Three new CD releases spotlight blues, jazz and samba

From an action-packed Seattle bar where guitarist Coco Montoya drives 'em wild to a supremely upscale New York City club where pianist Cyrus Chestnut draws oohs and ahhs to mellifluous samba fathoming the mind of the legendary Antonio Carlos Jobim, this blog's entries will have you panting for more. Hey, it ain't rock 'n' roll, but I like it!
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"Songs From The Road" (Ruf), by Coco Montoya, has the acclaimed guitar-slinger absolutely slaying the crowd at Seattle's Triple Door over the course of two hot summer nights in August of 2013.

The double-CD is the latest of Ruf's roadwork concept, pairing hot blues and roots bands with equally hot audiences clamoring for such. Producer Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan/George Thorogood) has put the finishing touches on this live document so well that you can smell it. With keyboards, bass and drums backing up his famous upside-down electric guitar, the 63-year old Californian, who paid his dues in the band of Albert Collins [1932-1993] in the '70s, only to fall from grace in the '80s, has never sounded better. Most of the material is from his '90s comeback after languishing as a bartender for far too long before John Mayall came a callin' to stir his creative juices. His solo career continued after a solid decade as a Bluesbreaker under the British legend's flag. "I don't know what I'd be doing now," Montoya says, "if I hadn't received that phone call from John Mayall." So, there's no stopping this world-class entertainer. Taken from studio albums in '95, '96, '97, '00 and '02, plus most of his 2010 "I Want It All Back" Ruf debut, Montoya serves up the soul, funk and blues like the master he is.

Coco Montoya

"Midnight Melodies" (Smoke Sessions) by the delightfully inventive Baltimore pianist Cyrus Chestnut is from another live concept: recordings from the Upper West Side's Smoke club in New York City, a delectably posh club where the sound system is king, and the tinkling of ice cubes in glasses provides a slightly-audible percussive effect during soft passages. Chestnut likes the club because, as he says, "you can sit down and get down-home because that's the kind of audience they attract." Plus, the venue's piano, a Steinway B, "is the best piano in the city," according to Chestnut. And, boy can he play! Whether covering Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove," Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge," Miles Davis' "The Theme" to originals and compositions by John Hicks (from whom he borrowed bassist Curtis Landy and drummer Victor Lewis), Chestnut, 51, (who, in 2007, recorded a whole album's worth of that great jazz composer Presley, entitled "Cyrus Plays Elvis"), is always percussive, syncopated and suave.


It's called "Marcel Camargo and the Brazil You Never Heard: Behind Jobim (Featuring Gretchen Parlato)," a long title for a short five-song CD ... but oh so delicious. Plus, it's the first in yet another series of recordings, studio renditions of Camargo's ongoing concerts. In looking "at the mind" of South America's greatest composer Antonio Carlos Jobim [1927-1994], Camargo takes traditional samba music, twists it, turns it and makes it meander like a salamander on a rock. Gretchen Parlato is the voice on three of five tracks. Camargo may be Michael Buble's go-to stage guy but that's only his day job. Here, he lets his imagination flourish with verve, nerve and steely resolve in tackling a historical narrative on how Jobim was influenced by such classical composers as Claude Debussy [1862-1918] and Frederic Chopin [1810-1849]. Camargo, raised in Sao Paulo on a steady Jobim diet, can play a fluid guitar, sing, compose, arrange and produce. On "Lamento," a 19th Century choro, he turns it inside-out with different harmony and rhythms that make this old-world standard bearer into something uniquely progressive and modern. Using a string quartet, horn section, harp and celeste (depending upon the track), this chamber orchestra feel permeates the proceedings with class and elan, thus perpetuating the axiom that Jobim's smoothness in no way makes for just easy listening. In the hands of someone like Camargo, it's positively challenging, yet still as laid-back and relaxing as sipping a strong Caipirinha on a nude Rio beach.

Marcel Camargo

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