Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bill O’Connell Monk's Cha Cha

Bill O’Connell
Monk's Cha Cha
Savant Records

Bill O'Connell 40 year career, where he has contributed substantial to both jazz and the Afro-Cuban musical traditions, including a stint with Mongo Santamaria and engagements with such hallowed improvisers as Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, Gato Barbieri and Emily Remler and long working relationship with the late bassist Charles Fambrough that produced four recordings. Bill O'Connell latest recording is a solo recording from a solo performance at the Carnegie-Farian Room at the Nyack (NY) Library. Five of the nine selections are O'Connell originals, with four interpretations of standards.

The swinging opening "The Song is You" provides the first taste of the lyricism and improvisatory invention that O'Connell invests in his performance with his chords mix in with flowing arpeggios as he explores the familiar melody in several fashions. The following rendition of "Dindi" is a more pensive approach to Jobim's classic that illustrates his use of dynamics and the space between what he plays to great effect. The classic ballad, "It Could Happen To You" also exhibits his ability to extract so much from a melody, yet play in such a spare manner. The title track intertwines an evocation of "Misterioso" and "Well You Needn't," with him providing spicy Afro-Cuban flavor with his right hand. One might imagine the joyfulness of a performance by The Latin Jazz All-Stars that he leads on this composition. While the striking, "Zip Line" has a lively tone while "Hither Hills" is a lovely, reflective performance.

Among the remaining performances is a scintillating rendition of Mongo Santamaria's classic "Afro Blue," which is a fine homage to the gentleman who allowed him as a young man to hone his skills as a pianist, composer and arranger. Decades later, the performances here show just how he has further developed on an exceptional solo piano recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a Latin Jazz band rendition of the title track of this solo piano recording.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Janet Lawson Quintet

The Janet Lawson Quintet
The Janet Lawson Quintet
BBE Records

This is an expanded re-release of a Grammy nominated album by The Janet Lawson Quintet. It was originally issued on Inner City Records in 1981 and augmented by four selections from a tribute to Miles Davis in the late 1990s. Lawson was born in Baltimore before moving to New York for decades of performing as well as teaching. Recently she has had health issues and moved back to Baltimore to be with family. The Janet Lawson Quintet on the Inner City recording included Bill O’Connell, piano; Ratzo Harris, bass; Roger Rosenberg, sax/flute; and Jimmy Madison, drums. For the Miles Davis Tribute, Mike Richmond was on bass and Billy Hart on drums.

What becomes clearly evident on the opening "You Promised" is how commanding she was with her articulation and interpretation of lyrics, with her attention to diction and the nuances of words, through her phrasing, intonation, range and dynamics as well as magic of wordless improvisation lyrics with her, where her voice becomes another horn and becomes as important a solo voice as the instrumentalists, reflecting perhaps her studies with Warne Marsh. It does not hurt that she is backed by a superb band with O'Connell's soloing (and accompanying) brilliantly in addition to Rosenberg's flighty flute or meaty saxophone. Another stunning performance is of Fats Waller classic "Jitterbug Waltz," where Rosenberg's sax enters after Lawson opens it scatting the theme on a performance that seems modeled on Eric Dolphy's. Lawson's riveting scatted solo is followed my O'Connell's own fresh improvisation. "Round Midnight" generally lends itself to perhaps a more reflective tenor, but her scatting is followed by some brawny tenor sax.

From the Miles Davis session, there is an inspired interpretation of "It Ain't Necessarily So," with Mike Richmond adding a bass solo as well as a lovely "I Thought About You," and a stunning free-bop of "Joshua" from Miles' second great quintet. The remainder of this release is of a similar high level." The Press release for the British release mentions the inclusion of her rendition of Jobim's "Dindi," but that was not included on the review copy I received, so I am not sure whether that is included in the US release. The copy of the CD I received also did not list the personnel that I have included in this review. But with 72 minutes of often stunning music, this expanded "The Janet Lawson Quintet" makes for enthralling listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373).

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ignacio Berroa Trio Straight Ahead From Havana

Ignacio Berroa Trio
Straight Ahead From Havana
Codes Drum Music

The organizing principle of drummer Ignacio Berroa is taking standards from the Cuban repertoire and reimagining them in a straight ahead jazz context. On this recording he is joined by pianist Martin Bejerano and bassist Josh Allen (Lowell Ringel substitutes on two of the ten songs) with Conrado "Coky' Garcia adding percussion on two tracks and Ruben Blades takes the lead vocal on one.

