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February 2022

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Order these featured albums today:

Peter Veteska - Grass Ain't Greener

Peter Veteska - So Far So Good

Danny Brooks and Lil Miss Debi

Jessie Lee and The Alchemists

Rodd Bland and the Members Only Band

Big Harp George

Altered Five Blues Band

Bette Smith

Angela Easley

John Mayall

Big Al and the Heavyweights

Steven Feifke



Peter VeteskaOnce again, your humble reviewer has been “doubled up” due to falling behind on reviews, this time with Peter Veteska & Blues Train. I really enjoyed guitarist/singer Veteska’s two previous efforts, recorded as Peter V’s Blues Train, and have been wanting to get to his 2020 release, Grass Ain’t Greener On The Other Side. Recently, Veteska released So Far So Good, so we will be looking at both of these releases in my effort to try and catch up.

Grass Ain’t Greener On The Other Side includes guest artists Mikey Junior (vocals/harmonica), Jen Barnes (vocals), Chuck Hearne (bass), and Roger Girke (guitar), along with Blues Train (drummer Alex D’Agnese, bassist Coo Moe Jhee, and special guest keyboardist Jeff Levine. This release has more of a pure blues feel than the previous albums I’ve heard, beginning with the tough original “Am I Wrong Pretty Baby,” which showcases Mikey Junior’s harp right off the bat. On a zesty cover of the Brook Benton/Dinah Washington 1960 hit, “Baby You’ve Got What It Takes,” Veteska teams up with Barnes on vocals, while the band gets funky on the tasty “Running Like A Dog.”

The band unplugs for the gently-swinging acoustic toe-tapper, “I’ve Been Missing You,” before jumping into the greasy shuffle, “You Give Me Loving.” “Learning The Blues” is an old Sinatra tune with Veteska’s gritty delivery giving this one a real “blues” feel, while “Thinking And Drinking” is a fun, Crescent City-flavored romp. Guest Roger Girke joins Veteska on vocals and guitar for Ray Charles’ “Heartbreaker,” before the band launches into an extended read of Willie Cobbs’ classic “You Don’t Love Me,” where the band gets ample room to ply their wares. The title track is a rock-infused mission statement of sorts for Veteska, who also provides some ripping fretwork to close out the disc.

Peter VeteskaVeteska’s follow-up, So Far So Good, finds the singer/guitarist on the Blue Heart Records label, with D’Agnese, Coo Moe Jhee, and Levine still in support, with an expanded cast of guest stars (Mikey Junior, Jen Barnes, and Roger Girke all return as well) that includes harp men Gary Neuwirth and Derek “Slim” Matterson, slide guitarist Paul “Slideman” Boddy, bassist Rick Prince, and a horn section on one track. Of the dozen tracks featured, Veteska wrote or co-wrote (with Patti Martz) eight of them.

The albums kicks off with the defiant, funky blues rocker “Done With Bad Luck,” with Neuwirth guesting on harp, which leads into the acoustic slow blues “I’ve Got The Blues This Morning,” which features Levine on piano and Mikey Junior on harp, followed by Veteska teaming with Barnes on “I Miss You So,” a cool find from gospel legend Rev. Morgan Babb, who wrote the tune for Lillian Offitt back in the mid/late ’50s. “My One And Only Muse” is a swinging shuffle, and James Cotton and Tom Hambridge’s spicy rhumba “Young Bold Woman” features Veteska sharing the mic with guest vocalist Chuck Lambert.

The slinky “Lovin’ Oven” really swings, with Levine showing out on B3 and guest harp from Matterson, and Barnes returns to sing with Veteska on the horn-fueled “You Give Me Nothing But The Blues,” a hit for Guitar Slim in 1956. These two make beautiful music together.

