Monday, December 11, 2017

Chickenbone Slim Chickenbone Slim

Chickenbone Slim
The Big Beat
Lo-Fi Mob Records

Chickenbone Slim is the alter ego of Larry Teves, a San Diego based musician who started playing guitar in 2011 after playing bass in many bands for many years. Years of playing in a variety of blues and rockabilly bands is reflected in the performances here where he is backed by Big Jon Atkinson on harmonica, guitar and bass; Marty Dodson on drums and Scot Smart on bass. Recorded at Greaseland Studios, Kid Andersen engineered and mastered this and played guitar on one of the nine songs here.

With austere, relaxed backing and Slim's relaxed, unforced and grainy vocals, some of the songs has an ambience similar to the Baton Rouge based 'swamp blues" of Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown and others. The opening title track features superb harmonica as well as Slim's own smartly, played solo while "Me and Johnny Lee" is an even better performance in this vein as he sings about being as lonely as he can be as after she broke his heart is just him and Johnny Lee. "Long Way Down" has a bit more grit in the manner of a Tony Joe White, and a biting guitar solo from Scot Smart, as he sings about meeting his lover on the long way down.

The country-flavored "Hemi Dodge," has Kid Andersen on guitar and mournful harmonica from Atkinson, while there is a folk performance with just his acoustic guitar accompanying his vocal on "Vodka and Vicodin," his best friends as he is out of luck. There is an insistent groove to "Long Legged Sweet Thing" as Slim hammers out his vocal against skeletal backing and strong harp, while "Man Down" has a West Side Chicago feel with a boogaloo rhythm.

The closing "Break Me Of a Piece" returns us to the swamp blues vein and ends a most entertaining album of gritty performances that evoke the golden period of fifties and sixties blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a promo video for this recording.

Andy Adamson First Light

Andy Adamson
First Light
Andros Records LLC

Ann Arbor, Michigan based pianist-composer-bandleader Adamson's influences include John Coltrane, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea and over 50 years worked, and composed, in a variety of styles. This new release has nine of his straight ahead and jazz fusion compositions with a band including Brennan Andes on bass; drummer Jonathan Taylor; trumpeter Ross Huff and saxophonist Dan Bennett.

This is tight quintet that plays strongly on a varied program that opens with the Coltrane-flavored title track that showcases the leader's fluid piano style along with Bennett's robust, high intensity tenor sax. "Corner Store" is a latin-accented number with a nifty piano riff underlying this high-spirited quintet performance with shifting musical textures with Adamson and Bennett soloing. The opening of "Twilight in the Making" has a romantic tone before it transitions into a fusion evoking mode. Bennett's free-sounding tenor interacting with the leader's piano is at the front of "Velvet Sunset," followed by "Divided We Stand." "High Street Roundabout" is another engrossing performance with spirited tenor sax and piano with bassist Andes and Taylor ably backing and complementing them through shifts in tempo and textures from that the Adamson's lyrical improvisation to the more buzzsaw, vibrato-laden tenor of Bennett.

If Bennett and Anderson have most of the spotlight on "First Light," Huff's blistering trumpet is featured on the vibrant hard bop "Sunny Side Up," which also has a brief, taut solo from Taylor. It is a strong conclusion to this very memorable recording of modern jazz.

I received a download to review from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is Andy Adamson in performance.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Johnny Rawls Waiting For The Rain

Johnny Rawls
Waiting For The Rain
Catfood Records

Another new Catfood release for the veteran soul-blues singer-songwriter-guitarist Johnny Rawls again backed by bassist Bob Trenchard and the Rays. This one is produced by Jim Gaines and is a mix of originals and interesting interpretations of some familiar songs sung with plenty of heart by Rawls set against the Rays' idiomatic backing that is rooted in the classic Memphis sound of Stax and Hi Records.

Rawls has a controlled style that is akin to the smoldering heat of a pit barbecue than steak over an open flame, though he can let loose when needed.. The title track is a strong original co-written with Trenchard and keyboardist Dan Ferguson as he sings about rain washing away guilt, sin and pain with a crisp guitar solo from Dennis McGhee set against punchy horns. It is followed by the Trenchard-James Armstrong penned "Las Vegas," is a wonderful performance with a backing horn riff reminiscent of "Turn On Your Love Light,"although I am not enamored the lyrics mixing playing games and religion. "Waiting For a Train" from Rawls and Trenchard is a nice low-key number with a jazzy tinge and followed by a wonderful rendition of Bobby Womack's celebratory "I'm in Love."

"Blackjack Was a Gambler" is a terrific easy rocking bit of storytelling about a back alley gambler and rambler while Rawls also ably puts his own stamp on Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," and then does a nice cover of the Tyrone Davis hit "The Turning Point," and a driving rendition of Syl Johnson's "We Did It." The soulful ballad, "Stay With Me," provides a close to Rawls' latest soul-blues gem. Rawls may not break new ground on his latest release, and then hose familiar with Johnny Rawls will know what to expect on a predictably strong recording, while this serves as representative of his music for those new to his music.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is Johnny Rawls from a 2017 Boise Blues Festival.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Junior Wells Southside Blues Jam

Junior Wells
Southside Blues Jam

I purchased the vinyl version of Junior Wells' Delmark album “Southside Blues Jam” upon its original release in 1970. The release was an effort to capture what a listener might hear at the baled Chicago blues club, Theresa’s, on a Monday night when Junior Wells and others including Buddy Guy would be featured. Wells and Guy were joined by Louis Myers on guitar, Ernest Johnson on bass, Fred Below on drums and Otis Spann on piano for what was his last studio appearance on record. Delmark has reissued an expanded “Southside Blues Jam” with the original eight selections supplemented by 7 bonus tracks, one of which is an alternate take, another is a warm-up fragment and another is some studio patter.

It was a recording that was quite easy to enjoy. There was a loose spontaneous feel to the performances that Junior and company put their stamp on starting with a easy driving rendition of “Stop Breaking Down” that Junior learned from the first Sonny Boy Williamson’s recording (adapted from Robert Johnson) to a cover of Guitar Slim’s “Trouble Don’t Last” where Buddy takes the lead vocal with Junior adding a rap to the performance. Topicality was heard in the issued take of “I Could Have Had Religion” where Junior dwells on Muddy Waters being out of action at the time and “Blues For Mayor Daley.” There are covers of songs from Muddy as well as a nice rendition of the second Sonny Boy Williamson’s “In My Younger Days.” Wells mixes his blues harp (very much in the spirit of the second Sonny Boy) with his mix of vocals and James Brown funk while Guy and Spann are in strong form.

The unissued performances have their appeal, although listening to them one can understand why the selections on the original CD were chosen. There is a decent cover of Little Walter’s “It’s Too Late Brother,” with Well’s exhorting Spann to rumble on the bass keys as he talks about the blues being funky. “Love My Baby,” a reworking of Arthur Crud-up’s “So Glad Your Mine,” and set to the “Hootchie Kootchie Man” groove with blistering string bending from Guy and Spann’s rumbling piano behind Wells’ vocal. The alternate of “I Could Have Had Religion” is a more traditional performance about a mistreating woman without the reference to Muddy Waters’ health. It has solid Louis Myers’ guitar, while “Rock Me” is done as a dedication to Muddy Waters. The closing “Got to Play the Blues” is an amusing original set to the groove of B.B. King’s (then contemporary recording), “Why I Sing the Blues” with Wells singing about singing the blues and throwing in impersonations of other singers.

