Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Red Hot + Rio 2 - LA Weekly

Don't Call it a Comeback: Red Hot + Rio's Paul Heck - LA Weekly

Since the late 1980s the Red Hot Organization has released over a dozen music compilations to help raise funds for AIDS research with help from artists as varied as George Michael, Wu-Tang Clan, Nirvana and Alice Coltrane. This year the Organization will be releasing Red Hot + Rio 2 - a star-studded return to Brazilian shores focusing exclusively on the Tropicalia sounds of the late 1960s. The double disc collection features songs and appearances by most of the major players of that psychedelic revolt - Os Mutantes, Tom Ze, Caetano Veloso - as well as current marquee names like Beck, of Montreal, John Legend and Beirut. With over 30 songs the album took longer to compile than the movement actually lasted. Producer Paul Heck, who has been with the organization since he spearheaded their No Alternative release in 1993, sheds a little light on the project.
LA WEEKLY: How do you go about picking artists for these releases?

Paul Heck: Just people we love. People who are making great music now. Some of it comes indirectly thru suggestions from other artists or producers. There's so much excitement now about discovering new bands -- we didn't shy away from approaching artists who've barely released any music like Cults, Quadron, Superhuman Happiness. I think people have come to know and trust that they'll find out about new artists on Red Hot albums.

What has changed since the first Red Hot + Rio was released in 1997?

Brazil seems to be a bit more ascendant now as an interesting kind of world power, especially with the next World Cup and Olympics scheduled to be held there in 2014 and 2016. The whole music industry has obviously changed since 1997. RIO2 focuses on the songs of the Tropicalia era, instead of Jobim and Bossa Nova. The way artists make music now is more self-contained, so the whole recording process is opening to more tinkering and transforming, instead of just getting people together for a day or two in the studio. But great songs are great songs. That never changes. I think there are some really successful re-interpretations on RIO2. That always makes me happy to hear a song in a whole new way.

How familiar were you with Tropicalia before going into this project?

I've been a fan of the music and cultural movement for years. I read Caetano Veloso's great book Tropical Truth when it came out a few years ago. One of the best books ever written about music. Fellow producer Beco Dranoff grew up in Sao Paulo so music and the Tropicalia movement were huge parts of his life. He is always an incredible source of information that you might not get from books or records

How do you decide on the sequencing?

John Carlin of Red Hot kind of obsesses over that the most, listening to the tracks for months leading up to release. Beco and myself, we kind of kick it around and tell him what we like and don't like until it feels right. I don't like to over-listen to the songs until most of them have been submitted.

What's the next project for Red Hot?

Many new projects are in development including a new album that will focus on the music of Fela Kuti -- a kind of follow up to Red Hot + RIOT. But don't call it a sequel.

Red Hot + Rio 2 @ LA Weekly

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dr John - LA Weekly

Dr John, God Among New Orleans Piano Gods - LA Weekly

"Around the time I began sitting in on my aunties' jam sessions and hanging around in the clubs, I began to get hipped in a little more to reality: There were an awful lot of good piano players, and not nearly enough jobs to go around. How was I ever going to compete with killer players like Tuts Washington? Salvador Doucette? Herbert Santina? Professor Longhair himself? And the list only began there."
--Dr. John, Under a Hoodoo Moon

Of all the great musicians to come out of New Orleans it seems like a large number of them were piano players. Mac Rebennack--or Dr. John as he would be billed starting in the late 1960s--was destined to become part of that history. Although he had built a sturdy reputation as a teenage A&R man and guitarist, fate stepped in. On Christmas Eve 1961 Dr. John was involved in a fight between his bandmate Ronnie Barron and the owner of the Florida hotel they were staying in. As he recalls in his autobiography:

"I went to get the gun out of the guy's hand. We wrestled for it. I thought my left hand was over the handle, but I was actually grabbing the barrel. I beat the guy's hand against the bricks trying to get the gun away from him, and the gun went off. I looked down and saw the ring finger of my left hand, my fretting hand, hanging by a thread."

Now fifty years later--and stitched together and as good as ever--Dr. John and his piano will headline both nights of this weekend's Long Beach Bayou Festival. Let's explore some of his inspirations within.


