News for the ‘Jazz’ Category

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Bagpipe Blues” by Rufus Harley

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Bagpipe Blues” by Rufus Harley

Well, it is St. Patrick’s Day and the think I hate most about the holiday is the droning of bagpipes. To me, bagpipes are the most irritating instrument to listen to, especially when they are dragged out for police funerals…oh lord, they make me wanna cringe!

Yet it is the very nature of a droning bagpipe when applied to Jazz by Rufus Harley that makes the instrument take on a new life. Harley recorded four Joel Dorn-produced albums for Atlantic Records in the late 1960s and this tune was actually released as a single. The four albums were collected together a few years ago onto a limited edition 2-CD set released by Rhino Handmade called Courage: The Atlantic Recordings.

Harley had the knack for taking the limited range of the bagpipes and applying them to a new medium, making them sound like a soprano sax. Hearing him fly on material as varied as Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” “Chim Chim Cheree” from the film Mary Poppins, “Eight Miles High” by The Byrds and Henry Mancini’s classic “Moon River” are indeed sonic marvels to behold.

Harley remained active on the Jazz circuit until his death in 2006 working as a sideman with Sonny Rollins and Herbie Mann, and recording with Laurie Anderson (on the Big Science album) and The Roots.

Edited: March 16th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Work Song” by Nina Simone

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Work Song” by Nina Simone

Here’s one that was released the year I was born, yet it sounds as hip and current as, well, I am. OK, it is hipper and more current than I am, but it goes to show just how timeless Nina Simone’s recordings really are.

Simone’s interpretive talents as a singer and piano player earned her the nickname, “The High Priestess of Soul,” and put her right up there with greats like Anita O’Day, Odetta, Sarah Vaughan and Judy Henske, who all possess a similar earthy style. She was a terrific songwriter, comfortable mingling soul, gospel, folk and blues into a stew that was uniquely her own, and she was also an outspoken Civil Rights activist.

It took a long time for me to crack the hard façade that Nina Simone projected, before I could really appreciate the depths of her talent. Her severe earnestness over the struggles she faced as a black woman during the infancy of the civil rights movement created a seemingly impenetrable barrier between me and her music. But with maturity on my side, I’ve come to love and respect Simone’s whole approach, and the influence she’s had on everyone from Laura Nyro and John Lennon (who cited her recording of “I Put A Spell On You” as an inspiration for The Beatles “Michelle”) to Alicia Keys and Diana Krall.

Simone came to Colpix Records in 1959, after scoring a big hit with “I Loves You, Porgy” on the Bethlehem label. Her deal at Colpix gave her complete artistic control over the material she recorded which was unheard of at the time, and she released nine albums for the label, seven of which were recorded live in front of an audience. Today’s Song of the Day, the much covered “Work Song” written by Nat Adderly and Oscar Brown, Jr., is from her second record for the label, 1961’s studio effort Forbidden Fruit.

Part of the album’s excellence comes down to Simone’s sympathetic backing trio consisting of Chris White on bass, Bobby Hamilton on drums, and crucially, the great Al Schackman on guitar, whose tasty licks light up this entire recording, especially on the tunes “Just Say I Love Him” and the album’s opener “Rags And Old Iron.” But its Simone’s vocals and amazing piano accompaniments, especially on “Gin House Blues,” the swaggering “I Love To Love” and the album’s title track, “Forbidden Fruit,” that really elevate the proceedings to new heights of gospel fervor.

Later albums like Nina Simone In Concert from 1964 and the essential RCA album Nina Simone Sings The Blues from 1967, included signature songs that dealt with the civil rights issues of black women like “Mississippi Goddam,” “Backlash Blues,” “Four Women” and “To Be Young, Gifted And Black,” which was later covered by Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway. She was also responsible for introducing the songs “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “House of the Rising Sun,” years before The Animals recorded them.

Additionally, her recordings of “Sinnerman” and “Forbidden Fruit” were sampled by the likes of Kanye West and Timbaland, but her greatest success came surprisingly from the song “My Baby Cares For Me” which was recorded on her 1960 debut album for Colpix, but didn’t become popular until 1987 when it was used in a UK television commercial for Chanel No. 5 perfume.

Edited: February 15th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Soul Drummers” by Ray Barretto

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Soul Drummers” by Ray Barretto

Like Tito Puente before him, Ray Barretto is one of the all-time greatest “Soul Drummers” of them all. He gave us the “El Watusi” in 1961, “Senor 007″ in 1969 and this gem in 1967. The music emanated from el barrio, the South Bronx and Spanish Harlem in New York City, via the then-fledgling Latin record labels like Tico and Fania. Like Rap music in the early 1980s, this music sprang up from the streets and changed the world forever.

Ray Barretto was born in New York City and cut his teeth playing conga with Charlie Parker, José Curbelo and Tito Puente. He replaced Mongo Santamaria in Tito Puente’s band in 1957 and stayed on for four years before working with Herbie Mann. In the early 1960s, he was also a member of the house band for the Prestige, Riverside and Blue Note record labels.

In 1961, Barretto released his breakthrough single “El Watusi,” which captured the sounds of the New York City streets and transported the Latin sound out of the barrio and into the public consciousness. “The Watusi” kicked off a national dance craze and was just one of a handful of recordings by the likes of Willie Colón, Joe Cuba (“Bang! Bang!”) and Mongo Santamaria (“Watermelon Man”) that resulted in introducing a new popular crossover genre in Latin dance music known as Boogaloo.

In the wake of “El Watusi’s” success, Barretto struggled to chart with a follow-up hit. However, he did become an in-demand session player and worked on Jazz albums by Gene Ammons, Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey, Kenny Burrell, Art Farmer, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Mann, Yusef Lateef, Lou Donaldson, Red Garland, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Wes Montgomery, Cal Tjader and Weather Report. He also sessioned on rock albums by The Rolling Stones (congas on “Sympathy For The Devil”), Average White Band (Cut The Cake album), Bette Midler (her debut album) and The Bee Gees (Main Course album).

Barretto finally gained his commercial footing after signing with Fania Records in 1967 and releasing the album Acid where today’s Song Of The Day originally appeared. The album combined the sounds of Latin, funk and soul music and included the influential tracks “A Deeper Shade Of Soul,” “Teacher Of Love” and “El Nuevo Barretto.” During his seven year stint with Fania, Barretto released nine successful albums, became the director of The Fania All Stars, and established himself as one of the leading players in Salsa music.

Barretto continued to release popular albums throughout the 1980s including the Grammy winning album Ritmo En El Corazón he recorded with Celia Cruz.

On January 13, 2006, he was awarded the Jazz Masters Award by the National Endowment for the Arts which was a distinction for lifetime achievement. He suffered a heart attack two days later and underwent several heart surgeries before succumbing to his illness on February 17, 2006.

After years of dormancy and total disregard, the Fania label recently reactivated with a comprehensive reissue program through Universal Music in 2007, resulting in the essential 2-CD compilation Ray Barretto Que Viva La Musica (Ray Barretto: A Man And His Music).

Edited: February 9th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Eli’s Comin’” by Maynard Ferguson

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Eli’s Comin’” by Maynard Ferguson

He was considered one of the top “screech” trumpeters in Jazz, a style that was typified by a proclivity to spend an unfathomable amount of time playing in the upper registers of his instrument. But Maynard Ferguson was much more than just a screech trumpeter; he was also an educator and perhaps the most popular big band leader of the 1970s.

While touring the concert halls of the world, he also took time out to perform hundreds of shows in high school and college auditoriums where he made it his mission to educate kids about Jazz. As a result, many young players got their start in Ferguson’s bands.

Ferguson got his start playing in the big bands of Jimmy Dorsey and Charlie Barnett before joining Stan Kenton’s band in 1950. Although he wasn’t their lead trumpet player, he was afforded numerous solos because he could create excitement by playing in the highest registers of his instrument. After his work with Kenton, he took a job with Paramount pictures where he recorded over 40 film soundtracks including The Ten Commandments.

In the early 1960s, Ferguson and his wife joined Timothy Leary and his Harvard friends and lived on an estate in Millbrook, NY where they all experimented with numerous psychedelics. After a few years living in England, he came back to the states to set up his own big band.

He released many albums during the ‘60s and ‘70s as a band leader, where he focused on performing big brass versions of the hits of the day. Here’s his 1970 Pop-Jazz version of the Laura Nyro classic, “Eli’s Comin’,” which was brought to the charts by Three Dog Night. It is from his first in a long string of M.F. Horn albums that had a profound influence on such rock acts as Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago and Chase.

Ferguson went on to lead his big band and perform in concert with hundreds of artists until his death in 2006.

Edited: October 29th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Salt Peanuts” by Dizzy Gillespie and his Orchestra

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Salt Peanuts” by Dizzy Gillespie and his Orchestra

Like the Rock and Roll that sprang from its loins, a new form of off-the-chart mid-1940s Jazz called Be Bop captured the imagination of the youth of America and positively terrified its parents. Not only was the music primarily an African American form, but “hep” cats known as “Bird” (Charlie Parker) and “Diz” (Dizzy Gillespie) were at its forefront.

Gillespie is credited as the composer of this positively space-age tune, although the main riff can be traced back to the piano playing of Count Basie in 1941. This clip hails from the 1947 film Jivin’ In Be-Bop, a plotless musical film, that featured Gillespie’s Big Band playing eight songs including “One Bass Hit,” “A Night In Tunisia,” “Orthinology,” “Oop Bop Sh’Bam,” “He Beeped When He Should Have Bopped,” “Shaw Nuff,” “Grosvenor Square” and today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman.

Members of the band include Ray Brown on bass, Milt Jackson on vibes and John Lewis on piano.

“Salt Peanuts”

Jivin’ In Be-Bop – The Whole Film

Edited: September 29th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Voice Poetry” by Ornette Coleman

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Voice Poetry” by Ornette Coleman

Back in 1978, Ornette Coleman formed Prime Time, his first double trio, and began releasing records on his own Texas-based label, Artist House Records.

Today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman comes from the first release on the label called Body Meta which was recorded in 1976. Prime Time featured Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass, Charles Ellerbee and Bern Nix on guitars, and Ronald Shannon Jackson and his son Denardo Coleman on drums.

While by no means top 40 music, the record was one of Coleman’s easier to listen to records providing a good entry point for those into discovering more about him and his Harmolodic sound. The short-lived Artists House label also released terrific and challenging records by James “Blood” Ulmer and Waymon Reed.

Edited: September 15th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Haunts Of Ancient Peace” by Van Morrison

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Haunts Of Ancient Peace” by Van Morrison

Today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman is one of Van Morrison’s most soulful pieces of music, originally from one of his most underrated albums.

Common One was released in 1980 and features six deeply-moving extended jazz meditations that harked back to Morrison’s 1968 masterpiece, Astral Weeks in sound and texture.

Unlike Astral Weeks, this record’s release was met with unanimous derision from the critics who didn’t understand the literary and jazz underpinnings of the music and found it ponderous and boring.

While Common One does lack the kind of immediacy that grabs you on the first listen, it does reap generous rewards upon further listening. The title of this song was inspired by a 1902 book by Alfred Austin (Poet Laureate 1896-1912).

The live version video shows the Common One band in action from Montreux before the album’s release. The personnel includes new band members at the time Mark Isham on trumpet (channeling his best Miles), John Allair on organ and synthesizer, Pee Wee Ellis on saxophones and Peter Van Hooke on drums, along with Jeff Labes on piano, John Platania on guitar, David Hayes on bass and Dahaud Shaar on percussion, who were all members of Morrison’s Caledonia Soul Orchestra.

