Tag Archives: Funky jazz

The Blackbyrds: Ronnie Scott’s 15 February 2017

Although 2017 is not a leap year, here at downwithit we’ve sprung like a feisty feline on the hunt. The great Donald Byrd has led us from The Catwalk to a sellout first night of a residency at Ronnie Scott’s, costing me more of a song than sixpence and featuring The Blackbyrds as the main course.

While working on my consideration of The Catwalk and explaining how I had first started to listen to Donald Byrd when his Best Of compilation was released in 1992, I noticed that his protégés, The Blackbyrds, were playing in London in mid-February. It took seconds to hit the club website and reserve a couple of tickets. A month passed quickly and a night on the town came along to add a bit of sparkle to a late winter’s evening.

There’s always a bit of a gamble involved in going to see bands that have reformed. The Blackbyrds did so in 2012 and feature three original members in the form of powerhouse vocalist and drummer, Keith Killgo, the mighty Joe Hall on six string electric bass and Orville Saunders playing a very funky guitar.

Any misgivings were left behind at the door and a satisfying starter was served up by saxophonist Christian Brewer and his band, Brewer’s Crew. Their lively jazz funk was well received by an appreciative audience out to enjoy themselves.

After a quick rearrangement of the small stage, the main course was delivered by an octet who paved the way with their anthem, Black Byrd, which you can listen to (in the form of the original featuring Donald Byrd) courtesy of Youtube:

To play click on or touch the arrow

After a great opener, one of my personal favourites, Dominoes, followed. It led onto a delicious smorgasbord of hits including Think Twice, Time is Movin’, the inevitable Walking in Rhythm, Do It Fluid and Happy Music, not forgetting the well-loved Rock Creek Park.

There isn’t a weak link in the current Blackbyrds line-up and it is very much in keeping with Donald Byrd’s legacy as a great and inspirational music educator, that they include young talent. Paul Spires on lead vocal has a unique voice that the smart money says we will hear more of, while the sax and flute duties were delivered without fault by Elijah Balbed, a recent graduate of Washington’s Howard University, where Donald Byrd formed the band in 1973.

As the set progressed, a trickle of members of the audience began to dance and that rapidly turned into a flood as The Blackbyrds infectious and tightly delivered songbook worked its magic. Although this is their first residency there, this will surely not be the last engagement at Ronnie Scott’s for The Blackbyrds.

The gig also offered the opportunity for me to say hello to Carl Hyde, the in-house photographer at Ronnie Scott’s. I have been aware of Carl’s work for some time and you can see a sample of it for yourself on his website.

All in all, another great night at Ronnie’s!

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Evolution: Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr Lonnie Smith Evolution

Between 1968 and 1970 Blue Note released four albums by Hammond Organ master, Dr Lonnie Smith (a fifth was recorded in 1970 but remained in the can until 1995). Dr Smith plays in a funky style and after 46 years he is now recording on Blue Note again.

The new album Evolution, produced by label supremo, Don Was, is well worthy of attention. The sound reproduction is excellent and the material covered shows that there is life and many a good tune is still to be had from the hulking Hammond

Play It Back is deeply funky. The first Hammond notes are snarls played for effect. This is a long track with plenty of time and space for improvisation. Dr Smith plays very well here- in a very controlled and disciplined way. Some may have heard him play this track before on a Blue Note release, on his superb Jam Live At Club Mozambique set (recorded 1970 in but not released until 1995). That particular version contained a duet between tenor and baritone saxes, whereas Robert Glasper’s piano is to the fore here. Come to think of it, I can’t think of many tracks that have both piano and Hammond Organ played by two separate keyboardists, so if you know of any please let us know through the comments box below. There’s some fine trumpet from Keyon Harold here too.

For the first time, it’s been difficult to find a video clip to add to this post. I suspect Blue Note are being very protective of their new signing. We will have to settle for a brief trio rendition of this track recorded at Ronnie Scott’s in early 2016. I hope you enjoy it while it is here.

To play, either touch or click on the arrow.

Afrodesia. Joe Lovano plays a special 6″ mezzo soprano here. More wonderful trumpet, this time from Maurice Brown and there’s also tenor sax from John Ellis. This was the title track of a post-Blue Note album from the Doctor, although I’ve yet to get hold of a copy.

For Heaven’s Sake is a ballad with a solo played by Joe Lovano on a handmade wooden tenor saxophone, which has to be worth listening closely to as I’ve never heard of such an instrument before.

Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser needs little introduction and is well rendered.

Talk About This once again features some impressive trumpet from Brown and is funky with some streetsound style vocals.

My Favorite Things is given a novel and dramatic introduction that is really worth hearing. Played badly this number can sound very contrived but Smith freshens it up almost to the point of transformation.

African Suite is a jaunty tune which takes us off to an imagined landscape of rolling savannahs. It is a flute led whimsy which works for me and is seemingly a piece by a musician who is willing to drop his sense of cool in the pursuit of a piece that is fun. If you could imagine a lost Miles Davis recording of Peter and the Wolf you would be stretching credibility well beyond its breaking point but that would be the territory we are in here.

As to the be-turbaned Doctor Smith, the bio’s don’t give too much away (you can read his Wikipedia entry here). I felt compelled to turn to interviews to try to get some insight into the man responsible for the music. Once again there were no great insights other than to hear from a musician who loves his music and comes across as a thoughtful and gentle individual. When pushed he says that he regrets not having photos of his performances having good times with a good sprinkling of other great performers, but he says that at least he has the memories and that they are the most important thing.

All in all, Evolution is a newish album that should be bought and listened to. I’m quietly confident that this won”t disappoint.

The band etc: Dr Lonnie Smith (Hammond Organ); Robert Glasper (Piano- track 1); Jonathan Blake (Drums- all tracks- sole drummer on 4 & 6); Joe Dyson (Drums- tracks 1-3, 5 & 7); John Ellis (Tenor Saxophone, Flute (7) & Bass Clarinet (3)); Jonathan Kreisberg (Guitar); Maurice Brown (Trumpet- tracks 2 & 5); Keyon Harold (Trumpet- track 1); Joe Lovano (Wooden Tenor Saxophone- track2 & Mezzo Soprano Saxophone- track 3). Recorded: Systems Two Recording Stdio, Brooklyn. Produced: Don Was. Mastered: Ron McMaster. Cover design Mike Joyce , Stereotype Design. Cover photos: Matthew Bitton. Released February 2016. Blue Note.


Live In Tokyo- The Young Philadelphians (Marc Ribot)

Young Philadelphians Cover

Time for another review from a contemporary artist. We last met up with Marc Ribot on his Live At The Village Vanguard recording released in 2014. At that stage, amongst a myriad of projects, he was also working as part of a trio dedicated to revisiting and reprising the work of Albert Ayler. It was a refreshingly full-blooded affair that you can read about here.

This time round Ribot presents us with a different genre mash-up on an album which serves up seven tunes from the Gamble and Huff Philadelphia International soul school of the mid 1970’s. There is a twist though as he has enlisted bass guitarist Jamaaladee Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston from Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time to produce and lay down a raw performance that is firmly located at the punk edge of the funk spectrum. It’s the wilder and rougher relative of the manicured orchestration of classic Philly, but it works.

Love Epidemic was recorded by Trammps in the early 1970’s. The title is somewhat ironic given the emergence of AIDS in the 1980″s but I expect the band were singing of something with a life-affirming rather than health-threatening intent. This is funky with blistering guitars.

Love TKO retains the silky soul feel of Teddy Pendergrass’s original and is played with great sensitivity by the two guitarists, with the ghost of Jimi Hendrix being channeled in towards the end.

Fly, Robin Fly was a hit for German Euro-disco outfit Silver Convention and flicks the switch to shift us back from smooch to dance mode. Although it made No. 1 in the States it only reached 28 in the UK singles charts. Some interesting effects pedal work and a drum solo from Weston adds to the interest here.

TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) was the signature tune of MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother in its less profane version), the Philadelphis International studio house band and theme tune for Soul Train. Great stuff, which takes me back. The arrangement here adopts a pleasant sounding cod-Japanese sound before breaking into the full Philly sound, with the string section in the background. Some songs make me move my feet or hips, this is one for the shoulders. Mary Halvorson, on second guitar, gets a solo here.

Then we are taken on The Ohio Players Love Rollercoaster. You can read about the macabre and extremely unlikely explanations of the scream which is heard on the original 1970’s recording here.

Do It Anyway You Wanna was cut by People’s Choice, sold over a million copies in the USA in its first three months following release and is quintessential funk.

