Monday, August 31, 2020

Benny Rubin Jr. Know Say Or See

Benny Rubin Jr.
Know Say Or See
Benny Jr Music

Benny Rubin Jr. is another prodigious talent coming from the Detroit area. Born in Flint, Michigan, and raised in the Motor City, he discovered jazz, graduated from the Detroit School of the Arts, and worked locally with top local players including Wendell Harrison. He moved to New York, working with such folks as Adam Rudolph, Lonnie Plaxico, Danny Mixon, and the Harlem Society Orchestra. His second album as a leader, his alto and tenor saxophones, is joined by Lex Korten on piano, Adam Olszewski on bass, and Jk Kim on drums.

The album gets its title from three of his compositions on this recording. The album opens with a blues, “Know,” that he begins unaccompanied before the bass and drums enter to support his deep blues playing. “Say,” is a free jazz styled number with impressive piano from Korten before Rubin plays robustly on this stimulating free jazz tune. He is particularly strong playing at the tenor saxophone’s lower range. From the turbulence of “Say,” he shifts gear with a scrumptious ballad playing on “Darn That Dream,” that suggest the influence of Ben Webster and others. Based on Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” Rubin showcases his alto sax on “NYC Urge,” with exemplary quartet playing and a terrific Korten solo.

Rubin leads the quartet on a straight-ahead swinging rendition of Horace Silver’s “Kiss Me Right” that provides space for all the players. The original “Flint Water Crisis” refers to the still pressing issue affecting the residents of his birthplace. While starting with plenty of fire, Rubin’s solo builds in intensity as his solo, including overblowing at the tenor’s upper range as this performance develops.

The two final tracks, “Down They Go” and “Or See,” evoke the classic John Coltrane Quartet, with Korten’s Tyner-esque piano complementing Rubin’s channeling of Coltrane’s sound. Both numbers evoke the spiritual tenor of “A Love Supreme,” with each player bringing their own voice. Rubin’s playing is quite exciting here. These two tracks close this recording and displays the authority and imagination with which Benny Rubin Jr. plays. He also has composed several engaging originals and brought together a first-rate band, resulting in a superb recording. It is available on Bandcamp,
I received my review copy from a publicist. Here he and his quartet performs "Down They Go."

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Take 5 With Charlie Parker

Today is the centenary of Charlie Parker's Birth which I will celebrate with five recordings from Bird. There is no effort to select the greatest Parker or whatever, but simply some great music.

1st up is a Red Norvo session with Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Flip Phillips, Slam Stewart, Norvo Teddy Williams, Slam Stewart and Specs Powell playing "Hallelujah."

2nd is Parker's variations on the changes of "Cherokee" with a staggering opening, "Koko." Dizzy is on trumpet and piano, Curley Russell on bass and Max Roach on drums.

3rd track is "Relaxing at Camarillo."

Next is backing vocalist Earl Coleman on the blues "Dark Shadows."

Finally, a selection of Bird with strings, "Just Friends."

Friday, August 28, 2020

John Scofield Swallow Tales

John Scofield
Swallow Tales

With all the recordings over his esteemed career, "Swallow Tales" is John Scofield's first album as a leader for ECM. The present album is a celebration of the bassist Steve Swallow who Scofield has known since he was studying at Berklee some four decades ago. Swallow has played and recorded with Scofield over the years and Scofeld notes their rapport is such that "Sometimes when we play it's like one big guitar, the bass part and my part together."  Filling out the trio is drummer Bill Stewart. Scofield states about Stewart that What Bill does is more than ‘playing the drums,'" Scofield says. "He's a melodic voice in the music, playing counterpoint, and comping, while also swinging really hard."

This recording is devoted to Swallow's compositions which Scofield observes "make perfect vehicles for improvisation. The changes are always interesting – but not too interesting! They're grounded in reality with cadences that make sense. They're never just intellectual exercises, and they're so melodic. They're all songs, rather than ‘pieces'. They could all be sung." The performances of these nine tunes display the emphatic interplay suggested by Scofield's comments above.

Scofield's touch and technique is immaculate throughout while his solos are ingenious and thoughtfully constructed. Certainly there is a delicious precious quality to the opening selection "She Was Young" where Scofield's crafted lyrical playing is subtly supported. His guitar tone is exquisite while Stewart is adding a counterpoint with his rhythmic accents. Swallow himself adds a melodic solo on this softly played tune. Stewart's propulsive playing kicks off "Falling Grace" with the composer's neat bass line as well as Scofield's scintillating, twisting solo. Then there is the free-flowing bluesy feel of "Portsmouth Figurations," that was originally performed on Gary Burton's "Duster" album. There is effervescent playing on "Eiderdown," which also has a noteworthy drum solo. Another song to take note of is the lovely ballad "Away," with some pretty playing from the leader and Swallow with Stewart deftly and softly using brushes. "In F" is Swallow's contrafact of a Cole Porter number with  drum breaks featured in its head.

Besides being marvelously played, the performances are uncluttered with plenty of space for the music to breathe. There is so much to enjoy with the intriguing compositions, the imaginative and thoughtful playing and the rapport the three showcase. "Swallow Tales" is a gem of a jazz guitar recording.

I received a review download from a publicist. Here is a 2010 performance by this trio.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Julio Botti Pure Tango

Julio Botti
Pure Tango
Zoho Music

"Pure Tango" is a collaboration between saxophonist Julio Botti and pianist Matias Lanfranco. Introduced to each other in late 2017, they performed a few tunes together and clicked immediately. While Lanfranco hails from a traditional tango tradition that features folkloric music, and Botti integrates modern jazz and nuevo tango, they blended seamlessly. They performed at the Teatro Coliseo in Argentina on September 8, 2018. While a great success, this concert was bittersweet for Botti. "I realized that it would likely be the last concert that my mother would witness," said Botti. His mother, who had struggled valiantly against cancer, would pass away four months later. Wanting to pay tribute and honor his mother, Botti was inspired to record the music from that concert.

Lanfranco and Botti collaborated in this production. After selecting the repertoire and crafting the sophisticated arrangements, Lanfranco came to New York to record the set, first tracking saxophone and piano, and later the rest of the instruments and vocals in Cordoba, Argentina. Botti observed, "This production is a new path for me, celebrating traditional tango, music which I had never performed, but was always somewhere within me." Kabir Sehgal comments in the liner notes, "Pure Tango" is a blend between the vivid colors that traditional tango offers, with its traditional instrumentation -- and the compelling sound of Botti's saxophone."

The blend of traditional tango with Botti's superlative sax makes for stirring listening, with performances ranging from an elegant chamber group to fiery rousing performances. There is "Taquito Militar" that sounds like a musical cousin to a Brazilian choro composition. The facility of both Lanfranco and Botti is evident here. His soprano sax has the warmth of a master clarinetist, and mention should be made of guitarist Gustavo Gancedo. Botti's gorgeous soprano sax is also featured on Lanfranco's waltz "Cuando Llueve," with Gancedo's acoustic guitar prominent. Pablo Ziegler contributed the arrangement to "Nostalgias." Botti's eloquent soprano sax is set against Lanfranco's stately piano and Alejandro Colombatti's bandoneon. "El Día Que Me Quieras" is an enticing duet between Lanfranco's elegant piano and Botti's pensive soprano sax. Another alluring duet between the two is Botti's 'Recordando" with a simple melody that evokes memories of his mother for Botti.

