Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dianne Nola’s Queen Bee: Gorgeous Purist Blues

Blues pianist/chanteuse Dianne Nola has a gorgeously purist album out titled Queen Bee, after the Slim Harpo song, which she imaginatively covers. Nola is oldschool: her playing is judicious. It’s clear that she knows Otis Spann and James P. Johnson, and she’s got a jackhammer left hand – we’re talking McCoy Tyner power here – and a sense of melody that likes the occasional wry flourish to drive a phrase home, but stays within the song. You won’t hear any endless volleys of Professor Longhair licks here, or for that matter, any cliches. Nola has a message to get out and that message is soul. Vocally, she’s a jazz singer at heart, but she doesn’t clutter the songs: her approach to the lyrics mirrors how she plays the piano, tersely and purposefully, as informed by gospel as it is the blues.

Most of the songs here are solo piano and vocals; multi-reedman Ralph Carney serves as a one-man dixieland band on the slow, torchy opening track, Down in the Dumps, and the closing cut, a tongue-in-cheek original, Garbage Man, which adds bluesy double meaning to the exasperated story of a woman trying to get some rest during the usual morning rattle and clatter. And blues harpist Jimmy Sweetwater adds some thoughtfully crescendoing work, notably on the sultry, swinging Do Your Duty, which hitches a restrained gospel joy to a New Orleans groove.

The covers here get an imaginative reworking: See See Rider is reinvented as languid boudoir ragtime, while a hard-hitting version of Leadbelly’s Grasshoppers in My Pillow plays up the lyric’s bizarrely surreal angst. Sippie Wallace’s Mighty Tight Woman is the most straight-up, matter-of-fact number, punctuated by a washboard solo. The title track hits with a resolute force, while Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me gets a twinkling, suspenseful approach, appropriate for a blueswoman who refuses to settle. But the originals here are the best. Free showcases Nola’s soaring upper register: this carpe diem anthem wouldn’t be out of place in the Rachelle Garniez songbook. By contrast, Pocketful of Blue comes together slowly, like Nina Simone would do in concert, and then works a dangerous, darkly sensual soul groove. It’s the most overtly jazzy track here and a quietly moody showcase for Nola’s ability to mine a subtly brooding phrase.

At her New York gig last week with the reliably charismatic LJ Murphy, Nola proved to be every bit the match for the noir bluesman, scatting her way cleverly through an a-cappella number and then joining him for a memorably careening duet. Watch this space for future shows.

May 30, 2012 Posted by | blues music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/16/11

Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #501:

JB Lenoir and Sunnyland Slim – Live ’63

Recorded in lo-fi mono by blues enthusiast Norman Oden at the obscure Chicago nightspot Nina’s Lounge and reissued 37 years later, this is a prime example of the blues as blue-collar neighborhood drinking music, not cultural tourism for politically correct yuppies. As The Hound has insightfully observed, Lenoir’s subtly chordal guitar style was a big influence on Ali Farka Toure, helping to jumpstart the desert blues movement. This doesn’t have Lenoir’s “protest songs” like Eisenhower Blues or Vietnam Blues, but this mostly solo set on his home turf is a treat. Pianist Sunnyland Slim – the guy who introduced Muddy Waters to Big Bill Broonzy and springboarded Waters’ career – plays with his usual casual, incisively smart style as Lenoir makes his way through the understatedly biting Harlem Can’t Be Heaven, hits like It’s You Baby and Brown Skin Woman along with a bunch of jams with titles obviously not supplied by the musicians, i.e. J.B.’s Harp-Rack Blues.The whole thing is streaming at spotify if you have it, deezer also (if you haven’t used your allotted monthly hour or whatever it is now); here’s a random torrent via The Blues-That Jazz.

September 16, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Mose Allison at Madison Square Park, NYC 6/30/10

What’s the likelihood of seeing someone this good in a public park, for free? This being New York, we take this kind of show for granted. We shouldn’t. Transcending what must have been an awful monitor mix early on, saloon jazz legend Mose Allison, his bassist and drummer ran through a set of both iconic and more obscure songs from throughout the Sage of Tippo, Mississippi’s career. There was a nonchalance in how the band moved methodically from one song to the next, but there was none in the playing: there was an ever-present sense of defiance in the way Allison punched at his chords, with a judicious bite. Maybe he was venting his frustration of having no piano in the monitor, slamming out a brightly aggressive wash of notes early on that sounded like Stravinsky. Although he would probably laugh at that comparison – Allison has always downplayed his brilliance.

But at 82, he remains a formidable link in a chain of classic Americana that goes back to Robert Johnson and before (the trio played a swinging number written by Johnson’s stepson, Robert Jr. Lockwood, featuring a gleaming, elegantly legato piano solo). His encore was a Willie Dixon number, he told the crowd, but one which went back to Sister Rosetta Tharp. Her version is the spiritual Bound for Glory, redone by Dixon and recorded by Little Walter as My Babe, and now turned into My Brain, which Allison said with characteristic sardonic wit “was losing power, twelve hundred neurons every hour.” Which he can get away with saying because it’s so far from reality. Allison’s voice still has the same sly breeziness that’s been his trademark since the 1950s, and while he stuck mostly to a swinging, chordal attack on the keys, his fingers haven’t lost much of anything either.

And as good as the covers were (especially an unusually stark, rainy-day version of You Are My Sunshine, which Allison took care to note was written by former Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis, and an imperturbable version of Percy Mayfield’s You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down), it was the originals that everybody came to hear and which resonated the most. Your Molecular Structure is just as good a come-on as it was ages ago; the cautionary tale In the City echoed a more dangerous time in New York before gentrification that’s on its way back with a vengeance. Your Mind Is on Vacation struck a nerve: playful as the lyrics are, it might be the first great anti-trendoid anthem. “I’m not disillusioned, but I’m getting there,” he sang wryly on a number from his new, Joe Henry-produced album The Way of the World. And Kidding on the Square is still beyond hip, Allison both mocking and embracing the exuberance of its jazzcat (or faux-jazzcat) vernacular.

There are some other worthwhile jazz shows coming up at Madison Square Park: John Ellis and Double Wide at 6 PM on 7/21, and James Carter’s Organ Trio on 8/4 at 7.

July 1, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment