Koko Mojo Records has put out a few dozen of these compilations of rare ‘50s rock ’n’ roll/bop ’n’ soul but none of ‘em has been completely devoid of clinkers. That’s not to say their series isn’t up amongst the best of the best but now, for the first time, there’s a comp with no less than 28 bursts of raw primal energy from the time machine with not one clinker! I know, it’s almost impossible, but Holy Smoke: Don’t Let Love Fool You! is, indeed, clinker-free. Starting with Baby Clifford King’s “I Want To Jump With You” and ending with Frank Linkenberg’s “Ball Of Fire,” the highlights come early and often. Tony Allen’s title track, two Little Richard covers (“Ginny Ginny” by the Jaguars and “Long Tall Sally” by Rosco Gordon) and such long-ago and far-away artists as Nat The Cool Cat, Juke Boy Barner, Piney Brown and Little Johnny Cook on such memorable slices of lust as “Rock With Me Baby,” “Sugar In My Tea,” “Ding Dong Babe,” “Squeeze Me” and so many more will make you jump and shout. It did me.
Blues & Latin by the new genre-defying trio Stringshot is a debut for the ages. Self-produced, self-released, it breaks all the rules. Just the fact that these particular three should band together is unusual enough, but the music they’ve created stands alone, totally devoid of historical context. Roy Rogers is a well-known American slide guitarist who used to play in the band of John Lee Hooker. Badi Assad is a respected Brazilian singer-songwriter-guitarist. Singer-songwriter Carlos Reyes, from Paraguay, plays violin, stringed harp and electric bass. Add drums, percussion, keyboards and synthesizer. Shake well. The result is a 10-track trip whose highlight, “God Prayed It,” was co-written by Metallica’s Jason Newsted. Highly Recommended.
A Man Named Tord
Leave it to producer Manfred Eicher’s ECM Records to release an album so celestial, meaningful and abstract as The Other Side by the Tord Gustavsen Trio, recorded in Oslo by the Norwegian pianist/composer, double-bassist Sigurd Hole and drummer Jarle Vespestad. Hypnotic, entrancing, enchanting, this is, indeed, The Other Side, where jazz meets classical, avant-garde and Euro-folk. Take the three tracks by German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach [1685-1750]. They’re pure modern jazz. Then there’s one by the great Dane composer/organist/folklorist Ludvig Mathias Lindeman [1812-1887], the intro of which has been electronically enhanced.
Tord’s an interesting cat. He’s into the concept of “paradoxical virtuosity,” where he holds back on notes (“subordinating your ego,” he says) to the point of only playing when absolutely needed. He calls it “micro-timing” or “loaded minimalism.” As he also says, “the less we play, the stronger it gets.”
A Man Named Trygve
Helsinki Songs (ECM) has 11 pieces of far-reaching originals by the Norwegian saxophonist/composer Trygve Seim with Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, fellow Norwegian double-bassist Mats Eilertsen and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari. You’ll hear traces of the legendary Ornette Coleman [1930-2015] as well as a mélange of esoteric influences including American composer Jimmy Webb, Arabic music (which he studied in Cairo), the rich strain of classical music from India, Armenian dudek virtuoso Djivan Gasparyan (the dudek is an ancient double-reed woodwind instrument), folk music from his native Norway, Igor Stravinsky [1882-1971], Winnie the Pooh and Baroque flourishes (a popular European classical era roughly from 1600 to 1750). Seim has played on 20+ ECM CDs in numerous formats including duos, orchestras, septets and trios. Here, though, on his eighth CD as a leader, he lets it all hang free.
Jesse Winchester’s 1972 “Isn’t That So” and Cindy Walker’s 1956 “You Don’t Know Me” (now a standard) never sounded better than on singer/songwriter/guitarist Lee Palmer’s oh-so-cool Horns & Harps, his self-released, self-produced bash. He wrote eight of 10 and stings that ax like a Canadian BB King. It helps to have a big boss sax man like Turner King on hand, and Roly Platt blows some big-time blues harp too (thus the title). I’m down with his “Rockin’ Strawberry Jam” best of all but have a soft spot for “Somebody’s Daughter.” Highly Recommended.
A Frenchman In New York
Stephane Spira forsook being an engineer in Saudi Arabia to head back to his native France whereupon he took up saxophone. Fifteen years later, a veteran of the Paris club scene, he made an even bolder move. He moved to New York City, fell in love, had a kid (at 51) and found the quartet he leads on New Playground (Jazzmax/l’autre). Bassist Steve Wood, keyboardist Joshua Richman and drummer Jimmy Macbride fit his soprano like a glove.
So many highlights! The classical/jazz synthesis “Gold Ring Variations” is touched by Bach. “New York Windows” is sprinkled with the pixie dust of the traditional Russian folk song his dad loved. “Peter’s Run” sweats with the same pounding heart beat as his cousin who ran the marathon. “Underground Ritual” contains the same hustle ’n’ bustle as the subway. It’s a love letter to his New Playground, otherwise known as New York City.
Gina Sicilia now lives in Nashville but this Philly singer/songwriter, now on her eighth studio album, has transcended her blues to make one solid Americana gem. Heard The Lie (Blue Elan Records) is totally righteous, filled with a frothy bubbling eruption of rockin’ country-styled pop that should be radio fodder for the generation that likes being told what to listen to. Her Janiva Magness duet (the joyous “Brighter Day”) is a highlight, as is the title tune and the Bad Company cover (“Ready For Love”). Still, the one track that keeps going round and round my brain long after I turn it off has to be “I Do Bad Things.” Is it autobiographical or a daring fiction? Matters not. It should be the single.
One Cool Dude
Pianist/Composer Art Hirahara wanted to be where the jazz action was so he moved cross-country from his San Francisco home town to New York City where he has thrived for the last 15 years. His fourth Posi-Tone album, Sunward Bound, features his quartet with bassist Linda May Han Oh, drummer Rudy Royston and sax man Donny McCaslin on an 11-track program of hard-swinging post-bop. The Asian influence comes in the form of two pieces from Japan interpreted with finesse (one of which, “Akatombo” is actually a lullaby his mom used to sing to put him to sleep). Highlights abound. “Brooklyn Express” positively seethes with the energy of that great town. He gets to work out his inner Stevie Wonder on the title track. Plus, there’s a blues and a solo piano interlude. Hirahara has a degree in Electronic and Computer Music from Oberlin. He studied West African drumming and dance. He plays a Balinese gamelan and North Indian tabla. He is, by anyone’s standards, one cool dude.