Tag Archives: Soul 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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A Man With A Horn: Lou Donaldson

2017 has dawned. The World is still spinning. I’m delighted to declare that after an abstemious Festive Season, my head isn’t. So, Happy New Year everybody and let’s hope it turns out to be much less ‘interesting’ (in the sense of the Chinese curse) than 2016. Here’s a fresh post to get matters underway at downwithit.

Over the last two months A Man With a Horn has been the most played album on my system and it has led me to an even greater respect for Lou Donaldson.

It is not one of Donaldson’s better-known albums, mainly because it was not released in the early sixties. The two sessions that make up this recording were from 1961 and 1963 and they remained in the vaults until 1999. It was over 35 years before they were dusted down as part of the Blue Note Connoisseur CD series, a conduit for rare and previously unissued material. As far as I am aware, this set has never been issued on vinyl but that does not mean it should not merit attention.

Both sessions featured guitarist Grant Green who was encouraged to move to New York and introduced to the Blue Note label by Donaldson. The earlier session utilises Jack McDuff on Hammond organ in a rare Blue Note outing, whilst John Patton, another Donaldson protege, plays the keyboard on the 1963 date. McDuff is used as an accompaniest, playing understated swirling chords on the five ballads from ’61, while John Patton is given more space to solo.

The CD alternates between songs from each of the sessions and I have marked 1961 tunes with a single asterix (*) and 1963 with double asterixes (**). I initially wondered why the set had been sequenced in this way. I eventually grouped and played through the tracks in the two discrete sessions. This leads me to the conclusion that while the 1961 session, which consists of mellifluous ballads is strong, the tunes benefit from being interspersed with the more uptempo offerings from 1963. As presented there is the variety and texture to turn this CD into a more rewarding listening experience.

The Errol Garner standard Misty* is given a lush rendition as opener. The purity of tone from Lou Donaldson’s alto sax is exceptional and is well-matched by the sensitive contributions from the other three musicians, especially Grant Green. It is currently on Youtube courtesy of Zateuz and you can watch here:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow

Hipity Hop** starts off in the manner of a 1950’s swing tune before John Patton plays an incredible solo starting with a Morse code like trill held for a full 24 bars. It certainly catches the attention. This Donaldson composition is an uptempo and funky toe-tapper and he plays an assertive and exemplary alto sax solo before Grant Green and Patton contribute to a rich confection flavoured by Irvin Stoke’s wah-wah muted trumpet.

It is then back to 1961 for Please*, a second delicate romantic ballad on which all four musicians acquit themselves well.

On My Melancholy Baby** Lou Donaldson builds on riffs that owe much to Charlie Parker’s school of soloing, with an engaging contribution delivered from the trumpet of Stokes.

Man With A Horn* features more delectable and sensitive playing from the 1961 quartet in a track that is a bit of a smoocher.

Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White** is delivered over a playful cha cha rhythm and contains a solid portion of Grant Green’s ever-tasteful guitar.

Prisoner Of Love* is a standard which was in the charts courtesy of James Brown and The Famous Flames (If still on YouTube this is too good to miss) when this was recorded.

Then it is off to the church of funk with Soul Meetin’**, the second Donaldson composition here and one of those great finger-snapping ‘Baptist Beat’ numbers. I’m very fond of them when they occasionally appear on Blue Note sets. As a New Year bonus this is the second YouTube post courtesy of The Nada73

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The set closes with Star Dust*, a fifth ballad that maintains the high standards of the other four. In his excellent and informative ‘The Jazz Standards’ Ted Gioia refers to it as’…the song to which their parents and grandparents courted, romanced and wed’ and traces the history of this formally much-loved song which is slowly fading into obscurity (in the way of all things).

If you come across this set on CD (and it is relatively rare) don’t hesitate to purchase it as it captures Lou Donaldson playing on the ballads with a very clear and intense tone and also includes a good balance of more uptempo tunes from the 1963 date. Grant Green is on great form, as is John Patton on this very worthwhile jewel from the vaults.

The band etc: Tracks marked * Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); Jack McDuff (organ); Joe Dukes (drums). Recorded: 25 September 1961
Tracks marked ** Irvin Stokes (trumpet); Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 7 June 1963.
Both session recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Ed Hamilton. Cover design: Patrick Roques. Cover photo: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 21436.

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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.

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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.

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The Sermon: Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith The Sermon cover

Time to get going again! My last posting here was over three months ago. So, no excuses, time to get to work and get something new out.

