ALCD 4972

ALCD 4972

 

Heal My Soul (Pioneer Productions) by Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers is the sixth CD from these Brooklyn underground darlings. An Etta James/Marianne Faithful/Janis Joplin combo, Lex is a ball-buster in concert. Her old-school blues and classic rock befits her stature as a larger-than-life provocateur. Here, you’ll hear her howling atop guitar, drums, violin, organ, synthesizer, zither, accordion, autoharp, bass, mandolin, sax, clarinet and background vocals. This kitchen-sink approach suits her well. All 10 are original.

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DYAD Plays Jazz Arias (Ringwood Records) has the esteemed Jersey team of Lou Caimano (alto sax) and Eric Olsen (piano), working as the duo DYAD for the last 16 years, following up their 2014 DYAD Plays Puccini duet CD by adding trumpeter Randy Brecker (also on flugelhorn) and tenor sax man Ted Nash to reconfigure highlights from 18th and 19th Century operas. It was George Gershwin who first fused classical and jazz with his 1924 Rhapsody In Blue. Here, the two professors—Caimano at the private fine arts school he founded 18 years ago in Paramus and Olsen who teaches at Montclair State, Caldwell College and the Judith Wharton Music Center in Berkeley Heights—take the most dramatic arias from Mozart’s 1787 Don Giovanni, Barber’s 1956 Vanessa, Bizet’s 1875 Carmen, Verdi’s 1887 Otello and three more to turn them into gloriously swinging jazz, no mean feat.

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By My Side (JBR Records) by singer/songwriter/guitarist James “Buddy” Rogers, 40, has the transplanted Kansas City bluesman—who’s worked for years now in Canada—heading up a combo that features Slammin’ Mike Wedge on bass and the multi-talented Texan Lewis Stephens (from Delbert McClinton’s band) on Hammond B3, piano and Wurlitzer keyboards. Ten of 11 are original and the one cover is of Freddie King’s “Goin’ Down.” The result is a free-for-all blues-fest that rocks out. Period.

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Anything at all from the hallowed halls of Chicago’s Alligator Records is going to be great. Their latest doesn’t disappoint. The Big Sound of Li’l Ed and The Blues Imperials (the band’s ninth since ‘86) has to be thought of as one of the better blues CDs of 2016. Hell, they’ve been together for 27 years with nary a personnel change! Li’l Ed and his brother bassist Pookie Young are nephews of legendary bluesman JB Hutto [1926-1983] and cover two of his songs here. This one is a real party.

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Who is Allan Harris? After listening to his new Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better (Love Productions Records), I still don’t know. Is he the singer/songwriter of the title track? Is he the smooth jazz guitarist who covers Steely Dan’s 1974 “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”? Is he an old-school soul-man who takes the rather white-bread 1969 pop hit of one-hit wonder Spiral Staircase, “More Today Than Yesterday,” to finally make it hip? Is he a musical archeologist who digs for such beloved gold as Frank Ifield’s 1962 left-field hit “I Remember You”? Is he the latest in a long line of male vocalese stars who have covered the 1952 jazz standard “Moody’s Mood For Love”? (You should hear him cover the Ray Charles hit “Ruby.”) Is he a rock star covering Hendrix (“Up From The Skies”)? You know what the answer is going to be. Yes, he’s all of the above. Like Lou Rawls before him, Allan Harris has the ability to transcend genre and material with a big, warm voice that fits like a glove on every single song he tackles.

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The Planet on which Montreal guitarist/composer Eric St-Laurent resides is a free-wheeling do-it-yourself world where one can cover everything from Charlie “Bird” Parker (“Donna Lee”), Ludwig Van Beethoven (“Theme from the Second Movement of the Piano Sonata Number #8”) and Carly Rae Jepsen (“Call Me Maybe”). Armed with empathetic bass/percussion/piano backing, Eric roams far and wide veering off into Afro-Cuban rhythms, guitar hero rock, soundtrack music to a movie that doesn’t exist, blues and even that existential question, “What Would Steve Gadd Do.” His fusion is—thankfully—vocal-free and there’s no filler, just nine solid arrangements of seemingly diametrically opposed genres. But the man makes it work.

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