The Blind Boys of Alabama, “I’ll Find a Way” (CD review)

(originally published in Relix)

The Blind Boys of Alabama, “I’ll Find a Way” (Sony Masterworks)

After the Crescent City soul of Down in New Orleans and country gospel roots of Take the High Road, The Blind Boys of Alabama enlisted Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to produce their latest album.

The durable group, led by Jimmy Carter, and including founding bass singer Clarence Fountain, still offer joyful expressions of Christian faith. That’s demonstrated by the rousing, churning opener “God Put a Rainbow in the Cloud,” which is spiked with bluesy guitar, trombone and piano declarations, the faith-forward “I Shall Not Be Moved,” and the molasses-slow “Take Me to the Water” and “My God Is Real.”

Fountain and Carter lead a moody, drums-tumbling take on Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand,” while Merrill Garbus (tUneyArDs) joins the bouncy “I’ve Been Searching,” Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) gets emotive on “I’ll Find a Way (To Carry It All)” and Sam Amidon fronts the brass-spiked “I Am Not Waiting Anymore.” Sweet salvation music.

 

 

Suwanee Springfest (concert review)

(originally published at jambands.com)

Suwannee Springfest, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, FL- 3/20-23

For its 18th edition, Springfest, the annual cornucopia of Americana, bluegrass and roots music in woodsy, moss-fest

ooned Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, seemed to attract a larger group of younger listeners than in previous years. At least, that’s what it felt like when festival favorites the Avett Brothers – who impressed Live Oak crowds long before Scott and Seth ascended to arena tours – packed the Amphitheater for two hours’ worth of stomping acoustic-electric music that had fans pushing to the front and singing along with every word of every song.

The North Carolina-born siblings and their four bandmates again demonstrated infectious high-energy joie de vivre, showcasing some material from the last two years’ “Magpie and the Dandelion” and “The Carpenter” releases. They also turned in stirring versions of the title track from “I and Love and You” and that 2009 album’s “Kick Drum Heart” and “Laundry Room,” as well as a moving “Amazing Grace.” There were also rowdy covers of Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and traditional mountain song “Old Joe Clark” – the last two with a little help from Sam Bush, on fiddle.

The old guard and the younger crowd, though, on stage and off, handily mixed and matched in nearly 70 performances spread across four stages, with some acts playing twice. The Punch Brothers, whose leader, singer and mandolin wizard Chris Thile, has played the fest with Nickel Creek, turned in another of the weekend’s most impressive performances. The quintet excelled with airtight multipart harmonies, imaginative arrangements and locked-in acoustic synchronicity on “This Girl,” “New York City,” Seldom Scene favorite “Through the Bottom of the Glass,” a Debussy piece and, on the encore, a stunning, extended a cappella version of Dominic Behan’s “The Auld Triangle.”

This year’s Springfest was rangier than in the past, with a program encompassing the top-shelf bluegrass of Steep Canyon Rangers; the stomping country rock of Willie Sugarcapps, featuring singers-songwriters-instrumentalists Will Kimbrough and Grayson Capps; the laidback grooves of fest favorites Donna the Buffalo; the jaw-dropping mandolin work of Sam Bush, and his covers of Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, and Little Feat; and the songwriting brilliance and rugged twang-edged roots rock of Jason Isbell. Isbell’s bracing set included “Decoration Day,” “Traveling Alone,” “Stockholm,” and “Cover Me Up,” and shut down with a slamming “Super 8.”

Also making strong impressions were Tallahassee family group The New ‘76ers, featuring the Southern-fried soulful singing of Kelly Goddard; Asheville, N.C. newfangled string band Town Mountain, which dipped into jamgrass; Greensboro, N.C.’s Holy Ghost Tent Revival, its brass-edged rock ‘n’ roll played by young musicians perpetually in motion; prolific singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale; and Beartoe, with the Central Florida group’s three female backup singers echoing and engaging in call-and-response with front man Beartoe Aguilar on swampy blues and gospel-tinted rave-ups.

Tampa Bay Area Music Calendar (An Entirely Subjective and Selective Listing)

(Feel free to send concert info, including corrections/updates. This list is not intended to be comprehensive.)

