Sunday, September 21, 2008

Heads Up for Shasha Marley

This past weekend I had the good fortune to perform with Shasha Marley, a reggae singer from Ghana. I lead a dub group of all Wesleyan students that mostly does living room parties but occasionally ventures out to bigger things like backing good singers (Dion Knibb and Toussaint Liberator for instance) and by way of several friends who had friends who somewhere along the way knew Shasha, we ended up being Shasha's band for a couple of weeks.

Everyone who knows anything about it tells me that Shasha Marley is a mega-star in Ghana. Apparently he's on cereal boxes he's so big. On TV 24-7. Nonetheless, he's one of the most beautiful, mellow and humble people I've ever had the pleasure to know. His music is great too, kind of like a blend of Steel Pulse and Burning Spear with a healthy dose of his own thing. We've got one more show coming up with him but I know he'll definitely be coming back.

Check out his Myspace Page for some tunes and more info.

The 5th Beatle (Not Eddie Murphy)

Billy Preston's biggest claim to fame was certainly his connection with the Beatles (he's one of only two outside musicians to get his name listed as a performer on their albums), but he's got a lot more to offer than that. Preston was playing with Mahalia Jackson when he was ten, and his skills at the organ prove it.

This post is actually a guest post sent my way by my dear friend EP over at Between Sun and Sea (we actually know each other in the physical realm too!). EP's a composer of some very strange and beautiful music (and he makes a mean mix), but he works in the film industry to pay the bills. He came across this great Preston recording while looking for soundtrack music to use in a film on which he was working. Hymns Speak from the Organ is Preston basically puttin' the church on tape; it's about as sanctified as soul can get.

Hope you dig it! Link in Comments.

Queen Bee(3)

Many gender focused and feminist jazz authors (Sherrie Tucker comes to mind) argue that women have always played a considerable role in jazz, but for various reasons--mostly because the white, male, upper-middle class critics chose not to write about them--their contributions have been celebrated so much less. Tucker and Leslie Gourse both assert that with a few well placed questions the veil lifts to reveal quite a few important women contributors in the band along with the jazzmen. I'd read the arguments and didn't disagree with them, but a recent experience leads me to believe that Tucker is more right than I ever imagined.

I was on the way to an afternoon gig at a nursing home in Mount Vernon, NY with Melvin Sparks and asked him why they had hired us that afternoon. Melvin said we were playing a birthday party for a woman who though now morbidly ill was once a bad-ass drummer (I don't remember her name, yikes!) and that, in fact, her trio, which also featured Gloria Coleman on organ, was his first gig in New York and that the two of them "introduced him to everybody." Wow. So his first gig was in a trio with two women, and those two women were responsible for getting him into the scene. And so what of these women? Have you heard of Gloria Coleman? I know little of her other than that she only recorded five albums and somebody keeps outbidding me on Ebay when I try to get them. I do know that Coleman is still around and I'm trying to get in touch with her for an interview.

So, on that note, let's celebrate the great Shirley Scott, decidedly one of the stronger voices on the Hammond Organ. Part of Scott's individuality comes from her choice to almost always use a bassist; it allows her to dry out the Hammond sound and jabbed and swell a bit more. Also, because she picked some great bassists, the music swings hard but stays a bit crisper and lighter than say a Groove Holmes swing.

On Queen of the Organ, a 1964 live set recorded in that Mecca of organ jazz, Newark, NJ, Scott teams up with her husband, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Candy Finch and they play! Man the stuff is swinging. When I saw the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love" on the track list I thought that it would be the litmus test: would it be cheesy as hell or funky? Actually it's not really either; they play it like a burning Jimmy Smith blues and it's fantastic. The club is packed and loud, both for the music and just in general. Clearly the show was a social thing, not just a sit down and gawk affair, and the energy is high.

This rip is from the out of print Impulse! CD, they'd be wise to get it back in circulation. The link is in the comments.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chant Down Babylon

I'm no Rasta. I find Rasta politics for the most part a bit on the conservative, Old Testament side. I love a lady in pants with something to say for herself and she certainly need not cover her head. But it's kind of funny to try and merge notions of conservative femininity from different countries. Ras Michael, the master nyabingi drummer and singer and Rasta spokesman, would most likely expect the women in his life to be as described above (you can hear him talk here but I don't think he gets into personal politics). But how about an American Evangelical conservative?

