Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion – Mozart Meets Cuba (2005)

KlazzBrothersFrontCover1In celebration of the anniversary of Mozart’s 250th birthday in 2006, Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion dedicated their new album to the genius of composition and improvisation, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The album is part of the quintet’s sophisticated crossover series between classical music, jazz and Latin-American rhythms. “Mozart meets Cuba“ invites the listeners to join in on an imaginary musical trip to Cuba, where they get to experience the Viennese Classic in a mould-breaking innovative way. Witty and playful and with a delicate musical intuition the arrangements of the Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion lead Mozart and his music on to novel musical dimensions, fusing the most beautiful compositions of the great Salzburg genius with the rhythm and harmonies of Latin jazz. Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion pay homage to a great composer of an extraordinary dramatic art, that is as relevant as it was 250 years ago. Thus, the ensemble has created a unique conversation between the Caribbean and the occident, glossily reconciling classical sonata themes with the Caribbean dancing rhythm. As a result the „Serenade No. 13“ is transformed into a cha-cha-cha and „The Turkish March“ converted into a “Cuban” one. Next to it, two single compositions are united to one piece as can be heard with Pamina’s aria from “The Magic Flute”. The aria is combined with „Besame Mucho“, motives of Ennio Morricones’ “Once Upon a Time in the West” resound within the overture of „Don Giovanni“.

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The programme „Mozart meets Cuba“ premiered at the Munich Philharmonic Hall in 2005. It was broadcasted worldwide by Euroarts. In the same year the same-titled album was released with Sony Classical, which was awarded the “Echo Classic” in the category “Classic Beyond Borders”, thus presenting the second “Echo” award for the successful quintet. Their international tour started just in time for Mozart’s birthday on 27th January 2006 with a concert at the “Wiener Konzertverein”, followed by various other performances at renowned concert halls such as the “Berlin Philharmonic Hall”, the “Gewandhaus Leipzig” and the “Semper Opera Dresden”.

“Mozart meets Cuba” becomes a memorable musical experience thanks to the unique intensityof the quintet’s impressive creativity in perfectly blending music of different genres. (grandmontagne.de)

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As a follow up to their accomplished fusion effort last year, “Classic Meets Cuba”, the Klazz Brothers and Cuba Percussion have collaborated again for much of the same, only this time focusing specifically on the works of Mozart. If the results are not quite as exhilarating as the first effort, it may be that the novelty feels somewhat worn this time despite the often virtuoso playing displayed here. Recalling some of Vince Guaraldi’s work in the 1960’s, the jazzy arrangements are once again supplemented with the beat-heavy Cuban rhythms churned out by Alexis Herrera Estevez on timbales and Elio Rodriguez Luis on congas. What continues to impress on this recording is how well the two sides of the ensemble – Estevez and Rodriguez on one and on the other, pianist Tobias Forster, bassist Killian Forster and drummer Tim Hahn – mesh so well in making all the disparate musical elements balance without contrivance.

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Many of Mozart’s most renowned pieces are here in reconfigured form. The warhorse Piano Sonata K. 545 (“Sonata Facile”) turns into a sunny Caribbean number, “Calypso Facile”, while the staccato-tempo Turkish March evolves into the propulsive “Cuban March”. More creatively, the familiar Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467 turns into an African-accented bolero named appropriately “Afrolero” complete with a faraway-sounding whistle, while Eine Kleine Nachtmusik K. 525 becomes a percolating dance number, “Bomba de la Noche”. Even more audaciously, they turn the overture to “Don Giovanni” into a slow, evocative bolero number, “Don Muerte”, and the familiar aria, “La Ci Darem La Mano” into a lovely piano-dominated ballad, “Reich Mir Die Hand (Your Hand in Mine)”. Somewhat less successful are the two selections derived from “The Magic Flute” – “Yo Siento Mucho”, a cha-cha version of “Ach, Ich Fuhl’s” and Forster’s extended piano riffs based on the potpourri passage, “Salzburger Schafferl”. Latin pop artist Lou Bega lends his saucy vocals to “Son de Mozart”, a clubby reinvention of Fantasia in C Minor, K. 475. This is fun listening for fans of Latin-classical fusion. (Ed Uyeshima)

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Personnel:
Alexis Herrera Estevez (timbales)
Kilian Forster (bass)
Tobias Forster (piano)
Tim Hahn (drums)
Elio Rodriguez Luis (percussion)
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Lou Bega (vocals on 16.)
Olivier Roland Kerourio (harmonica on 08.)
Mario Felix Hernandez Morejon (trumpet on 08. + 16.)

