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.

 

 

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.



Tampa Bay area Concert Calendar – Jazz, Blues, Jamband, New Orleans, Americana, Rock, More

Selected concerts — jazz, blues, jamband, New Orleans music, Americana, worldbeat, pop/rock and more — on the music calendar of the Tampa Bay area and environs:

  • May 1 – Jimmy Thackery & the Drivers + Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • May 3 – UB40, Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.
  • glsalley-pic-without-logoMay 8 – Ghetto Love Sugar, Infinite Groove Orchestra, Rocksteady@8, Yeoman’s Road, Davis Islands, Tampa, 9 p.m.
  • May 8 – Kings of Leon + The Walkmen, USF Sun Dome, Tampa
  • May 15 – War + Derek Jive & the Funky Five + Soul Purpose, State Theatre, St. Petersburg, 7 p.m.
  • May 16 – WMNF Tropical Heatwave: Chuck Prophet, Trombone Shorty, Bonerama, Michael Burks, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Sara Borges, James Intveld, BeauSoleil with Michael Doucet, Kinobe and Soul Beat Africa, Magadog, the Vodkanauts, Will Quinlan and the Diviners, and more, Cuban Club, Ybor City, Tampa, 5 p.m.
  • May 28 – Side Door Jazz: TRIO VIBE with singer Edgar Wilcox,  Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg, 7:30 p.m.
  • May 28 – Stanton Moore, the Crowbar, Ybor City
  • May 29 – Damon Fowler Group + Shawn Kellerman, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • May 30 – Legendary JCs + TBA, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • May 31 – WMNF Jazz Jam: Sam Rivers, Infinite Groove Orchestra, PBS, World Afro-Cuban Ensemble, Impromptu, and Trio Vibe, Skipper’s Smokehouse, 4 p.m.; $12 advance, $15 day of show
  • June 12 – Eric Lindell, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • July 18 – The Avett Brothers, Cuban Club, Ybor City (Tampa)
  • June 19 – Cope + Diocious, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • July 11 – 4th Annual WMNF Americana Fest: Blue Mountain, Ted Lukas and the Misled, Will Quinland & the Diviners, Have Gun Will Travel, Thomas Wynn & the Believers, Nervous Turkey, Black Finger, Mike Dunn & the Kings of New England, Matt Butcher, Nine Volts, and Roppongi’s Ace, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 4 p.m.
  • August 12 – Dave Matthews Band + Robert Earl Keen, Ford Amphitheatre, Tampa
  • October 9 – U2, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

Also handy for concertgoers: Creative Loafing’s recent piece on the area’s Top 20 concert venues.

