Rant ‘N’ Roll: Rant’n’Roll: Best Van Morrison Cover Ever, Smoking-Hot Blues, Croce by Croce, Jazz Vocalese, Big-Band Action and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Rant ‘N’ Roll: Rant’n’Roll: Best Van Morrison Cover Ever, Smoking-Hot Blues, Croce by Croce, Jazz Vocalese, Big-Band Action and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

—by , August 30, 2017

08-30 Rant Art FristoeUnique is the only word that aptly fits the Heliotrope debut (Radiko Records) of Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter/producer/documentarian Rabasi Joss. After over a decade making multi-media docs, Joss has turned her attention to her compositions and vocals, leaving the production to Baba Israel (DJ Logic/Jason Lindner), the engineering to Kabir Hermon (David Bowie), the mixing to Matt Boynton (Norah Jones) and the mastering to Jessica Thompson (Erroll Garner). With such a top-flight crew, the sound is impeccable; a sound that cannot and will not be categorized. Do record shop owners put it in the sections of jazz, blues, dance, folk, soul or pop? Her interpretation of the Van Morrison classic, “Into The Mystic,” is alone worth the price of admission. Plus, she features one of the last recorded performances of pianist Geri Allen [1957-2017] as well as guest vocals by Barbara Dane, still going strong at 90. “The story we are telling is how voices from the past blend with the present to tell the story of American music,” Joss says. “My musical mentors fueled a deep desire to make my own sound.” And that she has. In spades.

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   Delta Wires may have been Born In Oakland (Mudslide Records) but its sound is comprised of the Mississippi and Chicago strains of the blues. This smokin’ seven-piece, on its seventh CD in 30 years, plays the hell out of 10 highly-charged originals led by the lead vocals of harmonica man and co-producer Ernie Pinata, backed by bass, guitar, drums, congas, tambourine, saxophones, trombone and trumpet. It’s a party, and if the “Devil’s In My Headset,” it’s still “Fun Time” because “I Don’t Care” on this “Sunny Day.” It’s a “Fine and Healthy Thing” anyway when you’re on “Vacation” for all of the “Days Of The Week.” Those are my highlights. I would love to see them rock out live with this material.

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Listening to A.J. Croce’s new CD is Just Like Medicine (Compass Records). He’s in good hands. Legendary composer/producer Dan Penn is behind the big board and has a crew including Vince Gill, Steve Cropper, David Hood, Colin Linden and The McCrary Sisters with which to work. Still, even this all-star assemblage does not diminish the presence of this piano man/singer/songwriter, the son of the mythic Jim Croce (who died at 30 in a plane crash) when A.J. was two. A.J. co-wrote “The Heart That Makes Me Whole” with another legend, Leon Russell [1942-2016]. It features Cropper’s signature licks, McCrary harmonies and those pumpin’ Muscle Shoals Horns. The highlight has to be a song that A.J. unearthed by his dad scheduled for an album never recorded. “The Name Of The Game” was the last song Jim Croce ever wrote and his son does it proud. So yeah, this CD is, indeed, Just Like Medicine, because it soothes the savage soul with New Orleans flair, honky-tonk fun, R&B roots and Brill Building smarts. A.J.’s an entertainer. He has Al Jolson, Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles in his vocals and his piano-playing. In other words, he’s a natural.

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Jazz vocalese is a subtle art. Try too hard and it sounds it. Try to appear too natural and it turns into cabaret. Kellye Gray has found the sweet spot. Her Rendering (Grr8 Records) shows her poise and control in the studio live with no overdubs, second takes or auto-tune. As natural as a spring rain, this double-disc has her re-recording the songs on her 1992 out-of-print Standards In Gray debut, adding a second disc that shows off her interpretive skills as well as her dramatic originals like “God You Make Me Wonder,” written about a painful divorce. She nails Billie Holiday’s 1944 “Don’t Explain” and 1946 “Good Morning Heartache.” She wears Ethel Merman’s “I’ve Got A Right To Sing The Blues” (from the 1932 Broadway musical Vanities) like a second skin. When she asks the 1928 Gershwin question “How Long Has This Been Going On,” you can feel in her voice that she’s really been there.

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I got my Wake Up Call this morning from Meistero Music, and put on my new hat in honor of Ed Neumeister & his NeuHat Ensemble. Man, this thing swings! Its eight originals by the multi-talented Neumeister are diverse, engaging, entertaining and sounds best if played really loud. Dude’s a trombone man, conductor, composer, arranger, bandleader and producer. Meant to light a fire under concerned citizens about the direction of our country, he’s used music as a motivational metaphor for action. His obvious classical chops are on display and he uses his NeuHats like crayons on a coloring book. This includes reeds (5), trumpets (4), trombones (5), piano, bass, guitar, drums and percussion. The result is an absolutely riveting call to, uh, wake up! Highly recommended.

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Time to DoubleDown (Merry Lane Records) with the Art Fristoe Trio as the son of bassist Joe Fristoe [1943-2007] gets wild within the tradition. Jazz has always taken from pop, rock and soul to reignite the passions inherent in other genres. Think when John Coltrane did the lily-white cornbread “My Favorite Things” from the 1965 Broadway musical, The Sound Of Music, to make it into the hip jazz standard it is today. A hundred years from now, maybe Nirvana’s 1991 “Smells Like Teen Spirit” will also be a jazz standard. It leads off DoubleDown as done by this piano/bass/drums jazz trio. Fristoe is a Houston pianist/composer/producer who also totally transforms Sgt. Pepper’s 1967 “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” into jazz, as well as McCartney’s 1968 “Blackbird” and Kurt Weill’s 1943 “Speak Low.” He has an effervescent touch, a gliding perspicacity that imbues his every arpeggio. Bassist Tim Ruiz, two drummers and a percussionist help him fulfill his earthy dreams, and, along the way, his originals sparkle and his Ellingtonia (“Caravan”) contains a roots reverence.


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