Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N Roll

A Man Named Fima

Based in Brooklyn, Fima Chupakhin, after adding keyboards to the projects of others, has now self-released his Water debut and it’s positively stunning. Over and above what he does to Monk’s 1957 “Off-Minor,” Coltrane’s 1958 “Moment’s Notice” and the 1923 hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” it’s his originals that steal the day. His amazing septet is like a second skin to his acoustic and electric pianos, what with its enticing mix of vocals, sax, trumpet, guitar, bass, and drums. It’s a post-bop charmer. Bud Powell seems to be his muse. In his native Ukraine, he was a well-known composer of movie soundtracks. Water is translucent enough to allow the swing to creep through the cracks of its modernity.    

Time to Party!

The 28 songs perfect to blast out this New Year’s Eve on When The Clock Strikes Twelve: It’s A Real Gone Party (Atomicat Records) sound particularly outrageous when juxtaposed against each other. There’s something in the segues to the point where maximum enjoyment can be had by not knowing what’s next. That’s how I digested it and I can tell you from personal experience that the shock of  recognition at each tune’s intro was like a sweet little pinprick to my soft spot. Of course, it’s my job to spill the beans on these pre-1963 gems. “Last Call For Alcohol” by Hot Lips Page, “La Bamba Bossa Nova” by Sandy Nelson, “Open Up The Dog House (Two Cats Are Comin’ In)” by Dean Martin and Nat King Cole, “Strip Tease Swing” by Big Jay McNeeley, “Tequila” by The Stan Kenton Orchestra, and “I Smell A Rat” by Big Mama Thornton may be my top six highlights but, man, there’s NO clinkers! Sonny Burgess, Etta James, Ray Charles, Arthur Alexander, Little Willie John, Sam Cooke, Link Wray & His Wraymen, The Goofers, Li’l Millet and his Creoles, Carl Perkins, Dale Hawkins, and Ben E. King provide the best damn soundtrack to your holiday that you could possibly hope for.  

Koko Mojo Does it Again!

Southern Bred: Mississippi R&B Rockers Volume #4 (Koko Mojo Record Stack) starts with Big Boy Crudup and ends with Little Milton. In-between is Sunnyland Slim, Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Willie Foster, Big Bill and His Guitar, Little Johnny Jones and the Chicago Hound Dogs, Magic Sam, Doctor Ross and his Jump Jive Boys, Big Bill Broonzy, Willie Dixon, Betty “Shoop Shoop” Everett, Rufus Thomas, and Elmore James and His Broom Dusters. As opposed to other Koko Mojo compilations with a slew of fascinating one-hit wonders, most of these artists are legends yet the 28 tracks are deep. That adds up to perfection. 

A Man Named Boz

Boz Scaggs had a late-career renaissance starting with 2013’s Memphis, 2015’s A Fool To Care, and last year’s Out Of The Blues (his 19th album). Taken as a trilogy, they represent the best work of his 51-year career. Yet that’s not what the crowd at Easton, PA’s State Theatre wanted to hear. They were there for his mid-seventies platinum era and went wild for “Lido” and “Lowdown.” His tight band—two drummers, two keyboardists, two guitarists, and a rampaging sax man—made good use of the State’s great sound, especially on the elongated “Loan Me A Dime” jam that has been a staple of his set since 1969. Boz, at 75, hasn’t lost an inch of his soulful voice and provided an impeccable performance, one postponed from last June. At its end, he appeared genuinely touched at the love being hurled back at him. 

Craig Thatcher Band Does Tom Petty

Back at the State Theatre three days after Boz, local heroes The Craig Thatcher Band put on a powerful display of jam-band aesthetics while bringing the catalog of Tom Petty back to glorious onstage life. These songs are too good not to be heard on a concert stage by consummate pros like this. They’re like The Fab Faux in the sense that what Will Lee and company do for Beatle material, Thatcher can do for Hendrix, Clapton, and now Petty. Every guy in the band is a master musician and most of ‘em sing lead. And Thatcher can shred with the best of ‘em. His flights of fancy with incredible violin player Nyke Van Wyk had the both of them wailing away like the old jazz “cutting contests” in the forties. The lead guitarist, I dare say, could be a national and international star should he choose (he’s that good) but he prefers to sublimate himself into the material of whomever he deigns to ignite. As a singer, he’s top-notch—he’s been doing this for 30 years. And as a host, he’s amiable. The sounds he coaxes out of his arsenal of guitars constantly amaze and delight. He played with just the right tone to equal George Harrison on the night’s lone Traveling Wilburys song. The familiar melodies and riffs, compounded by some extemporaneous jams that blew the roof off the gorgeous State was, in a word, religious. This is my church. The two sets flew by. I could’ve done three more. No matter whose music Thatcher happens to elevate on any given night, you would be doing yourself a favor by seeing this man’s band. 

Blowin’ Your Own Horn

Play On Words (G-B Records), by Andy Ballantyne, has the Toronto tenor/alto saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, arranger, and educator blowing his soul, his heart, and chunks of his brain out through his horn. His soul comes through loud and clear as his phrasing emulates those of his precedents, but he makes sure to add his own idiosyncratic heart. The brain matter that flies through his sax is due to his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of his forebears, thus sax men like Dexter Gordon, Johnny Hodges, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Giuffre, Pat LaBarbara, Paul Desmond, and Lester Young all get their righteous due tribute-style amongst each of the 10 tracks, ably accompanied by guitar/piano/bass/drums.  

Global Griot

Nightshade (PMX Records), by Dawn Drake & Zapote, mashes up the music of Ghana, Brazil, and the Caribbean in one Carnival-esque montage of sound. The first single is “Oya,” for the female deity of wind and storms in the Cuban Yoruba tradition. Drake is a fascinating front woman. A bassist, percussionist, composer, and educator, this Brooklynite bandleader teaches a course at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City called “Popular Music of the Caribbean,” wherein she stitches together American music from its component parts in Africa, Cuba, Haiti, Native America, and other non-white roots like a huge mosaic in an effort “to correct skin color privilege in this country as well as systemic racism and oppression,” according to her liner notes.