“Low Down Dirty Blues” is exactly that, with Veteska testifying via his vocals (with help from John Fernandez) and his guitar on this splendid slow blues that ends a little too soon. Next up is “Baby Please,” a dazzling jump blues from piano master Johnnie Johnson, and “East Coast Blues” a roadhouse rocker with guest Boddy laying down some sizzling slide.

The title track is a soulful number that allows room for the band to stretch out a bit, and it’s followed by the closer, “Can’t We All Get Along,” a plea for peace and harmony with a bit of a Motown R&B flair.

I would be hard-pressed to pick between Grass Ain’t Greener On The Other Side and So Far So Good, so I will just recommend that you buy both of them, as well as any of Peter Veteska’s previous releases with Blue Train. These two releases in particular will cure what ails the everyday blues fan.

--- Graham Clarke

Danny BrooksDanny Brooks and Lil Miss Debi met Tom Easley of AVA Entertainment a couple of years ago and talked about making a record. Brooks, known as the “Texasippi Soul Man,” has recorded frequently (check out his No Easy Way Out from 2007 for a taste), and he and Lil Miss Debi have been working together for about a decade, having recorded several albums as a duo since 2012. The pair collaborated with Easley at AVA Entertainment Studios in Raymond, Mississippi (just south of Jackson) and a crew of musicians to produce Are You Ready? The Mississippi Sessions (Hishouse Records).

There’s a whopping 20 songs on the album. Brooks wrote 19 of the songs, which are a mix of blues, soul, southern rock, and Americana with a touch of the swamp thrown in for good measure. The southern rocker title track opens the disc on a high note, and is followed by the gritty soul of “Jesus Had The Blues,” the reggae-flavored “Jamaica Sun,” and the bluesy ballad “We Do Whatever It Takes.” “Let Me Know” ventures into rockabilly territory with exciting results, and “No Easy Way Out” (from Brooks’ 2007 effort) is next, a slide-driven tune and one of my favorite Brooks compositions.

Lil Miss Debi joins Brooks for a heartfelt read of “Angel From Montgomery,” the album’s lone cover. Following that, the upbeat “Coming Home” has a punchy Memphis vibe, and “One More Mile (to Mississippi)” has a swampy, hill country feel, while “Rock N Roll Was The Baby” is a downhome rocker. The duo goes to church for “Where Will You Stand,” and retain that soulful feel for the somber “Hold On To Love,” but the driving blues rocker “Broken” picks up the mood almost immediately thereafter.

“Climb That Mountain” and “Put A Little Rock In Your Soul” would both qualify as Americana tunes, the former a powerful ballad and the latter an upbeat countrified stepper. “Without Love” is a southern soul ballad, while “Me and Brownie McGhee” tells the story of Brooks’ meeting and playing with the blues legend.The encouraging “Tell Me About It” and the southern rock ballad “When I’m Holding You” mix blues and country. The harrowing closer, “The Battle,” tells of the battle the devil wages for each of our souls.

Overall, this is a strong set with a lot of great music in a variety of styles. Brooks is well-versed in all of the styles and his rough and ready vocal style is a keen fit. Ms. Debi’s vocals complement Brooks’ very well. Brooks also plays guitar, harmonica, slide, and percussion while Ms. Debi provides cajon and percussion, and they are assisted by a first rate band, including Kentucky Headhunters guitarist Greg Martin, and guitarist John Fannin.

Are You Ready? The Mississippi Sessions should satisfy any blues or southern rock fans with its diverse set of songs.

--- Graham Clarke

Jessie LeeThe French blues-rock band Jessie Lee & The Alchemists was assembled in 2015 by singer/guitarist Lee and guitarist Alexis “Mr. Al” Didier, with Laurent Cokelaere (bass), Stéphane Minana (drums), and Laurian Daire (organ). The band has already taken home some prestigious awards, including five awards at the 2018 International Mississippi Blues Trail Challenge, as well as winning the France Blues Challenge, which earned them a spot at the 2020 European Blues Challenge, taking place in 2022.