The Sermon is a good place to start. Three tracks are taken from two recording dates in August 1957 and February 1958. This set was Smith’s fourteenth Blue Note release during a period from 1956 onwards when his Hammond organ albums were the label’s major cash cow. Indeed on hearing him play in Greenwich Village, Miles Davis told label boss and producer Al Lion, ‘Alfred, he’s going to make you a lot of money.’ He recorded no less than 10 sessions in 1957 alone. The Sermon is the second of two titles to be taken from the August 57/February 58 sessions with House Party being released first, in 1958.

My theory about the Hammond organ phenomenon is that in a time when live popular music was usually played in small venues without powerful amplification, the sudden introduction of this behemoth of an instrument created a new kind of live excitement. In the case of the Hammond, what is played in a small venue can extend beyond the aural to become something that is almost palpable. You can hit all the right notes on other instruments but it is the swells and trills of the mighty B3 organ, played at volume, that seem to me to have a tangible quality all of their own. My own instrument was the tenor sax (played very badly) and I love its sound but the Hammond does something that is very different. I’m not a keyboardist but I am aware that modern technology enables all sorts of sounds to be emulated but unless somebody invites me to a blindfold audition and convinces me that the contrary applies I’ll continue to believe that it is impossible to capture and faithfully replicate the sound of a Hammond and Leslie speaker. Of course, this is an invitation for any of you out there to tell me that this is nonsense and prove your case with suitable sonic illustration.

The title track, one of two JS original compositions here, is a tribute to Horace Silver and opens with a long opportunity for Jimmy Smith to stretch out and develop his ideas before the baton is passed to the great Kenny Burrell. A typically tasteful laid back exploration follows, somehow so appropriate for the lazy Sunday morning that I’m writing this on. Then it’s over to Tina Brooks, whose mellow mid-register tenor saxophone adds a deliciously sour texture for an extended solo. Jimmy Smith sends out long note signals for Brooks to wind up, but they are ignored because Tina’s really blowing the blues here. His solo ends and is followed by a couple of words that I cannot quite make out, but which sound like appreciative ones. Over to Lee Morgan which contains punchy staccato notes and a longer run. Lou Donaldson’s solo is another masterful contribution to the whole before the ensemble briefly reappear and Jimmy Smith gleefully leads us to the fade. Art Blakey plays drums with understated power but no solo here.

On the sleeve notes to the RVG CD edition, Bob Blumenthal reminds us that the recent introduction of the 12 inch long playing record allowed musicians the space to record with more space to develop ideas and less need to limit a recording to the shorter length which was the previous limit of what could be captured and released in earlier 10″ 78 rpm disc format. Although some, so-called, blowing sessions could sound self-indulgent, The Sermon uses the extended period to great effect. You can hear the full track from YouTube via the following link:-

To view, click on or touch the arrow

J.O.S. was recorded during the previous year, in the August of 1957 with George Coleman (alto sax), Eddie McFadden (guitar) and Donald Bailey (drums) rather than the greater stellar magnitude of Burrell, Blakey and Donaldson. It is a pacy outing with a fluent alto solo from Coleman. Jimmy Smith signals the end of this with what Ira Gitler’s original sleeve notes liken to a musical buzzer. He later becomes increasingly insistent that Morgan should end his solo but Morgan is in full flow and wisely ignores a full four blasts to offer another fine chorus. McFadden’s guitar picking is deft and delightful before the session leader duly takes the last solo.

Flamingo is from the February 1958 session, although Brooks and Donaldson sit out. It starts with a beautiful statement of the theme on Morgan’s trumpet before it is swapped to Burrell and then taken back again. There’s a sense of smoochy luxuriance here- the sort of ballad that you have to be in the right sort of mood for and a bit too MOR for some ears. It was written in 1940 by Ted Grouya and Edmund Anderson, with Duke Ellington as an early performer before Earl Bostic too it to the top of the R&B charts in 1951. Miles Davis would have done it differently and played half as many notes but Morgan’s own greatness shines through.

I’ve struggled with this review, which suggests that I don’t regard this as the essential Jimmy Smith set that the newcomer should seek out immediately. However, it does have its charms and delights.

With a writing block dispensed with, I’m away out of the traps again with lots of ideas about what is to follow. Thanks for visiting downwithit.info

The band etc:- Jimmy Smith (Hammond organ); Tina Brooks (tenor sax); George Coleman (alto sax); Lou Donaldson (alto sax); Lee Morgan (trumpet); Kenny Burrell (guitar); Eddie McFadden (guitar); Art Blakey (drums); Donald Bailey (drums). Recorded 25 August 1957 and February 25 1958. Produced: Al Lion; Manhattan Towers, New York City. Sleeve Notes: Ira Gitler. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note BLP 4011.

