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."


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons With Phil Wiggins A Black & Tan Ball

Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons With Phil Wiggins
A Black & Tan Ball
Hearth Music

The Seattle-based duo of Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons were winners of the 2016 solo/duo competition of the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge. Although blues may be their music's anchor, the duo move as easily into string band music, old-time jazz and ragtime. While some might liken them to songsters, a better term might be Black Americana in how they pull together so many threads of Black American roots music. They, in fact think of themselves as songsters, rather than thinking of their music as blues. The violin, mandolin and guitar of Harper; and the guitar and banjo of Seamons; are joined by harmonica master Phil Wiggins. Wiggins himself has explored similar musical threads, reflecting the influence of mentors and friends like Howard Armstrong and Nat Reese. Phil has indeed made a similar recording of varied music with The Chesapeake Sheiks, his Washington DC area group .

The album opens with Phil singing "Do You Call That a Buddy," that Louis Jordan recorded originally.   Louis Armstrong with his big band also recorded this with his big band. Phil may have learned this from Howard Armstrong. If Phil's vocal phrasing is a tad stiff, he brings out the lyrics' considerable humor. The versatility of the trio is  heard in "Shanghai Rooster," an old time string band number with some wonderful banjo from Seamons, fiddle from Hunter and harp from Wiggins. Then there is a peppy, delightful reworking of The Mill Brothers "How'm I Doin'," with the three trading lead and harmony vocals. Leadbelly was first to record "Po Howard," a song inspired by a black fiddler with an intricate mandolin-banjo-harmonica accompaniment.

There is solid interplay between Hunter's violin and Wiggins' harmonica on a surprising take on the jazz classic "Struttin' With Some Barbeque," with some sublime solos from both. It is followed by an Ellington classic "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me," with Wiggins taking the vocal along with adding some wistful harmonica. The rendition of "John Henry" is derived from that of Sid Hemphill and Lucius Smith.  Seamons on banjo sets the tempo along with Hunter 's fiddle and Wiggins' harmonica adding accents. A  rendition of Leroy Carr's "Longing For My Sugar" has superb harmonica and marvelous mandolin.

Although attributed to Sylvester Weaver's twenties' recording, the rendition of "Guitar Rag" is more akin to the instrumental workouts Wiggins and the late John Cephas would include in their performances. In addition to Wiggins terrific harp, Hunter is sublime with his fiddle, while Seamons' guitar provides steady backing. After the trio's reimagining of Lane Hardin's "Hard Time Blues," there is a stutter-step rhythms of their adaptation of William Harris' "Bullfrog Blues," with some fine harmonica and it is nice to have another cover of this to join Canned Heat's 50 year rendition.

"Bad Man Ballad" is a song that was collected from an unnamed Parchman Farm inmate by John and Alan Lomax, but recorded by a number of old timey artists like Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson. The string band rendition here employs the lyrics collected by the Lomaxes. A cover of the Mississippi Sheiks, "Stop and Listen Blues," an adaptation of a Tommy Johnson theme, has Wiggins singing set against a solid fiddle and guitar backing closing a terrifically engaging, genre-transcending recording. For more information on the recordings here, including the sources of the songs, visit

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374), but I have made a number of stylistic changes. Here is a video of the three performing.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Gators Featuring Willie Tee Wasted

The Gators Featuring Willie Tee
Funky Delicacies

This is one of several reissues of classic New Orleans music put together by Aaron Fuchs and Tuff City Records and associated labels. It is available on vinyl (although with only 10 of 15 tracks). Led by Willie Tee (noted for the hit Teasin’ You) and including drummer Larry Penia, Irvin Charles on bass and June Ray on guitar, there are comparisons to be made with the better known Meters, particularly given that both groups put out riff based funk grooves, although The Gators were perhaps more vocally oriented when these sides were made around 1970. 

A portion of this is comprised of funk grooves, often built around a bass figure from Irvin Charles, like on the opening Booger Man or Gator Bait. Tee’s vocals are featured both on dance numbers like Funky Funky Twist or other songs that seem somewhat influenced by the Commodores and similar acts (one song on the compact disc version is I’m Gonna Make You Love Me). A dance number Get Up, with a girl chorus taking the vocal lead features, has some nice saxophone, possibly by Willie Tee’s brother, Earl Turbington. 