Edited: September 1st, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Light My Fire” by Bob Thiele and his New Happy Times Orchestra with Gabor Szabo

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Light My Fire” by Bob Thiele and his New Happy Times Orchestra with Gabor Szabo

It was the year of Sgt. Pepper’s and Are You Experienced. Rock was becoming jazzy…and jazz was taking on the current crop of rock greats. Hence today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman.

Credited to Bob Thiele and his New time Happy Orchestra with Gabor Szabo on guitar, here we have one of the great lost guitar jazz albums of the 1960s.

Just look at this line up!

You’ve got Bob Thiele who was head of Impulse Records between 1961 and 1969. Producer of such artists of great renown as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus and many others. Gypsy guitar great Gabor Szabo laying out the slabs of psychedelic sound on the guitar, Bill Plummer on raga sitar, plus the sturdy backing of fellow Wrecking Crew regulars Carol Kaye on bass, Mike Melvoin on keyboards and the drummer on hundreds of ‘60s rock singles, Jim Gordon.

But that’s not all. There’s also the legendary Tom Scott on saxophone very early in his career. Scott and Szabo’s interplay throughout this necessary platter is essential. And how can you beat covers of then-current hits “Light My Fire” by The Doors, The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Fakin’ It,” and Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Woman # 12×35” (with some of the corniest sixties vocals credited to The California Dreamers who soound very middle of the road and very Ray Conniff).

Capping things off is a Charles Lloyd cover “Forest Flower” and two very swinging Szabo originals, including “Sophisticated Wheels “ and “Krishna” that provide the necessary raga interplay between Szabo and the rest of the ensemble.

Edited: August 27th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Harlem Hendoo” by Al Hirt

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Harlem Hendoo” by Al Hirt

Time was running out. By 1968, the gravy train that artists like Al Hirt and Herb Alpert had ridden to fame on, was about to make a stop. Sure, Alpert would score his last huge hit, the #1 Bacharach and David gem “This Guy’s In Love With You” in 1968, but shortly after that, even Alpert’s run at the top would end until the mid-1980s.

Things were even worse for Al Hirt. It had been four years since Hirt was on the top with singles like the Allen Toussaint-penned “Java,” “The Green Hornet Theme” and “Sugar Lips,” plus top-ten albums like “Honey In The Horn” and “Cotton Candy.” Changes would have to be made, so like many others of his ilk, Al Hirt decided to try new things to see if he could keep himself commercially viable.

The sound would have to be updated, so in 1967 “The Round Mound Of Sound” (as he was known) released the album “Soul In The Horn.” Gone was the old, good-time-trad-Jazz-Dixieland-Bourbon Street sound of yore, only to be replaced by certainly the funkiest, au go-go sounds to ever come out of Hirt’s horn. Think “Shagadelic,” but a whole lot more jazz, and a whole lot more serious in the groove department.

Hirt sets the tone right from the opening cut with a cover of Booker T. & The MG’s 1966 single “Honey Pot.” Perhaps the album’s most famous song is today’s Song Of The Day, “Harlem Hendoo,” which was famously sampled by De La Soul for the track “Ego Trippin’ Pt. 2” from the album “Buhloone Mindstate” and also by The Roots on the track “Stay Cool” from their 2004 album, “The Tipping Point.”

Credits for this album are hard to come by, but what I do know was that the sessions were arranged by George “Teacho” Wiltshire (known for his work with Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, Gene Pitney and many others) and produced at RCA Victor’s Studios in New York City and Chicago by Paul Robinson (who would later produce tracks for Maxi Priest in the 1980s).

The lion-share of the songs were written by Paul Griffin, who was famous for session work with King Curtis, Bob Dylan (on Highway 61 and Blonde On Blonde, no less), Van Morrison, The Isley Brothers, and Steely Dan (on Aja). There are several other tracks from the record that really cashed my register, including the island-flavored “Calypsoul” and the relentlessly groovilicious “Love Ya’ Baby.”

Al Hirt’s foray into soul never did bring him back into the charts or the forefront of the music scene, but he did continue to play at his club in New Orleans, and years later make many DJ crate diggers very happy.

Edited: July 29th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Reincarnation Of A Lovebird” by Charles Mingus

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Reincarnation Of A Lovebird” by Charles Mingus

You can almost see the flight of the bird in question during the introduction of this masterwork by bassist Charles Mingus.

However, this bird is actually Charlie Parker, with whom Mingus performed on many occasions and to whom this song is dedicated. In Mingus’ own words: “I wouldn’t say I set out to write a piece on Bird. I knew it was a mournful thing when I was writing it. Suddenly I realize it was Bird. [...] It’s mainly about my misunderstanding of Bird […] In one way, the work isn’t like him. It’s built on long lines and most of his pieces were short lines. But it’s my feeling about Bird. I felt like crying when I wrote it.” (Nat Hentoff from The Clown liner notes)

Mingus was a master at orchestral Jazz in the same category as Duke Ellington, but where Ellington was always tasteful and pleasing; Mingus’ M-O was more challenging and deeply emotional, with a penchant for the jagged and gnarly alongside the tuneful and lovely. And with Dannie Richmond on drums to complete the rhythm section, Mingus could certainly swing, as evidenced on this classic from the 1957 album The Clown. The lineup on this track includes Shafi Hadi (aka Curtis Porter) on alto and tenor saxophone, Jimmy Knepper on trombone, Wade Legge on piano and Dannie Richmond on drums.

Edited: June 25th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 10/1/13 – “Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy” by Chick Corea and Return To Forever

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy” by Chick Corea and Return To Forever

Pianist extraordinaire, Chick Corea, got his professional start playing with the likes of Cab Calloway, Blue Mitchell, Herbie Mann, Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria. He went on to replace Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis’ band, and played with him from 1968 through 1971 during a crucial time when Miles was moving away from straight-ahead jazz, and toward a more psychedelic rock sound. He appeared on Davis’ seminal albums Filles de Kilimanjaro, In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Black Beauty and Miles Davis At Fillmore.

After leaving Miles’ ranks with Dave Holland, he formed the group Circle with Anthony Braxton and Barry Altschul before forming Return To Forever in 1971. The first two Return To Forever albums featured husband and wife Flora Purim on vocals and Airto Moreira on percussion, plus Joe Farrell on flute and soprano sax and Stanley Clark on bass. This group released their self-titled debut album, and 1973’s Light As A Feather. Both albums had a Latin-tinged ethereal sound, highlighted by Purim’s distant vocal style.

For Chick Corea’s second album of 1973, Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira and Joe Farrell were out, and Lenny White (drums) and Bill Connors (guitar) joined Corea (synthesizer, piano) and Stanley Clarke (bass) for an all-instrumental collection that pushed the boundaries of jazz by adding more rock instrumentation to the mix.

The album was recorded twice. The first version featured Steve Gadd on drums who didn’t want to tour with the group, so the complete album was cut again with Lenny White on drums. The unreleased tapes of the Gadd version have been lost to the ages.

Hymn refined Miles Davis’ blueprint for jazz rock by moving it more into the mainstream with electric instrumentation and the sounds of funk, psychedelia, Latin jazz and instrumental prog rock, highlighted by the interplay between Corea and guitarist Bill Connors.

Today’s Song Of the Day is the album’s title track which has become a cornerstone of Corea’s repertoire. The album also features Corea’s “Captain Señor Mouse,” “The Game Maker,” “Theme To The Mothership” and Stanley Clarke’s “After The Cosmic Rain.”

After this album, Al DiMeola would replace Bill Connors and Return To Forever would release best-selling records throughout the 1970s like Where Have I Known You Before, No Mystery, Romantic Warrior and Musicmagic.

Edited: September 30th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 9/16/13 – “Freeway” by Gerry Mulligan Quartet

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Freeway” by Gerry Mulligan Quartet

Here is some of the greatest the West Coast had to offer, from the very first release by Pacific Jazz Records! I scored an original 1952 10” pressing of this one (Pacific Jazz catalog number PJLP-1) on heavy microgroove vinyl in a garage sale many years ago!

Not only did this record signal a bright new beginning for a Jazz record label that would become a force to be reckoned with, but it introduced the stellar line up of Gerry Mulligan on the tenor sax, a young Chesney (Chet) Baker on trumpet, Chico Hamilton on drums and Von (Bob) Whitlock on the bass.

And the contrapuntal sound, featuring a give and take between Mulligan and Baker as they weave around each other: one minute they’re playing together, one moment they’re playing off of each other, offered a sound to Jazz fans of the fifties previously unheard of.

Three hours in the car today offered me the opportunity to play about half of European Label,  Jazz Dynamic’s five CD Complete Chet Baker & Gerry Mulligan 1952-1957 set, which I consider time very well spent.

The boys on this album cover look pretty strung out…but their playing couldn’t be tighter…

Edited: September 15th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 9/7/13 – “Rex Rhumba” by The Nat Cole Trio

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Rex Rhumba” by The Nat Cole Trio

Sure we all know Nat “King” Cole could sing…and lord knows he surely could play piano too.

This Cole original highlights the guitarist in the trio, the great Oscar Moore, on a track from the essential 3-CD The Capitol Transcriptions recorded on March 20, 1946. Rounding out the trio was Johnny Miller on bass.

Edited: September 7th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/31/13 – “That Old Black Magic” by Tony Bennett with The Dave Brubeck Trio

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “That Old Black Magic” by Tony Bennett with The Dave Brubeck Trio

Every so often the reissue gods bestow upon us a truly special recording that music fans never knew existed.  Recently, one such recording was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public by our friends at Sony Legacy, featuring a musical summit that took place between Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck on August 28, 1962 at The White House.

The event was a special concert recorded at the Sylvan Theater (at the base of the Washington Monument) welcoming a new group of volunteers (or interns as they are now called) that had come to Washington DC to work for the government.

The show captures the two entertainers at the height of their powers. Bennett’s “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” had been released 17 days prior to the event and was climbing the charts. Brubeck was basking in the afterglow of his classic “Take Five” recording. It was also the first time of two, that Bennett and Brubeck shared the stage together in concert. Fans would have to wait until the 2009 Newport Jazz Festival to see them perform together again on the same stage.

How a recording this vibrant and important remained in the vaults for over fifty years is a mystery to me. According to the liner notes, the recording of “That Old Black Magic” from the show had been used on a compilation album over 40 years ago, lending credibility that a tape of the whole show might exist somewhere within the vaults of Sony Music. After many years of super sleuthing by Sony archivist Matt Kelly, a tape of the concert labeled “An American Jazz Concert” was found filed among classical recordings from the era, with no reference to whom the performers were.

The show begins with introductions by radio personality William B. Williams, followed by a set performed by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. At the time, the Quartet consisted of Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums. The group launches into a quick tempo version of “Take Five,” and follows it with three Brubeck originals, “Nomad,” “Thank You” and “Castilian Blues.” The group is captured in fine form, particularly Morello whose drum solo on “Castilian Blues” is a highlight.

Next up is a set by Tony Bennett backed by his longtime accompanist Ralph Sharon on piano, with Hal Gaylor on bass and Billy Exiner on drums. Bennett’s set includes fan favorites “Just In Time,” “Small World” (from the musical Gypsy, “Make Someone Happy,” “Rags To Riches,” “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)” and “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” He still performs most of these songs when he takes the stage today at the tender age of 87.

What next ensues was a truly special, totally unrehearsed set by Bennett backed by The Brubeck Trio (Paul Desmond sat this set out) featuring the two sparring together on “Lullaby Of Broadway,” “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town),” “There Will Never Be Another You,” and today’s Song Of The Day, “That Old Black Magic,” featuring a terrific piano solo by Brubeck.

“It was very spontaneous – a real jam session, where you really don’t plan what you’re going to sing or how you’re going to play it,” said Bennett, “I just gave Dave the key and the song, and we just went for it.”

