CeltGrass Haven by We Banjo 3 from Ireland is a fusion of world, bluegrass, Celtic, Americana, country and Irish folk music. This eclectic string band, made up of consummate musicians on guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo, has help: acoustic and electric bass, piano, pump organ, vocals, cello, trumpet, sax and trombone. The result is a free-flowing easy-going set of 11 self-produced, self-released originals recorded in Maryland and mastered in California. David Howley’s vocals do away with the Kentucky high-lonesome aesthetic in favor of an alternative approach which gives the over-all sound more of a folk perspective. They’ve since moved to Nashville and will be touring the States on into autumn. Catch ‘em if you can.
A Genius In Our Midst
Pianist/Composer/Arranger Roger Kellaway, 79, was Van Morrison’s 2008 bandleader after playing in Joni Mitchell’s band. He’s won an Oscar and a Grammy. He’s arranged for Liza Minnelli and was an all-important sideman for Stan Getz, Herbie Mann and Sonny Rollins. His 17th album as a leader, New Jazz Standards Volume #3 (Summit Records), by The Roger Kellaway Trio with bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Peter Erskine, is an understated affair but make no mistake about it: these 13 Carl Saunders songs are now, in his hands, indeed, instant jazz standards.
The third of a series of originals by trumpeter Saunders (who does not appear on the CD) goes down easy. Be it blues, waltz, swing or post-bop, Kellaway has the Midas Touch. His fingers seem to effortlessly fly over the seven octaves/88 keys of his piano yet it’s a ballad, “Sweetness,” that might melt your heart. Wholeheartedly Recommended.
The Furious Seasons are Now Residing Abroad. Their self-released 13-song gem is all acoustic loveliness filled with P.A. Nelson’s guitar, Jeff Steinhart’s bass and keyboards plus lead singer/songwriter/guitarist David Steinhart’s percussion. It’s David’s voice singing his own words that mesmerizes like Paul Simon or Bob Dylan. The stories told are profound. People are in desperate situations, lost in Los Angeles, tripping over romance that they didn’t know was coming or being unobtrusively heroic in small ways that mean so much. You can ponder these lyrics for hours while their jazzy interplay fills your speakers. Somebody should give these guys an award!
Miles Davis Re-Imagined
The Charles Pillow Large Ensemble do Electric Miles (MAMA Records) for big-band on this sterling debut (17 musicians strong). When Miles laid the voodoo down on Bitches Brew (1969), Jack Johnson (1971) and On The Corner (1972), he was more inspired by Sly & The Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix than he was by Pops or Dizzy. Yet in Pillow’s hands, these songs revert back to an earlier pre-fusion era. Pillow, an educator/saxophonist/flutist/arranger/conductor, also makes sure to include not only the title tune to arguably the greatest jazz album of them all, In A Silent Way (1969), but the title tune to Directions (1981), which contained ‘60s scraps originally left on the cutting room floor. (Miles being Miles, his leftovers were still better than anyone else.) Bravo!
The Gal Can Sing Anything
No One Ever Tells You (Anzic Records) by singer-songwriter Amy Cervini crisscrosses genres with the ease of a ballet dancer. She’ll croon Lyle Lovett’s acerbic “God Will” (‘forgive you but I won’t)”, then turn around and make the corny white-bread “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” listenable again by slowing it down and playing with the arrangement. Marion Harris first did Eddie Green’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” in 1919 but it was Bessie Smith in 1927 and Big Maybelle in 1959 that owned the tune. Until now. Cervini nails the song’s essence with her yearning, pleading version. She improves upon Blossom Dearie’s 1996 “Bye Bye Country Boy.” She almost equals Sinatra’s iconic 1947 “One More For My Baby (And One More For The Road).” She totally reinvents the 1961 Ray Charles hit “Hit The Road, Jack.” Is there anything this terrific vocalist cannot do? Backed by guitar, piano, bass, drums and Hammond B-3 organ, Cervini is positively majestic in her revamping of once worn-out tunes. Let’s hear more!
What Genre Is This?
Heroes, Saints & Clowns (Ridgeway Records) by Ratatat is the follow-up to this collective’s auspicious 2016 Arctic debut. Depending upon the night, they’re either a sextet, septet or octet whose leader, Alan Hall, 60, is a drummer/composer/educator out of San Jose, Calif. Electro-acoustic, grounded in jazz but with high-flying excursions into the kind of genre mash-up that will leave your head spinning, Ratatat blew me away with this all-too-short seven-track gem. There’s no telling where they will go, what road they will traverse, and it’s hard to tell — what with the overlapping time signatures — between composition and improvisation. Zappa and Mingus would’ve loved this. The players are world-class, including Paul McCandless (from the pioneering ‘70s jazz-rock fusion band Oregon) on English horn and oboe and even the One Planet Drum Corps. This is some spicy stuff!
This dude has a lot of friends. Good advice comes from Bob Corritore & Friends when they warn Don’t Let The Devil Ride (Vizztone Label Group/Southwest Musical Arts Foundation). Recorded over the course of nine different sessions from 2014 to 2017, Corritore, a madman on harmonica as well as a producer and arranger, leads a total of 27 musicians on 12 tracks of pure jump-blues adrenaline. The seven lead singers howl in the night as the 20 instrumentalists take turns rocking the house. These are some well-seasoned pros who have paid their dues and know how to do the blues so you feel it deeeeeeeep in your gut. From Alabama Mike, Sugaray Rayford and Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry to Primetime Smith, Rockin’ Johnny, Mojo Mark, Illinois Slim and the Rhythm Room All-Stars, not one second is wasted. It’s a rockin’ house party and you’re invited.
Brian Bromberg’s Big Bad Bass
Forty years ago, Brian Bromberg played bass in a band of the legendary saxophone player Stan Getz [1927-1991]. Twenty albums later, Thicker Than Water (Artistry Music) has him composing, producing and plunking away on 11 different bass guitars (including the rare steel string piccolo bass) over the course of 13 tracks with guest trumpeter Randy Brecker atop five saxophones, guitar, drums, trombone, loops, keyboard programming and koto (a traditional 13-stringed Asian instrument as played by June Kuramoto of the band Hiroshima). Plus, stand-out track “Uh-Huh” features the last recorded performance of keyboardist George Duke [1946-2013]. It all amounts to a funky bass-popping party of profound proportions. “Minneapolis 1987,” for instance, recalls Prince while “Land Of The Rising Sun” will have you turning Japanese. Put this thing on the next time you host friends…then watch ‘em move and groove. It’s perfect.