Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #235. I am John Book, welcome.
This column is about music reviews, along with music-related books, DVD’s, etc. Each review will usually be followed by a graphic, when upon clicking you can make a purchase:
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Now, the column.
It still blows me away that The Black Crowes now have “classic rock” status, when to me they’re a band of my time. In other words, I remember when they released Shake Your Money Maker and have been with them for most of their career, but now they’re among the likes of The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. The group continue to record ridiculous albums, but their pride and joy remains the stage, and they take it there and back with Warpaint Live (Silver Arrow/Eagle Rock).
The album is basically a live version of the Warpaint album, mixed in with some of their favorite songs from rock’s past, inlcuding great covers of Eric Clapton‘s “Don’t Know Why” (a song he panned with singer Bonnie Bramlett for Clapton’s first solo album in 1970), and The Rolling Stones‘ “Torn And Frayed” from their Exile On Main Street LP. As with the studio album, Warpaint Live has them getting rootsy by dipping into country and blues, and when the crowd eats it up, the band gives back tenfold and vice versa. Hearing songs like “Evergreen”, “Oh Josephine”, and “Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution” in a live setting will make you wish you had caught them on this tour, but this is what a live album is all about, hearing your favorite band tear it up and with luck you can see and hear it in person when they make it around the next time.
What you will not hear on this album are the old hits, so no “She Talks To Angels”, “Hard To Handle”, or “Sometimes Salvation”, none of that, it’s the Warpaint experience in all of its dusty and rugged glory. The Black Crowes understand what it means to rock and rock well, and they have become the gospel in what they do. May they continue to do more of that for another 20 years.
The title of Scotty Barnhart‘s album, Say It Plain (Unity Music/Dig), may not be accurate in describing the music, because how would one describe “plain music”? Unless it’s a command to play direct and to the point, without frills. This is waht trumpeter Barnhart does on a jazz album that will bring to mind the glory days of the late 50’s and early 60’s when it seemed everyone was jiving and jumping and inspired to play and create because it felt good.
This is no doubt a feel good album, and when you have the help of Clark Terry, Rodney Jordan, Herlin Riley, Ellis Marsalis and the one and only Wynton Marsalis, it’s not as if royalty has entered the room, you’re hearing the crowning of new royalty. When Todd Williams‘ trades licks with Barnhart on the cover of John Coltrane‘s “Giant Steps”, you’ll believe that the song originated in the bayou (some of Williams playing on the soprano saxophone is very reminiscent of Andrew Woolfolk on the Earth, Wind & Fire album Open Our Eyes. Barnhart shares a number of new composition here, including a track he co-write with Terry, “Pay Me My Money” and everyone in the song is playing as if they mean business. The title says it all too, and it’s a bold move towards the finish line. In this case, these guys are playing and partying long after the celebrations are over.
Barnhart is a powerful player, and he plays his heart out on an album that will be a must have for anyone who loves the power of jazz.
Portraits (Art Of Life) is a new album by pianist Bob Rodriguez, but consists of a solo piano recording done in 1994. The album is a haunting piece of work where you get to hear what Rodriguez is capable of not only through original compositions but new interpretations of “Waltz For Debby”, “”Spring Is Here”, “”All The Things You Are”, and “‘Round Midnight”. The overall mood is somber, the kind of music that you may want to listen to alone on a Saturday night in the dark, although it may provide a bit of romance too.
Whatever your taste and delight, if you are a fan of solo piano work you will enjoy this album immensely, with great engineering from Nick Prout.
The mission for saxophonist Steve Elson is to brush off the glitter and shine of his New York City to show the real city, and by doing so you will see the true character of its people. Or so says Elson on Mott & Broome (Lips and Fingers Music), who takes a look at the characters of NYC and reintroduces them through his music, where his jazz is mixed with Latin sounds, Jewish influences, shades of the Middle East, and various European sounds that eventually lead to his Russian roots. In other words, the cosmopolitan of a city before it became homogenized into something it really isn’t, and Elson does this with a wide range of saxophones and clarinets, with the help of Pete Smith (9-string guitar), Yasushi Nakamura (acoustic bass), Scott Latzky (drums and percussion), and Jennifer Griffin vocals.
Thousands of people, including countless musicians and artists, came to New York to see how vibrant it was, the good and the bad, its true soul. It’s still there but like any good music, you have to dig a little deeper to find the good stuff, and you will with tracks like “Sevilla”, where it sounds like a gypsy family being introduced to the sounds of Cuba, or “Bowery Bossa Nova”, a grittier Brazilian vibe for the 21st century.