Among the additional tracks on the compact disc is a fine soul-blues, One Thrill Fool,with noteworthy guitar from Ray. A significant omission in this interesting collection is the lack of liner notes. Still, fans of New Orleans music and seventies funk may likely wish to check this out. Coming out on the sister Night Train International label is New Orleans Twist Party, a compilation from Rip Records that will have rare cuts by Eddie Bo, Professor Longhair, Bobby Mitchell and others.

I likely purchased this and this review originally appeared in September 1995  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 204). Here is The Gaturs performing Wasted.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Devil's Music 1979 BBC Television

The British Broadcasting Company in 1979 presented a fascinating look at the origins and history blues, The Devil's Music. With a narration presented by Alexis Koerner, the program presented a number of filmed performances by then still living blues performers like Houstoin Stackhouse, Sonny Blake, Sam Chatmon, Fenton Robinson, Big Joe Williams, Henry Townsend and others. Giles Oakley wrote a book providing a history of the Blues under the title The Devil's Music. The soundtrack of recordings made for the series was originally available on vinyl on the Red Lightnin' label and later on a CD box on Indigo Records that I reviewed and 2004 and included on this blog in 2013,

In my review of the soundtrack I concluded "This is a fascinating collection of field recordings with some really exceptional performances interspersed with other entertaining ones. Add to this some live recordings of Memphis Slim and Sonny Boy Williamson in Europe in 1963 and one had a rather attractive box set, which I believe is bargain priced. Now if someone would only make the BBC-TV series available on dvd." While not available on DVD, the series is on youtube which I have linked here. While my CD box set review suggested there were  5 episodes there were only 4.

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Original Roland Stone Remember Me

The Original Roland Stone
Remember Me
Orleans Records

When I was at the Louisiana Music Factory, I had selected a bunch of discs for purchase, and I asked co-owner Jerry Brock about anybody he would recommend. He suggested I pick up on Roland Stone, whose real name Roland LeBlanc and recorded for Ace Records in the late fifties and early sixties. Remember Me has been available for a couple years at least, but it is likely as new to you as it was to me. With Mac ‘Doctor John’ Rebennack (on piano and guitar) as part of a tight studio band that included Earl Stanley on bass, guitar and organ and some other musicians whose names may only mean something to those around New Orleans. What one gets is what the producer calls a “straight ahead R&B record.” And it’s a good one. 

Roland Stone sounds as natural and soulful opening with the Smiley Lewis rocker Go On Fool, on which guitarist Stanley takes a tasty solo, followed by a New Orleans rearrangement of the Clovers’ classic Lovie Dovie, with some great piano from the good Doctor. Mix in a couple of classy pop flavored ballads, Try the Impossible, and The Masquerade is Over, with the soul of You Can Make It If You Try. Stir in Fats Domino’s rocking Please Don’t Leave Me, with more great crescent city boogie woogie, a couple of more Smiley Lewis classics and the memorable title track from Dr. John. Quite a gumbo! 

Stone’s unforced delivery and the feeling he invests into these performances is matched by the delicious backing for an album of R&B that is readily remembered.

As indicated, I purchased this. This review originally appeared in the September 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 204). Here in 1989 he is performing a ballad Just a Moment of Your Time.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Saunder's King - Swingin'

With respect to my recent post on St. James Infirmary which I linked on Facebook, one gentleman posted several additional versions of this 'jazz standard.' One of these was by a West Coast artist Saunders King from the forties. Born in Louisiana in 1909, Saunders King was a pioneering electric guitarist and vocalist who straddled the worlds pf blues and jazz in forties and fifties. His S.K. Blues was a hit, and an even bigger hit when covered by Big Joe Turner (and it also was performed by Jimmy Witherspoon and others). King also had a wonderful version of the Mary Lou Williams' penned What's Your Story Morning Glory, that was first recorded by Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy with Pha Terrell handling the vocal.

As a vocalist, King was very much in the vein of Terrell and Billy Eckstine, with a warmth in his baritone. And his jazzy guitar playing was an added attraction to his music. Later he would become Carlos Santana's father-in-law and he even recorded with this musical legend. He passed in 2000 after suffering a stroke in 1999. Ace Records (UK) has a fine CD of his best recordings available. Here are some of his recordings and a couple of covers.

Here is the first part of S.K. Blues.

Here is his rendition of St. James Infirmary.

Here he is playing the aptly titled instrumental Swingin'. 

Here is the uptempo B Flat Blues.