The set closes with Van McCoy’s The Hustle, another memorable anthem from 1975, once again beginning with a nod to oriental music before picking up on the distinctive riff of the original. You too can do The Hustle courtesy of YouTube here:-

To play press or touch the arrow

The result is the evidence of what must have been an a very fine and downright funky performance at Tokyo’s Club Quattro in July 2014. It’s an interesting diversion down a road not dis-similar to that travelled by Grant Green on albums such as Alive, Live At Club Mozambique and Live at The Lighthouse. Sadly, I don’t know a great deal about Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time other than that I remember enjoying a CD that I had briefly in the late 80’s (I think) but I am sure there are those amongst you who can recommend what to seek out.

Marc Ribot’s website lists no less than ten discrete musical projects and five live film score sets. In addition, having read a number of interviews with him, he has on a number of occasions stated that he would not regard himself as a jazz guitarist. This makes makes efforts to pigeonhole him as futile as they are banal. He is playing a solo concert in London this May, which suggests that he will not be performing either music from this Young Philadephians set or from his Albert Ayler centred trio work. However, he will have one or more guitars with him and I hope to be there to hear what he offers up. I’m sure whatever he plays, the audience will not be be disappointed.

The band etc:- Marc Ribot (guitar); Jamaaladee Tacuma (electric bass guitar); G. Calvin Weston (drums); Mary Halvorson (guitar); Takako Siba (viola); Yoshie Kajiwara (violin); China Azuma (cello). Recorded live, 28 July 2014. Club Quattro, Tokyo, Japan. Live Engineer: Seigen Ono. Mixing Engineer: Francois Lardeau. Cover design: Gold Unlimited. Cover photos: Hiroki Nishioka. Released February 2016 as Yellowbird yeb- 7760.


Pee Wee Ellis & Fred Wesley: Ronnie Scott’s

I missed too many opportunities to see James Brown perform live. I thought that there would always be a next time. As we know, that opportunity has gone. So when the former JB stalwarts, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis engagement at Ronnie Scott’s was announced, I pounced for tickets.

I was pondering how good a gig it would be, especially as they were being backed by a funk allstar band from the UK. I needn’t have worried. Although both Ellis and Wesley sit down when they are performing these days, they remain capable of hosting a gripping show Their UK band was made up of musicians of the calibre of Tony Remy (guitar), Mark Mondesir (drums), Laurence Cottle (bass), Dan Moore (keyboards). A second reedsman added back-up tenor sax (sorry I didn’t catch his name- but I believe he was the singer’s cousin). The McKelle’s must be a fine musical family and we will be returning to vocaliste Robin McKelle’s presently.

Opening with a couple of instrumentals to settle the band in, the audience soon became aware of how well this lineup could play. Fred Wesley then introduced a special guest from one of his several hometowns, Rochester, New York State, to help out on the vocals.

I don’t know what your view of jazz vocalists is? I’m not normally enamoured, having heard a few too many sultry Sarah, siren of Salisbury types trying to woo an audience with their take on a seeming random selection from the Great American Songbook (no disrespect to anyone who is actually called Sarah, comes from Salisbury and sings a bit, by the way). Every so often somebody surprises but it is so rare hear a singer who turns out to be even halfway on the uphill road to goodville.

Robin McKelle has been gifted with an amazing voice, which became clear from the start of Cold Sweat. We were then invited to Bop to The Boogie before being advised that Robin, Fred, Pee Wee and co were going to Move to The Outskirts of Town. Even Bexley, Uxbridge, Purley or Barking would become bearable if this gang moved there as a domestic unit, especially if Ray Charles, who wrote this classic, lived round the corner too.

It was time for a mid-performance break and while you re-charge your drink or make a cuppa, you can listen to a version of FW PWE and Robin performing Cold Sweat in Paris a couple of years ago. This is lifted from YouTube to give you, dear readers, some idea of their excellence:-

Click on or touch the arrow to play the YouTube film.

After the break the band showed they could swing and played the sort of Benny Carter/Coleman Hawkins number that was probably playing in the background when PWE and Fred were growing up. It was time for Fred to tell us about Breaking Bread cooked in grease, on a wood stove, in a great big skillet (to paraphrase the chorus), which sounded like it would taste even better than Ronnie Scott’s in-house burger, if that could be imagined.

Robin explained that she was a pretty fair cook, that her parents had a wood stove and that if she had the ingredients she would rustle something up. This led into her tribute to Etta James. Her take on I’d Rather Go blind, which sounded even better at this Thursday night at Ronnie’s, than on the film that which you can view next. I’ll shout it loud! Robin McKelle is a world-class talent, of whom a great deal more will be heard.