This expanded “Southside Blues Jam” is handsomely packaged (credit Kate Moss) with a booklet that contains Bob Koester’s recollections of the session and Michael Cuscuna’s Rolling Stone review of the original LP release and the sound is quite good. This reissue, with its additional tracks, will be welcome to a wide range of blues lovers including those having the original LP.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358). Here is Junior with Buddy Guy doing "Little By Little" on a PBS show in 1971.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Eyal Vilner Big Band Hanukkah

Eyal Vilner Big Band

Composer, saxophonist and arranger Eval Vilner has come up with a uniquely original holiday offering. His latest re lease is an exciting and festive Hanukkah album, with his 16 piece big band on a repertoire of traditional Hanukkah songs, blending holiday melodies with sounds influenced by jazz and swing, Israeli, Jewish and Middle Eastern music, in addition to Brazilian Choro and Afro - Cuban rhythms. In addition there is a vocal trio on one selection and Israeli flute virtuoso Itai Kriss. It was recorded at one of the oldest synagogues in the U.S. - the Museum at Eldridge Street - a National Historic Landmark dating back to 1887 in what used to be a Jewish immigrant neighborhood and is now Chinatown.

The opening "Prelude" opens as the horns provide a classical choral played by the horns of a traditional song sung every day of Hanukah after the lighting of candles followed by "Maoz Tzur," where the band swings the melody with Vilner taking a fervent sax solo with Jack Glottman taking a crisp piano break with the full and coming across like the 50's Basie Band on the joyous romp. "Sevivon," inspired by the spin of the dreidel, has a strong percussive and Brazilian flavor, including a section dedicated to Batucada music (a drum ensemble) as well as some brilliant flute from, Itai Kriss. A vocal trio of three of NYC’s finest trad - jazz vocalists Tamar Korn, Martina DaSilva and Vanessa Perea, sing the Boswell Sisters inspired vocals on "Oh Hanukah," with a strong tenor sax solo by Evan Arntzen, along with the leader's clarinet break while Vilner's arrangement smartly frames the vocals and the sax solo. On "Mi Yemalel," Vilner plays the shofar to open this musical depiction of the Maccabees and their war on the Greeks who occupied Ancient Judea. Wayne Tucker continues, playing a Taqsim (intro, in traditional Arabic music, which sets the mood of a piece) followed by the harmonized trombone section followed by the saxophones and trumpets playing contrasting melodies.

A joyous bonus track, "These Candles" starting as a march before turning to an Ellingtonian flavored swing number and features the trumpet of Irv Grossman and the break all the doors down tenor of Michael Hashim. It is only available digitally, but complements this wonderful recording of Holiday music. This is available from cdbaby and other sources.

I received a download of this to review from a publicist. Here is the Eyal Vilner Big Band performing "Maoz Tzur."

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Paul McCandless Morning Sun: Adventures with Oboe

Paul McCandless
Morning Sun: Adventures with Oboe
Living Music

This is described as "A Retrospective Celebrating 45 Years of Genre-Bending Iconic Mastery" and gathers 16 performances by McCandless with the Paul Winter Consort over this period of time with over an hour of music. McCandless, as demonstrated on the performances on this recording, that the oboe is an instrument that can be welcomed out the confines of the Western classical music tradition on performances capturing folk roots, jazz improvisation and new age sensibility. McCandless also brings the French Horn on several selections to the fore in a similar fashion.

Listening to McCandless' melodious playing certainly can bring a sense of calm and relaxation, even when playing some rhythmically spirited tunes. Their is a such a broad spectrum of musical settings represented, including the unusual instrumentation of the Consort that included when he joined it Ralph Towner's guitar, Winter's soprano sax, Colin Walcott's tabla, triangle an drums, and David Darling's cello starting with the the uplifting opening selection "All the Mornings Bring." "Elves Chasm," is a lovely solo oboe performance recorded in the Grand Canyon with the sounds of nature (birds and the Colorado River) in the background while "Whooper Dance" has voices of a pair Whooping Cranes echoed in the Oboe improvisation, and "Eagle," a duet with the melodic theme suggested by the cry of an African Fish Eagle.

A later version of the Consort with Oscar Castro-Neves on guitar, David Grusin on keyboard and John-Carlos Perea on vocal, performs "Witchi Tai Too," a Native American traditional healing song that Indian jazz musician Jim Pepper adapted. McCandless plays the opening on French Horn but later taking off on oboe after the first vocal chorus here. The Brazilian singer and guitarist Renato Braz is present on the lovely "Anabela," with lovely oboe accompaniment and sings wordlessly on "The Last Train," with a mesmerizing, soaring oboe solo. On the uplifting message song "Common Ground," there is marvelous McCandless accompaniment to later choruses of the song.

The sereneness of "Sunset on the Great Sand Dunes" is followed by the lively Ralph Towner composition "Un Abraço (A Big Hug)" (which was McCandless' first recording on oboe). The stately "Sunderland," has lyrical French Horn framed in a pastoral setting while "Twilight" finds McCandless' French Horn improvising over Grusin's synthesized chordal journey. Bach's "Fantasia in G" was recorded by the Consort at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine employing the Church's pipe organ over which McCandless plays somewhat wildly over Bach's harmonies.

This wonderful retrospective closes with the tranquility of "Morning Sun," with the interweaving of the various solo voices (oboe, Winter's soprano sax and Eugene Friesen's cello). The marvelous compilation of music is accompanied by a 32 page liner booklet with essays, including an appreciation of McCandless' oboe playing, from Winter, a short autobiography by McCandless, and notes on each of the 16 selections from Winter with session information included. Of course McCandless' musical legacy also includes his decades with Oregon, but even this slice of his musical career is something to be savored.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is McCandless with Oregon performing "Witchi Tai Too."

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Jimmy Carpenter Plays the Blues

Jimmy Carpenter
Plays the Blues

Veteran saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter is currently part of blues rocker Mike Zito's band, though he previously has lengthy stints with Jimmy Thackery and Walter 'Wolfman' Washington. Zito produced this and adds his guitar and vocals to Carpenter's tenor saxophone, bassist Bob Bridges, Matthew Johnson's drums, and Marc Adams keyboards with a variety of guests including guitarists Tony Diteodoro, Tinsley Ellis, Anders Osborne and Jonn Del Toro Richardson and keyboardists Lewis Stephens and Dave Keyes.

The ten songs heard include two originals and eight covers starting with Magic Sam's "You Belong to Me," and ending with a rousing Junior Walker's "Shotgun." Carpenter plays plenty of rousing, raspy saxophone in a Junior Walker-King Curtis--Boots Randolph vein throughout and, if not a great singer, is like-able with an unforced delivery as on the hot Little Walter shuffle "Too Late." The longest selection is "Jimmy Plays the Blues," a nice blues instrumental with plenty of space for his roadhouse saxophone. The other original is a piece of old-fashioned rock and roll, "Kid in My Head," with rollicking piano from Stephens in support of the leader's yakety-yak sax playing.

Jonn Del Toro Richardson adds some nice guitar support on the cover of "Blues With a Feeling," which has a booting sax solo as well, while Tinsley Ellis joins in for a musical dialogue with with Carpenter on a rendition of Freddie King's "Surf Monkey," and Anders Osborne contributes to an instrumental interpretation of Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come," which arguably has Carpenter's finest playing with a more attack employing a broader tonal range. Up next is a rousing rendition of King Curtis' "Preach," and then Otis Rush's "All Your Love (I Miss Lovin').' with fine guitar from Zito and another booting sax solo.

A straight cover of "Shotgun" closes this straight-forward, well played recording that entertains even if it breaks no new ground.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is Jimmy Carpenter playing "Shot Gun."


