Groovin in the Summer of Oh Six
We all do it. Some of us do it with a bit of a bounce, while others sort of coolly glide, feet barely touching down. But everyone grooves, and everyone has music that just get 'em to grooving. Here are some different ways to get your groove on for the summer of 2006.
The Best of the Capitol Jazz & Blues Sessions
This twenty-song anthology delivers the definitive overview of Lou Rawls' vocal accomplishments before his late-1970s run with Gamble & Huff for Philly International records popped him into the mainstream.
Like so many other blues-influenced pop singers, Rawls begins right from The Source, the family church, through the opening "Motherless Child, from The Soul Stirring Gospel Sound of the Pilgrim Travelers Featuring Lou Rawls (1962). Lovingly rendered with the Les McCann piano trio for Rawls' first record as a leader (Stormy Monday, 1962), Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child almost sounds written for the deep, warm blanket of this singer's profoundly comforting voice. The unmistakable heat and light of gospel music also permeates "Something Stirring in My Soul, as well as Rawls' seven-minute workout of Sam Cooke's "Somebody Have Mercy, recorded with the famously funky Muscle Shoals (Studio) Fame Gang in 1970.
While the tunes are mostly solid, some just work better than others. You'd think that "Georgia On My Mind would provide a great vehicle for Rawls' slow-burning voice, but this version from Tobacco Road (1963) is simply a mess: the horn section (led by Curtis Amy's soprano sax), Richard "Groove Holmes' organ solo and Ray Crawford's guitar solo all bump into each other behind, then spill over to overwhelm Rawls' vocal out front.
So skip that and instead dig Rawls' blues from days and nights spent learning his soulful craft in the blues and jazz juke joints of Los Angeles and his Chicago hometown: his toe-tapping stroll through "Nobody But Me ; a lively arrangement of "So Hard to Laugh, So Easy to Cry crowned by Howard Roberts' sharp blues guitar; his soulful in-concert walk down the memoried lanes of "Tobacco Road, where Tommy Strode's piano saunters into barrelhouse boogie and blues; and the set-ending trilogy of Big Bill Broonzy's "Mean Old World with two more Holiday tunes, "Long Gone Blues and "Fine and Mellow, all three recorded with Amy's sextet, previously unreleased, loose-grooved, and swinging fine and mellow indeed.
The RH Factor
A straight-up hard bop player of often stunning ability, Roy Hargrove (RH) needs to play more than straight-up hard bop, and sometimes he embarks on outside projects like The RH Factor for explorations beyond the jazz repertoire. He performs on trumpet and flugelhorn here, with an experimental laboratory that includes a double rhythm section (bassists Reggie Washington and Lenny Stalworth; drummers Jason "JT Thomas and Willie Jones III), guitarist Todd Parsnow, and three keyboard players (Bobby Sparks, Charles McCambell, Renee Neufville), plus David "Fathead Newman as featured saxophone soloist and neo-funk mystery man D'Angelo guest-starring on "Bull***t.
The set begins with the promise of Hargrove's trumpet quicksilver runs through the opening "Distractions (Intro). Then his hot trumpet bounces through the second tune, "Crazy Race ... but these opening glimmers prepare expectations for greatness that the rest of the music just never reveals.
Distractions basically offers two solid pieces: The title track, chaotic yet streamlined modern jazz chopped into four servings as brief as twenty seconds ("Distractions 3 ) and as long as four minutes (the set-ending "4 ), and the track with D'Angelo. The remainder, mainly co-composed with Neufville and featuring her lead vocal, sound like bargain bin Patrice Rushen, limpid music that's not quite jazz or funk.
To be fair, "A Place cops the guitar voicings from Heatwave's classic "Groove Line and scratches them against powerful trumpet blasts; Hargrove opens soft around the edges in a romantic Herb Alpert mood before soaring high and mighty mighty, like Lee Morgan just lettin' it all hang out. Hargrove also finds much inspiration in D'Angelo's bad-ass hip-hop funk groove, singing through his mute just to sound a little edgy, like he was beaming through some magical, time-traveling old-time radio into its thick, rubbery jam.
