Sunday, February 08, 2015
Austrian organist Raphael Wressnig is a loyal student of the New Orleans sound. This album is the culmination of all his study sessions, aided by some of the best practitioners on the Gulf Coast. The problem? Too many guests. Wressnig becomes more of a curator than a bandleader, showcasing the songwriting, vocal and instrumental skills of great New Orleans talent on six out of nine tunes. Still, it all adds up to an engaging compilation of soul-jazz and adult contemporary pop.
Walter "Wolfman" Washington offers the strongest cameo with his tune "I Want To Know." The weary slow-jam features a classic horn riff and a guitar solo from Washington that is a master class in economy and soul. The frenetic instrumental "Mustard Greens<" one of four Wressnig originals, features searing solos from both the leader and guitarist Alex Schultz. Wressnig's nods to Young-Holt Unlimited and Stevie Wonder exemplify his more populist approach and pianist Jon Cleary's inoffensive tune "Sometimes I Wonder" comes across as a little more yacht rock than Frankie Ford's "Sea Cruise." Wressnig has a great memento from his time in New Orleans. But after listening to this album, it is still rather difficult to define Wressnig's own goals.
Raphael Wressnig @ DownBeat
In the Wee Small Hours
Wild Bill Moore, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet - these are just a few of the honkers that saxophonist Sax Gordon Beadle pays tribute to on this organ trio outing recorded at the foot of the Alps in Bruino, Italy. Beadle honed his intricately manicured chops on the American blues circuit, picking up no shortage of flash, fire and fist pumps. By comparison, this recording is a modest swing through some worn-out standards, keeping the pyrotechnics to a minimum and the melody to the fore.
The album opens with "The Glory of Love," a tune that has lived a thousand lives from Benny Goodman to Otis Redding. Beadle starts reserved but gradually builds with help from the rest of the trio into a bombastic swinger. The Sinatra weeper that serves as the title track slows way down with drummer Alessandro Minetto gingerly working his brushes, while "Whatever Lola Wants" features organist Alberto Marsico in full snake-charmer mode, combining his drawbars for an old-school sound. "Big Top Blues," Beadle's writing contribution, is an uptempo workout that gives Minetto a few moments to skitter across his snare in the spotlight. This album could've benefitted a lot more from Beadle's stage craft. His fat notes ring with a true r&b education, but they never surpass the spirits he is trying to invoke.
Sax Gordon @ DownBeat
The Melody Lingers On
At the age of 80, Houston Person has almost as many records under his own name as years on earth. The prolific tenor saxophonist rattled off this newest release in a single day last summer. His mission on this release is to deliver the melody of 10 tunes of varying levels of recognition with respect and charm. Person never fails on those fronts. He hums through chestnuts like "My Funny Valentine" and "They All Laughed" with the assuredness of a man who knows the tunes inside and out. His solos are graceful and in constant homage to the melody. Person is joined by a quartet of tasteful veterans that could perform these mostly medium-tempo tunes in their sleep. Vibraphonist Steve Nelson provides a warm pad for Person to float on, while pianist Lafayette Harris supplies tasteful soul and bossa grooves. Lewis Nash's cymbals ring with a bottomless shimmer, their vibrancy and tone sustained from beginning to end.
Houston Person @ DownBeat
Send This Sound To The King
It is rare to encounter a vocal part that inspires a double-take. But Outhead has managed to elicit some on its new album - through a whole bunch of sexual euphemisms. Of course, prurience is in the ear of the beholder, but it might be good to skip a few tracks if the listener looks like anything like the toddler on the cover.
Alto/tenor saxophonist Alex Weiss leads this tight quartet. Bellowing below him is baritone saxophonist Charlie Gurke. While the twin saxophone ensemble is the focus of this album, it is the guests who make it meaty, exotic and even a little bit dirty. An uncredited appearance by guitarist Peter Galub heaps a pile of grungy goodness onto "The Chairman." Bassist Rob Woodcock drops a lumbering bass line over drummer Dillon Westrbook's restrained kit while the saxophones help to turn the tune into an instrumental that would be a good fit for 1980s Tom Waits. The band reclines nicely into its troubadour-punk vibes but also digs into straight, wailing swing. "Trotsky" and "Glass Houses and Gift Horses" are both churning, freewheeling explorations. Gurke wrote the former while Weiss penned the latter. Their similar sensibilities are on constant display as the two interact seamlessly and with deep understanding. The record loses its PG rating with some guest vocal spots. "A Made Truth," written by Westbrook, discourages the listener from any absentminded listening. Vocalist Sarah Horacek matter-of-factly strolls through Westbrook's poem of "throbbing" and "pumping" that ostensibly has to do with a well. When vocalist Eunjin Park returns at the end of the tune with the same poem in accented English, things get a little more confusing. Despite all the "engorged" lyrics, maybe the really are just talking about a well?
