Rant’N’Roll: Barbara Dane, Till Bronner And The Meaning Of Ubunto

Singer/songwriter Barbara Dane has packed a lot of living in her 89 years. It’s been 14 years since she’s recorded but Throw It Away (on her own Dreadnaught Music) should serve as an introduction to younger blues fans and as a welcome return for her legion of fans that includes Jackson Browne, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt and Ry Cooder who all used to show up when she held court at The Ash Grove in Los Angeles in the 1960s after being tutored by folk icon Pete Seeger in the 1950s.

Her trinity of blues, folk and jazz experience (she used to be the vocalist in the band of the legendary Earl “Fatha” Hines) has resulted in an absolutely refreshing take on such great material as Memphis Minnie’s 1935 “I’m Selling My Porkchops,” Leonard Cohen’s 2014 “Slow,” Paul Simon’s 1973 “American Tune,” Duke Ellington’s 1940 “All Too Soon,” Leroy Carr’s 1928 “Tell Me How Long,” Paul McCartney’s 1965 “In My Life” and—best of all—Mose Allison’s hilarious adaptation of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s 1939 “This Train” which he, in his inimitable style, reworded as “My Brain.”

Dane’s voice has been weathered by the years but still has that primal urgency. She was hailed when she first hit the ‘50s pop charts as “Bessie Smith in stereo” by the eminent British jazz critic Leonard Feather [1914-1994]. To that end, she toured and recorded with Lightnin’ Hopkins, the Chambers Brothers, Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon. Her resume also includes political activism, singing at numerous anti-war and pro-civil rights demonstrations. She was also the very first American artist to tour in Castro’s post-revolutionary Cuba. Her deeply ingrained leftist politics surfaces here on the track “What Kind Of Country” by her follow Berkeley activist friend Redd Walsh.


Ubunto is an African word meaning “I am what I am because of who we all are.” It is also the name of a very intriguing CD by The Lupa Santiago 4teto with trombonist Ed Neumeister on Soundfinger, a label dedicated to Brazilian pop and instrumental jazz. Lupa plays guitar like he has 20 fingers. He’s also a composer who is on his 17th CD. He met fellow composer Neumeister in 2012 Austria and now, after a South American tour to gel their chops—the two are inextricably bound by Ubuntu as a 4tet with pianist Leandro Cabral, drummer Alex Buck and bassist Bruno Migotta on seven long originals. (Shouldn’t this be a 5tet?) The sound is alternately free’n’breezy like chilling on a Rio beach yet complex and futuristic like jazz-samba fusion. Either way, it’s a keeper.


Till Bronner is Germany’s most famous trumpet player. The Good Life (Okeh Records/Sony Music Masterworks) is his stateside debut and it’s filled with an innate longing and the kind of loneliness usually reserved for masters like Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker. Recorded in the same Los Angeles studio where Sinatra laid down “My Way,” Bronner takes from the songbooks of Billie Holiday (“I’ll Be Seeing You”), Sinatra (“In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning”), Nat King Cole (“Sweet Lorraine”), Irving Berlin (“Change Partners”), George and Ira Gershwin (“Love Is Here To Stay” and “I Loves You Porgy” from the 1935 musical Porgy and Bess) plus eight more.

Bronner’s sound is heavily influenced by the tragic Chet Baker whom he sounds just like. Baker was another trumpet player who sang in a similarly romantic and understated way. As anyone who saw Ethan Hawke’s brilliant portrayal of Baker last year in Born To Be Blue knows, Baker really did need his beloved heroin to be a jazz genius. Although the movie doesn’t include it, he accidently fell out of an Amsterdam window to his death at 58 in 1988. Till Bronner, movie star good looks and all, is like Chet Baker without the heroin. Hopefully.