THE ROYAL CHASE (nationbeat)

I am keen on all kinds of brass band music, from high school marching bands to Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, from Neapolitan funeral bands to Indian wedding bands, English colliery bands to Mexican banda. As long as it has good arrangements and is swinging, I am all ears. The Nation Beat is the project of drummer Scott Kettner who decided to fuse New Orleans style brass with the music of Brazil and came up with funky forró. The transposition of accordéon to brass works just fine. I recently read a fascinating history of New Orleans by music scholar Ned Sublette. He cuts off the narrative around 1860 so it is long before recorded music but he does include some excellent information on Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the father of American jazz, and his Caribbean roots, and he furnishes a real sense of the trans-national flow of music from Africa through the Caribbean to the unique town that was actually under three different flags in its early history-- Spain, France, England-- before becoming American during the Louisiana purchase. For this new album, Kettner brought along tenor saxophonist Paul Carlon who has worked with Tony Allen and who turns in a great haunting "Big chief." Carlon has also ventured into this type of music before with "Morò‚ Omim Má" on his own album, Roots Propaganda, which is reprised here in a different arrangement. The other players are uncredited on my promo copy but on the video they are identified as Joe Correia, sousaphone, Mariel Bildsten, trombone, and Mark Collins, trumpet. Organ creeps in too. There are also guest vocalists, to sing "Algunas cantan," and the Norlins chestnut "Hey pocky way." They tear into Luis Gonzaga's "Forró no Escuro" and there's a lively rendering of Clara Nunes' hit "Feira de Mangaio," though with the accordéon and triangle parts transposed, again, to brass and percussion. They end with another Sivuca composition "Roseira do Norte." It's short but sweet.


San Francisco Bay Area group Los Mocosos have reunited after a 15 year hiatus and created a great grooving Rock-en-Español album recapturing Low-Rider glory days. One of many Mission District garage bands formed in the wake of Santana, Malo and many others, they covered the evergreen "Volver volver" as well as Herb Alpert's "Lonely Bull," so there's a Latin beat to their sound but its more funk-rock than salsa, more Sly Stone than Tito Puente. Their first single off the new album "United we stand" exudes a great soul sound reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield. Their lyrics have moved toward rap rather than singing, but the sound is still classic with Farfisa organ, pumping horns, rock guitar and bongos. In the decades since they last played together, individual members joined Latin Soul Syndicate and the Hip Spanic Allstars, but mainly were writing music for TV shows like The Sopranos and Desperate Housewives. Also Mexican-American music evolved with the likes of Ozomatli and Café Tacuba finding new directions. The key players Happy Sanchez (bass), Victor Castro (trombone) and Shorty Ramos (sax) worked with different vocalists to find the right sound. They brought in Santana percussionist Karl Perazzo, and the overall production values are really tops. Twenty-two years ago they were the snot-nosed brats, now they are all grown up.

BLUE WORLD (Impulse)

On the rare occasions when we went to the cinema in my childhood (at a town 4 miles away), we just showed up, bought tickets and went in. Sometimes they were showing a newsreel or the cartoon was on, or the feature might have already started, but it didn't matter. You sat through the show and then when it got back to the part you recognized you said, This is where we came in, got up and left. As jazz historians unearth rare discoveries of lost tapes by the past masters, Miles, Monk, Stan Getz, Trane and so on I kept up with it, until I felt it was getting a bit silly and decided this was where I came in and had heard the rest. For example, Craft recently reissued the 1958 Prestige sessions of Coltrane's works, essentially duplicating parts of Side Steps and Fearless Leader, and now Impulse have found another lost Trane session with the classic quartet. I looked at it and thought, hmmm, I have all this, and if it's anything like the Monk "Liaisons Dangereuses" soundtrack not particularly thrilling, even for a completist. "Liaisons Dangereuses" was marketed as a discovery of a lost soundtrack -- French and from the same period as the astounding Elevator to the Scaffold of Miles, even featuring the French tenor player Barney Wilen who had accompanied Miles. But in fact it was Monk doing what he does: playing his set, which has been documented on many live albums. So I decided to hold off on Blue World, making another mistake. First, mid-60s Coltrane was rippingly good (he had given up exploring the avant garde with Dolphy after Down Beat called it "Anti-jazz," and was retrenching by exploring ballads), and even though there are live concerts from this period (the magnificent Live at Birdland), there are only two studio recordings that year, including A Love Supreme where his spiritual concerns begin to manifest. What is going on here with Blue World is a serious request from a Canadian filmmaker for Trane to play a setlist of a few of his classics from Atlantic 1959-60 to be used in a film (which was in French so got limited notice outside the Francophile world). Unlike Monk, Trane did not revisit his old repertoire much. The hauntingly lovely "Naima" did feature at the Village Vanguard in 1961 and on the European tours of the next couple of years. Of the other material here, only "Traneing in" showed up on a date in Europe 1962. For once I am happy to listen to some fresh takes of his back catalogue over and over again. It's a crystal clear recording and the set, all Coltrane compositions, is very coherent.


Before gentrification San Francisco's Mission District was a happening scene. It was gritty (still is in places) and visceral with low-rider cars cruising and blasting their stereos, spontaneous conga jams in the park, little clubs like Bruno's, El Rio and Elbo Room, and big ones like Cesar's Latin Palace. Places for poetry, improv and comedy, like Intersection, Artists Television Access, the Marsh and other indie scenes thrived there. Churches were packed on Sundays; there were bakeries, bookstores and of course scores of taco stands. I lived there in the 1990s and worked part-time at Round World Music. The neighborhood started becoming "the new Bohemia" as people gave up on North Beach and the Haight-Ashbury trying to avoid tourists and looking for cheaper places to live. The "sound of the Mission" had been defined in the 60s by Santana and in the 70s by Tower of Power, Sly & the Family Stone and other funk bands. It's a sticky sweet mix of pop, soul and Latin grooves and is captured perfectly by the Hip Spanic Allstars on their new disc Old School Revolution. The group was formed by ex-members of Los Mocosos who found former members of Santana (timbalero Karl Perazzo), the snaky guitar of Spearhead, and indeed Tower of Power (trombonist and baritone saxophonist) with time on their hands and an urge to groove. Some band members formerly known as Latin Soul Syndicate did a lot of soundtrack work for The Sopranos, Devil wears Prada and John Leguizamo's last film. The old school of the title is the Chicano groove and surprisingly they kick off with a non-Latin pop song "Crystal Blue Persuasion" which was a 1969 hit for Tommy James & the Shondells. The original did have bongos and big horns and of course an irresistible Hammond organ groove and it's great to hear it recontextualized as a low-rider classic with layers of percussion. There are also audible echoes of the Rascals and Mazacote. The album is poppy but has consummate musicianship especially in the tropical sounds of "Bacuna Wow Wow Wow" and their cover of Sonora Santanera's "La Boa." A bit late for the summer party under the stars, this is still a guaranteed crowd pleaser.


November 2015 saw the passing of Allen Toussaint, one of the giants of New Orleans music. He was a producer (Dr John's In the Right Place is one example), arranger and performer, but best-known as writer of an incredible string of Soul & R&B hits for Irma Thomas ("Ruler of my heart," "It's Raining," "Time is on my side"), Lee Dorsey ("Working in the coal mine," "Ride your pony," "Holy cow," "Ya ya," "Get out my life, woman," "Everything I do gohn be funky," and many more). He knew how to write a hit, in fact he once said, "Other people get up and build cabinets, I write songs." He was also skilled at taking a song someone had brought into the studio and improving it. The first wave of British rock bands in the mid-60s covered his tunes such as "Fortune Teller" and "Time is on my side" and made them hits for the white pop audience. Toussaint continued working behind the scenes in New Orleans as a producer and arranger, even filling in for Fats Domino on piano on one of Fats' hits! After Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home in 2005 he moved to New York and began to play solo piano at Joe's pub in Greenwich Village. The response was overwhelming and he was soon back out on the road enjoying the fruits of his long career in an endless world tour. In fact he had just played a concert in Madrid when he died of heart failure, aged 77. He wrote hits for Aaron Neville, Ernie K. Doe and Otis Redding in the 60s. (As a joke on the Neville Brothers he sometimes used the pen-name Naomi Neville, thereby becoming the elusive Neville "sister.") His house band, the Meters, also benefitted from his compositional skill. Glen Campbell's cover of his "Southern Nights" went to number one on the pop charts; remakes by Boz Scaggs ("What do you want the girl to do?") or the Pointer Sisters ("Yes we can can") regularly gripped the national musical consciousness. As a skilled pianist in the lineage of Professor Longhair, Toussaint had deft fingers on the keys; I enjoy his playing immensely. To Fess' Bach he was often called the Amadeus of New Orleans. Bright Mississippi is a studio recording from 2009 with an all-star lineup of jazz sidemen, including Don Byron and Nicholas Payton. There's a few familiar tunes on here, not to say chestnuts (he himself penned "Java," a hit for Al Hirt, and now part of New Orleans street lore), but the calibre of musicianship makes Bright Mississippi a treat. The emphasis is on the New Orleans repertoire, so we start with Sidney Bechet's "Egyptian Fantasy" and also hear from Jelly Roll Morton and Joe "King" Oliver. Nicholas Payton features on trumpet and does Pops justice on "Dear Old Southland" a tune made famous by Armstrong. Toussaint doesn't step to the fore until "St James Infirmary" which he renders sparely with a range of stylistic effects: Victorian parlor trills alternate with curt, choppy single digit picking. This sets up a prickly acoustic guitar solo from Marc Ribot. Speaking of acoustics, the set-up for "Singin the blues" has the drummer (Jay Bellerose) sounding like he is way at the back of an empty bar with the piano and trumpet up close and cosy with the mike. I am sure Toussaint suggested this to the engineer. As a sign of his lack of ego he invited another pianist Brad Mehldau to sit in on a duet on Jelly Roll Morton's "Winin' Boy Blues." They are in separate stereo channels, you have to guess which is which. King Oliver's "West End Blues" must be one of the first version of a "Slow Drag" to be recorded: a smoky blues with raggedy-ass drumming, tight sophisticated piano runs and little expletive outbursts from the horns. Ribot is back, snapping at his nylon strings. The sextet returns for a sexed-up finale and quits too soon (maybe thinking of the constraints of a 78 rpm). Ribot gets the spotlight on a Django tune, followed by a chance for Byron to shine on the old hymn "Just a closer walk with thee," one of the most popular tunes at New Orleans funerals -- its origin is believed to be a pre-Civil war African-American spiritual. I hear where Randy Newman is coming from in the piano part. Now to to the title tune, which I have been eagerly anticipating, being a huge Monk fan. "Bright Mississippi" (Monk's deconstruction of "Sweet Georgia Brown") already has a slight shuffle to its step, perfect for Second-line intervention. Here's Monk's tune as a New Orleans stomp with bompy kick drum and wonky keyboards. There's a bit of Huey Piano Smith, a bit of Vince Guaraldi, some Monty Alexander, anyone but Monk as suddenly the acoustic bass (David Piltch) and drums go into what could loosely be called "dub"! It's too short but leaves us time for two Duke Ellington tunes and one more. "Day Dream" brings in Joshua Redman, another stellar member of the younger generation of jazz artists (& an alumnus of Berkeley High Jazz band), on tenor sax. This perfect musical excursion ends with "Solitude" in a sparkling duet with Ribot. Without showing off, Toussaint gives us a little lecture on New Orleans piano styles (he had absorbed Albert Ammons, Pinetop Smith and a host of others), but then modestly returns to comping and steps back to frame the acoustic guitar. I played this album for the Duchess and she commented, It's like a happy funeral march. Indeed it is.