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Tracklist:
01. Guantánameritmo – Sonate c-Moll KV 457 / 2.59
02. Salzburger Schafferl – Die Zauberflöte 5.16
03. Calypso Facile – Sonate C-Dur KV 545 / 6.11
04. Poema con Cohiba – Klarinettenkonzert 3.07
05. Kubanischer Marsch – Türkischer Marsch 4.00
06. Afrolero – Klavierkonzert Nr. 21 / 5.08
07. Don Cajon 0.34
08. Don Muerte – Don Giovanni 5.03
09. Sonatadur – Sonate A-Dur KV 331 / 3.29
10. Wenn Son, Danzon – Klavierkonzert Nr. 23 / 4.32
11. Reich mir die Hand – Reich mir die Hand, mein Leben 4.44
12. Tercero de la Noche – Eine kleine Nachtmusik 5.07
13. Yo siento mucho – Die Zauberflöte 4.48
14. Bomba de la Noche – Eine kleine Nachtmusik 3.59
15. Hasta la vista Mozart 2.27
16. Son de Mozart – Fantasie c-Moll 4.21

Music composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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Raul Midón – State Of Mind (2005)

FrontCover1.jpgRaul Midón is a contemporary singer/songwriter whose impassioned acoustic guitar playing — a mix of rock, classical, and flamenco — has gotten him just as much attention as his smooth, relaxed voice. Blind since birth, Midón was born in Embudo, New Mexico, to an Argentine father and American mother. He began playing drums early in his childhood before switching to guitar, taking in flamenco, jazz, and classical styles on his chosen instrument. He relocated to Miami for college in the ’90s and while there moonlighted as a background vocalist for Latin pop recording sessions. Midón was a remarkable talent even then, and word quickly spread of his talent as a singer and guitarist, one inspired by a crop of artists including Hermeto Pascoal, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Bill Withers.

As a solo artist, Midón made his debut on RCA with Gracias a la Vida (1999), after which he relocated to New York, where he concentrated on a solo career. Following the independent release Blind to Reality (2001), he signed with the EMI-distributed Manhattan label and released State of Mind (2005) and World Within a World (2007). The former featured appearances from Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz and cracked the Billboard 200 chart. A short stint with Decca produced Synthesis (2010), highlighted by a cover of the Beatles’ “Blackbird”; the same year, a performance in support of Marcus Miller was documented on A Night in Monte Carlo. Invisible Chains: Live from NYC (2012), self-released, preceded an association with Mack Avenue subsidiary Artistry for Don’t Hesitate (2014) and Bad Ass and Blind (2017). (by by Wade Kergan)

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Hailed as one of the breakout releases of 2005, blind guitarist Raul Midón’s major-label debut generally justifies the hype. He is a stunning acoustic guitarist with a percussive, at times Latin style, and a silky, inviting singer straight out of the Stevie Wonder/Donny Hathaway school. (Wonder plays on one track and Hathaway is the subject of another.) Midón’s major-label debut was co-helmed by Arif Mardin, the legendary producer behind Norah Jones’ successful first release. While musically there isn’t much common ground between the two artists, Mardin’s subtle, airy approach works perfectly here. He lets Midón’s expressive voice and nimble acoustic guitar set the tone, adding hints of percussion, flute, vibraphone, acoustic bass, wispy keyboards, and occasional backing vocals to flesh out the songs.

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It’s a successful formula, beefing up the music without making it overly slick. Despite the vocal similarity to Wonder, Midón establishes his own sound, singing uplifting songs of love and life with Latin and jazz flourishes that marinate in the stripped-down, acoustic arrangements. It’s pleasant enough, but even with a few left turns such as the fiery conga- and flute-driven spoken word “I Would Do Anything,” the style and songs tend to get a little repetitious as the album creeps past its midpoint. Unlike Wonder, Midón’s lovely, smooth quiet storm voice doesn’t shift often enough to a harsher side, something that would help this album shift gears out of cruise control and Sunday morning brunch mode. Regardless, this remains a beautifully focused and mature work. Midón has already found his voice and the intermingled jazz/Latin/folk/soul qualities indicate a musician who can move in any one of a number of directions after this impressive start. (by Hal Horowitz)