The band’s second album, Let It Shine (Dixiefrog Records) is a powerful set of blues rockers written by Didier, featuring the band’s robust guitar attack combined with Lee’s potent vocals and the rock-solid work of the rhythm section. The album opens with the Zeppelin-esque “Another,” setting the bar pretty high for the rest of the album. Lee’s vocals are front and center for the soulful ballad “But You Lie.” Meanwhile, the tasty “You Gotta” is tough and intense (adding horns to the mix), and “The Same” is a driving, rhythmic blues rocker.The title track is a slow soul burner with a bit of a pop sheen and some sharp guitar work.

“Sometimes” is a thunderous mid-tempo track that mixes rock and soul deftly, and “One Only Thing” is another slow blues that percolates slowly and easily, featuring superb musicianship and vocals. “Get Out Of My Head” and “You Took My Mind Away” both combine rock and soul with a taste of jazz.The closer, “I Don’t Need To Say,” is a mostly acoustic ballad that’s quite different from the rest of the album, but is still a great fit.

Let It Shine is a well-rounded set of blues, rock, and soul. Ms. Lee is an excellent vocalist in a variety of styles and Didier’s guitar work is as strong and versatile as Lee’s vocals, while the rest of the band is stellar. Blues and blues-rock fans are encouraged to check out this fine release.

--- Graham Clarke

Rodd BlandMost anyone who listens to the blues is familiar with Bobby “Blue” Bland, the legendary singer whose career spanned from the 1950s to the 2010s, recording dozens of classic sides for Duke, ABC, and Malaco during that time. Bland passed away in 2013, but his son, drummer Rodd Bland, has worked hard to keep his father’s music alive while drumming for a host of blues musicians in and around the Memphis area. In 2017, he was persuaded to put together a tribute to his father, dubbed The Members Only Band, during the 2017 I.B.C.  This gig was a huge success and helped lead to three more shows and the EP, Live On Beale Street: A Tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland (Nola Blue Records).

There are six tracks on this EP, clocking in at 25 minutes, and listeners will wish there was more for sure. Three vocalists handle the well-chosen selections from Bland’s repertoire that span his lengthy career. Keyboardist Chris Stephenson ably tackles the soulful “Up And Down World” (from Bland’s 1973 His California Album) and the funky “Sittin’ On A Poor Man’s Throne” (from 1977’s Reflections In Blue), while Ashton Riker turns in a smooth version of “St. James Infirmary” (from Bland’s 1961 classic Two Steps From The Blues, required listening for every self-respecting blues fans).

Jerome Chism takes vocals for the last three tracks, “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)” (from 1974’s Dreamer), “Soon As The Weather Breaks” (from 1979’s I Feel Good, I Feel Fine), and the closer, “Get Your Money Where You Spend Your Time” (from 1987’s Malaco release Blues You Can Use). Each vocalist brings a little something different to the mix. Stephenson has a nice Bland-like quality to his vocals that gave me a few goosebumps, Riker’s approach is smoother and was a great fit to his song, and Chism is great in a variety of settings on his three tunes.

The band (Bland – drums, Jackie Clark – bass, Harold Smith – guitar, Stephenson – keyboards, Marc Franklin and Scott Thompson – trumpets, Kirk Smothers – trombone) is spectacular from start to finish, providing stellar support to the vocalist, but also taking ample space to put their skills on display.

If you are a fan of Bobby “Blue” Bland, and, of course, you are, you will absolutely love this set. Hats off to Rodd Bland for doing his part to keep his father’s music alive and vibrant.

--- Graham Clarke

Big Harp GeorgeBig Harp George Bisharat has made quite an impression in just a few years. The former San Francisco public defender turned professor of law has released four high-quality blues albums since his 2014 debut (Chromaticism), the most recent being Living In The City (Blues Mountain). This 13-song set features all original tunes and venture a bit from the traditional blues sounds, incorporating a Paraguayan harp, violin, iiqae, and qanun on selected tracks. Not to worry, because there’s still plenty of George’s robust chromatic harp, and support from familiar faces Kid Andersen (bass), June Core (drums), D’Mar (percussion), and guitar from Little Charlie Baty in what would be his last recordings (the album is dedicated to him).

