Reggie Washington – Rainbow Shadow Vol. 2

By Devon “Doc” Wendell 

 

There is no way to properly categorize the music of the late great Jef Lee Johnson.  Jef Lee possessed this uncanny impulsive creative spirit that will inspire forever.  Reggie Washington taps into that beautifully creative side to pay tribute to Jef Lee Johnson on Rainbow Shadow Vol. 2. Without abandoning his own distinct musical identity.

 

REGGIE 1

 

There’s a delightfully haunting aspect to this album that is both nostalgic and experimental.  All songs were written by Jef Lee Johnson except for a minor key dirge instrumental of Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” with fantastic guitar work by Marvin Sewell and tasteful drumming by Patrick Dorcean.  Washington’s funtacular bass work serves as the centerpiece for each composition.  “Silence,” ‘Hype (Part 1),” “RSJ,” “It Ain’t Hard For You,” “Testimony/Open Up” and “The Moon Keeps Telling Me” get inside the harmonic world of Jef Lee Johnson but it’s still all Reggie Washington and his incredible lineup of musicians such as DJ GRazzhoppa, Saxophonist John Massa and vocalists Tiboo, Mulan Lee Washington and Monique Harcum that you feel first and foremost.  “Blind Willie McTell” and “The Moon Keeps Telling Me” were recorded live inn France and Germany.

 

Washington’s vocals on “Cake” are superb. That sly, funky, laid back but constantly searching wit of Jef Lee Johnson’s music is captured perfectly on this number. The guitar solos by Herve Samb and Marvin Sewell burn beyond belief.  And speaking of burning guitar solos, NYC six string masters Jimi Hazel of 24/7 Spyz and Ronny Drayton tear shit up on “Sizzlean.”  This is one of Jef Lee’s most known songs for those who know.  Reggie’s vocals are very close to Jef Lee’s here.  Reggie knows this music intimately so you get Jef Lee’s poetry, melodic and harmonic soul loud, clear and precise.

 

This definitely feels like a concept album.  Ambient sounds weave in and out of the songs like a psychedelic dream dipped in sticky filth thanks to DJ Grazzhoppa.  The music is unapologetically funky.  Reggie Washington and his versatile band serve up an album for lovers of jazz, funk, soul and rock.  Rainbow Shadow Vol. 2 is simply not to be missed by all music lovers of the undying rainbow.

 

 

 

 

Music Review: Petra Van Nuis & Andy Brown – Lessons Lyrical

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

“Lessons Lyrical” is the best description for the new album of the same name by jazz vocalist Petra Van Nuis and Chicago jazz veteran guitarist Andy Brown.  This stellar duets album is beautifully romantic, pure and ultimately masterful.  Nuis’ sultry vocals accompanied by Brown’s soulful and precise guitar accompaniment are the perfect vehicle for such standards as Kurt Weil’s “Speak Low,” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” and Arlen & Mercer’s “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home.”

Petra & Andy

The duo’s take of the Johnny Mandel classic “A Time For Love” is a true album highlight.  Brown’s fingerpicking is simply fantastic and Nuis’ vocal delivery is sweet yet melancholy.  Brown & Nuis’ rendition of The Gershwin Brothers’ “Who Cares” swings magically.  “Try To Remember” is delicate, dynamic and ethereal.  The soul throughout this recording is just relentless.

Listening to this recording, you truly feel as if you’re in a real jazz club where the musicians are undisturbed by commercial concerns. You can picture the rhythm section on a break as these two masters take over with their own take on many timeless standards. At times,  Andy Brown’s guitar comping is reminiscent of truly great pianist. It’s evident that Brown knows the changes to these compositions intimately.  Petra Van Nuis’ subtle vocal style serves the theme of each song perfectly.

If you’re looking for a gorgeously under produced jazz duet recording with two greats serving up their own twist on some of the most memorable classics and standards, “Petra Van Nuis & Andy Brown’s Lessons Lyrical” is an essential purchase.

