Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N Roll

Rescued From The Dust Bin Of Time

Before Johnny O’Keefe was poisoned by barbiturates in ’78, he was Australia’s biggest rock star with 50+ singles and 100+ albums. He opens Stroll-A-Rama: Jump and Bump (Atomicat Records) with “Rock Time,” setting the scene for 30 more delicious pre-1963 nuggets, followed by a rare 1960 Drifters track (“Honky Tonk”).  Al Bruno came out of Canada with guns blazing for “Midnight Creep.” Trini Lopez replaced Buddy Holly in The Crickets. His melodic “It Hurts To Be In Love” is the prettiest thing here. (He would go on to enjoy major success in the folk-music boom that hit American college campuses in the 1960s.) “Ain’t Got No Home” was first a hit for its author, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, in 1956 and spectacularly revived by The Band in 1973. Much less known, though, is the version here by The Starrs (with Ike Turner on guitar). The Wanderers sang on Harlem street corners before their “A Little Too Long” hit big. “You’ve Got Me Worried,” by Jimmy Kriss, is rockabilly. Jo Ann Henderson came out of Florida as a beautiful blonde blue-eyed cheerleader singing “Baby Please Don’t Go” and rivaling competing versions by Billy Lee Riley in Memphis and Muddy Waters in Chicago. On and on it goes with this wonderful trip back in time.      

Six Decades In, Still Going Strong

He may be looking 80 straight in the eye, but Sergio Mendes is still making joyous music. From his 1961 Dance Moderno debut which helped spearhead the American bossa-nova craze to his new In The Key Of Joy (Concord Records), the multi-talented producer, composer, keyboardist, arranger, band-leader and vocalist from Rio de Janeiro Brazil with six Grammys and an Oscar refuses to look back.

His has always been a collaborative art. From the samba he spearheaded with Antonio Carlos Jobim, and the Latin Pop of his breakthrough (Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66) which contained the first-ever stateside pop hit in Portuguese (“Mas Que Nada”) to his forays with Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Mann, Black Eyed Peas, will.i.am and John Legend, Mendes has been audacious in his progressive tendencies.

It’s been six years since his last album, the delicious Magic. In the interim, documentary filmmaker John Scheinfeld (who made two of the best music docs ever in Chasin’ Trane and Who Is Harry Nilsson And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him) made Mendes the subject of his new movie. The album and the movie share a title and features Sergio’s classic melding of folkloric Brazilian pop, samba, jazz and hip-hop (courtesy of rapper/actor Common). The 13 originals by him and his collaborators—Hermeto Pascual, Joe Pizzulo, Cali y El Dandee, Buddy, Sugar Joans, Joao Donato, Shelea and Gracinha Leporace (his longtime vocalist wife)—do, indeed, induce an inherent joyousness. 

Power Nonet

The Jason Lee McKinney Band’s eighth album, Pieces (Bonfire Music Group) is a free-for-all of Southern Rock, Roots-Rock, Jam Band Funk and Gospel Harmony. Professor McKinney (who holds a Doctorate, an MBA and an BA in Management) sings like the bar-busting road dog he is and leads an augmented trio plus six on a 10-song rampage, produced by Kevin Houston (Robert Plant/Buddy Guy) and recorded at the famous Zebra Ranch studio run by Jim Dickinson of The North Mississippi Allstars. It’s a total groove all the way through. 

A Drummer’s Drummer

There are drummers and then there are drummers. Canadian Ernesto Cervini is of the latter category. His quartet on Tetrahedron (Anzic Recods) with supremo saxophonist Luis Deniz, blazing guitarist Nir Felder and poppin’ electric bassist Rich Brown is only the latest reason why this cat is so cool. Cervini plays clarinet. He plays piano. In fact, he graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music on the strength of his talents on both instruments yet he gave ‘em both up for drums. He’s an avid reader. He wrote album highlight “Boo Radley” for a character in Harper Lee’s 1960 To Kill A Mockingbird novel. He has a trio, Myriad3, with producer Dan Fortin. He even drums for a Radiohead tribute band, Idioteque. And he lets his mates shine. You’d think that Tetrahedron is his Cuban alto sax man’s album. That’s how good Deniz is. Cervini knows when to play just behind his band, or push the sound further, or positively gush with multi-rhythmic ferocity. This was once a chordless trio. The addition of Felder on his Fender Stratocaster, though, has transcended Cervini’s format into the stratosphere. Post-Bop, anyone? They even have the temerity to open with “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” the Oscar Hammerstein II overly-roasted chestnut from a 1928 operetta and make it sound progressive.  

Dance Knows No Gender

Whitney Shay wants you to Stand Up! (Ruf Records). This San Diego chanteuse has made the kind of album that you simply cannot sit down for. She’s even got New Orleans star Marcia Ball on album highlight “Boy Sit Down.” The 12 tracks share the theme of female empowerment, but dance knows no gender. She’s written a funky batch of songs and sings ‘em as if her life depends upon it. She’ll be singing her new songs as well as those from her 2012 Soul Tonic debut and 2018’s A Woman Rules The World on the 2020 Blues Caravan Showcase. I just hope it comes here locally as she is red hot! 

World Class Trio

Life Goes On (ECM Records) is the third of a series of albums by the extraordinary pianist-composer Carla Bley with her world-class trio of tenor and soprano saxophonist Andy Sheppard and bassist Steve Swallow.  She writes the kind of evocative compositions that may be on the avant-garde side of progressive jazz but that are memorable and melodic. “We’ve learned to breathe together when we play,” she writes, adding, “it’s music stripped down to its basic elements.” Comprised of three suites, Life Goes On was fine-tuned on stages all over the world prior to its recording in Lugano, Switzerland with producer Manfred Eicher. From the blues to tango, from swing to post-bop, from ambient to classical, Bley’s jazz vision is idiosyncratic, personal, highly stylized and amazingly enough, instantly accessible.