ARCHIVE LIST

2009 shows

  • April 17-Sunday, April 19 – Stringbreak Music Fest: The Waybacks, Hoots & Hellmouth (photo, left), Randy McAllister Band, Thomas Wynn & the Believers, The Greencards, Larry Keel & Natural Bridge, Todd Charles, Have Gun Will Travel + more, Sertoma Ranch, Brooksville
  • April 17 – The Waybacks + Wildlife Refugees, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • April 16 – Side Door Jazz: Denise Moore & Then Some, Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg, 7:30 p.m.
  • April 10 – Dickey Betts & the Great Southern Band + Fastgun + Angels with Dirty Faces, State Theatre, St. Petersburg
  • April 10 – Saffire the Uppity Blues Women + Julie Black, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • April 7 – Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • April 5 – Old School Tampa Reunion Concert: Beanstalk + Joe Popp, My Little Trotsky, and Maggie Council, Skipper’s Smokehouse
  • April 5 – Ribbon of Highway: Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, Kevin Welch, Ray Bonneville, Ronny Elliott, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johny Irion, Tampa Theatre
  • April 4 – Bill Wharton The Sauce Boss, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • April 4 – Freddie McGregor + Junior Reid + Jahfari, Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.
  • April 3 – Ben Folds + Jukebox the Ghost, The Ritz, Ybor City (Tampa)
  • April 3 – Allman-Tyler Band (with Gregg’s son Michael), Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.
  • April 2 – Side Door Jazz: Stan Hunter (photo, left) Quartet with trumpeter Bob Swisher, bassist Michael Ross, and drummer Ron Gregg, Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg
  • March 28 – North Mississippi All Stars + Hill Country Revue, State Theatre, St. Petersburg
  • March 27 – Charlie Louvin + Will Smith and the Diviners, New World Brewery, Ybor City (Tampa)
  • March 27 – Toubab Krewe, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • March 26-Sunday, March 29 – Suwannee Springfest: Donna the Buffalo & others, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak (see my post on this)
  • March 20-22 – Tampa Bay Blues Fest: Fabulous Thunderbirds, Delbert McClinton, Irma Thomas, Bernard Allison + more, Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg
  • March 20 – “Swing Into Spring: A Tribute to Benny Goodman” : Ken Peplowski (photo, left) with Kenny Drew Jr. Trio (including bassist Joe Porter and drummer John Jenkins), The Palladium, St. Petersburg
  • March 20 – Spiritual Rez + The Hip Abduction, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • March 20 – The Original Wailers, Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg
  • March 19 – George Benson: Tribute to Nat Cole, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater
  • March 10 – Helios Jazz Orchestra with singers Rita Wilson, Joanna Rose, and Michael Cerone, First Unity Church, St. Petersburg, 7 p.m.
  • March 15 – Bonnie Raitt, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, 8:30 p.m.
  • March 15 – Terry Adams Crazy Trio + Vodkanauts, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • Friday-Saturday, March 6-7 – TRIO VIBE (Philip’s band), Della’s Delectables/Della’s After Dark, Brandon
  • Friday, March 6 – COPE with Middle Rhythm Session, Skipper’s Smokehouse, 8 p.m.
  • March 5 – The Organic Trio, Side Door Jazz @ Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg, 7:30 p.m. (Al Downing TBJA)
  • March 5 – Richard Drexler (performing and discussing his music), St. Petersburg College HS 109
  • March 5 – George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, Jannus Landing, St. Petersburg
  • March 3 – Helios Jazz Orchestra, with saxophonist Butch Thomas, and singers Rita Wilson and Paul Wilborn, Palladium Theater
  • March 1 through Saturday, March 7 – Sarasota Jazz Festival: Dick Hyman, James Moody (photo, above), John Allred, Bill Allred, others, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Holley Hall and other venues, Sarasota
  • Feb. 28 – The Subdudes + The Ditchflowers, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • Feb. 28 – Mardi Gras Mambo: Neville Brothers + Dr. John and the Lower 911, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota
  • Feb. 28 – Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, Ace’s Lounge, Bradenton, 8:30 p.m.
  • Feb. 23 – Bill Moring, bassist (photo, above), with USF Jazz Faculty Ensemble, USF-Tampa Monday Night Jazz Series, USF Music Recital Hall 
  • Feb. 23 – Bill Moring master class (open to the public), FAH 107, USF Music Building
  • Feb. 5-6 – Perpetual Groove, The Crowbar, Ybor City (Tampa)
  • Feb. 5 – B.B. King + Buddy Guy, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater
  • Feb. 5 – Kenny Drew, Jr. (above) Trio with bassist Richard Drexler and drummer John Jenkins, Side Door Jazz Series @ Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg (Al Downing TBJA)
  • Feb. 4 – Pato Banton, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
  • Jan. 31 – SPC Jazz Festival: Sue Terry Quartet (w/ Richard Drexler, Mark Neuenschwander and Tracy Alexander), SPC Music Center
  • Jan. 30 – SPC Jazz Festival: Alfredo Rivera & Manigua + O Som Do Jazz featuring Andrea Moraes Manson
  • Jan. 29 – Dark Star Orchestra, Jannus Landing
  • Jan. 29 – St. Petersburg College Jazz Festival: Helios Jazz Orchestra featuring saxophonist Sue Terry (photo, above) and singers Joanna Rose & Rita Wilson, SPC Music Center
  • Jan. 27 – Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota
  • Jan. 27 – Keller Williams, Jannus Landing
  • Jan. 26 – Jon Metzger, vibraphonist, with USF Jazz Faculty Ensemble, USF-Tampa Monday Night Jazz Series
  • Jan. 24 – USF-Tampa Magic Marimba Festival/Conference, FAH 101 & 102
  • Jan. 23 – Big Sam’s Funky Nation +  The Trio, The Crowbar
  • Jan. 23 – Side Door Jazz: Mindy Simmons Trio – A Tribute to Peggy Lee, Palladium Theater
  • Jan. 23 – USF-Tampa Magic Marimba Festival/Conference, FAH 101 & FAH 102
  • Jan. 18 – Donna the Buffalo, Skipper’s Smokehouse
  • Jan. 16 – Richard Drexler and Kenny Drew, Jr. (“Keyboard Explosion”) with bassist John Lamb and drummer Don Capone, Mahaffey Theater  Bayview Room
  • Jan. 11 – Ira Sullivan (photo, above) Quartet with  Michael Royal, Richard Drexler and Danny Gottlieb, Springs Theatre, (Tampa Jazz Club)
  • Jan. 9 – Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe,  State Theatre
  • Jan. 9 – Pinetop Perkins + Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues, Skipper’s Smokehouse (Philip’s preview, St. Petersburg Times)
  • Friday, Jan. 9 & Saturday, Jan. 10 – TRIO VIBE (Philip’s band), Della’s Delectables, Brandon
  • Jan. 8 – Guisando Caliente Latin Jazz Quintet (with saxophonist Jeff Rupert and pianist Kenny Drew, Jr.), Side Door Jazz, Palladium Theater (Al Downing TBJA)
  • Jan. 3 – Bonerama, Aces Lounge, Bradenton (Philip’s preview, St. Petersburg Times)
  • Jan. 2-3 – J.J. Grey & Mofro + Inca Maya, Skipper’s Smokehouse (Philip’s preview, St. Petersburg Times)
  • Jan. 2 – Galactic + the Lee Boys, Jannus Landing (Philip’s preview, St. Petersburg Times)