María Jose Rojas sings on several selections. She is a singer who imparts a dramatic flair on the lovely "Cualquiera de Estas Noches" with Botti's tenor sax snaking around her singing. Colombatti's bandoneon adds to the song's atmosphere. The beautiful tango "El Último Café" evokes the Charles Trenet song, "Que reste-t-il de nos amours?" (known in the US as "I Wish You Love.") While not credited on the album, Rojas stamps her personality on the spirited "Oro Y Plata." Botti adds a rousing tenor sax solo. Botti's tenor sax also lends to the bittersweet quality of "Una Canción," where Rojas sings about an alcoholic smitten by a lady.

Combining passion with the imaginative virtuosity of Botti, Lanfranco and the other performers, 'Pure Tango" is a superlative recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Julio Botti and Matias Lanfranco performing "Nostalgias."

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Robin McKelle Alterations

Robin McKelle
Doxie Records

Vocalist Robin McKelle's new album has the singer interpret several songs by a diverse list of female innovators including Dolly Parton, Sade, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Janis Joplin, Carol King, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, and Lana Del Ray. Backing McKelle on this release is co-producer, pianist and arranger Shedrick Mitchell, acoustic and electric bassist Richie Goods, drummer Charles Haynes, guitarist Nir Felder. Saxophonist Keith Loftis and trumpeter Marquis Hill guest on one song each.

There is quite a variety in material and McKelle's approach to the tunes ranging from straight-ahead jazz singing to songs more in a Memphis soul vein. With a slight vibrato, an impressive vocal range, nuanced phrasing, and timing, she displays a thorough command of the material set against a choice rhythm section and Mitchell's first-rate arrangements. As McKelle says, "We fused jazz, soul, r&b, blues and rock all while keeping a continuity in the music."

From the opening Latin-tinged rendition of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Back" to the appealing duet with Mitchell of Carole King's 'You Got a Friend," McKelle shines. There are a number of highlights, including her own "Head High," which is set against a Coltrane-ish groove. Mitchell sounds like he is channeling McCoy Tyner while Keith Loftis' solo is terrific. In contrast to the full-throated delivery on "Head High," the low-key vocal on Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain" is complemented by subtle, restrained backing. Marquis Hill adds his muted trumpet to a plaintive vocal on Lana Del Ray's "Born To Die." McKelle has recorded a classic soul album, so one should not be surprised by her Memphis soul-rooted rendition of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," or the funky blues-rock rendition of Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz."

There is considerable charm in her relaxed, tender take on Joni Mitchell's "River," which one more illustrates how well she can instill her personality on such varied material. It is the consistency of McKelle's marvelous performances and backing that make "Alterations" such an outstanding album.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is a performance of "Don't Explain."

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Legends Of Specialty Series Part 2

Among recent reissues in Fantasy's The Legends of Specialty series are the second volumes devoted to Roy Milton, Joe Liggins, Jimmy Liggins and Percy Mayfield along with a volume of Art Neville's Specialty recordings. Another reissue, Shouting the Blues, includes Joe Turner's recordings for the Texas Freedom label Big Maceo's Specialty sides, and recordings by Smilin' Smokey Lynnand H-Bomb Ferguson. Musically, most of these recordings date from the heyday of jump blues, the late forties through the mid-fifties. All six releases contain Billy Vera's perceptive annotations and discographical information.

Not quite as consistent (as releases by Percy Mayfield and Roy Milton) is Rough Weather Blues, the second volume by Jimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy. Vera suggests that Jimmy Liggins recordings are among the closest to rock'n'roll records of anyone of his generation. These sides feature some hard rocking rhythm sections along Saxophonist Harold Land and Charles 'Little Jazz' Ferguson on the earliest sides here which include an extended five minute plus jam on Charlie Parker's Now's The Time, while the latest sides include a undubbed version of Drunk, one of his biggest records. Maxwell Davis is present on many of the latter sides. Liggins, no mean guitarist, gets a fair amount of solo space particularly on the later recordings included here.

Brother Joe, was more commercially successful than Jimmy with a more mellow, melodic jump blues style. His first recordings were made for the Exclusive label and had such hits as I Got A Right to Cry, Tanya and standards like When It's Sleepy Time Down South, and When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano. While he remade some of his hits for Specialty, including The Honeydripper, he had hits with Pink Champagne and Frankie Lee. The second volume of his Specialty Recordings, Dripper's Boogie, collects 20 recordings that date from 1950 to 1954. His somewhat flat vocals have a certain charm. Several of the vocals are by Candy Rivers and Dell St. John. A solid pianist and arranger, he had smooth jump combos, often with saxophonists Willie Jackson and Maxwell Davis as he waxed hot on novelties like Boogie Woogie Lou or cool on ballads like Tenderly with Candy Rivers clean delivery. Dripper's Boogie is a remake of one of his Exclusive recordings that is marked by his deliberate, clipped phrasing. Those interested in Joe Liggins' output would be advised to check out his earlier Specialty volume first.

This review appeared in Jazz & Blues Report in 1993. I am splitting it up and will include this top paragraph with all three parts. I received my review copies from Fantasy Records. I am not sure about the availability of these albums, although one might check ebay. Here is a popular Jimmy Liggins track, although not on this recording.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Shempei Ogawa & Noa Levy You Me & Cole

Shempei Ogawa & Noa Levy
You Me & Cole
Belle Records

"You Me & Cole" is an album of bass-vocal duets providing renditions of some of Cole Porter's songs. Ogawa hails from Okazaki, Aichi, Japan, who now lives in New York. Levy is an Israeli native who now lives in San Francisco. Levy and Ogawa first began playing together for a jazz history class at the California Jazz Conservatory and discovered their musical compatibility. They enjoyed the interplay of the duo format and started performing in clubs. A fondness for Cole Porter's music led to his arrangement of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," for one of Levy's concerts. The performance then led to Ogawa transforming his big band arrangement of "I Get a Kick Out Of You" into a duet. With two duets completed, they focused on an entire album devoted to Porter's songs.

The skeletal settings for these duets allow listeners to appreciate their artistry and interaction between them. Levy is a singer to watch as she scats and vocalizes in addition to her delivery of the Cole lyrics, sometimes exhibiting drama and other times playfulness. Ogawa's accompaniments complement her singing as well as showcases his considerable technique. He can snap the strings on "I Get a Kick Out Of You" or exhibit his arco technique on "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," which he recast as a tango. There is a Sephardic tinge to Levy's vocal opening, "Just One Of Those Things." "Too Darn Hot"' opens with a memorizing bass riff leading into Levy's sensual vocal. There is a playful "Anything Goes" and a meditative, brooding rendition of "Love For Sale."

