DownBeat Editors‘ Picks

Editors’ Picks
April 2014

BY Davis Inman
Magic Sam, Live At
The Avant Garde


Delmark released two Magic Sam LPs—the classic West Side Soul (1967) and Black Magic (1968)—before the Chicago-based, Mississippi-bred singer-guitarist died of a heart attack on Dec. 1, 1969, at age 32. Sam is often credited for connecting the nascent ’60s soul sound with its blues roots, and his tremolo-drenched guitar and expressive vocals were an ideal medium for the composite style. Live At The Avant Garde was recorded at the eponymous Milwaukee club on June 22, 1968, by a young fan named Jim Charne (who penned the liner notes to this release). As Charne describes in the liner notes, the Avant Garde had evolved from a folkie coffeehouse into a venue showcasing roots music, blues and rock, often presenting acts from Chicago. (Charlie Musselwhite knew the owners and sometimes helped with booking.) On this particular night, Charne set up his tape recorder against the bandstand and captured 67 minutes of pure rock ’n’ roll energy. Sam and his rhythm section—bassist Big Mojo Elem and drummer Bob Richey—turn in a set of hot, seductive, soulful songs. The band does versions of “I Don’t Want No Woman,” “I Need You So Bad” and the instrumental “Lookin’ Good,” which appeared on Sam’s debut LP. But the song that epitomizes Sam’s unique style is that album’s opening cut, “That’s All I Need,” a swaying, uptempo r&b-blues mash-up that showcases his upper-register vocals à la Sam Cooke. On this disc’s live version of the song, Sam’s guitar buzzes with warm distortion, Richey works his ride cymbal hard and Elem rumbles in and out of the right speaker. When Sam drops out to solo, he almost loses his footing, but jumps back in just in time to nail the next verse. “That’s a little tune I wrote for myself, I hope you like it,” he tells the nearly silent audience at the song’s conclusion. “I do.” One of the 16 tracks here, “I Don’t Want No Woman,” also appears on Delmark’s recent compilation 60 Years Of Blues, which features other previously unreleased recordings, including a song from the session that produced Junior Wells’ South Side Blues Jam in 1970.

Delmark | Delmark New Blues Releases

BY Bobby Reed
Alfredo Rodríguez,
The Invasion Parade

(Mack Avenue)

Alfredo Rodríguez’s second album for Mack Avenue is a delightfully appealing sprawl. The classically trained, Havana-born pianist—who relocated to the United States in 2009—offers five originals and four interpretations on The Invasion Parade, which he produced with Quincy Jones and Al Pryor. It’s a 49-minute joyride through diverse terrain. The title track opens the album in a high-octane, dance-worthy mode with a percussive drive partially inspired by an annual carnival parade in Santiago de Cuba. Elsewhere, guest artist Esperanza Spalding contributes her impressive bass work and wordless vocals to two tracks. On “El Güije,” she scats and reaches the highest points of her vocal range, doubling and harmonizing with Javier Porta’s flute. She contributes hypnotic vocals to “Snails In The Creek,” a track that also features Pedrito Martinez’s wildly energetic percussion and improvised vocals. “Timberobot” illustrates the leader’s expansive vision. The track’s sonic array includes some sci-fi sound effects, a gurgling, bleeping Minimoog Voyager synthesizer, buoyant piano riffs and Henry Cole’s cymbal splashes, along with fusion and funk flavors. In contrast, the spare, elegant reading of “Veinte Años” is an example of how a musician can take years of conservatory training and funnel it into a simple melody. The track functions as a bit of a breather from the sonic density and intensity that precedes it. With his latest album, Rodríguez has constructed an engaging collage that makes it impossible to pigeonhole him.

