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Yoko Noge and the Jazz Me Blues Band: Yoko Meets John

Ed Kopp By

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Hate to disappoint John Lennon fans, but this is not a previously unknown recording of blues covers by the ex-Beatle and Yoko Ono. The Yoko who appears on this CD is instead Yoko Noge, a Japanese business reporter and pianist who became so smitten with the blues that she relocated from Osaka to Chicago to further her musical training. The John of the title is John Watson, a Chicago trombonist and singer who formerly backed Count Basie. Together Noge and Watson front the appropriately named Jazz Me Blues Band.

On Yoko Meets John, the Jazz Me Blues Band swings out smartly on nine tunes recorded live at Chicago’s HotHouse. The band’s style is more suggestive of pre-1940s Kansas City and New Orleans jazz rather than modern Chicago blues, but the sextet displays plenty of talent and charm. Unfortunately, the vocal interplay between Noge and Watson dominates on most tracks, and neither is a very good singer.

Noge sings in an affected blues style that’s less engaging than some karaoke singers I’ve heard. Watson doesn’t sing so much as talk. Their schtick together may entertain in a club setting, but it grows tedious on CD, particularly when you hear Watson ask, "See what I’m sayin’?" at least 25 times over the course of the album.

The sidemen compensate to some extent, especially tenor saxman Sonny Seals (not to be confused with Chicago guitarist Son Seals), whose graceful playing brings to mind Gene Ammons. Watson’s trombone blowing is also superb the few times we hear it. Reportedly Noge is a fine barrelhouse pianist, but the songs here feature too much of her limited voice and not enough of her piano work.

The songs are a mix of jazzy blues standards ("I Want a Little Girl," "For You My Love"), bluesy jazz standards ("Don’t You Feel My Leg." "Rocks in My Bed") and Noge originals. Two of the originals stand out: the old-timey instrumental "HotHouse Blues" and the film-noirish "Snow Country." The latter contains the album’s best vocal performance (by Noge), while both songs showcase some fine sax work by Seals. Also interesting is "Black Boat Song," a blues interpretation of a traditional Japanese folk song.

I’d welcome an entire album of instrumentals from the Jazz Me Blues Band. Unfortunately, the vocal tracks rule on this CD, and the singers just can't carry them.

Title: Yoko Meets John | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Jazz Me Blues Music


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