George’s lyrics are quite different from standard blues fare, touching on familiar and topical themes, occasionally mixing in humor, but always insightful in their content. The clever opener, “Build Myself An App,” find him attempting to improve his digital sales, “Copayment” looks at rising health care costs,

“Pusher In A White Coats” puts the spotlight on the rising impact of opioids on the American public, “Enrique” looks at immigration, while “Meet Me at the Fence” focuses on the issues at the Gaza Strip. The bouncy shuffle “Smoking Tires” is about a petite, but potent young lady, and the jazzy title track features Baty on guitar and some fine harp from George.

“Heading Out to Itaipu” was inspired by a Brazilian working class beach and is a highlight with its samba rhythm and instrumentation. Baty also plays on this track, as well as on the zesty shuffle “Try Nice?” and the wonderful swinging instrumental “Bayside Bounce,” which would have been a snug fit in the Count Basie repertoire.

“Don’t Talk” and “Chew Before You Swallow” both offer good advice with a wink and a nod, and “First Class Muck Up” pays tribute to George’s old friends who seem to leave destruction in their wake.

Big Harp George has the total package for success in the blues idiom --- supreme skills on the chromatic harp, strong, pliable vocals, and a real knack for catchy, but thought-provoking lyrics. The excellent band in support is just icing on the cake, making Living In The City another fine addition to an already-impressive catalog.

--- Graham Clarke

Altered Five Blues BandAltered Five Blues Band recently issued their sixth album, Holler If You Hear Me (Blind Pig Records), teaming up once again with three-time Grammy-winning producer Tom Hambridge. The Milwaukee-based quintet is still powered by Jeff Taylor’s robust lead vocals and Jeff Schroedl’s first-rate guitar work and songwriting, and anchored by their rock-solid rhythm section (Mark Solveson – bass, Raymond Tevich – keys, Alan Arber – drums), adding harmonica ace Jason Ricci for five of the albums 13 tracks.

Ricci features prominently on the rousing title track, kicking off the disc in fine fashion. “Guilty Of A Good Time” is a clever take on a good time with a sweaty, swampy vibe, and “If You Go Away (She Might Come Back)” is a frenetic shuffle highlighted by Ricci’s torrid harp and Schroedl’s scorching fretwork. Meanwhile, the slow blues “Holding On With One Hand” gives Taylor and Schroedl ample space to ply their wares. On the driving blues rocker, “Full Moon, Half Crazy,” the band really cooks with Tevich playing B3 and clavinet on this track, while “Where’s My Money” has a swinging, old-school Windy City vibe.

The amusing “All Suit, No Soul” is a funky cautionary tale regarding posers in the “all hat, no cowboy” vein, and “I Got All I Need” is a greasy, mid-tempo song where Taylor lets us know that he’s doing just fine and the band really locks in behind him. Schroedl’s muscular guitar work gives a nod to Albert King on “Clear Conscience, Bad Memory,” and “In The Name Of No Good” has a funky swagger.

On the ballad “Leave Before I Let You Down,” Taylor struggles to convince his lover that he’s no good for her, despite wishing otherwise, and on “Fifteen Minutes Of Blame,” Schroedl and Tavlin really stand out on guitar and clavinet respectively. Holler If You Need Me wraps up with “Big Shout Out,” a tribute to “everybody who built the blues,” as Taylor name checks a list of blues legends, covering most of the bases in three short minutes.

Altered Five Blues Band’s previous release, Ten Thousand Watts, hit the top of the blues charts in 2019 and earned the band a win in the blues category of the 2019 International Songwriting Competition. It’s safe to say that Holler If You Hear Me will earn the band a few more accolades and award this year.

