Reviews

LIVE: Robert Cray Band @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 29/4/2017

Monday, 01 May 2017 09:53 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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'Legend' is a hyperbolic epithet that is often used by journalists but seldom merited by its recipients - but in the world of blues music, Robert Cray is certainly deserving of that accolade. Now 62, the blues Hall of Famer has worked with many of the idiom's greatest masters - including John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton and the late Chuck Berry - but from early on established his own unique and contemporary style and sound that immediately distinguished him from other blues practitioners. Accompanied by his long-serving quartet - drummer Terrence Clark, bassist Richard Cousins, and organist Dover 'White Cliffs' Weinberg - Cray cogently demonstrated why many regard him as the greatest living bluesman (though the great Buddy Guy might dispute that). Cray's guitar playing has often been admired - and rightly so - but this concert also showed what a superb vocalist he is; soft and soulful one minute, strident and plaintive the next, his voice is a finely-calibrated instrument capable of rendering the full range of human feeling.    

Cray's material ranged from brand new tunes - the self-penned 'You Must believe In Yourself' and a great Memphis-infused version of Bill Withers' 'The Same Love That Made Me Laugh,' both taken from Cray's latest opus, 'Robert Cray With High Rhythm' - to ones from more recent albums ('Sitting On Top Of The World,' 'It Doesn't Show,' the poignant 'Time Makes Two' and the harrowing 'Poor Johnny'), vintage classics  and even cover versions (the group served up a super-charged version of Booker T & The MG's '60s R&B classic, 'Hip Hug-Her,' with Cray hinting that Booker T. Jones, also present at the festival, might join the band on stage, though he never materialized).

The Robert Cray Band played with a real, white-hot intensity when required - evidenced by the searing 'Chicken In the Kitchen' - but also when to turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and offer a contrast of dynamics and mood, which helped to not only pace the show but also maintain the listeners' attention. Needless to say, with all those years and miles clocked up on the road, Cray and his band did that expertly and in a way that only true, seasoned professionals can. While their set was a little shorter than anticipated, the quartet left the stage with the audience clamouring for more - ample proof that Robert Cray and his band had done their job well on the night.

(CW)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 May 2017 16:04

 

LIVE: Lionel Loueke @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 29/4/2017

Monday, 01 May 2017 08:53 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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With a CV that includes sideman stints with the redoubtable Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, and Jack DeJohnette, it's safe to say that West African guitarist, Lionel Loueke, is on the radar of most serious jazz fans. With six solo albums to his name (the last four on Blue Note), he's undoubtedly one of the rising stars on today's jazz scene and his distinctive individual style, which melds African music with jazz and rock, definitely sets him apart from other fretboardists. Loueke debuted at Cheltenham in Herbie Hancock's band in 2006 but today, he was back as a headliner leading his own trio that comprised Swedish-Italian bassist Massimo Biolcati and Hungarian drummer Ferenc Nemeth ("These are my brothers from another mother," quipped Loueke, alluding to their long friendship).

Starting off low-key with the pastoral opener, the hypnotic 'Dream' - propelled by gentle guitar finger-picking, which he recorded with his band mates under the collective name Gilfema in 2005 - Loueke and his cohorts then got into their stride with a lengthy reading of 'Broken,' a searing jazz-rock piece featuring Loueke on guitar synth, followed by 'Veuve Malienee' which began with an eloquent bass solo from the dexterous Biolcati before Loueke's clipped, percussion guitar took it in another direction. Indeed, Loueke's music is hard to pin down - a mesh of different flavours with a palpable African overtone, it belongs in a category all by itself. "Leaving the comfort zone, that is what we do," remarked the guitarist, describing his music, and it proved an apposite statement. The trio certainly pushed the envelope with their unique and intrepid fusion of styles and while, perhaps, it wasn't everyone's proverbial cup of tea, for this writer the band's almost telepathic interaction with each other proved compelling and left me craving more. If you have the opportunity to see Lionel Loueke and his band live, I urge to do so - he's in a league of his own.

(CW)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 May 2017 16:05

 

LIVE: Booker T Jones @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 29/04/2017

Sunday, 30 April 2017 09:37 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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As soul music historians will know, Memphis organ maestro, Booker Taliaferro Jones, played a pivotal role in the rise of Stax Records as a major force in rhythm and blues music during the 1960s. As the leader of the groundbreaking bi-racial quartet, Booker T & The MGs, he was responsible for some of the decades biggest and most memorable R&B smashes. He brought some of those hits as well as a profound sense of soul music history, along with him to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival  where he led a funky quartet that included his son, Ted Jones, on guitar,. plus a potent rhythm section comprising drummer Darian E. Gray and bassist Melvin Brannon. Looking dapper in a dark suit, complete with flat cap, Jones began the show sitting at his trusty Hammond B-3 organ, where he led his band through a 90-minute set that blended original material and classic Stax sides with some unusual covers.