THE PANAMERICANIST (self-produced)

Neil Dixon Smith is a guitarist who is devoted to the music of Alfonso Chacón (1934-2011), a Chilean composer and performer. He has put together a website and an album called The Panamericanist, that features his playing on some classic songs from the South American repertoire. Chacón left his native Chile in the 1960s and travelled around South America learning regional guitar styles and adapting folk songs to the guitar. He spent years in Argentina and Venezuela before arriving in Chicago in the 1990s where Smith took a class from him. Smith describes their first encounter: "he delivered an expansive sampler course of Latin folkloric styles and then a more general demonstration of the sonic and expressive possibilities of a lone nylon-stringed guitar. I was awestruck. I had never seen or heard anyone play guitar like that before. Solo guitar music, a mix of straight classical and crazy unbeknownst folkloric techniques. Intense stabbing and digging at the strings segueing to gentle romantic lines to dancingly dense rhythmic strums that immediately combed my hair in new ways. Call it soul music, it felt equally fresh and vibrant as rooted and old. And it looked fun as hell to play, if not impossible." Smith decided to apprentice to the master to preserve his vast knowledge. The Panamericanist is a great three-quarters of an hour of solo acoustic guitar. It kicks off with four tracks by Chacón, then takes us on a tour of other South American composers, Enrique Yépez's "Pasional," Carlos Ortiz's "Flores Negras," are both from Ecuador. There's a bambuco from Colombia: "Antioqueñita" by Pelón Santamarta; three tracks from Argentina (two of them are tangos, but it's the milonga, "Los Ejes de mi Carreta," that I found particularly moving), and he ends with two waltzes from Peru. I am not familiar with any of this music, knowing only a few pieces in the Brazilian guitar repertoire, but of course the Spanish influence is evident. Smith's playing is superb: while his scholarship is apparent, it's his passion in performance that is impressive. Well worth delving into.

EVERYTHING IS MUSIC (Self-published)

Here's a band that takes the potpourri approach to the music of the world, combining as they do members from India, Africa and the Americas. Based in Austin, Texas which is known for country, folk and Latin music, Atash feels more at home with flamenco, reggae, jazz, rock and Indian classical music. Their name comes from the Persian word for "Fire" and refers to Zoroastrianism, the pre-Islamic religion of sun-worshippers. Another classical reference is in the album's title which comes from Rumi, the 13th-century Sufi poet. Just as fire is one aspect of the life force, music is the essence of our being. Individuals bring musical ideas to the group then everyone throws in what they want -- the result is a blend of all their backgrounds. I thought I would be turned off by this but the blend of oud and sitar works, and the rhythms, whether Middle Eastern, African, or Other, are all well-suited to the tune at hand. The singer, Mohammad Firoozi, grew up in rural Iran. He led the call to prayer at the village mosque but secretly listened to Western rock 'n' roll broadcast from Kuwait on his dad's radio. He would sing in pidgin English in clubs in Shiraz to crowds who didn't understand him, and now, decades later, he sings in Farsi in Texas, again to an uncomprehending audience! His "Amshab" reminds me of ONB, it has a wonderful dubby bass 'n' drums and then the oud and strings (on Echoplex) take us back to the Grand Bazaar. I like this because it sounds authentic, it's not a bunch of posers playing afrobeat, but people from divergent cultures coming together and sharing their joy of music. They worked on the album for over three years, writing new pieces and revising old ones. You can tell a lot of thought and effort went into it. The qawwali number, "Baaraan," is a stand-out with tablas and handclaps, then bandleader Roberto Riggio comes in on mournful violin behind Firoozi working out on the vocals.

THE ROOTS OF BLUES (Sunnyside SSC3097)

Jazz is normally outside the purview of muzikifan. Not that I do not listen to it, in fact it's in heavy rotation, but because it is widely covered in other media and this site is dedicated to music of other "worlds." However when you consider that Abdullah Ibrahim is African, by birth, and that Pharoah Sanders (among many others) has played with African artists, you have to allow for genre-creep or some crossover in my column. Randy Weston is an American musician, however he was so enthralled with African music that he moved to North Africa 40 years ago and has produced several important suites of music incorporating African rhythms or instruments, including Volcano Blues, Marrakech in the Cool of the Evening, and The Spirits of Our Ancestors. While keeping a recognizable American feeling in his own playing (shades of Monk, Ellington, and a monster lefthand that really strides up and down to grasp big clusters of notes), Weston has also had a long and profitable partnership with American saxophonist Billy Harper. I saw them in concert six years ago and finally this year they recorded an album of three standards and ten of Weston's own tunes. Harper on tenor has a warmer and more mellow tone on this session than you'd expect from hearing his other work. Seems like he jumped on the Coltrane and even communes with the cetaceans on "The Healers," the longest cut here. Interspersed among the gems of Westoniana are "Body and Soul," "How High the Moon," and "Take the A Train," each of which points to a moment in Weston's own musical development. Clearly these guys are having a lot of fun in the studio, but they are working hard too. Harper and Weston first met in Tangier when Weston organized a jazz festival and invited the Max Roach group. Oddly Roach didn't make the trip and Weston ended up playing drums (!) behind Harper and the other members of the quartet. For The Roots of the Blues they decided to explore the darker tones of their instruments. Weston got hold of a Bosendorfer with extra low notes! "Blues to Africa" is based on the way elephants walk, he insists. Lagos and Dakar are also stops on the musical itinerary with "Carnival" which Weston wrote after visiting Bobby Benson's Caban Bamboo club in Lagos (and first recorded with Harper in 1974) and "Blues to Senegal," composed after hearing master percussionist Doudou Ndiaye Rose. One of my favorites is the atonal "Congolese Children's Song" which Weston wrote in 1963. Strangely enough he was gigging in the Berkshires and had plenty of time to listen to music, so was digging folkloric African albums which inspired this piece. How time flies, and it's hard to believe Weston is 87. This latest musical statement is an encapsulation and summation of many of his themes, a digest of his travels and a tour of his wonderfully diverse career.

BACK TO THE WOODS (Folk Dune/Naxos)

Hey this is alright. Even a touch HansReichelish in places! I looked at the lineup and thought it looked like maybe gypsy jazz. Then I looked on Youtube and saw some noodly stuff so the CD sat in its shrinkwrap looking sulkily at me for a month every time I turned over the inbox looking hopefully for something that wasn't there. Sharlin plays accordion and something called "wurli" (which is a Wurlitzer organ, souvenir of a Natalie Merchant tour, which appears on the most straight-ahead jazz track "Don Quixote."). DogCat includes bassoon and bass clarinet, my favorite woodwinds, on three cuts, as well as a bassist, a brace of percussionists and an electric guitar. Guests include Ze Mauricio on pandeiro. It's all original, very original material, apart from a Hermeto Pascoal cover, "Dia #342," which is appropriately out. Sharlin is from Tel Aviv and grew up hearing Russian songs translated into Hebrew and Arabic music. He was going to move to New York to study jazz piano but ended up playing keyboards in a cumbia band. That was when he got the idea of switching to accordion from all the vallenato he was hearing. On "The Real DogCat" we gather that they are secretly Rastafarians, since this is a reggae number with the woodwinds playing lead and an added zabumba (a big Brazilian drum you wear round your neck). Sharlin says he was inspired by Caetano Veloso's Livro to add the woodwinds. It was a smart move: it creates a lovely warm sound, as opposed to gypsyish accordion with jazz guitar, which can be pretty pedestrian. The feeling of Brasil is palpable in the warm ballads "Mundau by Day" and "Mundau by Night," and the closer "Baiao," a lively forro track, on which a flute duels with the bassoon.


I was wondering how much accordion-driven Vallenata I needed in my collection, especially since I already have the previous excellent album Escape Room (2010) by Very Be Careful, but then as I listened to this latest release from the LA-based outfit I recalled what infectious energy they have. The band smokes along on traditional instruments, and for all I know this could have been recorded 50 years ago, but sounds fresh and alive today. They've been together for ten years and have a wide range of influences, from obvious ones, like Buena Vista Social Club, Antibalas and Carlos Vives to Joe Strummer & Gogol Bordello. Definitely one to keep close to the CD player.

DUB TO THE BONE (Electric Cowbell)

This is a great concept, well executed. A dub album featuring two trombones as lead instruments. Fans of Jamaican music know Don Drummond's work and wish there were more of it. Here is a great continuation, not really a tribute to the Don, but a set of new music with dubs in a classic style, reminiscent of King Tubby. The leader of the group is the bassist, Ezra Gale, which bodes well for a good dub album. Right out of the gate they have a crumbling rumbling thuddy thing going on, with "Washingtonian." The double bone effect works well with the Roland Space Echo and the contrapuntal melody they send forth returning on delay and decay. There's minimal guitar with Echoplex. Returning to the old technology is always a wise move (though they have yet to put out a 78). The second cut "Tri tro tro" has been dematerialized by Beverley Road All Stars. It changes course midway through and an Ernie Ranglin-like guitar starts off in a new direction. It continues is a more mellow tone with the occasional lowering clouds of bone blowing ominous masses of brassy breath over the beach (like in "We will begin again" Trainwreck remix). Though it's a CD we then get to "Side two" which carries on in the same mode. It's short but made a nice lead-in to Ernie Ranglin's Below the Bassline, which it called to mind.


