Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N Roll


Leave it to the “Jazz Detective” Zev Feldman to uncover this treasure trove of hard bebopping from two masters, Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, at the height of their powers in 1962, live from Seattle’s Penthouse. Originally broadcast on the radio, and not heard since, Live At The Penthouse: Ow! (Reel To Real Recordings) hearkens back to the era of “cutting contests,” wherein two cats would blow their brains out on the bandstand in competition with each other to see who could get the loudest rise from the audience. These kinds of events were so popular back in the day that these two became a hot item, releasing nine albums together and performing around the world. It was a sax duel extraordinaire!

Tenor sax battles originated in 1947 with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Grey when they released “The Chase” that not only sounded like two dogs chasing their own tails but started a trend within bop. Lockjaw, in ’62, was a veteran of the Count Basie Orchestra. Griffin had a high-profile gig with Thelonious Monk. Together, they were called “The Tough Tenors,” with bassist Buddy Catlett, drummer Art Taylor, and—especially—pianist Horace Parlan (whose childhood polio gave his pianistics an unorthodox bent).

Another giant duo, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, wrote “Blues Up And Down” and Griffin/Davis take it to the max. The Gillespie title cut “Ow!” will, indeed, make you dizzy. Billy Eckstine wrote “Second Balcony Jump” for his voice but these two “voices,” again, thrill it and chill it with verve, strength, bravery, and unending spirals of drama. Of course, they gotta do some Duke, so “Sophisticated Lady” gives everyone time to breathe. Lester “Prez” Young’s “Tickle Toe,” though, is the highlight.

This is some package! It comes complete with great reading and rare photos, one of which we were given permission to print here. 

At the Hop

The Precious Years: 34 Teen Dance Hits From The Bear Family Archive includes dreamy ballads, rockabilly, early pop, and novelties that used to be played in the late fifties and early sixties at sock hops, pajama parties, proms, and soda joints, when all was frivolous and fun, unburdened by sophistication or protest. It was a time of innocence with a terrific soundtrack: Connie Francis, Marty Robbins, Tommy Sands, the Burnette Brothers (who taught Elvis how to rock, but that’s another story), Paul Anka, Pat Boone, Ersel Hickey, Crash Craddock, The Crickets, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, and more. 

Soul Man

Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures (Ace Records) takes us on a journey through American R&B from 1964 to 1972 by the likes of Big Maybelle, Little Esther Phillips (whose “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” is the highlight of the whole set of 25 songs), The Emotions, Dee Dee Warwick, George Jackson, James Carr, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Chantels, ZZ Hill, and more. It’s a rare trip, as this set digs deeeeeep. During his all-too-short life, Godin put out five such volumes (this was his last) in his lifelong ambition to spread the message of what he always called “deep soul” to his native Great Britain and beyond. Carolyn Sullivan’s “Dead” stands out as does Barbara Lynn’s “Until Then I’ll Suffer.” Godin loved soul with meaning, soul that made you think and, most vividly, soul whose lyrics cut to the quick leaving rivulets of blood on the tracks. 

The Tragic Tim Buckley

Singer-songwriter Tim Buckley always took chances. He drove too fast. He drank too much. He popped pills. He shot heroin. He took chances in his music, too. Live At The Electric Theater Co. Chicago 1968 (Manifesto Records) has him experimenting onstage with his particular brand of mysterious folk-jazz-pop. The difference between him and the son he never knew, Jeff Buckley, is that it seemed to come easy for the son, while the father was always trying and striving for more and more to the point of excess. Maybe the son had more talent than the father. Jeff’s music always seemed so beautifully effortless. Listening to Tim is, although engaging, not a very easy listen.

Recorded in-between his second and third albums, this remarkable 14-song document has him seemingly teetering on the edge of sanity. It’s his voice and guitar augmented by an uncredited bassist and CC Collins on congas. It’s loose. It’s mostly improvised. He’s figuring out what works on songs that would ultimately appear on 1969’s Happy Sad and does nothing from the album that made him a star, 1967’s Goodbye And Hello, nor his brilliant 1966 self-titled debut. He’s reaching.  He takes his cues from the ghosts of old bluesmen who sang about the devil. He seems pained… haunted… tortured even, as if a hellhound was on his trail. And yes, it’s fascinating. He was 21. Seven years later, he’d be dead at 28 from the white powder. (His son made it to 30 before accidently drowning.)

God In 3 Persons

Those crazy art-rockers The Residents are back, this time in collaboration with video artist John Sanborn to perform their 1988 God In 3 Persons album at New York City’s famed Museum Of Modern Art January 24 and 25. Three performances with 11 performers will have a musical septet augmented by video wherein the masked lead singer, known as Mr. X, recounts the twisted tale of a disgraced evangelist and his encounter with ambiguously gendered conjoined twins, portrayed on film by porn star Jiz Lee, whose character may or may not have the power of regenerative healing. Forty years on, The Residents have recorded 60+ albums and 10 DVDs, still preferring to remain totally anonymous. On stage, they wear eyeball helmets, top hats, and tails. Genre-wise, they’re all over the map, dabbling in trance, world beat, fusion, exotica, electronica, punk, industrial, and cabaret. A 2015 documentary film, The Theory Of Obscurity, just deepened their mystery.  

More Than A Bluesman

His name is Theodore Joseph Horowitz, a native New Yorker, also known as Popa Chubby, Don Chubblione, The Master Of Disaster and The Beast From The East, 300 pounds of trouble who plays guitar as if his life depends upon it. And maybe it does. He survived gun play and the needle in the mean streets of Brooklyn. Music saved him. His talent saved him. It’s been 30 years on the right side of the law. His set at The Sellersville Theatre in Pennsylvania had him leading his oh-so-tight bass-drums-keyboards band in not only the blues—which is his forte—but everywhere in-between. When he takes off on his various instrumental joyrides, he ventures into surf rock like Dick Dale plus fusion and you could swear that vestiges of Link Wray and Duane Eddy peek out from behind the obvious Johnny Winter/Stevie Ray influence, especially when he rides the two lowest guitar strings. He produces other artists, he sings up a storm, and he’s a rabble-rousing host, a great live act, a born entertainer who never once rose from his chair. His new self-release, It’s A Mighty Hard Road, doesn’t come out until March, but he did preview some of the tracks live, like “Kiss” by Prince. He ended the night with an almost heavy metal version of Leonard Cohen’s oft-covered “Hallelujah” that he introduced by saying it was “the most beautiful song in the world.”