Seven new CDs showcase Blues, Jazz, early Rock ‘n’ Roll and intelligent Pop

Blue Dream by The Jaime Saft Quartet (RareNoise Records) is a stone gem! Pianist/Composer Saft—with tenor sax man Bill McHenry, bassist Bradley Christopher Jones and, especially, star-in-the-making drummer Nasheet Waits—has taken from the past to inject a shot of the unknown and to juxtapose tried’n’true musical values with pioneering complexity. These originals positively drip with mystery to give the whole shebang a serious gloss that accentuates the drama. It’s not only in the interplay–master musicians all–but in the harmonic and melodic inventions thereof. Plus, the heightened tension resides oh-so-subtly in what each cat does while the other one solos. The original highlight has to be “Mysterious Arrangements,” which is just that. The interpretations, though, stand out. Sinatra would roll over in his grave if he heard his 1954 “Violets for Your Furs” done with such alternative flair. Ditto for Rudy Vallee as Saft and his merry men totally reinvent his 1928 hit “Sweet Lorraine.” One-hit wonder Alice Faye had a big hit in 1937 with “There’s A Lull In My Life.” Here, it’s avant-garde yet accessible. Saft has found that sweet spot between brilliant craziness and sweetly refined jazz. (Musicology must be his minor as he’s picked such discreet nuggets to interpret.) It all amounts to a thrill-ride of carnivalesque proportions, rare noise, indeed.

This Arizona/New York City/Italy uber-talent—fresh off the road with Beyonce and Jay-Z—got her influence tributes out of the way on her 2016 Hero debut. Now her own compositions come to the fore on the brilliantly executed Meridian (AdiTone Music). Adison Evans does, indeed, cover 1953 Miles Davis (“Serpent’s Tooth”, rearranging it masterfully). The only other cover is Henry Mancini’s 1967 “Two For The Road” done with a roots-reverence. Her seven originals, though, are the highlights, buoyed by her own baritone sax, bass clarinet and flute. She leads her octet like a pro but they all don’t play on every track which gives the CD numerous different feels depending upon the configuration. With tenor sax, trumpet, flugelhorn, piano, bass, drums, percussion and clarinet to jam off of, she’s in her element: even on the ultra-sophisticated “Prelude and Fugue in D Minor/The Plunge,” a classical gas if there ever was one.

You can add Erroll Garner’s Night Concert (Mack Avenue Records/Octave Music) to the late piano legend’s growing list of must-have CDs. This 1964 midnight ramble in Holland contains eight never-before-heard interpretations of Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins and Harold Arlen as well as a newly-discovered original. Bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin flesh out the trio with magnetic consistency despite the mercurial Garner not telling them what to expect. His total unpredictability and spontaneity ruled the roost. No rehearsals. Every piece begins with his solo extrapolations of pure impressionism before melting into the melody of the song. By the time the smoke clears, you hear bebop, swing, stride, barrelhouse and avant-garde. For a guy once deemed too populist by the jazz snobs of his day, he proves himself superior in every way.

Mick Jagger wrote 53 years ago that it’s “The Singer Not The Song.” Maybe in his case it is. But in the case of Magical Kite, a nine-song gem, it’s the song, to which the singer, Christine Hitt, is but the vehicle, in service to a panoply of well-chosen compositions. She wraps her expressive, sultry vocals around words and music by Stevie Wonder (“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”), James Taylor (“Shower The People”) and Dan Fogelberg (“Believe In Me”), making each come alive anew with jazzy clarity. Plus, she reinvents Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 instrumental “Smile” (lyrics were added 18 years later) and even the 1908 chestnut “Shine On Harvest Moon” (the best version since Leon Redbone’s in 1977). Is there nothing this Wisconsin beauty can’t tackle?

I almost threw this one in the get-rid-of pile because I thought it was the latest boy-band. Of course, they very well may be but these good-looking boys don’t sing. They, in fact, are amazingly talented musicians who produced, released, wrote and performed the mysterious sounds on From TimeMND FLO (pronounced mindflow) coalesces their Hungarian, Trinidadian, Indian and French-Canadian backgrounds into one American melting pot of progressive instrumental music. Simon Moullier’s vibraphone, synthesizer and percussion fits right in with what was once an existing Boston/Berklee College trio of “Sound Designer” Alex Toth’s electric and acoustic bass, guitar, Fender Rhodes, piano, synthesizer and voice. Add Sharik Hasan’s piano and Anthony Toth’s drums, percussion, trumpet and voice, and you have a heady mixture of no discernable genre. Electronica Jazz might be an apt description but to categorize this mélange of sophisticated, surprising, syncopated sound is to not do it justice. Its eight tracks are a journey that achieves its state of “FLO” right quick and keeps the listener fully entertained and satisfied to the very last drop.

We certainly do not have Big Maybelle [1924-1972] and Big Mama Thornton [1926-1984] around anymore but we do, indeed, have the righteous blues-buster Trudy Lynn continuing to rattle our cage. On Blues Keep Knockin’ (Connor Ray Music), her 13th album, you can hear the phlegm curdle in her mouth. Produced by Rock “Papa” Romano with a trebly attention-to-detail without sacrificing one iota of bass, plus getting every loving inch of Lynn’s heaving, palpitating emotion atop the mix (“can’t nobody call him `Papa’ but me,” she says of her producer), the 10 tracks—with harmonica master Steve Krase leading an octet with horns—are ballsy in-your-face examples of down’n’dirty blues. Hoyt Axton’s 1971 “Never Been To Spain” has more to do with Elvis than it does Three Dog Night. Stick McGee’s 1950 “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” is a real hoot as are covers of Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Big Bill Broonzy and Jimmy Rogers. Her sole original is the title track and it serves as her manifesto. Long may she wail.

You’ve never heard of most of the 25 various artists on Rattle Shakin’ Mama: Catfight! Fight Like A Cat, Bop Like A Chicken (Atomicat Records), but that shouldn’t stop you from running right out and finding this pearl of ‘50s and ‘60s rock’n’roll if you like it raw. Sometimes it’s even too raw as recording techniques for regional artists like Don Willis (“Boppin’ High School Baby”) and Lonesome Drifter (“Eager Boy”) were not exactly fine-tuned for the best of clarity. Still, these two- and three-minute explosions capture the essence of a burgeoning teenaged culture that will never die.
Before Conway Twitty became a country superstar, he was swept along with the Elvis tide…and he did his hiccupping rockabilly good on “I Need Your Loving,” so good, in fact, you’d think he was going to swallow his tongue. Add Bobby Marchan, The Five Keys, Del Vikings, Amos Milburn and, most impressively, Buck Trail’s “Honky Tonk On Second Street” and you can bop ’til you drop.

About Mike Greenblatt

A longtime music journalist, Mike Greenblatt is a contributing editor with Goldmine magazine.

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