Their first album promised a lot and this is a step forward for these American Latinos. They put out an EP earlier this year, i may even have put up a link to it, but as i get older i forget everything (which is why i write stuff down). It's "the Tropical Sounds of Washington, D.C.," which really sounds like an oxymoron, but the groove gives the lie to that notion. The bass is hyped up, the beats are complex, and the lyrics not too obnoxious. Retro-sounding synth washes over it all for a dancefloor-friendly vibe. "Volume" tells you to turn it up, and has a Kool & the Gang earnestness to it. It's more generic party music than sonic revelation, but sometimes that's good, no? After a foray into reggaeton -- "Rompan fila" -- they get tropical for "7th Street Groove" with horns escaped from a Michael Jackson session. The line-up seems to be a guitar and bass guy, a keyboard guy and a percussionist with two singers and guest trumpeters. Variety and revolving guests lift it out the regional drum 'n' bass category. The closer "Rey de reyes" with leader Paul Chaconas doing double-duty on bass and Melodica is their best shot at reggae, but the lyrics fail to engage. They keep it lively, but it seems like the Colombians are streets ahead for DJ music. I am not suggesting the Washingtonians self-deport to explore their roots, but there are big changes afoot in Latin music.


When the renowned DJ & world music impressario Cheb i Sabbah was stricken with cancer last year, his colleagues decided to do a benefit album. It is now available and consists of a double album of 22 tracks by old friends like Karsh Kale, Zakir Hussain, Nitin Sawhney, Natacha Atlas, and Transglobal Underground, as well as some surprises: Bauhaus, Pandit G S Sachdev, Bill Laswell, and others. The two hours is launched by Chebi-ji himself with Janaka Selekta's Sufi HiFi remix of the old Sufic hymn "Ali Maulaah." This has a great dubby insistence. The Indian mood dominates the first hour before the Arab springs forward. However even a track you would expect to be Rai, "Freedom is Free" in the Jeff Stott mix, has Indian instruments, and then a rapper starts declaiming in that deadpan and deadening way rappers affect. Too bad because the tune is pleasant but the poetry is trite rubbish ("your freedom is free, y'all"). Overall Samaya is pleasant Hindi pop-inflected stuff, though Karsh Kale must have played Space Invaders as a kid because he has a lot of that computery busyness in his mix, "Sandstorm." The midpoint of the album is a lovely wistful Mercan Dede track, simply titled "Sabah." Other highlights include Watcha Clan's "A Nomad called Cheb i," where ethereal vocals and ominous synth work in concert over a tricky percussion loop, and the headbanging "Sita Ram" by Dub Kirtan All Stars. There are only three tracks I would cut, not bad for a pot luck, and you don't want to tell attendees "We have enough potato salad, thank you!" The new agey "The Lonely Chamber" by Azam Ali & Loga Ramin Torkian is hard to listen to more than once; the other two tracks I cut also had irritating vocals that marred otherwise decent tracks. The Arabic tracks are held back and the stately "Jai Ganesha" is a lovely entry from the group known as Emam and Friends (I think they are students of Zakir Hussein). The sequencing is great and we end up back in India for the grand outtro, with Hamayun Khan singing and playing harmonium, then a closing violin and tabla piece from Zakir Hussein, featuring Kala Ramnath on violin. You can preview the album on soundcloud, and have your choice of download only, download plus physical CD, CD only, or deluxe package with all sortsa stuff thrown in.


The new album from Chicha Libre is a great follow-up to their debut which was inspired by The Roots of Chicha. They are still gobbling up global beats and rendering them afresh on their retro-sounding instruments but I would call them bone-collectors rather than cannibals. They are not afraid to bathe in pure kitsch such as "L'Age d'Or," with its echoes of the sleazy side of Serge Gainsbourg complete with vocals that sounded like they were recorded under a trench coat in an old cinema. But that's just a brief change from the chicha and cumbia beats they mastered on their first album Sonido Amazonica and continue to capitalize on here with bubbly Farfisa and echoey Fender guitars. There's still strong doses of psychedelia and surf guitar but this time the compositions are all originals (with one exception: a cute cover of "the Ride of the Valkyries," which sounds more like the Bonanza TV theme).

NEW DELI (Evergreene Music 005)

You are driving down a bumpy road at night listening to free jazz on the radio, suddenly your car hits a pothole and the music switches to country. Ah well, it's the reception you say, and fiddle with your cosmic receiver till something vaguely like pop comes in, What's this, Grace Jones? you ask yourself, when bump another pothole and the weirdest folk music is blasting forth. Welcome to Tribecastan. At first I thought it was the Art Ensemble of Chicago but by "Daddy Barracuda," with shades of Beefheart's Magic Band, I had given up trying to tell what exactly this is. Sort of a Three Mustaphas doing open mike night. There's certainly free jazz in there, with Steve Turre blowing conch shells audibly here and there, as well as boning his tromb, and some old covers, like "Please don't let me be misunderstood," (not a patch on the version by The Animals), but it lurches from mode to mode with some great moments some less bright moments and some flat bits. Clody musette goes bossa nova. Sadly, the junky and cluttered design of the package makes it seem like a bad amalgamation of too many disparate bits.

CAN'T SIT DOWN (WorldVillage)

Recorded in one session without overdubs to give it a live feel, this is a foot-stomping lively set of Zydeco dance music. C.J. is the son of Clifton Chenier and carries on the accordion tradition of his dad, with energy and loads of red hot pepper sauce. There's rock, R&B and funk in the mix and some familiar tunes on the set list: "Baby please don't go," the blues standard "Trouble in mind," John Lee Hooker's "Dusty Road," and "We gotta have peace" by Curtis Mayfield, a storming conclusion to the set. The oddity is a Tom Waits song, "Clap Hands" which starts on thumb piano but is soon swept aside. Lively partying music which shows the good times are still rolling.


Label samplers don't always work. The bands may be friends but they have different musical agendas and putting them all on one album doesn't make anything more coherent. Yet there is a groove on this Stronghold Sound release running from Morocco to Medellin that recommends it to your ears. DJ Bongo (Alpha Omar Sidibe from Guinea) kicks things off with a deep grumbly bass groove on "Jah protect my people," and then we are in the full flight of djembes & balafon tricking along on "Sabu Faye" by Bongo's other band Wontanara. I think these acts are SF Bay Area but have global roots -- which is to say I used to see Moroccan Yassir Chadly's name pop up frequently when I paid attention to the local club scene -- and they cast a wide musical net. I am glad these artists are getting their act together and recording, as they have long had a strong grasp on what gets a crowd moving. After all we had Cheb i Sabbah here as our guiding light for years in the Haight scene. Gnawa Kronik (where do they come up with these names?) serves us some more trance-dance with "Sahrawi swing." Just when you think they may be running out of ideas they throw in a good dub number "Bab Manara" by The Dunes and Dub Snakkr (from Syria). So you get at least half way through before your attention flags. But guess what? They switch it up and bring in a cumbia. It's not quite blow-out-the-speakers brilliant but thuds aplenty. It does peter out before the last two cuts, but by then you've had quite an earful. The artwork and packaging is crappy but most people will probably just download it anyway.

VAPORIZED (Harmonized HAR-038)

Dub meets rock on this outing, the brainchild of guitarist Dave Hahn who played ska with the Slackers and Afrobeat with Antibalas. He assembled various friends, a beatnik percussionist who had played with Marley, a bassist from a ska band, & others. There's a credible King Tubby-style groove laid down and a pleasant warm mush of vocals and guitars with the occasional Grateful Dead flight into space. However, lyrics like, "We're forwarding home, where King Selassie sits on the throne," are as absurd as "We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz." Fortunately it's mainly an instrumental album and Brian Jackson on keyboards keeps it interesting, abetted by the horns: Maria Eisen on tenor, and Buford O'Sullivan on trombone. In addition to a flanger which occasionally treats the cymbals to a little ride, there's a theramin, something Osborne Ruddock never got to play with. If you are a fan of Dub or spaced-out jazz, there's something here for you.


This is a group of DJs from Washington DC. The leader, vocalist Javier Miranda, is a conguero, formerly with Thievery Corporation (I don't know them but gather it's dull electronica); Sonny Cheeba is a Brazilian/Latin DJ; Sammy Arsam is a House music DJ; they also have an actual instrumentalist in the form of Paul Chaconas who plays guitar, bass and keyboards as well as producing and engineering. It's spacey music with a Latin edge, heavy on the percussion and bass. It lulls you to settle back into a cushioned torpor with, you would hope, a waterbed and a hookah. But, once lulled, it erupts into reggaeton ("Negrita linda") and follows up with a loopy cumbia, and a hip-hop ditty called "Pereo intenso." The Latin and psychedelic Brazilian touches are welcome as the trip hop stuff starts to sound dated (like when did this Kraftwerk revival take hold?); even the dubby ditty on vibes and "Miles Davis"-style muted trumpet, "Sohl," could be 40 years old if it weren't for the drum track riding on top. Like so many noble attempts at a cohesive extended album, this one goes off in too many directions and ultimately falls flat, but it starts well and does have a few really good parts and I imagine it will succeed with other DJs.


It's easy, very easy, to see or hear why Prince chose Brownout to back him on tour to Las Vegas, Coachella and the Tonight Show with Jay Lame-o: these guys pour out the funk from every pore. The band already existed as a Cumbia revival band known as Grupo Fantasma, but they decided to try out some old Latin funk (shades of Malo of Jorge Santana) and the experimental longer psychedelic cuts of the Temptations. Since Six Degrees crosses borders and breaks down walls between musical genres, I am not sure where to categorize this. You may hear acid rock in a West African guitar solo but you don't reclassify the disc, so I guess Brownout goes under USA (like Mexico on the map). I guess "Latin rock en Ingles" is the category. However there is some Español too: "Olvidalo" stands out. "Aguillas and cobras" refers to the emblems on the Mexican flag which you have doubtless stared at wondering where your camarones al ajillo might have got to. Brownout lined up enough allies to guarantee success, including members of Grupo Fantasma. Noteworthy are Josh Levy on baritone sax (fronting the Jewmex horns!) and a raft of manic keyboardists of the Ray Manzarek school. Adrian Quesada on lead guitar definitely gives ol' Prince a run for his money. They also do Isaac Hayes movie moods ("Flea" / "Slinky" / "Pole Position") pretty well but with definite touches of Mothers of Invention in the framing, and a Bootsy rumble in the trunk.