The approach can be heard on the opening "Alma Con Alma" that some may be familiar with from Ray Barreto's recording which comes off like a solid hard bop number that allows one to approach Bejerano's considerable technique as well as strong post-Bud Powell playing on this with Allen and the leader terrific supporting his fiery playing here, followed by Allen's own brisk, cleanly articulated solo and Berroa's hot solo. One not knowing the nature of this session would simply find this to be superb bop piano. A similar musical imagination invests the treatment of "Le Tarde," into a medium tempo swinging number with Bejerano engaging the listener with his fluidity, touch and nuance. The rendition of the Afro-Cuban Children's lullaby, "Drume Negrita" (some will know from Celia Cruz), has a latin tinge with the leader's drumming accenting the relatively spare piano lead. Ruben Blades is heard on "Negro De Sociedad" which is performed in a more relaxed manner than the hot salsa fashion that is incorporated at the beginning and end here.

Other delights include the bouncy "Los Tres Golpes," with Garcia's percussion adding to the driving groove, the reflective "Si Me Pudieras Querer," and the dazzling, spirited "Me Recordaras," that closes this fabulous recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here is the Ignacio Berroa Trio in performance.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Steve Krase Should've Seen it Coming

Steve Krase
Should've Seen it Coming
Connor Ray Music

I am familiar with harmonica-player Steve Krase from his contributions to recent Trudy Lynn recordings. This his is apparently his fourth album, but first this writer has heard. He is backed by a band that includes co-producer Rick Romano on bass, David Carter on guitar, Richard Cholakian on drums, Randy Wall on keyboards and Alisha Pattillo on saxophones, with appearances from guitarists mark May and Bob Lanza, James Gilmore and backing vocals from Trudy Lynn. Six of the eleven songs here are 'covers' (including one credited to Kraze) and there are two explicit versions of two of the originals that are at then end of the CD.

 Krase says he wanted to make a fun record and he did so opening with a bouncy Romano-penned shuffle "Brand New Thang" with Mark May's stinging guitar along with his harp (the vocal likely overdubbed over the backing. The track displays his appealing, unforced vocals and skilled harp. It is followed by a take on a classic Little Walter recording, "Crazy For My Baby," distilled through Charlie Musselwhite's version with a rumba groove, backing vocals and solid chromatic harp. A bouncy rendition (with terrific harmonica) of an old Bobby Mitchell (and Fats Domino) recording "Let the Four Winds Blow," is followed by his lyrical updating of a Jimmy Rogers recording "The World's Still in a Tangle" (which actually goes back to Arthur Crudup, Robert Lockwood and Honeyboy Edwards) as he is building a bunker instead digging a cave and adding references to assault rifles and zombies. This is a wonderfully paced performance with steady backing and more terrific harmonica.

A bit of danceable rock and roll with Bob Lanza taking the lead guitar is "Shot of Rhythm and Blues," followed by the title track that Krase's brother penned with Pattillo's sax adding to the mood on this lyric along with a whispered vocal and then a lengthy jamming section where Wall and Carter also solo. There is a lively and imaginative interpretation of James 'Wee Willie' Wayne's "Travellin' Mood" (also a staple for Snooks Eaglin), followed by take on Clarence 'Frogman' Henry's "Troubles, Troubles," that is solidly played but taken at too quick a tempo. After a strong shuffle, "Make You Love Me Baby," comes the hilarious "Repo Man" as a modern bad ass who won't knock on the door, but will bang one's wife, but will take one's car, and nothing one can do because the repo man is coming after you. There is some terrific sax on this performance. This along with the title track are also heard in separate takes with explicit lyrics placed at the end of the CD. "Way Back Home" by Wilton Felder was originally recorded by the Jazz Crusaders. Krase has adapted Junior Parker's recording for this excellent, moody instrumental.

Certainly a solid recording as Krase is a very good singer and striking harmonica player with adept, steady support, and fresh material and takes on older songs making for a totally engaging recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373), although I have made a few minor changes to the text. Here is a performance by the Steve Krase Band.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story
Bill Dahl and Benny Turner
Nola Blue, Inc.
2017: 238 + xiv pages

This is a little gem of a book where Benny Turner, with Bill Dahl's assistance, tells his fascinating story from growing up in Texas along with half-brother Freddie King, moving to Chicago where he worked with his half-brother, along with various gospel, rhythm and blues and Chicago blues legends, spending time with Mighty Joe Young after Freddie passed until Young had medical issues, then spending years leading Marva Wright's Band, and after her passing taking up the spotlight as a leader and recording and performing under his own name.