 

Doc’s Prestige

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

The jazz on the Prestige label of the ’50s and ’60s shaped the way I thought recorded music should sound like when I first heard albums by Red Garland, Gene Ammons, Monk, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Arnett Cobb, Miles Davis, Gigi Gryce and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis when I was in high school.  Its purity, rawness and blatant sense of anti-commercialism spoke to the way I fit into my own little niche of the planet as well.       The poetry of those mono recordings influenced my writing, musicianship as well as my erstwhile ambitions of being a sound engineer. Every instrument could be heard clearly and with a strong sense of dynamics. Philly Joe’s drums would occasionally distort Rudy Van Gelder’s microphones but it was a beautifully primal glimpse into Philly Joe’s then youthful rebellion and sense of impulsive risk.

 

Trane One
John Coltrane, Prestige era.

Blue Note’s Alfred Lion got a taste of commercial success by the mid ’60s with Boogaloo, Hula-Hoop dance craze bop that eventually turned me off. I’m not a craze type of guy. Too many attempted facsimiles of Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder” seemed cruel to put Lee and Hank Mobley through. They might have had more room to breathe creatively on Prestige but who knows?  Of course musicians got more bread from Blue Note but that’s how it almost always works.

 

Bob Weinstock (The president of Prestige Records) didn’t get too hung up on over production and pre-planning. He’d even rewind and erase takes he thought needed re-doing.  Those classic Gene Ammons All-Stars sides were perfectly structured but spontaneous jam sessions, whose only requirements were the collective virtuosity of each player.  Miles and Sonny weren’t ones for doing multiple takes.  Some of the most influential records on the label were made over a span of one or two days tops. Refreshingly no one was trying to become a star. It was all about swinging. No flashy images or radio- friendly time restraints either. The artists had the freedom to experiment with different band settings and to push beyond traditional and newly emerging genres of modern jazz.

 

The ones that initially got me were Miles Davis’ “Dig,” Sonny Rollins’ “Moving Out,” The Red Garland Trio Featuring John Coltrane “Tranin’ In,” Eric Dolphy’s “Outward Bound” and Gene Ammons’ “The Happy Blues.”  In the bandleader department, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Jackie Mclean, Oliver Nelson, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy all made their bones on Prestige.

 

Sonny Rollins Performs
American jazz musician Sonny Rollins playing the tenor saxophone in the mid 1950s. (Photo by Bob Parent/Getty Images)

 

As a writer, I could always find a pristine and perfect partner to isolate with in the Prestige sound. It’s a sacred, clean space with one chair, one desk and one tiny flickering lamp. Sublime.

The music on Prestige leaps out of the speakers with a seductive” take it or leave it” quality like riding the D Train to King’s Highway after 1:00am or an unforgiving and unexpected tidal wave made of mercury. But the Zen-like, in the moment quality of the label’s music washes away all worries and pain, for now anyway and that’s all there is.

Music Review: Hiromi & Edmar Castaneda – Live In Montreal (Telarc)

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

When you take two musicians who constantly push the boundaries of jazz and music as a whole, any project they embark on is going to be captivating.  This is certainly the case with jazz pianist and composer Hiromi and jazz harpist Edmar Castaneda on their spectacularly innovative new live CD “Hiromi & Edmar Cataneda – Live in Montreal. ”  The teaming up of these two musicians must have dropped many jaws at the 2017 Montreal Jazz Festival from which this album was recorded.

Hiromi & Edmar

There simply isn’t anything like the music heard on this album.  Edmar Castaneda has single handedly reinvented the jazz harp.  No one has explored more possibilities on the harp in the in world of jazz since Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane.  Hiromi has put her unique stamp on modern jazz piano and composing over the last 10 plus years.

 

This album is filled with sheer energy, imagination and precision.  With just a piano and harp, Hiromi and Castaneda fill up a lot of space but also create some intriguing dynamics as is the case with the opening number, a Castaneda original  “A Harp In New York.”  It’s impossible to predict where these two virtuoso musicians are headed at any moment.  It’s best not to try to figure it out.  Just take the ride.  Castaneda’s harp does not sound like a traditional harp and his approach is anything but “orthodox.”  At times it sounds like a percussion instrument, at other moments Castaneda attacks his harp like an upright bass. Castaneda does this on “For Jaco,” a tribute to the late, great Jaco Pastorius.   The two musicians often play in unison, creating spontaneous counter rhythms in response what the other is playing.  To do this in such a precise manner is awe-inspiring.   The music on this album is Avant-garde in it’s truest essence, without trying hard to be.