Rather than the fragmented perspective suggested by the cover, we have here a very coherent jazz album. I am sure you will agree that Latin musicians made the best jazz players. John Santos points out that in today's increasingly alienating cultural climate the arts are the last refuge of the spiritual. I have to concur. He has taken elements of all the major Afro-Cuban forms, including rumba, mambo, son, danzón, mozambiqué, batá, and handed them to a class act of the most gifted musicians in his cosmic roladex, including legends such as Orestes Vilató, master of the timbales, tres player Nelson Gonzalez, and pianist Marco Diaz. The skill of the musicians is apparent when they wind up a danzón and underneath the percussionists are deep into a ritual jam. Here is the religious underpinning of so much Afro-Cuban music that makes it satisfying to your soul. Though the styles of music are almost classical there is a parity in the jazz instruments: the sax (Melecio Magdaluyo) and trumpet (Ray Vega) are both "cool" in the original Yoruba sense of the word. My favourite track, "Not in our name," has a very Coltranesque feeling to it. "Israel y Aristides" is a danzon dedicated to two legends who died in 2008, Cachao & Tata Güines. "Chiquita," a danzon attributed to bassist Saul Sierra, is actually "Tea for two" and the more I like it, the more I feel like an old fogey! There are violins, flute and clarinet, but underpinning it is a bedrock of solid rumba and abakuá rhythms laid down by Vilató, Johnny Rodriguez, guesting on tumbador, and Santos on percussion and tumba. There is a companion disc, LA GUERRA NO, by Santos y el Coro Folklorico Kindembo. For this other session Santos has lined up some of the biggest names in Latin music for a traditional folkloric set. In addition to regular sidemen like Vilató, he brings Giovanni Hidalgo, Jesus Diaz, Jimmy Bosch & Fito Reinoso to play.

Photo copyright by Henry Benson

at Yoshis, San Francisco, June 4, 2008

It's 8 years since Byron last toured with this swing-era repertoire. He brought a new smaller band to Yoshi's to deliver his own version of Carl Stalling's musical magpie wonders that accompany the cartoons in your mind (or, since it was at Yoshi's, the manga in your mind). They opened with a rather tentative "Dicty Glide" by Duke Ellington, then got to the heart of the matter with "music for chasing rabbits," which everyone recognized from Warner Brothers cartoons. (The band had come out to play with projected cartoons at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival so B was in a didactic mood, and also still addressing children in the audience.) They followed up by "Doin' the Voom Voom," which B explained was a euphemism. "For vacuuming?" queried the pianist, which earned him the sobriquet of the "Judy Holliday of the group" from the leader. B then threatened to sing and asked the audience to clap loudly enough to drown him out, as he warbled through "Wondering where," a corny song about "Me and the moonlight." He then presented an original piece based on a Li'l Abner character with an unpronounceable name, "Joe Btfsplk," who walks around with a dark cloud over his head making sharp political comments. This gave the band a chance to show off their respective chops. Things started to heat up with a great piano solo by George Colligan. Then a history lesson: Franz Lehar's "Frasquita serenade" which B explained was like the wretched stuff Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald sang, adding "--Doesn't everyone watch Turner Classic Movies?" From there it was a short step to deeper classical music and he announced Bizet's Carmen, as arranged by wacky genius Raymond Scott. Someone yelled approval and he looked over: "Ah, you're feelin' the Georges Bizet, eh? That's very open-minded for a hockey fan like yourself!" It seemed inevitable they would do "Charlie's Prelude" by Chopin next (How did you know, asked IJ. -- It's the next track on the album, I said) and trumpeter Ron Miles got to shine with his mute on this one. There was definite a '20s Viper jazz feel to it, though the rhythm section managed to make it feel positively Cuban-- if not Cubist-- at the same time. Their big blast from the past was the old chestnut "St Louis Blues," which B explained was arranged by John Kirby, the first black man to have a radio show with his band. He tried to think of an analogy,"Like Puff Daddy -- No, not Puff Daddy's music... more like Puff Daddy's hang -- with the Cristal!" He also thought we would find it suave (or suavé) as befits the swank elegance of Yoshi's SF club. They hit it full tilt with Billy Hart on drums adding tom tom beat, and the horns punching the one as each person soloed. Everyone got a shot including drummer Hart who was roundly cheered. Colligan was feeling the Duke because he started playing "Mood Indigo" during his piano solo. At another point it seemed like it had turned into "Route 66" but came together with a final round on the three horns (including Robert DeBellis on sax). All the music presented showed surprises, stop changes, and triplets crammed into double time bars (or hemiola). Scripted yes but with room for the odd improvisatory outburst. Above all it made us smile. They ended with a tight version of "Powerhouse," now engrained with cartoon hijinks for a younger audience who watch Ren & Stimpy.

PAPA MAMBO (Machete records M206)

New York may be the hotbet of salsa, historically speaking, and with bands like Wayne Gorbea's Salsa Picante & Spanish Harlem Orchestra keeping the flame burning, but the West Coast too has its major exponents of the music. John Santos has started bands, including the Machete Ensemble, and appeared with many others, but this is the first CD under his own name. Surrounded by his friends who happen to be some of the best Latin musicians in the country he has put together a showcase of many Caribbean styles, all of them swinging and all with a strong jazz sensibility. The album opens with the title track which features the "cool" muted trumpet of Ray Vega, which is appropriate to the Yoruban invocations. (I read in Chinua Achebe that the word "cool" comes from Igbo.) Underlying this and all the cuts on the disc is the superb percussion playing of Orestes Vilató, "the Picasso of the timbales." Because of the silly showboating of Tito Puente this is a maligned instrument, but Vilató shows what a real talent can do with the bright tones of the kit. "Tercer grado" (third grade)" is a textbook primer on descarga or jamming and features Marco Diaz on piano and John Calloway on flute. By the middle of the album we have heard many sides of Latin jazz and are treated to "Alabi Oyó" which has as its basis the changes to Coltrane's "Equinox" and is a praise song to Shangó, Yoruba god of the dance. Vilató, who shines throughout the album, switches to bongo and cowbell for a romping changui, big brother of son, which they pull off without tres or marimbula. This tune, "Guararé" is very familiar, I think Dizzy Gillespie may have recorded it. The muted trumpet and flute duke it out. Marco Diaz takers center stage for "Raices al cielo" which is dedicated to legendary Cuban pianists Nora Norales, Lili Griñan, Peruchín and the Palmieri brothers. "Mi niña" is a stately danzón-mambo and the album ends with a slamming cover of "Para que niegas," a bolero-rumba first recorded by Los Papines in the 1970s.


I love to make fun of Putumayo. Especially their insipid covers which are truly gag-worthy. However they have finally produced an album that can truly be described as "grown-up." Not that their output is regularly aimed at kids, it just looks that way, and their selections generally steer a safe course. I can't figure out what to make of things like their WORLD HITS album which also came out recently. It has a bunch of familiar pop hits (some of which we would rather forget): Peter Tosh with the Stones doing "Walk and don't look back" (The highlight of the "Some Girls" tour), Toure Kunda, Youssou Ndour's lowest moment ("7 seconds"), Santana's "Oye como va," Mongo Santamaria's "Watermelon man," Jimmy Cliff's "Harder they come," Kaoma's "Lambada," Miriam Makeba's "Pata pata," Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa," Gypsy Kings' "Bamboleo," etc. Need I go on? It's so superficial I can only assume these were the only tracks they could get licensing for. They may as well add Louis Armstrong singing "Wonderful world," or Cliff Richards doing "Girl from Ipanema," for all that it is "World" music. However, their LATIN JAZZ CD shows some sophistication and imagination. Dan Storper, the label boss, has put together his favourite mellow listening from contemporary Latin artists. I would guess, from the selection, he has been hitting the clubs because these are (or were) some of the best acts to catch in concert, though their sound doesn't always translate to recording. It moves smoothly from Machito with Canonball Adderley, to Poncho Sanchez, Tito Puente and Ray Barretto (doing Jorge Gershwing's "Summertime"). Actually, you are a bit late to catch some of them live. There's Hilton Ruiz, Chocolate Armenteros (a classic trumpet montuno that is also based on "Summertime"), and a cut from the recent Brian Lynch collaboration with Eddie Palmieri. Outstanding is Tomas Einarsson from Iceland who sounds like he would be right at home in Havana, doing "Rumdrum,"with a great tres solo. (I don't know who else is on this cut, I got an advance copy.) Very mellow and enjoyable. Hats off to Storper, except if you wanna look grown-up, isn't it time to lose that abysmal cover art?!!


In 1964 the Kinks effected a musical revolution. They showed that with two similar chords, F & G, you too could play "You really got me." Once they added a third chord, B-flat, their "All day and all of the night" topped the charts, and legions of British kids gave up trainspotting and became Mods in garage bands (I am speaking from experience here). But that revolution went further: into the suburbs of Europe and North America and anywhere a transistor radio could pick up the sounds. In 1965 I heard a band on a Danish ferry doing Beatles covers phonetically: it was like Jabberwocky set to music! In East LA, kids raised on their parents' boleros and corridas heard the same songs reappropriated for their Latino culture with new lyrics in Spanish. Now in a return to the same strange roots, Los Straitjackets have put together an album's worth (41 minutes) of ROCK EN ESPANOL. My old musical mentor Papa Freddy turned me onto this. At first I confused them with Los Lonely Boys and the latter do show up to sing chorus on Arthur Alexander's "Ana." Dizzy Miss Lizzy has become "El Microscopico bikini," a classic garage-band 12-bar raver. Big Sandy sings lead on five cuts, and there are other guest artists, Pete Curry and Rev Charles Williams on piano or organ and Little Willie G on vocals. "Gimme little sign" sounds really great as "Dame una seña." I remember Los Bravos doing "Black is black," but there were not too many Spanish bands making the scene on Top of the Pops back then; the closest we got to a Latin sound was Gene Pitney (or was it Frank Ifield?!) doing "There is a rose in Spanish Harlem," with a marimba in the mix. But "Lonely teardrops" sounds better as "Lagrimas solitarias," as do the rave-ups: "Hang on Sloopy (Hey Lupe)," "Wild Thing" (oh yes, they gotta include that!) and "Bony Maronie (Popotitos)." The latter has been covered by Mexican bands for four decades and is a real crowd-pleaser, like "Land of 1000 Dances" or "Good golly Miss Molly" as done by Banda el Recodo. This is a ton o' fun. I almost don't want to list the songs so you will have the pleasure of finding out, but forget which ones I mentioned and buy this disc!

