Music Review

Something's Got a Hold on Me

William Blake: Echoes of Etta
Birdland Jazz Club
June 4, 2012
William Blake rocked (and I do mean rocked!) Birdland this past Monday evening with his show Echoes of Etta. With cleverly and unobtrusively contemporized arrangements by Michael Thomas Murray, Mr. Blake served up choice offerings of Etta James songs. Using his high, mighty, and absolutely solid killer blue-eyed soul voice, Mr. Blake knocked the over-produced Etta emulators off the chart, singing with a vocal certainty and emotional sincerity that puts the others to shame. Echoes of Etta was just that: Mr. Blake's skill allowed him to vocally honor Ms. James's artistry, yet still maintain his own identity as the amazing singer he is.

The Wright Reverend Delivers a Musical Miracle

Frank Wright Quartet: Blues for Albert Ayler (ESP-Disk')

Frank "The Reverend" Wright was one of the most powerful saxophonists to pick up on Albert Ayler's freedom and ferocious playing (he was a friend of Ayler's in their Cleveland, OH days), and his "energy music" approach to tenor saxophone can be traced down to Charles Gayle, Sabir Mateen, and other hard-blowing tenormen on the current scene. Wright followed Ayler to New York City, arriving in 1964 and fitting into the scene right away. The following year, ESP-Disk' owner Bernard Stollman signed him on the spot after hearing him sit in with Coltrane, and he made two classic albums for ESP.

R.I.P. Pete Cosey, Doc Watson

In an increasingly bad month for music lovers, we have lost two more beloved greats, guitarists of the highest caliber: folk/country icon Doc Watson and jazz/blues/soul/avant-garde legend Pete Cosey. Watson was a star, certainly; just as certainly, Cosey was not. But aficionados of their respective genres had the highest respect for them.

Thrilling to the Ears & Easy on the Eyes

Carole J. Bufford in speak easy.
Metropolitan Room, NY

Hearing Carole J. Bufford sing backed by Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks is a rare alignment of stars not to be missed. Chronicling the Prohibition Era through its music, speak easy. brings this bygone time of legal restraint and social release to life in a relevant manner that is laced with nostalgia but not dependent on it. Deep within Bufford's dazzling and somewhat puckish eyes is a spark that sets fire to the music that radiates from her. Exuding playful sexiness, her presence is well suited for this genre and her connection to it is displayed by her genuine grasp of every note. 

Sviatoslav Richter's Teldec Recordings Reissued

Sviatoslav Richter: The Teldec Recordings (Teldec/Warner Classics)

This three-CD set returns to print some fairly fascinating items from the discography of the most venerated pianist of his generation.  It’s an import from England that’s distributed by Naxos; at its $24.99 list price, it’s a great bargain, and thus easily worth acquiring even if you already have one of its discs.

May Jazz Review Roundup

Dheepa Chari: Some New Fashion (Dheepa Chari)

A young New York singer releasing her first full-length (after an EP I haven't heard), Chari is part of the new breed of jazzers who are looking beyond standards for their repertoire. Not that other jazzers haven't already covered the Beatles (she sings "Here, There, and Everywhere") or Billy Joel (in my youth I heard Count Basie play "Just the Way You Are," which not only closes this album but also gives it its title), but I bet she's the first to take on Depeche Mode's "World in My Eyes" and Linkin Park's "Shadow of the Day." The funny thing is, as much as I was ready to look down my nose on the latter choice, it works beautifully, thanks not only to her vocal delivery but to Vikas Hebbar's lovely arrangement, which features violin and muted trumpet.

Goodbye to Flying Burrito Brother Chris Ethridge & Bee Gee Robin Gibb

As my friend Pam Grossman put it, "Yes, universe, I know. I know too well that time passes and we are all going to die, sooner or hopefully later. I also know that cancer sucks. You do not need to drive these points home by killing off musicians I love every other day." This was prompted by the passing of Robin Gibb just after we lost Donna Summer and several other greats. Meanwhile, my friend Davie Kaufman, the biggest Flying Burrito Brothers fan I know, was disappointed that I hadn't yet marked the passing of Chris Ethridge, an original member of the Burritos, also taken from us by cancer.

Four Music Greats Pass

This was a particularly sad week for the musical world. We lost four greats: Chuck Brown, the godfather of Go-Go; country-rock pioneer Doug Dillard; supreme disco diva Donna Summer; and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who did more to promote art song than anyone else in the recording era.

Chuck Brown was the most innovative of them, and the funkiest. Born in 1936, he paid his dues as a guitarist in various R&B bands in the '60s. His funk band The Soul Searchers made two classic albums for Sussex, We the People (1972) and Salt of the Earth (1974). "Ashley's Roachclip" on the latter includes a drum break that became one of the sampled breaks in hip-hop; "Blow Your Whistle" from the same LP is also much-sampled.

Brooklyn Jazz With Universal Appeal

David Bindman Ensemble: Sunset Park Polyphony (David Bindman)

Bindman -- familiar from the Brooklyn Sax Quartet and his work with Anthony Braxton, Fred Ho, Ehran Elisha, Kevin Norton, and others -- has been slowly but surely building a small yet impressive discography as a leader. This self-released two-CD sextet album is his masterpiece so far, mixing modal jazz with worldbeat rhythms in a sort of concept album about places, finding one's place in the world, and interaction -- the sort of socially aware jazz program that Shepp and Coltrane were known for in the second half of the '60s, with some musical similarities as well, albeit still sounding like 21st century jazz.

ANNIVERSARIES: Gil Evans Born 100 Years Ago

Gil Evans, perhaps the second-greatest arranger in jazz after Duke Ellington, was born Ian Ernest Gilmore Green on May 13, 1912 in Toronto, Canada (Evans was his stepfather's name). Though best known for his collaborations with Miles Davis, Evans released many great albums as a bandleader and created a highly influential style that changed the course of jazz history.

Though self-taught, by age 21 Evans was leading a big band that became the house group at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach. Eventually it was fronted and then led by singer Skinnay Ennis, and Claude Thornhill joined Evans in providing arrangements for them. Thornhill then moved to New York to start his own band, and in 1941 invited Evans to New York to write arrangements. Soon Evans's arrangements with their lush, hazy, floating textures defined the Thornhill style.