Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sugaray Rayford feat. The Italian Royal Family - The World That We Live In

Sugaray Rayford feat. The Italian Royal Family
The World That We Live In
Blind Faith Records

This new release, which I came across on bandcamp.com, features one of the finest blues and soul singers to emerge in the past few years. I assume The Italian Royal Family is the backing band on this terrific new Sugaray Rayford recording that places him more in a straight deep soul vein than his previous recordings. I make this observation as a descriptive comment, not an evaluative as I doubt anyone who has enjoyed Sugaray's 'blues' recordings will be disappointed by this release that fines him singing very strongly and backed by a really excellent band.

There is the Memphis funky groove and strong brassy horns on the opening "Take Me Back," where he sings about not missing his water until his well ran dry, and can't sleep no more because his woman is gone and pleads for her to take him back. The mood shifts to the cooler topical lyrics of the title track where his dynamics, vocal and expressive range come to fore. Then there is "Don't Regret a Mile," that sounds like a vintage Curtis Mayfield (and it may be since I purchased this as a download and have no composer credits or specific personnel information including the wonderful vocal chorus heard on several selections. ). "Keep Moving" is a lovely soul ballad, while "Ain't Got No Business To Die," is another topical number about a poor man having no business to die with a driving groove and punchy horns.

Rather than praise each of the ten tracks, let me simply state that Sugaray Rayford sings fabulously and the backing band superbly provides idiomatic backing (terrific horn arrangements) on first-rate material. Kudos to Italian soul ambassador, Luca Sapio, for making this exceptional recording happen. It is available as a CD and on vinyl but postal costs from Europe would make this very expensive. Hopefully someone will import this to make it more readily accessible in North America. For more information on this visit the recordings Bandcamp page, https://sugarayrayford.bandcamp.com/album/the-world-that-we-live-in.

I purchased this. Here is a video for "Take Me Back."


Monday, January 15, 2018

Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda Live in Montreal

Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda
Live in Montreal

Recorded at the 2017 Montreal Jazz Festival, this new release brings together the Japanese pianist/composer and the Colombian harpist. The two first met when the harpist opened for Hiromi's Trio project at the 2016 Festival. Catching each other's set, they were enthralled with each other's music. Hiromi herself recalled, "I didn't really know what to expect. When I heard Edmar play I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. It was a jaw-dropping experience. I didn't realize the harp could create such rhythm and groove." Castaneda had a similar reaction to her music observing, "The energy that she produced was the same as I like to play. I realized that we share the same passion for our instruments.”

The pair first played together for a week at the Blue Note in New York City, and they recall the almost instantaneous chemistry that happened and evident in these Montreal performances starting with Castaneda's "A Harp in New York" where they move from tranquility to propulsive drive with their mix of virtuosity and melodic invention and their playing off each other with Castaneda playing harp almost like a manic finger-style guitarist with his flamenco accents, and driving chording complemented by Hiromi's dazzling arpeggios as the two shift tempos and feeling. On his tribute "For Jaco," the two play with each other at the lower register of their instruments before joining in a playful romp in tribute to the bass legend. Hiromi's lovely "Moonlight Sunshine," written in response to the devastating tsunami and earthquake suffered by her native Japan in 2011, exhibits the lyrical side of both before an exhilarating romp through a composition from "Star Wars," John Williams' "Cantina Band," sort of a boogie woogie on hyperdrive.

The centerpiece of the performance was a four-part suite Hiromi composed, "The Elements," that was written specifically with his jazz approach to harp in mind. She explained, "“I was imagining Edmar’s sound and it reminded me a lot of sounds in nature.” Each part imaginatively reflects its subject: the weightless of “air,” the gritty, deep-rooted groove of “earth,” the shimmering fluidity of “water,” the roiling simmer of “fire.” And the four parts each have their own flavor, the light, dancing quality of "Air"; the rumbling undercurrent to "Earth"; the tranquility of "Water"; and the heated intensity of "Fire."

Their inspired playing as well as how they complement and interact with the other, results in some brilliant, enthralling performances, that concludes with a vigorous take on Astor Piazzolla's "Liberating," adding fieriness to the romantic core of the tango. "Live in Montreal" is a superb debut of a duet that one hopes to have more to enjoy in the not too distant future.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the performance of "Fire," from the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Down Home Blues • Chicago: Fine Boogie

Various Artists 
Down Home Blues • Chicago: Fine Boogie 

If you are thinking about a gift for the blues lover in your life, this public domain 5 CD box set certainly is well worthy considering. With 134 songs from both famous and obscure blues performers, and an 88 page booklet with an overview of the post-war Chicago blues scene and the artists heard, along with a full sessionography, it provides over 6 hours of prime Chicago blues. The mastering is as good as one can expect with some of this material coming from rare acetates or 78s. 