A standing ovation from the audience was entirely merited.

Earlier this week I’d pulled out my aged copy of The JB’s Pass The Peas and I was delighted when the band covered that, followed by Chicken, written by Fred Wesley but turned into a real moneymaker by Jaco Pastorious. At some stage we went to a funky House Party, of the finest kind. Pee Wee then explained how his dear departed friend, Eddie Harris owed him a few quid. He soon cashed in with a Harris number, drawing repayment, with compound interest, from the bank with Freedom Jazz Dance inscribed of over the door. He certainly showed great fluency and dexterity as he ran through the theme. Unlike far too many tenor sax players, PWE can hit those lower register bass notes on the nail, every time. Fred Wesley can also play his trombone a little bit too.

The set closed with a fine, slowed down version of I Feel Good. If James Brown, himself, could have heard this he would have been getting on the good foot with us.

I’m glad I rewarded The Crusaders with a cautious 7/10 before Christmas, because this set was a notch up on that one, meriting a well-deserved 8/10.

The midnight train to the NorthWest has nearly reached its destination on another Friday night and with that, here’s another post for you.


Hollywood: The Crusaders

Richard Nixon can be blamed for a long list of things. He is partly to blame for my interest in jazz and moon rock has a part to play!

Back in 1973 Nixon gave Edward Heath and the leaders of 134 other countries slivers of moon rock, brought to Earth as part of the Apollo Programme. Our bit was put on display in Kensington and this was big news, even in my hometown. A trip to London was organised from my school to view this mysterious substance. Since it offered a chance to see the big city for a second time (I’d already been to a cup final- but that’s another story), I was well up for it.

Once we had marveled at our little bit of the Moon and had a good look around the Science Museum, we were turned loose by the accompanying teachers on the Metropolis and in the time-honoured manner of many stupid teenage boys, we headed straight for Soho. During the course of my wanderings I found Dobell’s Record Shop on Charing Cross Road. I was already smitten by Junior Walker and wanted to take my interest in saxophones further. I’d read in Blues and Soul Mag that there was a version of Way Back Home on a newish Crusaders album and I managed to locate and purchase my copy of Hollywood. I also bought another LP featuring a saxophonist and have just discovered a strange fact about it- but that can wait for another post.

Years later, I’ve still got my original copy, released on MoWest and pressed at EMI’s plant at Hayes (there was also a version on UK Tamla Motown, as you will see). Here’s the cover:-

Crusaders cover-2

When I got my new album onto the turntable of the radiogram at home my adventures with jazz started. Spanish Harlem was a familiar track. I already had the Aretha Franklin version on an Atlantic single but I don’t think I knew that the original was recorded by Ben E King in 1960, or that it was a Leiber / Phil Spector composition. It still sounds superb (despite mangling spins on the radiogram turntable which is landfill somewhere) with beautifully recorded drums and pleasing tenor sax and trombone solos. Try A Little Harder is a bit of a filler, but then comes the title track. On Hollywood Joe Sample tickles a very engaging and soulful tune out of the piano before tenor and sax play in unison and the tenor plays a downright earthy solo, followed by Wayne Henderson on trombone. Thanks to Montysylvano for the YouTube clip

Do Yourself a Favour is a slab of early 70’s jazz funk with wah wah guitar. Its OK but doesn’t excel.

Side two’s opener Cold Duck Eddie has a nice strolling sort of a sound with the trombone out in force. Way Back Home, was familiar to me through Junior Walker’s version and I was a little disappointed with this one at the time as the sax sounds much more restrained and formal within the context of a very tight band. Trawling YouTube, I found this great live version from 2003 (courtesy Horthy66) with a wonderful introduction by Joe Sample. I still love the way Junior did it though!

Papa Hooper’s Barrelhouse Groove never did much for me, while Alekesam is a pleasant sounding track that could have been bland but which is saved by great musicianship.

So there you have it. Richard Nixon, the Moon and the music of the Crusaders. Best of all, the Crusaders are playing at Ronnie Scott’s in a couple of weeks and I aim to tell you all about it. The clip above has certainly whetted my appetite.

The band etc: Wayne Henderson (trombone); Wilton Felder (tenor sax and electric bass); Joe Sample (keyboards); Stix Hooper (drums). No studio details on my copy (maybe someone out there on the net can help us with this?) but it was recorded in 1972 and produced by Stewart Levine.