Rant ‘N’ Roll: Dana, Sean, Orrin & The Rev

Dana Robbins currently plays in the touring bands of Aretha Franklin and Delbert McClinton. The Michigan native, now living in Nashville, spent a decade in Los Angeles where she toured and recorded with Barry Manilow. The girl can’t help it. She was born to blow: be it soprano, alto or tenor saxophone as well as flute and piccolo. She’s pretty in-demand, having spiced up Roger Daltrey, John Mayall, Frank Zappa, Chaka Khan, James Brown and Steve Cropper with her passionate musicianship.

On her self-titled self-released second solo CD, the six instrumentals rock with a funky edge. Vocals on the other five tracks are by McClinton, Jimmy Hall (remember Southern rock’s Wet Willie?) and, making her vocal debut, Robbins herself.

She knows her history too. The late King Curtis was the greatest rock ‘n’ roll saxman of them all and she does his “Soul Twist” proud, prompted on by the Hammond B-3 organ of Kevin McKendree + bass/drums/guitar. The same instrumentation is on Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes.” With most of McClinton’s band backing her up, Robbins can now be thought of in the same breath and Bobby Keys and the late Clarence Clemons. She’s that good.


Sean Jones is a trumpet man and within his playing, you can hear the ghosts of trumpets past. im.pro.vise (Mack Avenue) by The Sean Jones Quartet is his seventh CD in 10 years. It was 2010 when he stepped down from his longtime position as Lead Trumpet of the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra under Wynton Marsalis to tour with no less than Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock.

As a composer, he never seems to take the easy way. His originals meander and make abrupt turns that not only make for exciting and adventurous listening, but challenge the ear into delving deeper. Pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire stick to him like glue yet go off on their tangents enough to add even more depth. It’s the type of CD where you’ll hear new things with each successive listen, and, when it comes to jazz, that, right there, is the mark of a great album.


Jones (and his bassist Luques Curtis) can also be heard on Liberation Blues (Smoke Sessions) by Philadelphia pianist Orrin Evans. Evans wrote “The Liberation Blues Suite (For Dwayne Allen Burno)” a close friend who passed away recently. Taking up the first five tracks, it’s a heavenly brew that includes interplay between Jones’ trumpet and JD Allen’s tenor sax, a front line made even more magnificent by Evans’ pianistic romps up and down the 88s like a spider on LSD. Add Paul Motian’s “Mumbo Jumbo,” Miles Davis’ “The Theme,” his own “Simply Green” and four more, and you’ve got exemplary performances kept kinetic by a group mentality that shines. All of these new Smoke Sessions CDs, by the way, are terrific. Recorded at New York City’s Upper West Side Smoke club (worth a trip), they are all sterling examples of why this music we know as jazz—despite being in competition with its own past—is still alive, vital and being performed today by masters. Yeah! Go see some live jazz, but, in the meantime, these Smoke Sessions rule.

Rev (Victory) by the righteous Reverend Horton Heat is his eleventh album since 1990. Filled with punkabilly, psycho-billy, surf-rock and novelty, this three-piece is “Zombie Dumb,” totally “Schizoid,” loves the “Smell Of Gasoline” and is always “Chasing Rainbows.” The other nine tracks are even better, one after another. Jim Heath runs the show with nary an inch of dressing. It’s all about the almighty riff, his craggy vocals and his stop-on-a-dime rhythm section, three men against the world. It’s Ramones-simple, catchy as all hell and just the thing to offset all the crap your ear is likely to brush up against in this plastic world of ours. This, friends, is the real deal. Hard, fast and satisfying. Lap it up.