The music on Mott & Broome is cultural, social, and more importantly entertaining. The mixtures of sound is not just a myth or fantasy, the world Elson sees and hears exists, and with hope you’ll see the city in a not-so-all-new light. The light is dim, but one doesn’t need bright lights to see and hear everything in all of its glory.
Jazz singer Beth McDonald is the kind of singer that is very pleasing to listen to, which is good because as of late it has been a major chore to hear singers that are pure singers without trying to sound too much like a musician. She’s that good that she has the confidence to release two albums, both very different from one another.
Home (Classic Avenue) is more along the lines of jazz and pop, and hearing her in a song like “Sway” makes me wish she was open to do something more contemporary. I say this because what I hear is someone with a sensuality that sounds modern yet classic, soothing to the touch and just something that is very pleasing. That might be partly to do with how she carries herself with the selection of songs here, whether it’s “I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues”, “Besame Mucho”, or “Don’t Ever Leave Me”, and even with an album that’s 17 songs deep, not one of these will make you want to move to the next one or save half for later. Top notch performance from start to finish.
At Last: Love Songs & Lullabies (Classic Avenue) is similar in feel but perhaps the songs chosen are more direct, whether it’s for her husband or for her children. It feels a bit more intimate, especially her own compositions “Dancing With Wonder”, “Longer”, and “Moon Song”. They offer a brief glimpse into the woman that is McDonald, and those who listen may relate to them through their own personal experiences. Top pick on this album would have to be her version of the Kermit The Frog hit song, “The Rainbow Connection”, passing along to her children a message that perhaps one day we’ll find a place where lovers and dreamers can celebrate and unify with everyone else who dares to love and dream.
Both albums are perfect companion pieces, so buy both together or try one before picking the other.
How would it sound if you had a really mean Hammond B-3 player jamming with the Doc Severinsen-lead Tonight Show Band? You might get what you will hear on the album by Dave Siebels with Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (Pat Boone’s Gold), an album that swings but not too harshly.
The musicians on here (which include saxophonist Eric Marienthal abd drummer Bernie Dresel) sound like something you’d hear on an Airmen Of Note album, where everything sounds almost perfect, the arrangements are perfect and it almost sounds too clean, at least for my ears. But what you hear with Siebels and the musicians is jazz that’s playing with the kind of caliber you don’t hear too much of anywhere. Siebels own “The Gospel According To Hammond” allows him and Merianthal to go at it for a song that sounds like the perfect song to wake up to on a Sunday morning.
Nothing wrong with this release.
Jeff Presslaff is a pianist that knows his music and his capabilities inside and out, and yet knows that there is so much to explore that you can never exhaust ones self if you look forward. Looking forward is the name of the game on his album, Red Goddess (Uncontrollable), which puts him in a trio setting with drummer Scott Senior and bassist Julian Bradford.
Some will say that when you put someone in a trio setting, some kind of magic happens. Then again, listen to any extraordinary jazz played by capable musicians and you will be able to see magic in the flesh, and this is most certainly the case with this album. The liner notes explain that he considers his music to be a bit quirky, and that finding musicians like Senior and Bradford to play them along with him is a blessing that he is able to share with the world. The opening track, “Summer Somewhere (One)”, is performed at a slightly sluggish/deliberate pace, as if one step will obviously lead to another but where that step leads to, no one knows. The spacing in tracks like “2 Blue 2B” and “Two-Way Rays” keep the listener guessing, or at least anticipating where the path will lead them. Presslaff plays in a way that you can’t help but smile as you hear it, and as he communicates with Bradford and Senior you can tell that they’re smiling too.
Roger Davidson and Raúl Jaurena play with no one but each other, one (Davidson) plays the piano while the other (Jaurena) plays the bandoneón, which is in the accordion family. Together they play the kind of tango music that you might catch on a street corner years ago, or at a wedding reception where the dancing, talking, food, and fun doesn’t end even after everyone has cleaned up. The music is a bit different from what Davidson has released recently, but if you are a fan of his piano work you will enjoy hearing him in a completely different context. He and Jaurena play tracks like “Tango Ruso”, “Todo El Tiempo”, “Puente A LA Esperanza”, and “Aventura” where you may want to join in but prefer observing from afar, not wanting to destroy the chemistry these two have with one another. There’s a romantic feel to it, although maybe that comes from hearing the music in a nostalgic manner or perhaps as an outsider. That in itself may be the lure, the idea that we’re all outsiders but somehow we open ourselves to bring each other in. Welcome.
Jazz and culture has always had a healthy exchange, and the dialogue between one another has probably brought together more people and worlds than politicians. Or at least one can say that after hearing Dan Adler‘s All Things Familiar (Emdam).
