the past few decades is another factor making this recording so appealing. This includes her deep-from-the-heart rendition of the Joe Cocker hit, "You Are So Beautiful" with guitarist Moulder featured). Also, there is a lively, funky take of The Temptations' classic "The Way You Do, The Things You Do." Sheppard is outstanding in his commentary to her vocal. There is also an engaging intimacy to her performance of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years." Sturm's bass anchors the performance while Lewis' restrained organ provides atmosphere. Then she incorporates a bossa nova feel to a marvelous 'My Funny Valentine."

With a splendid selection of material, imaginative arrangements of the songs, her excellent band, and her superb singing, Jackie Allen's "A Romantic Evening" is an outstanding vocal jazz recording.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here Jackie Allen and Hank Sturm perform "Still Crazy After All These Years."