iTunes | Amazon

Stu Mindeman, In Your
Waking Eyes: Poems
By Langston Hughes

The poems of Langston Hughes have been the inspiration for two recent albums. While cellist Leyla McCalla brought together her musical friends in New Orleans to explore her Haitian heritage and Hughes’ poetry on Vari-Colored Songs, pianist-keyboardist-composer Stu Mindeman has brought together an equally talented group of Chicago-based musicians for a different approach. In Your Waking Eyes is a largely electric program of Hughes poems set to music composed and inventively arranged by Mindeman. The pianist favors Wurlitzer, organ and clavinet on the 11 tunes here—though acoustic piano does show up—and the influence of groove-oriented soul and West African music is strong, from the Afrobeat-laced “Africa” to Kyle Asche’s highlife-inflected guitar work on “Sea Calm” (which also features Chris Siebold’s atmospheric steel guitar). Vocalist Sarah Marie Young is a major force, too, providing “Drum” with a multilayered, overdubbed vocal chorus, while drummer Makaya McCraven and percussionist Juan Daniel Pastor lock into deep grooves throughout the disc. Mindeman has been a sideman for bassists John Clayton, Rodney Whitaker and fellow Chicagoan Matt Ulery, but this album is a bold statement of his own. At Chicago’s Constellation on April 10, he will present the project alongside Young, McCraven, Pastor, Ulery, vocalist Chás Kimbrough, saxophonist Christopher McBride and trumpeters Quentin Coaxum and Marquis Hill.

iTunes | CDBaby

Stacey Kent,
The Changing Lights
(Warner Bros.)
Every Stacey Kent song is an invitation. With her precise enunciation and a vocal style that is intense yet refreshingly restrained, Kent eschews histrionics. She’s a storyteller who gently invites the listener to pause and ponder. Her new album, The Changing Lights, is a 66-minute gem in which her sophisticated aesthetic dovetails with Brazilian music. The program includes Kent’s intoxicating renditions of songs by revered Brazilian tunesmiths Antônio Carlos Jobim, Dori Caymmi, Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal, who plays acoustic guitar on two tracks. The disc also includes six songs co-written by saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, who is Kent’s arranger, producer and husband. The original tune “The Summer We Crossed Europe In The Rain” features mesmerizing acoustic guitar work by John Parricelli and memorable lyrics like, “Sharing warm baguettes on sunny cathedral steps/ Dancing the tango, waiting for our train.” Kent always sounds in command of her craft, whether she’s singing an original composition penned by Tomlinson and Kazuo Ishiguro, crooning a French tune like “Chanson Légère” or gracefully coaxing emotion from the Portuguese lyrics to a bossa nova number like “O Barquinho.” Kent and Tomlinson are an ideal musical team, and his tenor saxophone on “Meditation” complements her vocals perfectly. Fans in New York can catch Kent at Birdland on June 10–14. To read a DownBeat review of a 2013 concert that Kent gave at Birdland, click here.


BY Frank Alkyer
Andrew Hadro,
For Us, The Living
(Tone Rogue)
I’ve watched Andrew Hadro grow up as a baritone saxophone player. He’s always had a great mind, a sharp wit and a rare sense of musical taste. And he has carefully learned from the masters he’s played with—like saxophonist Tony Malaby and pianist Junior Mance—honing his craft, his tone and his ear. Hadro wasn’t going to make an album before he was ready. But he’s more than ready now. On For Us, The Living, Hadro doesn’t take the easy path, preferring more interesting sonic choices. The album’s title comes from a line in Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” and the recording is dedicated to the musical giants of the past with a classic Hadro-esque twist: He honors them by focusing on living composers. The set includes six of his own compositions, as well as works by pianist Julian Shore, saxophonist Ryan Anselmi, trumpeter James Davis and composer Maria Schneider. The band assembled for this date is the musical equivalent of a great ensemble cast, with Hadro on bari and occasionally flute, Daniel Foose on bass, Carmen Staaf on piano and Matt Wilson holding down the drum chair. No one dominates. No one is just cashing a check. The interplay of this group stands above any individual moments—but there are plenty of those, too. On the opening tune, “Allegrecia,” Hadro begins with some beautiful long tones and great control in the upper register. Foose adds some lovely bow work and a killer solo. The tune builds to a driving crescendo, complete with overdubs that allow Hadro to create his own bari section. It’s a nice effect used a few times on the recording. Staaf also proves to be a very thoughtful soloist here, doing some very cool duet work with Wilson, who’s amazing throughout. Other highlights include Shore’s beautiful ballad “Give,” Hadro’s romping “Bright Eyes,” the group’s excellent reading of Schneider’s “Sea Of Tranquility” and Davis’ uplifting “Cotton.” The set concludes with a hip, humorous duet between Hadro and Wilson called “Hurricane Sandy.” It’s three minutes of bari joy that seems to mock the storm that thwacked New York City, where he lives. Hadro succeeds big time on For Us, The Living. He pays tribute to the history of improvised music by shining a spotlight on artists who are working on its next chapters right now.