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All That’s Good: Frederick Roach

Freddie Roach All That's Good cover
Freddie Roach’s Wikipedia entry has has finally been updated with news of his untimely death in the early 1970’s. So the former statement that: ‘He moved to California and was never heard of again’ is no more. That’s a good thing because Freddie deserved much better. Although downwithit.info can claim some credit for this, it was really Pete Fallico’s excellent interview with Conrad Lester (friend of Roach and tenor on this set) reproduced here, that enabled the record to be set straight.

All That’s Good is the last of Roach’s five Blue Note outings and it is so different to any other recording that I’ve ever heard on that label that it is easy to surmise why his talents ended up elsewhere.

Roach penned the sleeve notes for many of his albums and they make it clear that he wanted his work to tell stories and capture images. With All That’s Good he is trying to paint a picture of a somewhat idealised Black inner city community, looking at the positives of everyday life.

Journeyman has a delightful born-again Baptist feel to it. Over at London Jazz Collector a recent post had fellow jazzers voting on instruments that they disliked. Although there is no vibraphone or bowed double bass here you should have a listen to this track which features two of the usual suspects and more in the form of: Hammond organ, a choir, tambourine and soul clapping. I imagine Rudy Van Gelder dancing at the controls as this one was recorded. Not one for the purist or the narrow minded, who will be sure to fulminate, but I think it is amazing and you can take a listen too thanks to YouTube:-

To listen touch or click on the arrow

The title track, All That’s Good, follows with the small choir going for a celestial effect with attendant ‘Oh Yeahs! before some delicate blues saxophone from Conrad Lester and an equally strong guitar solo from Calvin Newborn redeems matters. On Blues For 007 the feel created by Roach is that of a now archaic swinging sixties tune that is sub Aqua Marina (please excuse the weak Stingray reference and pun). The organ setting is a bit too rinky dink and trebley for me here.

Over on Side Two where Busted is played in waltz time and, once again a bit of muscular R n B saxophone saves the day. Club 788 is probably not the strongest blues that Freddie Roach ever wrote or played on. Finally, Loie the strongest track on this side, a Kenny Burrell number from his Guitar Forms album closes things in Bossa nova style.

This LP gets one of the worst reviews I’ve yet to read on the generally very helpful Allmusic website. Enroute to a poor 2 star rating, Stephen Thomas Erlewine opines:- “Roach never hits upon a groove, choosing to create a series of bizarre, hazy textures. That atmosphere is catapulted into the realms of the surreal by vocalists Phyllis Smith, Willie Tate, and Marvin Robinson, whose wordless, floating singing sounds spectral; the intent may have been to mimic a gospel choir, but the effect is that of a pack of banshees wailing in the background.”

Not the sort of endorsement to set the pulse racing and the hand reaching for the wallet then. That combined with the tatty sellotaped cover that you can see at the top of this page kept putting me off purchasing this album at my local second hand record store. Luckily for me the price reduced by 50% after several months due to the shop’s Dutch auction approach until my tipping point was finally reached yesterday. I expected the condition of the disc to match the cover and I was in for a great surprise when I was handed a shiny very strong VG+ first stereo pressing complete with Plastylite ‘ear’.

As you’ve read above, it is an enjoyable recording that I’m pleased to welcome as an addition to the Freddie Roach section of my collection (even if he does style himself as Frederick on the cover).

The band etc: Frederick Roach (organ); Conrad Lester (tenor saxophone); Calvin Newborn (guitar); Clarence Johnston (drums); Marvin Robinson (baritone vocals); Phyllis Smith (soprano vocals); Willie Tate (alto vocals)  Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded October 16, 1964.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Frederick Roach.  Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Ronnie Braithwaite. Models: Grandassa Models.  Originally issued as Blue Note ST84190.

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Heavy Sounds: Elvin Jones and Richard Davis

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It’s probably just an impression that I have, but recordings on the Impulse label are made up of a curious mixture of artists and styles. Over the years I have been very slow to start to listen and appreciate these beasts with their orange and black spines. My first three purchases were John Coltrane sets: The Gentle Side, a curious concoction of immediately essential ballads and vocal tracks that took time to grow on me; the masterful creation that is A Love Supreme and then the veritable maelstrom of Interstellar Space, which challenged me and anybody else within earshot and put me off Impulse for a couple of years. Along the way I’d also listened to Albert Ayler’s Live in Greenwich Village, where The Truth Is Marching In is another challenge (but one that has grown on me in the twenty-five years since I first heard it and I expect to return there in due course). I now have over well over 30 recordings on Impulse but that brush with Coltrane at his fiercest has made me wary.

