(New) Dawn of the Living Dregs!

Best jazz-fusion news of the year: The Dixie Dregs are reuniting for a series of shows in 2018.

The original lineup — with guitarist Steve Morse, violinist Allen Sloan, keyboardist/saxophonist Steve Davidowski, bassist Andy West and drummer Rod Morgenstein — is scheduled to launch their tour in February. Four shows — in Orlando, Boston, Atlanta and NYC — are on the books for March.

Back in the day, I remember being bowled over by the band’s entrancing, chops-heavy, Southern-fried fusion. Last time I saw Morse was at one of his own band’s shows in Orlando, circa ’91 or so. Forty years later after they started, do they still have it?

“Our shared history goes way back in time (for some of us, as far back as high school), to the early 70s,” West wrote on the band’s web site. “So the synergy of this group has a particular feeling to it that we knew would be worth revisiting.

“Everybody is excited about the idea of our digging into our deep, shared Dregs roots. Who knows what the musical future will bring for the Dregs? But right now, we are looking forward to playing live again, and thrilled to be talking to you about it here.”

 

Macca is Back — Paul McCartney at the Amalie Arena (Tampa)

Paul McCartneyNope, this isn’t about “groove music.” But on my Facebook page, I posted some quick thoughts about Paul McCartney‘s show Monday night at the Amalie Arena. Folks seemed to enjoy reading what I wrote. It’s certainly not a formal or comprehensive review along the lines of what I once wrote on deadline for the (now-defunct) Tampa Tribune and, later, the St. Petersburg Times (now called the Tampa Bay Times), but here it is …

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About the McCartney show: To be brutally honest, Paul’s voice was quite ragged on many songs. Still, the combo of his warm and engaging personality, his identity/legacy as a Beatle, sturdy arrangements and a strong performance by a typically polished backing band made for a memorable 3-hour show.

Paul played most of the expected Beatles/Wings hits, as well as a few deep album cuts and an oddity or two, including “In Spite of All the Danger,” the pre-Beatles first song he recorded with John and George (as the Quarrymen) and “FourFiveSeconds,” his 2015 hit diddy with Rihanna and Kanye.

He saluted George with “Something,” which opened with Paul playing unaccompanied on a ukelele given to him by Harrison, and did a shout-out to John with “Here Today,” written in the wake of Lennon’s death.

McCartney also offered a bluesy, hard-rocking version of “I Wanna Be Your Man,” the Lennon-McCartney tune that became an early hit for the Rolling Stones. He talked about the hyped rivalry between the two bands, quipping that it was “fake news.”

Wings hit “Live and Let Die” was accompanied by jolt-worthy blasts of flames and fireworks.

Macca played piano on several tunes, including a nice version of the lovely, retro jazz-tinted “My Valentine,” written for his wife Nancy. Some of the other recently written material, though, was forgettable.

Abe Laboriel Jr. was band MVP with his powerhouse drumming, animated body language, and dead-on backup vocals, sometimes in unison with McCartney.

At 75, Paul is still rocking the house and attracting sell-out crowds, including a surprising number of fans born long after he stopped making chart hits. Kudos.

One of the most affecting moments: Paul brought Kacia Howell, a Lakeland veterinarian (decked out in a Sgt Pepper’s”-style uniform) and her teenage son, Noah Horowitz, onstage to dance and — gulp! — share the mic on “Get Back.”

Overall, a nostalgic good time was had by all.

Side note: I was in the nosebleed section, so I essentially experienced the show via a video screen. I think I’ve decided (again) that if I can’t afford to sit reasonably close to the stage for any given enormodome show, I’ll pass on attending.

Montreal Jazz Fest — Wishing I was there

I’ve had some incredible experiences hearing great performances and soaking up the other jazz happenings at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Not to mention getting a chance to enjoy the cosmopolitan culture of one of North America’s most beautiful and most historic cities.

montreal

Last summer’s festival was again jam-packed with great music, some of which I wrote about for JazzTimes, and in several posts on this blog.

Sadly, I can’t make it for the 38th edition of the fest, which runs June 28-July 8.