Here is a top-ten R&B hit in 1949, Empty Bedroom Blues

And here is Big Fat Butterfly, a song Dexter Gordon would sometimes perform.

Here is the Dexter Gordon doing Big Fat Butterfly

And we close with Big Joe Turner with Pete Johnson with their hit version of S.K. Blues.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Finis Tasby People Don’t Care

Finis Tasby
People Don’t Care

Shanachie, which also is the parent label for Yazoo, is best known for acoustic and world beat music. With this debut album of West Coast bluesman Finis Tasby, the label presents its first modern urban blues release. Playing and singing for over three decades, Tasby’s Texas band, The Thunderbirds, spawned a young Z.Z. Hill. Over recent years he has played with Freddie King, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker and others, and recorded some singles. He finally has his first full album, and he has obviously made friends over the years as Elvin Bishop, Mick Taylor and Vernon Reid each guest on guitar and solo, while Lowell Fulson shares a vocal on Find Something Else to Do, and wrote Just a Kiss. 

Tasby is a gritty singer and guitarist and his music is suggestive of the late sixties and early seventies recordings by Fulson and McCracklin. He also co-wrote four of the ten songs, and producer Charles Collins had his hand in another four. Shanachie describes this as a set of rocking blues, but Tasby’s gritty vocals and guitar is undercut by the vocal choruses and horn arrangements on some of the cuts. Fulson’s Just a Kiss, is a terrific song in which the chorus is successfully integrated in the terrific performance. This and the duet with Fulson, Find Something Else to Do, best display Tasby’s strengths, and even if the horns overplay on Gotta Draw the Line or the shuffle Po’ Boy Blues, Tasby convincingly delivers the lyrics and adds biting guitar. Drinkin’ Bad Whiskey is a slow Tasby original about how alcohol and drugs can’t ease his pain which is fervently sung and sports a fiery solo. Gonna Miss Your Love is a medium tempo number with a latin tinge and a cooing backing chorus that comes across because it is more understated in delivery. 

There is plenty about Finis Tasby to like here, despite the heavy-handed production in some areas. Unfortunately, this album could have some marketing problems, as it seems to be aimed towards the southern black blues audience and Shanachie might have a tough time cracking that market. At the same time, the vocal choruses and horns on several tracks might diminish its appeal among white blues buyers, who are often oriented to guitar solo based albums. This would be a shame, as there is some terrific Finis Tasby to be heard here.

I likely received my review copy from Shanachie. This review originally appeared in the September 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 204). Here is Finis Tasby performing "As the Years Go Passing By."

Friday, August 04, 2017

Willa Vincitore Better Days

Willa Vincitore
Better Days
Building records

Singer-songwriter Willa Vincitore certainly sounds poised to expand her fanbase beyond New York's Hudson Valley with this recording A founding member of harmonica player Chris O'Leary's Band who is heard on this debut by her. Others accompanying her on her twelve originals include guitarist Chris Vitello, saxophonist Jay Collins, brass player Reggie Pittman, bassist Brandon Morrison, drummer Lee Falco and keyboardist Scott Milici.

Willa sings with considerable power as well as nuance with her on point phrasing and intonation. She can handle the hot jump blues groove of the opening "Love Looks Good On Me" with a booting sax solo; or the funk of "Stop, Drop and Roll," with a neat keyboard solo. Then she struts soulfully on "Hooked On You," really soaring at the close with marvelous backing vocals, and the title track which is a nice soul ballad that displays her vocal range as well as her expressive range with some nice guitar fills 

If the above suggests a soulful orientation other songs are in a different vein. There is the insistent blues-rock, "Hey Little Sister," with some smoldering harmonica after a blazing guitar solo, and the folk-flavored "Caroline" with Pete Hop's acoustic guitar. Some buzz-tone slide guitar opens "Mama Needs Some Company," a driving rocker that might evoke Bonnie Bramlett for some, while "Say What," has a reggae-tinged groove with wah-wah keyboards under the brassy backing supporting her fervent vocal and a fine guitar solo. The Caribbean feel also is present on "Opposite of Lonely," which also has Pittman's lugubrious sounding, muted trumpet behind her moving vocal.

The closing "Demons" is an original down-home acoustic blues wonderfully sung with Vitello laying down an outstanding slide guitar accompaniment. While Willa has been compared to the likes of Susan Tedeschi, and Shemekia Copeland, I suggest Ruthie Foster is a more appropriate comparison and she stands up well in comparison. This wonderfully produced recording (credit to Falco and Morrison) allows her to exhibit how marvelous a singer she is, and one whose career certainly is headed to see "Better Days."

