By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Genius + Soul = Jazz/My Kind of Jazz
Long before Quincy Jones was a magazine owner (Vibe, the Source) or the producer of Michael Jackson's multiplatinum efforts, and even long before he produced Lesley Gore's proto-feminist anthems in the early Sixties, Q was a fifteen-year-old trumpet player in a Seattle big band with seventeen-year-old Ray Charles. The two developed a relationship that resulted in their collaboration on the classic 1961 album Genius + Soul = Jazz.
At the time, Ray was coming off big hits like "What'd I Say" and "Georgia on My Mind," so his record company indulged him when he announced that he wanted to do a big band jazz album. Quincy Jones came aboard to do the arrangements for Ray's originals and the blues and Gershwin covers that the Count Basie Orchestra would play. Charles took on Count Basie's role of keyboardist. There was just one problem: Although Ray Charles was a highly skilled pianist, he decided for this date to use the organ, an instrument he'd hardly ever played before.
Not to worry. Ray's technique was limited but he brought a very funky feeling to the tunes, and his uncomplicated phrasing actually fit in very well with the sweeping, high-energy sounds Quincy Jones had concocted. So well, in fact, that the instrumental "One Mint Julep" went to number one on the R&B chart and to number eight on pop. Of course, Ray Charles knows how to sing as well as anyone, and the two gritty vocals here, "I've Got News for You" and "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town," did well when released as a single. As a bonus, Rhino has filled out the CD with My Kind of Jazz, an album so obscure they're not even sure when it was recorded. It features Charles on piano and includes, along with the funky minor hit "Booty Butt," a screaming version of Horace Silver's "Senor Blues" so contemporary in its impact that it sounds as if some acid-jazz band recorded it yesterday morning.
One Drop Will Do You
It's well within reason to suggest that the latter half of the Nineties is shaping up to be a rosy era for listeners interested in quality blues from female singers and musicians. Modern blues has long been a men's club, but things have changed; there's now a steady light stream of albums being issued by performers on the distaff side who frequent the blues-bar circuit or, with any luck, the festival scene.
Sandra Hall's second Ichiban effort, One Drop Will Do You, tips us off to what R&B buffs in Atlanta have known since the mid-Sixties when she was part of the all-woman band the Exotics: She is a singer with a heavy, big voice that can raise hell at will. On a mix of originals and songs borrowed from B.B. King, Chicago Bob Nelson, and Eddy Clearwater, Hall expends lots of energy and evidences a strong sense of rhythm. It's apparent she's lived the lyrics a little by the conviction with which she sings them, calling herself "a girl that's blew a fuse" on the chestnut "Blow Top Blues," and aching bad for her absent man in "Ease the Pain."
Hall offers fairly explicit sexual come-ons in several numbers ("Use What You Got," and "My Henhouse"), and she's always ready to supply a partying mood. Her Chicago blues-style support band, the Excellos, and various studio friends can match her drop of sweat for drop of sweat, though her singing might be better served by a less heavy-handed bunch. But subtlety isn't what Sandra Hall's about here -- she can wang, dang, and doodle even more explosively than the present-day Koko Taylor.
Erica Guerin can belt out the blues too. Yet she's less inclined to travel the Chicago blues route than she is to embrace the swampy R&B/blues tradition of her native Baton Rouge and to make the most of her affiliation with King Snake records. The label, based in Sanford, Florida, has an identifiable soul-blues sound thanks to its superlative session men and producer Bob Greenlee. Guerin's voice, full of emotional strength despite her relative youth, pushes along a program of fair-to-very-good songs penned by Greenlee or his New York friend Jim Payne, whose recent Warner Bros. book on classic funk drummers (Give the Drummer Some) merits study by anyone who gives a whit about James Brown.
In "Take Away Your Trash," Guerin's singing about a lazy mate verges on melodrama, but she reins in her emotions just enough to be believable. She is right on top of the duplicity of a lover in "The Sun Shines on Everyone," with Warren King's guitar played plenty hot, and she has the vocal technique necessary to illuminate the shuffling title track with sassy displeasure over another wayward guy. Her rendition of "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean" is a throwaway, considering that Ruth Brown is still around and doing the definitive version to this day. Although she sometimes strains for ardency only to emerge with mere bluster, Guerin still delivers an enjoyable album that portends a bright future.