Adler had a love of jazz when he moved to the United States from Israel in 1986, and over the years played and jammed with the band. Now it’s a chance to truly hear him shine, and while he plays with the finesse of Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, and at times Pat Metheny, there is still a bit of his homeland’s influence, or at least when he throws out melodies that do not sound distinctively jazz, more folk and indigenous. Hearing him alongside pianist Richard Samuels, drummer Philip Stewart, bassist Dmitri Kolesnik, and saxophonist Grant Stewart sound as if these musicians were meant to play together. “If I Were A Jazz Man” has all of them exploring as many cultures in a 8 minute duration, while “Blues For Keren” gets you locked into a mood and moment that you don’t want to escape, and how they do it is brilliant.
The rest of the album… let me just say that I know I’ll be listening to this album twenty years from now, and in a vast world of jazz recordings where it seems there are over 40 releases a week, that’s saying something.
Put together two people who love to sing, play, and write, and you may have a recipe for success. That is what Bill Horvitz and Robin Eschner are doing under the name Tone Bent, and Say What You Will (Big Door Prize).
If you are familiar with Horvitz, you’ll know that he is capable of going anywhere and everywhere with his guitar. Here he goes low-key with Eschner and goes acoustic, singing stories about peculiar people in town and perhaps throwing out hints of themselves in there too. Eschner at times shows hints of Tracey Amos, as if she had just left Rise Robots Rise and wanted to start a new thing. But it’s nothing but two guitars and voices, trading lines, harmonies, and ideas in a way that may seem folk-is because it’s acoustic but it’s more like diary entries for the ultra-curious.
Consider it along the lines of Warren Zevon mixed in with Kate Bush or David Gilmour if he was open to let it all out like his former bandmate.
But you want a reason to buy it, right? Of course you do.
The simple formula of Cerulean Blue (self-released) is quite complex in its execution, and the sounds they create together come off like a cross between Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and The Modern Jazz Quartet, where Wolff plays smoothed out at first as Klein gets intense and in-your-pace with her playing. Then Wolff decides to have some fun and decorate the soundscape. Most of it sounds like jazz, but “In A Grain Of Sand” (a Klein composition) sounds a bit more classical in their approach, with Wolff gently tapping the vibraphone almost as if it’s morse code, very unique in its approach.
In the end it is still a jazz album but the two throw out a few curve balls on the album, letting people know that they’re not just playing this smoothly because they can. It’s because they know they can thrill and excite. Here’s to more excitement.
It takes a hell of a lot of effort for me to not only like vocal jazz, but for me to want to listen to it. It’s generally on the bottom of my list, but every now and then there’s a singer that makes you want to stop, bow down and worship what you’re hearing. Enter Mary Jenson.
It’s hard to describe what I hear in her voice, but let me try. Close Your Eyes (self-released) is performed by someone with a voice that sounds very warm and comforting, but what I also hear is someone who commands each song with the class and respect they need, whether it’s the Latin-flavored “It’s All Right With Me” or the funky Seawind-influence of “Cool”, with this track she gives Pauline Wilson a run for her money. It’s not just the jazz/pop standards that she does well, but when she gets loose you’re hearing a part of her that says “yes, I’m that kind of singer too”. It’s kind of, well, “sassy” may not be a word I’d normally use, and “spunky” comes close to sounding like I’m describing a bowl of oatmeal, but to my ears it’s sexy but what she does with that is bring herself up to the front and let’s people know that she can indeed sing, and what you’re hearing is just mere accents to the fullness she provides in these songs. Her cover of “Pure Imagination” (made famous by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory) sounds as new and as optimistic as it did over 30 years ago, and now we’re hearing the child grown singing this to a new generation who seeks something that will move them to take their imagination to new and bold places.
Jenson sings jazz, but doesn’t always fit the stereotype of what a “jazz singer” entails, and that’s a good thing. Her voice is far from a stereotype, so listen and see/hear if you agree.
It takes a hell of a lot of effort for me to not only like vocal jazz, but for me to want to listen to it. It’s generally on the bottom of my list, but every now and then there’s a singer that makes you want to stop, bow down and worship what you’re hearing. Unfortunately L’Tanya Mari’ is not one of them, and I’ll explain why.
The choice of songs on A Teardrop Of Sun (Falconeye) are quite good, and Mari’s voice is alright, but she seems to have a need to take it a bit over the edge, making the songs less appealing. I know she can sing, and I’m sure anyone who hears her will say the same but at the moment where she should just kick back and keep it simple, she moves forward and does a bit of gymnastics in her voice that are completely unnecessary.