 

Hiromi’s “Moonlight Sunshine” is a haunting lullaby.  Hiromi’s piano work is delicate whereas Castaneda’s harp bursts into these flowing crescendos which then drop to a sudden whisper.  The improvisations are always thematic and never over-indulgent.   The duo even tackles John Williams’ “Cantina Band” from the bar scene in the original Star Wars film.  The duo sounds like a cross between a jug band on acid and some of Duke Ellington’s earliest compositions.  Hiromi’s piano work is stellar.  Castaneda plays the harp like a bass and a piano.  They swing hard on this humorous sci-fi exploration.

 

Hiromi’s four part suite “The Elements” was composed specifically for this duo by Hiromi.  You feel force of the elements during this suite; “Air,” “Earth,” “Water,” and “Fire.”  There are hints of chamber music throughout the suite.  Hiromi weaves many carefully crafted musical tapestries around Castaneda’s dancing harp.  It’s hard to fathom such musical mastery.

 

The album closes with Astor Piazzolla’s Latin-tinged “Libertango.”  Castaneda plays the harp like a classical guitar, often sounding like Andreas Segovia.  Hiromi’s piano runs bring to mind Art Tatum but these two artists have an originality that shines through every wonderful nuance.

 

“Hiromi & Edmar Castaneda – Live In Montreal ” is a soulful, wisdom- filled experiment that will stay with you forever.  There’s just nothing else like it.  Musicians and music novices of all ages must own this recording.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dizzy Is God (For Dizzy Gillespie’s 100th Birthday)

By Doc Wendell 

 

As the four filthy walls close in on me on another panic driven Wednesday in my office, I realize that this coming Saturday, October 21st will be the 100th Birthday of John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie.  I’ve got my copy of Dizzy’s “For Musicians Only” blasting on my tiny red boom box.  To hear Dizzy swinging that hard with Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, John Lewis, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Stan Levey defies logic.  Those long, often lightning fast rhythmic lines traveling up and down the high, medium and low registers of an instrument with an air hole the size of a grain of rice.  The trumpet; the most challenging instrument I can think of.

 

 

Dizzy 1
Dizzy Gillespie

 

I tried to play the trumpet a few times in high school.  Another jazz obsessed friend bought one and I almost killed myself trying to get one note.  I’m not one to give up on something so quickly but that damn thing kicked my ass.  I saw stars and nothing; not a single sound.  That’s when I realized that Dizzy was god.  He swung, danced, screamed and even cried through his trumpet and made it sound and look effortless.

 

In grade school I bought an audio cassette called “Dizzy Gillespie: Groovin’ High” on Savoy Records.  It featured some of Dizzy’s earliest sides as a big band leader such as “Oop Bop Sh’ Bam,” “That’s Earl Brother,” “Our Delight, ” “Things To Come,” “Ray’s Idea,” and “Emanon.” The compilation was also made up of several of Dizzy’s early recordings with Charlie Parker, which sparked a musical revolution; “Dizzy Atmosphere,” “All The Things You Are,” “Salt Peanuts,” and “Hot House.”  All of this music was recorded in the mid to late ’40s but started in Father Earl Hines’ band in 1943 and then Billy Eckstine’ (who left Hines’ band with Dizzy and Parker) band in 1944.  The first bebop record was the classic “Woody n’ You”, which Dizzy recorded with Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach and Oscar Pettiford in 1944.  Due to a recording ban,  most the world wouldn’t discover bebop until after 1945.  Of course, equal credit for the creation of bebop must also go to Parker and guitarist Biddy Fleet. It was an explosion of new energy and new ideas.   I took it all in.  I felt the hipness in the music which I never felt before.  It made me feel hip, which was rare.