James Brown, Godfather of Soul,
Soul Brother Number One,

the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, is gone. I saw him in concert once and thereby hangs a funny tale. You think of pop stars being past their prime when they turn 40 but many continue for decades more. I saw the Rolling Stones in the 1960s and then for a second time in the 70s and thought they were well past it, but they are still at it today, in their late 60s. By the late 70s James Brown's career had been in abeyance for a long time, it seemed, but the chance to see him and the Famous Flames was a great draw. The problem was I didn't have any money and couldn't afford a ticket. Nevertheless I went with my pal, Dan, bass-player in our band, to the Keystone, Berkeley, to check out what was going on. Of course the Keystone was a fortress. It was a large black building at the dead end of Shattuck Avenue. There was a tiny ticket window next to a door with a large bouncer you had to squeeze past to get in or out. I had seen some great shows there: Captain Beefheart, the Stranglers, Tuxedomoon, Gregory Isaacs with Roots Radics. On this chilly night, when the door opened you could hear the Famous Flames pumping out their funk groove. We left and wandered around the back to smoke a consolation spliff. There was an alleyway behind the club: blank brick walls and garbage cans. The back doors were secured from the inside but the sound was better there. Suddenly a large white limo pulled up, the type you could only call a pimp-mobile, and two huge black men got out. They looked like heavyweight boxers in full gangster regalia: white suits, leather trench-coats, fedoras, huge gold chains, etc. They gave us a dismissive glance and then opened the car door and out came James Brown. The three of them swept up to the back door of the club and rapped on it, and as they pushed inside like a wave we just hurried along in their wake. The guy at the door did a double-take but assumed we were part of the entourage, book-keepers or god-knows-what, and we quickly melted into the crowd. It was about forty degrees warmer in the club and the crowd parted as James made it all the way to the stage in a huge cheer, and soon we were pretty much ringside, as Brown grabbed a mike and went into "Papa's got a brand new bag." It was a great night. He did the whole bit: falling to his knees, being led off, throwing off his robe and coming back for more. Glorious.

Brown's big impact on African popular music was a result of his appearance at the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaïre. After that he toured West Africa and became a huge star there also. In 1993, I did a two-hour 60th birthday tribute to him on the radio & played African music that had been influenced by him (bear in mind that this was before the huge explosion of interest and massive reissues of Nigerian funk). Some of the tunes, Gnonnas Pedro's "I got you" and Bovic & Africa Fiesta's "Eh bien, mon ami," are covers; the latter is a straight copy of "Papa's got a brand new bag." As it would make a great tribute compilation, I dug out the playlist for anyone interested:

Gnonnas Pedro: I got you
Fela Kuti: Chop & Quench
James Brown: Funky Drummer
Manu Dibango: Senza
Moussa Doumbia: Ye Ye Mousso
Amadou Balake: Super Bar Konon Mousso
Bovic & African Fiesta: Sookie
Bovic & African Fiesta: Eh bien, mon ami
James Brown: Papa's got a brand new bag
Franco & OK Jazz: Obwa osud jeme
Rochereau & Afrisa: Sebene 182
James Brown: Out of sight
Bavon Marie Marie & Orch Negro Succes: Libanga na libumu pt 2
Verckys & Orch Veve: Mfumbwa pt 2
James Brown: Cold Sweat pt 2
Orchestre Bella Bella: Houleux Houleux part 2
James Brown: Get it together pt 4
Mavos-Meme-Mavungu & Marie Bella avec l'orchestre Micky Micky: Dodokolo
Franco & OK Jazz: Koun koue! edo aboyi ngai
Bobongo Stars: Simba moto
African Team: Congo soyo
The Bobongo Stars track shows the influence of Bootsie & George Clinton, and then African Team cops Isaac Hayes. But of course, like the Spinners' "Rubberband man" (covered by Youssou Ndour) or Eddie Floyd's "Knock on wood" (covered by the Ramblers) & other funk songs of the late 60s that were also hits in Africa, it all sprang from James Brown.


It's hard to remember how Junior Walker arrived in my consciousness as a kid. But I do recall he seemed something forbidden, if not downright lewd and lascivious. Quite an accomplishment for someone who played saxophone & was on the saccharine Motown label. But Jr Walker was not your typical Motown artist, not having that production sheen you associate with the Supremes, Four Tops, or Martha & the Vandellas. Instead he cut through to something more primal, that gave rise to those moments at youth club dances when "Shotgun" would come on and you would immediately have the nerve to go up to some girl and ask her to dance. I had forgotten about Junior Walker (& most of my awkward teenage years: could I even "do the jerk"?), until "My Man on the Uh" Don Byron cut this smoking tribute album. Byron can do no wrong, it seems. He has hung up his clarinet for this outing and puts a hot tenor sax to his lips. Plus he has assembled a band that fully rises to the occasion. Curtis Fowlkes joins him on trombone for James Brown's "There it is," and Walker's "What does it take (to win your love)?" With the recent death of James Brown people will be ready to return to the Soul & Rhythm & Blues sounds of the 60s for a nostalgic spin and that should propel this album to the top of the charts. In addition to Fowlkes, David Gilmore plays electric guitar and George Colligan rides the Hammond B3. There are two vocalists, Chris Thomas King and Dean Bowman, but it's the instrumental part that makes this so exciting. It's soulful, like on the ballad "What does it take," and has the Jimmy Smith vibe humming throughout. These guys make it sound easy. Sure they are primarily jazz musicians but R&B is no less complex if you are aiming at more than a 12-bar jam. "Cleo's Mood" is the jazziest track and lays out beautifully for some scat yodeling in Leon Thomas style. But David Gilmore throws down a snarling riff to kick-start "Ain't that the truth" and we are off and running. Junior Walker had so many great songs, all the way to "(I'm a) Roadrunner," a Holland-Dozier-Holland composition. Byron has captured the spirit of those 60s rave-ups and the album explodes with energy from beginning to end.


Lately I have been listening to a lot of early Ray Barretto recordings as Fania has been reissuing them. ACID and HARD HANDS are among the most engaging albums put out in the remastered series, but of course Barretto continue to record & had a distinguished career, which ended with his death in February 2006 as he was finishing up this project. Having grown up with both Latin music and jazz he was always amused by the term "Latin jazz," claiming that it was either one thing or the other. It's true both musics have cross-pollinated one another but Barretto's aim was to create an album of jazz standards: the songs that were the staple of the great bands of the 50s who recorded on Blue Note, Prestige and Riverside. So Barretto put together a dream-team of Puerto Rican musicians who were fluent in both idioms to cut a jazz album. Thus we have David Sanchez on tenor sax, Papo Vazquez on trombone, Hilton Ruiz on piano, and the rhythm section of Barretto on congas, John Benitez on bass and Adam Cruz on drums. It's a great idea and comes across as he imagined, like a fresh take on some classic jazz album from the past. These guys are the cream of the crop whether you are talking Latin or jazz. But the repertoire is not all that familiar which also makes it fresh. The surprise is also that these guys had never worked together before! Vazquez played with Barretto briefly before leaving to join Ray Charles' big band. I imagine the recording sessions were great fun for them all as they attacked Great American Songs from the 30s to 50s, from Ellington & Strayhorn to Nat King Cole and Sinatra, Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Belafonte and Vaughan Monroe. It's a very classy album.

FEARLESS LEADER (PrestigePRCD6 30059-2)

This should be called FALSE ECONOMY since I bought the 6-CD set though I already have 8 of the 11 LPs this is drawn from, but it was a splurge and the fact is, I love putting on an hour or two of Coltrane, but the albums typically have two songs per side so you are constantly inundated with silence and realize the brief side has ended. It's the period of his career when young Coltrane was still mortal, playing jazz with a great band but not yet in the stratosphere that I associate with his Impulse recordings of the 60s. His tone is there and you probably would know it at first listen, but then you also probably know these great songs, "I want to talk about you," "I see your face before me," Lush life," and so on. This set is one of three Coltrane boxes from Prestige and features Coltrane as leader of his own groups, as opposed to the other sets which feature him as a sideman or with Miles Davis. Of course Coltrane is a perennial and the fact that two of the three top albums on the Billboard jazz tracks in October 2005 featured him demonstrates how timeless his music is. He shone equally with Miles or Monk or lesser-known musicians & his approach to music certainly was fearless. And despite his heroin addiction he was constantly on call for blowing sessions. After Miles fired him in 1957 for the umpteenth time from the Miles Davis quintet (which made both of them famous) he was offered his own recording contract at Prestige. He was only 30. This propelled him in a new direction. He gave up junk, had a "spiritual awakening" and became a vegetarian, devoting himself to music. These Prestige recordings show his evolution from a good hornman ranked between say Sonny Stitt and Dexter Gordon, to the leading sax player in the world, as he experimented with polyphonic playing and approached what Ira Gitler called "sheets of sound" in his later recordings. He also developed a real love for ballads so these discs make great mellow listening: you are not in "jazz school" trying to keep up with him as on the later recordings such as "Ascension." In fact there is a casual air to these sessions, almost as if Coltrane is calling the tune and assuming everyone knows it. Some of the material stayed in the vaults for years and only the cream was issued, but this box has everything including the occasional less-than-perfect take which makes it real. Plus you are astounded at the amount of material recorded in just over a year as these small groups began to explore the notion of an album of songs.

At the first session Mal Waldron played piano for three tracks and then was replaced by Red Garland who was the pianist on most of these dates. (There are also fine recordings released under Garland's name with Coltrane & Byrd on them.) Garland had also come from the Davis quintet, and had also been fired. His training as a boxer gave him fast reflexes and a light touch and he comps rhythmically behind solos with blocks of chords. Paul Chambers, bass, and Art Taylor on drums is the most common combination for the rhythm section. Additional horns were contributed by Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard or Wilbur Hardin on trumpet. On the first date there was a second (baritone) sax played by Sahib Shihab & Johnny Splawn added trumpet, but after that it was always a quartet or quintet. It's an indulgence, but if you want six uninterrupted hours of great jazz you should spring for this, or put it on your memo to Santa.


Sophia Coppolla's new film about Marie Antoinette is monumentally boring. It's hard to believe it was taken from a book by Lady Antonia Fraser because she would not have young French socialites raising their champagne glasses and saying "Cheers!" How thoroughly British (though they have American accents)! It's a tedious costume drama, beautifully filmed, with lavish sets, but stops short of the guillotine which we are all waiting for -- some more eagerly than others. I only woke up for one moment when Kirsten Dunst appeared in deshabillé with her fan & ostrich plume (left). But then why review it here, you are asking? Just to post that picture? Well, almost. The soundtrack is actually the most interesting thing about the film, since the director recaps the sound of her Hollywood youth of the early 80s, so it's Bow Wow Wow, Adam & the Ants and New Order, which creates an interesting subtext to the film. Gang of Four & Siouxsie and the Banshees really conjur up those hedonistic, not to say wasted, times. (Even the typography of the film's credits & the CD recalls LA in the 80s.) The New Order track, "Ceremony," stands out (as the sun rises on the giddy morning-after partygoers), as an exorcism of the decadent youth Coppolla led in LA. Other movie brats like Asia Argento appear in the film. I had forgotten about Bow Wow Wow though I did go see them on their first US tour. "I want candy" as a music video with all the silk shoes and jello desserts would be enough of this film for most folks. I would have thought Black Flag, The Stranglers, Pretenders and X would have been part of Coppolla's youth, & she can't have missed Tuxedomoon, Young Marble Giants & Wire who were touring then, and whose music is very soundtrack-prone, but she clearly wanted the Malcolm McLaren pop sheen to go with the glitter of Versailles' gilt and ormolu. One mis-step in the soundtrack is the use of the speedy Bow Wow Wow version of "Fools rush in" as the royal couple return from a masquerade ball in Paris among the plebs. The dreamy laid-back "Lovers rock" version by Carlton Manning (on the Fashion label) would have really knocked it out of the park. The soundtrack reminded me of early Wim Wenders where he would drop the needle on his scratched records. I remember bursting out laughing during "Fata Morgana" when he decided to spin Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." Surreal, maybe, ludicrous, yes. Coppolla is still young and could become the first good American film director since John Huston. I don't think anyone in her father's generation, including Scorsese and Lucas, is capable of making a decent picture, but she has time to grow up & get it right.


In Japan when a great artist gives a lifetime of work to the community he is deemed a National Treasure. We don't have equivalent roles in the West, but surely John Santos is a cultural treasure beyond compare. As a teacher and band leader he has been an exemplary figure on the Northern California music scene for as long as I can remember. I am always thrilled when he MCs a show because you know you are going to learn something, even a little fact, from this artist who never stoops to platitudes, but extracts the essence. His Machete Ensemble is now 20 years old, and to celebrate they have issued a double CD of previously unreleased recordings spanning their two decades of musical exploration. The first CD features trumpeter Bill Ortiz and pianist Rebecca Mauleon who has gone on to a distinguished solo career, as well as the sparkling array of legendary & talented band members, like Orestes Vilato, John Calloway and Wayne Wallace, who still play with the band. In the early 60s Eddie Palmieri and Barry Rogers changed the style of Latin music with their group La Perfecta. Instead of arrangements with slots for solos, they constantly evolved in concert so no one (on the bandstand) really knew what was going to happen next. This led to some incendiary jams that helped Latin music push its already expansive envelope. The Machetes incorporate such fierce interplay as well as many traditional modes of Latin music, a lot of it centred around Santos who drives from the back seat with his congas. Standout tracks include "Giant Steps," the Coltrane tune done in a merengue style, "Tumbando," an Afro-Puerto Rican bomba that has great punchy horns, and the wound-up musical-box sound of "Circle," an Afro-Cuban Yoruba ritual piece. From the Afro-Cuban Kongo tradition (part of the Palo spiritual cult of Cuba) comes a medley called "Kongo" that has big greedy fistfuls of piano chords, muted trumpet and sharp percussion. The second disc is contemporary recordings of Machete and friends. "All Relative" from 2003 hints at Miles Davis though it makes me wonder where Miles might have arrived if he had stuck with one band and not changed them like his suits. After salsa, danzon, bomba and plena, we get to a bolero-chá, "You don't know what love is," that strikes up a classic fifties mood without being derivative. There's a changui dedicated to bongocero Armando Peraza, who appears here, in fine form, in his eighties. This set has something for everyone, and is a feast for devotees of Latin jazz.

A BALLAD FOR MANY (Cantaloupe CA 21036)

Don Byron is a serious case: not just a great clarinetist, he is also a first-rate composer. He has scored silent movies and a documentary about the Tuskegee Airmen (They were the first all-black fighter squadron in WWII). The modestly named Bang on a Can All-Stars set out to pay tribute to Byron on a CD full of his less well-known work, and they do him proud. This comes across as contemporary classical music more than anything. I don't mean Philip Glass/Little Stevie Reich classical, I mean the real stuff like Musgrave, Birtwhistle, Poulenc, Messiaen, Varèse. Don Byron has absorbed a lot and learned from it, not just some one-trick shtick like those musical Cindy Shermans that fill concert halls. The album is mostly cinematic scores with a couple of shorter pieces thrown in. I saw Byron & his band perform the accompaniment to "Eugene," an Ernie Kovacs silent film and here we get to hear it again without being overly distracted by the visual antics. Still, I can't wait for the DVD release of this and "Scar of Shame," another of Byron's soundtracks. There are hints of Elmer (Bernstein and Fudd), Kool & the Gang, Cole Porter, & even the hymns of Isaac Watts. Byron produced this and mostly listens though he does jump in a couple of times for some high-style blowing, notably on his composition "Basquiat." It would be great to hear a recording of the same set done by his own band the Six Musicians. For the last track, a hard-rock jam, he samples the Can Bangers talking about their ethnicity: it comes across a bit wet, like the weirder experiments of Robert Fripp.

A BENEFIT ALBUM 2005 (Nonesuch 79934-2)

The Crescent City -- New Orleans -- is a city of many facets: food, history, architectural beauty, literature (Lafcadio Hearn), music. It is known as the birthplace of jazz but now will be remembered as the city that was built below sea level -- between a lake and a river. We revere the city because of names like Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair & Lee Dorsey. Before recorded music, Chopin was blown away by a "M. John de Nouvelle Orleans." In the wake of the devastating hurricane (Katrina & the Waves?!), Smithsonian got together some of the top artists from the city (with the notable exception of the Meters and the Neville Brothers) and compiled a benefit album OUR NEW ORLEANS 2005. Most folks dig New Orleans music from the heyday in the fifties and sixties ("Ruler of my heart," "Ride your pony," "Walking to New Orleans," "Blueberry hill") and those artists who are still extant are mature and have a lifetime of performing under their belts. We assume this: perhaps they've been sitting home while lesser lights held the gig at the tourist nightspot downstairs. But now we must wonder where they have gone when there's no home there for them anymore. The "Big Easy" is now the Big Empty. This compilation starts well with good intentions but descends into the maudlin about half way through. The proceeds go to Habit for Humanity, and it may be worth having for some of the cuts, but the mush factor overwhelms the musical content and it's too depressing to endure. Highlights are the two songs by Allen Toussaint, "Yes we can can" and "Tipitina and me." Eddie Bo and Carol Fran are new to me. Fran has an appealing bar-room delivery, rough vocals in French and English and great "Fess" style piano. (I love this style of piano but it always sends me straight back to the classic James Booker album RESURRECTION OF THE BAYOU MAHARAJAH, one of my favourite recordings ever.) Regulars here include the great Irma Thomas doing Bessie Smith's story of the 1927 flood, "Backwater Blues," Buckwheat Zydeco, Wild Magnolias, Beausoleil and the Dirty Dozen. Allen Toussaint and Dr John kick things off in high style. Subsequent tracks are good but not great, they have energy and are well recorded but lack the genius of Toussaint or passion of Irma Thomas. Randy Newman and the Louisiana Philharmonic do his own disaster epic, "Louisiana 1927" to end the proceedings. Overall there are high production values but an increasing sloppiness to the music. Much of this is contextual. If you are in a steamy bar slurping down gumbo and various blackened foodstuffs you are already halfway to heaven, any music will get you there.


The collision of hip hop and klezmer was not necessarily inevitable but there's a strange familiarity to this compelling opus. Imagine a wedding band, drunk in a corner of a community hall, trying to remember their repertoire while the kids have taken over the sound system and are fighting to play their favourite hip hop sides. No one minds: the clarinetist in fact seems to be responding to the beats until the accordion wells up to rein him back in. The precedent I would venture is Don Byron, who has combined hip hop and klezmer into his own mélange of jazz funk and R&B. Krakauer takes a different tack: he samples Herschel Bernardi (!) doing his "Chocolate-covered matzohs" routine in the title cut. There's a lot of ambient stuff which I really dug, like the tapes are rolling and you never know what's going to happen next. A nut gets on a bus and we overhear his stream of consciousness while Krakauer noodles. Poetry & jazz. Sort of. It's been edited carefully though, so it is not mere slackness masquerading as an experiment in oblique discovery. As neither klezmer nor hip hop has the upper hand it makes a curious mix, the bedfellows roiling and tossing with some inspired clarinet soaring over the samples and rhythms. It seems Krakauer, the ringleader, wanted to shake up his own band and steer them towards trance funk. Having mixmaster Socalled create rhythms was just what was needed to goose their creative juices. There are traditional Jewish and gypsy melodies, meaningless fragments of chanting, deranged raps and a lot of veiled political commentary.