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Personnel:
Richard Hammond (bass)
Raul Midón (vocals, guitar)
Shedrick Mitchell (organ)
Daniel Sadownick (percussion)
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Cyro Baptista (percussion on 11.)
Jerry Barnes (bass on 06. + 08.
Sammy Figeroua (percussion on 12.)
Lisa Fisher (background vocals on  04., 07. + 13.)
Stefon Harris (vibraphone on 07. + 13.)
Donny Hathaway (vocals on 08.)
Joe Mardin (piano on 03., drums on 09., percussion on 11.)
Gregoire Maret (harmonica on 11.)
Jonathan Maron (bass on 02.)
Jason Mraz (vocals, guitar on 03.)
Eric Revis (bass on 11.)
Dave Valentine (flute on 12.)
Stevie Wonder (harmonica on 07.)

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Tracklist:
01. State Of Mind (Midón) 3.25
02. If You Gonna Leave (Midón) 3.52
03. Keep On Hoping (Midón(Mraz) 4.33
04. Mystery Girl (Midón) 4.23
05. Waited All My Life (Midón) 4.36
06. Everybody (Midón) 4.01
07.  Expressions Of Love (Midón) 2.50
08. Sittin’ In The Middle (Midón) 3.32
09. Suddenly (Midón) 3.32
10. Never Get Enough (Midón) 3.46
11. Sunshine (I Can Fly) (Menedez/Midón/Vega) 4.34
12. I Would Do Anything (Midón) 3.34
13. All In Your Mind (Fournier/Midón) 3.18

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Brian Crain – Spring Symphonies (2005)

FrontCover1.jpgBrian Crain was a musically inclined child, but he was never formally educated in music, and yet has still found success as a pianist/composer. He was born in Hollywood, and although offered piano lessons, he preferred honing his baseball skills to practicing. He also built his own home studio while working on audio production for films as a teenager. Crain’s dreams of being a professional ballplayer did not come to fruition, but in the meantime, he had managed to teach himself how to play piano as he picked out his own melodies. He released his first CD, Morning Light, in 1997, and met with enough success to make music his career. Crain has since made more than a dozen albums of his own music. The use of one of his piano pieces, Butterfly Waltz, in a South Korean drama has made him an artist better known in Asia than in his home country. He has a large fan base and toured there several times, as his music is used in more TV commercials and programming. Crain enjoys trying new ideas in his music, such as unusual meters and minimalist concepts used on his albums Piano Opus (2011) and Piano and Light (2009), to complement his flowing, attractive melodies. (by Patsy Morita)

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In 2004, Brian Crain took the opportunity to reflect on his recording portfolio by revisiting his catalog and re-recording with a string quartet. Apparently, this was one small step toward the giant leap that Crain has made here. The great adventure is that his latest recording includes a collaboration with the 52 member Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. This progressive statement comes without the backing of any recording label and yet the results are grand and magnificent.

In a short two-year period, Crain has gone from the synthesized string arrangements of the 2003 Sienna to organic warmth of the quartet arrangements on his retrospective release last year. This time around Spring Symphonies, despite all the risks and investment is not only a heroic but equally bold and successful creative step. Crain not only collaborated with a full orchestra, he also traveled to the Czech Republic which was probably a huge financial risk taking into account that the project comes with no label backing.

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Considering the creative use of an orchestra, the classical influences are obvious and are even reflected in the title of the compositions that are also divided into two symphonies. The intermission comes courtesy of the one stripped down track appropriately entitled “Piano Solo”. The tempo is slow and the mood very somber giving the album its most philosophical and reflective moment. Otherwise, the remainder of the album makes full use of the orchestration made available to Crain who continues to emphasize the melody line that he repeats over and over with additional embellishments from various members of the orchestra. Though Crain maintains his own identity his blending of classical movements along with memorable memories brings to mind the musical comparisons of Tim Janis. The tearful strings of “Andante Affettuoso” are about as powerful as the vapors of an onion to the naked human eye.

Also most memorable is the opening movement “Andante Cantabile” that is arousing and emotive. Countered by Brian’s piano bridge brings the listener to the early realization that Spring Symphonies has something very special to say. Though not quite as complex, it would be daring to compare this album with David Foster’s Symphony Sessions and the equally remarkable Skyline Firedance of David Lanz. Again, keep in mind that these two talented artists created their epics with the backing of major recording labels. Crain still managed to pull this feat off without the same assistance.