Last week I was browsing in my local used record emporium when I came across Heavy Sounds. ‘What have we here?’ thought I. At first I wasn’t particularly keen, with the title seeming to scream “Danger! Audio Shock Ahead”. After all, this was an album centring on a drummer and a bass player. What could it possibly be like? How heavy would it be? Eventually, I sneered at caution, overcame the unworthy opponent blocking my path and parted with a couple of hard-earned leisure pounds.

I’m delighted that I did. The title is a poor one- Soul-Stirring Sounds would be far better, because it is a work that is diverse and impressive. Raunchy Rita, the opener is a delightful soul flavoured extravaganza. Without further ado, have a listen on YouTube courtesy of Rafael Garcia.

To play, click or touch the arrow.

Next up is a version of Shiny Stockings, a standard which was made popular by Count Basie in a version which featured a solo by Elvin Jones’s older brother, Thad. Elvin makes considerable use of the brushes in his drum accompaniment to this track.

M.E.is surprising. Although only four musicians appear on this track, it has a drilled, big band crispness- almost an orchestral sound. I would guess that this is down to the musical arrangement.

Summertime follows. The recording session was originally booked to feature the guitar of Larry Coryell, but he was unavailable. With studio time on their hands, Jones and Davis began to improvise around the great classic standard, which both men had dreamt of doing with full orchestral backing. The decision was made to record it as a duo and fortune intervened with the result that a special piece of music was created. Starting with bowed bass and atmospheric fills from Jones on the drums, this piece is one that you really should seek out and listen to.

Elvin’s Guitar Blues is next up and features the drummer on acoustic guitar, accompanied by Foster on tenor sax. It’s a delightful blues and sits very well in the context of the set. Here’s That Rainy Day is Foster’s vehicle, featuring a fine extended tone-poem of a saxophone solo that builds from being reflective and almost languid before soaring.

There’s an interesting diversion in quiz territory and if you are ever asked: ‘What links Van Morrison, Eric Dolphy and Bruce Springsteen?’, the answer follows:- Richard Davis played bass on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, considered by many critics to be one of the greatest rock albums of all time, as well as Bruce Springstein’s Born To Run and Laura Nyro’s Smile. He was also the bass player on Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch.

The front cover features a superbly lit, cigarette shrouded image taken by Charles (Chuck) Stewart, who has been responsible for over 3000 album covers to date. Given a basic Kodak camera as a schoolboy, he used it the day he received it to photograph the great Marian Anderson (the first Black woman to perform at NY Metropolitan Opera, as late as 1955!). The photos later sold, which meant that he was a professional photographer from the first day he owned a camera. There’s more about Charles Stewart here, offering fascinating insight into the work of this great image-maker. His modesty shines through, since he once said: ‘I just saw a moment that I thought would be rather exciting, that moment when I pushed the button, and apparently it worked.’ He was clearly gifted with the ability to choose the elusive ‘decisive moment’ on very many occasions.

A quick look on Amazon indicates that the CD can get a bit pricy- so perhaps Heavy Sounds is an album to grab If you come across a copy while browsing the second hand music shops. If you do find it, don’t be put off by the title and buy without hesitation.

The band etc: Elvin Jones (drums; guitar track); Richard Davis (bass); Frank Foster (tenor saxophone: tracks 1-3, 5 & 6); Billy Greene (piano: tracks 1, 3, 5 & 6). Produced: Bob Thiele. Recorded: RCA Studios, New York City (not at RVG as sometimes claimed)19 & 20 June 1967. Cover Design: Barbara & Robert Flynn. Cover Photography: Charles Stewart. Released: 1968. Original release: AS 9160.

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Heart of Memphis: Robin McKelle

Heart of Memphis

In February I saw Fred Wesley and PeeWee Ellis perform at Ronnie Scott’s and wrote about their performance here. I’m not a great lover of jazz vocals, especially those delivered by a certain type of supper club vocalist but I do my best not to write any musician off too early. After all, if you handed me a tenor sax and said ‘entertain us’, I’m confident you would be making your excuses pretty sharpish. Robin McKelle, who they introduced on vocals, confirmed the old saying that there are rubies to be found amongst the dust- and the world of jazz vocals really needs a good rub over with the Mr Sheen. Gifted with one of those voices that can be both raunchy and subtle, Robin McKelle has a world-class talent.