If she worked with better producers who would be able to bring out more from her, and more importantly show how she can best utilize her talents, she would be a force that would lead to many encores wherever she performs. It’s not lackluster or anything, but she just needs to stop pushing herself to the point of no return. Hold back next time.
In the past I’ve talked about bent circuitry, a concept where one undoes keyboards or children’s toys and makes them create sounds in a way not originally intended. There are now a number of artists making high-tech music out of low-tech gear, and there’s also an annual festival where musicians and music enthusiasts are not only watching shows, but bringing in their tools/toys to make instruments from scratch. While there is no major bent circuitry movement just yet, fans may find Sleeper as a new hero. Sleeper is Carlos Ransom, and Behind Every Mask (Mush) is an album that doesn’t sound like a bunch of kids playing with toys. Instead, what you hear on this is anthemic music with incredible song structure, depth, and clarity, as if it’s ready made for television or movies, incredibly moody and dark almost in a nine inch nails fashion, or if David Axelrod was taking apart old Casio SK-1’s or Speak & Spell’s, he would be making the kind of music Sleeper does.
Sleeper seems to love to wash his productions in distortion, or at least create distorted sounds that probably comes from altering the sound sources, making them impossible to figure out (although the CD booklet shows some of the tools of his trade). Tracks like “Open”, “Mr. Megatron”, and “Frequency Winds” all sound like big and bold Sonic Youth productions, but instead it comes from the components of one man. Rhythmic computer printer music? Cash register funk? Yes, even within the coldness of these sounds there is a healthy pulse, such as “Faulty” which might give Moby a run for his money if he doesn’t watch out.
Fans of electronic based music will love to hear what Sleeper comes up with here, as he stretches the possibilities of the once-was-thought-to-be impossible. Complex and minimalist at the same time. Boof baf.
I’m a huge fan of Phil Woods but this album is not something I will listen to a lot, unfortunately. The Children’s Suite (Jazzed Media) is subtitled as being “Inspired by the verses of A.A. Milne”, and I love the album when Woods lets loose and solos.
Unfortunately the rest of the album is dominated by vocals, which is to be expected since it was inspired by Milne’s words but I would have preferred this album if it was just instrumental. Vocalists Vicky Doney and Bob Dorough are on here, both of whom should be familiar to fans of jazz (and in Dorough’s case, fans of children’s television programming, as he is one of the voices behind ABC’s famous Schoolhouse Rock series), but it’s the music that moves me, which is a big band extravaganza and the album works when they all play. As soon as the vocals are heard, it sinks.
Maybe I’ll extract the audio from this and create my own versions for my own personal use. Anyone who is a fan of Woods will eat this up, but may or may not be turned off by the singing.
Seamus Blake may be a familiar name of course if you’ve heard his music, but perhaps you’ve seen him credited on such projects as Jazz Side Of The Moon (a jazz tribute to Pink Floyd entire Dark Side Of The Moon album), Alphabeticity, or the work he’s done with the Mingus Big Band. Here he continues his path of music under his own name and documents his tour in Italy two years ago with a great double CD appropriately titled Live In Italy (Jazz Eyes), where he and his quartet (Rodney Green on drums, Danton Boller on double bass, and David Kikoski on piano play the kind of flavorful jazz that is deserving of any musical spice rack.
Over two discs he performs nine songs, with most songs going well over the 10 minute mark, and one (Debussy’s “String Quartet in G minor”) going at a full 17 minutes. I enjoy explorations like this because it allows the musicians to fully enjoy the potential of each song. What makes it even more interesting is that Blake uses effects pedals so what would normally come from a keyboard or synthesizer is actually the saxophone, and the end result is pretty trippy, especially during the mid section of “The Jupiter Line”, which at times sounds like a variation of the Sun Ra experience with a Latin feel, or King Crimson if they were heavily influenced by jazz.
The musicianship on this album is superb, well executed and because of the way Blake uses the effects it may help him crossover to rock audience who probably would never think to hear jazz played this way. His version of John Scofield‘s “Dance Me Home” almost seems anticlimactic compared to the action on the rest of the album, but if it’s a to cool down in order to appreciate what was just heard, its use here is well chosen. These are live recordings and yet they sound as if they were done in the studio, you can thank engineers Maurizio Curcio and Giardino del Suono for the great job they did, and the mastering skills of Katsuhiko Naito to make sure everything sounds as perfect as it can be.