But if I WERE headed to Montreal at the end of this month, I’d do my best to catch the following jazz, blues and pop/rock artists (some of whom are playing in bands with others on the list):

Ambrose Akinmusire, Arturo Sandoval, The Bad Plus, Ben Street, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Buddy Guy, Carla Bley, Charles Bradley, Charles Lloyd, Charlie Musselwhite, Curtis Lundy, Danilo Perez, Dave Douglas, Diana Krall, Donny McCaslin, E.J. Strickland, Eric Harland, Essiet Essiet, George Cables, Gerald Clayton, Ingrid Jensen, Jack DeJohnette, Jacob Collier, Jane Bunnett, Jeremy Pelt, Jesse Cook, John Hollenbeck, John Medeski, John Pizzarelli, John Scofield, Joshua Redman, Joss Stone, King Crimson, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Larry Grenadier, Michael Blake, Nicholas Payton, Reuben Rogers, Robert Glasper, Robin Eubanks, Scott Colley, Stanley Clarke, UZEB, and Wallace Roney.

Headed to Montreal? Let me know your thoughts on what you hear.

As for me — better luck next year.

 

 

Disc of the Day: “Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band”

“Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band: Recorded Live at the Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen 2010” (Impulse!/Verve)

It’s probably not a stretch to suggest that Charlie Watts‘ role in his occasional jazz forays — remember “From One Charlie,” his 1991 Charlie Parker tribute? — is essentially the same as that of his day job. Nearly always eschewing solos or showy displays, the Rolling Stones’ drummer ably provides a solid rhythmic foundation, driving his ensemble of the moment with style intact and a minimum of fuss and flash.

And so it goes with “Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band,” recorded for a live broadcast in 2010 and essentially hearkening back to a period in Denmark during the early ’60s, before the Stones exploded, when Watts played with various jazz and blues bands around Copenhagen.

Watts salutes one of his jazz heroes, Elvin Jones, with a two-part suite co-written by fellow journeyman rock drummer Jim Keltner. “Part 1” is a beautiful ballad offering solo space for double bassist David Green, a longtime Watts musical associate, along with the Danish group’s Peter Jensen on trombone and Steen Rasmussen on Fender Rhodes, and the drums-intensive “Part 2” opens with a rowdy romp by tenor saxophonist Uffe Markussen. Like all but one of these seven tracks, those two opening tracks benefit from the lush arrangements of Gerard Presencer, who also turns in several dynamic flugelhorn solos.

Watts’ appealing program includes a smoldering version of a standard, “I Should Care,” and three rethinks of Stones tunes. “(Satis) Faction” thrives on a light funk groove, while “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” makes like a brass choir before shifting into old-school R&B, and a relaxed “Paint It Black,” topped with Per Gade’s guitar and Presencer’s flugel, is impressively atmospheric.

The group uses Woody Herman’s original chart for “Molasses,” the organ-injected steamrolling blues shuffle that closes the disc. A double rhythm section — Watts and Green plus drummer Soren Frost and bassist Kaspar Vadsholt from the Danish band — drives the disc’s high-intensity closer. No revelations here, but it all makes for a mighty pleasant outing from a star rocker who indeed swings in all the right places.

 

Disc of the Day: Greg Abate, “Road to Forever”

Greg Abate with the Tim Ray Trio, “Road to Forever” (Whaling City Sound)

Greg Abate, a reliably inspired if underappreciated saxophonist with a varied resume (Ray Charles, revived Artie Shaw Orchestra), returns with another appealing collection of originals drawing from post-bop as well as electric jazz.

Alto sax is Abate’s forte, and his gorgeous tone and buoyant improvs on that instrument — and gifts as a composer — are well displayed on “Farewell Phil Woods,” a ballad honoring his late friend, mentor and collaborator. The same goes for “City of 2-5s”; the lovely waltz “The Dancing Panda,” written for Abate’s life partner, Kerry Tracey; “Take the Crowell Train,” for sax-playing pal Ken Crowell, and based on the changes of “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise”; and the quick-swiveling “Mr. Parker,” inspired by Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” and dedicated to that tune’s composer.

The Rhode Island-based musician offers twin-soprano harmonies on the title track; shows off his tenor chops on the funk-driven “Whaling City Sound,” named for his label home, and “Red Fish Boulevard,” built on the “Green Dolphin Street” changes; and leads with flute on the pretty ballad “Seasons.” Throughout, he’s ably supported by regular bandmates Tim Ray on piano, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Mark Walker.

