Friday, November 27, 2020

Hilliard Greene Spirituals

Hilliard Greene
Unseen Rain

Bassist Hilliard Greene served as Jimmy Scott's musical director for twenty years. He has associations with Cecil Taylor, Don Pullen (as a member of Pullen's trio), Steve Swell, Barry Altschul, Dave Douglas, Charles Gayle, and others. Currently a teacher as well as player, this is at least his second album of solo bass recordings.

Despite the title, this is not a recording explicitly of spirituals. It does display Greene's technique as well as his ability to sustain solo performances. This ability is whether he is playing Arco (bowed) or pizzicato (plucked). His personality is displayed on the opening "Blues For Will" as he states the melody. It is followed by a medley of bebop themes that he fluidly segues in "Bop Trilogy." One of the more intriguing selections is "Charlie Wade," which starts with some floating playing before transitioning into "Wade in the Water."

Several tracks have Greene singing or chanting as he repeats the phrase "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray" while he furiously repeats a bass riff. His melancholic Arco playing sets forth a somber mood before he shifts to playing pizzicato on "Freedom." After some dazzling plucking, he softly sings, "Freedom, and on my way home" against his atmospheric bowed bass. A medley of "Let My People Go" with "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" begins with his arco playing of the bass' lower register evoking a deep bass vocalist. His bowed bass similarly brings an interesting flavor to "Swing Low." In contrast, there is some spirited plucking for "Things My Favorite," a fascinating solo bass reworking of "My Favorite Things.

The album concludes with Greene's dynamic walking bass on a tribute to the pioneering string bassist "Wellman Braud." While one might wish to sample a few selections at a time rather than listen to this album in one sitting, Greene's firm, precise playing, and improvisations on this album are quite impressive. It is a most unusual and intriguing recording full of striking performances.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is a video of him performing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot."

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Simone Kopmajer Christmas

Simone Kopmajer
Lucky Mojo Records

Austrian-born vocalist Simone Kopmajer impressed this listener with her 2019 engaging and charming recording, "Spotlight On Jazz." Her latest release focuses on the Christmas season and includes some seasonal favorites and some favorites from her homeland. Backing her on this project are pianist John di Martino, bassist Bob Kozlow, drummer Reinhardt Winkler, saxophonist and clarinetist Aaron Heick, and tenor saxophonist Terry Myers. Also present on several tracks are keyboardist Geri Schuller (who also plays Jews harp), bassist Beat Wiesinger, trumpeter Dominik Fuss, saxophonist Florian Fuss, bassoonist Georg Stepanek, dulcimer player Lukas Ganster, and diatonic accordionist Heinz Steinbauer.

Reviewing "Spotlight On Jazz," I was much impressed by "the clarity of her singing, her musicality, the purity of her sound, her phrasing and her diction." These same qualities are evident in this program of holiday music that spans jazz and folk traditions. Her singing also receives top-flight backing by the groups led by Mr. di Martino and the Austrian musicians starting from her playful, flirty rendition of "Santa Baby" and concluding with a bilingual "Silent Night/ Stille Nacht."

In addition to her exquisite singing, there is plenty of pleasures from the backing musicians. Mr. di Martino provides an elegant piano solo on "Santa Baby," along with a marvelous horn arrangement. Then there is a swinging "Jingle Bells," with some superb scatting and interplay with Heick's alto sax. Then there are Austrian hymns such "Leise Rieselt Der Schnee," with the Schick Singers adding their lovely harmony along with Heick's bluesy alto sax. Viktor Garnot joins in the understated duet vocal of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," with choice piano from di Martino and velvety clarinet by Heick.

Among the Christmas favorites included, Ms. Kopmajer composed a delightful original "The Most Wonderful Time," with Anna Catherina adding harmony. Other holiday favorites include "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas, "Feliz Navidad," "White Christmas," and the Austrian Carole "Es Wird Scho Glei Dumpa." Allen Harris adds his warmth to an engaging treatment of Mel Torme classic, "The Christmas Song." None of these performances are copies of more familiar renditions,

Three Austrian tunes (including "Silent Night/ Stille Nacht") close out this album of Christmas music magic. The delight of her singing, the varied program (including the fresh arrangements), and first-rate backing, result in an exceptional recording. Simone Kopmajer"s "Christmas" is a recording that will bring listeners considerable holiday cheer.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "Baby, It's Cold Outside," from this album.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Laura Tate Live From El Paso

Laura Tate
Live From El Paso
811 Gold Records LLC

A career as an actor and singer, performing on stage and television, and directing music videos and documentaries, Laura Tate has this new album recorded in her present hometown of El Paso. Tate recruited a fine band for this live recording, that was a benefit concert. The band's foundation was pianist Jeff Paris on piano, Doug Hamblin on guitar, Terry Wilson on bass, and Tony Braunagel on drums. Also present is a horn section of Lee Thornburg on trombone, Darrell Leonard on trumpet, and Joe Sublett on saxophone. Teresa James adds backing vocals.

One shouldn't be surprised by Tate's singing. Her smooth, fluid phrasing, clean intonation, and ability to shade and build a performance's intensity are notable. There is a quality to these performances, including the striking backing she receives. Her songs transverse a range of material opening with Mel Harker's "No Place to Hide," that strikes these ears as a sophisticated performance that would have been at home on a 1960s pop recording of a Brill Building song. Then there is her updating of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town."

