Saturday, October 18, 2014

Jimmy Witherspoon - Roots

Jimmy Witherspoon laid out two great records in 1962 on Reprise, Spoon and this one. Roots places the great blues singer and guitarist in the company of saxophonist Ben Webster, trumpeter Gerald Wilson, and a rhythm section consisting of pianist Ernie Freeman and drummer Jim Miller. The mood is laid-back, down-home, and full of emotion and sentiment. The warmth of Witherspoon's voice on material like "Your Red Wagon," "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water," "Key to the Highway" (in one of the more unique versions ever recorded), and Jimmy Rushing's "Did You Ever" is on the other side of lonesome. Webster and Wilson underscore the sung lines with fills that accent the deep blue in Witherspoon's vocal. Jay McShann's "Confessin' the Blues" is a more jazzed-up arrangement, but Witherspoon's deep in the R&B groove here, taking a hint from Joe Turner. The finger-popping read of Turner's "It's a Low Down Dirty Shame" is in the gutbucket; the rhythm section swings hard. It's not as raucous as the original, but Witherspoon's smooth, clear, and deep register is beautifully complemented first by Wilson's solo and then by Webster's. The real stunner is near the end, when the band takes on Big Bill Broonzy's "Just a Dream," where Witherspoon wails and moans the blues. It's just chilling. This is one of those recordings that is a true hidden classic. - by Thom Yurek, AMG

Artist: Jimmy Witherspoon
Album: Roots
Year: 1962
Label: Warner Japan (24bit, 2014)
Runtime: 40:30

Tracks:
1.  I'd Rather Dring Muddy Water (Eddie Miller) 3:56
2.  I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town (Andy Razaf/Casey Bill Weldon) 3:36
3.  Key to the Highway (Charles Segar/William Broonzy) 2:54
4.  Did You Ever (Jimmy Rushing) 3:24
5.  Confessin' The Blues (Jay McShann/Walter Brown) 3:00
6.  Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out (Jimmie Cox) 2:31
7.  Your Red Wagon (Don Raye/Gene DePaul/Richard M. Jones) 5:12
8.  Rain Is Such A Lonesome Sound (Jimmy Witherspoon) 3:01
9.  Cherry Red (Big Joe Turner/Pete Johnson) 3:15
10.  It's A Low Down Dirty Shame (Ollie Shepard) 3:02
11.  Just A Dream (William Broonzy)  3:00
12.  Please, Mr. Webster (Buddy Johnson) 3:32

Personnel:
Jimmy Witherspoon (Vocals)
Ben Webster (Tenor Saxophone)
Gerald Wilson (Trumpet)
Ernie Freeman (Piano)
Herman Mitchell (Guitar)
Ralph Hamilton (Double Bass)
Jim Miller (Drums)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Oliver Nelson - Fantabulous

By the time Oliver Nelson and his big band had recorded Fantabulous in March of 1964 for Argo, the great composer, saxophonist, conductor, and arranger was a man about town in New York. He had
released some truly classic dates of his own as a leader in smaller group forms -- Blues and the Abstract Truth and Full Nelson among them -- and had done arrangement work for everyone from Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Hodges, Nancy Wilson, Frank Wess, King Curtis, Etta Jones, Jimmy Smith, Jack Teagarden, Betty Carter, Billy Taylor, and Gene Ammons, to name more than a few. For Fantabulous, he took his working big band to Chicago for a gig sponsored by Daddy-O-Daylie, a famous local disc jockey. He had also worked with a number of the players on this date before, even recording an earlier version of the tune "Hobo Flats" that opens this set a year before on an album of the same name. Altoist Phil Woods, baritone roarer Jerome Richardson, trumpeters Snooky Young and Art Hoyle, bassist Ben Tucker, and drummer Grady Tate are a few of the names on Fantabulous. Nelson holds down the tenor chair, and Patti Bown is on piano with additional brass and reed players. Another Nelson original, "Post No Bills" features killer alto work from Woods, and a brief but smoking hot baritone break form Richardson on the same cut. This program is compelling in that it provides an excellent meld of all of Nelson's strengths-as an advanced, colorful harmonist
who insisted on the hard swinging esthetic, as an excellent tenor saxophonist and a killer conductor. Another highlight is "Daylie's Double," (which bears a similarity to Nat Adderley's "Work Song"")
named for the aforementioned DJ, with smoking tenor breaks from Nelson, and big fat soulful chord soloing from Bown. Likewise Billy Taylor's "A Bientot," it opens in true big brass Ellingtonian
elegance, and unravels itself as a gorgeous bluesy ballad with echoes of "I Only Have Eyes for You" in its melody. The subtle shades of flute and twinned clarinet are a nice touch before the entire band arrives to carry it out on a big yet tenderly expressive lyric cloud. That said, there isn't a weak moment here, there isn't anything that doesn't captivate, delight, and even astonish, as in the smoking, striated harmonic bop head on "Three Plus One." It's almost amazing it took more than 20 years before this appeared on American shores on CD, but at last, here it is in excellent sound at a budget price as part of Verve's Originals series. This is for those who are fans who don't have it yet (and who are unwilling to pay high collector's fees for good vinyl copies or the wages of Japanese import insanity), and those wondering where to begin with Nelson the arranger. - by Thom Yurek, AMG

