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.