It's Got to be Funky
By Bob Weinberg
Whether pounding the keys alongside Art Blakey or leading his own dynamic trios and quartets, jazz pianist Horace Silver managed to accomplish the impossible: he made records that grooved and jammed with hard-charging R&B and still satisfied jazz purists. (Just 'cause it's kickin' don't mean it ain't real.) On his latest, and much-anticipated, release Silver sticks to the formula, with 75 minutes of high-octane, straight-ahead blues-inflected jazz.
The title track is actually a credo for Silver's methodology: "I'm in search of a song that gets you out on the dancing floor." But don't let the supreme in-the-pocketness of this material fool you. Silver tosses in chops that owe as much to Thelonious Monk as Ramsey Lewis, particularly on a riff at the end of a reworking of his often covered "Song for My Father."
But it won't be the powerhouse pianistics that immediately arrest your ears. Silver has assembled a celebration of brass, including the three mighty tenors of Red Holloway, Eddie Harris, and Branford Marsalis, playing catch me if you can on towering solos and tight ensemble work. Add trumpet and flgel by Oscar Brashears and trombone by Bob McChesney on the swinging "Basically Blue" and you have a horn section worthy of any of Blakey's bands. Stick work from drummer Carl Burnett, who takes a page from Buhaina's book on riding the rims, perfectly complements Silver's propulsive punching.
Andy Bey's booming baritone provides strong leading vocals on three tracks: the bebop scat "Dufus Rufus," the jazz ode "The Hillbilly Bebopper," ("That's the way it is/I love Bird and Diz"), and of course, the moving "Song for My Father."
Silver proves, as he has all along, that accessibility and excellence aren't necessarily polar opposites when it comes to making jazz.
By Greg Baker
My friend Nicole, who was a professor of world politics at the time, once tried to explain this Northern Ireland thing to me. I confess I didn't quite understand it all: Catholics and Protestants, nationalists and secessionists, all these folks sneaking around and blowing each other up with car bombs.
Seems a terrible way to live, especially for children, who, Nicole told me, are dragged into the fray early on. Now Ali McMordie (Stiff Little Fingers), who grew up in Belfast, and Robert Hamilton (The Fat Lady Sings) have spearheaded an album -- as well as a series of U.K. concerts -- to fund a trust and provoke debate. A bunch of top-gun artists perform a bunch of high-grade songs, all tied to the troubles of the Emerald Isle.
You get the team of Peter Gabriel, Sinead O'Connor, Feargal Sharkey, and Nanci Griffith singing "Be Still." You get U2 and Lou Reed teaming on the latter's "Satellite of Love." You get the immortal Ian Dury, with Curve, performing "What a Waste." You get Billy Bragg, Andy White, and O'Connor on "Religious Persuasion." You get remakes of two Elvis Costello works A "Peace in Our Time" by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and "Oliver's Army" by Blur. You get "Games without Frontiers" as played by Pop Will Eat Itself.
And then you get really frustrated by just how bad this album is.
Not once are these songs given new life. Not one of the interpretations is insightful or compelling. There's some nice music here, but nothing that'll make a difference in your record collection, much less in the politics of the United (for now) Kingdom. What went wrong? My guess is too much effort went into sounding mod and not enough into emotion and evocation. It just doesn't sound like they care much. The marriage of slickness and passion rarely works out. The divorce -- or annulment, really -- means slickness gets the money and the house and the car, passion gets the dog and the boot.
Why this album ended up that way is something I really don't understand. My friend Nicole moved to the U.K. some time ago. One of these days maybe I'll ask her to explain this.
So Many Roads
John Hammond: Solo
The Best of John Hammond
By Bob Weinberg
John Hammond rates as one of the most magnetic live acoustic performers you'll ever be fortunate to see and hear. He gets more sound and variety out of his guitar and harp, keeping time with foot on floorboard, than many full bands could hope for. When that translates to disc, the results are spectacular.
Hammond's former label, Vanguard, has kindly re-released some of the blues stalwart's vintage albums on CD. Hammond's eponymous debut, recorded when he was just twenty, reveals his deep love of the form and is filled with raw energy, though it is a bit tentative compared to his later, ballsier efforts. His picking, too, is far less sophisticated and distinctive than what was to come.
Even so his nascent style of hard strumming and honest-to-the-point-of-self-absorption singing and playing can be heard throughout, particularly on Muddy Waters's "Two Trains Running," Arthur Big Boy Crudup's "Mean Old Frisco," and a song Dylan had included on his debut three years before, Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See that My Grave Is Kept Clean."
What a difference a year makes A in 1965 Hammond cut So Many Roads, with a little help from his friends. And when you've got friends such as Chicago harpster Charlie Musselwhite and Butterfield Blues Band's Michael Bloomfield (massaging the ivories instead of swinging his mighty ax), who wouldn't rise to the occasion? While you're at it, add future members of the Band Robbie Robertson (with some tasty blues-guitar licks), Levon Helm (smashing the skins), and Garth Hudson (with some superfluous but you've-gotta-have-a-B-3-on-a-Sixties-blues-album organ grinding). Hammond's ability to work with full band would prove again in 1992's Got Love If You Want It (check the tracks with Little Charlie and the Nightcats).
The Roads selections are what you'd expect from a blues scholar. You got your tunes by Robert Johnson A one of Hammond's most recognizable influences A with "Judgment Day" and a supreme "Rambling Blues." You got your Muddy Waters -- "Long Distance Call." You got your Bo Diddley -- "Who Do You Love" (hang your head in shame, Mr. Thorogood, you'll never be this thoroughly good) and "O Yea!" -- remarkable package.
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Now jet ahead eleven years to a live mid-Seventies set and, once again, a revealing glimpse at the growth of an artist who just keeps stretching his talent. All by himself except for the small audience at Vanguard's 23rd Street studio, Hammond is in his element -- guitar, harp, boot. More Muddy, this time with Hammond's buzzing acoustic throwing off sparks -- you know, those great shoot-from-the-hip stingers Mr. Morganfield was famous for A on "I Can't Be Satisfied." Then it's on to Charles Brown's transcendent "Drifting Blues" (interesting to compare to the update on Got Love), dressed down from the original. Charles put it in a tux at a swanky L.A. nightclub while John puts it in overalls on a Louisiana levee.
Nothing here is less than excellent, but we'll just tell you about the trenchant Jimmy Reed classic "Honest I Do," a romping stomper by Blind Boy Fuller called "Trucking Little Baby," and a haunted (is there any other kind?) Robert Johnson number, "Hellhound Blues."
The Best of John Hammond, first issued in 1970, really isn't the best of, although it may have been back then. There's enough here to recommend a listen (any Hammond is worth a listen), including a few cuts from his first record, a handful from Roads, the usual mix of obscure Delta blues and rootsy rockers. However, Hammond's style was still evolving at this point, and his voice often sounds like Blind Al Wilson, the Kermit-voiced singer for Canned Heat. The passion and energy are evident, particularly on Chuck Berry's "No Money Down" (although for the definitive version, track down Blues Explosion, a live Montreux Blues Fest album from 1982).
Other reasons to pick up Best of: an ethereal take of Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway" and a raveup of his "Traveling Riverside Blues," plus a growling bravado performance of Willie Dixon's "Backdoor Man" (curiously credited to Chuck Berry). A nice overview of Hammond's early career, with 22 tracks clocking in at more than 70 minutes. Be advised that much has happened in the past 23 years, not the least of which is a maturing of Hammond's style that sacrifices none of his verve but sure adds some chops.