The sound quality of the recording is in-your-face crystal clear, giving the listener the immediacy of traveling back in time and being there for the actual event. It’s is indeed amazing that a recording of this vintage and of such high quality has remained unreleased in the vaults so long. Who knows what other gems may lurk in the deepest and darkest crevices of the record company vaults.

Only time will tell…

Edited: August 30th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/1/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Our Man Higgins” by Lee Morgan

When an edited version of trumpeter Lee Morgan’s signature song, “The Sidewinder” was released as a single in 1964, it became the song that resuscitated Blue Note Records, literally saving the company from bankruptcy. As a result, Blue Note hounded Morgan to come up with another song that could do the trick again.

The soul-jazz title track from the album Cornbread was the song Morgan came up with, and while it captures the groovilicious feel of “The Sidewinder,” it failed to do the trick on the charts.

The album was recorded on September 18, 1965 and features the hard-bop playing of Lee Morgan on trumpet, Herbie Hancock on piano, Jackie McLean on alto sax, Hank Mobley on tenor sax, Larry Ridley on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. All of the album’s songs were composed by Morgan except “Ill Wind,” which is a standard by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler.

Before, “The Sidewinder,” Lee Morgan’s hard-bop trumpet playing figured prominently on sides by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, trombonist extraordinaire Granchan Moncur, the king of the Hammond B3 Jimmy Smith, bebop legend Dizzy Gillespie and as a sideman to John Coltrane on his classic album “Blue Train.” During his stint at Blue Note, Morgan cut 24 albums as a leader and played on sessions by Hank Mobley, Jimmy Smith, Art Blakey, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, to name but a few.

While the title track to Cornbread was the one Blue Note had its hopes set on to shift copies of the record at retail, the record includes a wealth of great tunes including today’s blistering, hard-driving Song Of The Day, his signature samba ballad “Ceora,” the sweet and sensitive “Ill Wind” (which gets the Miles treatment with Morgan on muted modal horn and Hancock playing a wondrous piano solo), and the album’s hard-bop closer “Most Like Lee.”

Morgan lived most of his adult life as a heroin addict, which unfortunately led to his murder at the hands of Helen More, his common-law wife. On February 19, 1972, More walked into a New York City club called Slugs, and shot him point blank as he was getting ready to begin his set on stage. While his injuries weren’t at first fatal, the ambulance service was afraid to go to the neighborhood where the club was, and by the time they got there, Morgan had bled to death at the age of 33.

Edited: July 31st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/29/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “House Party Starting” by Herbie Nichols Trio

If Herbie Nichols is remembered for anything, it’s probably for composing one of Billie Holiday’s signature songs “Lady Sings The Blues.” Problem is, Nichols is all but totally forgotten today, even though he recorded a handful of seminal EPs and an album for the Blue Note record label between 1955 and 1956. For the 30 or so years after these recordings were made, the music sat in the vaults, out of print and out of most people’s minds. Sometimes the greats don’t get their due during their own lifetime.

During the late ‘30s, Nichols was part of the Harlem jazz scene, playing at such clubs as Minton’s and Monroe’s while giving birth to a new form of music called bebop. Upon his return after serving 18 months in the army, he found himself outside of the bebop jazz circles he was previously part of, so he began playing New Orleans Dixieland and rhythm and blues in order to continue to support himself playing music.

While still very much a struggling musician and songwriter, a big break came when Mary Lou Williams recorded three of his tunes in 1952 including “The Bebop Waltz” (retitled “Mary’s Waltz”), “At Da Function” and “Stennell” (retitled “Opus Z”).  Then Billie Holiday heard his song “Serenade,” wrote her own set of lyrics to it, and retitled it “Lady Sings The Blues.”  It would go on to be one of the songs most closely associated with her for the rest of her career.

He was as original and innovative as Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk and Dave Brubeck, yet it literally took him from 1937 through 1955 to convince Alfred Lion to record him as a leader for Blue Note records.

The session for today’s Song Of The Day, “House Party Starting” took place on August 1, 1955 and was ultimately released on the self-titled Blue Note album (1519). Joining Nichols on piano are Al McKibbon on bass and the great Max Roach on drums. The song was later covered by Mal Waldron with Steve Lacy in 1991 on their Novus album Hot House.

Nichol’s entire recorded output during his lifetime consisted of the two EPs and an album he cut for Blue Note, and one additional album released on Bethlehem in 1957. He died of leukemia in 1963. He was 44 years old.

Edited: May 28th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/21/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Bloop Bleep” by Gary McFarland

Gary McFarland towed the line between samba infused light jazz and orchestral mood music. He was a vibist from California who was known as much for his vibe playing as he was for his arranging and orchestrations for others.

After serving in the army where he took up trombone, trumpet and keyboards, McFarland settled on the vibes and began fronting an orchestra that backed the likes of Anita O’Day, Bill Evans and Stan Getz. He also recorded notable sessions with Bob Brookmeyer and Gary Burton.

McFarland began to make a name for himself as an artist after recording a 1963 album with Bill Evans called The Gary McFarland Orchestra/Special Guest Soloist: Bill Evans. After writing arrangements for Stan Getz’s 1964 album Big Band Bossa Nova, McFarland dove head first into the Bossa Nova craze that was sweeping the jazz world. He released several Jazz samba albums for Verve Records that were notable for his soft, wordless vocalese singing, atmospheric whistling and intimate Bossa Nova vibe on a mix of originals and covers of some of the current rock and pop hits of the day. In fact, McFarland was one of the first jazz artists of the 1960s to cover Beatles songs.

Today’s Song Of The Day comes from his 1965 Bossa Nova infused masterpiece, The In Sounds featuring the lineup of Bob Brookmeyer on trombone, Kenny Burrell and Gabor Szabo on guitar, Bob Bushnell and Richard Davis on bass, Candino on conga, Sol Gubin and Grady Tate on guitar, Willie Rodriguez and Joe Venuto on percussion, Spencer Sinatra on flute and Sadao Watanabe on flute and tenor sax. McFarland not only plays vibes and sings on the album, but he also wrote the arrangements and conducted. The album was produced by Creed Taylor and was recorded at Van Gelder Studios in Engelwood Cliffs, New Jersey over two days in August of 1965.

McFarland coos vocals about a dripping faucet on today’s Song Of The Day and manages to make it sound intimate, alluring and oh, so sensual. The album is an automatic chill pill that has the power to deposit the listener onto the beaches of Rio de Janeiro at sunset. Following this record, McFarland began to focus more on arranging and recorded several orchestral records that were both intimate and sedate to a fault.

In 1968, McFarland teamed with guitarist Gabor Szabo and vibist Cal Tjader to form the Skye Record label. The label released albums by each of the label principals, as well as titles by Lena Horne, Chuck Rainey, Grady Tate and Airto Moreira. He also released his critically lauded jazz symphony, America the Beautiful around this time.  The label lasted for two years and closed up shop after filing for bankruptcy.

McFarland’s career was cut short on November 2, 1971 after he and his friend David Burnett both ingested drinks that were laced with a fatal dose of methadone in a New York City bar. McFarland was 38 years old.

Edited: May 20th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/17/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Down By The Riverside” by Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery

It was a summit between the leading purveyor of the Hammond B-3 organ, “The Incredible” Jimmy Smith, and one of greatest jazz guitarists of all time, Wes Montgomery. And together, they unleashed not one classic album, but two.

They didn’t call him “Incredible” for nothing. Jimmy Smith was the single most influential jazz organ player of all time. He pretty much changed the landscape of Jazz during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s by prolifically recording albums that popularized the Hammond B-3 Organ as a key instrument in jazz and blues. By combining the B-3 organ with a Leslie speaker, Smith was able to change the way the organ worked within the jazz idiom, by using the instrument as a musical and percussive element.

Smith signed with Verve Records in 1952 after a prolific stint with Blue Note and proceeded to record over 40 albums for the label during the 1950s and 1960s, including sessions with Kenny Burrell, George Benson, Grant Green, Stanley Turrentine, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Jackie McLean, Grady Tate and Donald Bailey.  He also recorded numerous big band sessions under the direction of Oliver Nelson including two albums with Wes Montgomery.

Wes Montgomery was right up there with Django Reinhardt, Grant Green, Charlie Christian, Gabor Szabo and George Benson when it comes to jazz guitar. And while he only walked this earth for a short time, he left behind a lasting legacy of recordings that never fail to astound.

Montgomery hailed from Indiana and idolized the guitar playing of Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. He didn’t begin to play the guitar until the age of 20, and then primarily led his own small groups. He recorded sessions with the likes of Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Smith, Milt Jackson, Cannonball Adderly and Nat Adderly, and was once recruited by John Coltrane to join his group, although he declined in favor of leading his own.

Throughout the 1960s, he recorded for the Riverside, Verve and A&M record labels and was nominated for many Grammy Awards, winning one in 1966 for his recording of “Goin’ Out of My Head.”

Today’s Song Of The Day comes from the album Jimmy And Wes: The Dynamic Duo which was the first of two albums Montgomery and Jimmy Smith recorded together in 1966. It was also Montgomery’s last session for Verve before moving on to A&M records.

Together, the two let fly right from the outset on their superb swingin’ take of “Down By The Riverside” that emphasizes all that is great about this musical union: conversant call and response interplay that leaves plenty of room for each musician to stretch out, a screaming horn chart courtesy of Oliver Nelson that raises the level of excitement, and the complementary kinship of Smith’s percussive jabs on the organ keys with Montgomery’s smooth, round guitar tones, as the two musicians push each other to new levels of greatness.

With inventive big band charts courtesy of Oliver Nelson and a cast of players including Clark Terry on trumpet, Phil Woods on reeds, Grady Tate on drums and Ray Barretto on congas, this album has much to offer, particularly on stellar readings of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Duke Ellington’s “Night Train” (titled “Happy-Go-Lucky Local” here) and on a version of vibist Gary McFarland’s “13 (Death March)” which is neither a march or deathly.

There’s plenty of blues and greasy soul on offer in this classic album that was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder in 1966. It is part of Verve Record’s excellent Master Edition series that includes a full color informational booklet with photos, and a bonus track alternate version of “O.G.D. (Road Song)” that was not part of the original album.

Edited: May 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/5/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Waiting Is Forbidden” by Rudresh Mahanthappa

Welcome to the sonic space where Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time meets King Crimson. Sound intriguing? If it doesn’t, read no further because today’s Song Of The Day is not for the faint of heart or those of closed mind.

Despite his exotic name, Rudresh Mahanthappa was born in Italy of Indian descent, but raised in Boulder Colorado from a very young age. He studied music at Berklee in California and earned his Master Of Fine Arts degree at DePaul University in Chicago. While at Berklee, he was introduced to Indian saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath, and the two traveled to India to play concerts between 2005 and 2008 while working on a grant. He is a Guggenheim fellow and was nominated for the 2012 Downbeat International Critics Poll as Alto Saxophonist of the Year.

Mahanthappa relocated to New York City in 2010 where he leads several different outfits including The Rudresh Mahanthappa Quartet (with Vijay Iyer or Craig Taborn on piano, François Moutin on bass, and Dan Weiss on drums), Raw Materials (with Vijay Iyer), Indo-Pak Coalition (with Rez Abbasi on sitar-guitar and Dan Weiss on tabla), MSG (with Ronan Guilfoyle on bass and Chander Sardjoe on drums) and the electro-acoustic quartet Samdhi featuring guitarist David Gilmore.

Mahanthappa has released 13 albums and has appeared as a sideman on 19 other projects. Today’s Song Of The Day comes from his latest album entitled Gamak featuring David “Fuze” Fiuczynski on electric guitar, Francois Moutin  on acoustic bass and Dan Weiss on drums.