Sofi Hellborg‘s love of Afro funk continues from the Swedish vocalist and saxophonist with a brand new album of deep, moving grooves, the aptly named Drumming Is Calling (Ajabu!). As with her previous album, she sings with a free spirit as the sounds of Africa vibe with and through her, and she moves in Fela Kuti style to play saxophone solos, and she does it in a way that compliments the songs as the perfect second voice.
Some may not be used to hearing such a “delicate” voice with this type of music, but if that’s considered a contradiction, then it’s one that’s worth listening to. The album mixes up vocalized tracks with tight instrumentals, which I’m sure she enhances in a live setting by extending them by five minutes or more. The musicians alongside her help to push the energy force Hellborg creates and as soon as one gets locked into a groove, she begins a new song. This is a very good album, and whether you love Afro funk or just enjoy music that moves you to dance in whatever situation, Drumming is Calling is a mantra you may be chanting when you least expect it.
The vibe here is very reminiscent of the Latin jazz one could find on Verve or Atlantic Records in the 1960’s, where the mixture of Latin and African rhythms were blended well not only with a bit of American soul (maybe a pinch of boogaloo) but also certain sounds that may be unique to the country of origin of the artist. However one may find it very difficult to find anything distinctively German in these grooves.
The Hi-Fly Orchestra seem to be willing to branch out from the core sound they presented on their first album, as there’s a bit more variety in the styles and methods of playing. This can only be better for a group who pull off some incredible music that you might mistake for something recorded in 1964 and not 2008. Want to hear a funky jazz take of Jimi Hendrix Experience‘s “Crosstown Traffic” as of some funky German tourists found their way to Daptone HQ? You can do that here, and if you wish to see a beautiful woman get wicked in front of your eyes, slap on the caliente “Mrs. Shing-A-Ling”. Whether it’s on vinyl or CD (yes, you have a choice), this is an album that may say on your turntable or CD player for months.
Gladshot are the perfect pop band for the world today, and if the music industry was in a different state, these guys probably would be getting the kind of attention reserved for the likes of Todd Rundgren, Joan Osborne and Matthew Sweet. Burn Up & Shine (Frankly Mills Music) is the kind of pop rock that is too irresistible because they know how to do it right, as Debbie Andrews and Mike Blaxill share personal stories in a way that makes you feel like you’re hearing your personal diary out loud. One can imagine The Foo Fighters ripping out a version of “Early Light”, or Bonnie Raitt getting bluesy with “Slo Glide Ride” or “Nobody’s Looking”, but in the hands of Blaxill and Andrews they have the kind of chemistry that Fleetwood Mac fans enjoy hearing between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Andrews’ delicate voice becomes haunting and eerie when it has to be in “He Was Gone”, which begins as a ballad before it picks up and chugs along at a steady pace. “All I Want Is You” could be picked up by The Dixie Chicks while “Like The Angels Done” would be perfect if performed by Kasey Chambers.
Miss the kind of pop music on the radio that used to make you say “damn, that’s addictive”? It’s still out there, and if you needed a few directions on where to go, head East to Gladshot.
Not sure if I would call Joni Mitchell a folk singer, although her music reaches the heart and soul of the common folk. If there is someone who is walking down similar paths while doing it at her own pace, that person would be Liunda Draper.
Bridge and Tunnel (Planting Seeds) is an album that is very raw and naked, in that when you hear Draper and her guitar, you feel as if she is speaking to you, or that she knows exactly what you’re thinking at any given time. When it feels that way, you get caught up in how she sweeps you in, as she makes you feel a bit of her fear and uncertainty, although finding some sense of companionship is a part of this life experience:
Oh my darling, hold your head up
Don’t go changing your colors for me
For such a long time now, i been learning how
To get by on my own
I always got by on my own
Among the sharks and the royalty
There must be room for you and me
Oh my dear, have no fear of what you can’t see
Oh my dear, have no fear for me (from “Sharks And Royalty”)
Her cover of The Rolling Stones‘s “Mother Little’s Helper” could be like any other cover, but somehow stripping the song of most of its instrumental glory and tie it in with the way the world is today, and it seems Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote it in 2009 instead of 1965. As Draper reaches the albums end with “Last One Standing”, she proves that the fears and uncertainty discussed throughout the album has manifested itself into something of strength and hope, as she sings to someone who she no longer wants to be associated with. It is then you realize you’ve been taken on a journey, one that you want to experience again and again because you believe in her voice, lyrics, and playing (she alternates between piano and guitar). Linda Draper is an artist in every sense of the word, someone you want to put faith in because she is “the truth’. The Bridge and Tunnel she speaks of may or may not be metaphoric, but it is what you need to get through in order to reach the other side, and the first step towards that trip will be worth it.