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Jimmy Carpenter Walk Away

Jimmy Carpenter
Walk Away
Threadhead Cultural Foundation/ VizzTone

Saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter is perhaps best known as a member of Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington’s Roadmasters as well as playing with blues-rocker Mike Zito. He has recently issued a CD “Walk Away,” co-produced with Chris Finney with a core band of guitarist John Fohl: keyboards from John Gros; bass from Casandra Falconer and drums by Wayne Maureau. Carpenter handles vocals, saxophones and rhythm guitar with a variety guest appearances including vocalist Reba Russell, guitarists Anson Funderburgh and Mike Zito and trumpeter Anthony Gambrell (Carpenter’s band-mate in the Roadmasters).

Carpenter, known for his robust saxophone, shows himself to be quite an affable singer on the 13 originals here starting with the easy rocking “Can’t Let Go” that features some fiery Funderburgh guitar along with some grease on the Hammond B-3 from Gros. The crisp ensemble playing and the brassy horn arrangements are typical of the production throughout with plenty of punch. The title track has a southern swamp-rock feel with a strong R&B accent with Fohl’s guitar accenting the vocal before Carpenter takes one of several full-toned solos on his recording. “When You’re Ready” is a driving rocker with nice interplay between guitarists Fohl and Zito, along with Zito’s scorching guitar solo.

She’s Not You” opens with some commanding saxophone before a soulfully sung lament about this woman telling him he seems distant while he still can’t get over his ex on a number that is evocative of Bruce Springsteen. Another song suggesting Springsteen is the jaunty “Crazy ‘Bout You.” “Seventh Street Shuffle” is a greasy instrumental taken at a walking tempo while “C King Blues” is a feature for his sax with a loping tempo. The subject of “More Than Meets The Eye” causes heads to turn although her looks hide what is inside her. This has a Memphis funk backing with a similar feel to the blues-soul of “Hard To Be Cool.”

After the garage-rock flavored “On the Outside,” (where Carpenter is looking in), “Walk Away” closes with “Fellow Traveller” a duet with Reba Russell. Fohl’s judicious use of tremolo and Maureau’s stick work contribute to the wistful atmosphere here along with a nice sax solo. There is plenty of music to enjoy here as Carpenter shows in this recording that integrates his blues, country, soul, and pop influences, he is far more than a road house saxophonist.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358). Somehow I forgot to post it before, so I am belatedly posting in now. Tomorrow I will be posting my review of Jimmy's most recent recording, "Plays The Blues." Here Jimmy Carpenter doing an in-store performance in New Orleans at the Louisiana Music Factory with a band including John Fohl and John Gros.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra After A While

Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra
After A While
Blue Dot Records

An encounter performing in Europe first brought together California guitarist and band leader Anthony Paule with deep soul-blues singer Wee Willie Walker. This has led to the present recording where the one-time Goldwax artist is backed by a full band led by Paule. I recently reviewed a live album from the Notodden Blues Festival with a band led by Kid Andersen, about which I concluded "Wee Willie Walker certainly has it still and this live recording suggests just how moving and powerful a performer he remains." Walker is also present on a recent recording by Austrian organist Raphael Wressnig & Brazilian guitarist Igor Prado singing several songs that were associated with the legendary Little Willie John.

The present recording opens with the Memphis soul-styled "Second Chance," with the rhythm of Paule, Tony Lufrano on keyboards, Paul Olguin on bass, and Derrick 'D'Mar' Martin on drums laying down a form base for Walker's church-rooted singing with brassy horns. It was written by Christine Vitale, who contributed to several other songs including the title song and a performance (including the horn arrangements and Charles McNeal's wonderful tenor sax solo that evokes Little Willie John and other legends). Walker recorded George Jackson's "I Don't Want To Take A Chance," as a demo 50 years ago, but gets to record it anew for this marvelous rendition that again conjures up the classic R&B era of the 50s and early 60s. His soulful phrasing is supported by the handsome playing and Paule adds some nice chords and fills. Then we get a little big band treatment of the Lil Green classic "In the Dark," strongly sung in a manner that Little Willie John might have done it, and Paule takes a strong guitar solo in a jazzy-blues vein on this superb performance.

The message song "Hate Take a Holiday," has its call for love to take out hate, and folks of all colors and creed walk together in peace. teh recording has organ grease and a somewhat spare rhythm backing. It is followed by the Tex-Mex tinged romantic ballad, "Thanks For the Dance," with Paule on acoustic guitar on a song with a feel of a Drifters recording. There is a bit of Muscle Shoals funk underlying "If Only," while the soul ballad "Cannot Be Denied," is a lovely blue ballad. Both of these were written by Walker with Vitale and Paule. There is a stunning cover of a Little Willie John recording, "Look What You've Done To Me (not the Boz Scaggs song)," with brilliant playing from trumpeter Tom Poole and trombonist Derek James. Vitale and Paule's original "I Don't Want To Know," is a superb original blues in this same vein with a choice jazzy Paule solo.

After a punchy instrumental, "The Willie Walk," there is a wonderful duet with Terry Odabi updating The Clovers' hit "Lovey Dovey" followed by a return to the Memphis sound on a terrific soulful cover of the Mable John classic "Your Good Thing (Is About To End)." This is an excellent close to an imaginatively programmed and arranged recording, that showcases one of the last original soul singers. We should be thankful he is with us and  still sings with all his vocal talent intact on a terrific recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375), although I had edited my original review to clarify some points. Here is Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra performing at the 2015 Porretta Soul Festival.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Johnny Nicholas & Friends - Too Many Bad Habits

Johnny Nicholas & Friends
Too Many Bad Habits
The People's Label

In the spring of 1977 I saw Guitar Johnny (Nicholas) & the Rhythm Rockers along with Johnny Shines and Walter Horton outside of Buffalo, NY. Around the time I acquired the album "Too Many Bad Habits" on Blind Pig (and somewhere I may still have the original vinyl album). Released in 1977, it was deleted by Blind Pig in 1978 shorty after Nicholas joined Asleep at the Wheel, and stopped touring under his own name. While he requested getting back the original masters back from the label, he was finally able (in January 2016) to get back the original multi-track tapes, masters, artwork and photos. After transferring the old tapes, he discovered a bunch of recordings that had not been released so in reissuing his lost album, he has been album to add new material to the original recording. These include performances from Shines, Horton and pianist Boogie Woogie Red, along with some having Asleep's Ray Benson and other luminaries.

I do not recall what tracks were on the issued LP but I believe they are all on the first of the two discs, which include some standout ensemble tracks "Looks Can Be Deceivin'" and the witty title track that displays how good a songwriter Nicholas was (and is) as he enumerates the things that his doctor tells him he should give up. There is some nice mandolin on the opening "Mandolin Boogie" along with a solid "Sittin' On Top of the World," with nice fiddle and sax as well. After a rocking band shuffle with Boogie City Red's piano, "Rock My Blues Away," there is a lovely showcase for Walter Horton's harmonica feature"Blues Walk," with Nicholas providing solid backing.

An a cappella cover of Son House's gospel shout "Grinnin' in Your Face," is followed by "The New Canned Heat Blues" a reworking of Tommy Johnson recording with Nicholas adding lyrics about taking Robitussin in lieu of Sterno, with Horton's adding harp to the vocal and acoustic guitar. Horton sings and plays on "West Wind," followed by Shines' feature, "Blues Came Fallin' Down," an excellent number using the "Rollin' and Tumblin'" melody. This performance sounds similar to those on Shines' early Testament recordings. More Shines and Horton follow on a lovely "Careless Love," and then an instrumental feature for Horton "Gettin' Outta Town," where Nicholas opens playing the melody for "The Dirty Dozens," before Horton shifts into  a familiar boogie instrumental of his. Having misplaced the discs, I am not sure if it is Shines' guitar heard behind Nicholas on a cover of "Hellhound on My Trail," that has solid Horton harp.

