Rant ‘N’ Roll: Blues, Jazz, & a Book

Although he’s long left Texas in his rear-view mirror, Willie J Laws Jr. has always been known as the “Prophet of the Funky Texas Blues,” maybe because he continues to stuff his guitar-gunslinger blues ‘n’ boogie with R&B and funk. Dude just has Too Much Blues (Pilot Light Records), so he likes to romp and stomp fit to beat the band. After completing three tours of Russia as an American ambassador, invited by the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, and extended residencies at Margaritaville in New Orleans and House Of Blues in Vegas, he recorded this gem wherein he covers The Isley Brothers (“Who’s That Lady”) and writes such pull-trigger originals as “Getcha Knee Off My Neck” and “You Don’t Love Me (You Love What I Do.)” 

Could Music For The River Jazz Suite: The Spirit Of Love River and Mississippi River (Truth Revolution Recording Collective), by Vincent Hsu & The Jazz Supreme Orchestra, be the fusion album of the year? A thoughtful, contemplative yearning with tributaries tapering off into a maelstrom of string, horns, and Latin percussion permeates this ensemble’s circuitous journey. Two rivers: the mighty Mississippi and the Love River of bassist-composer-producer Vincent Hsu’s hometown of Koahsiung, Taiwan, are the twin poles of his geographical existence. The melding of these two great bodies of water form the backbone of this project that was 15 years in the making and is performed by 10 Taiwanese musicians and one each from Argentina and Germany… yet it’s Afro-Cuban. Go figure.  

Art Blakey – from 1947 until the 1970s – mentored many a jazz star in their formative years. Then jazz-rock fusion helped to doom his Jazz Messengers school of hard bop. Every bebopper since has emulated Blakey. Now enter the 2023 Firetet debut of Chicago trumpeter-flugelhornist-composer-educator Constantine Alexander whose seven originals dredge up Blakey’s ghost. Epic 12-minute and 53-second closer “Deez” creatively quotes John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” within its changes. Between a fiery Latin, a 3/4 waltz, and a ballad that’s so slow it seems time itself is suspended, Alexander and his quintet magnificently cover all the bases. 

Chris Strachwitz  started his one-man operation, Arhoolie Records, in 1960. Four decades later, he had released over 400 albums of blues, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, hillbilly, Tex-Mex  and folk, a veritable who’s-who of Americana… and he brought his camera! Joel Selvin is the astute San Francisco music critic who has written such definitive books as Hollywood Eden: Electric Guitars, Fast Cars, and the Myth of the California ParadiseAltamont: the Rolling Stones, the Hell’s Angels, and the inside story of Rock’s Darkest DayHere Comes The Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues; and Fare Thee Well: The Final Chapter of the Grateful Dead’s Long Strange Trip. Selvin and Strachwitz – who died earlier this year at 91 – collaborated on this beautiful extra-large coffee-table book that blues fans will go gaga over. Down Home Music is a treasure trove of stories and pictures of such legends as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Big Mama Thornton, Clifton Chenier, Flaco Jimenez, Mance Lipscomb, Big Joe Williams, and the long-ago far-away regional artists who plied their craft on street corners and back porches for decades.