The set began in cinematic style with an organ-led version of the Spaghetti Western theme, 'Hang Em High,' and then followed with one of his more recent offerings, the riff-laden, blues-rock-esque, 'Potato Hole.'  Jones stepped up the mike to sing the portentous groove ballad, 'Born Under A Bad Sign,' a song that he co-wrote for blues legend, Albert King, in 1967. In fact, he returned to the microphone several more times during the performance, and also came out from behind the organ every now and then ("my Doctor says I mustn't sit down too much," he offered by way of explanation) to don an electric guitar and show another side to his talent, where he sang a series of heartfelt homages to Bob Dylan ('Knockin' On Heaven's Door' - Jones told us he played bass on the original record), Muddy Waters ('Mannish Boy'), Jimi Hendrix ('Hey Joe'), and even Prince ('Purple Rain').

But as enjoyable as the performances of these seemingly incongruous songs were, which also demonstrated Jones' versatility, what the audience really wanted to see and hear was the Memphis soul man  ensconced on a stool at his Hammond B-3 going through his considerable back catalogue. And to be fair, he didn't disappoint on that score, punctuating the set at regular intervals with terrific renditions of  iconic Booker T & The MG's material, ranging from stone classics - 'Green Onions,'  'Soul Limbo,' 'Hip Hug-Her,' and 'Melting Pot') to lesser known gems from their canon ('Soul Dressing,' and the band's tremendous take on George Gershwin's immortal 'Summertime'). Climaxing with a roof-raising version of the MG's classic 'Time Is Tight,' Booker T Jones showed that while at 72-years-old he might be eligible for retirement, thankfully, he's definitely not ready to embrace it just yet. A stunning show from a bona fide legend.

(CW)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 May 2017 16:05

 

AMY BLACK: Memphis (Reuben Records)

Friday, 28 April 2017 11:31 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altAmy Black hails from Nashville and the musical lure of the city took her away from a successful marketing career into music. Her first albums were pigeon-holed "Americana" –hardly surprising given her roots but in 2015 she decamped to Muscle Shoals and, working with Spooner Oldham, she recorded 'The Muscle Shoals Sessions'.

Soul had found Amy and she subsequently investigated the genre and knew she just hand to record in Memphis... hence the title of this new 10 tracker. 'Memphis' was recorded at the Electraphonic Recordings Studios and amongst the players are Hi and Stax alumni – people like Howard Grimes, Charles Hodges and Bobby Manuel while ex Bobby Bland collaborator, Marc Franklin took care of the horn and string arrangements.

Produced by studio boss, Scott Bonmar, 'Memphis' is a collection of seven original songs and three covers. The covers are versions of OV Wright's 'If I Could Reach Out (And Help Somebody), the blues standard 'I Need Your Love So Bad' and Bobby Bland's 'Further On Up The Road'. Given Ms Black's comparative youth, she acquits herself well on these old war horses. 'If I Could Reach Out' is particularly gratifying... a proper celebration of the old Hi sound.

Elsewhere, the stark opener, 'It's Hard To Love An Angry Man' channels the sound of Bobby Bland (he's a personal hero of Amy's) while 'Let The Light In' references the Staple Singers ... mournful, repetitive and hypnotic. On those (indeed throughout the long player) Amy Black's vocals are powerful when required but she's also learned what many young singers fail to grasp; if you tone things down at just the right moment you can still achieve maximum impact. That's what the Memphis musicians know and they and Amy combine to make a great team.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Friday, 28 April 2017 11:37

 

MORGAN JAMES: Reckless Abandon (Hedonist Records)

Thursday, 27 April 2017 18:45 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altMorgan James is a blue-eyed soulstress who bases herself in Harlem. She came to NYC to study at the Juilliard School. After graduating, Morgan worked in musical theatre and she's enjoyed star roles and rave reviews in 'Motown The Musical' and 'Godspell'. Soul is her genre of choice though and after recommendation from Berry Gordy she signed a two album deal with Epic. That culminated in her Billboard top 20 hit, 'Call My Name' – a cover of the Prince song which was endorsed by the man himself.

Now, striking out on her own, Ms James has just released a self-penned 12 song set on her own label and it's a varied piece of work on which she explores all kinds of soul styles and much more. Soul connoisseurs though might well suggest that Morgan's take on soul veers toward the poppier, rockier side of the genre. The opener, 'Up In Smoke', for instance, is busy and brash with plenty of soul instrumental clichés but it's more from the Janis Joplin School of Rock that say, the Etta James Academy of Soul. The most soulful, offering is 'Ransom' – a mournful Southern flavoured ballad – hints of Stax and Hi here.

Best of the rest are 'Making Up For Lost Love' and 'Jenny' where soul meets country; some might dub 'em, "Americana". Elsewhere 'Need Somebody' is the long player's big ballad – full of building drama – totally contemporary, yes, but there's not quite enough there to lift it above the plethora of other songs of this ilk.

Morgan James is clearly a gifted singer. You don't win a place at the Juilliard if you're not and Berry Gordy, of course, knows how to recognize a great set of pipes. However, great singers don't always make great song writers and what we need here are some really special songs to allow Morgan to show us what she can really do.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 April 2017 18:50

 

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