Craig Hartley’s self-released “Books On Tape Volume #2: Standard Edition” is the pianist’s follow-up to "Books On Tape Volume #1" but it’s way more fun because while the former was all-original, the latter is filled with interpretations and mash-ups that will ignite the pleasure sensors of your brain. Imagine John Lennon’s “Imagine” with the “Peace Piece” of Bill Evans (“Imagine Peace Piece”). Imagine Johann Sebastian Bach’s 1722 “Prelude #2 in C Minor” with the “Solar” of Miles Davis (“Sinclair”). With Carlo De Rosa on bass and Bean Clemons on drums, Hartley barrelhouses through Paul McCartney’s “Junk,” two slices of divine Ellingtonia (“Caravan” and “Mood Indigo”), Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” (talk about fun!) and just one original, “Just Wait,” without his mates.
Forget Ringo. “John, Paul, George and Django” (Hot Club Records) by The Hot Club of San Francisco (left) is the latest way to dig The Beatles. I can’t get it out of my CD Player! America’s longest-running Gypsy Swing band is on its 14th and best album. “If I Needed Someone” turns into a Gallic torch song complete with a nod to “Within You Without You” in the guitar solo of Paul Mehling. The first George song to appear on a Beatle album (1963’s "With The Beatles") was “Don’t Bother Me” and here it’s a reggae. “You Can’t Do That” is my fave. Picture the moptops in the French Quarter of New Orleans. And “Because” ain’t no ballad! When the pioneering three-fingered Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt [1910-1953] teamed up with violinist Stephane Grappelli [1908-1997] in the Quintette du Hot Club de France, it forged a new jazz sub-genre, Gypsy Jazz, that is still being kept alive today by HCSF and other such combos. The music is sprightly, energetic, dexterous and wholly entertaining. Add those melodies you so know and love and you’ve got a CD that will be stuck inside your player as if Crazy Glue’d there.
“1-800-WOLF!” by WOLF! (Royal Potato Family) will appeal to anyone who ever dug The Ventures, Dick Dale, Johnny & The Hurricanes, Link Wray or Duane Eddy. Guitarist Scott Metzger, bassist Jon Shaw and drummer Taylor Floreth ROCK bigtime with no vocals. These Brooklyn boys don’t go in for solos (the exception is “Denim Love Affair” but it’s totally unobtrusive.) Their thing is ensemble playing, tight, together, funky, with lots of chunky chording fit to satisfy the soul. Metzger has played in bands with the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh as well as Moby. What else do you need to know?
“Expanding Heart” by the Jarrett Cherner Trio (Baldhill Records) has the Brooklyn piano player/composer/band leader leading two drum’n’bass rhythm sections (depending on the track). Their jazz take on Otis Redding’s “I Got The Will” is alone worth the price of admission but the two Ornette Coleman covers show not only creativity but bravery in attempting the late avant-garde saxophonist’s “What Reason Could I Give” and “Turnaround” with just piano/bass/drums. Most of the material is original and after albums in ’06, ’13 and ’14, Cherner’s got not only the chops, but the imagination to impress. Highly recommended.
Elvis Presley was one of the hottest artists last year and if the 1.5 million sales of 2015’s “If I Can Dream” are any indication, this year will be another banner year for the dead king. Long live The King! He would have loved this one. “The Wonder Of You: Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra” (Legacy Recordings) was recorded in England at Abbey Road. What’s cool is that the songs are not what you’d think. Sure, obvious choices like “Let It Be Me,” “Don’t,” “Love Letters,” “Amazing Grace,” “Memories” and “Always On My Mind” just beg for symphonic treatment. But the first single, “A Big Hunk O’ Love”? Nice! Then there’s the diddly-boppin’ “I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby.” And you ain’t heard “Suspicious Minds” until those Brits in that orch get ahold it. I’m lovin’ it! And, I’m not kidding, Elvis will be touring Great Britain this month (on screen) in support of this album, complete with that huge orchestra. Now THAT should be one Royal evening.