  • Donna the Buffalo, Jan. 7-8, Skipper’s
  • Byron Stripling and the Florida Orchestra: Louis Armstrong tribute, Jan. 7-9 (Straz Center, Mahaffey Theater, Ruth Eckerd Hall, respectively)
  • Michael Ross Quartet, Jan. 9, Palladium Theater
  • Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Jan. 13, Crowbar
  • Marcia Ball, Jan. 14, Skipper’s
  • Mofro, Jan. 15 (w/Daryl Hance) and 16 (w/Damon Fowler), Skipper’s
  • Infinite Groove Orchestra (CD release show), Jan. 15, The Local 662,  St. Petersburg
  • Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Jan. 15, New World Brewery
  • Galactic, Jan. 20, Ritz
  • Drive-By Truckers, Jan. 21, Ritz
  • Terrance Simien with the Gumbo Boogie Band, Jan. 21, Skipper’s
  • SPC Jazz Festival: Helios Jazz Orchestra with Denise Moore, Jan. 27, SPC Music Center
  • SPC Jazz Fest: Alex Berti Trio, Jan. 28, SPC Music Center
  • McCormick Marimba Festival, Jan. 28-29, USF Music Recital Hall, Tampa
  • SPC Jazz Fest: Ronnie Burrage Trio, Jan. 29.  SPC Music Center
  • Robin Trower with Sean Chambers Band, Jan. 29, Jannus Live
  • Pinetop Perkins & Willie “Big Eyes” Smith with Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues, Feb. 4, Skipper’s
  • Diana Krall, Feb. 4, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Yonder Mountain String Band, Feb. 5, Jannus Live
  • Dark Star Orchestra, Feb. 12, Straz Center
  • Willie Nelson, Feb. 16, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Whitney James, Feb. 19, Palladium
  • Arturo Sandoval, Feb. 24, Ritz Ybor
  • Ira Sullivan, Feb. 27, HCC Performing Arts Building, Ybor
  • Old 97’s with Those Darlins, March 2, Skipper’s
  • G. Love and Special Sauce, March 12, Jannus Live
  • The Avett Brothers, March 25, Ruth Eckerd Hall
  • Acoustic Africa, April 10, Straz Center

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VENUES AND PRESENTERS

Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association

Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater

Crowbar, 1812 17th St. N., Ybor City (Tampa); (813) 241-8600

Dali Museum, 1000 Third Street S., St. Petersburg; (727) 823-2767

EMIT series; (727) 341-3463

Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S., St. Petersburg; (727) 893-7134

Hillsborough Community College Performing Arts Theater, Palm Avenue and 14th St., Ybor City

Jannus Live, 1st Avenue N. & 2nd Street N., St. Petersburg; (727) 565-0550

La Grande Hall @ Yamaha Piano, 6710 Ulmerton Road #101, Clearwater

Mahaffey Theater @ Progress Energy Center for the Arts, 400 First Street S., St. Petersburg; (727) 892-5798

Marriott Hotel, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd., St. Petersburg

Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg; (727) 896-2667

Musicology, 2576 Sunset Point Road, Clearwater; (727) 723-1000

New World Brewery, 1313 E. Eighth Avenue, Ybor City, Tampa; (727) 248-4969

The Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College, 253 Fifth Avenue. N., St. Petersburg; (727) 822-3590

The Ritz Theatre, 1503 E. Seventh Avenue, Ybor City (Tampa); (813) 247-2555

Royal Theater, 1011 22nd St. Petersburg; (727) 327-6556

Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater; (727) 791-7400

Sacred Grounds Coffee House, 4819 E. Busch Blvd., Tampa; (813) 983-0837

Skipper’s Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa; (813) 971-0666

The Studio @620, 620 First Ave. S., St. Petersburg; (727) 895-6620

Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa; (813) 229-7827

Tampa Bay Blues Festival, Vinoy Waterfront Park, downtown St. Petersburg; (727) 502-5000

Tampa Jazz Club

USF Monday Night Jazz Series

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2010

Vincent Sims and the Sidewinders: A Tribute to Blue Note – Aug. 13, Palladium, 8 p.m.

Sunday Jazz at the Royal Theater: Ron Gregg Trio featuring Billy Pillucere and Richard “Stretch” Bruyn with Jeremy Carter – Aug. 15, Royal Theater, 4 to 8 p.m. (open mic for musicians and vocalists)

Natalie Merchant – August 24, Ruth Eckerd Hall

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers + Joe Cocker – Sept. 16, St. Pete Times Forum

Hammond B3 Summer Spectacular: Joe Crown Trio with Walter Wolfman Washington and Russell Batiste + John Gros + Dave McCracken: – Aug. 21, Palladium, 8 p.m.

Kings of Leon + The Black Keys + The Whigs – Sept. 18, USF Sun Dome

Rush – Oct. 1, Ford Amphitheatre

Clearwater Jazz Holiday (lineup TBA) – October 14-17, Coachman Park

Ybor Jazz Fest – Nov. 3-7, HCC, Ybor City

Roger Waters: The Wall – Nov. 16, St. Pete Times Forum

 

Sco Goes NOLA

Musicians wanting to dig into a certain type of groove — funky, earthy, rooted to a jazz vibe that goes all the way back to the African percussionists of Congo Square — go to New Orleans to find it.