Musically, this compilation takes us from recordings in the relaxed band sound that some scholars termed “the Bluebird Beat,” to the more familiar impassioned ensemble blues of Mississippi natives Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Elmore James. Included are the earliest commercial recordings of Muddy Waters and Johnny Shines, that were not issued until a couple decades later. There are recordings from small independent labels like the Maxwell Street based Ora Nelle label with Johnny Young’s “Money Taking Woman,” the J.O.B. label with Johnny Shines’ “Ramblin’,” Old Swingmaster for Snooky & Moody’s “Keep what You Got,” Parrot with Dusty Brown’s “He Don’t Love You,” Cool Records with Billy Boy Arnold’s “Hello Stranger,” and more.

There are artists new to me such as Grey Haired Bill, Mildred White (who recorded at a session with Pete Franklin (with Tampa Red on piano), and ‘Blues Boy’ Bill, along with representative recordings of Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf, with some of these being alternate takes to those on 78s and 45s and only available on out-of-print album reissues on labels like Blues Classics, Nighthawk, Muskadine, Flyright and others. There are also rarities from Birmingham Jones, St. Louis Jimmy, Robert Nighthawk Albert King, Baby Face Leroy Foster, J.B. Hutto, Pete Franklin, Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Boyd, Memphis Minnie and Po’ Joe Williams (aka (Big Joe).

While not every one of the 134 songs is a blues classic, this collection is filled with so many gems as well as some entertaining selections that give an solid overview of early blues recording in Chicago. Add the 88 page booklet from Blues Scholar Mike Rowe, and this release is invaluable to lovers of Chicago blues. There is almost 6 and 1/2 hours of music on these five CDs which does not duplicate any of the selections on another reissue collection, the four-disc “Down Home Blues Classics Vol. 3:Chicago” on Boulevard Vintage) which is also highly recommended if you can find it.

I purchased this and it was originally submitted as a review for a Holiday issue of Jazz & Blues Report that was issued, but has appeared in the Jan-Feb 2018 issue (Issue 376). For a taste of some of the music, here is Dusty Brown's recording of "He Don't Love You,"

and Johnny Shines' JOB recording, "Ramblin'."

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ilya Portnov Strong Brew

Ilya Portnov
Strong Brew

Russian born harmonica player Portnov impresses on this most enjoyable collection of blues, gypsy jazz and other roots music. A background that included studying classical piano, he also absorbed rock and blues growing up. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music wherever he received a Masters Degree. He was the first person accepted in NEC with the diatonic harmonica s his main instrument. Taught in Russia to play the harmonica, his teacher Alex Bratetsky showed him an overflow technique, and introduced him to harmonica innovators, Howard Levy, Jason Ricci and Carlos del Junco, making him realize he could play anything on the harmonica. Moving to the US enabled him to meet and study with them, and delve deeper into blues and other roots music including Brazilian choro.

On this nine song program Portnov is supported by Kid Andersen on guitar and bass, Chris Burns on piano and keyboards, June Core on drums with Ben Andrews (a member of Portnov's band Choro Bastardo) adding violin to two tracks, Rob Vye, adding guitar on one track and percussion on another, Robby Yamilov adding bass to one track. It was the recorded by Kid Andersen at his Greaseland Studios.

It opens with the very appealing, old time country tinged "Sunny Afternoon Blues," where his harmonica and Andrews' violin make for a very engaging performance with his playing evocative of jazz harmonica players such as Henrik Meurkens. Against an energetic gypsy flavor (Burns keyboards adds to the flavor with Andersen channeling the Ventures and other surf guitar instrumentals), Portnov dazzles with his sax-like lines.On "Dance Of A Lonely Doll," his wonderful playing is in a gypsy jazz vein with Burns deft piano accompaniment along with very light bass and drums. Rob Vye's guitar introduces Rev Gary Davis' "Cincinnati Flow Rag" with some wonderful fingerstyle picking before Portnov joins in and then the full ensemble on a lively acoustic band number.