Outhead @ DownBeat
"Magnificent, wonderful, sometimes tragic" is how Wil Blades is described by his 8-year-old daughter in the opening seconds of this recording. While this is a satisfying organ trio album, it is neither the first nor the last of those things. But it is occasionally wonderful. Blades mans the Hammond B-3 and is joined by guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Simon Lott for a set of tunes mostly composed on the road but away from the spotlights. Blades sticks to the party groove and serves it nicely, blending a '70s-era Book T & the MGs sound with the occasional spidery out-funk from Parker's guitar. He is not a showy organist. He stays in the pocket and propels the group with healthy doses of stability. Blades affixed a clavinet to the top of his behemoth to complete the '70s vibe for the closing intergalactic swagger of "(I Can't Stand) The Whole Lott of You," while Parker digs into the effects board for his feature number "Parks N' Wreck." "Dewey" revisits the clavinet with a scuzzy waddle, embracing a disjointed groove that appears to be in no rush whatsoever, while the following tune, "Addis," pops with a transferable urgency that works its way around the band. The closer and lone cover on the album is the Big Bill Broonzy honky tonk standard "I Only Get the Blues When It Rains," an unusual choice that gives Parker an airy space to solo before Blades steps in with a hokey drawbar setting. Each tune is a bite-sized chunk of funk, a good soundtrack to an afternoon in the backyard. The trio hangs almost exclusively with tradition, only veering from the road when the adventurous Parker rips a hard left turn.
Wil Blades @ DownBeat
The most star-studded month in Los Angeles is without a doubt February. Between the Grammys and the Oscars, entertainment industry parties pop up in nearly any room that can accommodate a stage and a bar. On Feb. 4, Capitol Records’ famed Studio A served as the setting for an intimate performance by the Robert Glasper Experiment to celebrate their Grammy nominations (Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Jesus Children” and Best R&B Album for Black Radio 2) and to announce Blue Note Records’ new partnership with Sonos, manufacturers of wireless high-fidelity sound systems.
Because Blue Note has been producing sounds for 75 years, it only makes sense that they would move into the realm of merchandise and machinery. The Sonos Blue Note Play:1 is the result. The limited-edition speaker is equipped with access to numerous Blue Note-approved playlists that have the potential to be updated and diversified. Wireless speakers have become a tremendous market in recent years with most of them attempting to blend in with other stereo equipment. This tasteful deviation from those norms gives the Sonos device a distinct charm; plus, it has enough wattage to fill a living room.
It would take quite a few Bluetooth speakers to fill the Captiol Records Building. The cylindrical tower has been an instantly recognizable fixture of the Hollywood skyline since it was built in 1956. It was even more striking on Feb. 4 because it was bathed in blue. Multiple shades of blue lit up the building to honor Blue Note Records’ legacy from 1939 to present day.
The Robert Glasper Experiment is one of the highest-profile acts of the current Blue Note Records roster. They played for over an hour on a small, low stage to a crowd that was equally divided between rapt attention and networking chatter. Naturally, the sound in the room was commanding. Electric bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Colenburg took full advantage of the floor-rattling potential with an unyielding barrage of machine-gun funk. A crisp telepathy can pass through the quartet, capable of stretching out into the ether or stopping on a dime.
Glasper spent the night seated at a bank of keyboards, conjuring synth pads with his left hand and lithe soulful lines with his right on a Fender Rhodes. But it was saxophonist/keytarist Casey Benjamin who could have easily been mistaken for the leader. Between his vibrant reddish pink top-knot and unflinching grin, Benjamin attracted a lot of the attention. His ferocious horn and intergalactic vocoder-driven come-ons were just as memorable as his sense of style.
A few guests managed to attract more of the crowd’s attention. Vocalist Lalah Hathaway performed a simmering rendition of “Jesus Children” wherein bassist and actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner stepped up to contribute a somber spoken-word section addressing the Sandy Hook massacre. But the artist who prompted the most camera phones to be pointed toward the stage was rapper Q-Tip.
Dressed in black leather pants, a leather jacket, red sweatshirt and sunglasses, he worked hard at pumping up the small but enthusiastic crowd. At one point he brought up a young woman to serenade her with his A Tribe Called Quest hip-hop classic “Bonita Applebaum.” She was coy, awkward and charming.
Throughout Q-Tip’s short set, Glasper and company maintained a forceful pace, proving again a mastery of their unique blend of influences—jazz begets r&b begets soul begets hip-hop. The result is a distinctly here-and-now mash-up that always grooves and often impresses.