--- Graham Clarke

The Blue ChevysIn 2019, the Belgian band The Blue Chevys celebrated their 30th anniversary. Formed by Frederic and Philippe Martello (lead guitar and percussion, respectively) and vocalist/harp master Kris Bries, the band started out playing vintage rock n’ roll and rockabilly, later mixing in Texas blues shuffles and jump blues along with R&B. Now expanded to a seven-piece band with Jean-Luc Cremens (bass), Sven Smekens (rhythm guitar), Kim Vandeweyer (trumpet), and Koen Desloovere (sax), the band plans to release their sixth album, The Night Calls, on Naked Records in March of 2022. They recently dropped the first single, “Willow Tree,” in anticipation of the album. It’s a moody blues with an after-hours feel, with Philippe Martello’s shimmering lead guitar punctuating Bries’ tough vocals. The band really locks into the groove and the song breezes to its conclusion much too soon, but don’t worry…… “REPLAY” is always an option and you’ll definitely be doing that.

--- Graham Clarke

Bette Smith"Brown Sugar” is certainly one of the most memorable songs in the Rolling Stones’ musical catalog, becoming a Top 20 hit for the band in 1971 and making the album Sticky Fingers one of the biggest smashes of the band’s career. In recent months, the song has become a source of controversy due to references to the African slave trade and physical and sexual assault, which seemingly didn’t raise much of a fuss in the song’s first 50 years of existence (Tina Turner performed the song with the band numerous times over the years). The Stones have since backed away from the song, not performing it on their recent tour.

However, the positively fearless retro-soul singer Bette Smith, with able assistance from monster guitarist Kirk Fletcher recently released the song as a single, and a fiery hot one at that. Smith and Fletcher turn the song on its ear, modifying some of the lyrics and transforming the song into a rallying cry for women empowerment. Smith understood that the Stones were originally focusing ironically on the absurdity and evilness of slavery with the song (as the Stones themselves explained), which led her to go ahead and tackle the song herself. Smith makes the song her own with her powerful, assured delivery and Fletcher simply blazes away on guitar. Give this one a spin for sure.

--- Graham Clarke

Angela EasleyHere's a sleeper for those of you really into soulful blues. Angela Easley is a Mississippi native now based in Nashville, and has earned awards for her songwriting chops. She also can sing and play the piano, as heard on her new self-released EP, Rise.

The album starts out very strong with "I Can't Let Go," thanks in part to the background vocals of noted Nashville vocal group The McCrary Sisters. This one's got heavy gospel overtones and allows Easley to show off the impressive power and range in her voice. She gets more bluesy on the up-tempo "Runnin' Out Of Time," with a strong saxophone solo at the start of this rambunctious number. Columbia Records artist Shelly Fairchild joins on vocals on the title track, with more soulful horn sound behind the pair of singers and strong guitar work from Randall Scott Peterson.

"Don't Let The Devil Down" is a soul/blues rocker with more grit in Easley's voice and a hot sax solo from Mathew Gros. The tempo slows on a slow, soulful number, "One More Last Time," with Easley's piano work and Gros' mournful sax leading into a chance for the star of the show to demonstrate the impressive range of her powerful voice. Closing the album is the country-sounding "Crazy Rain," on which Easley shows the versatility in her vocals as she soars over the sound of the slide guitar and then holds a high note for a very long time.

Angela Easley is a likely a new name in the music business for many of us, and certainly one to keep an eye on in the future. For now, Rise is a nice introduction to this very intriguing performer. 

--- Bill Mitchell

John MayallI realize that John Mayall, one of the early blues/rock legend has been around seemingly forever, but I was still surprised to find out that he's already 88 years old. He's outlived most of his counterparts from the early days of the British invasion, and it's great that Mayall is still recording quality stuff. His latest, The Sun Is Shining Down, is a high-quality album of blues, with many special guests joining in. Despite his age, Mayall's voice still works quite well although it sometimes struggles with the slower numbers. But that very minor nit is no reason not to consider this album as potentially one of the best of the new year.