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Frankly, all of the movements are for the lack of a better phrase, very moving. But one specific mention should be given to “Allegro Maestoso” that has a stunning piano bridge that returns the listener to a luscious string overture. It is simply wonderful, as is the entire 49 minutes and odd seconds of this ambitious and audacious album.

Brian Crain has shown the ability not only to create and compose but do so on a grand scale whether it comes with major label backing or not. This artist will not be stopped and is starting to secure the word of mouth that is far overdue. However, Spring Symphonies is so superior to anything Crain has done that the only negative aspect is how does he follow up on this tour de force? However, this is a great quandary to be in. (by Michael Debbage)

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Personnel:
Brian Crain (piano)
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Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra conducted by Petr Vronsky

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Tracklist:

Symphony No. 1:
01. Andante Cantabile 6.17
02. Andantino 4.00
03. Adagio Con Amore 7.05
04. Allegro Maestoso 4.59

05.Piano Solo 4.18

Symphony No. 2:
06. Andante Affettuoso 5.12
07. Adagio Appassionato 5.41
08. Largo Maestoso 6.37
09. Allegretto 5.16

Music composed by Brian Crain

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Tracy Chapman – Where You Live (2005)

FrontCover1Where You Live is Tracy Chapman’s seventh studio album and was released September 13, 2005. The album was co-produced by Tchad Blake. It produced two singles: “Change”, and “America”.

Where You Live is a reminder that somewhere during her career, Tracy Chapman softly transformed from just an early publicized face of contemporary folk into a quiet stalwart of social commentary and atmosphere. Though she is certainly best known for her hits “Fast Car” and “Give Me One Reason,” those two songs stand within her history as suspension bridge supports: visible from afar as beacons of a structure with purpose, whose job is to sustain the action from point A to point B in her slow evolution. And with major labels’ consistent tendency to lean further and further away from hosting artists for more than an album or two, it is commendable that Elektra seems dedicated in serving Chapman’s subtlety and dependable longevity, affording her the luxury of having producers and players aboard who nurture her sound through said evolution. Where You Live is yet another elegant and easy album from Chapman, just the kind her fan base has come to expect, and with the help of co-producer Tchad Blake, it embraces some details of Chapman’s penchant for darkness, where parts of her earlier records glossed over these folds. Judging by many of the artists with whom he has worked,

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Blake’s inclination seems to be to find minutiae such as this and latch on, his approach being generally heavy-handed, but here he has left plenty of room for the songs to really breathe around their most intriguing attribute: Chapman’s warm voice. Perhaps it was Chapman’s role as co-producer that served as a ballast, or perhaps it is an example of Blake’s growth, but it is worth noting Blake’s late-’90s trademark — ultra-compressed, watery, and claustrophobic drum sounds — has been given a rest in exchange for simple, dry, and tight drums played minimally by Quinn. This restrained foundation is integral to the dynamics of Where You Live, allowing any flourish to meet the ear with immediacy and purpose. Short of a few examples, Where You Live slides along at a gentle, mid-tempo gait. The nature of Chapman’s calm delivery, as with much of her catalog, is deceiving, considering some of the heavy subject matter, but it is perhaps one of her greatest assets that she is able to allow her messages to sink in like mellow fatigue on a late-summer Sunday evening. In anyone else’s hands, these smooth edges would likely suffer under the force of preaching, but her demeanor allows the words and melodies to work for themselves. Perhaps due to the album’s fluidity, no song from Where You Live immediately presents itself as the single; instead the album operates entirely as a measured course and will enlighten those who will choose to fall into its simple allure, rather than acting as a hook for new listeners. (by Gregory McIntosh)

And this wonderful album comes with a beautiful booklet !

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Personnel:
Paul Bushnell (bass)
Tracy Chapman (guitar, clarinet, harmonica, mandolin, percussion, glockenspiel, keyboard bass, hand drums)
Flea (bass)
Mitchell Froom (keyboards, celeste, harpsichord, wurlitzer)
Joe Gore (guitar, dobro, percussion, bass, lap steel guitar, keyboard bass)
David Piltch (bass)
Michael Webster (keyboards)
Quinn Smith (percussion, piano, drums, glockenspiel)

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Tracklist:
01. Change 5.07
02. Talk To You 4.28
03. 3,000 Miles 5.59
04. Going Back 5.23
05. Don’t Dwell 3.22
06. Never Yours 3.37
07. America 3.44
08. Love’s Proof 3.45
09. Before Easter 3.04
10. Taken 3.43
11. Be And Be Not Afraid 4.45

All songs written by Tracy Chapman.