2008 shows

Best Jazz CDs of 2008? Down Beat Looks Back

Down Beat’s official critics poll, which isn’t hinged to the calendar year, won’t arrive until August.

But the January issue of the magazine (to which I’m a longtime contributor) offers a list of the jazz CDs that notched the best reviews – highest star ratings – in 2008.

The five-star releases, although all deserving of high praise, may or may not deserve to be called “New Masterpieces”; a decade from now, will these recordings still resonate? Still, I was particularly impressed by the Caine, Haden, and McLaughlin discs. Here’s the list:

  • Gunther Schuller, Journey Into Jazz (BMOP Sound)
  • Uri Caine Ensemble, The Othello Syndrome (Winter & Winter)Uri Caine - The Othello Syndrome
  • Otis Taylor, Recapturing the Banjo (Telarc)
  • John McLaughlin, Floating Point (Abstract Logix)
  • Charlie Haden Family and Friends, Rambling Boy (Decca)

A step down are the 4.5-star releases, including several of my ’08 favorites – Clark, Corea/Burton, Herwig, and Frisell.

Here’s that list:

  • Anthony Braxton, Trio (Victoriaville)
  • Mike Clark, Blueprints of Jazz Volume 1 (Talking House)
  • Chick Corea and Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence (Concord)
  • Marilyn Crispell, Vignettes (ECM)
  • Prieto Dafnis Sextet, Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison Music)
  • Die Enttauschung, Die Enttauschung (Intakt)
  • Bill Frisell, History, Mystery (Nonesuch)
  • Mike Garson, Conversations With My Family (Resonance)
  • Jon Gordon, Within Words (ArtistShare)
  • Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (Half Note)Chick Corea & Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence
  • Grace Kelly and Lee Konitz, GRACEfulLee (Pazz)
  • Moss, Moss (Sunnyside)
  • Rosa Passos, Romance (Telarc)
  • Mario Pavone, Trio Arc (Playscape)
  • Herb Robertson and the NY Downtown Allstars, Real Aberration (Clean Feed)
  • Wadada Leo Smith and the Golden Quartet, Tabligh (Cueniform)
  • Gebhard Ullmann, New Basement Research (Soul Note)
  • Norma Winstone, Distances (ECM)