Starting wistfully, the tempo kicks it up a notch into a swinging rocker that showcases her deft singing. Darrell Leonard's searing trumpet and Doug Hamblin's biting guitar complements her sultry Peggy Lee sounding vocal on "I Need a Man." Allen Toussaint's "Hittin' on Nothin" has a groove reminiscent of Don Covay's "See Saw." With Jeff Paris emulating Toussaint's Crescent City piano, Tate solidly interprets the Irma Thomas recording with strong solo breaks by Sublett and Hamblin. There is a touch of vinegar to her vocal on the reflective "Still Got the Blues," followed by the swamp-soul flavor of "Nobody Gets Hurt." Also standing out is her dreamy vocal on "Cowboy Jazz," and the buoyant jump blues, "Big Top Hat."

The sweet soul of "If That Ain't Love" is the final track on this splendid recording covering a range of musical modes. Tate, as indicated, is a top-flight singer who is splendidly supported on this excellent recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here she sings "Still Got the Blues."

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Hazar Reincarnated

Immersive Audio Network

Las Hazar, known simply by his last name, will undoubtedly awaken many ears with his superb acoustic guitar as represented on this CD/Blu-ray Disc release. On a musical program ranging from bebop to Brazilian music to Gypsy swing, he displays not simply impressive technical fluency but a melodic and improvisatory sense that, at times, is astonishing. He is joined on one selection by Al DiMeola. Others heard on this release include pianist Mike Roelofs, bass clarinetist Piotr Torunski, and percussionist Mehmet Katay.

The clarity of his tone, phrasing, and inventiveness is immediately evident on the opening "Made For Wesley," where he quietly builds his solo throwing in dazzling single note runs over the airy backing. Chick Corea's "Spain is a superb duet with DiMeola, who also plays the cajon on this track. There is more astonishing guitar on Dorado Schmitt's "Bossa Dorado." What is impressive is that no matter how fast Hazar plays, the melody remains the roots of his improvisation. At the same time, his ability to add to the beauty of a piece is shown on the rendition of "Black Orpheus," which is also a showcase for Roelofs' romantic lyricism. Some of these same qualities are also evident in the performance of "Summertime."

After a scintillating performance of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," this album closes with a superb solo rendering of the traditional "Le Vieux Tzigane." It caps a recording of a remarkable, virtuosic guitarist whose technique, if often startling, never betrays the music's melodic foundation. As observed, this release comes with a Blu-ray Disc of the performances. Not having a Blu-ray player I was not able to evaluate that portion of this package.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the performance of "Bossa Dorado."

Monday, November 23, 2020

José Rizo's Mongorama Mariposas Cantan

José Rizo's Mongorama
Mariposas Cantan
Saungu Records

Popular Los Angeles DeeJay José Rizo founded Mongorama in 2011, a nonet inspired by the great conga master Mongo Santamaria's early 1960s band. This album is the group's third album under the musical direction of flutist Danilo Lozano. The personnel on this recording are Justo Almario (tenor sax, flute); Danilo Lozano (flute, musical director); Ramon Banda (timbales); Dayren Santamaria (violin); Joey De Leon (congas); James Zavaleta (lead vocals); Joe Rotondi (piano); Alfredo Ortiz (guiro, bongo, bell, chekere, vocals); George Ortiz (timbales); and Ross Schodek (bass). Darynn Dean, Yoshigei Rizo, and Alexis De La Rocha are guest vocalists. Francisco Torres plays trombone on one selection, wrote nine of the arrangements, and co-wrote five compositions with Rizo. This album includes the final recordings of Ramon Banda, who is considered one of the greatest of timbales players.

"Mariposas Cantan" is an exhilarating recording for Latin Jazz fans. I point to "Mongorama," a Santamaria composition that provided this group its name. Besides the spirited ensemble playing, there is a section where the percussionists are featured playing over a piano vamp. On his solo, Banda scorches the groove on timbales. There is so much to enjoy from all the players. I was especially impressed by Dayren Santamaria's violin playing, whether as part of the horn ensembles or taking his terrific, soaring solos such as on the opening track, Cal Tjader's "Mambo Minduro." Almario's tenor sax impresses throughout, including his solo on the Rizo/Torres original "Mariposas Cantan" with James Zavaleta's vocal.

Danilo Lozano is featured on flute on "Helen of Jazz." He is also one of the soloists on his ebullient original "Fiesta de Charangueros." Alfredo Ortiz takes the lead on this spicy number that also spotlights violinist Santamaria, pianist Joe Rotondi, and George Ortiz on timbales. Other notable selections include a relaxed "Watermelon Man," harking back to Mongo Santamaria's classic hit recording of the Herbie Hancock composition. Joe Rotondi on piano and Joey De Leon on congas take first-rate solos. It is Justin Almara's tenor sax solo that especially shines here.

There is plenty of tropical heat on "Descarga Ramon Banda," which is Ruiz and Torres' celebration of their 'musical brother," with Rotondi exquisite on his solo. At the same time, Francisco Torres plays some fiery trombone, and Zavaleta leads the impassioned vocals. "East L.A. Meets Napa" honors an annual event that features "the amazing wines made by the hard-working Mexican-American winemakers." The exhilarating ensemble supports the exuberant singing and Lozano's floating flute. It closes this superlative recording. One should check one's pulse if one isn't at least tapping one's feet, listening to this outstanding recording.