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Magna Carta – The Fields Of Eden (2015)

FrontCover1.jpgFinally after so many years it is really going to happen. Magna Carta have recorded the long awaited album, “The Fields of Eden”. And what better time to release it than on the actual date of the signing of the Magna Carta 800 years later. June 15th.

Fields of Eden has already been classed as a masterpiece and by many has surpassed the band’s legendary Lord of the Ages which went Gold after its release back in 1973. A mixture of vibrant new songs highlighted by the epic 16 minute title track The Fields of Eden.

This simply has to be Chris Simpsons best release ever!

Chris and the gang do it again!! A wonderful new release chock full of some of the best evocative music and lyrics Mr Simpson has come up with. The album moves through an eclectic set of styles, is refreshing and above all sincere. Magna Carta in all it’s various guises has always been known for creating that warm feeling you get when you listen to music that is from the heart and comforting. No “Doom and Gloom”, just from the heart!! I have been an avid follower of the band all the years they have been performing and I have to say this album ranks among the very best they have done. Good on you Chris, keep on rockin’. (by GuitarTony)

Indeed: Another hightlight in the long career of Magna Carta and Chris Simpson !

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Personnel:
Will Jackson (piano, guitar)
Chris Simpson (vocals, guitar, harmonica)
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Matt Barhoorn (violin)
Andrew Jackson (spoken word)
Laurens Joensen (guitar, slide-guitar,, mandolin, dobro, banjo)
Doug Morter (guitar, background vocals)
Derek Nash (saxophone)
Kate Peters (background vocals)
Elliott Randall (guitar)
Wendy Ross (violin)
John Shepard (drums, percussion)
Cathy Simpson (piano)
Alan Thomson (bass, slide guitar)

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Tracklist:
01. Anemos / Child Of The Light 1.25
02. Long Rime Running 5.20
03. Walk Away From Heaven 5.02
04. Fields Of Eden 16.14 :
04.1. Overture
04.2.The Tumbling River
04.3.Middlesmoor
04.4. Stonebeck
04.5. The Fields Of Eden
04.6. Epilogue – Middlesmoor
05. The Same Rain 5.20
06. Greenhow Hill 4.34
07. This Time Around 4.34
08. European Union Blues 3.28
09. Nidderdale / Backroads 5.45
10. The Wild Geese (The Spirit Of The Wide Northland) 4.21
11. Life In The Old Dog 3.09

All songs written by Chris Simpson

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Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – Nothing But The Water (2005)

FrontCover1.jpgGrace Potter and the Nocturnals is an American rock band from Vermont, formed in 2002 in Waitsfield by drummer Matt Burr, guitarist Scott Tournet, and singer Grace Potter. They began their career as an indie band, self-producing their albums and touring extensively in the jam bands and music festivals circuit, playing as many as 200 gigs in a year. In 2005 they signed for Hollywood Records; they have published four studio albums, encompassing rock subgenres such as blues rock, folk rock, hard rock, and alternative rock. Their third, self-titled album (2010) has been a major commercial success, topping iTunes charts and receiving international attention.

The band is fronted by lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Grace Potter (born June 20, 1983), who is known for her vocal qualities—evocative of blues rock singers like Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, or Koko Taylor—as well as for her vibrant energy on stage. Besides playing with the Nocturnals, Potter has also released solo material and collaborated with other artists including Kenny Chesney and The Rolling Stones.