Mahanthappa rips shards of sound from his horn at jaw-dropping break neck speed on “Waiting Is Forbidden,” the album’s opening track, while Fiuczynski, who is one of the most original guitarists I’ve heard in years, lays out some harmolodic sound (in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value), taking what Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time was doing and moving it forward. Then right in the middle of it all, the whole band effortlessly goes into full-on King Crimson crunch mode. It’s a track that is both breathtaking and totally original in its scope.

Elsewhere, there are echoes of Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler sifted through a prog-rock filter. “Lots Of Interest,” finds Fiuczynski shadowing Mahanthappa on the guitar before both go their separate ways and coming back together time and time again. On the track “Abhogi” Fiuczynski plays a slippery slide part on his guitar that is reminiscent of some of the playing of King Sunny Ade, and the track called “F” allows Moutin to set the tone on the bass while the rest of the group answers his call.

Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of the most innovative composers and performers in jazz today and Gamak is as spellbinding an experience that you’re likely to get on any current jazz album.

Edited: May 4th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/10/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Light My Fire” by Bob Thiele and his New Happy Times Orchestra with Gabor Szabo

It was the year of Sgt. Pepper’s and Are You Experienced. Rock was becoming jazzy…and jazz was taking on the current crop of rock greats. Hence today’s Song Of The Day.

Credited to Bob Thiele and his New time Happy Orchestra with Gabor Szabo on guitar, here we have one of the great lost guitar jazz albums of the 1960s.

Just look at this line up!

You’ve got Bob Thiele who was head of Impulse Records between 1961 and 1969. Producer of such artists of great renown as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus and many others. Gypsy guitar great Gabor Szabo laying out the slabs of psychedelic sound on the guitar, Bill Plummer on raga sitar, plus the sturdy backing of Wrecking Crew regulars Carol Kaye on bass, Mike Melvoin on keyboards and the drummer on hundreds of ‘60s rock singles, Jim Gordon on the drums.

But that’s not all. Here we have the legendary Tom Scott on saxophone very early in his career. Scott and Szabo’s interplay throughout this necessary platter is essential. And how can you beat the likes of then-current hits like “Light My Fire” by The Doors, The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Fakin’ It,” and Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Woman # 12×35” (with some of the corniest sixties vocals credited to The California Dreamers who soound very middle of the road and very Ray Conniff).

Capping things off is a Charles Lloyd cover “Forest Flower” and two very swinging Szabo originals, including “Sophisticated Wheels “ and “Krishna” that provide the necessary raga interplay between Szabo and the rest of the ensemble.

Edited: April 9th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/3/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Friendship” by Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five 

Some stone cold advice from Mr. Jordan and company waxed back in 1947.

It’s all here on this track…the roots of rock ‘n’ roll…rap…and comedy all rolled up into one tall tale of hilarity. That’s Wild Bill Davis on the piano and, of course, Jordan himself on the vocals. When it came to big band, jump blues, jazz and boogie woogie, Jordan was top of the heap ranking just behind Duke Ellington and Count Basie in popularity back in the day.

Louis Jordan was an accomplished songwriter, saxophone player and entertainer.  His first big gig was playing sax and singing with the great Chick Webb Orchestra.  After striking out on his own, he landed 57 hits on the R&B charts including “G.I. Jive,” “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” “Buzz Me,” “Beans And Cornbread” and many others leading to his being dubbed “King Of the Jukebox.”

Jordan fronted his own band for over twenty years. His unbridled charisma led to features in many films with his band The Tympany Five, allowing us the pleasure of seeing him in action today.

I recently acquired a 5 CD set on the JSI label featuring 131 of his recordings…that’s over six hours of Jazz, Jump and Jive!

Edited: April 2nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/19/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” by Billie Holiday

You can tell a lot about people by the records they own. A relative of a friend dropped some records off at my house this weekend for me to look at. While most had condition issues and were hardly worth selling on eBay, the guy did have some interesting and really good records which he graciously told me to keep anyway.

There were jazz records from the 1950s, at least a dozen Sinatra albums, a fair share f classical recordings including several by Russian composer Shostakovich, some requisite Broadway cast albums, and, of course, a copy of Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream & Other Delights. (Another one for the collection!) All in all, the guy had sophisticated taste in music.

God, I love those deep groove (micro-groove) records from the 1950s! Back then, records were thicker and had deeper grooves which masked the sound of the scratches. Many of the records that I looked at this weekend are visually damaged, many with scratches that you can feel when you run your finger over the surface of the record. As a record collector, that is always a sign of trouble upon playback. But many of the records from the first batch I played sounded pretty good.

One of the records was the Verve Clef Series Hi-Fi album Body And Soul by Billie Holiday. This eight track album was recorded over four days in January 1957 with sympathetic backup by the great Ben Webster on tenor saxophone, Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet, Barney Kessel on the very tasty guitar parts, Jimmy Rowles on piano and Alvin Stoller playing drums on half the tracks, with Larry Bunker on the rest. For an artist that is so identified with pain, heartbreak and sorrow, Holiday sounds downright lighthearted here with her lilting voice sinuously slurring the melody.

Another highlight is another one from the Verve Clef Seri es credited to Charlie Parker and His Orchestra called Swedish Schnapps. In spite of the credit, the 1951 album is not an orchestral record at all, rather it features Parker backed by two different small groups from 1949 and 1951.

The collection also included a five record Art Tatum solo piano set on the Clef label, several Ella Fitzgerald albums, and albums by McCoy Tyner and Ahmad Jamal.

Some of the other interesting records in the lot were a record on the Cook label called Burlesque Uncensored, a private pressing of a left-wing radio show from the 1950s called The Investigator, and Music For Losers by Dixieland jazz trombone player Turk Murphy.

Edited: March 18th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/18/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Jitterbug Waltz” by Art Tatum

Blind from cataracts at an early age, Art Tatum used his gift of perfect pitch to teach himself how to play piano. The child prodigy grew to be one of the most lyrical and technically proficient stride piano players of all time.

As a child, Tatum moved to the Toledo School Of Music where he studied piano and braille. Soon after, he found himself on radio billed as “Toledo’s Blind Pianist.” Tatum’s early style was inspired by the playing of James P Johnson, Fats Waller and Earl Hines. He achieved early notoriety by creating a sensation in the 1930s by winning a Cutting Contest (where players try to outplay each other in competition) at Morgan’s Bar in New York City playing “Tea For Two” and “Tiger Rag.”

During the 40s, he formed a trio and recorded for Decca records and then moved to Capitol in the late ‘40s. Although he did record in groups with the likes of Ben Webster, Lionel Hampton, Roy Eldridge and Benny Carter, Tatum primarily recorded solo for most of his career since musicians couldn’t keep up with his improvisational style.

During the 1950s, Tatum recorded prolifically for Norman Granz’s record labels (Clef, Norgran and Verve).  You can hear the influence he had on the Bebop movement in the sophisticated gymnastic playing on today’s Song Of The Day from 1953 which was his interpretation of a Fats Waller original.

After gigs, Tatum would show up at parties and play the piano into the wee hours of the night. Some of his “party” recordings exist and show off his ability to effortlessly pull off some of the most intricate, mind-blowing fills within a relaxed environment, while meanwhile drinking copious amounts of alcohol. About ten years ago Verve released a 2 CD set called 20thCentruy Piano Genius comprised of recordings he made at the home of Hollywood music director Ray Heindorf in 1950 and 1955. These recordings are chock full of jaw-dropping greatness.

His influence can be felt in the music of Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk. Tatum died of uremia from kidney failure at the age of 47 in 1956.

Edited: March 17th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/17/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Improvisation #2” by Pat Metheny Orchestrion Project

If the essence of Jazz is to listen to and improvise off of the musical ideas of those you are playing with, and you are in essence a one man band, can you still consider the music you make jazz?

The orchestrion is a mechanically controlled mini orchestra that was designed by Pat Metheny and controlled by his touch on the guitar. Metheny based his orchestrion on his childhood fascination for his grandfather’s player piano. But where the player piano plays itself, Metheny, in essence plays an entire orchestra controlled through his guitar in the album and film, The Orchestrion Project. Metheny has termed the act of playing the orchestrion, “orchestrionics”

The orchestrion dates back to the time of player pianos in the late 1800s, right before the advent of sound recording. Inventors began to apply the principals of the player piano to the orchestra and developed early orchestrions that included piano, percussion and other mallet instruments.

Working with a number of musicians, technicians and engineers, Metheny developed his orchestrion with pianos, vibraphones, drums, guitars, basses, glass bottles, cymbals, hand percussion, tape loops and many other instruments. He then toured the world with it, following the release of his 2009 studio album Orchestrion.

The Orchestrion Project was filmed by Grammy and Emmy Award winning directors Pierre & François Lamoureux while on tour, at the former St Elias Church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in November 2010. It features Pat Metheny on guitar performing “The Orchestrion Suite” as well as other tracks from across his career.

Today’s Song Of The Day, “Improvisation #2,” comes from the 2 CD soundtrack to the film and the celestial sounds that Metheny brings forth from the orchestrion sound truly amazing. Metheny continues to take a compact version of the orchestrion out on the road with him, most recently for his 2011 reunion tour with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart.

So, to answer the question posed at the beginning of this piece…whether improvising together or alone, one spin of The Orchestrion Project confirms that this music is unequivocally jazz.

Edited: March 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/7/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Simbah” by Gerry Mulligan Tentette

The innovative instrumentation and arrangements of Miles Davis’ landmark Birth Of The Cool nonet sessions from 1948, on which Gerry Mulligan played baritone saxophone, was a major influence on Mulligan’s Tentette recordings from January of 1953 that included “Simbah,” today’s Song Of The Day. But even though the Tentette recordings are less well known than the storied Birth Of The Cool sessions, they are every bit as essential and influential.

Sessions for the songs “Westwood Walk,” “A Ballad,” “Walking Shoes” and “Rocker” took place in Los Angeles on January 29th 1953, while the recordings of “Flash,” “Ontet,” “Taking a Chance On Love”  and today’s Song Of The Day “Simbah,” took place on January 31st, 1953. Seven of the eight compositions were penned by Mulligan and the doubling up of the voices of the trumpet, baritone saxophone and drum parts was inspired by the arrangements from Davis’ Birth Of the Cool session.

The Tentette line-up consisted of Chet Baker and Pete Candoli on trumpet, Bob Enevoldsen on ventile trombone, John Graas on the French horn, Ray Siegel on tuba, Bud Shank on alto saxophone, Don Davidson and Gerry Mulligan on baritone saxophone, Joe Mondragon on bass and Larry Bunker and Chico Hamilton on drums.

While Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan had an, at-best turbulent relationship, there is no sign of animosity in the grooves of the eight tracks from the session that are featured on the album Walking Shoes,”  a 1972 vinyl Capitol compilation album. In 1971, Mulligan commented “The tentet (sic) is essentially my original quartet with Chet Baker combined with the instrumentation of the Miles Davis nonet…I would have liked to pursued (the tentette) further at the time, but c’est la vie.”

The recordings of the Mulligan Tentette and Davis’ Birth Of The Cool both marked a major development in post-bebop jazz whilst casting a long, lingering shadow on all that would follow in symphonic jazz.

Edited: March 6th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/5/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Push Push” by Herbie Mann

Herbie Mann was already ten years into a career that established him as a purveyor of Afro Cuban Jazz, Latin Jazz and Bossa Nova music by 1971 and the release of his album Push Push.