The clarity of the vocals and bass accompaniment make for a marvelous musical exploration into some of the greatest tunes in the Great American Songbook."You Me & Cole" is a captivating, delightful recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here the two perform I Get a Kick Out Of You."

Friday, August 21, 2020

Take 5 With Lonnie Johnson

Last week I had a short playlist of some of Lonnie Johnson's recordings as the featured artist. This week we have him with other performers.

First up we have him performing with Louis Armstrong. Here is Mahogany Hall Stomp.

Next up is a duet with Eddie Lang, Midnight Call Blues.

Lonnie also recorded some popular duets with some of the early women blues singers like Clara Smith. Here they are on You're Getting Old On Your Job. Alex Hill is the pianist.

Another early woman singer Johnson recorded duets with was Victoria Spivey. Here they are heard on. Here is "Lonnie Johnson & Victoria Spivey - You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now Pt. 1.

 We close this playlist with Lonnie Johnson accompanying Texas Alexander on Deep Sea Blues.

2020 Blues—New Music From Alligator Records

Various Artists
2020 Blues—New Music From Alligator Records
Alligator Records

This is a digital-only sampler from 5 albums that Alligator was going to release this year. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic intervened and eliminated nearly all live performances and the like. In Bruce Iglaur's words, "It's now clear that the pandemic and its results are going to continue for some time to come. We can't wait any longer to begin to share this great new music with the media and the public. … These albums are scheduled for later this year and early next year. 2020 Blues and each individual track will be available on all the popular download and streaming sites."

This compilation is a welcome teaser for the five upcoming albums. The first selection up is from Chris Cain, whose "I Believe I Got Off Cheap" is from an album to be released early next year. I have been quite a fan of Cain for years, and it is great that he will have a new album. This song is a terrific track on which he channels Albert King's guitar style paired with his soulful vocals. Following you is a selection from Selwyn Birchwood, "Living In A Burning House." From a release schedule for January, it is a typical first-rate performance from one of the real young blue bloods.  Also scheduled for release next year is a new Curtis Salgado album. The track "The Longer That I Live" is a stunning Memphis soul performance. If the rest of this album is this good, it is another most purchase.

Both Shemekia Copeland and Elvin Bishop-Charlie Musselwhite will have new albums out this year, Shemekia, in October and Elvin-Charlie in September. Both of their songs deal with the deep divide in our country now. Shemekia sings "Uncivil War," a plea for us to get along, although her plea "to listen to one another and, ultimately, come together" may strike some as naive. The striking performance is more Americana than blues, and it is good to see her showing how expressive she can be no matter the musical setting. The raucous "What The Hell?" is a rowdy duet with Bishop singing about things ailing our country and talking about what he likes about the President, which is nothing, Musselwhite wails throughout this track. It certainly makes one quite interested in their collaboration.

In summary, quite an appetizer for these upcoming releases with some terrific music. It is available from Alligator Records ( and the usual digital outlets.

I received a download to review from Alligator Records. Here is a video of Chris Cain performing and channeling Albert King.


Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Legends Of Specialty Series Part 1

Among recent reissues in Fantasy's The Legends of Specialty series are the second volumes devoted to Roy Milton, Joe Liggins, Jimmy Liggins and Percy Mayfield along with a volume of Art Neville's Specialty recordings. Another reissue, Shouting the Blues, includes Joe Turner's recordings for the Texas Freedom label, Big Maceo's Specialty sides, and recordings by Smilin' Smokey Lynn
and H-Bomb Ferguson. Musically, most of these recordings date from the heyday of jump blues, the late forties through the mid-fifties. All six releases contain Billy Vera's perceptive annotations and discographical information.

The two prime reissues have to be Memory Pain (Specialty) by Percy Mayfield, and Groovy Blues (Specialty), by Roy Milton. Blues Poet is a label bestowed on many, but no more deservingly than on Percy Mayfield, who was also an urbane vocalist whose recorded such classics as Please Send Me Someone To Love, Strange Things Happening (both heard here in alternate takes), I Need
Love So Bad
and The Voice Within. While Specialty's earlier volume of Mayfield's recordings, The Poet of the Blues is the essential Mayfield collection, this contains a number of excellent performances (although a few rough spots may be heard), and has a 1960 demo of his Hit the Road Jack, that became a monster hit for Ray Charles.

Drummer-vocalist Roy Milton was Specialty's first and biggest star until Little Richard. The Oklahoma born Milton was nearly forty when his easy going shuffle R.M. Blues was a hit in 1945, and proceded to make numerous 'jump blues' recordings over the next decade as his band the Solid Senders produced a scaled down version of the territory big bands of the thirties (such as that of Count Basie or Jay MacShann). As Billy Vera notes, economic factors led to the demise of the big bands, while recording techniques improved to make it possible for a five to eight piece combo to have almost as much a punch as a full big band leading many swing era musicians like Milton to adopt the approach of the Count Basie riff-oriented blues-based territory band in a smaller configuration with bluesy novelty vocals, honking sax solos, solid riffs, bass-heavy boogie rhythm and a heavy accent on the second and fourth beats. Few succeeded with this formula as did Milton whose warmly delivered vocals and solid rhythm anchored a strong combo which featured the wonderful boogie woogie piano of Camille Howard (who also takes several of the vocals, but her singing is not as earthy as her playing). Milton was equally at home with a rocking shuffle, or a remake of a standard like On the Sunny Side of The Street (with his vocal indebted to Louis Armstrong), or My Blue Heaven. Big Band roots are revealed by the versions of One O'Clock Jump and I Want a Little Girl from the Count Basie canon, and Thomas Dorsey's Marie. While Camille Howard's vocal on the title track, Groovy Blues, is bland, the music here is anything but bland.

This review appeared in Jazz & Blues Report in 1993. I am splitting it up and will include this top paragraph with all three parts. I received my review copies from Fantasy Records. I am not sure about the availability of these albums, although one might check ebay. Here is Percy Mayfield singing Memory Pain.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Gregg Martinez MacDaddy Mojeaux

Gregg Martinez
MacDaddy Mojeaux
Nola Blue Records

Trumpeter and vocalist Gregg Martinez (pronounced MartNEZ with the I silent) has been a part of the Louisiana music scene for five deuces as the leader of such groups as the King Fish, The Boogie Kings and more recently Gregg Martinez and the Delta Kings. While some of his inspirations come from New Orleans R&B and the soul end of Swamp pop, he is a first-rate blue-eyed soul singer with influences from Sam Cooke and Donny Hathaway to G.G. Shinn, Luther Kent, and Johnny Adams. Mac Daddy is a nickname he earned decades ago, while Mojeaux is a spelling of 'maqereau,' a man Creoles believe has an unusual power over women.