Regular readers may recall that I’ve made a commitment to write about one new recording by a contemporary artist every month. Kevin Flanagan and RipRap were first up and April’s recording is Heart of Memphis by Robin McKelle and The Flytones.

Robin has already released four albums but I’m not familiar with these. Heart of Memphis took her down the Mississippi to Scott Bomar’s Electraphonic Studio to record an album steeped in a classic 60’s Stax and Muscle Shoals sauce. Purists may feel I’m stretching the jazz angle a bit here but I’m sure many of you will be interested to hear about her.

About To Be Your Baby gets things off to a good start with an exclamation from a strong woman, well capable of giving as good as she gets in love and knowing which way the world was turning when a lover ‘…went and started actin’ shady’.

Good Time is a medium paced dancer, which could probably cut it as a slower number on a Northern Soul dance floor. Robin’s vocals are a husky treat on this one. Next up is the classic, Please Don’t Let Me Misunderstood which she punches on the nose and knocks out with one mighty effort. Control Yourself has a 80’s flavoured sould ballad feel to it. Forgetting You is a country song- not a genre that I’m wild about but this song smoulders and then burns. If I’d been producing this one, the horns would have been crisper and more to the fore- but what do I know?

Heart of Memphis just makes me want to go there- perhaps one day soon? A fine song, written by Robin and perhaps the standout track for me.

Like A River offers you the opportunity to take a look and see what you think, courtesy of YouTube

http://youtube.com/watch?v=0xhVvjOU_Wk

To watch and listen, click or touch the arrow.

Easier That Way has a lighter musical air to it, although it’s message is one of nostalgia for better and simpler past days. Once again Robin captures a feeling and takes us there. What You Want puts a lover on the spot and sorts them out with a direct question. Well put and well delivered!

Good & Plenty is another song about a woman standing up for herself and ending a relationship where she got ‘…herself good and plenty of nothing’. It’s an energetic band workout and is likely be a highlight of a live set from The Flytones.

Baby You’re The Best is presented in an 80’s style and in this context is a breather between two strong tracks, because Down With The Ship is another potential anthem- a big soul ballad that should be heard and appreciated widely. It’s Over This Time is as described, a closer in which the singer points to a line in the sand and makes it clear that the subject is stating that a bad relationship is over with a big full stop.

So that’s Heart of Memphis. I’ve resisted the temptation to mention and compare any of the pantheon of great female vocalists, because Robin McKelle has her own distinctive style and can stand up in her own right. I really enjoyed her live with Fred and PeeWee doing the funky material and will be on the case when she plays her next London dates. If you want to know more about Robin McKelle you can read here about this Rochester, NY State born performer, who herself taught vocals at Boston’s revered Berklee School of Music. Catch her fast in the small venues because I feel that the big stages beckon. While we wait, you are unlikely to be disappointed by Heart of Memphis, or The Flytones whose musicianship complements their vocalist with performances that confirm their own talents.

The band etc: Robin McKelle (vocals, percussion); Ben Stivers (organ, piano); Derek Nievergelt (bass); Adrian Harpham (drums); Al Street (guitars); Mark Franklin (trumpet); Kirk Smothers (tenor & baritone saxophone); Danielle Hill & Susanne Marshall (background vocals). Production: Scott Bomar, Electaphonic Studios, Memphis Tennessee. Sony Music, OKeh. 2014

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The downwithit playlist: Twenty great tracks for you to listen to

The downwithit playlist is a list of 20 YouTube track selections that I have used to give readers a taste of the albums that I have looked at here on downwithit. They are highlighted and form part of a full post.

They are gathered together here for your further pleasure. Click on the burnt orange title to link directly to YouTube and listen.