Mann had released albums for Bethlehem, Prestige, Epic, Verve and Savoy, before signing with Atlantic Records in 1962 where he would release numerous records over the next eight years that established him as the premiere flautist in all of jazz. While at Atlantic, Mann worked with a whole host of influential percussionists and instrumentalists like Ray Barretto, Michael Olatunji, Sergio Mendes, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bill Evans and Chick Corea, while stretching the very boundaries of Jazz to include elements of world music.

By the late ‘60s, influences from the soul and rock scene began to seep into Mann’s repertoire and he went down south to Memphis to record with producer Tom Dowd and the folks at Stax Records. In 1970, Mann founded his own Embryo Record label (a subsidiary of Atlantic Records by way of Cotillion Records) as an outlet for him to release his own albums and those of artists he felt were worthy.

Today’s Song Of the Day is the title track from Mann’s second Embryo release, Push Push. Once you get past the creepy and somewhat offensive cover image (I guess this passed for sexy back in 1971), and the raised velvet image of a copulating couple on the inside of the gatefold, you were treated to one of the premiere jazz rock recordings of all time.

For one,  Mann’s backing group included some of the greatest jazz and soul session men of the time, including Cornell Dupree and David Spinozza on guitar, Richard Tee on piano and organ, Chuck Rainey, Jerry Jemmott and Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass, Bernard Purdie and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums and Ralph MacDonald on percussion. And, with the exception of one track, all of the guitar solos were played by Duane Allman, in what was his last session.

The album includes several Mann originals, including the title track, plus covers of Aretha Franklin’s “Spirit In The Dark, “ Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On ,” Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say,” Bread’s “If” and the Jackson Five’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

To show you where Mann’s head was at, in the inner gatefold he plainly states that “Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On is the best album of the year!!” Even back then, they already knew what they had.

Edited: March 4th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman –3/4/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Savoy Truffle” by Ella Fitzgerald

About a month ago, I featured Fats Domino’s recording of “Lady Madonna” from the 1969 album Fats Is Back. That record was produced by Richard Perry for Reprise Records, and today’s Song Of the Day follows Perry to the very next project he worked on, Ella by Ella Fitzgerald.

Reprise records of the late ‘60s was an artist’s haven due in no small part to the approach label head Mo Ostin took towards nurturing his roster. As a result, the label attracted top-shelf folk and rock attractions like Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Ry Cooder and Arlo Guthrie.

But let’s face it, Reprise was once Frank Sinatra’s label and it always had a sweet spot for its easy listening releases. Under Sinatra’s leadership, the Reprise roster featured records mostly by him and cronies like Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Jo Stafford. When Sinatra sold the label in 1963 to Warner Bros., the label came under the direction of Mo Ostin.

Under Ostin’s tutelage, the label’s easy listening roster grew hipper and included releases by Theo Bikel, Petula Clark, The Vogues, Gordon Lightfoot, Rod McKuen, Randy Newman, Dion, Harper’s Bizarre, Lee Hazelwood, Tom Lehrer, Mike Post Coalition and Kenny Rogers & The First Edition.

One of the label’s early strategies was to find worthy artists who had fallen out of the spotlight, and match them up with a sympathetic producer who could give their recordings a contemporary sheen. For Ella Fitzgerald’s Reprise debut, Ostin matched her up with producer Richard Perry.

Perry booked time at Olympic Studios in London and had Ella record no less than three tunes by Smokey Robinson, including a sumptuous take on “Ooh Baby Baby,” The Temptations’ “Get Ready” and a sultry and soulful version of “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game.”  And under Perry’s direction in choosing repertoire, she also turned in more than credible versions of songs by Randy Newman (“Yellow Man” and “I Wonder Why”), Bacharach and David (“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”), STAX men Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd (“Knock On Wood”) and Harry Nilsson (“Open Your Window”).

However, no late ‘60s career resuscitation could be complete without a couple of Beatle tunes thrown in for good measure, and on this album Ella sings “Got To Get You Into My Life” which had been covered by numerous artists, and George Harrison’s “Savoy Truffle,” which was covered by almost no one, making Ella’s version such a treat. Although Ella sang well throughout the album, no hits ensued and the album quickly went out of print.

For her second and last album for Reprise, Things Ain’t What They Used To Be (And You Better Believe It), Ella teamed up with arranger Gerald Wilson and producer Norman Granz to record a record with far more traditional jazz arrangements, while still offering some outstanding cover choices like “Sunny,” “Mas Que Nada,” “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “A Man And A Woman” and “Days Of Wine And Roses.”

Edited: March 3rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/25/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Jungle Strut” by Gene Ammons

He was the son of boogie woogie pianist Albert Ammons, but Gene Ammons or “Jug” as he was affectionately nicknamed was known more for his full round tone on the tenor.

He got the name “Jug” from Billy Eckstine, after not fitting into the hats the band wore on stage. While with Eckstine, he played alongside Charlie Parker and later, Dexter Gordon.  He also recorded sessions Sonny Stitt, Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Mal Waldron, Art Farmer and many others, until narcotics derailed his career resulting in two jail terms taking away nine years of his life.

Upon release in 1969, he was signed by Bob Weinstock, who offered him the largest Jazz recording contract at the time with Prestige Records where he recorded today’s Song Of The Day.

Edited: February 24th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/20/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Bacchanal” by Gabor Szabo

Yesterday, I wrote about the Lena Horne/Gabor Szabo album Lena & Gabor. In doing so, I listened to that album, plus records by Lena Horne and Gabor Szabo while researching the piece.  As a result, I decided to feature one of Szabo’s great albums today, and to reuse some of the information that I used in yesterday’s post.

Gabor Szabo was one of the few guitarists whose stands comfortably beside Jerry Garcia when it comes to guitar sound, technique and improvisatory style. His use of Indian and Middle Eastern scales had a profound influence on the likes of John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, Robbie Krieger of The Doors and Larry Coryell. In fact, he composed and originally recorded the song “Gypsy Queen,” that Santana took to the charts in 1970.

Szabo was born in Hungary and came to America to study at the Berklee School Of Music in Boston. He played guitar with the Chico Hamilton Quartet between 1961 and 1965, before recording a series of classic jazz albums for Impulse that melded his modal psychedelic guitar style with eastern influences on choice covers of contemporary hits. His 1966 Impulse album Sorcerer is one of the seminal jazz guitar recordings of the 1960s. Concurrent with his recording career, Szabo launched his own record label and also toured and played as a member of Lena Horne’s live performance band.

Szabo left Impulse Records in 1968 to form his own Skye Records label along with vibist Cal Tjader and composer/arranger Gary McFarland in 1968. The label was set up to feature recordings by its principals, and other artists who interested them. In the two years the label was active, they released 21 records, including albums by Lena Horne, Ruth Brown, Grady Tate, Chuck Rainey and Airto.

Szabo’s first release for the label was the album Bacchanal. The album was recorded at Western Recording Studios in Los Angeles in February of 1969 and included a band comprised of drummer Jim Keltner, classically trained guitarist Jim Stewart, bassist Louis Kabok, and percussionist Hal Gordon.

Szabo’s trademark fluid style of jazz-raga jamming is in full bloom on the Donovan tunes “The King Fisher Blues” and “Sunshine Superman,” as well as a lyrically beautiful reading of the “Theme from Valley Of The Dolls.” The album also includes funky Eastern-tinged takes of Lee Hazelwood’s “Some Velvet Morning,” Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue” and Bacharach and David’s “The Look Of Love.” Rounding off the set are two psychedelic originals “Divided City” and today’s Song Of The Day and the album’s title track, “Bacchanal.”

Edited: February 19th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/19/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Watch What Happens” by Lena Horne & Gabor Szabo

A funny thing happened when jazz and pop vocalists like Lena Horne fell on the wrong side of the generation gap during the late 1960s. Suddenly, older classics like “Stormy Weather” and “Love Me Or Leave Me” began to sound hopelessly out of date to a younger generation of listeners, who didn’t give artists like Horne the time of day, or worse, time on their turntables.

Changes would have to be made, and many of the artists began recording popular songs of the day and augmenting their once jazz or orchestral recordings with electric guitars, electric bass, organ and drums. Sinatra did it. So did Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams. It was a matter of survival, and at least Lena Horne had the talent and had been around the block enough times to attempt to adapt to the times.

While many of the pop vocalists didn’t have the wherewithal to update their sound and still retain credibility,  Horne was a sympathetic and adept interpreter  of song and managed just fine to survive with her career intact.

By 1969, Lena Horne hadn’t released a new album for four years and was pretty much considered yesterday’s news as a recording artist. At the same time, Gabor Szabo, who is one of the few guitarists whose stands comfortably beside Jerry Garcia when it comes to guitar sound, technique and improvisatory style, left Impulse Records to form his own Skye Records label along with vibist Cal Tjader and composer/arranger Gary McFarland.

Szabo was born in Hungary and came to America to study at the Berklee School Of Music in Boston. He played guitar with the Chico Hamilton quartet between 1961 and 1965, before recording a series of classic jazz albums for Impulse that melded his modal psychedelic guitar style with choice covers of contemporary hits. His 1966 album Sorcerer  is one of the seminal jazz guitar recordings of the 1960s. Concurrent with his own recording career, Szabo also toured and played as a member of Horne’s live performance band. So it only seemed natural that Gabor and Horne would eventually record an album together.

The album they recorded was appropriately called Lena & Gabor, and it featured a who’s who of great jazz session players of the time including Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree on guitar, Richard Tee on organ, Chuck Rainey on bass and Grady Tate on drums. Many of these artists also recorded albums for the Skye label as well.

The album’s repertoire included Horne’s first chart hit in some time with today’s Song Of The Day, “Watch What Happens,” which was written by Michel Legrand. The record also featured no less than four Beatles covers including versions of “In My Life,” “The Fool On The Hill,” one of the best covers of “Something” ever, and a fairly ridiculous take on “Rocky Raccoon.” Rounding out the record were versions of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Bacharach and David’s “Message To Michael” and the Charles Aznavour classic “Yesterday When I Was Young.” 

Szabo’s hypnotic and funky guitar work throughout this album is nothing short of stunning. While the Skye label only lasted two years and 21 releases, Szabo went on to write the song “Gypsy Queen” which became a hit for Santana in 1970. He continued to record records for a variety of labels until his death in 1982.

Horne never really revived her recording career with this record, but continued to be a concert draw in supper clubs and on Broadway in her 1981 revue Lena Horne: The Lady And Her Music for which she won a Tony Award. She died on Mother’s Day 2010 at the age of 92.

Edited: February 18th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 2/17/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Work Song” by Nina Simone

Here’s one that was released the year I was born, yet it sounds as hip and current as, well, I am.  OK, it is hipper and more current than I am, but it goes to show just how timeless Nina Simone’s recordings really were.

Simone’s interpretive talents as a singer and piano player earned her the nickname, “The High Priestess Of Soul,” and put her right up there with greats like Anita O’Day, Odetta, Sarah Vaughan and Judy Henske, who all possess a similar earthy style. She was a terrific songwriter, comfortable mingling soul, gospel, folk and blues into a stew that was uniquely her own, and she was also an outspoken Civil Rights activist.

It took a long time for me to crack the hard façade that Nina Simone projected, before I could really appreciate the depths of her talent. Her severe earnestness over the struggles she faced as a black woman during the infancy of the civil rights movement created a seemingly impenetrable barrier between me and her music. But with maturity on my side, I’ve come to love and respect Simone’s whole approach, and the influence she’s had on everyone from Laura Nyro and John Lennon (who cited her recording of “I Put A Spell On You” as an inspiration for The Beatles “Michelle”) to Alicia Keys and Diana Krall.