The story begins as Turner goes into his family background, noting Freddie's real father who abandoned him and how he became King while Benny is named after his father. They grew up in Jim Crow Texas although it wasn't until several years passed that he experienced the humiliation blacks could be subjected to. While his father did not play, his mother did as did several uncles including Uncle Leon. Benny states his mother and Uncle Leon played songs from Robert Johnson and Leadbelly, which I take allegorically (as to songs similar to those of Johnson and Leadbelly) and not literally. What is more important than this is the closeness of his family, including his relationship with his half-brother and he helped Freddie in the cotton fields, although he was accidentally injured once and still has a four inch scar from it, and the accidental death of Uncle Leon. His mother also lay down the discipline as he was growing up.

The family moved to Chicago in 1950 with his father getting a job with a steel company assisting with molten steel and tipping buckets into molds. It was a whole new world of experiences including electric lights, indoor plumbing and Freddie wanting to see a refrigerator make ice and also getting enrolled in school and the like, with Benny initially enrolled in a predominantly white school where he faced racist bullying and after fighting out of a situation was enrolled in a black school, but even here he had to fight himself out of a similar situation except here it was neighborhood kids, but he also recalled experiences of police harassment simply walking back home form a movie theater.

Besides recalling some of the interesting characters in the neighborhood and other situations, he starting singing doo-wop with classmates and after awhile they even went to Chess Records hoping to record and met Rice 'Sonny Boy Williamson' Miller who they watched record with Turner recalling the interaction between the Miller and Leonard Chess. Benny would next cross paths with Miller while playing with his brother. Turner recounts his experiences auditioning for gospel groups and other vocal groups, and day jobs after his father was disabled after being hit by a car. He started playing guitar in a gospel group, the Kindly Shepherds with whom Turner traveled and made his first recordings. He recounts experiences traveling with them including harassment from police down south.

While his career was starting, brother Freddie's career was taking off. Turner notes the influences of Jimmy Rogers and Robert Lockwood on King's guitar style as well as King's admiration of Earl Hooker while also noting folks like Jimmy Lee Robinson that were in King's bands. He recalls Freddie taking him to see Howlin' Wolf who put King under his wing, and recalls Freddie recording "Spoonful" with the Wolf, a recollection that will bring back the controversy of decades ago on Freddie's claim of having recorded that backing Wolf. He also recalls Freddie playing with Robert 'Mojo' Elem and T.J. McNulty who Luther Allison would front after Freddie started going on the road (Luther told me this years ago and Turner includes a picture of a very young Luther with McNulty here).

The detail I have provided is incomplete but indicates the contents of this wonderful memoir that details his own musical career that included touring with Dee Clark which he spends some detail on and later he would play bass with The Soul Stirrers (the first electric bassist with a gospel group) as well playing with various Chicago blues and soul legends including Freddie in a band that included Little Johnnie Jones and Abb Locke. Later he would return to Freddie's band after his time playing with the Soul Stirrers though also spent time with Jimmy Reed and others before rejoining Freddie who he remained with until his passing detailing concerts, recording sessions and the like. And he was with Freddie until the end, remembering some conversations between the brothers, the last performance and the aftermath of his death.

After his brother's death, Mighty Joe Young got him into his band with whom he would play with until surgery intended to fix a pinched neck in his neck, instead left unable to play with that arm. Around this time, he moved to New Orleans although remaining close with Young until Young passed away in 1999. In New Orleans he started playing at the Old Absinthe Bar which unfortunately now is a daiquiri shop. Interweaving his experiences living in New Orleans was his hooking up with Marva Wright, who was a church-going woman starting as a blues singer although beginning her career singing blues. At the time Marva had a band of jazz players which she didn't like (in fact hated it), when she hooked up with Turner which was fine as he really preferred working with just one person like he had with Freddie and Joe Young. It was the beginning of a lengthy time as he became her band leader. There are recollections of her powerful singing, especially with the bishop, organist Sammy Berfect who passed in 1999, of a plane ride in Europe where all the band members were scared for their lives and being reunited with Tyrone Davis in New Orleans who he had not seen in years, and then seeing James Cotton in Brazil who he had last seen when Cotton had been in Muddy Waters' band. Hurricane Katrina of course interrupted Turner's life as it did Marva. Marva relocated to Baltimore, and Benny flew in to play a benefit for Marva at the now closed Bangkok Blues in Falls Church, Virginia a Washington DC suburb, that Benny includes a photo of himself from on page 197 (it was likely my photo although uncredited but I recognize the location), noting it was his 1st post-Katrina performance. Marva eventually came back to New Orleans and Benny rejoined her until she suffered a stroke in 2009 and passed in 2010.