The fact that he further blows his ass off over the blistering groove of "Distractions 4 more than four minutes, thankfully, of steady rockin' instrumental boilalmost makes the rest of these Distractions more disappointing. The whip-crack sound of the snare drum, its almost ridiculous, sustained fast tempo, and the monumental energy and fever of Hargrove's trumpet are enough to make you wonder, "Where was this guy for the past half hour?
Rooted in Philadelphia, the hometown of so many of his Hammond B-3 predecessors, Joey DeFrancesco knows soul-jazz organ grooves. And he seems to have studied their lessons well, as he's strung together the DownBeat Critics' Poll "Best Hammond B-3 player awards the past four years running.
DeFrancesco grooves these Organic Vibes in the serious jazz company of composer and vibraphone master Bobby Hutcherson throughoutas well as saxophonist George Coleman, a vital link in the Coltrane through Garrett saxophone lineage of Miles Davis, who graces with elegance the standards "Speak Low and "Somewhere in the Night.
DeFrancesco also continues to groove in the spirit of his friend, mentor and fellow Philly homeboy Jimmy Smith. Last year's Legacy, his tribute to/with Smith, ended up being Smith's last studio recording before his passing in February. DeFrancesco plays Jimmy Smith's 1959 Hammond B-3 organ on Organic Vibes, according to the credits.
Horns sit out of the nine-minute cruise through the classic "I Thought About You, which shines its solo spotlight completely on vibes and organ. Hutcherson later lifts the shades on another classic with his unaccompanied, lovingly rendered introduction to "My Foolish Heart, then simply keeps playing as the members of the rhythm section, including DeFrancesco, delicately assume their positions behind him... and stay in the background, keeping it a showpiece for this legendary vibes player. "I've always loved the sound of organ and vibes together, DeFrancesco says. "They're very similar but that combination really hasn't been done a lot.
Coleman's saxophone sound makes "Somewhere in the Night sound like classic bebopmeaty, sharp and robustas organ nicely sets the table for solos on saxophone, vibes and guitar. Coleman kicks off "Speak Low in an extremely sharp style and tempo that suggests Davis' mercurial "free bop take (a mixture of bebop and free jazz) on this same material. DeFrancesco's solo sounds inspired by Coleman, and whips this warhorse to its finish.
This solid datea truly old-school bebop jamdoes DeFrancesco's legacy, and that of his forefathers from Philly, proud.
A band unlike most others, Detroit's NOMO consists of eight multi-instrumentalists led by Elliott Bergman, who plays tenor sax, bass clarinet, synthesizer, Rhodes keyboard, electric kalimba and more.
New Tones is a CD unlike most others, too. Captured in the studio by Warren Defever, the renowned yet enigmatic producer for Detroit's electronic/pastiche collective His Name is Alive, New Tones simultaneously explores electronic music, African polyrhythms, and American jazz and free jazz. "We blend minimalist keyboard loops, fuzzed-out bass, soulful group vocals, and rolling blasts from an electric mbira, enthuses Bergman. "Throw in a horn-led midnight funeral procession, and hopefully you have a deep listen that's also a soul shaking dance party for the people!
So many stylistic cross-currents make this thick music. "Fourth Ward is dished out as a sonic parfait in three layers: a rhythmic bed from an African nightmare, groaned in electric bass and a mad chattering monkey chorus of percussion; beneath an airy fusion-jazz melody danced in unison by synthesizers and horns, Weather Report-style; crowned by a cragged free-jazz saxophone solo which bores in like a mad wasp and almost seems mistakenly cut in from an unrelated tune.
"Reasons grows hot from its supporting electronics, like an engine warming up, and is one of the numerous amazing horn charts on New Tones, culminating in solitary saxophone bleating against drum, bass and percussion until Erik Hall's wah-wah guitar stirs the collective pot into a cauldron in which modern jazz, postmodern jazz, world music, electronic music, and acoustic and electronic funk all play equal, seething parts.
"Divisions rides circular ripples of interwoven guitar, percussion and electronics into a spacey jazz jam, ebbing and flowing as Bergman slides around his bass clarinet solo like a lazy cat sauntering in for afternoon breakfast, culminating in tidal splashes of syncopated horn and brass.
It really is that complicated, but even with all its complexity New Tones at its best is no less funky and primal. "We Do We Go builds straight up from the ground floor of Hall's soulful guitar hook, Jamie Rider's bass funk and collective low rider horns, cutting through the air thick and stinky like too much bad cologneyet with jazz perspective, too.
Paul "Shilts Weimar
ARTizen Music Group
Paul "Shilts Weimar is usually found blowing alto and tenor sax for UK's contemporary jazz masters Down to the Bone; he was also a member of the UK's acid-jazz/neo-soul collective The Brand New Heavies. HeadBoppin', a collection of nine new originals plus a romp through Stevie Wonder's little-known "Tuesday Heartbreak, is Weimar's debut for a new label formed by, among others, contemporary jazz aces Richard Elliot and Rick Braun, who served as co-producer with Weimar.
"The main idea behind my solo work is that it's completely away from everything I do with Down to the Bone, Weimar explains. "My roots go back to '70s funk and soul stuff, but I also love bringing that up to date with all the new technology...so HeadBoppin' is really a blend of modern sounds and retro flavors.
Weimar masterminds a bright and colorful mixture of Motown soul and contemporary jazz, over which his saxophones blow hard and friendly. His own writing creates melodies so strong that you can't tell which track Wonder wrote without searching the credits. "I've always liked to play in the high energy style of the band, but it's all groove and style, Weimar explains. "With my own material, I write for my sax as if it were a vocal instrument. It's more melody than riff based, and the goal is to create songs that listeners can't get out of their heads.
Mission accomplished. Weimar's band, especially the rhythm section of Ricky Lawson (drums), Lenny Castro (percussion) and Freddie Washington (bass), either chills or cooks, as the groove dictates. Washington sneaks just a wee li'l bit of the P-Funk bomb "Flashlight into his intro to "Break the Mold, a call and response workout between lead saxophone and the band, and drops his own thunderous depth charges from the bridge to summon everyone back to the four/four groove of "I Knew You'd Like This.
Though his hot, bright playing most often suggests David Sanborn, Weimar sounds much the better for the slower groove of the set's one ballad, "Good Evans, which seems to allow him to contemplate the material more deeplyto breathe through instead of blow through his saxophone playing, and to flow through the warm, soft liquid spaces between jazz, funk, soul and pop. The set-ending "Mrs. Magic, a groove that glides clean and sharp, makes you glad to stuck around through the finish.
Charlie Hunter Trio
Charlie Hunter's first trio record since 2003's Friends Seen and Unseen balances his talents as a composer (he wrote or co-wrote every track except for the set-ending take of Monk's "Think of One ), as a bandleader, as a band member interplaying with drummer Derrek Phillips and John Ellis (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, Wurlitzer organ and melodica), and as lead guitar hot shot.
Hunter rips the lid off with the first cut, "Cueball Bobbin', which crackles with the electricity of amplified rock, specifically Jimi Hendrix's funk-acid-rock circa his Band of Gypsys soul patrol with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles. The mobile fluid bottom moves thick and deep and dark and heavy, following the lead of the guitar's electric squall as Hunter murderously wrings nasty-toned blues licks from the neck of his guitar. (Says the guitarist, "I was just feeling rocky, I guess... )
The trio nails this Monk classic, which isn't always quite so user-friendly, down flat. The bass, drum and saxophone funk trio that opens up its middle passage is deeply soulful, quicksilver small ensemble jazzplayed, I suspect, in precisely the light and humorously way that a grinning Monk would love to hear it.
Monk's sensibility also seems to seep into the title track. Ellis' tenor seems to softly pad in and look around for its opening, then settles down into an extended blues duet with Hunter's electrified Delta guitar. It seems to suggest the interplay between tenor and piano in a blues played by Monk; its melody seems to build upon its notes in oddly geometric, little incremental steps, like many Monk melodies do, too.
"Blue Sock and "A Street Fight Could Break Out mine more inspiration from the blues. "Sock swings through an airy bridge into juke-joint soul you might hear at a barbeque throwdown with Eddie Harris and Les McCann, and comes to rest with Hunter plucking soft country guitar blues as Ellis' melodica howls like a harmonica, just kickin' back on the front porch. "A Street Fight Could Break Out tethers from its central passage of just bass and drum, cavernously thumping dub reggae style, thick and spacey.
(One possible problem with this sequencing: The hard-rockin' "Cueball Bobbin' is easily the best piece, yet it doesn't seem to have much to do with the rest of this set, which seems more structured, lending more emphasis to the compositions then the playing of the compositions. Making it the leadoff track seems to set rock-oriented listeners up for a payoff that never comes.)
Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet
Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet is unusual in several ways. First, there's the leader, a tenor saxophonist who goes only by his surname and who also performs in such genteel ensembles as The Dead Kenny Gs and Crack Sabbath. There's that band name, which Skerik copped from the "syncopated taint phrase first used by the US's first "drug czar (Harry J. Anslinger) to describe the moral decay apparently caused by the nation's simultaneous discoveries of jazz music and marijuana in the 1930s and '40s.
Then there's the composition of the septet, which features five lead horns but no guitarist or bassist: Skerik on tenor, Craig Flory on baritone saxophone, Dave Carter on trumpet, Hans Teuber on alto saxophone and flute, Steve Moore on trombone and Wurlitzer organ, Joe Doria on Hammond B-3 organ, and John Wicks on drums.
Finally, there's Husky, the followup to the group's eponymous 2003 debut: Ten songs of mostly first takes, completely recorded in a single day, and named after the producer responsible for creating this document of Skerik's freewheeling and mobile, living jazz history museum. "Husky is such a brilliant engineer and we gave him complete authority to do what he does when it comes to capturing and presenting our performances. says Skerik. "The recording has as much intention as the music itself.
Husky chews upon the entire corpus of jazz from Dixieland to avant-garde with the descending ominous buzz of gleefully chaotic swarming flies. The absence of a bassist or guitarist gives Wicks' drums plenty of room to shift between sounds and styles, from a classic bebop cymbal ride ("The Third Rail ) to rim-rolling Dixieland ("Don't Wanna ) to trippy hip-hop ("Irritant ).
These horn arrangements are simply outstanding and very challenging to keep up withas soon as you grow comfortable in a segment, the band lurches into something else. "Go to Hell, Mr. Bush opens more softly than its confrontational title might suggest, with flute over percussion while the other horns slowly amass like troops across the horizon, then attack.
"Syncopate the Taint falls apart on purpose (or seems to) in its middle section, when almost every single horn seems intent on blowing down the arrangement from a different direction, then the organ and drums licks call everyone back into formation for a communal blowing session that balances between the glories of organization and chaos. It happens again in the subsequent "Fry His Ass : Immediately after things sound like they've fallen completely apart, the horns reconvene on the melody, as if to say with a wink, "Yeah, we knew that this melody was here the entire time...
To be sure, Husky offers precious few points of pertinent musical reference, with the subversively humorous Mothers of Invention (sans the beacon of Zappa's brilliant electric guitar) foremost among them. "Jazz to me has always been about taking the root and creating something new with it, says Skerik. "For the Septet, we're always listening to new things and all of those various influences assimilate into our collective sound.