 

Disc of the Day: Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ in Seattle”

Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse” (Resonance Records)

Before Wes Montgomery became the commercially successful star guitarist known simply as Wes by fans, he was, of course, a burning bebop guitarist of the highest order. “Smokin’ in Seattle” handily captures the calm before his career explosion, with Wes and longtime collaborator Wynton Kelly’s trio joining forces for a set at popular Seattle jazz club the Penthouse recorded live — via four-channel tube mixer — for a radio show hosted by Jim Wilke. Shortly later, the 43-year-old guitarist’s Verve album “Goin Out of My Head” started climbing the R&B charts on the road to selling a million copies and scoring a Grammy.

Wes couldn’t have found more suitable musical partners than pianist Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb (both ex-Miles) and young bassist Ron McClure, recently with Maynard Ferguson. The guitarist and Kelly’s original trio, with another former Miles sideman, Paul Chambers, had notably worked together on the live “Full House” and the widely acclaimed “Smokin’ at the Half Note”; the latter disc was called “the gold standard” by guitarist Pat Metheny, a Wes devotee,

It’d be hard to beat Montgomery’s soulful “West Coast Blues,” with its inventive twists and the guitarist’s unpredictable, typically brilliant and rambunctious solo work, or Sonny Rollins’ uptempo “Oleo,” which closes the set but, unfortunately, fades out midway through the tune, as does “Blues in F” (blame radio-broadcast conventions). There’s lots more to savor here, including the start-stop head and steady swing of Montgomery’s “Jingles,” the rich balladry of Bob Haggart’s “What’s New?”, and a Jobim tune, “O Morro Nao Vez.” And four tracks featuring Kelly’s trio minus Wes.

As if that weren’t enough, the set is contained in the kind of vessel that makes one happy CDs are still being produced: the beautifully designed package includes a 40-page booklet featuring contributions by Cobb, McClure, Wilke, disc producer Zev Feldman, pianist Kenny Barron, guitarist Pat Metheny, and jazz journalist Paul de Barros. It’s a keeper.

Jimmy Cobb

Ron McClure

Resonance Records

 

 

 

Disc of the Day: DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield, “Hudson”

DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield, “Hudson” (Motema)

Jazz-rooted groove music with a penchant for sprawl and experimental sounds is on the program for the opener and several other tracks on the debut collection from a quartet of former NYC-based musicians who have all settled in New York’s Hudson River Valley.

Little wonder these well-traveled musicians have landed on this musical terrain — Guitarist John Scofield and drummer Jack DeJohnette played in different versions of Miles’ electric bands, and worked together in Trio Beyond (with Larry Goldings). Sco is a frequent fourth member of organist/keyboardist John Medeski‘s MMW, and bassist Larry Grenadier has done fusion and other shades of jazz with Pat Metheny and others.

That nearly 11-minute first track essentially is one long, undulating one-chord jam, with Medeski and Sco strafing the soundscape with various sonic effects, the two alternating solo-ish leads. The guitarist spins out a series of bluesy curlicues and at one point quotes a quick snippet of the melody from Perez Prado’s “The Peanut Vendor.”

The four first played together in 2014, at the Woodstock Jazz Festival, but much of the disc is devoted to creative acoustic-electric arrangements of tunes by musicians associated with the Woodstock rock era (even if they didn’t all play that famous fest). Joni Mitchell‘s “Woodstock” is aptly tinted with an ambling rhythmic figure, pastel-shaded piano, and probing six-string, while Bob Dylan‘s “Lay Lady Lay” thrives on oozing B3 and a light reggae beat, and his “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” effectively migrates from laidback to frantic before coming down with several minutes’ worth of open-ended floating. Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” is aptly raw and chunky, and The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” is a happy slab of rootsy Americana.

The album is rounded out by several originals, including Sco’s strolling, harmony-laden “El Swing” and blues stomper “Tony Then Jack,” a nod to Miles’ drummers Williams and DeJohnette, and DeJohnette’s initially swirling “Song For World Forgiveness” and aptly titled “Great Spirit Peace Chant.”

And the drummer takes to the mic for a husky-throated vocal turn on “Dirty Ground,” co-written with Bruce Hornsby and first heard on DeJohnette’s 2012 “Sound Travels” album. Even more so than previously, it sounds like a lost track by The Band, also happy denizens of the Hudson region.  It remains an artistically fertile place, apparently.