If you would like to read my full post for the album, each one is available to read here on downwithit

The following six tracks should open on a tablet or mobile device and a computer:-

Tommy Chase: Grove Merchant: Killer Joe
Abdullah Ibrahim: Mannenberg
Pharoah Sanders: Africa: You’ve Got To Have Freedom
The Crusaders: Hollywood: Hollywood
Don Wilkerson: Preach Brother: Camp Meetin’
John Jenkins: John Jenkins with Kenny Burrell: Sharon

The following fourteen tracks should open on a computer, but will not open on a tablet or mobile device:-

Blue Mitchell: Down With It. Hi-Heel Sneakers
John Coltrane: Blue Train: Blue Train
Horace Silver: Six Pieces of Silver: Camouflage
Horace Parlan: Movin’ n Groovin’: On Green Dolphin Street
Joe Henderson: Mode For Joe: Mode For Joe
Johnny Griffin: The Big Soul Band: Wade In The Water
Freddie Roach: Brown Sugar: Brown Sugar
Fred Jackson: Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’: Southern Exposure
Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder: The Sidewinder
Grover Washington: All The King’s Horses: Lean On Me
Kenny Dorham: Una Mas: Una Mas
Jimmy Smith: Home Cookin’: See See Rider
Freddie Roach: The Soul Book: One Track Mind
Kenny Burrell: Out Of This World: Montono Blues

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Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’: Fred Jackson

Hootin n Tootin_

Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’ is a superb Blue Note soul jazz set that deserves to be better known and praised loudly. Although it was the only recording that he ever released as a leader, on the evidence of this set it is regrettable that this was Fred Jackson’s only opportunity to shine.

I picked up this CD on a visit to Japan a few years ago and the deal clincher for me was when I realised, somewhat to my surprise, that the great Earl Van Dyke was the Hammond organist on the session. EVD was later to become the foremost keyboard player amongst the session artists who made up the Motown house band, The Funk Brothers (who, as I was once assured when I had the good fortune to see them perform in London, cut more US Number One records than Elvis, The Beatles and The Stones added together). EVD, together with Wilbert Hogan on drums and guitarist Willie Jones were amongst Jackson’s fellow members of Lloyd Price’s band.

Fred Jackson played as a member of Little Richard’s touring band in the early 1950’s, before joining Lloyd Price and making his recording debut in 1961 on a BB King set. Shortly afterwards he played on Baby Face Willette’s acclaimed Blue Note debut Face to Face (which we will return to at a later date), before making his own recording debut with this session recorded in February 1962. A note on the Allmusic database states that Jackson recorded a single featuring John Patton on piano, presumably cut by Blue Note with an eye to the jukebox market that they used to publicise the label. However, this was never released, although Jackson did play tenor sax on Patton’s Along Came John and both tenor and baritone on The Way I Feel. Jackson made one further return to the studio as a leader and recorded material for a second album. However, whether due to slow sales of Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’ or the lack of enough material for a complete album, this material was only released in 1998 on a CD reissue. Sadly, these tracks are not on the Japanese CD that is in my collection, so I will have to track them down in due course.

Dippin’ In The Bag gets proceedings off to a good start with a brisk blues with Jackson running through a few interesting ideas, with nods to tradition. On reprising this album, the excellent guitar playing made me wonder whether it was Kenny Burrell, it wasn’t, it was Willie Jones.

Southern Exposure is an incredible track. A delightful guitar intro sets the tone before giving way to a plaintive slow blues and wonderfully expressive playing from Fred Jackson. But don’t take my word for it. What do you think (courtesy of marc higgins on YouTube).

Touch or click the arrow to play

Earl Van Dyke’s accompaniment and solo has a very churchy, reedy and later sanctified sound. I am sure there are Hammondistas who could tell us exactly what settings he was using here. Sadly I can’t add anything myself.

Preach Brother features a return to the upbeat with some straight-ahead R&B saxophone from the leader. Wade in the Water (see last posting) gets a brief nod and there is another fine solo from EVD. The title track Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’ gives Jackson another chance to work out with Hogan’s cymbals providing a pulse beat to guide the feet throughout.

Easin’ On Down is a loping, pensive sort of blues offering a dialogue between saxophone and Hammond organ before Jones delivers a Grant Green, single note picking solo and EVD gets a go too. One to snap the fingers to. The sleeve notes suggest that That’s Where It’s At is “…designed to lure wayward twisters into the jazz fold”. All I can add is: ‘Come on in!’ although I’ve never been any good at doing The Twist. Listeners will note a further reference to Wade in The Water here too. Way Down Home is the closer

Although a cursory Internet search has revealed little about Fred Jackson’s later life, the good news is that I haven’t found any obituaries or record of a date of death. So if you are still with us Fred, I hope you are enjoying life in your ninth decade and thanks for a great album.

The band etc: Fred Jackson (tenor saxophone); Earl Van Dyke (Hammond organ); Willie Jones (guitar); Wilbert Hogan (drums). Recorded: 2 February 1962. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Recording: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Sleeve notes: Dudley Williams. Originally issued as Blue Note 4094.

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