McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, would be 100 had he not died in 1983 at the age of 70. To celebrate that fact, his son, Mud Morganfield, has paired up with Fabulous Thunderbird harp player Kim Wilson to release For Pops: A Tribute To Muddy Waters (Severn). 14 Muddy classics—from the best-known to deeeeeep cuts—are represented. Mud’s voice is eerily similar to his dad’s. Kim’s perfecto harp not only emulates but, in many cases, actually betters what the legendary Little Walter [1930-1968] brought to the party all those years ago in Muddy’s groundbreaking Chicago band. This band is all-star caliber. The recording itself is entertaining as hell and certainly packs a punch. The feel is of a late-night jam session, probably because they had a house party in the Maryland studio with friends and family drinkin’ and porkin’ up on ribs before the session. Love it!
When We Find Ourselves Alone (Mack Avenue), by Rodney Whitaker, finds the 46-year-old Detroit bassist spanning the genres on his eighth CD as a leader since leaving Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in 2003 after six years in the bass chair. Of course, when it comes to Beautiful Black Classical Music, otherwise known as jazz, it’s a tapestry of talent that brings the project home: saxophonist Antonio Hart, pianist Bruce Barth and drummer Greg Hutchinson have each played with Whitaker for 25 years. (Vocalist daughter Rockelle Fortin is heard on five of 11 tracks.)
Whitaker, an alum of Roy Hargrove’s group, tips his pork-pie hat to his old boss with “When You Played With Roy,” a slinky, slightly Brazilian strut. His bowing makes for a mysterioso opening to the old “Autumn Leaves” chestnut but when the bassist puts down the bow to play pizzicato, you just know Fortin will scat…and she does. “Jamerson’s Lullaby” references Motown’s longtime bassist. “Invitation” is a homage to tenor sax great Joe Henderson [1937-2001]. Oscar Brown’s “Freedom Day,” in celebration of the day slavery ended in this country, takes the template that Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln put forth in 1960. Here, drummer Hutchinson practically dialogues with Roach’s famous solo from 54 years ago. Whitaker wrote “A Mother’s Cry” for a documentary film called Malaria & Malawi: Fighting To Save The Children. Here, its Afro-centric rhythms and beats presage a stupendous Hart sax solo that evokes the area’s pain. “Mr. Magic” is a standard at this point with famous renditions by Roberta Flack and Grover Washington, Jr. In Whitaker’s hands, everything old is new again as Fortin is as over-the-top as Flack is understated. “Lost In You Again” is gospel…and yeah, you can feel it.
Forever: The Love Poems Of Pablo Neruda (Steinway & Sons) by polyglot cabaret chanteuse Ute Lemper takes some getting used to. If you fall sway to the tango rhythms, Latin percussion, sparse folk, and riveting dramatic presentation of this German vocalist who makes every song a one-act play, you’re hooked. That she can bring such brevity to these alternately heartbreaking, yearning and/or lust-filled words of the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda [1904-1973] is to her credit. This is otherworldly music from another time and another place. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman might as well be saying goodbye to each other in Casablanca while this slinky diva croons her tunes in Spanish, England and French. Her last album, Paris Days/Berlin Nights, in 2012, had her accompanied by a string quartet and piano, a brazen Euro Cabaret domestic release. In an age where cabaret is routinely scoffed at (the word itself used as an insult on vocal reality shows), Ute is cute in settling into her role. Here, accordion, guitar, bass, piano, percussion, cello, viola, violin and charango gives her the proper bed upon which to lounge. Different. Odd. Old-School. Hey, that’s alright. Let’s party like it’s 1899.