iTunes | CDBaby

BY Frank Alkyer
Armen Donelian, Sayat-Nova: Songs Of My Ancestors (Sunnyside)
Armen Donelian is a massively gifted pianist. There’s a graceful confidence and touch to his approach that’s rooted equally in jazz, classical and folk music. On Sayat-Nova: Songs Of My Ancestors, Donelian effortlessly intertwines the three while digging into the music of his Armenian ancestry. The songs of Armenian musician Sayat-Nova (1712–’95) have been handed down from generation to generation. Donelian grew up listening to this music, and on his new two-CD set, he updates the poet-composer’s work with a jazz sensibility and classical sheen to create a very modern-sounding joy. On the first disc, Donelian performs solo, demonstrating a command of the piano that few on the scene today can match. He lavishes in the lyricism of “Where Do You Come From, Wandering Nightingale? / Oosdi Goukas Gharib Blbool.” He adroitly straddles the folk and classical realms on “Surely, You Don’t Say That You Also Cry? / Ches Asoum Te Latz-es Eli.” He squeezes every ounce of heartache from “With The Nightingale You Also Cry / Blbooli-Hit Latz-es Eli.” He aches with love and sophistication on the eight-minute track “Were I Offered Your Weight In Pearls / Tekouz Koo Kashn Markrit Tan.” For the second disc, Donelian adds bassist David Clark and drummer George Schuller to the festivities. On “King Of Cathay / Shahkhatayee,” the trio glides across the sands, with Clark and Schuller maintaining an infectious, loping beat that’s combined with Donelian’s massive chops. Another lovely tune, “Your Headdress Is Silver And Silk / Tasdamazt Sim Oo Sharbab,” begins with Donelian stating the melody solo, and then Clark adds subtle arco work. When Schuller joins in, the tune takes off for a beautiful ride. “As Long As I Draw Breath / Kani Vor Jan Eem,” the closing number, tugs at the heartstrings and then explodes into an improvisational dream. The trio is locked, loaded and on fire. What’s so interesting about this 14-song program is that the melodies seem familiar yet hard to place. On one level, Donelian is reinforcing the importance of Sayat-Nova as a composer. But in the process of bringing these songs front and center, the pianist is also finding new inspiration in the ancient. It’s a powerful blend. On April 27, Donelian, Clark and Schuller will perform songs from Sayat-Nova at Castle Street Cafe in Great Barrington, Mass.

iTunes | Amazon

Taylor Haskins,
Fuzzy Logic
A great jazz musician can make magic from unexpected source material. Nearly 30 years after Miles Davis recorded his tremendous rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” trumpeter Taylor Haskins has delivered a version of Thomas Dolby’s “Airwaves” that fans will enjoy for decades to come. It’s the centerpiece of his terrific new album, Fuzzy Logic. The track combines a highly hummable melody with a round trumpet tone and essential bits of texture provided by the plucked strings of a string trio and the eruptive electric guitar work of Ben Monder. On the title track—one of eight original compositions here—the quartet of Haskins, Monder, bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Jeff Hirshfield is enhanced by Joyce Hammann (violin), Lois Martin (viola) and Jody Redhage (cello). The pensive “Perspective” is another example of how Haskins can skillfully merge the colors of the string trio with subtleties such as Hirshfield’s brushwork. On “Too Far,” Haskins offers one of his most sumptuous melodies but also leaves plenty of space for Hirshfield’s nuanced cymbal washes to have maximum effect. That emotional impact is the result of Haskins’ superb talents as an arranger and as a producer. (There are moments on this album where it’s easy to close your eyes and imagine that you’re sitting in the corner of the recording studio.) As a trumpeter, Haskins doesn’t go for skyscraping fireworks. Instead, he offers sleek, seductive lines in carefully sculpted arrangements that make the most of the overall ensemble sound. He opens the album with an arresting Native American drone flute on “Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled,” and he concludes the program with a tear-jerking melodica solo during a version of Tom Waits’ “Take It With Me.” Between those two bookends is some of the most intriguing brass playing you’ll hear in 2014.