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here she performs "Hey Little Sister."

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Blues Takes on St. James Infirmary

Discussing Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man in his book, The Jazz Standards, Ted Gioia includes recordings by it by Buddy Guy and Albert King and bemoans what he found the scarcity of blues artists performing the songs he viewed as jazz standards. One problem is that his list of standards omits juke box jazz hits like Herbie Mann's"Comin' Home Baby, and Jimmy Smith's Back at the Chicken Shack, that served as band and/or set openers for various bands such as Muddy Waters and the like. But even with famous blues songs that he included such as W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues and St. James Infirmary he seemed unaware of notable blues recordings of those songs, some of which I included with respect to St. Louis Blues, a couple of days ago.

Today I do the same with St. James Infirmary, the story and origins of which are discussed in a wonderful book by Robert W. Harwood, I Went Down to St. James Infirmary: Investigations in the shadowy world of early jazz-blues in the company of Blind Willie McTell, Louis Armstrong, Don ... where did this dang song come from anyway? It explores some of the myths of the songs origins as well as its complicated copyright history and the like. In his book, Gioia inexplicably omits the great Bobby Bland Duke recording that can be heard on the link of the top of the page (Soul singer Geater Davis did a tough recording that mirrored Bland's. Below are some more renditions from the Blues World.

Snooks Eaglin

Gary B.B. Coleman

Chris Thomas King recorded this on his 2006 post-Katrina recording Rise. 
Here he is seen performing this in 2015 at Toronto's Beaches Jazz Festival.

Chicago blues diva Angela Brown

The highly underrated Dave Alexander aka Omar Sharriff

Heritage Blues Orchestra

Lastly, Rhiannon Giddens with the Silk Road Ensemble

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Eddie C. Campbell That’s When I Know

Eddie C. Campbell
That’s When I Know
Blind Pig

This writer had the pleasure to see Eddie C. Campbell when he was part of Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars in the late seventies, after his critically acclaimed LP King of the Jungle. Campbell’s distinctive playing and singing was a highlight. He moved overseas in 1984 and produced some of the best blues albums ever recorded in Europe. He has returned to the US in time for his wife to deliver a son, and produced this fine new album available on Blind Pig.

Comprised completely of Campbell originals, what sets apart both this album and Eddie’s music is how nicely paced it is. There’s no frenzy in his playing or mannerisms in his vocals. Both his slightly twangy guitar and his laconic singing are marked by a clean articulation of songs and notes, and his backing is tight, but never intrusive or overbearing. His songs hit a variety of moods, though usually marked by considerable humor. The echoes of his old friend, Magic Sam, might be evident, but he certainly is his own man.

About the only complaint one might raise is that this is over in a little over 40 minutes, but, another way to look at it is that it is all good stuff - it is a recording which possesses little filler. A very enjoyable listen.

I likely received a copy of this from Blind Pig. This review originally appeared in the December/ January 1994/1995 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 197). It is currently available used or as a download. Here is Eddie C. Campbell performing.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Brad Stivers Took You Long Enough

Brad Stivers
Took You Long Enough

In his mid-twenties, Austin-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Brad Stivers will make folks take notice with this album which is a solid mix of roots rock, blues, soul and country. Certainly the opening "2000 Miles" is a solid rockabilly laced stomper with a raspy vocal crisp solo followed by the driving rendition of a Ray Charles number, "You're Just About To Lose Your Clown," with gutbucket tenor sax from Mark Wilson along with more fine guitar and a solid soulful, vocal. "Put It Down" is another rockabilly flavored performance with his tremolo-laced guitar prominent.

The funky R&B laced ""Took You Long Enough," is followed by a fine country duet with pianist Emily Gimble on a cover of a classic Ray Charles recording, "Here We Go Again," with his guitar in a supporting role. Malford Milligan handles the vocal on a good cover of the O.V. Wright classic, "Nickel and a Nail," with some searing guitar on a version evocative of the late Otis Clay with Roy Buchanan. 

An instrumental take on the Smiley Lewis recording, "One Night of Sin" showcases Stivers playing with his judicious and thoughtful development of the solo and his attention to tone. "Can't Wait" is a nicely paced shuffle followed by the brooding "Save Me," again where he employs a heavy tremolo tone. The album closes with a searing guitar instrumental rendition of the James Brown classic "Cold Sweat," perhaps inspired by Albert King's similar treatment of this funk classic.

Stivers is a very good vocalist, and a guitarist who builds his solos in an intelligent and imaginative fashion, never overplays and makes use of his tone to great effect. Stivers establishes himself on "Took You Long Enough" as a roots rock and blues voice to keep one's ears open to.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here Brad performs the Little Bob and the Lollipops hit (also redone by Los Lobos), "I Got Loaded."


Monday, July 31, 2017

St. Louis Blues Times 9

One of W.C. Handy's most celebrated compositions is "St. Blues Blues," which has been recorded countless times and become a blues and jazz standard. At the East Coast Blues Conference in 1988 in Washington DC, Joe Savarin, then Head of the Blues Foundation, stated it was the most recorded song ever, a statement that may or may not be true, but no question it has been done countless times. Here is a number of performances of this classic number.

First, here is W.C. Handy's Band performing this classic number 

While there is a film short of Bessie Smith performing this, 
here is her recording with Louis Armstrong on cornet

Here is Louis Armstrong's 1929 Recording of the song

Bill Williams was a marvelous fingerstyle guitarist who was influenced by Blind Blake 
and did a wonderful rendition 

Here is an early country blues recording by Sylvester Weaver & Walter Beasley

Here is the great Sidney Bechet

Earl 'Fatha' Hines did a wonderful "Boogie on the St. Louis Blues

Johnny Copeland heard doing this classic

Then the tough tenor sax and band of Booker Ervin

And I could found easily another dozen renditions. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Introducing Roy Roberts

Roy Roberts
Introducing Roy Roberts
New Moon

New Moon Music continues to document the Virginia-Carolinas blues scene with this debut album of Roy Roberts. After years of playing the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, and West Virginia, backing numerous soul legends, and a stint playing country, he has turned to the blues with a soul-tinged release comprised mostly of his own originals.

There’s nothing flashy about Roy Roberts as either a singer or guitarist, but his fleet playing is tasteful and his mellow, soulful singing sounds like he might be at home with Jerry Butler songs. His songs are idiomatic, if not particularly distinctive. The highpoint is Roberts’ back-door man blues, Comin’ Thru the Back Door, where his best friend has been messing with his girl friend. The backing is first-rate, with Skeeter Brandon on piano and Phil Mazarick’s B-3 organ especially standing out. The band plays in a tight manner with effective horn charts.

Roberts’ soft delivery may not impress on first hearing, but his genial delivery grows over time. Nothing earth-shaking, but Roy Roberts has something to offer with his mellow and soulful approach. 

I likely received a review copy from the record label. This review originally appeared in the February 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 198). This should still be available. Here is Roy Roberts performing at the 2010 Pocono Blues Festival.

Friday, July 28, 2017

John Pizzarelli Sinatra & Jobim at 50

John Pizzarelli
Sinatra & Jobim at 50
Concord Jazz

John Pizzarelli cites Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim as major influences on his vocals and his latest release commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the Grammy Winning collaboration between the two legends. He pays tribute to those recordings on this set with eight tracks being songs that Sinatra and Jobim recorded at a 1969 session along with two originals, and Michael Frank’s ode to Jobim. Among those with Pizzarelli on this recording are Jobim's grandson Daniel, and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca, bassist Mike Karn and piano player Helio Alves.

On this recording, both Pizzarelli and Jobim channel the elder Jobim more than Sinatra, who admittedly was understated compared to his usual style on the celebrated recordings. The musical tone on most of these selections is more like Getz-Gilberto than the Claus Ogerman or Eumir Deodato orchestrated sessions. The result is delightful performances in their own lightly swinging fashion including then marvelous "Agua De Beber," as well as the lovely medley of "Meditation / Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars," with Daniel singing the latter number in Portuguese before Pizzarelli sings softly in English along with his soft guitar chording, and the pretty "Dindi." There is also the delightful lightly swaying bossa nova medley of "I Concentrate On You / Wave," with Alves exquisite in his accompaniment and Pizzarelli taking a brief acoustic chordal break. Pizzarelli's father recorded "Two Kites" with the elder Jobim, with Daniel taking the vocal on this remake with a vocal chorus with its celebration of the kites flying in the sky. There is also a wonderful tenor saxophonist on a few selections including Michael Frank's "Antonio's Song."