Well, to go along with those contradictory notions of Christ and warplanes or rights-at-moment-of-conception vs. not banning land mines and cluster bombs, those nutty folks that call themselves righteous really dig this Sarah Palin lady as well. Well, we already know that she's got designer glasses, can handle a semi-automatic weapon and is supposedly good looking (oh thank you American TV media for your in depth and meaningful coverage!), but what else do we know.

1) As Osama Bin Ladin and other leaders do (Mahmoud Amhadinejad comes to mind), Palin believes that "our national leaders are sending them [the troops] out for a war which is God's Plan." "Oh please," you say, that's just the liberal media talking. First, there is no liberal media. Trust me, I'm liberal and they're not. If I did the news you'd freak out (I believe that if God had a plan he'd put Amy Goodman in charge). Second, here's proof:

2) To her, "reform" means cleaning out the house to hire your friends and vindictively carry out vendettas against her opposition. She embodies the hatefulness and Republican dirty-baseball of the Rove generation. Check this excellent New York Times article thoroughly researched and co-authored by Jo Becker, Michael Powell and Peter Goodman.

3) She claims that though she has no foreign policy experience (and now admits that her "trip to Iraq" never happened), Palin believes that because one can see Russia from parts of Alaska, she's qualified to lead. As my co-worker so eloquently stated: "I can see the moon from my house, does that make me a f&*kin' astronaut?"

4) She supports "abstinence only" sex education and has a knocked up 17 year old daughter. That's funny! Actually, it's really funny. I also get a kick over what it must have been like for that boy who's the daddy when he woke up in the middle of the night to several men in dark suits who told him "you're getting married son, don't even think of anything else." At least he's marrying into a wealthy family.

I could go on for days, but this is a music blog so just go here and read some more truth. Lord knows there won't be any truth coming from the Republican party's advertisements when even the Sultan of Smear Karl Rove says McCain's party has gone "too far" from the truth.

So, where would Ras Michael stand? I bet, like fellow Rasta Cocoa Tea, or Caribbean neighbor and mega-Calypsonian Mighty Sparrow (video below), Ras Michael is all for Change this time out. After all, at the time most Rastas considered Reagan to be the devil-incarnate (his first/middle/last names each have 6 letters) and those in Jamaica have suffered dearly at the hands of the free trade clauses and oppressive policies of neo-con institutions like the World Bank and IMF (Do please check out one of the greatest documentaries ever, Life and Debt).

Ok, so this is a music blog and I feel like I owe you something for making it this far. Here's a link to the absolutely fantastic Ras Michael and Sons of Negus album "Freedom Sounds," a mix of bingi drums, guitars and vocals that might just make one feel like there's hope even amidst the barrage of consolidated media nonsense all around.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lonnie and Ronnie, both out of print

Well, school is back on, and as mentioned I'm chipping away at 20th, and final, grade. That chipping also includes leading a 30 piece steel band, and auditioning about 60 people to get it down to 30, and that's no easy task. It's fun though, as is jamming with Anthony Braxton twice a week and finally learning Solkattu from the master South Indian musicians we've got here. Still, it all adds up to very little blogging. I do have a huge pile of great stuff I want to post, and the even better news of a newly improved album ripping rig, so there will be more to come.

For the time being I've got these two great discs to offer. First is Lonnie Smith's 1970 Blue Note session entitled Drives. It's classically funky/jazz Dr. Lonnie, but what I particularly love about his albums from this period is the extra git-up-n-go delivered by drummer Joe Dukes. Probably the most tragically under-appreciated drummer in jazz history, Dukes plays the funk, but does so with a good dose of Art Blakey so it never quite settles down. Sometimes it's good, other times the tune might have sounded better with Idris on it, but either way, you've got to appreciate the heart. It also features Dave Hubbard (sax), Larry McGee (guitar), and Smith's long-time collaborator Ronnie Cuber (Bari sax).

Speaking of underrated, Cuber's Bari sax playing should be celebrated by the President of the United States but instead he's just an insider's man. One thing I can say for sure is that most of the musicians I've ever talked to on this scene speak very highly of him, and one can hear why right away. This is a set recorded live at the Blue Note in 1986 which features Randy Brecker (tpt), Lonnie Smith (org), and Ronnie Burrage (drums). The Link is in the comments.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Live Groove

Why Richard "Groove" Holmes does not occupy a place at the mantle of jazz greats alongside all those big names Wynton Marsalis loves to spout off will always be a mystery to me. Listening to his recordings, especially the live ones, I'm left feeling as if I've heard a musician who has found the sphere of total enlightenment. Holmes had prolific chops and, partly due to his left-handedness, the ability to play both walking and funk basslines with a precision that evaded even the finest organist, yet he also seems to be completely in the moment, driving the music to peaks of intensity or the depths of whatever vibe the song had. If Holmes had worn a funny hat and made some crazy out sounds there'd probably be 10 books about him (he did make some out sounds, those pitch bends are him turning the organ off and flipping the switch back on right before the motor dies completely).