The second disc has a number of more showcases for Horton like his backing on "Pump Jockey Blues," and the instrumental, "Apple Grove Boogie," which has some slide guitar as well. "Prisoner Blues" is a slow blues with exquisite harmonica, while the brief, brooding "That's Alright Mama," comes across as brooding Hill Country blues. Boogie Woogie Red is featured on a rendition of Jay McShann's "Hootie Blues," followed by a straight take of Jimmy Rogers' "Money Marbles and Chalk," again with wonderful Horton harmonica. There is also more Big Walter on the folk-ish "Lonesome Traveler," and the lazy tempo shuffle "Froggy Bottom." The final track is a nice rendition of St. Louis Jimmy's "Soon Forgotten," with Boogie Woogie Red on piano and Big Walter on harp.

While there are  solid performances on the second disc, some have flaws such as "Believe I'll Make a Change," a "Dust My Broom" variation with the vocal being off mike initially. The alternate take of "Looks Can Be Deceivin'," is slower and not as fully satisfying. "Move on Down the Line," is a vocal duet with Horton, and probably would have benefited from being at a bit quicker tempo. These are not terrible performances.

In additional to his musicianship, one of Nicholas strengths is his singing and that he never forces or strains when he delivers his vocals. With the splendid playing, the music on "Too Many Bad Habits" may not be essential, but its re-release is most welcome with the fine performances by Nicholas and the welcome cameos and assistance of blues legends, Boogie Woogie Red, Johnny Shines and Walter Horton.

I note that the recording album was contemporaneous with the Blind Pig Walter Horton recording (which Nicholas is on) and originally issued at the same time, and I believe still available Also, Ron Levy played keyboards on the Guitar Johnny tour in 1977  I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a clip of Johnny Nicholas backing another Chicago blues legend, Snooky Pryor, at the 1991 Chicago Blues Festival.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Radio Interview with Robert Lockwood

Robert Lockwood at the 2005 Pocono Blues Festival - Photo © Ron Weinstock

I was pleasantly surprised when someone on facebook sent me a radio interview I did of Robert Lockwood, Jr., in the Spring of 1971 over WRUW-FM in Cleveland, Ohio. This may be the earliest radio interview with the late blues legend and I hope there are some details folks find interesting. Note this is a nearly forty minute audio file

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Regina Carter Ella: Accentuate the Positive Okeh Records

Regina Carter
Ella: Accentuate the Positive
Okeh Records

The wonderful jazz violinist Regina Carter helps celebrate the centennial of Ella Fitzgerald on her latest recording. Speaking of Ella, she explains, "One of the many things that I adore about Ella is that she just loved music and didn't box herself in. She recorded everything, not just the American Songbook--doo-wop, Stevie Wonder and Beatles songs, even some country western music.  The fact that she experimented with so many different styles made me feel that, with this record, I would pay respect to her by taking the music and doing something else with it.  I feel that she would smile in agreement."

To realize this vision, which transforms the songs through a lens of classic 1950s-'60s soul and blues, Carter calls on an impressive roster of musicians and arrangers including her longtime rhythm section of bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Alvester Garnett. She is also joined by pianist Xavier Davis and guitarist Marvin Sewell, both of whom serve double-duty as arrangers, and they hey are supplemented by bassist Ben Williams; producer and hitmaker, Ray Angry; vocalist, Charnee Wade and pianist Mike Wofford; Fitzgerald's own former accompanist and musical director.  Two tracks feature vocals by Regina's fellow Detroiters, actress and singer, Miche Braden; and longtime friend and vocalist extraordinaire, Carla Cook.

The result of this imaginative fusion is an album that is less akin to Ella's own music as opposed to taking songs associated with Ella as springboard for Carter's imagination and strong musical personality. Braden contributes a soulful, let's go to church, vocal on the opening "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," with a funky groove underlying comping from pianist Davis, Williams rock solid bass before Sewell's blues-rock toned guitar and Carter's own full-bodied, and free ranging violin. A nice take on "Crying in the Chapel," showcases the warmth and romanticism Carter invests her playing with with Davis on Fender Rhodes and Sewell adding a neat riff. Bassist Lightcap provided the bluesy arrangement for "I’ll Never Be Free,” with Davis' accompaniment complementing Carter's very bluesy playing.

Wofford arranged the piano, bass, violin trio performance of "Dedicated To You," with Carter at her lyrical best. Another highlight is the most charming, intimate duo between Carter and guitarist Sewell on "Judy," a song the performance of which at the Apollo Theater jump-started Fitzgerald’s career. Wade's R&B flavored take opens "Undecided," which after some vibrant violin also features strong singing from Cook. Sewell's slide guitar provides a down home blues feel for "I'll Chase the Blues Away," with some down-in-the-alley violin opening segueing into a bluesy small band performance with biting slide guitar interacting with Carter's violin and Fender Rhodes on a rootsy close to an imaginative, captivating tribute to the great Ella Fitzgerald

I received as a download from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a video Regina made to promote her recording celebrating Ella Fitzgerald.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats Groovin' In Greaseland

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
Groovin' In Greaseland
Alligator Records

Its been 30 years since Alligator signed Little Charlie and the Nitecats. Guitarist Charle Baty was the bandleader, by Rick Estrin fronted the band with his somewhat gruff, heartfelt wise-guy vocals (a phrase Bruce Iglauer employs describing Estrin's singing), authoritative harmonica and songwriting, full of wit and wisdom. In 2009, when Baty retired from touring, Estrin took over the band and this is the fourth CD under his leadership. Greaseland in the title refers to the studio that Nitecats guitarist Kid Andersen operates where this disc was recorded. His productions have been among the finest recent straight-ahead blues and roots recordings from any source and this disc has much of the same qualities with clean crisp sound. Lorenzo Farrell is on keyboards while Alex Pettersen occupies the drum chair. There are a number of guests on various tracks including saxophonist Nancy Wright, bassist Jerome Jemmott and electric pianist Jim Pugh. Estrin contributed 11 of the tunes here (one a collaboration with Andersen), while Andersen added one as did keyboardist Farrell.

As suggested above, this is a wonderfully played recording by a super band, starting with the kicking opening shuffle, "The Blues Ain't Going Nowhere," with a litany of reasons why the blues ain't dying with some fat chromatic playing. Then there is the humor of "Dissed Again," with Farrell's rollicking piano. It is followed "Tender Hearted" with Estrin's talking about the experiences with back biting rats so he is tender hearted no more. It has  scintillating tremolo-laced guitar from Andersen along with more strong chromatic harp. Joe Kyle on bass and Pettersen lay down a nicely restrained groove here. Andersen's terrific tribute to Lonnie Mack, ""MWAH!" is a reworking of Mack's classic instrumental "WHAM!," and he captures Mack's Magnetone amp sound.

"Another Lonesome Day," is a slow blues with Andersen evoking Otis Rush and Ike Turner, while Estrin is in a Sonny Boy Williamson II vein with his crying harp playing here. It is followed by the Estrin-Andersen collaboration "Hands of Time," with a groove evocative of "High Heel Sneakers," and some strong amplified hard. Farrell is featured with his greasy organ on the jazzy "Cole Slaw," with a short harp break and some very nice fretwork from Andersen. After a heated shuffle celebrating partying going on at Greaseland, "Hot in Here," there is a strong topical blues "Living Hand To Mouth."