After Marva's passing, Turner took the spotlight at last and the last chapter details some of the events such as going up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her niece Wanda when Freddie King was inducted, as well as paying a musical tribute to Marva Wright at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and later at the Rock'n'Bowl in New Orleans. Then he ran into an old friend, Sallie Bengtson, with whom he has partnered to release a number of recordings as a leader and this memoir, and recounts his tours over the past several years such as running into old friends, former Muddy Waters band-member Bob Margolin and Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks.

As Turner states near the book's end, he still has plenty to say and play and one certainly hopes that he does for many years to come. He shares here some observations on the state of the music today. He  may be a blues survivor, but he remains today a terrific musician who continues to enrich us today with his performances, recordings and this book. The lively text is also copiously illustrated with photos from Turner's entire life. This is highly recommended to all fans of blues music.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374).

Friday, October 13, 2017

King James & The Special Men Act Like You Know

King James & The Special Men
Act Like You Know
Special Man Industries

Having moved from Seattle to New Orleans in 1993, James Horn went from busking on the streets, playing in dozens of different bands and genres before forming King james & The Special Men who play their own raucous, second-line rooted music, rooted in the classic New Orleans R&B and rock of the fifties and sixties. The sound was honed playing residencies at various New Orleans music halls and drinking establishments, the most recent being the Saturn Bar in the Bywater. Horn's vocals and guitar is supported by: Ben Polcer on piano, bassist Robert Snow, guitarist John "Porkchop" Rodli, Chris "Showtime" Davis on drums, Scott Frock on trumpet and the sax section - Jason Mingledorff and Travis Blotzky on tenor with baritone man Dominick Grillo.

And he six tunes on this are originals that evoke the sound of some Crescent City classics such as the rollicking rump and roll, Professor Longhair styled groove of the opening "Special Man Baby," while the playing on the slow blues "Baby Girl," conjures up Guitar Slim's "The Things I Used To Do." "Eat That Chicken" was inspired by Jessie Hill, with the horns riffing a simplified "Fannie Mae" horn riff against a Fats Domino styled backing. "Tell Me (What You Want Me to Do)," is another classic blues performance with more than a slight hint of the early, bluesy Ray Charles (think of "A Fool For You").

"The End is Near" is a medium tempoed blues with some emphatic playing from the horns and rhythm with a Huey 'Piano' Smith flavor (Polcer is especially fine here) that leads into the disc's closing, and longest performance, "9th Ward Blues," a funky jam that recalls some of the Dr. John & the Night Tripper jams. It is a rowdy close to a joyous celebration and original take on classic postwar New Orleans rhythm and blues and rock and roll.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here they cover a Lee Dorsey recording.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lightnin' Willie No Black No White No Blues

Lightnin' Willie
No Black No White No Blues
Little Dog Records

Based in Los Angeles, Lightnin' Willie has produced an album of original blues songs produced by Pete Anderson (who is on bass and harmonica) with Michael Murphy on piano/organ or Skip Edwards on Hammond B-3/ Accordion among those supporting Willie's vocals and guitars on the ten originals here.

Lightnin Willie's gritty vocals appeal with his low-key, straight-forward, unforced delivery with a slight touch of sandpaper while his guitar playing is clean and fluidly delivered. There is much to enjoy with the band's straight-forward uncluttered backing on these nicely paced blues. This can be heard throughout, whether the slow, doomy "Locked In a Prison" or the walking tempoed "San'N'Blue" that sounds like it should be titled "Sad'N'Blue." There is nice accordion on this and the following "Note on My Door," which has a jazzy feeling. This is followed by the rumba groove on "Heartache." "Phone Stopped Ringing" has guitar playing that partially incorporates Jody Williams' "Lucky Lou."

The playing time may be short (30 minutes) but there is some nice music. Perhaps there is nothing startlingly original on this, but the performances are entertaining, as well as consistently well played and sung.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video of him performing "Locked In a Prison."