Produced by Martinez and Tony Daigle, Martinez's singing is supported by a stellar cast of musicians that include drummer Tim Courville, guitarists Tony Ardoin and Tony Goulas, bassist Lee Allen Zeno, B-3 organist Charles Ventre, and saxophonist Ronnie Eades. One song features slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, accordionist Anthony Dopsie, and rubboard player Rockin' Dopsie Jr. On the final selection, Lawrence Sieberth[ contributes piano and string arrangement. Between them, Martinez and Goulas provide four originals to go with the nine covers.

On a rendition of Ray Charles' "I Believe To My Soul," Martinez establishes just how superb a soul singer he is. It is an arrangement based on Donny Hathaway's recording and illustrates the strength of his singing. Following this song is a robust reading of Don Nix's "Same Old Blues" with the guitarist channeling Freddie King. Other strong covers include the deep soul classic, "You Left the Water Running," the Clarence Carter recording, "Snatching It Back," and Tyrone Davis' immortal "Can I Change Your Mind." Charlene Howard joins Martinez on a Stax-influenced interpretation of Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds' "Don't Pull Your Love."

Of the originals, Guolas collaborated with Martinez on the soul groover, "This House," that sounds like an unissued Muscle Shoals soul recording. Guolas also wrote the ballad "Just Stay Gone" with a superlative vocal that evokes the late Johnny Adams. Then there is Martinez's "Eva Zelle," with Landreth's slide guitar, Anthony Dopsie's accordion, and Rocking' Dopsie's rubboard adding a zydeco flavor for a rollicking performance. A passionate cover of Randy Newman's "Marie," with only piano and strings, concludes an outstanding recording showcasing Gregg Martinez's superb singing.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video for his performance of "I Believe To My Soul."

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Lucky Losers Godless Land

The Lucky Losers
Godless Land

"Godless Land" is the latest recording from The Lucky Losers. Leading the band are by singer Cathy Lemons and singer-harmonica player Phil Berkowitz. The other members of the group are Ian Lamson on lead & rhythm guitars; Chris Burns on keyboards; Endre Tarczy on bass; and Derrick "D'Mar" Martin on drums. This album was recorded at Kid Andersen's Greaseland Studios and Kid Andersen guests on (lead & rhythm guitars, lap steel, organ, piano, Mellotron, sitar, and percussion. Michael Peloquin plays saxophones and adds the horn arrangements for one selection on which Mike Rose plays trumpet.

Like The Lucky Losers' previous two albums, this is a first-rate CD of blues, rhythm and blues, and roots rock. Nine of the twelve songs are originals by either Lemons or Berkowitz. Former Charles Brown bandleader Danny Caron co-wrote three of Berkowitz's songs. One wonders whether the fact the songs seem to linger in one's head after listening is because the songs are so well-crafted, or the performances are wonderful. The tight ensemble backing throughout is top-notch with subtle, intricate instrumental fills adding to one's enjoyment. I have been a Cathy Lemons fan since listening to her 2014 album "Black Crow," about which I commented about the "natural, relaxed and soulful quality" of her singing. She continues to impress me as an exceptional singer. If Phil Berkowitz is not quite as impressive a vocalist, he still is a real fine singer who complements her throughout.

Things start with Lemons' funky Memphis soul groover, "Half Of Nothing," with her forthright singing with Berkowitz displaying his harmonica talents. Kid Andersen and Lemons collaborated on the bouncy rhythms of the title track with lyrics set against trebly accompaniment. Berkowitz takes the appealing vocal lead on the crisply played "Mad Love Is Good Love" with Lemons adding a harmony vocal on a performance evoking late sixties and early seventies classic rock. Another choice pop-soul performance is Berkowitz's "Can't Keep Pretending" with a full-hearted singing.

The duet performances by the two are very much in the manner of Mickey and Sylvia as they trade playful banter between themselves. It is appropriate that they cover a lesser-known Mickey and Sylvia hot shuffle, "No Good Lover." They follow this song with an interpretation of Doc Pomus- Mac Rebennack's "Be Good" with Burns' piano evoking Rebennack and Andersen's use of sitar adding to the flavor of this performance. This performance most clearly displays the affection they have for each other. As good as these performances are, "Catch Desire By The Tail," maybe the standout track as the two exchange praises how they complement each other set against sterling backing. Then there is the delightful reworking of a 1930 Clara Smith and Lonnie Johnson duet, "What Makes You Act Like That," There is some neat acoustic guitar and Berkowitz's acoustic harmonica that enhance the duo's playful repartee.

A country-roots lament from Lemons closes this album. Like their previous recordings, there are first-rate songs, superb singing, and terrific playing. As I wrote reviewing their first album, there is not a bum note on this recording. They may call themselves the Lucky Losers, but listeners are big winners with their music.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. Here is a recent live performance by The Lucky Losers.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Mon David & Josh Nelson DNA

Mon David & Josh Nelson
Dash Hoffman Records

Filipino-American vocalist Mon David teams up with pianist Josh Nelson on an album on American songbook classics and lesser-known songs. He started playing drums and guitar at 15, and he was singing pop tunes and musical theater songs when a friend gave him a copy of a Mark Murphy album that led him to his current path as a jazz singer. In 2006 David won the London International Jazz Vocal Competition and recorded his first album. He moved to the United States and currently resides in the Los Angeles area. This album of duets is his fourth US release.

Listening to Mon David, one appreciates his timing, phrasing, and vocal dynamics. There are hints of his background singing musical theater songs, and one can imagine him on the stage or at a cabaret. At the same time, he certainly shows off himself as a jazz interpreter of songs of a high order. There is an element of Johnny Hartman in his rendition of "Lush Life," as well as a bit of Kurt Elling with Nelson providing light and sophisticated backing,

There are some gems on this recording, including a lesser-known song, "Did I Ever Really Live." This song was written by Albert Sprague and Allan Sherman for a failed musical. There are several medleys on this CD, including one of "Straight No Chaser" with "Billie's Bounce." The performance displays David's considerable scatting skills, along with some original Filipino lyrics. Nelson's accompaniment and soloing merits praise here. There is also a tribute to Bill Evans, "In Praise of Bill Evans: I Remember Bill/ Very Early/ Waltz For Debby." David's interpretation of "Here's To Life" might rank just below Shirley Horn's timeless rendition. Equally stunning is a version of John Lennon's "Imagine," that starts with David unaccompanied before Nelson adds understated piano and atmospheric electric keyboards.

"DNA" was for this writer a marvelous introduction to Mon David's heartfelt and accomplished singing. The spare, elegant backing lets his considerable vocal talent shine on this exceptional recording.

 I received my review copy from a publicist. while not from this recording, here is Mon David singing "Here's To Life" in 2016.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Take 5 with Lonnie Johnson

Lonnie Johnson was one of the pioneers of blues whose influence was vast. As blues balladeer, he was a popular artist from the twenties until his passing, while as a guitarist he transcended genres, recording with Eddie Lang, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. He also was in duets with Victroia Spivey and Clara smith as well as accompanied the free-floating vocals of Texas Alexander. On today's Take 5, we focus on his own recordings. His jazz accompaniments and vocal duets will be the subject of another post.

First up is "Blue Ghost Blues" from 1927.

Next up is "Careless Love" from 1928.

From 1939" we have "She's Only a Woman."

In 1947 he had a commercial hit with "Tomorrow Night."

While his commercial career may have ended, he was a beneficiary of the folk-blues revival, touring Europe and spending some time in Toronto. I recommend Mark Miller's, "Way Down That Lonesome Road: Lonnie Johnson in Toronto, 1965-1970"for an account of his last years. There is also Dean Alger's biography "The Original Guitar Hero and the Power of Music: The Legendary Lonnie Johnson." To close this edition of the blog, we have a performance from when he toured as part of the Amercian Folk Blues Festival, "Another Night To Cry."

Friday, August 14, 2020

Anthony Geraci Daydreams in Blue

Anthony Geraci
Daydreams in Blue
Shining Stone Records

Anthony Geraci has had a lengthy career behind the keyboards. He has made substantial contributions to the bands of Sugar Ray Norcia and Ronnie Earl and been featured on over 50 recordings. Anthony Geraci's prior album "Why Did You Have To Go," I wrote, "There is so much to enjoy on this recording from the fresh, varied material from Geraci, his own consistently strong playing, a solid studio band, and terrific singing and playing." This latest album, his third as a leader, has 10 Geraci originals among the 12 tunes. He sings one vocal, with the other vocals handled by Dennis Brennan, who also contributes his harmonica. Monster Mike Welch, Walter Trout, Troy Gonyea, and Peter Ward are heard on guitar, while Michael 'Mudcat' Ward is on bass, and Jeff Armstrong is on the drums. Horns are provided by Scott Arruda on trumpet and Mark Early on saxophone, with Arruda, the principal arranger.

Musically this is a solid, varied program of blues and related music. There is the jazz-laced piano, biting guitar of Monster Mike Welch and fiery horns on the opening "Love Changes Everything" with its positive message. Then there is a Louisiana flavored blues ballad "Tomorrow May Never Come." The studio band is terrific and lending the music a relaxed intensity. Brennan is a capable, although not exceptional, singer. Walter Trout adds some scorching blues-rock guitar on "No One Hears My Prayers," with one of Brennan's most fervent vocals. Geraci is terrific accompanying the vocal.

Geraci takes the vocal on "Tutti Fruity Booty," a raucous jump blues rocker with tough boogie-woogie styled piano. "Mister" is one of two first-rate Chicago styled blues on this recording. Brennan's harmonica is spotlighted on this along with Geraci's Otis Spann piano pounding. There is a rendition of the classic Earl Hines recording that featured "Billy Eckstine, "Jelly Jelly," that allows Geraci to display a sophisticated touch with Welch adding a jazzy solo. One of the most memorable songs is "Dead Man Shoes," about thrift store used shoes and what kind of man would wear these shoes. It has one of Brennan's best vocals here as well as his atmospheric harmonica. Brennan wrote this song with Troy Gonyea and Peter Wolf.

A short instrumental by Geraci and rhythm, "Ode to Todd, Ella and Mike Ledbetter," is dedicated to Tom Hyslop, Ella Miller, and Mike Ledbetter," closes another entertaining recording from Anthony Geraci.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a performance of Anthony Geraci from September 2019.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Bill Warfield and the Hell's Kitchen Funk Orchestra Smile

Bill Warfield and the Hell's Kitchen Funk Orchestra
Planet Arts

 Jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger, bandleader, and educator, Bill Warfield, was a student of the late Lew Soloff. After Warfield gave up the trumpet when he lost his front teeth after an auto accident, Soloff became an inspiration. After he heard Soloff's solo on Blood Sweat & Tears recording "Spinning Wheel," Warfield regained the desire to play trumpet again. In addition to playing in various bands, the Baltimore native studied for four years at Towson State with Hank Levy, an arranger for Don Ellis and Stan Kenton.

Moving to New York in 1980, he began subbing in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, playing and arranging for the Bill Kirchner Nonet, and copying music for Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, and others, as well as earning a master's degree from the Manhattan School of Music. He has been teaching since 1987, including stints at Brooklyn College, Towson State University, and the University of North Florida. He joined the faculty at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1996.

Warfield is currently involved in several bands, including the Hell's Kitchen Funk Orchestra, a little big band. Besides Warfield (leader, arranger, trumpet, and flugelhorn), players on this recording are John Eckert (trumpet and flugelhorn), Andrew Gould (alto sax and flute), David Rickenberg (tenor sax, baritone sax, flute, and clarinet), Matt Hong (baritone sax, alto sax, and flute), Blue Lou Marini (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, and clarinet), Matt Chertkoff (guitar), Cecilia Coleman (piano), Paul Shaffer (Hammond B-3, Fender Rhodes piano), Steve Count (acoustic and electric bass), and Scott Neumann (drums). Jane Stuart is the band's vocalist, with singers Julie Michels and Carolyn Leonhardt, each guesting on one song. Marini and Shaffer are special guests on this recording.

With a mix of what Dave Stryker might call 8-track classics, assorted other songs, and the leader's intriguing originals, Warfield leads a band on a thoroughly engaging and funky program. [The recording is bookended by two versions of “Smile,” one featuring vocalist Michels and the closing one a duet with Shaffer's airy electric piano providing a setting for Warfield's lovely trumpet. ]While there is a superb cover of a Weather Report recording, "Cucumber Summer," Warfield's original "Mad Dog 245" will also evoke the legendary band with its mesmerizing bass riff and Rickenberg's riveting tenor sax solo." Then there is a stone-cold funky rendition of Booker T & the MG's "Hip-Hug-Her," with Hong's down-in-the-alley baritone sax solo, the leader's fiery trumpet, and Shaffer's chicken-fried organ.

Bobby Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" is taken uptown with a marvelous vocal from Stuart and Marini's fervent tenor sax. Stuart also is featured on a cover of the Gladys Knight hit, "I've Got to Use My Imagination." John Eckert contributes the blistering trumpet on this last tune. Carolyn Leonhardt is heard on "Rainbow Connection' from "The Muppet Movie." Pianist Coleman's delicate solo intro leads to a lush horn setting for her captivating vocal.

Arguably the standout track is Warfield's reharmonization of "Theme From Law and Order," with a guitar chorus before Marini's Coltrane-ish soprano sax solo as the band sings a chant based on the "Acknowledgment" section of "A Love Supreme." The chant segues into the band's accompaniment to the climax of Marini's solo before the group restates the theme. It is a sterling performance among the imaginative, first-rate performances heard on "Smile." "Smile" is a superb recording of straight-ahead jazz that should also have considerable appeal to a general listening audience.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here Bill Warfield and the Hell's Kitchen Funk Orchestra perform "Hip-Hug-Her."

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Vintage Ichiban Blues

It's impossible to keep up with the entire range of Ichiban's releases. Among those of recent note is Sonny Rhodes' latest, Livin' Too Close to the Edge; part of the label's Wild Dog series. This is a tasty morsel finding Rhodes playing both standard and lap steel guitar, and singing in a soulful fashion, while backed by a solid band. Rhodes is particularly impressive on the lap steel, and his old
friend L.C. 'Good Rockin' Robinson would be proud. Rhodes took up the steel guitar as a tribute to Robinson. Material is pretty standard fare with a nice reworking of Jimmy Rogers' You're the One (although wrongly credited to Clarence E. Smith), and Santo and Johnny's pop hit, Sleep Walk (again not properly credited). This is one of the better recent releases to come from Florida's King Snake Studio.

Cleveland mailman Travis Haddix is a double threat as a songwriter as well as a soul-blues vocalist, with Artie 'Blues Boy' White being among those who have recorded his songs. His latest Ichiban release, What I Know Right Now is a solid strongly sung set of soul and blues.With Haddix, the songs are as interesting as his performances. There is the nice moody blues, Strange, with its effective (yes, effective) use of synthesizers, his soulful ballad Getting By With a Lie, and the salacious Jawbreaker. He displays as much wit and soul in his singing as his lyrics. Very solid production from Bryon Cole and the the Kala studio band who, with productions like this, give Malaco Records a good run for the money.

Another recent Ichiban release is Chick Willis' Holdin' Hands With the Blues. While a guitarist, Willis doesn't play here. Like the Haddix album this is a solid contemporary soul-blues date with memorable tracks including the title track (a potential blues anthem written by Denise LaSalle), a deep in the gut rendition of Ernie Johnson's You're Gonna Miss Me, the rocking and funky Heaven to
his One Slick Woman, a someone's been in my bed song with nice slide guitar, and the closing ballad, I'm Only Guilty of Loving You. This is a real fine album that shows Willis is capable of doing far more than recycling Stoop Down Baby.

This review originally appeared in Issue 172 of Jazz & Blues Report in 1992. I likely received review copies from Ichiban or a publicist. I believe the three releases may still be available, used if not as new,

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Rajiv Jayaweera Pistils

Rajiv Jayaweera
Outside in Music

"Pistils" is the debut album by Sri Lankan/Australian jazz drummer and composer, Rajiv Jayaweera. The album features eight original compositions by the New York-based Jayaweera that draw inspiration from Sri Lanka. Jayaweera, who plays drums, cymbals, thammattama, and caxixi, leads a band of Chris Cheek (soprano & tenor saxophones), Aaron Parks (piano), Hugh Stuckey (guitar), and Sam Anning (double bass). Lara Bello adds her voice as a special guest.

Two versions of the title track open and close this recording. The initial rendition of "Pistils" features Lara Bello's enchanting vocal set against a sparse setting. This composition illustrates Jayaweera's ability to compose beautiful melodies. "Ellstandissa," opens with the leader playing the relatively unknown Thammattama drum (also known as a temple drum), a two-headed traditional drum that is played with a pair of fascinating curly wooden sticks. It incorporates rhythms from a Sri Lankan dance entitled 'Gajaga Wannama' in 7/8 time. Again, we are given a memorable melody, which provides Cheek an opportunity to display his marvelous tone as well as the ensemble's intricate rhythmic interplay. Parks adds a choice piano solo here as well.

The next song, "Welikadawatte," translates to Welikada Gardens in Sinhalese. This title refers to an area in central Colombo (the commercial capital and largest city in Sri Lanka). Against the stately rhythm, it affords another opportunity for Cheek to display the warmth of his saxophone. At the same time, Stuckey accents with his chords, and the leader's deft drumming lightly pushes the performance along. Anning's bass hints at Ahmad Jamal's classic performance of "Poinciana." Cheek's tenor sax is at the fore of "Galadari" with an intriguing rhythm and bass riff along with some stop-time passages. Stuckey contributes a scintillating solo. The ballad "Nilus" is a scrumptious performance with Cheek playing with a sublime tone, while bassist Anning also solos strongly.

Jayaweera incorporates the Thammattama drum on the playful "The Elephant," with Parks playing in a bouncy fashion. There is a bluesy feel to "Hirimbura," which takes its title from Rajiv's Grandfather's hometown in the south of Sri Lanka, with Cheek's robust tenor at the forefront, with Parks adding a well-constructed solo as well. Cheek switches to soprano sax for "A Malkoha Bird," playing an appropriately flighty solo.

An instrumental version of the title track closes this recording with Cheek's sax set against Stuckey's lush chords. Jayaweera adds his rhythmic accents with a deft touch on the cymbals and the snare drum in an evocative performance. It caps an excellent recording of first-rate performances of memorable and engaging compositions.

I received my review copy from a publicist. With a slightly different personnel, here is Rajiv Jayaweera performing "Pistils."

Monday, August 10, 2020

Cary Morin Dockside Saints

Cary Morin
Dockside Saints

A member of the Crow Tribal group, Cary Morin came to wide-spread notice as a member of the Pura Fé Trio. Subsequently, he followed a solo career in which his talents as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist showed a performer of great talent. His fingerstyle guitar playing itself was sensational. This writer was impressed by his fourth album, "Cradle to the Grave," in which his blues roots perhaps were more in evidence than this current release, which probably is best described as Americana or roots.

Recorded at Dockside Studios in Maurice, Louisiana, by producer Tony Daigle, Morin displays his versatility and immaculate musicianship and vocals on twelve originals. Daigle put together a remarkable group of Louisiana musicians including bassist Lee Allen Zeno, drummer Brian Brignac, accordionist Corey Ledet, keyboardist Eric Adcock, and electric guitarists. Keith Blair and John Fohl, fiddler Beau Thomas, and Celeste Di Iorio on harmony vocals. Morin fuses Zydeco, Cajun and Creole, Piedmont blues and country, gospel, and folk. This recording reminds this listener of Anders Osborne, who similarly blends a musical stew.

The wide range of grooves and moods starts with the zydeco two-step groove of "Nobody Gotta Know." With Ledet's organ-like chicken fried accordion and a driving rhythm, Morin sings with grits and conviction. It is followed by a haunting country-tinged ballad, "Exception to the Rule," and then the sultry "Prisoner" with a hypnotic acoustic riff. There is another country-tinged song, "Because He Told Me So," with another stunning vocal. He shares a vocal authority in common with such great roots singers as Levon Helm, John Fogerty, Marty Stuart, Bruce Springsteen, and Ruthie Foster. "Jamie Rose" is another South Louisiana to New Orleans groover with Beau Thomas' fiddle adding heat and Ledet's accordion. "Bare Trees" is a hauntingly beautiful instrumental with Ledet and Thomas adding atmosphere.

There is a remarkable song, "Valley of Tears," based on a true story that hishis great-grandmother told him at Morin's Crow naming ceremony. It was a story of her and friends escaping after being kidnapped as a teenager by a neighboring tribe. "When women were kidnapped back then, they were destined to a life of servitude." They escaped, stole their horses, and rode back home. "The moral of the story from my great grandmother to me was that there is nothing in life that you cannot overcome." He performs this without any melodramatics. The simple, honest rendition and the atmospheric backing results in an unforgettable performance.

Among the other musical delights, here is a funky blues-rock instrumental with Morin's electric fretwork, Ledet's accordion playing, and bassist Zeno showcased. Morin's artistry is on full display on the excellent "Dockside Saints."

I received my review copy from a publicist. here is a performance by Cary Morin from 2019 at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Take 5 - It Hurts Me Too

Today's Take 5 playlist is devoted to the blues classic "It Hurts Me Too."

We start with Tampa Red's recording.

Among the most famous recordings of this song was that by Elmore James.

Next up is Junior Wells with Buddy Guy on guitar.

I just discovered this amazing rendition from Jimmy Nolen who may be better known for his time with James Brown.

We close with a terrific version by Luther Allison.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Vintage John Lee Hooker

There are two recent John Lee Hooker greatest hits compilations worth noting. Rhino Records has issued a collection of recordings that span his career, The Ultimate Collection 1948-1990, while MCA has a more modest compilation, The Best of John Lee Hooker, 1965-1974.

The Ultimate Collection would be more accurately titled A Beginner's Collection. The two compact discs contain a skimpy 31 selections and approximately 95 minutes of music (they could have included about 150 minutes). The discs start with some of Hooker's early solo recordings for Bernie Besman and include some of his best known and biggest selling recordings: Boogie Chillum,
Sally Mae, Crawkin' King Snake,
and l'm in the Mood. There is a selection of his Vee-Jay recordings such as Dimples and Boom Boom, several 'folk' recordings from Riverside, a couple from Chess, several from ABC-Bluesway, a couple from Hooker 'N'Heat (Burnin' Hell with Alan Wilson's harp being outstanding), and a live l'm in the Mood with Bonnie Raitt from The Tribute to Roy Orbison concert from 1990. 

While this gives an idea of the range of Hooker's recordings, it lacks some of his best recordings, particularly from the first few prolific years of his career, that are more memorable than the Riverside recordings sampled here. Hooker's King recordings (that some consider his best) are available on Do You Remember Me on the English Charly label, and other early, intense recordings are on Boogie Awhile on the English Krazy Kat label. This is certainly an adequate, but not the "ultimate", John Lee Hooker collection.

MCA's The Best of John Lee Hooker, 1965 to 1974 is a budget priced compilation of Hooker's post-Vee-Jay recordings that is a useful supplement to the Rhino. There is some duplication among the 16 selections (and 72 minutes of music) with the Rhino collection. Of special interest is the original Mr. Lucky, and Hooker's strong topical blues on the Detroit disturbances of twenty-five years ago, The Motor City is Burnin', both from the Urban Blues album, several cuts from his ABC Impulse album It Serves You Right to Suffer, and a couple of cuts from Endless Boogie (including a duet with Van Morrison) and other recordings. 

More modestly conceived than Rhino's compilation, this is an entertaining survey of this part of Hooker's career that admittedly is not the period of his greatest music.

This review originally appeared in Jazz & Blues Report Issue 172 from 1992. I do not remember whether I got review copies of these or not. They are listed as available as is the CD of Boogie Awhile that is mentioned in the text. Here is John Lee Hooker performing Boom Boom in 1966.


Thursday, August 06, 2020

The Smoke Wagon Blues Band The Ballad of Albert Johnson

The Smoke Wagon Blues Band
The Ballad of Albert Johnson

Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, The Smoke Wagon Blues Band has been laying down its blues and rhythm grooves for over twenty years. The band consists of Corey Lueck/ Vocals, Harp; Mike Stubbs/ Guitar; Brandon Bruce/ Piano, Organ; Gordon Aeichele/ Sax; Jason Colavecchia/ Bass; and Tibor Lukacs/ Drums. Steve Sherman, who recorded, engineered, and produced this album, also adds guitar, percussion, and backing vocals. Lueck, who is the founding member of the band, was involved in writing the 12 originals on this recording album. There is one cover performance.

There are some blues-rock trappings on a few of the performances, such as the ZZ Top grunge feel on the title track. It is a medium tempo number about a notorious Canadian outlaw who wounded and killed members of the RCMP, with the ensuing manhunt That captured the Canadian public's attention. It introduces us to Lueck's gravel and grit vocals and the band's tight backing. Following is Lueck's expressive singing on a salute to "Memphis Soul," a performance with booting sax and greasy organ.

To this listener, the next three tracks stand out. There is the original, "Ain't Gonna Be Your Fool," that is evocative of the Charles Brown classic "Get Yourself Another Fool." Lueck's moody vocal is superbly supported here. Then comes a cover of Fats Domino's first record, "The Fat Man." Bruce makes a capable effort at imitating Domino's boogie-woogie piano. Lueck even imitates Domino's trumpet-like scatting before his brief harp solo, which is followed by Aeichele's sax solo. The group stays in a New Orleans groove with the original "Lay Say Lay," with Bruce emulating Professor Longhair, while the rhythm section gets a solid mambo groove.

Other tracks include the rock-flavored "Sacrifice," the strutting stutter-step shuffle groove of "Poor Man Blues," the reflective "A Ballad For Cheryl," and the spirited closing "Steaming Comrades Harp Boogie" that is set to a Bo Diddley groove. Lueck is a very good, sometimes exceptional singer and a capable harmonica player showcased with the band's strong accompaniment. One misstep is a flawed attempt at honky-tonk country, "On the Road Again." Otherwise, this is a well-played, most entertaining set of blues and blues-infused tunes.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "Sacrifice" from the album.


Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Jimmy Heath Love Letter

Jimmy Heath
Love Letter

Gary Giddins relates in the liner notes for "Love Letter," its origin arose from a query, friend, and photographer, Carol Friedman, who asked if Jimmy Heath would record an album of ballads. The answer is this recording, which Giddins scribes as "Heath's stunningly elegant last testament." On this, his final recordings, Heath is supported by a fabulous backing band of pianist Kenny Barron, guitarist Russell Malone, vibraphonist Monte Croft, bassist David Wong, and drummer Lewis Nash. Augmenting the group on separate tracks are vocalists Gregory Porter and Cécile McLorin Salvant, and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Giddins quotes, from conversations with Friedman, Heath about saxophonists playing ballads, "Ben Webster would play in the lower register of the saxophone and you could hear his breath. But Coltrane found a way to play in the high register of the tenor. Having played alto before, he could hear up there and he learned the altissimo range of the tenor. When he played a melody of a ballad it was ethereal. It was like heaven. Coltrane would play up in the heavens. Ben and Coleman Hawkins and everybody would be downstairs—they'd be down here on earth! Trane found a way to Trane found a way to sing in the high register that I found was unique." Heath has incorporated some both approaches as he often plays in the tenor sax's lower register but without Webster's pronounced vibrato or Hawkins relatively harsh sound.

This splendid recording opens with Heath's "Ballad from Upper Neighbor's Suite," on which Heath  exhibits his nuanced tone and phrasing set against an exquisite, delicate quartet backing with Barron being especially outstanding. One should not be surprised by the superb singing by Cécile McLorin Salvant ("Left Alone") and Gregory Porter ("Don't Misunderstand"). There is a purity in Ms. Salvant's voice with the airy backing by Malone, Croft, Wong, and Nash, before Heath's gorgeous solo. Porter's romanticism on "Don't Misunderstand" is enhanced by Barron's sophisticated elegance as Heath sings with his tenor sax.

There is a gentle warmth exhibited when Heath, with Malone and Croft in support, provides a lyrical reading of Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma." Wynton Marsalis joins Heath, Barron, Croft, and Nash for a winsome rendition of Kenny Dorham's ballad, "La Mesha." In addition to the sublime beauty of the horns, Barron's solo is one of elegant sophistication. There is a reflective quality to Heath's playing on "Inside Your Heart," the one track on which he employs the soprano sax.

The album closes with Heath's poignant performance of "Don't Explain," a song that Barron, Croft, and Nash recorded with Heath, later overdubbing a solo of considerable beauty and feeling. As Carol Friedman stated about Heath, "His mastery is such that you could swear that the rhythm section—Kenny in particular—is following Jimmy's lead." It is the coda of a remarkable recording, and career belies the fact that Jimmy Heath was 93 at the time. There is nothing in the robustness of his playing and impeccable pitch and timing that suggested any diminishment of his talent. Gary Giddins closes his liner notes, "Farewell, Jimmy, and welcome back. Consider this the second *rebirth*, because people are going to be talking about you all over again." Indeed, with this outstanding recording, people will be talking about Jimmy Heath for many more years.

I received a  download to review from a publicist. Here is "Con Alma" from this recording.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Sleepy John Estes Brownsville Blues

Sleepy John Estes is one of the true poets of the blues, and Delmark has just issued Brownsville Blues. Included here are the first recordings he made after he was rediscovered in the early sixties, along with several later recordings with Hammie Nixon, Yank Rachell and others. Most of these recordings are solo, and while Estes' was never one of the great blues guitarists, his limited accompaniments are more than adequate to bolster his crying vocals.

Another unusual aspect of these recordings is that many of the songs are about the people and places of John's hometown, and while there are new versions of his classics Drop Down Mama, The Girl I Love (also known as Brownsville Blues, and related melodically to Roll and Tumble Blues), and Lawyer Clark, there are songs about Al Rawls, one of the leading black businessmen of Brownsville, songs about local women, Martha Hardin, and Vassie Williams, and about Pat Mann and his son, Pat Jr (Young Lawyer). Other songs are about the more mundane aspects of life and poverty, City Hall Blues, Government Money, andl Rats in My Kitchen.

These are not John Estes' greatest recordings (I believe the Yazoo compilation of his pre-World War II records is the best single collectionof his music), but with the inclusion of six previously unissued recordings, this is a valuable addition, and complements the other Delmark recordings of Estes.

I have made some minor changes to the review that originally appeared in 1992 in issue 177 of Jazz & Blues Report. Here is John Estes and Yank Rachell in 1966.


Monday, August 03, 2020

Jeff Reed Look For the Light

Jeff Reed
Look For the Light
Stricker Street Records

Jeff Reed is an acoustic bassist, electric bassist, composer, and educator, currently residing in Baltimore, MD, and part of the vibrant DMV (District of Columbia-Maryland-Virginia) jazz scene. "Look For the Light" is his first release as a leader and brings jazz standards and original material. The album was inspired by the birth of Reed's son Fox in 2011. Reed explains, "In the days after my son was born, I was reflecting on the power of the moment of his birth. It was a moment of great change in my life and also meant I had a new partner to share my journey with. One who I had only just met but felt as though I'd known him my whole life."

I was more familiar with members of his band than Reed himself having seen drummer Eric Kennedy, trumpeter Sean Jones and bass clarinetist Todd Marcus live as well as enjoyed their work on various recordings. Guitarist Jonathan Epley, like Reed, was someone I was previously not been familiar with. In any event, this is an exceptional band performing an engaging program that provides plenty of opportunities to showcase all the band members.

The program includes a couple of lesser-known Charlie Parker compositions, along with ones from Jim Hall, Oscar Pettiford, and Kenny Drew Jr., in addition to Reed's four originals. Reed's taut, assured bass, helps start Parker's "Segment," with Jones' bright, melodic followed by Marcus' deep, woody bass clarinet playing and then Epley's fleet guitar. Marcus is one of several bass clarinet specialists. The front-line with Jones might evoke comparisons with Eric Dolphy and Booker Little, although their playing is not as dissonant. Hall's "Waltz New" is a trio performance by Epley, Reed, and Kennedy with Epley displaying a gorgeous tone. Pettiford's "Tricotism" allows Reed to showcase his prodigious technique as well as his skill in developing a solo as well as anchor the performance. After Marcus and Epley solo, Reed trades fours with Kennedy on a sterling performance.

As a composer, Reed conjures exquisite melodies and themes such as heard on "Paragon" and "Conversion." The latter is built on a mesmerizing bass line with the band negotiating its changes and tempo shifts. The title track builds on a beautifully simple theme. There are sublime solos, with Marcus and Jones both exhibiting considerable warmth in their solos. Parker's "Quasimodo," is a first-rate feature for Jones' bright, dulcet trumpet supported just by Reed and Kennedy.

With consistent first-rate playing and the terrific tunes performed, "Look For The Light" is an outstanding recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 391). Here is a Jeff Reed performance of Oscar Pettiford's "Tricotism," from 2017 and with a different trio.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Take 5 With Tampa Red

Hudson Whittaker, known as Tampa Red, was one of the most popular and most recorded blues artists of the Twenties through the early 1950s. He was known as a guitarist, kazoo player and one of the blues greatest songwriters.

We start this brief celebration of his music with a bit of Hokum he did with Georgia Tom Dorsey, "It's Tight Light That."

Next up is "Black Angel Blues." Lucille Bogan recorded this first, but it was Tampa Red's recording that more directly influenced later blues recordings by the likes of Robert Nighthawk and B.B. King (who did this as "Sweet Little Angel."). Note Tampa Red's immaculate slide guitar that would be echoed in the guitar of Robert Nighthawk and Earl Hooker.

Among his most celebrated songs is "It Hurts Me Too" also known as "When Things Go Wrong." Elmore James later made a famous recording of this song.

Another signature song of Tampa Red was "Love Her With a Feeling," later performed by a number of other great blues artists such as Freddie King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and Junior wells.

We close this brief playlist with one of Tampa Red's last commercial recordings, "Evalena" with Little Johnnie Jones on piano, Walter Horton on harmonica, Ransom Knowling on bass and Odie Payne on drums. I believe Willie Lacey plays the dazzling electric guitar on this.

Perhaps sometimes soon, I will return with another Tampa Red playlist.