The New Orleans piano tradition stretches back well over 100 years starting with Jelly Roll Morton, the flashy pimp and self-proclaimed "inventor of jazz," who set the bar pretty high for those who dared to follow. He had a good nickname, a great voice, a penchant for recreational drugs and a powerhouse left hand that could demolish any song he felt like playing. That template proved flawless.


Although they were northerners, pianists like Meade Lux Lewis and Fats Waller followed Morton's lead and turned the piano into a rollicking piece of furniture. Fats Domino and Professor Longhair emerged from mid-century New Orleans equipped with the ability to take the music even further. Domino, the hulking showman, got all the record sales but it is generally acknowledged by other musicians that the more influential pianist was Professor Longhair.

"Professor Longhair was the guardian angel of the roots of New Orleans music," wrote Dr. John. "He was a one-of-a-kind musician and man, and he defined a certain style of rhumba-boogie funk that was New Orleans R&B from the late 1940s all the way through to his death in 1980. All New Orleans pianists today owe Fess. He was the guru, godfather and spiritual root doctor of all that came under him."

Fess' spidery right hand and driving left could move at any pace. Each note sliding effortlessly into the next. In the above clip, with a little help from the Meters, Fess shows off his glistening fills and unmistakable yodel.


Dr. John's style falls somewhere in the middle of these piano gods. For the last thirty years, alongside Allen Toussaint, he has carried the torch for the Crescent City sound. His barrelhouse hands, ring finger or not, can play virtually anything you throw at him and his smoky growl is one of the most distinctive voices in popular music. In this clip, despite looking a little dope-sick and disoriented, Dr. John still manages to slay Ray Charles' hit "Mess Around."

"The hardest thing to do is let the spirituality flow and turn the meat on," advises Dr. John. "Doing that is creating art, radiating the 88s. When you do that, you've achieved something."

Dr John @ LA Weekly

Monday, June 20, 2011

Clarence Clemons Remembered - LA Weekly

"I've Seen the Future" Clarence Clemons' Career in Video - LA Weekly

There is a concert photograph from the early 1950s of saxophonist Big Jay McNeely lying flat on his back with a mouth full of wind, wailing at a crowd full of feral greasers. The all-white audience, with their eyes and fists both clenched, seem to be trying to capture rock and roll saxophone at its height, anticipating the impending arrival of the electric guitar in all its amplified glory. Within five years of that photograph the saxophone was relegated to the occasional eight bars and showmen like McNeely, Louis Jordan and Illinois Jacquet had to look for work elsewhere.

Nonetheless, tenor saxophonist Clarence Clemons--who passed away Saturday at the age of 69--was able to make a pretty good living out of his eight bar allotment, playing to the children of those clenched-fist fans for over forty years.

Clemons teamed up with Bruce Springsteen early in the formation of the E Street Band, contributing a fluttering saxophone line to "Blinded By the Light" on Springsteen's debut Greetings From Asbury Park. From there he was a regular fixture of the band, adding short, articulate blasts to tracks like "Rosalita" and "The E Street Shuffle" or honking solos on suburban epics "Born to Run" and "Badlands." Aside from his physical contribution to the band (his six and a half foot frame easily dwarfed all his underfed bandmates) Clemons could create the illusion of an entire horn section by blending his sax with the organ's oscillating chords. He lent credibility to the band both musically and racially, drawing a direct link to the 1950s rock sound that dominated Springsteen's first few records and added a diversity that was remarkably absent of most rock bands.

Clemons found solo success in 1985 with a vocal duet featuring Jackson Browne. (The inclusion of Browne's then-girlfriend Darryl Hannah on the song and in the video probably didn't hurt.)

That same year he paid homage to King Curtis by performing on Aretha Franklin's big hit "Freeway of Love."

Although Clemons never topped the commercial success he found in the 1980s he was in demand until his death, even appearing on Lady Gaga's Born This Way and in her video for "Edge of Glory."

Clemons' oversized tone and outrageous stage presence helped maintain a career that many assumed was no longer available to saxophonists. He stuck pretty close to tradition and made a nice fortune and great legacy out of it. Clemons was a sideman, frontman and most importantly the Big Man. He will be missed.