Last year, the Blind Boys of Alabama headed to the Crescent City for Down in New Orleans, on which they hooked up with the trio of pianist David Torkanowsky (ex-Astral Project), bassist Roland Guerin, and drummer Shannon Powell (Harry Connick, Jr.). Guests included Allen Toussaint, the Hot 8 Brass Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

John Scofield, a fiercely talented guitarist rooted in jazz but also drawing from rock, blues, and fusion, worked with pianist-singer Jon Cleary and Meters bassist George Porter, Jr. (both based in New Orleans) and drummer Ricky Fataar — for the just-released Piety Street (Emarcy). The album of refried gospel tunes was recorded in the Crescent City.

Sco is taking the band, or a variation thereof, on the road. The tour touches down May 1 at Jazz Fest in New Orleans (is Porter REALLY not playing the Jazz Fest date, as indicated on Sco’s site?) and heads to Europe at the end of June. His show Sunday in New York generated a glowing review from New York Times critic Nate Chinen.

“…it’s Mr. Scofield’s old-time gospel album, recorded in New Orleans with a band drawn mainly from that city’s robust R&B scene. It’s a basic concept, and it makes all kinds of sense. (Scofield achieved) the proper blend of grace and grit. He didn’t sound like a visitor in the realm. He sounded at home and happy to be there.”

Click here to read the rest.

(I’ve yet to hear this disc – but it’s on my list …)

Note to Sco: Please bring the Piety Street band to Florida!

Tampa Jazz Notes 2.11.09

Valentine’s Day goes with jazz like Christmas goes with brass choirs, and I’m not just saying that because “My Funny Valentine” was the song I asked the band to play for the first dance at my wedding.

That was way back in 1993, and my friend and sometime bandmate Joe Teston, on tenor sax, sat in with the trio that I hired for the occasion — guitarist Ted Shumate, bassist Michael Ross and percussionist extraordinaire Gumbi Ortiz.

The wedding must have “worked,” as I’m still married. The guys in the wedding party, or in attendance, were among my bandmates of that period or shortly later — I played with Joe in Greenwich Blue, with Joe and guitarist Domenick Ginex in Bop City, and with Dom and guitarist Bryan Zink in Liz Back on Booze.

But I digress. Several special shows, jazz and jazzy, are slated for Saturday night, Valentine’s Day, in the Tampa Bay area.

Among those are:

  • The Blind Boys of Alabama, the great long-running gospel group, whose Down in New Orleans CD was one of last year’s finest. Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m. The Gary Brown Band opens this show, presented by WMNF, 88.5 FM, and tickets are $25.

———-

“God’s Trombones,” a celebration of the work of major African American writer James Weldon Johnson, a Florida native, is slated for Monday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at The Studio@620 in St. Petersburg.

Admission is free, but donations of canned goods, to support area food banks, are accepted.

Ex-Ellington trombonist Buster Cooper will participate in the program, which honors Black History Month and is a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NAACP (Johnson was exec secretary from 1920 to 1930).

Here’s what’s on tap for the event, according to the venue’s web site:

  • Individual readings of the volume’s poems by local actors, poets, and ministers: Bob Devin Jones, Studio@620; Leroy Mitchell, actor, Johnson performer; Louis Murphy, minister; John Conlon, actor; Aleshea Harris, actor, poet; Sharon Scott, actor; Vikki Gaskin-Butler, professor, minister.
  • Trombone/musical interludes by Buster Cooper.
  • Visual renderings along the walls of the Aaron Douglas images that accompany the first (1927) edition of Johnson’s text .
  • Discussion period/question-and-answer session following the performance with Humanities scholar Dr. Julie Buckner Armstrong, USFSP.

———-

Also just ahead on the Tampa Bay area jazz calendar:

  • Guitarist Nate Najar’s Trio (with ex-Ellington bassist John Lamb) will be   joined by singer and banjo player Cynthia Sayer (of Woody Allen’s band), at the Palladium Theater, Thursday, Feb. 19, in the venue’s Side Door Jazz series. Show is at 7:30 p.m., and admission is $20. 
  • Kenny Walker, the busy area bassist (Helios Jazz Orchestra, Gumbi Ortiz) and monthly jazz host on WMNF, 88.5 FM, on Saturday, Feb. 21 will give a lecture on jazz history at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. His talk will be part of the museum’s fourth annual African American Author lecture series, from 2 to 4 p.m.