Jazz and Blues

Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis.  Two Men WIth the Blues (Blue Note, July 2008)

This album is a great deal of fun, showcasing a completely different side of Willie Nelson as a blues crooner. The jump-blues numbers draw heavily upon the Texas and New Orleans influences of these two legends, and as one might expect, the jazz standards really cook as well. The recordings stem from the January 12 and 13, 2007 Jazz at Lincoln Center concert billed as “Willie Nelson Sings the Blues.” Highlights include Nelson’s rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” the classic “Georgia On My Mind,” “Caldonia” and “Rainy Day Blues.”

B.B. King.  One Kind Favor (Geffen Records, August 2008)

The legendary B.B. King never seems to slow his pace, even as an octogenarian, and consequently he’s one of the few elder statemen to receive a Grammy nod for 2009. This album, produced by T Bone Burnett, is a return to the roots of the “King of the blues” and features such classics as Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” T-Bone Walker’s “I Get So Weary,” and Big Bill Broonzy’s “Backwater Blues.” Backing is provided by New Orleans pianist Dr. John, along with Jim Keltner on drums and Nathan East on bass.  The CD should have concluded with the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Sitting on Top of the World” (the penultimate track), since this certainly describes King’s place in the blues lexicon.

The Roy Hargove Quintet.  Ear Food (Emarcy, June 2008)

Jazz trumpeter/bandleader Roy Hargrove’s latest offering includes thirteen tracks of post-bop jazz that bring more than a little soul into the mix.  In addition to seven original tunes, the album includes some great covers, ranging from Cedar Walton’s “I’m Not So Sure” to “Speak Low” (by Kurt Weill & Ogden Nash) to Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me.”  You don’t have to be a hardcore jazz afficionado to enjoy this CD, which appeals to a wide fan base without EVER entering the smooth jazz territory.

S.M.V.   Thunder (Heads Up, August 2008)

S.M.V. is a new jazz-fusion supergroup composed of three of the greatest living bass players: Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, and Victor Wooten.  What more is there to say? This is an album full of virtuoso performances and unique arrangements, with contributions from Chick Corea and George Duke.  And, as one might expect from this crew, there is plenty of funk to go around, plus more than a dash of latin.

Solomon Burke.  Like a Fire (Shout Factory, June 2008)

Pioneering soul singer Solomon Burke has released a wide variety of genre-bending albums in the past, including his country masterpiece Nashville (2006). What is unique about his latest offering is that each track was composed especially for him by an all-star group of songwriters, including Steve Jordan (the producer of the album), Eric Clapton (who wrote the title track), Ben Harper (who also sings with Burke on “A Minute To Rest and a Second To Pray”), and Jesse Harris and Keb’ Mo, who each contribute backing vocals and guitar on their songs. This CD has been nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category, which is a mystery, since there is nothing bluesy about it.

John Lee Hooker, Jr.  All Odds Against Me (CC/Copycats, August 2008)

The son of famous blues singer John Lee Hooker is poised to carry on the family tradition.  “Born in “Motor” City Detroit with Delta blues-filled blood running through his Motown veins,” John Jr. toured with his father while still a teen but his career was unfortuantely derailed by drugs and alcohol. He returned to the music scene in 2004, winning a number of awards with his debut album Blues With a Vengeance.  His latest comtemporary urban blues release is the first to include all original tracks, and has already garnered a Grammy nomination.

Pine Top Perkins and Friends (Telarc, June 2008)

This album was produced as a tribute to Perkins, who celebrated his 95th birthday on July 7, 2008. There is something to be said for Perkins not reaching out to the wider arena of pop music guests for his “Friends” album, as so many have done. The biggest names here are B.B. King and Eric Clapton, who both sit in for one cut each. Jimmy Vaughn stays for four tracks and provides the most satisfying musical exchanges of the short, ten song album. Also featured are bassist Willie Kent (who passed away in March 2008) and drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.  Perkins still plays like a master, and his voice isn’t bad either. All in all, a fitting tribute to the legendary blues pianist.

Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste

marsalis_music_alvin_batiste.jpgTitle: Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste
Artist: Alvin Batiste
Label: Marsalis Music/Rounder
Catalog No.: 74946-0007-2
Date: 2007


Looking back on my days as an undergraduate music student at Southern University, I can remember listening in awe to Alvin Batiste, affectionately known as “Mr. Bat,” as he rehearsed the university jazz band. Even stumbling upon the sound of Mr. Bat practicing on solo clarinet was an unforgettable experience. I remember walking through the music annex with a friend during freshman year. We both played clarinet and were on our way to practice when we heard someone in the middle of some serious “shedding” (the term used at Southern for practicing) on clarinet. Once we arrived at the source of the shedding, we just stood there for a few minutes watching Mr. Bat in awe. Needless to say, we quickly hid our clarinets and began to slowly back away from his studio door.

Avant garde clarinet extraordinaire Alvin Batiste was born November 7, 1932 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was first introduced to the clarinet by his father. As the story goes, the summer before entering Booker T. Washington High School Batiste’s father handed him a clarinet. Not taking the instrument seriously, he put it down after only tooting a couple of notes. Later, however, while visiting a cousin, Batiste heard a recording of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time.” From that point on he was inspired, and eventually pursued both a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Southern University and a Master’s degree in clarinet performance and composition from Louisiana State University. During his college tenure, Batiste became the first African American soloist to be featured with the New Orleans Philharmonic. Throughout his career, Batiste performed with some of the most recognized jazz musicians of the twentieth century, including such giants as Cannonball Adderley, Ornette Coleman, Joe Robichaux, and Ray Charles (just to name a few). In addition to his talents as a player, Batiste was also interested in jazz education. He founded the jazz program at Southern University in 1969 and assisted in the creation of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where he also headed up the jazz program whose alumni include the Marsalis brothers. Tragically, Alvin Batiste suffered a heart attack on May 6, 2007 at the age of 74 and died hours before a scheduled performance at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste takes the listener through 10 audibly delectable tracks steeped in the flavors of New Orleans. The feast begins with the beautifully garnished appetizer of “Clean Air.” Before tasting the morsel, you notice its vibrant coloration, which lures you in. You begin to nibble and find yourself throwing your head back with your eyes closed as you savor the crisp vocals of Edward Perkins and the pristine playing of Batiste. “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone” is the Merlot; you begin to blush as the clarinet cleanses your pallet with its mellow mood and smooth vibrato. The meal arrives with the sweet aroma of “Edith” and tangy zest of “The Latest.” After the main course, “Skylark” lulls you into a trance and convinces you to eat some more. At this point the doors of the kitchen swing open and in comes the dessert. “What about my diet?” you ask, trying to fight the urge for more. But its no use. “Bat Trad” and “Salty Dogs” are placed in front of you for dessert, and you’re quickly whisked away to the French Quarter where your diet no longer exists.

In the accompanying CD liner notes, Bob Blumenthal states that “the feeling of family permeated the recording sessions.” Batiste is joined by friend Edward Perkins (vocals), student Branford Marsalis (saxophones), student Herlin Riley (drums), Russell Malone (guitar), Lawrence Fields (piano), and Ricardo Rodriguez (bass). Further evidence of the family presence is exemplified through “My Life is a Tree,” the lyrics of which were written by Edith Batiste (Alvin’s wife). The words for “Everloving Star” were supplied by their son Maynard, and Batiste’s grandson’s nick name supplied inspiration for “Bumps.”

Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste is a great CD for the masses, providing the uninitiated listener with a captivating and yet all too brief encounter with a musical legend. The last stanza of the Southern University Alma Mater reads “O Southern, Dear Southern, Thy name will ever be, as mighty as the river that flows on to the sea.” Just as mighty and enduring as that river is the name of Alvin Batiste and his great musical legacy, and it will flow on through recordings like this one.

Posted by Terence La Nier II