Wynton Marsalis gets a lot of stick for his opinions. His is a prominent voice in jazz circles, so when he says Jazz died after Ellington people get upset. I remain unprejudiced because he is very good at what he does & he's entitled to his opinion. His band is tight in concert; I saw them at the Royal Festival Hall in London a few years ago and they were superb, even if their music is largely old-timey N'Orlins-style jazz. But that's just what is called for by director Ken Burns for his biopic about the heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson, which will premiere on PBS in January. Marsalis was one of the main talking heads in Mr Burns's fascinating epic documentary on the story of jazz, so it's little wonder (the "Stevie" has been left out for conciseness and clarity) he called on ole Wyntoon for the soundtrack to his latest historical drama, which will revive the old debate about whether Jack Johnson was the greatest heavyweight ever. Viewers will also be fascinated by the story of a man who lived as if there were no colour bar in a world deeply divided by race, and he slept with anyone he wanted to, further infuriating whites. The soundtrack is a pastiche of Jelly Roll Morton, Duke, Pops, and all those cats, and works really well. You may recognise some of the tunes when they start, but I guess they are public domain by now. One or two are credited to Morton and W.C. Handy ("Careless Love" which was done so well by Skip James). Since everyone from Bela Bartok to A.R. Rahman knows the value of good samples, it seems like an okay approach. Fans of early jazz will dig this album.


This blues-rock album got my attention because it's on Peter Gabriel's RealWorld label and was produced by Adrian Sherwood at On-U Sound. It starts with simple acoustic guitars dueting on a chestnut like "My girl" or "House of the rising sun," but is in fact Son House's "Don't you mind people grinning in your face." Then more influences appear from Hendrix to Eno. Gradually the African Head Charge sound starts to permeate the disc, especially when Junior Delgado sings on "Go away devil" backed with harmonica and monstro rumbling bass -- till we get a full-on thumping finale ("Sinners") that is as good as Adrian Sherwood gets, which is pretty darn good. Along the way there are some oddities. Or maybe it's the fact that I usually listen to songs in languages other than English and have to pay close attention, or read the liner notes, if I want to know what's being related. Track three is an overly sincere song in praise of Trade Unions. Track 9 is a truly horrific song called "All in the same boat." Thank Gad for i-tunes: I was able to re-burn the album minus those two tracks. I had earworms after two hearings. "All in the same boat" goes right down there with "England swings like a pendulum do," and a few other horrors. It's a list of things that remind you of Mod England. "Champagne and Grits" is more rock than blues, but goes off in interesting directions. "Living in a dangerous time" has uncredited samples of a hellfire preacher that instantly evoked Eno and Byrne's "My Life in the bush of ghosts." Junior Delgado reappears to lend some reggae vibes to "Sinners" and there's even a surprise appearance by Leadbelly! That is the great finale that makes this disc worth getting. Or failing that, check your Leadbelly collection for the song it samples, "Run sinners." (I couldn't find it.)

YOU ARE #6 (Bluenote)

DON BYRON's new recording YOU ARE #6 begs the musical question, "What's he up to this time?" A tireless musical explorer, Don B ("My man on the...uh..." as BizMarkie so poignantly put it) has played everything from classical to jazz, from hip-hop to klezmer to film music and done it well. However this tends to give some folks the impression that he is a musical gadfly. Who does he think he is, playing our music? some Jewish musicians asked when he put out the Mickey Katz album. You might as well say you can't play Schubert unless you are German. (Hey, maybe that would be good!) I am always intrigued by Byron's musical journeys because he has an evolved sensibility and is a monster on the clarinet. I heard him once at Yoshi's and at the end of the first set the band left the stage one by one as he kept playing. His solo stretched into a tour-de-force improvisation and I imagined the rest of the band nervously peering round the dressing-room door, saying, "He doesn't need us."

Blue Note is known as a jazz label so you can expect pretty much a "regular" jazz album from this outing, subtitled "More Music for Six Musicians," however it's got a lot of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian rhythms and a few other surprises thrown in for good measure. Long-time Byron pianist Uri Caine has been replaced by Edsel Gomez (who has toured with him in the past & was in the original Six Musicians), Milton Cardona appears on congas and percussion, and between them they push things more towards a Latin jazz groove. Other stalwarts of previous Byron outings are guitarist David Gilmore and Josh Roseman on trombone, in addition to trapster Ben Wittman on the tubs.

The new album opens with "Theme from Hatari" by Henry Mancini. I put on the soundtrack LP to compare the Byron version with the original and found I had to play the LP at 45 rpm for the two to synch. It was actually an improvement, making the ersatz "jungle" percussion less obtrusive. I'm unsure of the title cut's relation to the Patrick McGoohan serial, "The Prisoner," which I watched devotedly as a teenager. It's from the Mancini era but I don't recall the music. This two-minute sketch ends with a piece of sound collage and segues into a Brazilian groove for "Klang" which also has a 60s "lounge" feel to it. But these retro jazzy cuts are very enjoyable and work as straight-ahead jazz. There's a small piece of political whimsy called "Dub-ya" in which women call the name of the First Goofball seductively. It's nothing like "Furman," "Dodi," or the other Byron rants which always enliven his concerts: It's almost a lullaby! "Side two" (which doesn't exist physically as it's a CD, but you know what I mean) is where the old Byron sneaks up on us. There's a Brazilian groove followed by a hard-edge bass clarinet riff to kick off "Belmondo's lip." James Zollar jumps in on muted trumpet and they rock, but only for three minutes. Then the world music programmer Byron takes over and suddenly we are thrown into an old-time calypso, "Shake 'em Up," sung by Designer, with Byron Senior walking the bass. It reminded me of the classic cuts on "Calypso Awakening." The only difference between it and "authentic" calypso, according to My Man from Trinidad, is that in Trinidad the horn chorus would slide into the chords. On the other hand, in addition to top-flight musicians, the recording is crisp so you hear every piece of percussion, something rarely audible on Trinidadian recordings (unless Emory Cook made them!). There's a great short sax solo by Robert Debellis. It's an exciting track and a rare piece of fun historical recreation. Just so we don't forget the nutty Don B, the album ends with a remix by DJ Spooky of "Belmondo's lip." A catchy ditty which should be a hit in some universe. Folks who are perplexed by the musical diversity of Byron will remain baffled, others will enjoy a well-rounded outing into the mind of an original.


Word has just reached me via e-mail of an exciting new project on Impulse. A 10-CD package of previously unreleased tapes of John Coltrane singing in the shower. You can hear Trane singing "I'm just a gigolo" in the shower of the Paris Hilton and lamenting "What kind of fool am I?" in the shower of the Stuttgart Marriott.

According to the press release: "Perhaps the most amazing finds are the five CDs recorded in the showers of the Osaka Grand Hotel, Hakata Imperial Hotel, Kobe International Hotel and the Tokyo Prince Hotel. In Japan it seems Trane was infatuated with the Beatles' REVOLVER album which had just been released. On these five CDs, Trane sings all of the REVOLVER material. There is a celestial 45 minute version of 'Tomorrow never knows' sung in the Tokyo Prince bathroom and a mammoth 90-minute 'And your bird can sing' from both Kobe and Osaka." The beautiful packaging contains a psycho-acoustic history of the bathroom, and instead of the usual Impulse sticker contained on many of the 20-bit remastered reissues, Impulse includes a bar of soap imprinted with the Impulse logo. "Yes, it's a real pure, 100% natural glycerin bar of soap," states Michael Cuscuna.


There can't be a person alive who doesn't smile when they hear this music. Undistracted by the zany antics of Bugs and Elmer, Porky Pig or Daffy Duck, you recognize a major component in the enjoyment of all those Warner Bros cartoons: the music of Carl Stalling. The next revelation is that here is the logical connection between the grandiose movie scores of the 'thirties written by Shostakovich and Rachmaninov and the wacky orchestral noodlings of Frank Zappa. Of course the Fleischers made much of the music of Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong, even co-starring Calloway with Betty Boop in some of their memorable films, but there the images were about the music. Carl Stalling's job was to provide aural commentary that heightened the mood and threw in incidental sound-effects with pizzicato violins for creeping up stairs and trombone slides for falling down again. He was the godfather of sampling. Only in the land of Looney Tunes could we conscience a smoky version of "You go to my head" that has Swannee whistle overdubs throughout. And only a genius like Stalling could have turned the 50-piece orchestra round on a dime. The music resonates with tiptoeing marimbas, dissonant pianissimo hi-jinx, broken machinery (coconut shells and castanets?), and "all's well" resolution music. How familiar much of it is: from Mozart and Mendelsohn to "You ought to be in pictures" and a devastating send-up of Al Jolson. It's a crash course in music appreciation for kiddies with everything from Czibulka-Tobani to Cole Porter. Several times we hear the Merrie Melodies closing chorus of "Merrily we roll along" and can imagine the "That's All Folks!' self-scribing across its red-haloed disc, but there's every indication that from the 600 cartoons scored by Carl Stalling (one a week for over twenty years!) there's plenty more to come.


An essential disc that bridges the gap between Carl Stalling and modern jazz artists like Don Byron, Willem Brueker and the Beau Hunks. Scott's work was fodder for Carl Stalling's Warner Brothers cartoons and latterly the producers of Ren & Stimpy returned to the originals for a heightened sense of anarchy in their cartoon show. Scott (born Harry Warnow) was a busy man and a prolific composer, leading bands on the radio and on the road. He also was a pioneer in inventing electronic instruments well before their time. He composed everything on the piano and taught it a phrase at a time to his band members. Some recall auditions where he would tell them to play "Tiger Rag" as fast as they could, or hit a high B-flat and hold it as long they could. His quirky behaviour extended to his music which was loved as "instrumental literature" or dismissed as "kittenish pseudo-jazz" by contemporary critics. This CD collects all of Scott's best-known tunes from the thirties: "Powerhouse," "The Toy trumpet," Dinner music for a pack of hungry cannibals," "The Penguin," "Siberian sleighride," and "War dance for wooden indians."


LIVE AT YOSHI'S 15 March 2007

A young friend called the other night. He's back from living in Japan and now studying anthropology at Cal State. He asked me what was going on and I told him I was going to hear Randy Weston at Yoshi's. Once he learned I was actually planning to buy a ticket he got interested. For the decade when I had a radio show I would get complimentary tickets to almost any venue in the Bay Area, but since I became a paying customer I have been very picky; also there has been less and less interesting music coming to town. I can't remember the last time an artist of the calibre of Weston hit the East Bay.