I received my review copy a publicist. Here is Mongorama performing with special guest Hubert Laws.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Chris Smither More From the Levee

Chris Smither
More From the Levee
Signature Sounds

This new recording from the noted singer-songwriter Chris Smither brings forth ten new tracks that produced the 2014 release "Still on the Levee." As I wrote reviewing that earlier recording," Smither is a singer-songwriter whose performances and songs have a Dylanesque flavor as well as deep blues roots in his direct finger style guitar playing. As Charlie Hunter, his former co-manager observes, Smither's guitar style is 1/3 Mississippi John Hurt, 1/3 Lightnin' Hopkins and 1/3 himself." His swirling guitar playing and feet stomping is combined with Billy Conway's drums and percussion on this album. Guests, including Dana Colley on baritone sax and the late Allen Toussaint on piano, are heard on selected tracks.

Smither's gravelly vocals have a restrained world-weary quality that adds to the appeal as he sings his colorful lyrics that have such haunting lines such as "Help me get these pieces together, Make it so the seams don't seem to show, …" from "Confirmation." Another example is "Turn off that radio, It's like I am talking to myself." from "Drive You Home Again." Colley's low volume baritone lends to the sober background on this track. Jimmy Fitting on harmonica, Goody on piano, and Anita Subanin on background vocals join the melancholy feel of "I Am the Ride." With its street busker tempo, "What I Do" comes off as somewhat cheerful with its invocation of second lines and beads and rice. Allen Toussaint's piano adds a light, sophisticated feel to the part talking blues, "Let It Go."

With Smither's way with words, his enervated sounding vocals, and the deft, but restrained, accompaniment, the ten new Smither tracks on this album further showcase this remarkable singer-songwriter.

I received my review copy from a publicist. For an example of his music (but not on this recording) here is Chris Smither's rendition of "Sitting on Top of the World."

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Rachel Caswell We're All In The Dance

Rachel Caswell
We're All In The Dance
Turtle Ridge Records
With so many recordings issued, it is easy to miss one. As an example, there is this two-year-old album from Rachel Caswell. It is a marvelous recording with a delectable choice of songs as well as top-flight playing behind her. Guitarist Dave Stryker also produced this and wrote the arrangements (although Caswell collaborated on the arrangements for two tunes). Others in the studio band are Fabian Almazan on piano and fender Rhodes, Linda May Han Oh on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums. Her Grammy® nominated sister, Sarah Caswell, adds violin to three of the ten songs.

From her first entrance on Sting's "Fragile," she impresses with the exquisite qualities of her silky-voiced singing, intonation, phrasing, vocal dynamics, and articulation of the lyrics. Stryker's guitar, Sarah Caswell's violin, and Caswell's fluid horn-like scatting add to her performance's weight. The songs here celebrate love and love's heartbreaks from the easy swing of "A Lovely Way To Spend the Evening" to the blues of "Drown in My Own Tears." Stryker and Almazan are superb soloists, although Blake and Oh both take crisp, short breaks on "A Lovely Way."

Caswell's gorgeous voice shines on the title song, a light waltz. This vocal is another song that her sister's violin adds to the color. Caswell dazzles on Bob Dorough's "Devil May Care," while there is an easy Latin tinge to "Two For The Road." Her nuanced phrasing on this latter number contributes to another engaging performance. Another notable performance is her scatting tour de force on Charlie Parker's "Dexterity."

Also heard is an outstanding rendition of Jon Hendricks' lyrics to Thelonious Monk's "Reflections (Looking Back)," with restrained, supple backing and Almazan's understated piano solo. It closes this superb vocal jazz recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a promo video for this recording.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

John Németh Stronger Than Strong

John Németh
Stronger Than Strong
Nola Blue Records

With his latest recording, John Németh moves away from the soul-blues singing that has marked much of his career towards a grungy, swamp roots style. Németh's vocals and harmonica are backed by The Blue Dreamers, whose members are Danny Banks on drums, Matthew Wilson on bass, and John Hay on guitar. Adam Hill, who was the recording engineer, plays the tambourine. Németh wrote ten of the twelve songs on this album.

Németh has a reputation as a soul-blues singer, but while one can get here some of this in his vocals on this recording, this CD is more in a blues and roots vein. Some of his vocals have a distorted quality as heard on as on the opening "Open and Take It," where he sounds like he is singing through his harmonica microphone. On a passionate cover of a lesser-known Junior Parker recording, "Sometimes," it sounds like a little reverb was applied to his singing. His harp playing is as vital as ever while the backing trio provides efficient, effective backing. Guitarist Hay provides some biting fills and driving blues-rock solos such as he plays on "Throw Me in the Water."

The band puts together a chugging groove on "Chain Breaker," a blues where Németh pleads about trying to get through to his lover. "I Can See Your Love Light Shine" has a bouncy ska-like groove. "Bars" perhaps has his most straightforward soul singing with Wilson laying down a memorable bass line and Hay playing some sparkling accompaniment. "Deprivin' A Love" is a driving slab of blues-rock with Banks repetitious, insistent drumming pushing this performance along with Hay adding an acidic riff. There is a first-rate cover of Jesse Belvin's "Guess Who." It is striking how slow Németh and the Blue Dreamers play, something not many bands can pull off.

Some may be surprised by the rawness and approach that Németh takes on this album, but no one should be surprised how much of his personality he invests in this most intriguing recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video for "I Can See Your Love Light Shine."

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra The Latin Jazz Project

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra
The Latin Jazz Project

The Grammy® Award-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra's latest project is their first full Latin Jazz project by the ensemble is considered today's premier salsa ensemble. Oscar Hernández, the leader of the SHO, has himself released two acclaimed Latin jazz albums. The Latin Jazz Project presents a new side to the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Co-producer and trombonist Doug Beavers says: "…we really wanted to present SHO in a different light with this project- that of a world-class ensemble that can go toe-to-toe with any renowned jazz ensemble or jazz orchestra in the world."

The band on this recording includes Hernández on piano; Marco Bermúdez, Carlos Cascante, and Jeremy Bosch (who also plays flute) on vocals; Héctor Cólon, Manuel 'Maneco' Ruiz, and Jonathan Powell on trumpet and fluegelhorn; Doug Beavers and Noah Bless on trombone; Jorge Castro on baritone sax; Liusito Quintero on timbales, shekere, shakers, and chimes; George Delgado on congas; Jorge González on bongos; and Geraldo 'Jerry' Madera on bass. Mitchell Frohman plays baritone sax on one selection.

SHO has included jazz artists on its prior recordings, including Chick Corea, Joe Lovano, and Randy Brecker. There is an impressive group of jazz giants on this date, including Miguel Zenón, Kurt Elling, Bob Mintzer, Bob Franceschini, Tom Harrell, Jimmy Haslip, Dave Liebman, Jonathan Powell, Michael Rodrigeuz, and Joe Locke that contribute to the performances here.

Of the prior SHO recording "Anniversary," I wrote that "the Spanish Harlem Orchestra dazzles throughout with their vibrant music that will thrill dancers and listeners on a terrific recording." Indeed much can be said about the strong and varied performances here. Hernández contributed seven of the eleven tracks on this album that are melodically and rhythmically captivating. His "Ritmo Di Mi Gente" opens and showcases Bosch's flute and his piano along with the volcanic percussion section. Marty Sheller composed and arranged "Bobo," a tribute to the great Willie Bobo, which is a feature for Bob Mintzer's brawny tenor sax.

Doug Beavers arranged the jazz standard "Invitation." Doug Beavers' arrangement is taken at a tad too quick a tempo for Kurt Elling's vocal. It is not a bad vocal, but one suspects that it would have been more convincing if it had been played slightly slower. Miguel Zenón's alto sax ably negotiates this pace on alto sax. Hernández's "Las Palmas" sounds like a Latinized rendition of a TV theme with its memorable melody. This track is a feature for Tom Harrell's lyrical trumpet. One of Hernández's most beautiful compositions on this album is "Silent Prayers," with Jimmy Haslip's rhythmically intriguing electric bass solo, Jeremy Bosch's lovely flute, and David Liebman's serpentine soprano sax solo.

Gene Amato crafted the arrangement for Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight." The lively performance is taken at a quicker tempo than usual and showcasing Jonathan Powell's fiery trumpet solo. Bosch's flute and vibes master Joe Locke charm on "Latin Perspective." SHO showcases its explosive salsa roots on "Descarga De Jazz," the only selection with vocalists along with Mitchell Frohman's raucous baritone sax solo. It caps another outstanding recording from the Spanish Harlem Orchestra with memorable compositions, terrific arrangements, first-rate ensemble work, and excellent solos.

I am not sure if I purchased this or received it from a publicist. Here is "Ritmo Di Mi Gente" from this recording.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Ben Levin Carryout or Delivery

Ben Levin
Carryout or Delivery

About Ben Levin's previous album, "Before Me," I wrote that "he plays and sounds with a maturity far beyond his youth." I concluded, "After listening to this recording several times, I am struck by how fresh this music keeps sounding. "Before Me" is an exceptional recording." "Carryout or Delivery" is his follow-up recording recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic. Recorded in mid-June 2020, he is backed by his father Aron Levin on guitar, Oscar Bernal on drums, and Chris Douglass on bass.

Ben Levin wrote eight originals, and there are four covers. With this solid backing band, he is heard on piano, electric piano, and organ. He again impresses with his unforced, heartfelt vocals as well as his superb keyboard playing. He mixes flourishes of virtuosity with more nuanced playing. He evokes Otis Spann's piano on the opening "You Know" as he sings to his baby that if she keeps running around on him, she won't be around him much more. He displays an adroit touch on the electric piano is displayed on "Too Good For Me." "Carryout or Delivery" has a jazzy tinge with a vocal chorus, and Aron Levin adding tasty fills in addition to Ben Levin's sophisticated piano solo.

"Nola Night" is a delightful instrumental with a Latin tinge evocative of the Crescent City. Another salute to the Crescent City is a top-notch rendition of Professor Longhair's recording "Hadacol Bounce." Also of note is Levin's unrushed cover of Frank Frost's "My Back Scratcher" with him playing some restrained but greasy organ. Another selection is his introspective rendition of Floyd Dixon's "Time Brings About a Change." It is a standout rendition in the manner of Dixon and Charles Brown and closes another outstanding recording from Ben Levin.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a selection from this album.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Ashley Locheed & Chris Rottmayer So in Love

Ashley Locheed & Chris Rottmayer
So in Love
Timucua Arts Foundation

"So in Love" is a delightful album of standards and pop tunes by vocalist Locheed and pianist Rottmayer's trio. Released in 2020, this album was recorded in 2011 at Ticumua Art House in Orlando, Florida. Locheed is a vocalist who recently headlined the Musica per i Borghi festival in Umbria, Italy, with The Perugia Big Band. She regularly tours with Michael Bolton and previously toured with Engelbert Humperdinck as a duet partner and backing- vocalist. Locheed has opened Arturo Sandoval, has performed and recorded with veteran clarinetist Allan Vaché, and also performed with Kenny Drew Jr., Bill Allred, La Lucha, John Lamb, and Jeff Rupert. Rottmayer is a jazz pianist, composer, and jazz vibraphonist who has been a pianist at Walt Disney World since 1999 and currently the Instructor of Jazz Piano at the University of South Florida. He led a trio with Chuck Archard on electric bass and Keith Wilson on drums on this recording.

Two takes of Cole Porter's title song bookends the performances here. Bassist Archard sets the mood with a bouncy bass riff as Locheed capturing the listener's attention with her tuneful, breezy, dreamy singing. Rottmayer's spare, melodic backing and lead solos enhance her vocals. There is also supple support from Archard and Wilson. Locheed delights on Jobim's classic "Aqua De Beer," while her pensive vocal on Monk's "Round Midnight" displays her ability.

There is a gorgeous, swinging rendition of "I Love Paris" that sports a choice arrangement from Archard. Archard also provided the arrangement for Paul Simon's "Something So Right." She captures every nuance of meaning in the lyrics. Another song from outside the American songbook is a melodious rendition of Christopher Cross' "Sailing." Then there is the soft, intimacy of Michel Legrand's "Windmills of Your Mind," and the heartfelt romance she expressed singing "La Vie en Rose."

There is so much to enjoy listening to on this album. Ashley Locheed and the Chris Rottmayer Trio have produced a first-rate, captivating recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of Ashley Locheed and Chris Rottmayer from 2013.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Nicholas Brust Frozen In Time

Nicholas Brust
Frozen In Time
Fresh Sound Records

Nicholas Brust is part of the current New York scene. He attended the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he studied with Jerry Bergonzi, Frank Carlberg, Ran Blake, John McNeil, Donny McCaslin, and Miguel Zenón. Before that, he attended the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Walt Weiskopf, Harold Danko, and Chien-Kwan Lin. This young alto saxophonist, composer, and bandleader has other influences, including Michael Brecker, George Coleman, Robert Glasper, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kenny Garrett, Roy Hargrove, Frank Strozier, and Bob Berg. On his first full album, Brust is backed Ben Eunson on guitar, Tuomo Uusitalo on piano, Josh Allen on bass, and Jay Sawyer on drums.

From the opening notes of "Work Ahead," one is impressed by Brust's imposing dexterity and sound, as he casts forth ingenious improvisations backed by a first-rate group. The opening track is performed at a breakneck pace, yet he spins his thoughtful ideas with apparent ease. Brust calls "Hearts and Spades" an attempt to draft a pop-jazz tune. It is a lovely ballad starting with a counterpoint line between piano and bass. Bassist Allen solos over Uusitalo's chording before Brust's own melodic blues-inflected ballad playing. Eunson solos over the ostinato while Sawyer's light playing adds rhythmic accents. Another lovely performance is "Brooklyn Folk Song," with more exquisite alto sax. "Frozen in Time" captures one's attention with a bass riff that loops around with Brust and Eunson, jointly laying down the main melody.

"Adversity" is one of several compositions that Brust has written as a homage to the New York scene. Its theme is evocative a Woody Shaw's compositions and features a scintillating guitar solo. Brust dazzles with the fluid development of ideas before the tempo changes to a crawl and sax and horn riff supporting Uusitalo's solo. "Something Like a Storm" is another memorable performance with tempo changes, turbulent musical sections, and Brust's use of dynamics in building the intensity in his solo. The final track, "A Shifting State," is a drummer-less trio with Eunson and Allen. It has a catchy melody set against a shifting rhythmic framework that Allen's bass provides.

"Frozen In Time' is an auspicious debut. Nicholas Brust has crafted ear-catching tunes, which are the foundation for his imaginative and skilled improvisations in the company of a first-rate band.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a 2015 performance of "Brooklyn Folk Song."

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Nora Jean Wallace BluesWoman

Nora Jean Wallace
Severn Records

Music lovers have reason to celebrate the return of Nora Jean Wallace with a new CD, "BluesWoman." It has been 16 years since Severn issued her acclaimed "Going Back to Mississippi." She left the music scene to take care of her ailing mother, but now she returns with this release. About that earlier album, I wrote that she "has shown herself as among those who will carry on and follow Koko Taylor and keep 'this great music alive and vital.'" Taylor was a major influence on her, and like Taylor, she has a deep, husky voice with an authoritative, no-nonsense attack.

Severn's David Earl produced this recording and picked up the guitar for four numbers. He also assembled an excellent band of Johnny Moeller on guitar, Steve Gomes on bass, Kevin Anker on organ, Steve Guyger on harmonica, Stanley Banks on keyboards, and Robb Stupka on drums. Kim Wilson guests on harmonica on one selection. There are two covers. Wallace or Stanley Banks wrote eight of the ten tracks.

Banks wrote the opening song "Martell." Against a relaxed shuffle groove, Wallace sings about trying to forget her man, and that she is going to drink some Martell until her eyes turn bloodshot red. Steve Guyger quickly shows why he is among the most underrated harmonica players playing today. It is followed by a deep Memphis soul groove for Syl Johnson's "I Can't Stop." Moeller contributes a neat guitar riff in the backing of her robust singing before a sharp, focused guitar solo. Then follows Banks' "I'm a Blues Woman," where Wallace proclaims she is a Blues Woman from her wig down to her shoes. The performance does evoke classic Koko Taylor with Guyger and Moeller, both adding spice to the musical blend.

The George Jackson penned "Evidence" is a soul-blues gem, with Wallace singing about the lipstick traces and a hotel receipt being evidence of her man's infidelity. It is a compelling performance where she displays her mastery of vocals dynamics. This song is followed by Wallace's "Victim," where she sings about being a victim of love to a man who has a woman on the side. Moeller's rapier-like guitar stands out here. Other standout tracks include the marvelous played Chicago blues shuffle "Look Over Yonder," and the evocative "I've Been Watching You."

"Dance With Me" is a solidly performed and enjoyable, if lightweight, track. The album closes with the strong, moody "I Don't Have to Beg You to Love Me," with another assured, passionate vocal. It is the finale on Nora Jean Wallace's most welcome return. On the outstanding "BluesWoman," Nora Jean Wallace shows that she is still a vibrant, superb singer and backed by an excellent studio band.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Nora Jean Wallace singing right before the pandemic closed things down.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

3D Jazz Trio Christmas in 3D

3D Jazz Trio
Christmas in 3D

Only a few months ago, this writer reviewed the 3D Jazz Trio's "I Love To See You Smile," a recording that certainly left listeners smiling. Now the trio of pianist Jackie Warren, bassist and fiddler Amy Shook, and drummer Sherrie Maricle return with a swinging dose of holiday cheer.

The strength of these recordings of songs that are mostly familiar are the arrangements and the vitality of the trio's playing. "Winter Wonderland" is a sparkling performance with Warren's improvisation going far beyond simple melodic embellishments. It is followed by a fabulous calypso treatment of "Up On The Housetop," with an irresistible rhythmic pulse. This track and the Afro-Cuban arrangement of "O Christmas Tree" showcase Maricle's infectious groove making. Amy Shook's fiddle at the beginning of "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)" opens the piece as a country hoedown stomp before the performance segues into a rollicking shuffle.

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" begins as a duet between Shook and Maricle before Warren enters with a solo hinting at the familiar melody. Warren also dazzles on a sprite interpretation of "Greensleeves." The trio's love of Latin grooves is reflected In the Brazilian-spirited treatment of the folk hymn "I Wonder As I Wander," while the trio provides a spirited rendition of "White Christmas." "Silent Night" opens with Warren's gospel-inspired piano before Shook and Maricle add a restrained backing. Shook adds a bowed solo set against Warren's chords and Maricle's deft use of brushes.

A delightful swinging treatment of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" closes this album. The joyful "Christmas in 3D" is not merely a terrific holiday album, but also an outstanding piano trio recording.

I received a copy to review from a publicist.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Jimmy Carpenter Soul Doctor

Jimmy Carpenter
Soul Doctor
Gulf Coast Records

About Jimmy Carpenter's last album, "Plays the Blues" (VizzTone), I wrote that "Carpenter plays plenty of rousing, raspy saxophone in a Junior Walker-King Curtis--Boots Randolph vein throughout and, if not a great singer, is likable with an unforced delivery… ." Carpenter has a lengthy career in the blues and roots-rock scene, including stints with Jimmy Thackery, Walter 'Wolfman' Washington, and most recently with Mike Zito. Presently residing in Las Vegas, Carpenter leads his own band and plays with numerous others. He also is the Musical Director for the Big Blues Bender and leader of the Bender Brass, The Bender's house band. This new release is on Golf Coast records, a label Zito co-founded.

On this recording, Jimmy has assembled a first-class studio group. In addition to Carpenter on saxophone and vocals, there is Cameron Tyler (drums/percussion/background vocals), Jason Langley (bass), Trevor Johnson (guitar), Chris Tofield (guitar/background vocals), Red Young (keys), Carrie Stowers (background vocals), and Queen Aries (background vocals). Guesting on this album are guitarist Nick Schnebelen, The Bender Brass (Doug Woolverton (trumpet), Mark Earley (baritone sax)), Al Ek (harmonica), and Mike Zito (guitar).

Based on the seven originals, Carpenter has become quite a songwriter. The album opens with the title track with a striking lyric, "Who says the book of love was written in one night/ Who filled it up with empty pages said what's wrong and right/ So many have wagered on the lottery of life/ They opened up their hearts just to be cut down like a knife." Carpenter impresses with his singing here and elsewhere on this album. On this song, he takes a couple of tough rackety yak sax solos. Nick Schnebelen's guests on this track, although these ears founded his playing a tad busy. That is one of two songs that Carpenter wrote with Guy Hale, the other co-founder of Gulf Coast Records. The other song, "Wrong Turn," has Jimmy on guitar with Trevor Johnson playing some blues-rock slide guitar and Al Ek adding some sax-sounding harmonica. Carpenter's vocal sounds distorted and maybe his least appealing singing here. Much better is the relaxed rock and roll shuffle blues "Wild Streak." In addition to some persuasive singing, catch lyrics, Red Young contributes some rollicking honky-tonk piano while Mike Zito adds a searing slide guitar solo.

The autobiographical lyrics of "Love It So Much" is set to a second-line groove as Carpenter celebrates the musician's life on the road, while the Bender Horns add their punch. The finest blues performance is his cover of Little Willie John's "Need Your Love So Bad," with Carpenter's passionate singing and his band's outstanding support. It also may have his best tenor sax solo on the album. An instrumental rendition of The Clovers' "One Mint Julep" also spotlights his tenor sax, although more in a King Curtis-Junior Walker vein. Red Young adds some greasy organ here. Another instrumental is "LoFi Roulette," with Chris Tofield adding searing guitar to Carpenter's gutbucket sax.

A soulful rendition of Eddie Hinton's "Yeah Man" closes this album. Jimmy Carpenter has matured into an expressive, passionate singer and songwriter, and he has produced a very satisfying blues and roots recording.

I received my review download from a publicist. Here Jimmy performs the title track.

Friday, November 06, 2020

Jim Waller Big Band Bucket List

Jim Waller Big Band
Bucket List

A multi-instrumentalist (saxophones, trombone, piano, organ, guitar), arranger, record producer, and educator Jim Waller, fulfills an item on his personal bucket list with this big band album recording. Originally from California, his music career included playing in a surf group, The Deltas. Then he was part of a Las Vegas jazz-rock octet, Los Blues. He has been based in San Antonio since 1977 and worked with many prominent names. On this recording, Waller leads a 21-piece big band for which he wrote the arrangements and seven of the 14 tunes. Additionally, Waller solos formidably on tenor sax while also playing soprano sax and organ. Then there is a string section for his arrangement of "Rhapsody in Blue." Among notable persons on this album is drummer Will Kennedy from the Yellow Jackets and vocalist Jacqueline Soleto who is heard on five songs.

Waller's Big Band is a strong, swinging aggregation that opens with the spirited Brazilian groove of "Samba For Suzell," with first-rate solos from Waller, pianist Chris Villaneuva, and drummer Kennedy, who is particularly dynamic. Soleto is a singer I would not mind hearing more from starting from her ebullient take on Peggy Lee's "I Love Being Here With You." Her phrasing, pitch, and phrasing are right on along with her marvelous scatting. Waller's arrangement provides a Count Basie feel to it. She is a bit more sultry in a Peggy Lee manner on the interpretation of "Why Don't You Do Right." There are heartfelt renditions of "Georgia on My Mind," and "God Bless the Child." On this last song, the middle of the performance surprises with an animated Latin groove and Adam Carillo's terrific alto sax solo.

Waller's "Blues For Los Blues," a relaxed swinger with rousing solos by Jason Galbraith's on tenor sax solo and Dr. Joey Colarusso on baritone sax. The animated "Waltz For Laura" showcases Waller's robust tenor sax, followed by Lee Sparky Thomason's fiery trump. Waller's arrangement for "Rhapsody in Blue" is a brief performance marked by a quicker pace and a swing-based groove as Waller solos backed by a band augmented by a swing section. "A Ballad For Bob" showcases the warmth and melodic qualities Waller invests in his ballad playing. An unusual surprise is the swinging rendition of Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk" dedicated to San Antonio native saxophonist Clifford Scott and guitarist Billy Butler who played on the hit recording. Juan Valdez evokes Butler's guitar solo on his solo before Waller salutes Scott with his own raucous solo that incorporates the trills characteristic of Scott's playing.

Those wanting a straight-ahead, swinging big band room recording need look no further than "Bucket List." Jim Waller has not fulfilled merely a personal goal but produced a wonderfully performed and thoroughly engaging recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Melody Gardot Live in Europe

Melody Gardot
Live in Europe
Decca Records

This new release by the singer-songwriter and instrumentalist is taken from several years of concerts across Europe which she calls a "a postcard from our tours around Europe." She initially listed to over 300 shows, initially looking for some of the more perfect performances, but at some point realized that what she needed to get at was something different. "it’s not about perfection or ego or demonstration - it’s just about what happens live - because live there is only one element that counts: heart." While tagged as a jazz vocalist, she is more of a stylist whose sensual, smokey singing might suggest to some a cabaret vocalist drenched in Peggy Lee's sound. With mostly spare accompaniment (including cello on a number of songs instead of bass), many of these are moody, atmospheric performances, most of which came from her pen.

The stark backing of guitar, cello and drums with subdued sax adds to the gloomy mood of her vocal "Our Love Is Easy," with Stephan Braun's cello accompaniment under her vocal along with Irwin Hall's very sober saxophone solo matching the mood engendered by her singing here. Then there is the soft vibrato of her vocal on "Baby I'm a Fool," with her slurs, slight variations in pitch and her scatting as if singing in French, set against sparse backing of her guitar with cello and drums on another haunting performance. Chuck Stabb's drums are more prominent on "The Rain," with cello and bass lending a mesmerizing feel before Hall enters with some riveting saxophone with a Middle eastern tinge followed by Gardot on piano mixing in some chords before she sings with a bit more volume and heat before Hall has a fiery solo. 

There are other performances that musically break out of the understated, restrained tenor of many of these performances such as Gardot's "March For Mingus," where she opens with a fragment of the spiritual "Nobody's Fault But Mine" and she  her bass player Sam Minaie who takes a taut solo as she adds chords or short single note runs. Drummer Stabb adds a light marching rhythm before she takes a brief piano interlude that transitions to some intense, driving playing from saxophonist Hall and trumpeter Shareef Clayton. The pair's unison passage evoking (to this listener) Rashaan Roland Kirk before Gardot returns and sings fervently. From this same 2016 Utrecht performance comes a dramatic, bluesy performance "Bad News," as she shouts a bit against horn riffs and biting guitar lines, with some impassioned sax. Other delights include the bossa nova tinged "Lisboa," with hints of Stan Getz in Hall's tenor, Devin Greenwood's guitar having a lovely Brazilian feel and a lovely flute solo from James Casey.

Repeated listening to the songs here brings out new facets of the performances and provides a sense of why Melody Gardot is such a moving and original musical voice.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review was written in 2018 and it was submitted but never published. She has a new recording out which review I will be posting in the near future. Here is a live performance of Melody Gardot.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Shemekia Copeland Uncivil War

Shemekia Copeland
Uncivil War
Alligator Records

It is amazing to see how it has only been 22 years since Shemekia Copeland's first album came out. Indeed, the promise of that album has been fulfilled many times as she is generally regarded as today's Queen of the Blues. But as she has matured, she has shown that being viewed as a blues artist is no longer a confining description as she readily and convincingly crosses over to musical genres. It can be suggested that her latest album "Uncivil War" is as much a roots and soul recording as a blues recording. This sentiment is a descriptive comment and not a comment on this recording's quality. "Uncivil War" is a superb recording.