Living Soul is a testament to the power of Holmes live (DJ Prestige at Flea Market Funk did a nice write up of one track from the album here). He and his band (drummer George Randall and guitarist Gene Edwards) DESTROY this session recorded live at Basie's Basement in April 1966. They pick some cool tunes too, mixing in a couple of well-played waltzes in with barn burners and a decidedly not-schmaltzy version of "The Girl from Ipanema."

On the organ jazz scene Holmes was as giant a persona as he was a physical presence. Pretty much every older jazz organist I've ever had the chance to speak to has said that Holmes was a "beautiful cat" that would always sit down and show you something and that he was a guy who appreciated a good hang. I know he used to roll through Hartford a lot, and the people that are old enough to remember only say good things (which, if you know jazz musicians, isn't always the case).

Link in comments, leave a little something yerself

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Macka Fat! A likkle something different different

Somehow the Hammond Organ crossed the ocean in several directions and, thankfully, one of the places it settled was Jamaica. In Jamaica, the organ found many uses, most notably providing the "bubble" pattern in roots reggae. Jackie Mittoo also used it in reggae but for a different purpose, to overdub leads on pre-existing riddim tracks. In practice, Mittoo's use of the organ to replace vocals wasn't really so different from McGriff or Earland covering pop songs with their bands and the results are equally as great, yet totally different.

Even when performing live in studio with a group, the sensibility of reggae accompanists is to find a groove and stick with it. So Mittoo works differently on top of his band than his American contemporaries, leaving lots of space and not really throwing bones for the rhythm section to gnaw on and spit back out so much. Mittoo has a way with a melody, and the tunes on this 1972 album Macka Fat prove it. My two favorites are "Lazy Bones," which Mittoo lends an Eastern flair, and "Ghetto Organ" which just cruises.

Link in the comments

Say It Loud!

So, way back in the 80s someone decided it would be great to reissue Lou Donaldson's 1968 session Say It Loud on cassette and, because I have yet to score the vinyl and it's not currently on CD, I'll take it where I can get it! This is an old library version, and by the looks of it, it was an early cassette reissue. I love the A-side black/B-side white thing! I do not love the complete lack of liner notes and performing listings! Instead, this cassette came with a paragraph that discussed Lou Donaldson's tone. Alrighty then.

Here's the lineup:
Blue Mitchell (tp) Lou Donaldson (el-as) Charles Earland (org) Jimmy Ponder (g) Leo Morris [Idris Muhammad] (d) Englewood Cliffs, N.J., November 6, 1968

Say It Loud fits perfectly into Donaldson's format of the day: open with a cover that features group vocals--James Brown's "Say It Loud, I'm Black and Proud" here--follow with funky versions of a couple of standards--"Summertime," "Caravan"--then put a couple of funky ones on the B side--"Snake Bone," and "Brother Soul."

It's not the greatest Donaldson album of the period, but that's not to say it's not a great album. Really, it's still much better than 90% of the music that comes out today. I particularly like hearing Idris Muhammad on this one, he's really digging deep in his New Orlean's second line bag on "Snake Bone" and "Brother Soul," mixing the funky beats with lots of snare drum in a way that most drummers would never conceive of doing. Also, Donaldson sounds great on the Varitone, especially when he digs in on "Caravan."

Link is in comments. Enjoy

Walk On By

Happy day everyone. It's that time of year: the kids are heading back to school (that includes me, cracking the book on 20th grade....), a few trees' leaves are starting to turn, my beloved Yankees are fixing to miss out on October baseball for the first time since I was a teenager. But I'm going to power through all that and focus on all the good things in the world like my family, Internet poker, and, of course, Jack McDuff.

This one isn't his greatest, but it's certainly far from his worst. Walk On By finds the good Captain with his mid-60s quartet of Joe Dukes on drums (perhaps the most tragically overlooked drummer in jazz history), Pat Martino on guitar, and either Red Holloway or Harold Ousley on sax. Several tracks are augmented with a big band that often takes away more than it adds with that sort of Price is Right meets Austin Powers type little ditty horn section stuff. Nonetheless, there are a few mighty fine burners on here.

Link in comments