The waltz "In a Town Garden" is another charming gypsy-flavored tune with some nicely played harmonica and organ from Burns. "Behind The Wall," is a solid instrumental in a Little Walter vein with some fat toned Mississippi saxophone while Burns and Anderson lay down some solid support and Core is superb on this easy rocking instrumental. The title track is a laid back, four o'clock in morning, blues instrumental played relatively softly with tasteful solos from Burns and Andersen in addition to the leader. "1928" is a lovely tango which also features Ben Andrews' violin.

Its back to the blues on the closing "Till Early Morning," with its infectious Bo Diddley groove and enticing tremolo employed in Andersen's guitar playing. Portnov is a marvelous harmonica player and is backed by the marvelous studio band on this marvelous recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a performance by Robert Vye and Ilya Portnov.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

RIp Denise Lasalle

Denise Lasalle at Lamont's in Indian Head, Maryland, August 13, 2005. Photo © Ron Weinstock.
Soul-Blues Queen Denise Lasalle passed away on Monday Night, January 8, 2018 at the age of 83 (some reports have her 78). According to The Boogie Report (from which some of this information is taken), she passed away from complications from recent surgery.

Born near Sidon, Misssisppi, Lasalle was not simply a terrific blues singer, but also a songwriter and producer. She had a minor hit on Chess before she founded were her then husband, Bill Jones," independent production company, Crajon, with her then husband Bill Jones. Her song "Trapped By A Thing Called Love" (1971) was released on Detroit-based Westbound Records. This was a number 1 Rhythm & Blues hit, charted on the pop charts and certified as a gold record. She had more recordings for Westbound and then ABC Records while her songs were recorded by otghers including country singer Barbara Mandrell.

In the 1980s she recorded a number of acclaimed albums for Malaco Records that established her as a prominent singer on the southern soul and blues circles particularly and her comments about being ignored by some blues circles led the Blues Foundation in a Living Blues interview led to the creation of the soul-blues category in the W.C. Handy Awards (now the Blues Music Awards). After recording for Malaco for years, she recorded three albums for Ecko Records before returning to Malaco in 2010.

Denise was inducted to the Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame in 2011 and was inducted on 2015 into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. In recent years, she had been living with her husband James E. Wolfe, in Jackson, Tennessee. 

Here is Denise LaSalle performing a medley of "Give Me Yo' Strongest Whiskey" and "The Blues Is Alright."

Here she sings a medley of "Someone Else Is Steppin' In" and "Down Home Blues."

Friday, January 05, 2018

Tinsley Ellis Winning Hand

Tinsley Ellis
Winning Hand
Alligator Records

Near thirty years since he first recorded for Alligator Records (and twenty since his last Alligator album, Tinsley Ellis returns with an album of house rocking blues and rock, showcasing his brawny, volcanic guitar and husky singing. He is joined by Kevin McKendree on keyboards (who co-produced this with Ellis), Steve Mackey on bass and Lynn Williams on drums that was engineered and mixed by McKendree at The Rock House.

Nine of the ten songs are Ellis originals and display the range of his music starting with the searing, hold no prisoners opening blues-rock of "Sound of a Broken Man." In contrast, the easy rocking shuffle blues, "Nothing But Fine," illustrates the clarity and precision, along with fire of his playing along with a more relaxed vocal, while "Gamblin' Man," is a nice original blues performance (the melody slightly evocative of Box Scaggs recording of "Someone Loan Me a Dime"), with a well-shaped, fiery guitar solo and a heartfelt, expressive vocal. Another fine blues performance is "Don't Turn Off The Light." There is also high energy blues-rock of "Kiss This World" with its swelling groove and the rock and roll of "Satisfied," with McKendree's rollicking road house piano in addition to Ellis' guitar. The one cover, Leon Russell's "Dixie Lullaby," sports more rollicking piano (and organ grease) along with some fiery Freddie King inspired guitar.

This is another impressive collection of music from Ellis whose playing shows him still to be a tone master and a fiery guitar slinger. His high energy playing is firmly backed by the terrific studio band. Ellis is also a most congenial, expressive singer and contributed some solid original blues on this memorable blues-rock release.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. For those in the Washington DC area, he will be at Blues Alley on Wednesday January 17 and playing the Creative Alliance in Baltimore on Thursday January 18. Here is Tinsley from an October, 2017 performance. A fuller listing of upcoming shows is at http://www.tinsleyellis.com/toughloveshows.html.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Returns President's Day Weekend

 Warren Wolf and Joe Locke will be featured at a Vibes Summit on Saturday night February 17.

Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Returns to Rockville MD, President's Day Weekend, February 16-18, 2018. Presented by the Jazz Academy of Music to support and spotlight Jazz Education as well as present a range of top-notch Jazz performances, this year's Festival will be highlighted by a Jazz Vibes summit, and several stellar Jazz Vocalists. Headline performers include Warren Wolf, Jazzmeia Horn, Buster Williams, Joe Locke, Paul Carr, Carmen Bradford, Wycliffe Gordon, Eric Byrd Trio, Matthew Whittaker, Craig Handy and Carmen Lundy It takes place at the Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel Executive Meeting Center, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland 20852.

The Festival is held in various stages at the Hotel. The main stage is the Ronnie Wells Main Stage, and on Friday Night will have performances by Warren Wolf and the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate All Stars featuring the Baltimore, Maryland native who is a great vibraphone player, and currently a member of the San Francisco Jazz Ensemble. He played several years with Christian McBride as well as led his own groups. He will be followed by vocalist Jazzmeia Horn (seen in the video above), winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition and who has worked with such artists as Winard Harper (with whom she has appeared at a prior MAJF), Junior Mance, Billy Harper, Delfeayo Marsalis, Mike LeDonne, Peter Bernstein, Johnny O’Neal, Vincent Herring, Kirk Lightsey, Frank Wess, and Ellis Marsalis. She thrilled audiences at the Kennedy Center last season and will be joined by saxophonist Joel Frahm for her performance here. Closing out the Friday Night performances will be the great Buster Williams and Something More. Williams, one of the great jazz bassists of all time has worked with a who's who of modern jazz including Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Carmen McRae, Chet Baker, Chick Corea, Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Heath, Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Herbie Hancock, Larry Coryell, Lee Konitz, McCoy Tyner, Illinois Jacquet, Nancy Wilson, Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, the Jazz Crusaders, Ron Carter, Woody Shaw, Sarah Vaughan, Benny Golson, Mary Lou Williams, Hank Jones, and so many more.

Saturday afternoon's program on the Ronnie Wells stage will include two Discovery Acts selected from performers who submitted to Paul Carr’s 2018 Discovery Act Competition. There performance will be followed by Lydia Harrell, the Boston-based winner of the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Voice competition. Saturday evening's performance starts with the Paul Carr Quartet with special guest, vocalist Carmen Bradford (Seen above with the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Orchestra at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival). Carr is a strong, hard-bop centered saxophonist as well as educator and will have the great Ms. Bradford, formerly with Count Basie as part of his set.  After his set there will be a Vibes Summit with Warren Wolf, Joe Locke and another player to be announced. The evening closes with a performance by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Orchestra.

Sunday afternoon opens with Carmen Bradford and the Jazz Academy Orchestra which is followed by the Eric Byrd Trio. The Baltimore based Byrd is a superb pianist rooted in blues and gospel as well as bop and they will celebrate their new CD release "Saints Are Still Marching." They will be followed by one of my favorite singers from the DMV area, Janine Gilbert-Carter (seen in video above from 2009 where she was backed with Eric Byrd and others) who also has a new release, "My Foolish Heart." Sunday evening opens with a fabulous young pianist, Matthew Whitaker, followed by saxophonist Craig Handy and Second Line Smith with another great vocalist, Carmen Lundy closing out the main stage.

In addition to the Main Stage, there are many performers in the more intimate MAJF Club, including saxophonists Terry Koger and Braxton Cook (seen above), and vocalists Candice Bostwick, Petra Martin, and Chad Carter. Every night the Wes Biles Trio hosts a jam session in the MAJF Club. There are also a number of High School Big Band and Ensembles that perform with the High School Band Competition Finals taking place Saturday Afternoon in the Ronnie Wells Main Stage. There are also Films show, artist interviews and workshops for young musicians offered during the Festival.

The festival is presented by the Jazz Academy of Music. The Jazz Academy of Music Inc, a non-profit 501c3 organization, established in 2002, is a manifestation of a longtime dream of Paul Carr (seen performing at the 2011 Mid-Atalntic Jazz Festival), its Music Director, to extend the music education opportunities afforded him, as an inner city youth, to others. The Jazz Academy programs draw from and build upon the disciplines of music education Paul experienced in his youth. The mission of the Academy is to advance and preserve Jazz music through education. Its website is http://www.jazzacademy.org.

For more information on the performers and the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, including artist bios (and video clips), tickets, accommodations and more, visit https://www.midatlanticjazzfestival.org/ or email inquiry@midatlanticjazzfestival.org.