When IJ & I arrived for our traditional Thursday late show (being the cheapest ticket of a band's stand in Oakland), there was Shuggy and his pals ensconced in a plush booth scarfing sushi. With no ado the band was announced and strolled out to mild applause. Weston sat down, his massive frame obscuring half the Steinway grand from our viewpoint behind him. He started to play and a hush fell over the room. He ran through many exploratory riffs, invoking Ellington and, of course, Thelonious Monk. After five or six minutes he looked up and, at a nod, the percussionist hit his small hand cymbals and began rapping on his congas. The bassist was sitting down and had his arms wrapped around his instrument like a lover tenderly caressing the long neck of his taller paramour. But then he started thwocking the instrument and using his forearm on the soundboard so there was a metallic buzz and slap accompanying his thick strumming. It was a remarkable sound unlike any "acoustic" bass instrument you've heard before (He was, however, plugged into an amp). Billy Harper, the D'Artagnan of the tenor sax, waited patiently at the back of the stage. The trio were dressed in approximately "African" garb: Muslim skullcaps & dashikis, but Harper had settled for slacks and a grey sweater to offset his graying hair. He found the moment to jump in and we were all enthralled as they threw around sonic ideas for ten minutes and then, with bits of amazement on the bandstand as each of them did something unexpected, they managed to resolve it and find an out. Wow. The applause was thunderous.

Weston turned to the microphone and introduced his African Rhythm Quartet: Alex Blake on acoustic bass and Neil Clarke on African percussion, and of course the great Billy Harper on tenor. "Thinking about the art of the ballad," Weston continued, "I wrote this piece, 'The Beauty of it all,' with Coleman Hawkins in mind." He talked about how Hawk's playing so inspired him when he first heard him in the 1940s: "The way he would play 'Body and Soul,' you would hear the melody but he was not actually playing it! And that, of course, is how I discovered Monk." He also said he used to copy Hawk's solos on the piano, but he couldn't play them now, he added. The ballad, needless to add, was exquisite. At one point Weston raised a finger as if to say, OK, enough fun, we are going to bring it down, he did some quiet descending runs and a few final chords in the way that Monk would finish a tune like "I'm getting sentimental over you," with microtonal clusters seeking resolution, but then everyone was playing the dying diminuendo and Weston threw a few more chord clusters at it. This of course got everyone else worked up again, so they couldn't end just there and did about a twenty-four bar finale!

They performed some of Weston's great compositions: "African Sunrise" was next: a tune he wrote for Dizzy Gillespie and Machito, he added. Clarke kicked it off languidly on the claves but then resorted to his four congas with great dexterity. Blake started his strumming again and it dawned on me he had picked up the Gnawan style of playing guimbri, but it was not just a knock-off: he has adapted it to his own jazz sensibility. To complement this piece of musical appropriation, Clarke was playing the metal frames of his congas with drumsticks making the sound of those finger cymbals associated with traditional Moroccan music. Quite remarkable, and the two of them jammed on the outtro, taking us all into the Atlas mountains for a spell. Next up was "Blue Moses," which also appears on Weston's suite THE SPIRITS OF OUR ANCESTORS, one of the most satisfying big band jazz recordings of the last twenty years. It's surprising that Harper, who has his own groups as well as being a regular on Weston's recordings, is not better known. He is firmly in the lineage of Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, and a monster on his instrument. But then all four members of this quartet are exceptionally talented and have a great intuitive sense of how to fit into the whole.

In the last round of solos Clarke started rapping his congas in bursts with a break every eight beats making what seemed like 10/8 time. Blake picked up on this this and started an asymmetric handclap in the pause, which the audience echoed (a triplet, a semiquaver rest and a beat). "Don't count!" yelled Clarke. I have never heard an audience able to clap nine ten in a ten-beat phrase so well!

Though they had only played three pieces, almost an hour had gone by. The audience was entranced. We are going to play, "Love, the mystery of..." said Weston and they gave a short and sweet rendering of the Guy Warren tune. The crowd was on its feet cheering. "Thank you for a very spiritual evening," said Weston modestly, sensing that we were the ones who had experienced transcendence as much as the band.

We hung around afterwards as Yoshi's announced the closure of the room and asked us to leave. The band came out to greet their friends in the audience. The youngsters were astounded: they had never been to a jazz concert before. "Is it always like this?" Shuggy's classmate asked incredulously. Sadly, not, we told him. Weston came out of the stage door too, so we pressed forward to shake his hand and thank him. A bus driver in his AC Transit uniform pulled out two rare albums to get them signed. One was a Riverside ten-inch in mint condition, of Randy Weston playing Cole Porter. A sweet half-hour of swinging songs. Fortunately it has been reissued on CD with the Art Blakey and Sam Gill sessions from the same era as SOLO, DUO & TRIO (Milestone MCD 47085-2). Nice work, I told him as he put the signed disc back in its polythene bag. It was recorded in 1954 and Weston has just been improving for half a century.

at Yoshi's, Oakland, January 8, 2003

Steve Turre has realized his ambition and merged his passion for conch shells with a big band for a week's stand at Yoshi's. For years he has spread the gospel of the conch, trying it out with Latin groups like the Fort Apache Band and Manny Oquendo's Libre, before starting his own band (spun off from the Saturday Night Live band) and recording the great SANCTIFIED SHELLS album in 1992. Now he has pulled together African and Latin rhythms with a big brass sound and come up with something bigger, brighter and better.

SANCTIFIED SHELLS (Antilles 314 514 186-2, 1993) filled the space between Ugandan tribal music and Duke Ellington, combining Latin Jazz, Indian ragas and flamenco in a seamless fabric of sound. There are quotes from Miles Davis' SKETCHES OF SPAIN and hooks from Machito's MAMBO KINGS period in it.

As a Mexican-American lad in the Bay Area, Turre took up trombone after seeing them leading a parade and, while still a youth, was playing alongside legendary saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk at the Jazz Workshop in SF. I saw them at the Keystone Korner in 1974 and went back for more. Turre learned from Roland Kirk about simultaneous multiple breathings and starting fashioning instruments out of sea shells. From a novelty, the conch became his main instrument and he has a table full of them, all different sizes and therefore pitches, which he rummages among during the course of a song. Plus he has trained half a dozen other horn players and martials them like bell-ringers. Backing them is a powerful line-up of three drummers: Dion Parson on traps, Pedro Martinez on congas, and Abdou M'Boup on African tama, or talking drum. Andy Gonzalez from Fort Apache band plays upright bass and the piano duties are fulfilled by the incredible Steven Scott, who has played with Ron Carter.

The horn section was biased, naturally, towards trombones with a back line of three trombonists, a young virtuoso, Josh Roseman, as well as Turre. The front line is equally heavy: Dan Faulk on tenor, Jon Faddis on trumpet and Pharoah Sanders, also on tenor sax. The late set opened with some atmospherics over the PA -- wind and sea sounds -- and Turre invoked the spirits on his conch. Before the danger of Terminal New Age swept it away, the other musicians grabbed conches and played different notes in short staccato rhythms layering up the sound as the rhythm section kicked in. This piece, which lasted over half an hour, was an orchestral suite, played from charts. Turre conducted frantically, counting off the brass parts and reining in the percussionists to bring out the solos. The band, wearing patterned African shell shirts, were worked hard but you could tell they were also enjoying themselves. Faddis (who'd previously toured with Turre in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis orchestra as trumpeter), also had the smallest and most piercing conch, and tweaked some very high notes out of it. The great Pharoah was just playing himself. He sat through a lot of the show, grinning and tapping his feet. Though he didn't play conch, he did play some African rattles and brought his half-full water bottle up to the mike for a little rhythmic toot now and then. Though Pharoah's solos tend to be his own thing, they fit well into the structure, particularly over a hard driving calypso rhythm when he did some of his dolphin mating calls. Turre echoed these on his valve trombone, nicely tying the organic quality of Pharoah's breath explorations into the structure of his sound.

Steven Scott got to solo as a transition between movements and knocked everyone out. He played like Rachmaninov (I don't mean big ham-handed cadenzas, I mean with great expressive technique) and quoted Prokofiev and other Russian classical phrases. It was incredible as well as quite a virtuoso piece without overtly showing off. Faddis went up an octave and wowed everyone on the bandstand during his solo. When Turre finally took a break and spoke, the place was rapt. He acknowledged Bishop Desmond Williams, who was in the audience, as one of his first mentors, and went on to explain the different pitches of the shells. The pianist deliberately played wrong notes to throw off his demonstration, and when he said, "Middle C is my favorite, because it's a Sea-shell!", one of the trombonists went "nyah-nyah-nyah" on his horn and everyone cracked up. Even Turre was ruffled for a moment and lost his portly mandarin bearing.

The night flew by, ending with a long jam on "Explorations" from the SANCTIFIED SHELLS album. It was a thrill to experience first-hand and a great concept well-executed by Turre and his men.

At Stanford University, March 2000

Don Byron brought his octet to Stanford Memorial Auditorium on March 18th to accompany two silent films. For THE SCAR OF SHAME, a 1927 melodrama about the cynicism of the jazz age, they played pre-Hot Five jazz coupled with mood-setting musical themes that complemented the histrionic acting. The story centred around a mulatto woman secretly married to a light-skinned musician. When she is kidnapped by her drunkard father and a debauched associate, the husband shoots the associate and ends in jail. But he escapes to start a new life, and when the wife meets him and declares her continued love he spurns her, provoking her suicide.

The band took the melodramatic aspects of the film and milked them. Josh Roseman on trombone and Uri Caine on piano added pathos to the touching themes. Richie Schwarz on samples had more to do in the second feature: a silent episode of the Ernie Kovacs television show with a lot of surreal slapstick, including his famous tilted table. Legendary buxom blonde Edie Adams was on hand to take a bow and Byron's enthusiasm carried into the wacky musical commentary. As an encore the ensemble provided some of the "Bug Music" they generated for Tom & Jerry: the theme of the daily kids' cartoon show, a pyrotechnic display of turn-on-a-dime virtuosity that was breathtaking in its precision and sound-shifting.