"Uncivil War" was recorded in Nashville with award-winning producer and musician Will Kimbrough at the helm. There is quite a crew of musicians on this recording. In addition to Kimbrough, the core band consists of Lex Price on bass and Pete Abbott on drums. Guest musicians on "Uncivil War" include guitarists Jason Isbell, Steve Cropper, Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, Webb Wilder, and Duane Eddy. Also present are mandolin wizard Sam Bush, dobro master Jerry Douglas, and Phil Madeira on organ and guitar.

The material is striking, starting with the opening "Clotilda's On Fire," written by Kimbrough and Shemekia's manager John Hahn. It is the story of the very last slave trade ship to arrive in America (in Mobile Bay, Alabama) in 1859, 50 years after the slave trade was banned. The ship was burned and sunk by the captain to destroy the evidence. The wreckage was finally discovered in 2019. Shemekia's passionate singing is matched by the backing than includes a scorching solo from Jason Isbell. Then follows a terrific Staple Singers-esque message song, "Walk Until I Ride," with Shemekia in total command. I do feel there is a certain naivety to the lyric of the title track. However, Copeland authoritatively delivers the message of cooling down hostilities with folks having differing views. Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush lend an American feel to this track.

"Money Makes You Ugly" is a hard rock performance where she wails about those with money who abuse folks and the environment with a searing guitar solo by Christone "Kingfish" Ingram. There is an affectionate tribute to Dr. John, "Dirty Saint," with a second line beat and some nifty slide guitar from Kimbrough. After an atmospheric cover The Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb," there is the hard rock "Apple Pie And A .45" that addresses gun violence with lyrics about a child getting killed and blood running in the streets.

Other musical delights include "She Don't Wear Pink" that Webb Wilder co-wrote. Wilder and Duane Eddy add to the alternative country feel of a song with a definite pro-feminist slant. Shemekia is superb in her interpretation of a lesser-known Junior Parker recording, "In the Dark." Steve Cropper adds his guitar to a superlative blues performance. A terrific country-soul flavored rendition of her father's "Love Song" is the final track on an outstanding recording by one of our musical treasures.

I received a download to review from Alligator Records. Here is "Clotilda's On Fire" from this album.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020


Unseen Rain

Listening to the eponymously-titled debut album by Quintrepid, one might be struck by aspects of the music suggesting classic ECM recordings from decades ago. One might be so struck because of Matt Lambiase's flugelhorn (he has been compared to Kenny Wheeler) and the ambiance of the performances. Others in the group are guitarist and composer Jack DeSalvo, pianist Chris Forbes, bassist Dmitry Ishenko, and drummer and percussionist Tom Cabrera. A solid ensemble, Quintrepid performs six originals here, three by DeSalvo and three by Forbes.

The music here is striking, starting with DeSalvo's "Seeing through the Ground," opening with Lambiase's evocative flugelhorn set over DeSalvo's chords before the rest of the quintet enter with intricate ensemble interplay as they construct a pastoral mood. One gets impressed by DeSalvo's solo with its complex lines and solo construction. Lambiase solos with building vitality. Pianist Forbes opens his "February Thaw" with delicate playing before Lambiase contributes a gorgeous solo with DeSalvo adding prickly commentary. One is impressed by Lambiase's tone, phrasing, and dynamics within the often mesmerizing musical framework of the performances, such as on DeSalvo's "All Are."

DeSalvo's Because It Sees You" is the most conventional composition on this recording. It might suggest some of Wayne Shorter's Blue Note recordings with Forbes making notable use of dissonance in his solo and accompaniment to Ishenko's prickly guitar flurries and Lambiase bright, flighty flugelhorn. It is a stirring performance that provides a change of pace to the rest of this marvelously played, enthralling recording.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is "February Thaw."

Monday, November 02, 2020

Johnny Rawls Where Have All the Soul Men Gone

Johnny Rawls
Where Have All the Soul Men Gone
Third Street Cigar Records

Johnny Rawls returns with his third recording for Third Street Cigar Records with another collection of soul-blues. Recorded in Denmark, Rawls wrote and produced this latest addition to his discography. Horns were added in Ohio. Those familiar with Rawls' prior recordings or performances will find nothing new here. It is merely another well-produced set of songs starting with the title selection, "Where Have All the Soul Men Gone." Rawls' latest song salutes some of the great soul and blues legends that shaped his music and whose legacy he carries on.

Rawls' pleading gospel-rooted soul vocals are set against crisp backing, including moaning horns that evoke the Hi records sound, as he sings about his women and what they mean to him. For example, in "Can't Leave It Alone," he sings about wanting to leave her alone. However, she has her hook in too deep, but also she has everything he needs. In addition to the medium tempo groovers like "Keep On Doing My Thing," Rawls contributes an original soul ballad, "Love, Love, Love," where he celebrates that no one can kiss or hold him as his woman does. 

There is a bit of soul philosophy on "Money" when Rawls preaches about folks needing money to fill up a car, buy new shoes, or buy one's woman a gift. Larry Gold adds a short guitar break to this selection while taking a more substantial solo on "Town Too Small." A gospel original, "Calling On Jesus," is the final selection on another first-rate Johnny Rawls recording.
I received my review copy from Third Street Cigar Records. Here is a performance by Johnny Rawls.