Nothing But the Water is Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ first studio album. It was released on May 10, 2005 independently by the band. The album was re-released with re-mastered tracks and a bonus DVD on May 23, 2006 after the band signed with Hollywood Records in late 2005.Nothing But the Water is Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ first studio album. It was released on May 10, 2005 independently by the band. The album was re-released with re-mastered tracks and a bonus DVD on May 23, 2006 after the band signed with Hollywood Records in late 2005. (by wikipedia)

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While the 22-year-old Grace Potter’s vocal influences are obvious — Bonnies Raitt and Bramlett, Susan Tedeschi, and Lucinda Williams — it’s what she does with her voice that is most impressive. This sophomore indie album gets all the parts right. Even though the band is from Vermont, there is no denying the Southern blues, gospel and swamp rock that course through its veins. Potter’s songs, all co-written with her group, grind through a combination of the Band, J.J. Cale (who she namechecks on the opening “Toothbrush and My Table”), Taj Mahal, and Tift Merritt. Although it is self-recorded, Nothing but the Water exudes a professional sound and the band knows when to play and when to lay back. Lyrically, Potter is stuck on the lost love track, but she makes the most of that overworked concept with smart, savvy words that retain an air of mystery. She’s got a terrific, grainy voice, but it’s her piano and Hammond B-3 playing that really set her apart from the pack. The organ adds a gospel flavor — part Gregg Allman, part Booker T., part Steve Winwood — that pushes this material from good to great. “Treat Me Right” throbs with a sexuality perfectly echoed in the band’s skeletal swamp funk backing.

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In particular, Scott Tournet’s slide guitar pushes the rollicking “Sweet Hands” down Highway 61 as Potter charges through lyrics such as “it’s like touch and go without the touch” with a mix of sassy fire and feisty intensity. “Joey” tells the story of spousal abuse with images that are powerful and scary (“He looks me in the eye, he’ll hit me ’til I cry”). She goes full Delta blues/Bonnie Raitt mode on the acoustic “2:22,” accompanied only by acoustic guitar and subtle standup bass. It’s an impressive track and shows she could be a fine traditional blues singer if she wanted to pursue that avenue. The final trilogy of tracks is the album’s highlight. Shifting from the spooky instrumental “Below the Beams” to the a cappella gospel of “Nothing but the Water Pt.1” and into the song’s rollicking “Pt. 2,” the band fires on all cylinders as Potter spits out the gospel words powered by her own keyboards and the band’s surging storm of blues-rock. It caps an impressive release that only scratches the surface of what this band can generate live. (by Hal Horowitz)

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Personnel:
Matt Burr (drums, percussion)
Bryan Dondero (bass)
Grace Potter (vocals, keyboards, tambourine)
Scott Tournett (guitar, background vocals)
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Jennifer Crowell (tambourine, background vocals)

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Tracklist:
01. Toothbrush And My Table (Potter/Burr) – 4:31
02. Some Kind Of Ride (Potter) 3.40
03. Ragged Company  (Potter) 4.59
04. Left Behind (Potter/Burr/Dondero/Tournet) 3.39
05. Treat Me Right (Potter/Burr/Dondero/Tournet) 4.27
06. Sweet Hands (Potter) 3.37
07. Joey (Potter/Burr/Dondero/Tournet) 5.17
08. 2:22 (Potter, Tournet) 4.32
09. All But One (Potter) 4.53
10. Below the Beams (Potter/Burr/Dondero/Tournet) 1.33
11. Nothing But the Water (I)  (Potter) 2.44
12. Nothing But the Water (II) (Potter) 5.16

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Oh yes, I´m a fool for a pretty face …

Eddie Higgins Trio – Christmas Songs (2005)

FrontCover1Edward Haydn Higgins (February 21, 1932 – August 31, 2009) was a jazz pianist, composer, and orchestrator.

Born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Higgins initially studied privately with his mother. He started his professional career in Chicago, Illinois, while studying at the Northwestern University School of Music. An elegant and sophisticated pianist, his encyclopedic harmonic approach and wide range of his repertory made him one of the most distinctive jazz pianists to come out of Chicago, gaining the respect of local and visiting musicians for his notable mastery of the instrument. Higgins also had the unusual ability to sound equally persuasive in a broad span of music, whether he was playing traditional swing, exciting bebop or reflexive ballads, providing the tone and stylistic flavor of each styles, as both a soloist and as accompanist.

For more than two decades Higgins worked at some of Chicago’s most prestigious jazz clubs, including the Brass Rail, Preview Lounge, Blue Note, Cloister Inn and Jazz, Ltd. His longest and most memorable tenure was at the long gone London House, where he led his jazz trio from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, playing opposite jazz stars of this period, including Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Wes Montgomery, Oscar Peterson and George Shearing, among others. Later, Higgins said the opportunities to play jazz music with Coleman Hawkins and Oscar Peterson were unforgettable moments. Higgins’ time spent at the London House Restaurant was with bassist Richard Evans and drummer Marshall Thompson. Higgins also worked for Chess Records as a producer.

