Toots Lorraine is the Streisand Of The Blues. Her self-released "Make It Easy" features her elegant soaring vocals on material by Big Mama Thornton, Howlin' Wolf and Big Joe Turner as well as a slew of originals by her and her guitarist/co-producer husband Chad Dent. The band is called Toots Lorraine & The Traffic and there should be plenty of traffic on her website once this thing gets popular. From West Coast Jump Blues and Swing to Chicago-Styled Urban Blues and Soul, she heaves and moans with style and class. Backed by keyboards, bass, drums, harmonica and guitar, "Make It Easy" is a party. Let's have some horns next time!
Eberhard Weber, 75, has been hobbled since his stroke but he's as creative as ever. His "Encore" (ECM) is stunningly gorgeous. The premise is equally fascinating, for it is here where he takes the solos that he performed as bassist with Jan Garbarek from 1990 to 2007, edits them, rearranges them, and modifies them with digital delays, tape loops, his own keyboards and the flugelhorn of Ack van Rooyen. Suffice it to say, they come out completely different. Haunting...spellbinding...mysterious...this is music to ponder on a rainy day. It will creep into your soul. And it may be the last you ever hear of this great musician from Germany.
Smart. Real smart. Vocalist Thana Alexa is more than just beautiful and talented. "Ode To Heroes" (Harmonia Mundi/Jazz Village) is her debut and where else to start what should be a long and successful career but by a tip of the hat to those who inspired her. Thus, her original compositions are stirring reminders of the people in her life, and her covers? Well, how about rearranging Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," calling it "Trace Back Your Footprints" and adding lyrics? Thus, you can now add balls to her list of attributes. She takes the "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" of Charles Mingus, adds lyrics to it and it comes out as "The Wanderer." Then there's her reworking of the best-selling jazz hit single of all-time, "Take Five," by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. It's all a seamless, circuitous journey. Alexa, born in New York and raised in Croatia, can take tragedy--in this case, the death of her brother in 2010 on a motorcycle--and turn it into art ("Ghost Hawk"). Her own "In A Mode" was influenced by another hero of hero of hers, Herbie Hancock. Expect big things in the future from this gorgeous talent.
"Ciao Bella! Italian Girl Singers Of The '60s" (Ace) has 24 tracks of groovy, oftentimes psychedelic popmusik from the country that brought us Pucci, Fellini and Morricone. "Questa Sinfonia" by Carmen Villani is "Satisfaction" with oboes. Rita Pavone spits out "Il Geghege" like a punk precursor. The classic blues "Baby Please Don't Go" is absurdly transmogrified like a zombie into "Sono Qui Con Voi" by Caterina Caselli with Gli Amici. There's plenty of soundtrack-type oddities and sexy atmospheric balladry. In fact, I dare say, that the kitsch factor here makes these esoteric rarities sound absolutely more delightful in 2015 than when they were originally released. Back then, I bet they were trying to be semi-serious. Now, with the passage of time, they're like candy, sweet and disposable, but something you'll find yourself returning to time and time again.
My Man! I have loved this guy for years as he has played that big long sliding thing (as Dinah Washington calls it) on many--and I mean many!--of my all-time favorite jazz albums including "Caravanserai" by Santana in 1972, Woody Shaw's "Rosewood" in 1977, Terence Blanchard's "Jazz In Film" in 1999 and others by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Dizzy Gillespie, Horace Silver and Archie Shepp (just to name a few out of hundreds of albums he's been on, maybe thousands). As a leader, he's wildly conceptualized a stunning series of recorded adventures, not the least of which where he's playing conch shells, yeah man, that's right, sea shells you can pick up off the beach. This dude can make beautiful music with them. Just ask Paul Simon.
On "Spiritman" (Smoke Sessions), he plays his trombone as if it's going out of style. Swinging, bluesing, bopping and strolling, his balladry, his furor, and his almighty sense of rhythmic dexterity and soulful entertainment chops all coalesce into a righteous 10-track manifesto of pure and unadulterated artistry. Add sax, piano, bass, drums and congas and you've got a tour-de-force of his magnetic musical personality, be it on new originals or standards that he brings to life. The cat can do no wrong in my book!