Clarence Clemons Remembered @ LA Weekly

Thursday, June 09, 2011

James Farm - NYC Jazz Record

James Farm - self-titled

James Farm, a jazz ‘supergroup’ saddled with an
unmemorable name but impeccable musicianship,
originally formed under the direction of Joshua
Redman for the 2009 Montreal Jazz Festival. The oneoff
quartet with pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt
Penman and omnipresent drummer Eric Harland has
ended up, two years later, capturing an impressive set
of originals - each a portrait of their creator. The selftitled
album is coated in a layer of studio wizardry that
only a slightly-above-average jazz budget can afford
but is, at its core, an acoustic recording that draws
from a diverse assortment of influences.

The album is bookended by two Penman
compositions. “Coax” is the propulsive opener,
anchored by prepared piano and a militaristic snare
drum that highlights Redman’s breathless flights over
controlled cacophony. With its spacious arrangement
and jangly percussion, closer “Low Fives” is a muchneeded
reprieve from the intensity found throughout
the record. Redman’s “Polliwog”, in all its pop-styled
splendor, rides out like an ‘80s radio hit featuring a
theremin-esque whistle from Penman. With a sullen
decay and modal melody Parks’ “Chronos” features a
series of rapid-fire solos from Redman and Harland.
“Star Crossed” finds Redman slow-roasting his tenor
while the rest of the trio couldn’t be more relaxed but
“I-10”, Harland’s contribution, does not so much
reflect driving down that transcontinental interstate as
it does running across it. The furious unison lines,
effects-laden drums and abrupt tape cuts will get
anyone’s heart racing. The following track, Parks’
“Unravel”, cools everybody off by giving Penman a
bossa beat and the spotlight.

Every member plays with an unrelenting urgency,
each note driven to the edge of sonic purity. Despite
the studio polish, the compositions, interplay and
production combine to make for a compelling album
that lives up to expectations. It will be interesting to
see where they take it from here.

James Farm @ New York City Jazz Record

Matthew Rybicki - NYC Jazz Record

Matthew Rybicki - Driven

Bassist Matthew Rybicki has been providing keen
support for some of the biggest names in New York
since the late ‘90s. Now, for the first time, Rybicki is
front and center, releasing a straightahead collection of
mostly originals under the determinedly-titled Driven,
presenting a well-rounded portrait of himself as
bassist, composer and soloist.

The album opens with the unsurprisingly sedate
“The Slow Stride”. Starting with a fluttering trumpet
run by Freddie Hendrix the song quickly settles into
that titular stride with a Messengers-esque melody
and plenty of swing. The next two tracks are midtempo
trio features with Rybicki making a coy Michael
Jackson reference to close out his busy solo on “Seventh
Sun” while he and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. trade
odd-numbered phrases on “A Mean Lean”.
“Lowcountry Boil” finds the band casually stretching
out with just Rybicki backing saxophonist Ron Blake
for a chorus before the whole band is back and
swinging hard. Pianist Gerald Clayton drops atonal
clumps amid his otherwise straightforward solo before
Rybicki takes his chance to solo in bite-sized phrases.

There are two self-penned ballads in the set, both
led by Hendrix’ misty flugelhorn. “Lisa’s Song”
weaves over gentle horn harmonies and subdued
drums. Most of the band contributes demure solos
before leaving as softly as they came in. “Someday I
May Be Far Away” is a little more vibrant with splashy
cymbals and a nicely constructed solo from Hendrix.

Of the 11 tracks on the album only two are non-originals.
The first, calypso standard “Yellow Bird”, is
led by Blake’s soprano saxophone, which leaps amid
the almost reggae/swing background while “Secret
Love”, the Doris Day hit, is drastically sped up with
the horn-less band flying through the melody to set up
a display of immaculate brush work by Owens.

It may have taken awhile for Rybicki to release his
first work as a leader but the results reap the benefits
of his patience. With the help of a great backing band
and a nimble pen, he has proven he is more than ready
for the spotlight.

Matthew Rybicki @ New York City Jazz Record

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Elliot Sharp - Undead Jazz Review

Undead Jazz Review - Issue #1

Downtown guitar guru Elliott Sharp has been displaying his mastery of the 6-string for decades. His style, which leaves no part of the fretboard safe from his incomparable wingspan, reaches into the deepest wells of the guitar, pulling out sounds and phrases previously unproduced. Leaping through a dozen genres in a single chord change, Sharp has the history of the instrument under his fingers. Here he presents his ideas through the framework of Thelonious Monk-a more spiritual than melodic homage - with ample space for interpretation.

Elliott Sharp @ Undead Jazz Review