It’s interesting to note that the music deemed among the best jazz of the year is spread out on nearly as many labels as there are releases. The exceptions – two are on ECM, and two are on Telarc.

The next level down, the four-star CDs, features 124 releases, including several, below, that struck me as particularly outstanding (and in some cases, deserving of higher star ratings):

  • Brian Blade, Season of Changes (Verve)
  • The Blind Boys of Alabama, Down in New Orleans (TimeLife)
  • Anat Cohen, Notes From the Village (Anzic)
  • John Ellis and Double-Wide, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow (Hyena)
  • Drew Gress, The Irrational Numbers (Premonition)
  • Lionel Loueke, Karibu (Blue Note)
  • Pat Metheny, Day Trip (Nonesuch)Pat Metheny, Day Trip
  • Radiohead, In Rainbows (ATO) – not jazz, I know, but how could this CD NOT be on anyone’s best-of list?
  • Josh Roseman, New Constellations (Accurate)
  • Kurt Rosenwinkel Group, The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard (ArtistShare)
  • Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza (Heads Up)
  • Susan Tedeschi, Back to the River (Verve Forecast)

Yes, I’ll be getting around to submitting my Top 10 CD list(s) to one or more publications. But not quite yet.

Grammy Noms (2): Blind Boys of Alabama and other picks worth recommending

Blind Boys of Alabama

Blind Boys of Alabama

It’s almost too easy to beat up on the Grammy Awards.

And they deserve the slaps, too, given the cluelessness, historically, suggested by some of the picks: Milli Vanilli? Jethro Tull in the “metal” category? Christopher Cross? The Jonas Brothers?

It’s worth mentioning, too, that if there are going to be categories for best tropical Latin album, best regional Mexican album, best tejano album, best banda album, best Hawaiian album, best Native American album, best surround sound album, and other obscure areas, then FOR PETE’s SAKE it might be time to have categories for  New Orleans/Louisiana artists, jambands, and altcountry artists, and give Americana its own category (separate from folk).

On the other hand, the Grammys sometimes do provide much-needed attention to deserving artists.

Herewith, a few of the Grammy nominations for releases by worthy musicians and bands that you might not have heard about:

  • Best bluegrass album – Cherryholmes, Cherryholmes III: Don’t Believe; Del McCoury Band, Live at the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
  • Best new age album (?) – Jack DeJohnette, Peace Time
  • Best traditional gospel album – The Blind Boys of Alabama, Down in New Orleans – check out my review
  • Best traditional blues album – Buddy Guy, Skin Deep; B.B. King, One Kind Favor; Elvin Bishop, The Blues Rolls On
  • Best contemporary blues album – Marcia Ball, Peace, Love & Barbecue; Solomon Burke, Like a Fire; Dr. John and the Lower 911, City That Care Forgot (good playing and funky grooves, but not one of his finest); Taj Mahal, Maestro; Irma Thomas, Simply Grand.
  • Best contemporary folk/Americana album – Ry Cooder, I, Flathead; Rodney Crowell, Sex & Gasoline; Emmylou Harris, All I Intended To Be; Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
  • Best zydeco or cajun music album – releases by Michael Doucet, Pine Leaf Boys, BeauSoleil, and Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys
  • Best reggae album – Burning Spear, Jah is Real; Lee Scratch Perry, Repentance; Sly & Robbie, Amazing
  • Best traditional world music album – Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu
  • Best contemporary world music album – releases by Gilberto Gil; Youssou N’Dour; and Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju & Giovanni Hidalgo