iTunes | Amazon

BY Frank Alkyer
Frank Lacy & The Smalls Legacy Band, Live At Smalls (SmallsLive)
Back in 1998, DownBeat put composer, arranger, trombonist and occasional singer Ku-umba Frank Lacy on the cover of the magazine under the headline “The Baddest Sideman In Jazz.” And to this day, he’s still the baddest, in my opinion. I’ve never seen Lacy perform when he didn’t somehow steal the show, or at a minimum, elevate it. He’s a bold, decisive improviser who’s not afraid of a clam or potential dead end when trying to create on a different level. But here on Live At Smalls, we have the amazing Mr. Lacy as a leader. It happens far too rarely, as his discography only includes a handful of leader projects. What he lacks in quantity, he makes up for in drive, power and beauty. With the help of his killer band, Lacy’s Live At Smalls breathes fire. The opening tune, “Stranded,” is a smokin’ tip of the hat to his former boss, the great drummer Art Blakey. Lacy, trumpeter Josh Evans and tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard contribute blazing horn section work and stellar solos. The rhythm section of pianist Theo Hill, bassist Rashaan Carter and drummer Kush Abadey deliver all the drive of a musical Porsche. The rest of this tight set highlights Lacy’s musical sense and sensibility. The group delivers tasty readings of George Cables’ “Think On Me,” Charles Fambrough’s “Alicia,” Joe Bonner’s “Sunbath” and Freddie Hubbard’s “The Intrepid Fox.” Lacy also includes the majestic groove of his original composition “The Spirit Monitor,” and listeners are treated to his underrated vocal work on the very hip “Carolyn’s Dance.” This is one of those live recordings that makes you wish you had been there. Let’s hope that Lacy steps out as a leader more often.


BY Davis Inman
Terry Waldo, The Soul
Of Ragtime
(Tompkins Square)
Pianist and author Terry Waldo is making ragtime cool again. Waldo’s new digital-only release on Tompkins Square, The Soul Of Ragtime, comes in the wake of the republication of his 1976 book, This Is Ragtime, now back in print thanks to Jazz At Lincoln Center, with a new introduction by Wynton Marsalis. The book’s original foreword was written by pianist-composer Eubie Blake (1887–1983), who compares Waldo to Fats Waller due to his ability to infuse music with humor, evoking laughter from his listeners. The album opener, “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” is a perfect place to begin Waldo’s ragtime journey. He turns the often somber and reserved tune into a joyful frolic—a riverboat ride up and down the 88 keys. Among the other 16 tunes covered here are John Philip Sousa’s march “The Stars And Stripes Forever,” Scott Joplin’s “Paragon Rag” and “The Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser. Waldo also features several original compositions. Fans of classical music will love the way Waldo turns Mozart’s famous “Turkish March” (the third movement of the composer’s Piano Sonata No. 11) into his own rollicking, blues-inflected “The Turkish Rondo Rag.” From Blake’s catalog, Waldo plays “Charleston Rag,” “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Memories Of You.” Each of these three interpretations pays respect to its celebrated originator, but also shines in its own right. “Terry knows about this music as few others do, for the music itself is only a part of it,” Blake wrote in the This Is Ragtime foreword. “You have to know about the backrooms of bars, the incredible prejudice we had to deal with, the hook shops, the beer and sawdust all over the floor; but these were the only places you could hear Jesse Pickett, Jack The Bear, Boots Butler. You have to understand the background; you can’t pretend it has nothing to do with ragtime.” Sure, Waldo is a revivalist at a time when jazz needs new innovators. But when he brings the music back to life in such vivid detail, who cares?

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