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Notable and Nearly Missed 2016

C. Michael Bailey By

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It is impossible, even for John Kelman, Mark Corroto, and Dan Bilawsky, to cover all the music worthy of discussion in a given year. At least that is my line and I am sticking to it as I pen my "Notable and Nearly Missed 2016" column.

Rick GallagherChristmas Tidings: A Collection of Jazz Christmas Carols (RiDGeTONE Records, 2016).

Working backwards, Pittsburgh's Rick Gallagher's holiday trio presentation, Christmas Tidings offers many seasonal delights presented squarely in the American jazz vernacular. Gallagher has released several other holiday offerings in: A Sleigh, a Song, and a Baby Boy (Serendipity, 2002), Snowriding (RiDGeTONE Records, 2006), and (tacitly) Hymns (RiDGeTONE Records, 2012). In all cases, Gallagher draws from the American Pastoral and standard jazz palettes for his inspiration. Gallagher and company give "Good King Wenceslas" an almost jump blues romp, while playing Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" in a softly as in a morning ballad manner. "Coventry Carol" is presented as a waltz and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" with a Vince Guaraldi searching patois. "Away in the Manger" gets the most contemporary updating with a thrilling introduction that flows into the almost familiar. "Silent Night" is directly out of the Black Church. It is the most fully realized interpretation presented on a collection of 16 compositions, all well played. Christmas Tidings is, above all, a celebration.

Frank Catalano / Jimmy Chamberlin / David SanbornBye Bye Blackbird (Ropadope Records, 2016).

Chicago tenor saxophonist Frank Catalano likes his grits greasy and served up by a funky organ trio. Bye Bye Blackbird is a tip of the hat to two other Chicagoans, Von Freeman and Eddie Harris. Catalano enlists alto saxophonist David Sanborn on a rollicking take on the title piece and an incendiary performance of Stanley Turrentine's carnal "Sugar." If this sounds like a soul jazz outing, you are not wrong. Crisp and tight, the core of the band, guest drummer Jimmy Chamberlin guitarist Nir Felder and B3 specialist Demos Petropoulos swings with a whiplash intensity. Catalano rounds out this almost EP with a strolling, churchy take on Miles Davis' "All Blues," a soulful performance of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren's "At Last," ending with a muscular guitar solo on the coda, "Shakin.'" For those that love that funked-up soul jazz, this is great.

Reverend FreakchildIllogical Optimism (Treated and Released Records, 2016).

With a definite turn into the blues, the New York City based Reverend Freakchild turns the whole goddamn genre on its ear on the 3-CD collection Illogical Optimism. A rather mysterious character going by the names Fordham, Bhoomi Sparsha, Sal Paradise, Floyd Graves, and Fleetwood, Freakchild does not deal with musician credits no more than he does with genre and sub-genre. So expansive it the creative terrain on Illogical Optimism, so full of genius, it is hard to get a descriptive hand on things. That is why this release remained in my stack all year. I hear in Freakchild all of the technical musicality and humor of Jerry Reed and Ray Stevens. John Lennon's "Imagine" as a Tony Joe White swamp dream, a multi-manifold-layered "Who Do You Love," and a crunching, red-dirt "Pretty Boy Floyd," that is the schizophrenic trip the Right Reverend is on. This set is too gloriously mysterious to give written credence. If there was ever a reason to seek a longer life, it would be to discover music like this...

Reverend Freak Child Preachin' Blues (Treated and Released Records, 2016).

Just under the wire came in a very different offering from the good Reverend, Reverand Freakchild that is. The above is an expansive look at Americana from a spaceship far, far away. The present Preachin' Blues is something else altogether but is still of the same substance (how is that for my depraved theology?). Subtitled, "Solo Acoustic, Country Blues, Folk, Americana" Preachin' Blues is curiously arranged spoken ruminations alternated with classic compositions, all performed on a National Steel-body guitar. After all of his gear was stolen in San Francisco, Freakchild embarked on a three-month summer tour that ended up in Portland, OR where the singer made this impromptu and seriously organic recording in the KBOO studios. He made lemonade out of lemons, capping festivities with an essay entitled, "Transcendence through Music: Buddha and the Blues." Over 16 selections, Freakchild alternates homespun dialog with "See That My Grave is Kept Clean," "In My Time of Dying," "Preachin' Blues" and an over-the-top version of Prince's "Kiss," closing things out with "Grinnin' in Your Face." A celebration of Americana, "Preachin' Blues" shines a light on this crazy talent, Reverend Freakchild.

Rev. Billy C. WirtzFull Circle (EllerSoul Records, 2016).

Two Reverends in a row is special. Rev. Billy C. Wirtz possesses the perfect Southern-White Trash name to fit, hand-in-glove, with his roadhouse, rolling piano, courtesy of Lewis-Gilley-Swaggart triumvirate. More Commander Cody (George Frayne IV) than "Tha Killah," Wirtz expresses a wicked sense of humor in delightful ejaculations like "Mama Was a Deadhead" and "Mennonite Surf Party." He plays that big, rolling, boogie-woogie piano completely manifested by a lethal left hand pounding sinners and delivering them to their angry god. Joining Wirtz are the Nighthawks sans Jimmy Thackery, Bobby Driver, Li'l Ronnie (of the Grand Dukes) and Steve Riggs. Altogether, a loose and jumping brand of blues and country saturates the environment with the smell of peat and whiskey, prayer and fornication. I suspect that music has always been about.

Leandro Cabral TrioAlfa (Self Produced, 2016)

Recorded live at Teatro Alfa in São Paulo is a complete Brazilian experience: locale, band, music. Pianist Leandro Cabral's trio rhythm section is composed of fellow countrymen Sidiel Vieira on bass and Vitor Cabral on drums. The music is decidedly not Bossa Nova, despite the presence of Jobim in the recital book. Light and airy, the trio manages a fleet infusion of tropical rhythms opening as the performance proceeds. The trio is joined by vocalist Vanessa Moreno and saxophonist Cassio Ferreira on Cabral's original, "A danca." Cabral's performance touch is a light one, manifesting in a quiet and thoughtful style devoid of all of the Bossa excesses of the 1960s and '70s. This is highly stylized Brazilian music presents in an artful way. In many ways, Cabral is an antithesis of Antonio Adolfo though it is easy to hear the two cut from the same cloth.

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