 

 

I soon became a Dizzy completest.  I grabbed all of his records as quickly as I could.  Every time I listened to this amazing man play, I though of trying to get a single note out of the trumpet and surrendering in frustration.  I tried to figure out where that dexterity, humor and sublime sense of swing came from.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  It would have to remain one of those great mysteries of the universe.

 

The greatest of the greats came through Dizzy’s band.  Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke, John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Sonny Stitt, James Moody, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Don Byas and Yusef Lateef.  And that’s just naming a few off the top of my head.  Dizzy was the center figure and teacher of modern jazz.  He fostered young talent like no one else.  It was those up-tempo barn burners like “Dizzy’s Blues,” “A Night In Tunisia, ” and “Manteca” that really grabbed me at first but Gillespie was also a supreme balladeer.  Just listen to his renditions of “Lover Come Back To Me” and “I Can’t Get Started.” They’re delicate, mournful and elegant.  Dizzy’s warm tone caresses you with each phrase.  Everything Dizzy played had soul.

 

I hope everyone will celebrate Dizzy’s Birthday this Saturday. Be prepared with “Dizzy On The French Riviera,” “Dizzy At Newport,” “The Complete RCA Victor Recordings,” “Birks Works,” “Sonny Side Up” and anything from the master’s vast catalogue.  And don’t try to figure out how he did it, just dig it.

 

 

 

Happy 87th, Sonny Rollins

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

I recall sitting in my stale, marijuana smelling bedroom in college with a stack of Sonny Rollins albums thinking “This is the greatest musician on earth or anywhere else.”  And I still think that today.  I recall what records I was listening to at that moment; “Sonny Rollins Volume 2,” Sonny Rollins: A Night At The Village Vanguard,” “Saxophone Colossus,” “Worktime,” “Way Out West,” Freedom Suite,” “Thelonious Monk-Brilliant Corners,” The Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet: On Basin Street,” and Kenny Dorham’s “Jazz Contrasts.”  Every humorous burst of smeared notes or hipper than hip long tones Sonny played on his tenor saxophone swung harder than anything I was accustomed to.

What struck me most about Sonny’s playing, whether it was on a solo recording or a project with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Babs Gonzalez or John Coltrane was the humor he incorporated in his solos.

 

 

Sonny Rollins Performs
Sonny Rollins

There is the Buddhist like teacher/master student side to Sonny and there’s the jubilant, jokester who would quote “Camp Town Races” during Monk’s blues classic “Misterioso” and make it cook as much as the “serious” stuff.

Listen to “Sonny Rollins Plus Four” with Clifford Brown and Max Roach.  I can’t think of another modern jazz album that celebrates the joys of life as much as that record. It’s uplifting the way great gospel music is uplifting and this was during a time when many modern jazz players took themselves a tad more seriously than they should have. It’s a powerful testimony to the origins of jazz in a highly visceral sense.  I think of Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory when I listen to that recording.

Although I’m primarily a blues guitarist, Sonny Rollins has always been thee example of the most perfect musician in any genre of music.  A man, who at 87 years young still probably practices more than most musicians a third of his age.  An artists who knew what was hip before the media caught on.  Sonny played with Monk when critics dismissed  him as “some eccentric” for the beatnik crowd.  Sonny played in Miles Davis’ first solo bands, long before “Kind Of Blue” or “Sketches Of Spain” dazzled young baby-boomers.

We all know that romantic and timeless image of Sonny practicing on The Williamsburg Bridge in New York City.  That image stays with us because it exemplifies the greatest devotion a mere mortal can give to his music and how it must sound to the world around him.  Sonny has always reinvented himself, even if it meant taking long hiatuses from the cookie cutter music business.  I’ve had lengthy conversations with musicians all over the world about Sonny’s greatness.  We love you, Sonny Rollins.  With all of the turmoil happening in today’s world, I’m so happy to celebrate your 87th Birthday.