The album closes with a harmonica feature "So Long (for Jay P.)" that showcases not simply Estrin's virtuosity, but his taste and how he shapes his solo. With the excellent backing here, and the throughout this recording, it is fitting coda to another marvelous recording from Rick Estrin & the Nitecats.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Here Rick Estrin & The Nightcats are seen performing "The Blues Ain't Going Nowhere."


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Bill Evans Another Time: The Hilversum Concert

Bill Evans
Another Time: The Hilversum Concert
Resonance Records

This is a follow-up to Resonance Records' highly acclaimed "Some Other Time" that similarly documented the short-lived Evans trio of bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette (who would leave Evans when recruited by Miles Davis). While that album was a studio recording, this was live recording made at the studios of the Netherlands Radio Union two days after the studio album. Like all Resonance reissues, the production is exquisite with a wonderfully illustrated booklet containing essays from Marc Myers on the music contained; Dutch music critic Bert Vuijsje; producer of the radio broadcast, Joop De Roo; recollections of the concert and performing in Holland by Gomez and Dejohnette and pianist Steve Kuhn's recollections on Evans and his piano style.

The music is sublime with Evans brilliance and dynamic lyricism evident from the opening moments of Andre and Dory Previn's "You're Gonna Hear From Me," with Gomez's brawny bass anchoring the performance while DeJohnette's use of brushes adding accents while Gomez takes a dynamic solo. It is followed by Evan's waltz, "Very Early," that opens slowly before quickly accelerating into a brisk frolic. Evans' romanticism and intelligence is evident on the treatment of the standards, "Who Can I Turn To," "Alfie," and "Embraceable You."  After Evan swings "Who Can I," Gomez is superb on his solo, with DeJohnette helping drive things along, and then DeJohnette's brush work is impeccable on "Alfie." A brilliant Gomez bass solo opens the Gershwin classic and after stating the theme, Evans and Dejohnette enter but serving as support for the bassist. A lovely "Emily" is followed by an energetic interpretation of Miles' "Nardis," with DeJohnette imaginatively, and vigorously, soloing.

A spirited "Turn Out the Stars," and a quick "Five," close this recording. It is another superb Resonance reissue of musical history that has been lovingly been made available for contemporary audiences and certain to receive the same accolades that were given to "Some Other Time."

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


Lyn Stanley The Moonlight Sessions Volume One

Lyn Stanley
The Moonlight Sessions Volume One
A.T. Music LLC

A former corporate marketing executive, Southern California vocalist Lyn Stanley has produced this, the first of two volumes that is directed not simply at jazz enthusiasts but also audiophiles with SACD, hi resolution downloads, high end 45 RPM vinyl editions and even 15ips reel to reel tapes. She certainly has assembled a stellar cast of players for this recording session: pianists Mike Garson, Christian Jacob and Tamir Hendelman, guitarist John Chiodini, bassist Chuck Berghofer, drummer Joe La Barbara, percussionist Luis Conte, harmonica maestro Hendrik Meurkens, tenor-saxophonist Rickey Woodard, and trumpeter/trombone player Chuck Findley. Garson, Hendelman, Jacob, Chiodini and Doug Walter provided the arrangements on the standards and adaptations of pop songs.

Stanley is a marvelous song stylist as opposed to a scatting jazz vocalist who delivers a program "All or Nothing at All," "My Funny Valentine," "Embraceable You," "Why Don't You Do Right," "Crazy," "Close Your Eyes," and "In the Wee Small Hours," with a soft, sultry voice and direct, clean articulation of the lyrics. Her natural phrasing and delivery also contributes to the wonderful performances, along with the marvelous musicians such as Findlay's trumpet on the opening "All or Nothing at All," with wonderful piano and the brassy horn riffs. Woodard's tenor sax adds his magic to "Willow Weep For Me," as he embroiders her vocal with guitarist Chiodini adding chords and fills. Meurkens adds his harmonica to a Brazilian tinged treatment of "Close Your Eyes," while harmonica, and Chiodini's guitar to the lament, "How Insensitive, " that she sings in a heartfelt fashion.

One here's a definite Peggy Lee influence on her rendition of "Why Don't You Do Right?' that opens with finger-snapping, bass and guitar before La Barbara lightly uses brushes with Berghofer taking a solo. The choice of the Willie Nelson penned Patsy Cline hit, "Crazy," is an inspired choice with Berghofer opening playing the opening line before the band comes in with a juke joint feel and Findlay and the horns contribute extra spice. Another softly sung late night lament, "In the Wee Wee Hours," with Meurkens' harmonica complemented by Chiodini's guitar accompaniment and La Barbara's brushes providing the right atmosphere for this marvelous closing performance on a wonderfully sung, played, and recorded album of sophisticated jazz vocals.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here is Lyn Stanley performing live.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Flip Phillips Your Place Or Mine

Flip Phillips
Your Place Or Mine
Jump/Delmark Records

Best remembered for his stint on the Jazz at the Philharmonic tours with his barn-burning solos in the company of Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charlie Parker and others, tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips had moved to south Florida after those days, playing locally but otherwise in semi-retirement. He got together with guitarist Dell Staton and would jammed for the fun of it at either's home. in 1963 they went to a recording studio for the kicks of it and this is one of the only two Flip made in the twenty years after leaving JATP. Staton in addition to his guitar, adds bass using a foot organ attachment.

From the opening moments of "Come Rain Or Shine," Phillips impresses with the warmth and rhapsodic quality of his playing whether on tenor sax or on bass clarinet (for example the tenderness heard on "Just Say I Loved Her"). Listening to "It's the Talk of the Town," the airy, breathy quality of his playing evokes the great Ben Webster, while Staton, who chords his simple accompaniment, shows a similar attention to tone in his solo interlude. Phillips returns to the bass clarinet for a lovely "Summertime," while against Staton's chording brings his romanticism to Django Reinhardt's "Nuages."

A nicely swinging "Jada" provides a change in pace from ballads that predominate here along with the driving "Scatterbrain," with some marvelous chording and single note guitar along with Phillips here. Then there is the bass clarinet on "Chloe," with some exquisite playing evocative of Webster and clarinetist Barney Bigard on this number that was also part of the Ellington repertoire. Brisk takes on "Jazz Me Blues" and "Gone With the Wind" (with Staton superb here) are among other performances on a marvelously, delightful recording.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review originally appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here is Filp Phillips at his 80th Birthday Party.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Mark Whitfield Live & Uncut

Mark Whitfield
Live & Uncut
Chesky Records

Recorded live at Manattan's Rockwood Music Hall (on the lower East Side), this new album by the celebrated guitarist Mark Whitfield has him joined by drummer Billy Drummond and bassist Ben Allison. It was recorded with a single binaural microphone and is part of Chesky's Virtual Audio Series. This is a MQA CD that plays back on all CD players but apparently will reveal the original master quality on a MQA enabled device.

Listening to the performances of four standards and two Drummond originals, one observes in addition to the excellence of the playing that Drummond sounds a tad bit too prominent in the mix (and at times too noticeable). Musically things start off on a strong note with a superb "Without a Song," with Whitfield's fresh, and imaginative take matched with his impeccable technique followed by equally brilliant, imaginative explorations of "Invitation" (with a solid Allison solo), and "Willow Weep For Me," as Whitfield takes us for quite a ride with his scintillating fretwork with Allison providing an anchor before Drummond solos, and the audio details of his stick and brushwork is captured wonderfully here. Drummond's intriguing "Changes For Monk And Trane," is followed by a solid rendition of Monk's "Jackie-ing" with Allison superb providing a foundation for the leader's improvisation with Drummond taking another solo.

"Live & Uncut" closes with Drummond's evocative "Dubai," and is another sterling performance by this trio, with another feature for the composer. Whitfield, Allison and Drummond are superb throughout and my only reservation is the prominence of Drummond in the mix, likely the result of the use of only a single microphone (or possibly my not having a MQA CD player).

I received from my review copy from a publicist. Here with organist Pat Bianchi, Mark performs Duke Ellington's, "In a Sentimental Mood."

Sunday, November 12, 2017



3Divas is an offshoot of the Diva Jazz Orchestra which is led by drummer Sherrie Muncie and also includes Orchestra members, Jackie Warren on piano, and Any Shook on bass. As a resident of the Mid-Atlantic, I am most familiar with bassist Shook, who is quite busy in addition to being part of this trio, but all three have impressive resumes as players, composers and educators.

The trio certainly has its very distinctive approach to the ballad "Beautiful Love," which quickly establishes the complete authority they have as they transform this. Warren certainly displays technique, touch, drive and imaginative invention while complemented by the other two. They then turn there attention to John Denver's "Sunshine on My Shoulders" that opens as an exuberant romp before Shook's bowed solo engenders a sober mood to close this performance. A lyrical "Tennessee Waltz" follows and then a jaunty "I Thought About You." Jobim's "Favela" opens wistfully before they launch a spicy latin groove and Warren dazzles here with Shook an anchor and Muncie crisp stick work and use of her cymbals accenting the torrid piano with Shook also soloing strongly and Muncie also generating fireworks. Warren opens "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning" in a reflective manner before Shook takes a thoughtful bass solo with Muncie's deftly employing brushes and Warren spare runs and chord.

A fresh, dynamic take on the old Sonny and Cher hit "The Beat Goes On," based on Alan Baylock's arrangement of Sonny Bono's number, closes a marvelous recording by a superb trio.

I received as a download from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here are the 3Divas performing "The Beat Goes On."

Friday, November 10, 2017

Classic Blues Artwork From the 1920s - Vol. 15

Various Artists
Classic Blues Artwork From the 1920s - Vol. 15
Blues Images

John Tefteller's annual Calendar with accompanying CD of remastered rare 78s is certainly one that blues fans will want. The Calendar has each month illustrated with reproductions of original advertisements from African-American newspapers of the time, or rare photos of the artists (in this case newly discovered images of Johnny Temple and Isaiah Nettles also known as The Mississippi Moaner).  There are songs by the performers that are the subject of the illustrations, along with brief comments on the performers and the recordings. There also is a selection of birth and death dates for selected blues artists as part of the Calendar.

In addition to these twelve selections that tie to the Calendar, there are twelve bonus selections that include  the other sides for some of the 78s along with other rarities. This is the third straight year that he has employed the technology that was employed on the recent American Epic PBS television series, and reissue recordings associated with that series, to remaster original 78s (generally the best existing copy which usually are from his own collection) to present the music with the best possible sound.

Their are some terrific music to be heard here starting with Memphis Minnie's debut as she sings "Frisco Town" that was originally issued as by Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie. Several of my favorite recordings are here including Blind Lemon Jefferson's superb "Hot Dogs"; Blind Willie Johnson's magnificent song inspired by the sinking of Titanic, "God Moves on the Water" and Charlie Patton recordings "Screamin' and Hollerin' The Blues" (and the other side of this is a bonus track and equally good, "Mississippi Boweavil Blues." Blind Blake's "Hard Road Blues," may not be his best known song but a typically fine performance of this masterful guitarist and singer. Blake is also heard backing Bertha Henderson on "Lead Hearted Blues."

It is certainly nice to hear a much cleaner remastering of the rare Tommy Johnson coupling "Slidin' Delta" and "I Wonder To Myself," on which he plays kazoo. The Beale Street Sheiks (Frank Stokes and Dan Sane) are present in the solid "Wasn't That Doggin' Me," while "The Evil Devil Blues" by Johnny 'Geechie' Temple is a terrific cover of Skip James' "Devil Got My Woman." Then there is the Mississippi Moaner's superb "Its Cold in China," a recording Johnny Shines reworked as "So Cold in Vietnam," three decades later. Also related to the images on the Calendar are a novelty by Tampa Red and Georgia Tom, "Strewin' Your Mess," along with a gospel performance Rev. Steamboat Bill's Revival Singers, "Happy As The Day Is Long."

I have mentioned a few of the bonus tracks which include Blind Lemon's "Weary Dog Blues," the flip side to "Hot Dogs "; Johnny Temple's "Jacksonville Blues," (a superb selection that was the flip to "Evil Devil Woman Blues"); and Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie's "Goin' Back To Texas," which is an actual vocal duet and musically even better than "Frisco Town." Other selections include a superb pair from St. Louis artist, 'Hi' Henry Brown with the great Charlie Jordan also on guitar, ("Brown Skin Angel" and "Hospital Blues"), and a spectacular couple from Sam Butler under the name Bo Weavil Jackson ("The Devil and My Brown" and "You Can't Keep No Brown"). The Memphis Jug Band (coming off like a skiffle band) is heard backing pianist jab Jones on a pair of songs that were thought to have been lost as well as backing Charlie Nickerson on an excellent and ebullient "Going Back to Memphis."

Once again John Tefteller has produced a remarkable Blues Calendar and fabulous reissue CD. This year's Calendar also includes some observations from Bernard MacMahon, one of the creators of the PBS film documentary "American Epic." Among his observations are "These recordings represent some of the most powerful, sociologically important music of the early blues era.They are especially relevant in these parlous times when hard-won freedoms are sorely threatened." Also, these recordings have never sounded better on this latest Blues Calendar, which can be obtained from and online retailers. It certainly makes for a wonderful gift for the blues lover on your holiday gift list.

I purchased this from Blues Iamges.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Nighthawks All You Gotta Do

The Nighthawks
All You Gotta Do
EllerSoul Records

I believe this is the fourth album by the current lineup of The Nighthawks when Mark Stutso replaced Pete Ragusa on drums, joining Mark Wenner on harmonica, Paul Bell on guitar and Johnny Castle on bass. It is another generous helping of blues and roots rock by one of the hardest working bands around with as eclectic a group as songs as they have ever recorded ranging from the opening updating of a Brenda Lee recording "That's All You Gotta Do" sung by Mark;  Willie Dixon's "Baby, I Want To Be Loved"; to Jesse Winchester's "Isn't That So"; to a rowdy rendition of Randy Newman's "Let Burn Down the Cornfield."

Highpoints include Stutso's singing on Larry Campbell's country gospel song "When I Go Away," that served as Levon Helm's personal farewell, his original hoodoo blues, "VooDoo Doll," and a wonderful swamp pop ballad "Three Times Your Fool"; Bell's stunning slide guitar backing on "Let Burn Down the Cornfield"; Wenner's harp and vocal on a rollicking cover of the second Sonny Boy Williamson's "Ninety Nine," his swamp blues reworking of Winchester's "Isn't that So" with marvelous tremolo laced guitar from Bell, and the instrumental recasting of "Frere Jacques" as "Blues For Brother John," with some jazzy playing from Bell; the band's reworking of R.L. Burnside's "Snake Drive" with terrific harp and slide; and Castle's grungy garage rock rendition of the Standell's "Dirty Water," with references to Boston changed to DC and Bell's guitar solo evoking the group, Them.

Other than the range of material, there will be no surprises for fans of The Nighthawks on another solid addition to their large body of recordings.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is an August 2017 performance by The Nighthawks.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Jason Stein Quartet Lucille!