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During his stay in Chicago, Higgins also recorded a significant number of albums under his auspices and many more as a sideman with a wide variety of musicians, ranging in style from tenor saxophonists Hawkins to Sonny Stitt to Wayne Shorter; trumpeters Bobby Lewis to Harry Edison to Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard; and trombonists Jack Teagarden to Al Grey. His versatility was captured on stage and records, backing up singers and leading his own projects as both pianist and orchestrator, working in every jazz circle from dixieland to modal styles. Although he opted to decline the offer, Higgins was asked at one point by Art Blakey to join the seminal hard bop quintet, The Jazz Messengers.

In 1970, Higgins moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida and began spending winters in Florida and summers on Cape Cod, where he played in local clubs. Since the early 1980s, he traveled widely on the jazz festival circuit and performed frequently in Europe and Japan. His releases on the Japanese Venus label earned him number one in jazz sales on more than one album. After that, Higgins played his music mainly in East Asia including Japan and South Korea. During his career in East Asia, Higgins formed a successful trio with Joe Ascione (drums), and Jay Leonhart (bass).

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In 1988, Higgins and jazz singer and pianist Meredith d’Ambrosio were married and became a popular team at clubs and festivals, as well as recording for Sunnyside Records. In 2009, dates in Japan and Korea were on his calendar of upcoming concerts, which were suspended due to a long illness.

Higgins died in Fort Lauderdale at the age of 77.

Eddie Higgins’s delicate tone and conception were often compared to those of Bill Evans, one of the most influential and successful jazz pianists. He mostly played bop and mainstream jazz music throughout his career. Higgins was at home playing melodies with swing-like feeling. His melodies had groove and swing-feeling without being too superfluous. Such swing-feeling of Eddie Higgins was also often compared to those of Oscar Peterson and Nat King Cole. (by wikipedia)

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This is only the second product review I have ever written, and it is the consistent quality of this CD that prompts me to write an enthusiastic endorsement. While the music is not groundbreaking in the least, it is a most solid and satisfying set of traditional Christmas tunes, the lion’s share of which are secular. I am very much a Jazz Guy, and my tastes gravitate towards the straight-ahead jazz camp, with the piano trio as featured here being perhaps my favorite jazz ensemble. This CD falls squarely in that straight-ahead camp, without being the least bit square. On each tune, you will hear the melody clearly and simply stated, followed by an improvisational interlude, then back he goes to the melody to close out. Though it sounds formulaic and predictable, it most certainly is not, predictability being the mark of most inferior jazz. And I would agree that this is a CD that could be thoroughly enjoyed by someone who claims to hate jazz; the straight-ahead jazz fan will be ecstatic with it!! I am a last-minute Christmas shopper, with Christmas Eve day being my favorite shopping day. That shopping pattern makes me feel pretty under-the-gun, once my shopping mojo kicks in.

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If I were at Nordstrom, Christmas Eve day, focused and in my shopping groove/crunch mode, and I heard Eddie Higgins (may he rest in peace) playing Christmas tunes on the Nordstrom grand piano, I would stop and listen for an hour or so, this versus the tune-and-a-half listen I would typically give a lesser player. This may sound like faint praise, but it does accurately reflect my feelings about and affection for this CD. I am stingy with stars, so that fifth star is hard to pry out of me — well deserved here, however, and, again, I do endorse this CD without reservation — great Christmas music, from the first note to the last! Excellent support/work from Jay Leonhart on bass and Joe Ascione on drums, as well. Terrific!! (written by an amazon customer called Zimmerman)

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Personnel:
Joe Ascione (drums)
Eddie Higgins (piano)
Jay Leonhart (bass)

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Tracklist:
01. Let It Snow (Cahn/Styne) 3.41
02. Christmas Song (Tormé) 5.15
03. I’ll Be Home for Christmas (Gannon/Kent) 4.29
04. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Traditional) 4.35
05. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (Coots/Gillespie) 3.34
06. O Little Town Of Bethlehem (Traditional) 4.49
07. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Blane) 4.19
08. The Christmas Waltz (Cahn/Styne) 3.25
09. White Christmas (Berlin) 4.43
10. Winter Wonderland (Bernard) 6.16
11. Deck The Halls With Boughs Of Holly (Traditional) 3.42
12. Sleight Ride (Anderson) 3.48

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