Postcards From Seven Summer Day Trips

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The blues is a curse and the blues is a blessing. No one person embodied that truth more than guitarist and vocalist Hound Dog Taylor.
Hi, Folks! Sorry I have not written from my vacation. In truth, I really did write seven postcards to you, one from each destination of my day trip week. I just... uh, never sent the postcards. So here are all seven postcards in this single envelope. Hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed the sights and sounds that led me to write them!

Vernon Reid & Masque
Known Unknown
(Favored Nations)

Reid, who packed funk and rock guitar for Living Colour, here serves as ringmaster for bassist Hank Schroy, keyboardist Leon Gruenbaum and drummer Marlon Browden (formerly with John Scofield). In the center of this colorful, flying electric circus, Reid's guitar howls and growls like a magnificent, fearsome beast.

Reid especially roars through the blues-based "Time," at slow blues tempo, and faster through his quick whipping of "The Slouch," while "Down and Out in Kigali and Freetown" crackles and pulsates with a dangerous-sounding jungle beat.

Points of jazz interest include the nimble ensemble dash through "Outskirts" and two of what Reid calls "fractured standards," frenetic covers of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" and Thelonious Monk's "Brilliant Corners." Reid's solo in "Corners" wildly scratches like a death row inmate clawing desperately at the dirt to escape from lockdown; Gruenbaum's piano solo scrambles but keeps pace with its frantic tempo. Twice as fast, this updated and electric "Sidewinder" sounds more like a roadrunner but still packs plenty of bite.

Sort of hoped that DJ Logic might have rocked a little more loopy and funky as he twists and turntables a guest spot in "Voodoo Pimp Stroll." (Reid and Logic teamed to release Front End Lifter as the Yohimbe Brothers in 1992.)

The Motet
Music For Life
(Harmonized)

Remember the band Stuff? Session aces who could play anything - jazz, rock, funk, pop, blues, soul, any thing - and occasionally got together to play their own stuff instead of always working on someone else's records. If you were fond of that Stuff, you'll love Motet's stuff.

Drummer Dave Watts thumps the Motet's heartbeat, composing most of their material and leading the rest of the group - Mark Donvan (guitar), Garrett Sayers (bass), Dominic Lalli (tenor sax), Greg Raymond (keyboards), and Scott Messersmith (percussion), here with Jon Stewart's guest alto sax - from their homebase of Boulder, CO, a jam band hotbed.

That's one way to hear this Music if you don't know Stuff: As the reincarnation of the group Chicago as a jam band (with horn charts as tight and punchy as a left hook thrown in the clinch) or as naked Steely Dan instrumental tracks awaiting their exquisite wordplay. "Cheap Shit" cooks up tender and tasty instrumental funk. "Power" is more like jazz, horns and keyboards tossing its melody back and forth atop the waves of its Latin rhythm, saxophone solo riding the percussion / bass break bareback and easy. The deft "Black Hat" puts on modern hard bop, saxophone honking out sweaty barroom emotion and Donvan's guitar solo all George Benson cool, soft and blue as it snuggles deeply into the beat.

This is great for cruising open highway. And it's a pleasant enough trip...but there's just not an awful lot of excitement once you arrive.

Duke Ellington
Blues in Orbit
(Columbia/Legacy)

Sometimes it's nice to veer from familiar paths. But sometimes it's nice to revisit hallowed ground, too, and Duke Ellington is musical ground that's seriously hallowed.

Eleven tracks from the original 1960 release are supplemented with six tracks from these sessions that previously appeared elsewhere, plus a previously unreleased take of its title track. Credited to Ellington "and his award winners," this IS one hell of an Ellington band, featuring one of his best ever trumpet sections (Cat Anderson, Clark Terry, Shorty Baker and Ray Nance, who doubles on violin), and masterjamming such pillars of Ellingtonia as "In a Mellow Tone" and the riotous "C Jam Blues." Longtime Ellington collaborator Billy Strayhorn, on piano, leads the band through "Blues in Blueprint" and the amazing ensemble workout "Smada."

These ain't no sad and mopey blues. Sure, they're sometimes reflective, even pensive, but they are primarily, joyously swingin'. Bassist Jimmy Woode rocks as solid as Gibraltar, his walking lines in "Pie Eye's Blues" and "The Swingers' Jump" booting the trumpet and clarinet soloists respectively down the line. The opening dustup "Three J's Blues" spotlights three of the band's most sparkling Jimmys: Woode, drummer Johnson, and tenor saxman Hamilton.

There ARE s-l-o-w blues: "Sweet & Pungent" ambles slow and sweet as thick molasses, and "The Swingers Get the Blues, Too" pulsates with a trombone solo that's stately and powerful.

Ron Levy's Wild Kingdom
After Midnight Grooves
(Levtron.com)

Found the coolest funky little place. Chic, nicely arranged and built, hip and happenin'. No one thing in particular really stands out, but the way the whole thing casually, coolly grooves together is just so fine and mellow.


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