Two new terrific jazz albums are reviewed below, but because the weather is heating up in New York, the blues and soul are part of the mix this week as well. The good news is that all of the music goes well with a smokey grill and icy sodas and beers.
Roberto Magris—Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan Vol. 2 (JMood). Italian pianist Roberto Magris released the first volume of his tribute to trumpeter Lee Morgan in 2010. Now Roberto's septet picks up where they left off on this new two-CD set. Many jazz fans may be unaware that trumpeter Morgan was a prolific, lyrical songwriter as well as one of hard bop's most fiery practitioners. Here, the band takes on 14 Morgan originals, including A Bid for Sid, Speedball, A Summer's Kiss and Helen's Ritual. What makes this band's sound particularly attractive is the addition of Peter Schlamb on vibes, which cools the brass. One my favorite jazz releases of the year.
Paul Bley—Play Blue: Oslo Concert (ECM). I'm generally not big on abstraction in jazz, but Paul Bley's new solo piano CD is more like reasoned free jazz—meaning there's rhythm and contect to what he's doing here. Recorded at the Oslo Jazz Festival in 2008, Bley hasn't forgotten the significance of earlier jazz expressions and includes them in his stirred and shaken keyboard adventure. The 81-year-old Canadian pianist played with Charlie Parker and Lester Young in Montreal was a member of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 and recorded with Sonny Rollins on Sonny Meets Hawk! A percussive and potent concert performance that doesn't leave jazz purists behind.
John Németh—Memphis Grease (Blue Corn). Blues harmonicist and singer-songwriter John Németh is backed by bassist Scott Bomar and the Bo-Keys, a bump-and-grind octet from Memphis that is keeping the Stax record label's funky-horns sound alive. For this album, the Bo-Keys brought along five backup singers. Németh approaches the blues from a rich, soulful place, which means digging in deep and leaving space for the instrumentals' call and response. Dig Sooner or Later, My Baby's Gone, I Wish I Were Home and Elbows on the Wheel. A superb Memphis blues-soul album—and further evidence of why the Bo-Keys are the go-to band for singers looking for the real blue smoke flavor. The Bo-Keys also have a new collection of singles out. Go here.
Eden Brent—Jigsaw Heart (Yellow Dog). While we're down South, Mississippian Eden Brent is a blues pianist and singer who mixes boogie-woogie, jazz and gospel but always keeps her sound big and in your face. Her voice is like a large index finger poking your chest and it's impossible not to love her at first listen. Her lively piano and moaning-low growl on ballads has the sound of rural rain. But this isn't roadhouse honky-tonk. Brent studied at the University of North Texas and has appeared at the Kennedy Center. Dig Everybody Already Knows, Let's Go Ahead and Fall in Love and Valentine. Here Brent appears on a televised radio show in support of her new album...
Mindi Abair—Wild Heart (Concord). Mindi Abair is a rock-star saxophonist and vocalist with a jazz heart. The list of pop and rock bands she has toured with is long, and her jazz album in 2003, It Just Happens That Way, hit #7 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart. On her latest, Abair shows off her raucous roots, being joined on tracks by Trombone Shorty, Aerosmith's Joe Perry, Keb' Mo', Booker T. and Gregg Allman. Personally, I wish she'd record an album covering Aerosmith songs already. Dig Kick Ass (with Perry), Addicted to You (with Booker T.) and Just Say When (with Allman).
Dave Specter—Message in Blue (Delmark). Chicago blues guitarist Dave Specter likes a big beat. Once the bass and drums are kicking away like wild horses, his guitar corkscrews down and delivers enormous soul, backed by a Hammond organ, ripping baritone saxophone, trumpet and other brass. Specter's blues are irrepressible, thanks to the funky band arrangements. Not bad for a guy who invited late organist Brother Jack McDuff to play on his Left Turn on Blue (1996). Otis Clay sings on three tracks. Dig Get to Find a Way, Message in Blue and Specifyin' Samba. This is a brazenly sassy album and one of my favorite blues albums of the year.
Paul Rodgers—The Royal Sessions (429). For those who think the rock-blues singing is just high-tension yowling, Paul Rodgers should put an end to that myth. The English rock singer, who founded Free and Bad Company in the 1960s and '70s and sang with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, has recorded a blues-soul album at Royal Studios in Memphis, where Al Green recorded his hit albums. What you realize as you listen to Rodgers is that this stuff is hard, requiring 0-to-60 power and enormous feel to be convincing. Rodgers covers Walk on By, I Can't Stand the Rain, Issac Hayes' I Thank You and Otis Redding's I've Got Dreams to Remember. A seasoned pro shows his soulful stuff and lets it all out.