As indicated this is a delightful recording, full of charm and elegance that might not quite reach the level of the legendary Sinatra-Jobim collaboration, but is enjoyable and laudable with its own considerable merits.

I received my review copy from Concord. Here is a video of "Baubles, Bangles & Beads," from this recording.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith

The legendary photographer, W Eugene Smith, in the fifties through the early 1970s when he was evicted after a dispute with his landlord, rented floors in a Sixth Avenue building in the 'Flower District' of Manhattan. Smith had been a famed photo journalist for Life Magazine and is renown for his pictures of Pittsburgh. Through the mid-fifties until the mid-sixties, his space became a focal point for jazz musicians as well as Smith's own photography. This documentary from WNYC Films and directed by Sara Fishko, and available on DVD from FilmBuff, follows up a coffee table book from Sam Stephenson, and a WNYC radio series (that I believe Ms Fishko produced) to tell this fascinating story of this photographer and the space that was both home and his work space.

Jazz musicians then, and now, continue to struggle in funding places to play and rehearse, as well as live. When Smith moved into his loft in the mid-fifties, others were doing the same thing, illegally setting up homes and work places in  a commercially zoned area of New York City. Smith had been famous for his photo stories in Life Magazine, but with an obsessive nature, including his desire to control the layout of his photo stories, eventually became estranged from Life. In the fifties, when he was associated with the Magnum Agency, he was contracted to do a book of 100 pictures in Pittsburgh. He ended up taking thousands which he then tried to go through in the home about an hour up the Hudson from New York City.

With slow progress on a book getting done, and Smith failing to pay taxes, he moved away from his family and the house to the Manhattan loft. He set up a dark room, started shooting out the window, and started recording not only the music played by musicians, but his phone calls and the like as he spread out proofs on the walls and more. and word got out about his loft and musicians of all stripes would play there. He even drilled holes in the ceiling to place mikes on the floor above to capture the music. Obsessive about documenting everything, he had many reels of tape as well as his photos he took. 

Musicians like Freddie Redd, Ronnie Free, Gerry Mulligan and others were there and can be seen in some of the photos. Free even started living there as well as often serving as house drummer, and one of the other musicians he met then introduced him to heroin. He went on the road with Sarah Vaughan, but his habit made him so unreliable, he returned to the loft not long after. 

 Bill Crown is among those interviewed and here is a clip of him interviewed for the film

Smith's focus on his photography (and there is considerable discussion about his skills not simply in capturing the moment, but his darkroom and printing skills) and recording the music and all the goings on in the loft sometimes had him forget mundane things like paying the rent (or paying back someone like Hall Overton who lent him money (and is supposed to have threatened Smith with pinning him to the wall if he did not repay). 

Overton is another central figure besides Smith. On the faculty at Julliard, he was equally comfortable in either classical and jazz contexts and at the loft,m started teaching composition and other matters with students including Carmen Moore, Carla Bley and Steve Reich. Besides this, he also collaborated with Thelonious Monk on Monk's Town Hall concert which was significant in that at the time Monk had lost his cabaret card and unable to play in Manhattan clubs, but could play concerts. 

 Here is a CNN documentary on The Jazz Loft Project

A mix of rehearsal tapes, photos of the two working together take us from Monk teaching Overton how to play his music to working out concepts and arrangements of the music that would be performed. We hear from Harry Colomby, who was Monk's manager at the time, participants in the concert like alto saxophonist Phil Woods and french horn player Robert Northern about the experience, and the rehearsals with commentary from Monk's son T.S. Monk, monk biographer Kelley and the prominent contemporary pianist Jason Moran. One hears Phil Woods discuss the difficulty of the music, and  Robert Northern mention how Monk helped him get beyond simply his academic treatment of the notes to get the rhythmic feel down. The results of the three odd weeks of rehearsal was a musical triumph.

Here is a brief overview of Eugene Smith's contribution to photography

Nothing lasts forever, and the eventual demise of Smith's loft is discussed. Throughout this documentary, Smith's photographs and audio from the performances as well as his own life are skillfully weaved in with the interviews with musicians and others making for some fascinating viewing. This is a superb film that will intrigue those into either/and jazz and photography. I purchased this as a download although it is available on DVD and can be rented if one does not wish to purchase. For more information visit which includes a trailer for the film. Finally we have a clip of Sara Fishko and Calvin Skaggs discussing the film at Docs NYC in 2015.