Jason Stein Quartet
Delmark Records

Very welcome is this new release from Stein, one of the few bass clarinet specialists. As on Stein's Delmark debut "This Story, this Time," Keefe Jackson is present with his tenor sax (and contrabass clarinet for a couple numbers) and Joshua Abrams is on bass. Drummer Tom Rainey replaces Frank Rosaly who was on the earlier release as the quintet negotiate here several originals along with some songs representing the Tristano school as well as bop standards from Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.

About the earlier album I wrote, "Some might describe this as free jazz, but that may refer to the looser musical structures they build their improvisations and with few exceptions do not relate to frenzied or frenetic playing … ." Certainly the interplay between Jackson's tenor sax and Stein on Warne Marsh's "Marshmallow' establishes the 'in the moment' quality of the performances here with Abrams and Rainey providing an almost atemporal underpinning between their well crafted intricate interplay. Stein's own "Halls and Room" has Stein stretching out as his serpentine lines illustrate his focus on the normal range of the instrument (say compared to Dolphy's bluesy employment of the upper range) and followed by a sober tenor sax from Jackson, set against Abrams' bass before Rainey joins in to support the smoldering heat in Jackson's solo.

Jackson's contrabass clarinet sets out the theme on Parker's "Dexterity," a nicely loose rendition of this modern music classic (to use the phrase Symphony Sid employed in radio broadcasts of Bird). Equally engrossing is the performance of Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie," again with Jackson on contrabass clarinet), with some honking, squawks and other effects again with the two clarinets weaving in and around each other. The interplay between tenor sax and bass clarinet also is present in their vibrant handling of Tristano's "Wow."

Stein's own "
I Knew You Were" has a floating drone-like quality as a duet by him with Abrams as Rainey adds some understated accompaniment and on Tristano's "April," Stein states the theme as well as ably negotiates the twists and turns of the melody before Jackson's tenor joins in adding his weight and counterpoint to Stein's lead. It is a strong close to a terrific new recording from Jason Stein.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is "Marshmallow" from this album.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Kris Funn CornerStore

Kris Funn

The CornerStore - "On the corner of bebop and hiphop, hard rock and hard knocks … Here in West Baltimore. This ain't just a store. It's a metaphor for our lives. … So take a look around. We ain't got what you need, but I know we got what you want. … Thank You For Shopping With Us… Welcome to the corner store." This bits and pieces excerpt comes from Paige Hernadez's narration of the opening track of bassist Kris Funn's long-awaited recording "CornerStore," which is also the group under which this music is presented in public.

Funn is a second generation jazz artist whose father Charles is also a noted educator who was honored a couple years ago by the Jazz Journalists Association as a jazz hero. Kris Funn may be familiar to those who are fans of trumpeter Christian Scott's music as he has been part of Scott's band for a number of years as well as is heard on Scott's recordings. Funn has also played and recorded with vibraphonist Warren Wolf and too many others to note, and when the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival needed a rhythm section for the great Benny Golson, Funn was on bass.

The rest of the CornerStore includes drummer John Lampkin (or Quincy Phillips), guitarist John Lee and saxophonist Tim Green. Allyn Johnson and Janelle Gill add piano to a few tracks. When this writer first saw Kris Funn and CornerStore at a Capital Bop (Local DC jazzgroup) produced show several years ago, it was Lee and Lampkin. Seeing the group on this and other occasions I told Kris he needed to record this group. I was not alone in this, and finally we have this recording.

The music here brings together the mix of lyricism, blues feeling, funk and more, that characterize the CornerStore performances. Blues is a root of Funn's compositions, often repeating a melodic phrase before the compositions open in unexpected and delightful fashions. The opening "Visceral," a trio performance with Funn, Lampkin and Lee imaginatively and energetically taking us through this blues. It was on the following "Gemini," with Green's alto added, that one starts to appreciate the melodic elements of Funn's music with his singing tone in harmony with Lee's guitar on stating the theme. The performances are full of fun (no pun intended) as well as imaginative playing with unexpected twists.

The only number on this that was a bit disappointing was "Thursday Night Prayer Meeting," and that is because pianist Allyn Johnson is spectacular as usual, but he dominates the performance that it minimizes the stop-time, bass break that is part of why this such a favorite of the CornerStore's live performances. At the CD release party at the Kennedy Center (viewable at the Kennedy Center's website), they closed with this. While Johnson was perhaps even more astonishing, the bass break was also more prominent. But it still is a very good performance. In any event, this terrific album has been well worth the wait for us.

I purchased this. It is available from various internet stores including at bandcamp, At another CD release party at the Washington DC Leica Store, Kris Funn and the CornerStore are seen performing "Thursday Night Prayer Meeting," with Herb Scott on alto sax, John Lee on guitar and John Lampkin on drums.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Billy Porter Presents The Soul of Richard Rogers

Billy Porter Presents
The Soul of Richard Rodgers
Sony Masterworks

A quick and dirty description of this new recording by the Tony and Grammy Award winner Billy Porter is hip hop meets the classic songs of Richard Rodgers. Included are includes solos and duets from the a variety of artists  (in addition to Porter himself) including  Tony and Grammy Award winners Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) and Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), Tony Award-winner Patina Miller (Pippin), Grammy Award winners Pentatonix and India.Arie, Tony Award nominees Brandon Victor Dixon (Shuffle Along), Joshua Henry (Violet), and Christopher Jackson (Hamilton), alongside YouTube sensation and Kinky Boots star Todrick Hall and multiple Grammy Award nominees Deborah Cox and Ledisi.

"I like to think of this as the Richard Rodgers version of the Hamilton Mixtapes," Porter said.  "These are classic songs that everybody knows and loves, and I'm so excited for people to hear them in a brand new way." Certainly listening to Ledisi singing "Bewitched," the hip hop groove recasts a familiar melody, elongating and transforming it as well as incorporating an explicit rap from Zaire Park. India.arie sings "Carefully Taught," from the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical "South Pacific" and its 1949 lyric is unfortunately so relevant today, "You got to be taught to hate and fear; You got to be taught from year to year; It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear; You got to be carefully taught." Porter himself provides the lovely interpretation of "Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music," and a brief narration notes that the flower exists in the harshest of environment and reminds us we must flourish in the harshest of times, again not only reworking the song for contemporary tastes, but showing its continued relevance,

There is the hip hop rendition of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" with a politically charged rap mixed with the singing of the lyrics. Not everything has political connotations as the dreamy duet between Renée Elise Goldsberry & Christopher Jackson on "If I Loved You," Cynthia Erivo's lovely "My Funny Valentine," or Porter's interpretation of "The Lady Is a Tramp," with a Zaire Park rap playing off the lyrics, incorporated in this performance. Then there is Pentatonix's optimistic and spirited take on "What a Beautiful Morning."

Billy Porter has put together this imaginative re-imagination of some classic songs that are well established parts of the American Songbook, and these performances show the contemporary relevance of these songs in introducing them to new audiences. At the same time, there is no question that some will be put off by the musical settings and there are some explicit raps on a couple of tracks on a very intriguing recording.

I received a review download from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2017  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here Billy Porter and others talk about this recording.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Lil' Shaky and the Tremors Aftershock

Lil' Shaky and the Tremors
EZV Records

Chris Vachon, Roomful of Blues' guitarist for the past 25+ years who also has co-produced their last 10 albums, alerted me to this group and project he is part of that he recorded, mixed and mastered. The rest of this group is Ed Wright, a solid blue-eyed soulful vocalist and bassist; Jeff Ceasrine on keyboards, and Larr Anderson on drums. Also heard are The Naked Horns on several tracks, Mike Rand on harmonica for a couple selections, Brenda Bennett who contributes a lead vocal on one selection, and sundry other musicians and backing vocals.