Simone came to Colpix Records in 1959, after scoring a big hit with “I Loves You, Porgy” on the Bethlehem label. Her deal at Colpix gave her complete artistic control over the material she recorded which was unheard of at the time, and she released nine albums for the label, seven of which were recorded live in front of an audience.  Today’s Song Of The Day, the much covered “Work Song” written by Nat Adderly and Oscar Brown, Jr., is from her second record for the label, 1961’s studio effort Forbidden Fruit.

Part of the album’s excellence comes down to Simone’s sympathetic backing trio consisting of Chris White on bass, Bobby Hamilton on drums, and crucially, the great Al Schackman on guitar, whose tasty licks light up this entire recording, especially on the tunes “Just Say I Love Him” and the album’s opener “Rags And Old Iron.” But its Simone’s vocals and amazing piano accompaniments, especially on “Gin House Blues,” the swaggering “I Love To Love” and the album’s title track, “Forbidden Fruit,” that really elevate the proceedings to new heights of gospel fervor.

Later albums like Nina Simone In Concert from 1964 and the essential RCA album Nina Simone Sings The Blues from 1967, included signature songs that dealt with the civil rights issues of black women like “Mississippi Goddam,” “Backlash Blues,” “Four Women” and “To Be Young, Gifted And Black,” which was later covered by Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway.  She was also responsible for introducing the songs “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “House Of The Rising Sun,” years before The Animals recorded them.

Additionally, her recording of “Sinnerman” was sampled by the likes of Kanye West and Timbaland, but her greatest success came surprisingly from the song “My Baby Cares For Me” which was recorded on  her 1960 debut album for Colpix, but didn’t become popular until 1987 when it was used in a UK television commercial for Chanel No. 5 perfume.

Edited: February 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/31/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Rhapsody In Blue” by Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra

Paul Whiteman was one of the biggest selling artists of the 1920s, and led one of the best-loved sweet bands of all time. Sweet bands were society or café orchestras. They played music for listening and as a background for dining and conversing, as opposed to swing bands whose music was the main attraction and played specifically for dancing.

Many jazz fans frowned down on Whiteman’s sweet approach to music because he believed that Jazz music could and should be notated, rather than improvised. To that end, Whiteman wrote more than 3000 arrangements for his orchestra. Whiteman also liked to write for larger orchestras in a time when most dance bands consisted of 8-10 players.

However, no matter what the music snobs thought, he still sold more records than virtually anyone else during his time, and is well respected for his contributions to music today.

Some of his biggest records include the number one hits “Whispering,” “The Japanese Sandman,” “Wang Wang Blues,” “My Mammy,” “Hot Lips,” “Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers,” “Cherie,” “Say It With Music,” “Play That Song Of India Again,” “Do It Again,” “Three O’ Clock In The Morning” and “Linger Awhile,” and there were lots more from where these came from. However, Whiteman is probably best remembered for the commissioning and debut of today’s Song Of The Day, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue.”

“Rhapsody In Blue” premiered on February 12, 1924 in New York at a show billed as An Experiment In Modern Music featuring George Gershwin on piano. The performance took place with John Phillip Sousa and Sergei Rachmaninoff present in the audience.

Whiteman recorded the piece twice. The original was recorded in 1924 acoustically with Gershwin playing the piano parts and released on Columbia Records. He recorded the piece a second time in 1927 electrically. That recording, released on the RCA Victor record label, was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1974. For today’s Song Of The Day, I’ve chosen the original recording with Gershwin on piano. There is also some great footage of Whiteman and the Orchestra performing this piece from the 1930 film King Of Jazz. Whiteman’s orchestral approach to Jazz on “Rhapsody” was a big influence on the Miles Davis and Gil Evans and their seminal recordings Birth Of The Cool, Porgy And Bess and Sketches Of Spain.

Some of the greatest jazz men of their day either got their start or moved through Whiteman’s orchestra including Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, Bunny Berigan and Fletcher Henderson. Paul Robeson and Billie Holiday both sang their way through his ranks, and Whiteman also billed a singing trio with the band called The Rhythm Boys whose members included a young Bing Crosby. Whiteman also provided music for six Broadway shows and was responsible for producing more than 600 recordings.

One of the finest compilations of Whiteman’s music was released by Collector’s Choice Music back in 1998, and is still readily available today.

Edited: January 30th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/28/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Harlem Hendoo” by Al Hirt

Time was running out. By 1968, the gravy train that artists like Al Hirt and Herb Alpert had ridden to fame on, was about to make a stop. Sure, Alpert would score his last huge hit, the #1 Bacharach and David gem “This Guy’s In Love With You” in 1968, but shortly after that, even Alpert’s run at the top would end until the mid-1980s.

Things were even worse for Al Hirt. It had been four years since Hirt was on the top with singles like the Allen Toussaint-penned “Java,” “The Green Hornet Theme” and “Sugar Lips,” plus top-ten albums like “Honey In The Horn” and “Cotton Candy.” Changes would have to be made, so like many others of his ilk, Al Hirt decided to try new things to see if he could keep himself commercially viable.

The sound would have to be updated, so in 1967 “The Round Mound Of Sound” (as he was known) released the album “Soul In The Horn.” Gone was the old, good-time-trad-Jazz-Dixieland-Bourbon Street sound of yore, only to be replaced by certainly the funkiest, au go-go sounds to ever come out of Hirt’s horn. Think “Shagadelic,” but a whole lot more jazz, and a whole lot more serious in the groove department.

Hirt sets the tone right from the opening cut with a cover of Booker T. & The MG’s 1966 single “Honey Pot.” Perhaps the album’s most famous song is today’s Song Of The Day, “Harlem Hendoo,” which was famously sampled by De La Soul for the track “Ego Trippin’ Pt. 2” from the album “Buhloone Mindstate” and also by The Roots on the track “Stay Cool” from their 2004 album, “The Tipping Point.”

Credits for this album are hard to come by, but what I do know was that the sessions were arranged by George “Teacho” Wiltshire (known for his work with Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, Gene Pitney and many others) and produced at RCA Victor’s Studios in New York City and Chicago by Paul Robinson (who would later produce tracks for Maxi Priest in the 1980s).

The lion-share of the songs were written by Paul Griffin, who was famous for session work with King Curtis, Bob Dylan (on Highway 61 and Blonde On Blonde,  no less), Van Morrison, The Isley Brothers, and Steely Dan (on Aja). There are several other tracks from the record that really cashed my register, including the island-flavored “Calypsoul” and the relentlessly groovilicious “Love Ya’ Baby.”

Al Hirt’s foray into soul never did bring him back into the charts or the forefront of the music scene, but he did continue to play at his club in New Orleans, and years later make many DJ crate diggers very happy.

Edited: January 27th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman –1/26/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Spin” by Kelan Philip Cohran & The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

If you love tuba solos, they’re here. How about exotic string instruments like zithers and kalimbas? Check, they’re in abundance. Funky, funky brass? Present and duly accounted for. Exciting music like you’ve never heard before? Look no further than the welcome return of Kelan Philip Cohran and his latest group, The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

Cohran played trumpet, zither and other string instruments with Sun Ra Arkestra from 1959-1961, performing on their albums “Interstellar Low Ways” (1959), “Holiday for Soul Dance” (1960), “Fate in a Pleasant Mood” (1960) and later guesting on the record “Angels and Demons at Play” (1965). He initially came into Ra’s orbit through a gig he had playing at private parties thrown by Sarah Vaughan.

When the Arkestra moved to New York, he chose to stay in Chicago where he founded a non-profit organization called the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). The AACM was co-founded in Cohran’s living room along with Pete Cosey, who would go on to join Earth Wind & Fire, and “Master” Henry Gibson who played percussion on hundreds of recordings by the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Kool And The Gang, Staple Singers, Rotary Connection and many others.

He recorded the album “On The Beach” in 1960 with his group the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, which included Pete Cosey and Maurice White among its ranks. Around this time he invented the Frankiphone (aka The Space Harp), an electrified kalimba, which was a big influence on Maurice White who featured lots of kalimba in the recordings of Earth Wind & Fire. Cohran then pretty much stopped recording in favor of teaching music in schools and prisons.

And it wasn’t until last year that he put together the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble consisting of 4 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 euphonium, a sousaphone and drums. Eight of the nine members of the group are Cohran’s sons, whom while growing up were given music lessons every day for several hours in the morning, and then again every night. The practice paid off handsomely in the very deep grooves of this record.

With a fresh and funky sound that belies Cohran’s 85 years, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble mix moving tuba lines, circular percussion workouts and lots of violins, harps and koras, giving the extended tunes on this album their backbone, especially on today’s Song Of The Day, the aptly titled “Spin.”

While he’s not playing music with his family, Cohran is also a renowned astronomer and presently teaches voice and music to inner city youth and adults at Northeastern Illinois University’s Center for Inner City Studies.

Music, Jazz, Song Of The Day by Eric Berman, Kelan Philip Cohran & Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Spin, Sun Ra Arkestra, Earth Wind & Fire, Maurice White, Pete Cosey, AACM, Association For the Advancement of Creative Musicians

Edited: January 26th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman- 1/21/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman- “Toe Thumb” by Billy Martin and Wil Blades

One of the best by-products of making a top albums list each year, is when those I send it to share some of their picks with me. And let me tell you, even though I do listen to more music than the average person, it is impossible to hear everything, so I do rely on this feedback to find the records that I missed. Such is the case of the album where today’s Song Of The Day hails, which was shared with me by my brother-in-law who works for the National Endowment For the Arts.

He’s the Martin who plays drums for the Jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, and has recorded with the likes of John Scofield, John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards, Chris Whitley and Iggy Pop. Blades is a Hammond B-3 extraordinaire from Chicago, whose made a name for himself in the San Francisco Jazz scene and has lent his skills to the works of John Lee Hooker and fellow organist Dr. Lonnie Smith.

This dynamic duo joined forces for a one-off late night summit at the New Orleans Jazz Festival last year, and from that one gig, they knew they would have to do it again. And together they’ve made one of the funkiest records to come down the pike in many years, the aptly titled “Shimmy,” released last year on the Royal Potato Family/Amulet Record label.

I’m talking about some serious deep-in-the-pocket groove up for grabs here. With a sound that at times harks back to the kind of Hammond B3 records that were made in the 1960s by the Legendary Jimmy Smith, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Brother Jack McDuff, Martin keeps the rhythms air tight with funky fits and starts, while Blades grabs heaping helpings of inspiration from the instrumental records released by the legendary JBs, who expertly backed James Brown on some of his most serious jams. At the same time, the record is also reminiscent of the work of another duo, The Black Keys, who tread similar territory with guitar and drums.

The tune stack says it all, with titles like “Deep In A Fried Pickle,” “Mean Greens,” “Les And Eddie” (after Les McCann and Eddie Harris), “Pick Pocket,” and today’s Song Of The Day, “Toe Thumb,” you can expect to shake, and yes shimmy to this stuff. So is it jazz? Is it funk? Is it jam band rock? The answer is undoubtedly YES!

Edited: January 20th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/19/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Dance At The Gym” from the Original Soundtrack of “West Side Story” – Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim

Broadway musicals don’t get any better than this!

You can keep your Andrew Lloyd Webber with his one song per musical, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim were the real deal! And their musical, West Side Story, has never been bettered.

West Side Story was one of the first musicals where dance played as important a role in story development as dialog. The choreography was expertly done by Jerome Robbins, who also choreographed the Broadway stage version. Robbins was fired from the production before it wrapped due to it going over budget.

The film starred Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, and was directed by Robert Wise. As was common for film musicals, Natalie Wood didn’t sing any of her parts, and her vocals were dubbed in my Marni Nixon. The same goes for Russ Tamblyn, whose voice was dubbed by Tucker Smith.

The Original Soundtrack recording was one of the biggest selling albums of the 1960s, spending 54 well-deserved weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. The performances on the Soundtrack are far superior to those from the Original Broadway Cast recording.

The musical was set in New York City of the late 1950s and was loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, except the lead characters, Tony and Maria, were of American and Puerto Rican descent respectively. In its original incarnation, the story focused on a Jewish and Catholic couple and had the working title of East Side Story. (Another working title for the musical was Kids With Matches.)

When original work began for the Broadway production of West Side Story, Stephen Sondheim was a complete unknown, while Bernstein was a renowned conductor and composer who had written several other musicals (On The Town and Wonderful Town ), operas (including Candide which also ran on Broadway), ballets (Fancy Free),film scores (On The Town and On The Waterfront), plus a fair share of choral music, symphonic music, and piano music.  

Today’s Song Of The Day is “Dance At The Gym” features several sections: a blues, promenade, mambo, pas de deux and jump. This gorgeous piece of music is breathtaking in its scope, and works on every level: as ballet, as orchestral work and as jazz.  The piece has such power, that stripped of its visuals from the movie, it stands on its own as a modern Jazz classic. Never before and never again would we ever get music this expertly crafted for the Broadway stage.

Edited: January 19th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/7/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Moon/Light” by Herbie Hancock and Foday Musa Suso

In West African culture, a griot is a musician and storyteller who holds all of the keys to the history of his people. It is the griot’s place in society to share that history through music, entertainment and poetry. The kora is a 21-string instrument that is the chief instrument accompanying a griot. Foday Musa Suso was born in Gambia and is a direct descendent of the inventor who invented the musical instrument over four hundred years ago.

Now anyone who’s ever heard the music of the kora, no doubt, has fallen under its spell. It is a string instrument that has the player handling rhythm, harmony and melody at the same time, similar to the sitar, but the sound of the kora is more mystical in its feel and majestic in its sound.

Back in 1983, I went to see Herbie Hancock perform at the Pier (which was a small outdoor venue) in New York City. Hancock was riding high, particularly in the lower east side dance circles, with his electronic hit “Rockit,” which was one of the first fusions of jazz and hip hop music. Its one-of-a-kind MTV video, directed by Godley and Crème (of 10cc fame), helped to fuel its success, winning a Grammy Award in the process. It was a great show, complete with the “Rockit” mechanical robot legs straight from the video right there on stage, along with such luminaries as Bill Laswell on bass and Grand Mixer D.S.T. on the turntables.

The hit renewed my interest in Hancock, who I had already admired greatly for his work with Miles Davis and his essential solo work, particularly the albums “Speak Like A Child” and “Head Hunters.” My interest led me to discover today’s Song Of The Day from the five-star, 1985 album, “Village Life,” by Herbie Hancock and Foday Musa Suso.

“Village Life” is a high water mark for all involved. The album was recorded in Japan over three days in 1984 with Bill Laswell accompanying Hancock on production duties. At the time of its release, it kind of stuck out like a sore thumb compared to Hancock’s recent hip-hop infused output. Indeed, this is a somewhat more meditative affair, and a straight-up duet album with Hancock playing a Yamaha DX-1 synthesizer (detuned to match the tuning of the kora) and drum machine, and Suso on the kora, talking drum and vocals.

Musically, the album is completely captivating, but sold poorly because Hancock’s recent converts were expecting more music along the lines of “Rockit.” That doesn’t subtract from the fact that this record is truly one of those mesmerizing records that certainly opened my ears up to world music back in 1984, and is still worthy of a far bigger audience today.

Edited: January 6th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/6/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Talaps Theme” by William Parker

Difficult listening doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s all about perception, and given the ability to just let it all wash over you with an open mind, difficult listening can be real easy.

Case in point is bassist William Parker’s 2007 free jazz album Petit Oiseau. Parker has one of the best working bands in Jazz today. Along with longtime percussionist Hamid Drake, Parker acts as the catalyst of The William Parker Quartet, driving the proceedings with his percussive approach to the double bass and sustaining the tension between saxophonist Rob Brown’s sharp tones and trumpeter Lewis Barnes’ muted beauty. Even when the band is seemingly going off in different directions (as they often do), there’s a potent and powerful force of unity that keeps the proceedings together, making the material on this album drive like mad.

Parker was influenced by such free jazz disciples as Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. Coming up, he studied with well-known bassists Jimmy Garrison, Richard Davis and Wilbur Ware, and was Cecil Taylor’s go-to bassist during the late seventies and throughout the 1980s, where his percussive style of playing fit right in with Taylor’s exploratory ways on the piano.

Parker provides the heart beat to the New York City lower east side Improvisers’ Collective, which he formed with his wife, dancer Patricia Nicholson. Together they’ve presented the Vision Festival — kind of like a Pitchfork Music Festival for all things free and experimental — since the early 1990s. Artists who have performed over the years at the annual June festival include David S. Ware, Sam Rivers, Frank Lowe, William Parker, Hamid Drake, Nicole Mitchell, Rob Brown, Kidd Jordan, Henry Grimes, Marc Ribot, Chad Taylor, Rashied Ali, Joe McPhee, Fred Anderson, Matthew Shipp, Billy Bang, Roscoe Mitchell, Steve Lacy, Yo La Tengo, Cat Power and numerous others. Parker also leads a big band called Little Huey Creative Orchestra.

Today’s Song Of The Day is one of Parker’s shorter compositions, from an album that is not so far out as to be off-putting – just right for the novice just getting interested in this groundbreaking artist.

Edited: January 6th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 1/3/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Magdalene Laundries” by Joni Mitchell

“Turbulent Indigo” was Joni Mitchell’s last great album. That’s not to say that all that followed wasn’t any good, it’s just that “Indigo” was her last consistently good album from beginning to end.

Coming in on the heels of a trio of experimental records on the Geffen label – “Dog Eat Dog,” “Chalk Marks In a Rainstorm” and “Night Ride Home” – that featured electronic textures and somewhat dated layered production, “Turbulent Indigo” returned Mitchell to Reprise records with a more stripped down straight-ahead sound that peeled back the atmospheric electronics of the previous records in favor of more organic instrumentation akin to records like “Hejira.”

Thematically, the album was her state of the world circa 1994, and her world was not a pretty place to live in. Once again, Larry Klein played bass and produced, but the couple’s marriage came to an end during the sessions resulting in their divorce after twelve years of marriage.

To match the title, Mitchell delivered her most turbulent set of songs in a long time including “Sex Kills” which dealt with such social injustices as violence, global warming, sexuality in consumerism and AIDS with its repeating chorus, “And the gas leaks, and the oil spills…And sex sells everything, and sex kills.”

The song, “Not To Blame” speaks about domestic violence with its harrowing opening couplet “The story hit the news from coast to coast/They say you beat the girl you loved the most.” Although Mitchell has denied it, the song was supposedly about Jackson Browne and Darryl Hannah’s tumultuous relationship.

The album’s opening track “Sunny Sunday” dealt with the topic of suicide, and today’s Song Of the Day is the gut-wrenching “Magdalene Laundries” dealing with the suffering and abuse of “fallen” women who were sent to the Magdalen Asylums at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church for being promiscuous or pregnant out of wedlock.

“Yvette In English” was co-written by David Crosby and features the soprano sax of Wayne Shorter as does several other songs on the record. And Seal sings with Mitchell on the James Brown cover “How Do You Stop.” The record may seem like a depressing affair by my description, but this two-time Grammy winner was one of her most inspiring records in many years, and like I said before, her last consistently great record.

Edited: January 2nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 12-30-12

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Rock On” by David Essex–

It was the era of T. Rex’s “Electric Warrior,” David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardus”t and Lou Reed’s “Transformer.” Glam rock was all the rage as were Roxy Music, Mott The Hoople and The New York Dolls. And there was also a new brand of power pop taking the charts by storm at the same time with hits like “Little Willie” by Sweet, “Go All The Way” by Raspberries and later “Saturday Night” by Bay City Rollers.

Enter David Essex…British actor and future glam rock pinup star. Essex had an acting career appearing in the musical Godspell in 1971 and later in the film That’ll Be The Day where he came to the attention of British and American audiences alike.

So it was just a matter of time for him to take on the world of recorded music with this self-penned two-time hit from 1973. The bass player on this sinuous track is Herbie Flowers who went on to play bass for David Bowie on the album “Diamond Dogs” the following year. This song is the ultimate glam-pop confection, a sticky piece of ear candy with a slicing string arrangement and echo-laden bass riff. It should be no surprise that the track made it into the U.S. top five by 1974. Such was the popularity of the song that it would eventually top the charts again in 1988, when it was recorded by TV soap opera star Michael Damien.

While Essex will forever be associated mainly with this song in America, and perhaps his appearance in Jeff Wayne’s musical interpretation of “The War Of the Worlds” from 1978, he has led a long acting career primarily in the UK, where he has performed in the musicals “Evita” (and scored the top-five British hit “Oh What A Circus.”), “Aspects Of Love” and “Footloose.” Today, Essex continues to act on stage and on British TV in “The EastEnders.”

Edited: December 30th, 2012

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – 12/29/12

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “Fatback” by J.J. Johnson Sextet

By the time of the 1960 sessions that resulted in the album “J.J. Inc.” (and today’s Song Of The Day), J.J. Johnson had been an established figure in Jazz for about 18 years, having already played with the likes of Miles Davis, Benny Carter, Count Basie, Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Charlie Parker. By this time, he had also released a very successful series of recordings with fellow trombone player, Kai Winding, under the moniker “Jay and Kai.” (The duo would continue to record together on and off into the 1980s.)

Johnson was as well known for his composing as he was for his trombone playing, creating large-scale works that melded classical and jazz music together. His six movement suite called “Perceptions” became a cornerstone composition of The Third Stream movement in Jazz. (A loose-knit group of musicians and composers including Duke Ellington, George Gershwin , Aaron Copeland and Leonard Bernstein, who wrote music that combined elements of jazz and classical music.)

The Sextet on this album consisted of a group of then-up and comers including Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Clifford Jordan on tenor sax, Cedar Walton on piano, Arthur Harper on bass and Albert “Tootie” Heath. Johnson not only plays the trombone on the date, but also wrote, arranged and conducted the session. Check out Johnson’s relentlessly swinging soloing on this track backed by an air-tight rhythm section of bass, drums and piano.

By the 1970s, Johnson moved west to Hollywood (urged on by Quincy Jones) and began scoring movies including the classic soundtracks to the Blaxploitation flicks “Across 110th Street” and “Cleopatra Jones.” He also had success writing music for television including stints writing for the series “Starsky and Hutch” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.”
After a long break away from performing, in which he cared for his ailing wife, Johnson returned to performance from the late 1980s through the late 1990s. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and committed suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound on February 4, 2001.

In the liner notes for the CD reissue of this album, contemporary jazz trombonist Steve Turre sums up Johnson’s influence this way: “He did for trombone what Charlie Parker did for saxophone. He brought the trombone into the modern world with a unique conception that affected all those who came after him and set the standard that is yet to be matched.”