While there are some very interesting special guests appearing on about half of the cuts, this really is Mayall's show from start to finish, as the veteran shows, he still has his skills on both harmonica and keyboards. The guest instrumentalists instead serve as icing on the cake, and in addition he's got Carolyn Wonderland playing guitar throughout the session.

For my money, the best two cuts feature Chicago blues cat Melvin Taylor on guitar. The opening number, "Hungry and Ready," is an up-tempo blues shuffle that also showcases Mayall on blues harp, while the version of iconic blues standard "Driving Wheel" gives Taylor chance to shine. Mayall's vocals are extra-strong on this latter tune. Mike Campbell is the guest guitarist on the Bernard Allison original, "Chill and Thrills," with plenty of funky guitar effects.

"One Special Lady" is an up-tempo blues shuffle with strong organ accompaniment, nice guitar from Wonderland when she's trading licks with Jake Shimakbukuro on electric ukele. This one smokes! Wonderland also takes the lead on the closing number, "The Sun Is Shining Down," a slow blues that gives plenty of space for her exemplary guitar work. One other big name on the album is that of southern rock guitarist Marcus King, who shares the spotlight with a solid horn section on the funky soulful number "Can't Take No More."

The Sun Is Shining is just another gem in Mayall's exhaustive discography. Let's hope he keeps recording as long as he can. The man is a legend and he's earned our rapt adoration.

--- Bill Mitchell

Big Al & the HeavyweightsLove One Another (VizzTone) is the latest from New Orleans stalwarts Big Al & The Heavyweights, with a couple of special guests joining at times. It's Louisiana blues with a little bit of country mixed in, featuring the quartet of Al Lauro (bandleader/drums), Wayne Lohr (piano), Marcel Anton (guitar), and Mark Parsons (bass).

Noted guitarist Luther Dickinson, best known for his work with the North Mississippi All-Stars, joins the band on slide guitar on the opening cut (and the single), "Love One Another," a rollicking up-tempo shuffle that promotes unity. Harmonica ace Jason Ricci also makes one of his two guest appearances on this song. Ricci also joins the band on the mid-tempo shuffle, "What Can I Say."

My favorite cut on the disc is a very good Mardi Gras stomper, "Wild Tchoupitoulas," an up-tempo number on which the rawer vocal style works well. Gina Forsyth plays very fine fiddle on "Zydeco Love," with an intro that sounds a lot like the Louisiana classic "I Got Loaded" before breaking into a full-fledged Zydeco dance number.

My issue with this album is that the vocals on the remaining 10 numbers range from adequate to not very good. This band needs a better singer to carry a full album. Your results may vary, but I prefer strong vocals to go along with the arrangements and instrumentation. 

--- Bill Mitchell

Ten jazz downloads of 2021 we liked:

Steven FeifkeSteven Feifke - Kinetic (Outside in Music)
Feifke a young pianist and knows how to layer thoughts into the different sections of a big band to work in today’s complex truths.

Lee Heerspink - Monsters’ Impromptu (leeheerspink)
A funny name but a great guitarist. Clean, single-note solos ride on top of an organ combo.

David Larsen - Deviate From The Standards (DLP)
We get two for one from this baritone saxophonist in almost a year’s time, as his previous release was a tribute to baritone sax legend Gerry Mulligan.

Charnett Moffett - New Love (Motema)
Not the deepest contemporary album lately, but since Moffett features the electric bass (as he’s known for his stand-up), and Irwin Hall’s tenor sax sounds like Charles Lloyd, we can only surmise their influences.

Dave Mullen Ensemble - Solace (Mullsoul Music)
We don’t quite know…Is this ultra-hyperactive, or is it smokin’ happening? The cover shows the leader playing two saxophones at once, but we only seem to hear that on one track.