Much of this is in a soul-blues vein and showcases Wright's strong singing stands out especially on an surprising cover of Bill Withers' "Grandma Hands" that also has solid vocal backing from The Gospel Love Notes (and crisp Vachon guitar fills). If that is perhaps the standout track, his renditions of the O.V. Wright classic "I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled and Crazy," the George Jackson penned Ann Pebbles;' gem "Slipped Tripped And Fell In Love," or Syl Johnson's soul stomper "I Only Have Love." Wright and the horn augmented band give a gritty rendition of Bobby Bland's "I Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)."

Several other numbers have more of roots-rock flavor including a strong take on Bobby Charles' "Why Are People Like That," a rockabilly-flavored rendition of a Willie Dixon's "I Love the Life I Live," and the closing "It's All Over Now," that is based on Bobby Womack's 1997 recording, not The Valentinos' original from the sixties. They complement the deep soul performances with some very fine playing throughout, and excellent production, that make for a very appealing recording for blues and soul fans.

I received my review copy from Chris Vachon. This review appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here is a video of them performing "I Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)."

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Mike Neer Steelonious

Mike Neer

Steel guitar has generally been associated with western swing and honky tonk country, although there have been exceptions with sacred steel gospel players. There have been several notable blues lap steel players including Hop Wilson, L.C. 'Good Rockin'' Robinson, and Sonny Rhodes, and more recently Kenny Neal and Selwyn Birchwood. This is not to forget Freddie Roulette, whose playing with Earl Hooker and the Chicago Blues Stars (including his remarkable playing on "Summertime") and somewhat more recent recordings including the CD backed by Willie Kent and his band, "Back in Chicago," and the overlooked "Man of Steel," that included his recasting of Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder."

Now we have a intriguing new release by steel guitarist Mike Neer, a tribute to Thelonious Monk. Neer (who also plays ukulele, bass on "Ask Me Now" and adds percussion) is backed by Matt King on piano and organ, Andrew Hall on bass and Diego Voglino on drums and percussion with Tom Beckham adding vibes to two tracks. This is a tribute CD that does not take itself too seriously as Neer initially channeling in the Surfaris' "Wipeout" and the Ventures on the opening of "Epistrophy," Then there is the tinge of Western Swing on "I Mean You," with someone (Neer?) chanting like Bob Wills "Steelonious." The following selection, "Off Minor" is a bouncy performance with King on organ. King, is a more conventional keyboard player than Monk was, but the leader's arrangements for the whole group instill the Monkish flavor.

The two tracks with Beckham include "In Walked Bud" which is taken at a slower tempo than the usual buoyant groove while he provides musical color and texture to the lovely "Ask Me Now." Neer's rendition of "Ugly Beauty" is a lovely atmospheric performance, while "Blue Monk," which closes the CD is a nice moody rendition of this classic Monk blues with the rhythm section providing sturdy support. This recording is a delight with some fresh takes on Monk's music. You can purchase as a CD or as a download and Neer has information at I recommend purchasing it at bandcamp ( where if you purchase the CD, you also get a bonus download track in a briskly paced interpretation of "Well, You Needn't."

I purchased this. Here is a rendition of "Blue Monk."

Friday, October 27, 2017

Vivian Buczek Ella Lives

Vivian Buczek
Ella Lives
Prophone Records

Swedish vocalist Vivian Buczek has made her contribution to the Ella Fitzgerald centenary with this release. This is collaboration with pianist and arranger Martin Sjöstedt with bassist Niklas Fernqvist and drummer Johan Löfcrantz Ramsay. Also appearing on this are Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone; Fredrik Lindborg on bass clarinet and tenor sax; Peter Asplund on trumpet and flugelhorn; and Karl-Martin Almqvist on tenor sax.

The eleven numbers interpreted here include gems from Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Ray Noble, and Duke Ellington and if these songs will be familiar, the arrangements provided by Sjöstedt along with Buczek's singing, result in lively and fresh renditions. The focus of course is Buczek's vocals. She not only possesses a lovely voice, but her vocals, including her scatting, display impeccable pitch, diction, timing. Her use of dynamics in her delivery of a lyric are marvelous. The backing is terrific too, with Sjöstedt marvelous in comping or soloing as when she wordlessly sings along with Asplund's flugelhorn on "Tenderly."

Highlights include her exquisite rendition of Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" with Stahl's vibes accenting her vocal and Ramsey employing brushes; the terrific "The Man I Love," with lively backing, a stellar vibes solo, Sjöstedt superbly accompanying the vocal, and Asplund,  taking his own fascinating solo; the wonderful "The Very Thought of You," with strong tenor sax from Lindborg; and her superb scatting on "Lady Be Good," along with some fiery trumpet. Finally, one cannot understate the importance of the rhythm duo of bassist Fernqvist and drummer Ramsay on the consistently wonderful performances on "Ella Lives." Vivian Buczek has not only provided a stellar Ella Fitzgerald tribute but shows herself to be a fabulous jazz singer in her own right.

I received a review copy from the US distributor of this release. Here she performs "The Man I Love."


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Howlin' At Greaseland

Howlin' At Greaseland
West Tone Records

Some veterans and new names join together for a tribute to Howlin' Wolf that was recorded at Kid Andersen's' Greaseland studio and has a cover inspired by Wolf's Rockin' Chair album. Assembled for this besides Andersen on guitar, bass and piano, are Rick Estrin and Aki Kumar on harp, Lorenzo Farrell, Jim Pugh and Henry Gray on piano, Rockin' Johnny Burgin, Johnny Cat, and Chris James on guitar; Joe Kyle Jr, Patrick Rynn, Robby Yamilov and Vance Ehlers on bass; Derrick Dmar Martin, and Junior Core on drums; and Terry Hanck on sax, with vocals from Gray, Hanck, Alabama Mike John Blues Boyd, Lee Donald and Tail Dragger on vocals.

There are solidly played and sung performances in the manner of the originals, if not quite of the level of the originals. After all, there was only one Howlin' Wolf. Alabama Mike sings with urgency on "Meet Me In The Bottom," with Estrin's harmonica and Farrell's piano featured while "Smokestack Lightning," has the first of Boyd's vocals with Estrin doing a nice evocation of Wolf's harp over the solid vocal. Boyd also recalled seeing Wolf in 1956 visiting a school friend of his before launching into a rollicking "Riding in the Moonlight," with the spirit of Willie Johnson suggested in the guitar backing. After recalling, his father booking Howlin' Wolf in the sixties in suburban Chicago, Terry Hanck handles "Howlin' For My Darling," with a fine vocal and strong sax, while Johnny Cat emulates Hubert Sumlin.

Tail Dragger has a couple of recollections of Wolf here along with performances of "I'm Leaving You," and "Don't Trust No Woman," with his slightly muffled vocals with strong accompaniment from Rockin' Johnny Burgin on guitar, and Aki Kumar on harp. Henry Gray, who spent 14 years in Wolf's band, is backed by Chris James, Patrick Rynn, Ali Kumar (who shares the vocal) and Junior Core, doing a solid "Worried Life Blues." I believe this is the only song here not identified with Wolf. Also, Gray sings and plays "Little Red Rooster, with Kid Andersen's acoustic guitar the only other backing.

I am not familiar with Lee Donald, who is the strong vocalist on "Forty Four," and Boyd sings robustly on "Spoonful" that closes "Howlin' At Greaseland." While there is nothing earthshaking here, this is a fine, straightforward homage to one of the icons of the blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is John 'Blues' Boyd singing a Wolf classic not on this album, "Back Door Man."