A Place To Be

The 14th Annual Aiken & Friends Festival will take place September 26, 27, and 28 at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg with concerts (both free and ticketed), songwriting workshops, a picker’s tent, dance, venders, planetarium laser shows, and massage. Mike’s Wayward Troubadour (Northwind Records) is filled with Americana, folk and roots-rock. He’s a dazzling string-man/composer/vocalist and when Amy adds her sweet harmony and percussion, it gives so-called yacht-rock a more valid dimension. These Virginians are real sea captains, having traversed 30,000-plus nautical miles. Plus, they’re both members of the U.S. Coast Guard. Their seven albums are filled with tales of rodeo champions, pirates, Rastafarians, and the hunger within us all to explore. For more information on this one-of-a-kind Jersey event, you can sail straight to www.aikenandfriendsfest.com.  

Long-Lasting Connections

The Connections (PosiTone) made by tenor saxophonist-composer Diego Rivera are long-lasting. As produced by label head Marc Free, they’re strong indications that, now in his 21st year of artistry, Rivera is staking his claim as a top-notch band leader. And what a band! Michael Dease is today’s go-to trombone man. Ditto for Behn Gillece on vibes. And is there a hipper bassist than Julliard graduate Endea Owens? She’s already led her own band all over the globe and was chosen as this year’s Lincoln Center “Emerging Artist.”

The confluence of originals and meticulously-chosen transcendent covers that permeate the proceedings add up to an almost spiritual listening experience. McCoy Tyner’s 1978 “Passion Dance” is a jam-happy favorite of many to explore due to its unrelenting changes. And to dig deep like an archeologist to ferret out the inherent beauty of a song that Gloria Swanson first sung in 1929—“Love (Your Spell Is Everywhere)”—and make it sound new again after incessant versions by Johnny Mathis, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr., and a wide swath of middle-of-the-road crooners, is a world unto itself. Then there’s John Coltrane’s 1959 “Naima,” another melody that’s become a jazz standard filled with love as its author wrote it about his wife. Rivera nails it. Christian McBride’s 1995 “Shade Of The Cedar Tree” is hard enough to play but Luther Allison’s piano raises the ghost of Cedar Walton. Highlight? Tough call, but Rivera’s own “Nueva York” celebrates in song the night Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo first met a young trumpeter, Dizzy Gillespie, and the two laid down the foundation for what became Latin jazz. 

Nineties Pioneer

Two long out-of-print gems by alternative singer-songwriter Cindy Lee Berryhill—1994’s Garage Orchestra and 1996’s Straight Outta Marysville—have been restored to their rightful glory by Omnivore Records, complete with unreleased bonus tracks. The 54-year old San Diego native—the wife of legendary rock critic Paul—didn’t resurface until 2008, with Beloved Stranger, and then again in 2017 with The Adventurist. These two nineties albums, though, are her masterpieces. Influenced sonically in 1994 by dense late-sixties Brian Wilson-styled orchestral arrangements, she married sixties girl-group pop with a punk aesthetic. Taking from Patti Smith and X, her idiosyncratic vocal yelps, tics, and shudders were perfectly suited to her deliciously oddball compositions like the seven-minute-plus “UFO Suite,” “Song For Brian,” “I Want Stuff,” and “Radio Astronomy.” The 1996 album is even weirder, with “The Virtues Of Being Apricot,” “Talking With A Mineral,” “Elvis Of Maryville,” “I’m A Tumbleweed,” and the strangest cover of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch” you’re ever likely to hear. You can bet that most of the alternative darlings of the two-thousands listened to CLB. 

Horses Fly, Don’t They?

The five saxophones, five trumpets, five trombones, eight violins, four violas, two flutes, piano, Hammond B-3 organ, bass, guitar, and drums of the Flying Horse Big Band make a joyful noise on the self-released Good News. We need some Good News these days. And with compositions by Miles, ‘Trane, Monk, Jobim, and the ubiquitous Bob Mintzer, this news is, indeed good—great, even. It’s their sixth album and the one that will make John Lennon’s “Imagine” a jazz standard in years to come. Opting to go back before bebop into the swing zone, Director Jeff Rupert keeps things percolating. Plus, some of the soloing is so exquisite and ecstatic! Dig that Saul Dautch alto ride on the 1965 samba classic “Agua de Beber” (Dautch goes even further into the stratosphere on baritone elsewhere here).  Wholeheartedly recommended. 

Dude Don’t Do Covers

There’s no time to interpret other artists on Ohio singer-songwriter Ben Davis Jr.’s self-released Suthernahia. It’s filled with earthy roots-rock, organic outlaw country, compositional near-brilliance, and vocal eccentricity. Some of his songs could even be construed as futuristic folk for folks yearning for meaning in their music. He’s a bit on the angry side and it shows. Plus, he’s not above getting psychedelic. And the power of his pop reverberates in such a way that it’s like each individual song was carved out of stone like a sculpture with not one wasted second. He’s a man on a mission and if the size of his beard is any indication, he’s not going to stop until ZZ Top invites him into their band. He’s got drums/bass/guitar/mandolin/keyboards backing his every twitch. He’s got North Carolina hero troubadour David Childers singing and blowing harp. He’s got songs in his hip pocket of the importance of personal responsibility (“I Think You Should”), wanting a significant other (“Just Let Me In”), the pleasure/pain duality of an honest day’s labor (“Line Boat Blues”), and other fixations (“Can’t Get Enough”) that make him all-too-human and totally endearing.   


Tri-Colored Eyes, the self-released fourth album by Colorado alto/soprano saxophonist Clark Gibson (who doubles on flute), is a particularly righteous project, filled to the brim with the kind of hard bop organ/horn inventions masterminded on recordings by organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith in the sixties with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and sax man Stanley Turrentine. The role of Smith is played to perfection by Hammond B-3 master Pat Bianchi with Jim Pisano on tenor, but instead of trumpet, it’s Evan Edmonds on trombone. It’s a classic kind of sound balancing beauty with bustle, the bucolic with the barnstorming ferocity of simultaneous soloing.

Gibson cherishes the kind of role models in his life like Charles Mingus and Nina Simone, artists who “lived by a raw, honest personal code… uncompromising to live any other way,” as he says. To that end, he wrote “Truth And Beauty” for a personal friend who inhabited those traits. 

Then there’s “Trey.”

John “Trey” Crawford III was a 22-year old black father killed by white police for no good reason in a Beavercreek, Ohio Wal-Mart on August 5, 2014. They said he was pointing a BB gun at passers-by. Security cameras proved otherwise. A grand jury refused to indict. Full proceeds from the song will benefit The John Crawford Foundation, an organization “dedicated to educating and supporting the families who have lost loved ones to police brutality.”      


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