Zee Blues

    It’s all in his voice:  that bubbling, gurgling phlegm-fest. Howling Wolf ain’t got nothin’ on this guy. Self-released, self-produced, What You See Is What You Get is a 10-track party. The title track kicks it off with that hot bari sax, it’s a swamp-rock gumbo with Harp Dog Brown on harmonica while the two guitars play peekaboo with each other. “Backroads” is a rap with dobro. “I Ride Alone” uses chants from Cree Nation Aboriginals. Back to bari on “Money.” After “My Old Lady Is A Freak Show,” things really pop with “Blind.” This, Jimmy Zee’s seventh CD, breaks all the rules.


Jimi Jazz

    What Now (Geometric Records), by Carl Filipiak and the Jimi jazz Band, features five Filipiak originals, a cover of Bobby Hebb’s 1966 “Sunny” and Lennon/McCartney’s 1967 “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Filipiak, a hot guitar man who plays both acoustic and electric buoyed by bass, sax, drums and organ, keeps things moving and, thus, What Now is wholeheartedly recommended. 


North Texas Big-Band No. 1

    A compilation of projects from the various lab bands of

educator/conductor/composer/arranger/producer/trumpeter Jay Saunders (he recorded 11 albums and toured four times with the legendary Stan Kenton), Nice! (North Texas Jazz Recordings) is two discs with 18 tracks of the biggest, baddest most blistering charts ever to come out of an American learning institution. From the exquisite 8:21 of Jimmy Smith’s “Portuguese Soul” (using the Thad Jones arrangement) which ends CD No. 1, to the rousing cover of the Booker T & The MGs 1962 “Green Onions” hit that closes CD No. 2, Saunders lets his students shine. I’m partial to his arrangement of Lennon/McCartney’s “When I’m 64,” but the oft-recorded “My Foolish Heart” (from the 1949 movie of the same name) is truly something to swoon over (dig that alto sax solo!). There’s no filler, just track after track of some of the finest big-band action I’ve heard in years.


A Bagel With Slagle

    So I sit here and listen to Steve Slagle’s new Dedication (Panorama Records) while chowing down at my favorite kosher deli. Man, it’s good (both the CD and the bagel). The last time I enjoyed this eminent reed man was last year on The Blue Note bandstand driving the legendary McCoy Tyner on to great heights. (He almost stole the show.)

    To hear Slagle wrap his breath for over seven minutes of Wayne Shorter’s 1964 “Charcoal Blues” is a thing of beauty. The Philadelphia alto sax man (who doubles on flute, composes and produces) is a flying whiz of heady proportions. His tone is other-worldly, light and skittering in spots yet heavy and propulsive in other spots. He’s the kind of musician who can mesmerize with one of his patented singular flurries. He stops, he starts, he pauses and he breathes life into whatever he’s playing.

    Recorded in Paramus, each tune is dedicated: “Sun Song” for Sonny Rollins, “Niner” for bassist Steve Swallow, “Major In Come” for swing itself (the song is in five different keys). “Opener” is for fellow altoist Jackie MacLean. “Watching Over” is for modernist painter Marc Chagall. Guest guitarist Dave Stryker’s “Corazon” is for Weather Report keyboardist Joe Zawinal.

    The piano/bass/drums/guitar/conga cast is pure magic. Slagle has upped his game to the point of Mastery. I knew this guy was cool when I couldn’t take my eyes off him despite a living legend at the piano. I just didn’t know how cool.


Blues To The Max

    The self-released, self-produced all-original Roadhouse Soul (Pour Soul Records) by the Johnny Max Band may be one of the most fun-filled late-night honky-tonk barn-burners of the new year so far — putting a new face on blistering old-school R&B, southern rock, soul man strut and jump-blues. Still, if you can add to your grooving long enough to really listen to what this gutsy Canadian is puttin’ down, it might even make you think. Songs like “Blind Leading The Blind,” “I’m Your 9-1-1,” “I’m Broke” and, especially, “Time Well Wasted,” which traverses the same relationship topography as Marshall Crenshaw’s 1979 “You’re My Favorite Waste Of Time,” are double-edged swords. Can you think and dance at the same time? 


North Texas Big Band No. 2

    Perseverance: The Music of Rich DeRosa at North Texas (North Texas Jazz) is a stunning document from the man who lovingly toiled for many years right here in New Jersey for the Verona High School Jazz Ensemble. Now, in residence at North Texas University as a Professor of Jazz Composition and Arranging, which is over and above his work abroad as the new Conductor of Germany’s prestigious WDR Big Band, DeRosa sits on a pedestal:  drummer, teacher, conductor, composer, arranger. Is there anything this man cannot do?

    His “Mixed Emotions” lets guitarist Horace Bray shine. Stuart Mack on flugelhorn gets in some funky chops as well. Is Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” the most beautiful jazz ballad ever? Soloists Sergio Pamies on piano and soprano saxophonist Drew Zaremba’s contributions to this piece point yes. Saving the best for last, DeRosa’s 14:30 “Suite for an Anniversary” commemorates the 125th year of UNT. It goes through such a myriad of changes that it seemingly adds new flourishes and asides with each new listen. Wow.


Checking In To The Buffalo Hotel

    It may not be Hotel California but Canadian singer/songwriter Geoff Gibbons has created a world unto his own in the understated, folk-driven acoustic wisdom and beauty of the self-released, self-produced Buffalo Hotel.

    He wrote all 12 tracks without over-sentimentalizing his lows. He may be a hopeless romantic but not a helpless one. The first six songs comprise the “1st Floor” wherein in Room No. 101, he lays it out plain in opener “Ain’t Goin’ Back,” a blunt declaration to a life looking forward. You can hear the tear in his voice as he sings in Room No. 102 of a “Lonesome Angel” that crossed his path. Fellow singer/songwriter Taylor Mitchell was only 19 when she was mauled to death by cayotes while hiking alone. Maybe that’s why he’s “Carolina Bound” in Room No. 103. From “Hard Hard Rain” to “The Other Side,” the “1st Floor” is a six-part song cycle that prepares you for another one. The six songs on the “2nd Floor” are dramatic, philosophical and dreamy like “Blinded By Tumbleweeds” and, especially, the fitting finale of “Where Midnight Rolls.”

    You’d think this guy could possibly be a downer what with his paying such attention to life’s in-betweens, but, instead, he rolls with the kind of inspiration that’s hard to forget.