Artist: Oliver Nelson
Album: Fantabulous
Year: 1964:
Label: Verve (Argo, 2008)
Runtime: 34:35

Tracks:
1.  Hobo Flats (Oliver Nelson) 4:13
2.  Post No Bills (Oliver Nelson) 5:30
3.  A Bientot (Billy Taylor) 3:47
4.  Three Plus One (Oliver Nelson) 3:25
5.  Take Me With You (Willie Jean Tate/Oliver Nelson) 5:28
6.  Daylie's Double (Audrie Nelson) 4:01
7.  Teenie's Blues (Oliver Nelson) 4:08
8.  Laz-ie Kate (Oliver Nelson) 3:59

Personnel: 
Oliver Nelson (Tenor Saxophone)
Jerome Richardson (Baritone Saxophone, Flute, Alto Flute)
Phil Woods (Alto Saxophone, Clarinet)
Robert Ashton (Tenor Saxophone, Calrinet)
Kenny Soderblom (Alto Saxophone, Flute)
Roy Weigano (Trombone)
Tony Studd (Bass Trombone)
Art Hoyle (Trumpet)
Eugene 'Snookie' Young (Trumpet)
Patti Bown (Piano)
Ben Tucker (Double Bass)
Grady Tate (Drums)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Bill Frisell - Blues Dream

For those who have been wondering where Mr. Bill's musical wanderings would lead him in the wake of his first solo CD, Ghost Town, Blues Dream provides the ambitious answer. Nearly all Frisell's fascinations are here: the pastoralism of Have a Little Faith, a Nashville tinge, and the cinematic sounds of Quartet. There's also the electronic loop atmospheres of his ECM and early Elektra years and the alternating Ellingtonian and Salvation Army horns of his quintet period. All of this melded into 18 new compositions commissioned by the Walker Arts Center. A textural richness comes courtesy of Greg Leisz's various guitars backing Frisell's own guitar and a stunning integration of three horns: Curtis Fowlkes's trombone, Ron Miles's trumpet, and Billy Drewes's saxophones. As you listen to this string of broad-shouldered pieces, tributes to greats like Ron Carter, and strangely blues-inflected soundscapes, it's apparent that the solos of Ghost Town</I> can operate as a sort of sketch or "cartoon" for this, the full painting; or a short that is then expanded into a feature. Frisell's career is taking on the aspect of a well-crafted movie or novel that explores different story lines before bringing them together for the finale (and this might be the prelude to the finale). by Michael Ross

From the beginning of Blues Dream, the listener knows that something special is going on. The spare notes of Ron Miles' trumpet and the relaxed guitar work of Greg Leisz lay the groundwork for a spacious sound on the title cut. This openness remains throughout the album, even when alto and trombone are added into the mix. The instrumental "Ron Carter" begins with the loose, electrified feel of an early Miles Davis fusion piece, with Bill Frisell's distorted guitar exploring the space of the piece without resorting to excessive volume. The short and sweet "Pretty Stars Were Made to Shine" leans heavier on the country side, with steel guitar and Chet Atkins' fingerpicking dominating. The arrangements on Blues Dream are a big change from last year's solo effort, Ghost Town. An essential part of the overall sound is Leisz' steel guitar and lap steel work. He also played with Frisell on Good Dog, Happy Man, and helps to set the mood and pace throughout Blues Dream. Ron Miles plays a smaller role, but it is fascinating how well his relaxed trumpet, with its carefully chosen notes, fits into the mix on the title cut and the short "Episode." Blues Dream is a perfectly chosen title: the material, steeped in the blues, is approached in a lazy, dreamlike fashion. Frisell's fondness for putting unusual combinations of instruments together adds to the overall effect, leaving the listener to wonder why no one has ever tried this before. Blues Dream is a lovely release that should satisfy Frisell fans as well as jazz, country, and blues fans looking for a genre-bending experience. - by Ronnie D. Lankford Jr., AMG

Artist: Bill Frisell
Album: Blues Dream
Year: 2001
Label: Nonesuch
Runtime: 61:58

Tracks:
1.  Blues Dream 2:31
2.  Ron Carter 6:45
3.  Pretty Flowers Were Made For Blooming 3:20
4.  Pretty Stars Were Made To Shine 1:41
5.  Where Do We Go? 5:21
6.  Like Dreamers Do (Part One) 1:34
7.  Like Dreamers Do (Part Two) 2:37
8.  Outlaws 4:18
9.  What Do We Do? 7:08
10.  Episode 0:49
11.  Soul Merchant 2:43
12.  Greg Leisz 6:14
13.  The Tractor 2:27
14.  Fifty Years 1:31
15.  Slow Dance 3:11
16.  Things Will Never Be The Same 4:49
17.  Dream On 3:06
18.  Blues Dream (Reprise) 1:53
All compositions by Bill Frisell

Personnel:
Bill Frisell (Electric Guitar, acoustic Guitar, Loops)
Greg Leisz (Pedal Steel Guitar, Lap Steel Guitar, National Steel Guitar, Mandolin)
Ron Miles (Trumpet)
Billy Drewes (Alto Saxophone)
David Piltch (Double Bass)
Kenny Wollesen (Drums, Percussion)
Curtis Fowlkes (Trombone)

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