Jackson Potter - Restless (Wise Cat)
This is a very young man, looking barely out of his ‘teens. But his maturity and originality almost match today’s higher-rated jazz guitarists like Peter Bernstein and Kurt Rosenwinkle.

Adam Scone- Woe And Slow (Cellar)
This guy must be channeling Jack McDuff, a pioneer jazz organist. The best players, like this newcomer, play organ bass heavy, grooving, in-the-pocket hydraulic which shakes our insides more effectively than any other low end.

Slide Attack - Road Trip
Who plays two trombones in unison these days? Howard Levy and Alan Goidel, that’s who. This is a refreshing and delightful set of music, retro in attitude but a new take on an old idea.

Dara Tucker - "You Haven’t Done Nothin'" from Dreams Of Waking: Music For A Better World (Green Hill Music)
’21-Not “Daria,” this lady sings with conviction in what might be a contra-alto range voice, on-pitch and soulful, performing original material.

Sarah Wilson - Kaleidiscope (Brass Tonic Records)
Here is a trumpeter/vocalist from the Bay Area, whose music is self proclaimed “avant pop, Afro-Latin grooves and indie rock.” It makes for happening music.

1987 recording never before released until 2021:
Oscar Peterson Quartet feat. Joe Pass - Live In Helsinki (Two Lions/Mack Avenue Records)
The leader and guitarist are both on fire, the piano in great shape and the recording quality most excellent.

Ten jazz CDs of 2021 we liked:

DaggerboardDaggerboard - Last Days Of Studio A (Wide Hive)
The album title does not refer to a lament, rather many innovators like Kamasi Washington’s side musicians have assembled all original material, recorded at Fantasy Studios right before they closed in 2018.

Echo Park Project  - It’s My Turn (theechoparkproject.com_
A medium-sized Latin jazz and salsa group is charged by young players, utilizing traditional Afro Cuban rhythms to keep any party fresh.

John Hasselback III - Entrance (Hasselcastle)
Here is a devoted trumpeter who composed an entire album’s worth of new music on a grant as the COVID age approached. It is standard jazz instrumentation, but supercharged and includes NY trombonist Steve Davis.

Willie Jones III - Fallen Heroes (WJ3)
This drummer carries on a family tradition (II drummed for Count Basie), and each track is either for someone recently departed, or socially conscious of a current plague in society. The playing is hot and has an edge.

Chad Lefkowitz-Brown - Open World (la.reserve)
A global big band is laden with celebrity guest soloists. It drives pretty nicely, but also has its weak points. If you’re gonna do a big band effort don’t hold back!

Larry McDonough Quartet - Kind Of Bill On The Palace Grounds (LM Jazz)
Not every jazz pianist can replicate, or wants to play, in the Bill Evans style. McDonough however has earned this privilege, having known Evans, as well as being endorsed by his widow.

Edward Simon - Solo Live (Ridgeway)
There are a handful of piano tracks on this full-length CD, done just as the title implies. All but one are covers, Monk is an example. We like the one original track “Country,” because of the tempo and energy, not easy by oneself.

Dave Stryker - Baker’s Circle (Strikezone)
This may be our favorite album of the year, Stryker is simply one of the best jazz guitarists out there today, though somewhat underground. He favors the organ combo format, and we dig that too.

Bobby Watson - Keepin’ It Real (Smoke Sessions)
Watson is an alto saxophonist not too piercing (like Paquito D’ Ravira), and not too coarse (like Vincent Herring). His almost 50 years in the business started with the master drummer/teacher, Art Blakey.

Spike Wilner - Aliens And Wizards (Cellar-Piano)
Trio albums are in abundance today, and most of them are good and mean well. Wilner stands out here because of the sonic quality and obvious confidence. Feels like Erroll Garner’s or Monk’s ghost is right there.

—Tom Coulson
I play what I review on the radio.

Phillip StrangeSomething I truly love about this CD, My True North by Phillip Strange, is the way his pieces are like conversations. It seems like he is having a conversation with us. His music is so interesting and captivating, you can’t help but tune in and listen to the conversation.

Songs usually tell us a story, using words that are designed to bring us into this moment in time. They are stories in structure simply by the way the lyrics are usually written. Phillip is talking to us in his music, his musical phrasing are the lyrics. And the stories? They are created in our own minds as we listen to his notes. That’s my take anyway.

"O Mio Babbino Caro" and "Blue In Green" are the only two tunes on this CD that are written by other composers, and Phil puts his own spin on these, I am sure.

I find it difficult to come up with a definitive interpretation of each piece, mainly because every time I listen to this CD I get new ways to imagine in my own mind just what this song is about. Well, perhaps not necessarily what it is about, but what my mind thinks it is about. You know the way your mind creates its own images as you listen to a particular piece? But really, it’s about how it makes me feel each time I listen to these tunes. And I find it so easy to just get caught up into each cut, each time I sit down to play it. And when I do, I want to say, “Wait! Don’t bother me just yet, I need to listen to this entire CD, right now.”

So what else is it about this CD that I like?

Another thing I like, as I listen to some of these tunes, I imagine, “How would this song be interpreted by a dance choreographer, for modern dance and or for ballet.” I just know they would come up with some very amazing things. (Beauty begets beauty ya know.)

Track four is called “Timeless.” In his liner notes, Phillip writes, “I love the intimate nuance of ballads. Timeless is a love story; the melodic narrative unfolds gradually over prismatic harmonic shifts, returning to the opening sequence at the end.” --- OK, that’s what Phil says.

As I listen to this piece, I go through multiple personal thoughts and feelings about my life over the past several years as my wife’s and my marriage was interrupted by her diagnosis of breast cancer. And as I listen, it allows me the gentle time and space to go through those feelings with much dignity, solace and grace. And when the end of the piece arrives, I feel calm and at peace. And I feel some resolve about the whole calamity of that troubled time for her and me. It’s like having a real good therapy session.

NOW, it is time to move on again.

And THAT is exactly what this CD does after track four. Because track five, "Into The Blue," and track six, "Harmelodica," are not the melancholy pieces of this CD. In fact, I am here to tell you, hang on kids, because we are getting ready to go on an exhilarating, soaring ride. Kind of like the ”Shinkansen,” or the bullet train that goes between 150 and 200 mph in Japan where where Phil and his family now live.

It actually starts off quite innocent. Then you start to hear some flourishes of what is about to come. It just keeps building and building. And the way the bass inner mingles with Phil's keys is a thing of beauty and pure joy. His name is Tetsuro Aratama.

And then it comes.

At about 4 minutes and 15 seconds, this drummer, this Yohei Saito, kicks it into a gear that my ears have never heard before. And it is a masterful solo that makes one wonder, “just how many arms does this man have?” Then, somehow, he calms down enough and Phil comes sliding back in. Then they work us into another piano, bass and drum frenzy to a point where you wonder, how much more can they do with this piece? Then they manage to resolve this joy ride to a very satisfying conclusion, and you just want to hit the pause button and rest a while. It is so exhilarating and so well coordinated, this flurry of percussion, back at 4 minutes & 15 seconds, that it makes me want to JUMP UP and CHEER! (And I’m a blues guy)

I also really admire the way the tracks have been arranged on this CD. There was a lot of thought put into how these would be put into what order.

It is a very concentrated effort and very pleasing for the listener to sit back and share the ride. Whether it be like on a bicycle cruising through a small country village, like in Absinthe, Oregon, the feeling of riding across country from town to town on the “Shinkansen” (bullet train.)

This CD is a must have for your 2022 collection. Heck, I bought two on my first go, because I knew I was going to want to share one of them.

--- Ken Baker



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