 

 

 

 

 

Walter Becker Remembered

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

It’s seldom that people like us have anyone to talk to.  Wives, no, girlfriends, no way, the jivers and movers in the music industry, not a chance.  Too often we have to keep our feelings about that great live Charlie Parker album with Fats Navarro, Bud Powell, Curley Russell and Art Blakey to ourselves.  And that’s just fine. Who needs any kind of approval or attention when it comes to taste?

Then one or two persons tops comes along and they get and share our humor, our taste in movies, books and music and not much has to be said.  That’s what Walter Becker and Donald Fagen found in each other when they first met at Bard College in 1967.  And that’s what I found in both men in the 1990’s during my apprenticeship at Donald Fagen’s recording studio on the Upper East Side of New York City.

 

Walter-Becker
Walter Becker

 

I never got to know Walter the way I did Donald but there was this now mythical symmetry between them that doesn’t exist between most people.  Walter was very funny. I remember him entering the studio office, putting on a heavy Brooklyn accent and mocking one of the ultra-right winged engineers at the studio who drove everyone nuts. He’d then riffle through the plethora of CDs I’d bring on a daily basis during the production of Steely Dan’s “Two Against Nature.”  Although Becker and Fagen were always extremely kind to me, I could sense at times an antagonistic side, one that I could relate to and I enjoyed witnessing when they’d unleash it on a fellow engineer, musician or record company exec was wasn’t on the same page or trying to pull some bullshit. It was a way of warding off outsiders and dopes. It reminded me of the way Bob Dylan could cut someone down but more thoughtful and not as vicious.

Like Fagen, Walter knew everything about every recording I’d bring into the studio. We might disagree at times but it was enjoyable. To be slightly antagonistic myself, instead of throwing on a CD by Sonny Rollins, J.J. Johnson, Monk or Bird, I put on The Velvet Underground’s “Loaded” album. Walter flinched and said “I saw them when they first formed in some shithouse club in the village and they were  worst band I ever heard.” I laughed and slowly turned the music off and opted for some Sonny Stitt. Walter chided “Stitt was better on tenor than alto.”  I agreed, most of all, I had someone to talk to about this music who had a passion for it and could play it.  I had two people, Donald and Walter which is unheard of.

Despite the stresses of working for two perfectionist geniuses, I enjoyed the reaction I’d get during those breaks when Donald and or Walter would venture out of the control room, down the hall into the office. I carefully selected the music of the day from my vast collection at home each morning. If there was an artist we didn’t agree on, they would always recommend I check out another.  I didn’t have this with the often overly arrogant rock n, roll engineers who mostly hated jazz and blues.  “Buddy Guy is overrated and plays out of tune!” Walter and Donald said one hot summer afternoon as I blasted some of Buddy’s early Chess sides.  I was pissed off for a minute tops. I’ve always loved Guy’s frenetic energy and fret board abuse.  Walter then suggested I check out Fenton Robinson’s playing.  Robinson is a lesser known, more jazz-based blues guitarist and singer.  And so the next time I was in Tower Records, I grabbed as many Fenton Robinson records as I could afford. I studied those albums and my guitar playing got jazzier and more complex.  I thanked Walter as we listened to Robinson’s staccato laden arpeggios wailing through the studio halls.  I would often practice on a Gibson 335 that Larry Carlton donated to the studio with a hole punched through the body left in the office to keep my chops up.

During VH1’s “The Making Of Aja” documentary in 1997, I sat right outside of the live room as Donald, Walter, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Paul Griffin and John Harrington played instrumental versions of “Peg,” “Black Cow,” and “Home At Last.”  Walter’s guitar playing was so soulful, funky and economical yet complex.  Every note he played was perfect and swung hard. Mixed with what Donald and the other cats were laying down, this was thee Steely Dan sound.  I knew a moment like this may not ever happen again and I’ll always be grateful to have been there.

I found my comrades in jazz nerdiness at last.  I wouldn’t call myself a friend of Walter’s per say the way I still call Donald a friend. He’d be in town to work on a project and then back home to Hawaii. But he left me with a ton of memories, lessons and laughter that I’ll take with me the rest of my days. Goodbye Walter and my deepest condolences to your family.