By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
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.
Jumpin' Like Mad (both from the Capitol Blues Collection)
The most recent book by British musicologist/journalist Barney Hoskyns, Waiting for the Sun: The Sound of Los Angeles, offers up the theory that in the Forties, Central Avenue in Los Angeles was home to the most vibrant black music scene in America. These two multi-disc reissues, part of an ongoing series exploring the vast blues music archive of the L.A.-based Capitol Records label, make that claim difficult to dispute.
The triple-disc Cocktail Blues collection begins with some of the seminal work of the Nat "King" Cole Trio, whose piano, guitar, and bass lineup and musical mix of jazz, jive, and standards influenced an entire generation of West Coast piano player/vocalists, including Ray Charles, Roy Hawkins, Charles Brown, and Floyd Dixon (the last two of whom are also featured in this collection). As at any good cocktail party, each of the guests here brings something unique to the table. Cole's effortless delivery and distinctive piano style, along with the artistry of guitarist Oscar Moore, the Trio's secret weapon, provide many intoxicating moments, particularly on classics such as "Straighten Up and Fly Right" and "Route 66."
Dixon displays more obvious blues influences in his music and lyrics, as well as a great narrative songwriting style that not only explores traditional blues themes such as loving a "Married Woman" or being "Tired, Broke, and Busted," but that also touches on unexpected topics such as the jealousy and doubt that can accompany a long-distance relationship ("Telephone Blues" and "Call Operator 210"). Brown appears both as a solo artist and with Johnny (brother of Oscar) Moore's Three Blazers. Originally from Texas (as is Dixon), Brown adds his home state's bluesier sound to a lugubrious, slightly drunken-sounding vocal style with lyrics of lonely desolation, evoking dark nights spent at darker bars where dark liquors fuel darker thoughts. The titles of some of his selections tell all: "Tormented," "Trouble Blues," and "Without the One You Love."
Cocktail Nation poseurs beware! This is not a collection of lounge music, that stylish but ultimately disposable subgenre of easy-listening pop. Instead, the music contained on this collection is the music of real people feeling real emotions, not vapid background sounds for cigar-chomping, martini-swilling yuppies. The Jumpin' Like Mad collection offers up two discs of jump blues, which is what rock and roll was called before it was called rock and roll. This rock and roll, however, was (and is) for adults: Eating, drinking, dancing, and more drinking are the major themes here, and all are explored with lusty enthusiasm and wild abandon. Highlights include Jimmy Liggins's "I Ain't Drunk, I'm Just Drinkin'," finally making its CD debut; Nellie Lutcher's sexy "Fine Brown Frame"; and Big Joe Turner's blazing "Jumpin' Tonight."
Nearly every artist featured on these compilations was based in Los Angeles at the time of these recordings. Most of them were transplants, lured to the city by its booming postwar economy, and their collective talents coalesced around the Central Avenue nightclub district into one of the greatest music scenes ever.