Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N’ Roll

Alto Sax & Trombone with Good Vibes

The sound of an alto sax/trombone frontline—with vibraphone underpinning instead of piano—hearkens back to an earlier era of classic Blue Note records and, indeed, that’s what producer Marc Free was going for on Different Flavors (Posi-Tone Records) by Out To Dinner, a quintet of solid A-Listers, on their fourth album. Vibraphonist Behn Gillece is the glue that holds it all together. His “Day Zero” starts the party on a 5/4 modal post-bop note. “Blue Sojourn” is his obligatory beautiful avant-noir ballad. His closing 7/4 “Two Down” shows his love of those dusty old Bobby Hutcherson records of the sixties. “Not having piano,” he says, “creates a different type of space for the soloist.” From the off-kilter fractured funk of bassist Boris Kovlov’s “Magic Square” to the waltz of drummer Rudy Royston’s “Night Glow,” this thing swings. The only cover is Wayne Shorter’s “Rio.” ‘Bone man Michael Dease is, as always, exemplary. Saxophonist Tim Green is his perfect foil. Every note is in place. Every second here is thoroughly satisfying and entertaining.

God Bless Willie

He’s a poker-playing, golfing, horse-riding, pot-smoking, wisecracking author, philosopher, actor, jazz guitarist, singer, and one of the greatest living American composers. He’s also a revolutionary, leaving Nashville for Austin, convincing Waylon to do the same, and remaking country music in his own image, an image that should be on Mount Rushmore. At 86, he’s still vital, still tours, and has recorded six albums in the last three years, all exemplary, the latest of which, Ride Me Back Home (Legacy Recordings) was written in honor of his 60-plus horses. (He’s also a benevolent bandleader. Just ask Mickey Rafael, who joined Willie’s band as a teenaged harmonica player and now, at 67, is still in the band.)

Consider this the closing salvo of his mortality trilogy he started in 2017 with God’s Problem Child. Obvious highlights are Guy Clark’s 1988 “Immigrant Eyes” and “It’s Hard To Be Humble” (the 1980 Mac Davis song that Willie does with his sons here, who he had to borrow back from Neil Young’s band). Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” has never had the gravitas that Willie imbues directly into the fabric of the song.  Bee Spears played bass in the band for 40 years before he passed away in 2011. Bee’s “Nobody’s Listening” is profound and contemplative. Best of all, though, is one Willie wrote back when he stuck up his middle finger to Nashville in 1972 on his groundbreaking The Words Don’t Fit the Picture album. It’s called “Stay Away From Lonely Places” and it raises a lump in my throat every time. By the way, you won’t hear Willie on what passes for “country radio” today. Think about that.  

A Stunning Document

The year was 1999. Touring in support of Not Two Not One, The Paul Bley Trio, a piano trio with double-bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian, had a gig at the Aula Magna di Trevano in Switzerland. The tape was rolling. When Will The Blues Leave (ECM) is the historical document of that night. Motian, since his death in 2011, has become something of an icon to generations of drummers, having been credited with freeing the role of the drums from just timekeeping (first with Bill Evans in the fifties and then with Keith Jarrett in the sixties before blossoming as one of the drum stool’s most accomplished and revolutionary bandleaders). The two covers are sublime:  Ornette Coleman’s 1958 title track and “I Loves You, Porgy” by the Gershwins from their 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The innovations on their originals set a template for all future projects. Subtlety was their stock-in-trade. Wholeheartedly recommended.

Hillbilly Moon Explosion

They’re from Zurich, Switzerland but you’d never know it. With two cats from the U.K. on bass and guitar, respectively, a French drummer, and an Italian chanteuse up front, The Hillbilly Moon Explosion have been fascinated with all things American ever since they flew to California to record All Grown Up in 2006 with Black Keys producer Mark Neill. Then, their “My Love For Evermore” was something of a viral phenomenon that inspired tattoos, cover versions, 7-inch pressings, and 16 million YouTube hits. It was a duet with Sparky Phillips, the Welsh psychobilly madman. Now, a whole album of duets dubbed The Sparky Sessions (Jungle Records) is deliciously oddball. From two diametrically-opposed 1967 hits—Johnny Cash & June Carter’s “Jackson” and Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”—to the 1979 Dave Edmunds hit “Queen Of Hearts,” these sessions pair the sultry tones of Emanuela Hutter up against Sparky’s more guttural leanings. The highlight, though, has to be “Baby I Love You,” the Brill Building classic that Phil Spector produced to perfection with The Ronettes in 1963. An American tour is in the works, but Sparky won’t be with them as he’s been barred from entering the U.S. after “multiple arrests and jail terms during earlier U.S. tours,” according to Jungle’s distributor in the U.S., MVD Entertainment Group.

A New Kind Of Prog-Rock

Melded from the minds of these four Norwegians, the self-titled debut of Red Kite (RareNoiseRecords) is, indeed, a new kind of progressive rock, heavy on psychedelic metal and freeform jazz-rock fusion. Dense and layered, its 40 minutes is a trip! The absurdity of entitling abstract instrumental pieces results in song titles like “13 Enemas For Good Luck” and “Flew A Little Bullfinch Through The Window.” The sole cover is Alice Coltrane’s 1970 “Ptah, The El Daoud” but the highlight has to be “Focus On Insanity,” an intense exercise of riveting machinery by this guitar/bass/keyboards/drums assault. They consider the compositions just a “jumping-off point” for extended jams. Here’s hoping they come to America.