Edited: December 29th, 2012

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 12/22/12

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “I Love Blues” by Wes Montgomery

Perhaps one of the greatest guitarists in Jazz, right up there with Django Reinhardt, Grant Green, Charlie Christian, Gabor Szabo and George Benson! Wes Montgomery only walked this earth for a short time, but he left behind a lasting legacy of recordings that never fail to astound.
Montgomery hailed from Indiana and idolized the guitar playing of Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. He didn’t begin to play the guitar until the age of 20, and then primarily lead his own small groups. He recorded sessions with the likes of Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Smith, Milt Jackson, Cannonball Adderly and Nat Adderly, and was once recruited by John Coltrane to join his group, although he declined in favor of leading his own.
Throughout the 1960s, he recorded prolifically for the Riverside, Verve and A&M record labels and was nominated for many Grammy Awards, winning one in 1966 for his recording of “Goin’ Out of My Head.”
The other day, a friend of mine sent me a link to this Live 1965 Wes Montgomery performance, and after watching the whole thing (that’s 78 jaw-dropping minutes of greatness), I was floored enough to make it my Song Of The Day for today.
The genesis of the performance is from a DVD series called Jazz Icons and if the quality of the other volumes in the series is this good, I’m going to have to check them all out. The DVD features three pro-shot performances from 1965, filmed in Holland, Belgium and England. The combo work and guitar playing is superb throughout, and I particularly like listening to the between song comments and conversations.
The Holland set features Wes Montgomery on guitar, Pim Jacobs on piano, Ruud Jacobs on bass and Han Bennink on drums performing “I Love Blues,” “Nica’s Dream,” “Love Affair” (rehearsal) and “The End Of A Love Affair.” The Belgium combo includes Montgomery, Arthur Harper on bass, Harold Mabern on piano and Jimmy Lovelace on drums on the tunes “Impressions,” “Twisted Blues,” “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Jingles,” and “Boy Next Door.” The final performance hails from England and features Montgomery with Rick Laird on bass, Stan Tracey on piano and Jackie Dougan on drums performing the songs “Four On Six,” “Full House,” “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Twisted Blues” and “West Coast Blues.”
The Jazz Icons series also includes volumes by Dexter Gordon, Sarah Vaughan, Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderly, Bill Evans, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson, Nina Simone, Anita O’Day, Jimmy Smith, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Errol Garner, Art Farmer, Art Blakey, Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Thelonious Monk and Count Basie.
Shortly after reaching wide acclaim in 1968, Montgomery suffered a heart attack at home and died at the young age of 45 years old. There’s precious little footage available of Montgomery in action, so it is a blessing to be able to have this document to attest to his greatness.

Edited: December 21st, 2012

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 12/19/12 – Top Albums Of 2012 by Eric Berman

1. Deerhoof: Breakup Song (Polyvinyl)
Emanating from San Francisco (Greg Saunier & John Dieterich) by way of Japan (Satomi Matsuzaki), Deerhoof have released 12 albums of unpredictable music with a sound that would have made Yoko Ono proud and John Lennon jump for joy. It has finally come to pass that the ingredients of Yoko Ono’s recordings circa “Double Fantasy” that were championed by John Lennon have somewhat reached the mainstream with Deerhoof and their brand new release Breakup Song. Part electro-crunch, part sing-song melodies, part twee vocals and completely infectious in the dance rhythm department.

 

 

2. Divine Fits: A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge)
When I first started playing Divine Fits’ debut album, I immediately gravitated to the songs that featured Britt Daniels on lead vocals. Daniels formed the band with Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks while on hiatus from his band Spoon. In fact, it was Britt Daniels and the Spoon connection that led me to this album in the first place. What I found was that this record is chock full of terrific glam-infused tunes written by each band member with a heaping helping of ‘80s synth-pop and punk rock thrown in for good measure.

 

 

 

3. Ian Hunter: When I’m President (Slimstyle)
Ian Hunter is making records today that stand ever so tall in a catalog that includes classics by Mott The Hoople and solo staples like his eponymously titled debut album from 1975 and 1979’s classic You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic. The 73-year old and his current Rant Band have been on a roll, releasing several killer albums in a row, culminating in this year’s When I’m President. Hunter is supplied with pliant backing by the Rant Band featuring James Mastro (of Bongos fame) on guitar, Steve Holley (Elton John, Paul McCartney) on drums, Paul Page on bass, Mark Bosch on guitar, Andy Burton (Tiny Lights) on piano, Mark Rivera on sax and Andy York (Jason & The Scorchers) on backing vocals. Together they make a MOTTly sound on this solid collection packed with full-on Mott rockers with the brand of Dylanesque wordplay we’ve come to expect from Ian Hunter.

 

 

4. Japandroids: Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
Two Guys! No, not the department store from the 1960s, and not The White Stripes or Black Keys either. I’m talkin’ about two Canadian guys, Brian King on guitar and vocals and David Prowse on drums, who brought a firestorm of fury onto these shores with their aptly titled second full-length record Celebration Rock. Having seen these guys in action, I’m here to tell you that once they leave the stage, they leave a cadre of spent bodies with bleeding ears in their wake. And that’s a good thing, if your thing is high-powered, adrenaline producing walls of sound (think Husker Du) with the kind of chant-along hooks that haven’t been heard since U2 last fired up stadiums around the world.

 

 

 

5. Alabama Shakes: Boys And Girls (ATO)
Not your garden variety genre exercise. The Alabama Shakes’ debut record is a fine old-school, STAX-inspired soul record with sturdy songs sung by newcomer powerhouse vocalist Brittany Howard. They’re not just emulating a sound here, it’s totally genuine.

 

 
 

6. Bettye LaVette: Thankful N’ Thoughtful (Anti)
After over 40 years of obscurity, Bettye LaVette has come back, and since 2005 she’s recorded four excellent albums for the Anti record label, mostly consisting of well-chosen covers by her and her producer Craig Street. Her latest, and greatest, features inventive takes of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” Bob Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken,” The Pogues’ Dirty Old Town” and Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.” It takes a big set of pipes to take on a song like Gnarls’ “Crazy,” but like the other tracks on this record, LaVette makes them all her own.

 

 

 

7. Jimmy Cliff: Rebirth (UME)
It would be easy to report that Rebirth is a return to form for Jimmy Cliff, but A. Cliff never left for me to proclaim he’s returned, and B. since you could always count on Cliff for the kind of sturdy Reggae album he released this year, he remains in very fine form. That said, the state of Reggae is alive and well in the hands of Jimmy Cliff who released one for the ages this year.

 

 

 

 
8. Jack White: Blunderbuss (Third Man)
He may have changed his color schemes from red and white to blue for his first solo record, but this album isn’t a White of a different color musically…and that’s a good thing! Mr. White looks at love from all sides now on Blunderbuss and has come up with a collection featuring biting lyrics and songs that get under your skin and stay there. With a tune stack that includes the White Stripe-ean bluster of “Sixteen Saltines,” the Led Zep folk of “Love Interruption” and the loosey-goosey rockabilly of “I’m Shakin’,” a new color scheme and not one, but two backing bands (one female one male), White has proven that even though he likes to lean on visual themes and shticks, his music speaks the loudest.

 

 

 

9. Frank Ocean: channel Orange (Def Jam)
I saw OFWGKTA perform at the Pitchfork Music Festival several years ago and utterly disliked their set. So when I began hearing the pre-release hype surrounding the album channel Orange by one of the members of Odd Future, I pretty much dismissed it in turn. That, my friends, was a big mistake. Upon finally hearing this record, my ears weren’t prepared for the pure soulful sounds (think Talking Book era Stevie Wonder or the “Superfly” sound of Curtis Mayfield) packed into superb tracks like “Sweet Life,” “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You,” “Super Rich Kids,” and “Crack Rock” which is both ethereal and gritty at the same time. Like too many of the hip hop records that come out today, the songs are surrounded by brief skits that, if anything, take away from the blissful experience of Ocean’s performances throughout this essential record. There’s a reason why this album is on everyone’s top albums of the year list this year (including mine), and the proof surely is in the grooves!

10. Animal Collective: Centipede Hz (Domino)
In a musical world where little is truly ever new, Animal Collective consistently tap into the past to create a sound that’s wholly their own. Like a wigged out Yes or a Beach Boys on acid, the sound of Animal Collective is like nothing else you’ve ever heard. Coming in on the heels of their breakthrough record, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective took a left turn away from the bright lights of fame and has offered up a far denser platter that gives it up in spades upon repeated listening.

 

 

 

Runners Up
11. Dr. John: Locked Down (Nonesuch)
12. Ravi Coltrane: Spirit Fiction (Blue Note)
13. dBs: Falling Off The Sky (Bar None)
14. G.O.O.D. Music: Cruel Summer (Kanye West) (Island/Def Jam)
15. Branford Marsalis: 4 MF’s Playin’ Tunes (Marsalis Music)
16. Bob Dylan: Tempest (Columbia)
17. Aimee Mann: Charmer (Superego)
18. Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Americana (Reprise)
19. Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas (Columbia)
20. Grimes: Visions (4AD)

Best Of The Rest
21. Bela Fleck/Marcus Roberts Trio: Across The Imaginary Divide (Rounder)
22. Green Day: Dos (Reprise)
23. Flaming Lips: Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends (Warner Bros.)
24. Redd Kross: Researching The Blues (Merge)
25. Dwight Yoakam: 3 Pears (Reprise)
26. Kelly Hogan: I Like To Keep Myself In Pain (Anti)
27. Rhianna: Unapologetic (Island/Def Jam)
28. M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion (Merge)
29. Various Artists: Chimes Of Freedom – The Songs Of Bob Dylan (Amnesty International)
30. Beach Boys: That’s Why God Made The Radio (Capitol)

Reissues
1. Merle Saunders/Jerry Garcia: Keystone Companions – Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings (Fantasy)
2. Johnny Cash: The Complete Albums Collection (Columbia)
3. Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue – The Complete Sessions (Nonesuch)
4. Velvet Underground: Scepter Acetate LP (UME)/Velvet Underground: Verve/MGM Albums (Sundazed)
5. Captain Beefheart: Bat Chain Puller (Zappa Family Trust)
6. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – Catalog Reissues (Hellcat)
7. Carole King: Legendary Demos (Hear Music)
8. The English Beat: Complete Beat (Shout Factory)
9. The Who: Live At Hull
10. Paul McCartney: RAM (Hear Music)

Edited: December 18th, 2012

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 12/14/12

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Blues Is A Woman” by Lou Rawls with The Les McCann Trio

Most people remember Lou Rawls for his silky-smooth vocal delivery and his disco era hit “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” but by the time he had that hit in 1976, Rawls had already been recording albums, and yes many hits, for 14 years.

Chicago-born Rawls got his start by replacing Sam Cooke in the Gospel group (and Vee-Jay recording artists), The Highway QC’s. After a stint in the Army, Rawls joined the Gospel group, Pilgrim Travelers. While on the road with Sam Cooke and The Travelers, Rawls was in a serious car accident that left him pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. He was revived but was in a coma for five days before regaining consciousness. After he recuperated, Rawls began doing session work, most notably singing background vocals on Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me.”

He was signed to Capitol Records by staff producer Nick Venet (The Beach Boys, The Kingston Trio, Nat King Cole, Glen Campbell) and recorded his first album, Stormy Monday, for the label in 1962 backed by the Les McCann Trio. The Les McCann Trio were stalwarts of the Sunset Strip jazz clubs and were also signed by Nick Venet to Pacific Jazz Records. Their lineup included McCann on piano, Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Ron Jefferson on drums. The album featured a mix of jazz and blues standards, including today’s Song Of The Day which was penned by Rawls and included as a bonus track from the album sessions on the CD reissue.

Rawls continued to record for Capitol scoring the hits “Tobacco Road,” “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing,” “Dead End Street,” “Your Good Thing (Is About To End),” plus many others. During his stint with Capitol, Rawls opened for The Beatles on their 1966 tour in Cincinnati. In total, Rawls recorded over twenty albums for the label before signing with MGM in 1970.

While he only recorded three albums for MGM, he did score his Grammy-winning hit “Natural Man” for the label. He signed to Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records label in 1976, where he had his greatest successes releasing million-selling albums and the hits “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” “Lady Love,” “Let Me Be Good To You,” and “See You When I Git There.” Rawls died of cancer in 2006 and left behind a legacy of gritty blues and silky soul recordings.

Edited: December 13th, 2012