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Sunday, December 17

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Transmission
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Feature Thu Nov 16 2006

Live Blues, String Things and Jazz Definitely Worth Hearing

Chicago, you're aware, has been the destination for blues and jazz musicians for decades. Labels like Delmark Records have been releasing recordings for half a century, while others, like 20-year old label Atavistic, are supplying fans with young artists and up-and-comers of note on a regular basis. This week, we bring you reviews of five of the latest offerings from these two stellar Chicago labels.

Tell your friends to tell their friends to tell their friends. Y'all come, Junior Wells is playing down at Theresa's.

One of my favorite records of all time is Delmark's 1965 release of Junior Wells' Hoodoo Man Blues (Delmark DLM 612). It has long been said that although a studio album, Hoodoo Man Blues is great representation of a night with Wells at the now lost Theresa's on the South Side. Now with Live at Theresa's 1975 we have the real deal. A true time capsule of the reign of Junior Wells, Junior Wells Live at Theresa's 1975 (Delmark DE 787) was recorded on two different nights, January, 1975. The sound on this recording is very clear and drops you right into the South Side lounge in 1975. Although somewhat thin in spots, as a small room bar often is, it’s hardly the result of someone's pocket cassette recorder. Recording engineer Ken Rasek captures the feel of being in Theresa's with a balance and poise not heard in live recording of that era (Rasek recorded the show for a radio broadcast) not to mention the room held only maybe 40 people. The intimacy and closeness of Wells' big personality in such a small native venue is exciting and adds to the classic tracks. You can actually feel Wells command the room. Theresa's was his home.

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Backing Wells, the band on both nights lay it down. The guitar work is driving and often there are impressive vocal harmonies from Byther Smith. Going back in time, one would expect to find half the band drunk (or is it the band half drunk?) sliding though the songs while enjoying the party at Theresa's. Not so on this recording. Phil Guy, Byther Smith on guitar for the second night ("Little by Little," "Snach It Back and Hold It," "Love Her With A Feeling," "Juke," "Scratch My Back," and "Help The Poor") and Sammy Lawhorn on guitar the first night ("Come On In This House," "What My Mama Told Me," "Key To The Highway," "Goin' Down Slow" and "Messin' With The Kid") make it a great collection of Wells' live material.

The disc is also interspersed with Wells' banter from the evening. You can hear glasses hit the tables as the crowd reacts to Junior's razzing, giving hell to the regulars. There's even a Happy Birthday homage to Theresa's regular and Chicago photographer Marc PoKempner. Wells provides a birthday tune and a personal endorsement of PoKempner's skills with a camera. Those shots can be seen on the CD jacket as well as in his book Down at Theresa's…Chicago Blues.

Overall it must be said that Junior Wells Live at Theresa's 1975 is a gem. It’s a classic of real deal Chicago blues from a former South Side blues Mecca. The solid recording and fantastic performance make it a must have for regulars and tourists alike.
-Carey Eyer


Two New String Things on Delmark: Two new jazz gems on the Chicago Delmark label where string players are the MVPs.

Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio featuring Billy Bang — Big M, A Tribute to Malachi Favors (Delmark DE 572)

Native Chicagoan Kahil El'Zabar has been masterfully playing a traditional drum kit and African drums for decades with his Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, various Chicago jazz greats, as well as in his group, Ritual Trio. On this new Delmark disc, Big M, A Tribute to Malachi Favors, the latter pays homage to the original Ritual Trio bassist, the late Malachi Favors.

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This edition of the Ritual Trio also features guest violinist Billy Bang (from El'Zabar's group Tri Factor, which includes baritone saxophonist Hamiett Bluiett) who is a great foil to tenor saxophonist and pianist Ari Brown, and is rounded out by tried-and-true bassist Yosef Ben Israel. El'Zabar composed all but one of the tunes on the disc which range from soulful groovers like "Crumb-Puck-U-Lent" and "Maghoustut," to kalimba-driven vamps like "Oof" and "Big M." All contribute fine, cogent solos throughout with Brown alternating warm and woolly with gruff tenor abstractions on some tracks, and lending piano support on others. Bang, in particular, provides thrilling solos on each cut, wrenching a spectrum of emotions from his dry, keening violin. Kudos also to Steve Wagner, the engineer, who captured the band in rich detail.

While so many jazz tribute discs are merely collections of anecdotes and reminiscences, El'Zabar and band have instead given Favors the ultimate thank you: a great set of memorable music that should remain one of the Ritual Trio's best efforts. Let's hope too that Bang stays in the mix on future Ritual Trio releases.

Kahil El'Zabar will perform this Sunday, November 19th, from 7-9pm at Rumba Restaurant, 351 Hubbard (located between Orleans and Kingsbury) 312-222-1226.


Keefe Jackson's Fast Citizens — Ready Everyday (Delmark DE 571)

Speaking of strings, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm also lends many enjoyable sonic disruptions to Fast Citizens' debut Ready Everyday. This sextet, led by tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson, formed in 2003 and, hungry from a regular tenure at The Hideout in 2004, cut their first disc over two summers in 2005 and 2006. It was worth the wait, as evident in the band's flair and ease with Jackson's five original compositions and one each by alto saxophonist Aram Shelton and Lonberg-Holm. The Fast Citizens smartly mix postbop, free and composed sections which echo the witty, catchy tunes by altoist Tim Berne's excellent late-'80s group Sanctified Dreams-except with perhaps a cooler temperament and a relentlessly swinging undercurrent.

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Longberg-Holm, currently in The Vandermark Five, shines confidently throughout and adds some highlights of the disc including a humorous, swooping, bowed solo in the swinging title cut, a ripping distorted opening in "Signs," and some contrapuntal pizzicato in "Blackout." Thanks to the leader's generosity, Josh Berman also gets plenty of solo space, and one can hear shades of Lester Bowie and Herb Robertson in his bent-note phrasing. Alto player Shelton also turns in several intense solos, notably on "Pax Urbanum" and "Blackout" and tenor saxophonist Jackson gets in some memorable, compact solo turns in "Signs," "Saying Yes," and "Ready Everyday."

Also worthy of mention are bassist Anton Hatwich, who gets some solo space which spotlights his rich tone, and drummer Frank Rosaly who are rock solid throughout and are poised to become one of Chicago's next great creative jazz rhythm sections.

A fine debut. A band to watch.


More of the same from Atavistic: Two new releases from Ken Vandermark range from rhythm to rock

It's an old story that saxophonist and bandleader Ken Vandermark is one of the hardest working men in jazz and an avatar of creative music around Chicago, but it's still a treat to see which of Vandermark's fine groups end up on tape. Along with Okka Disk, the Atavistic label has had a fruitful partnership with Vandermark, and this month released two notable records in Vandermark's already impressive discography.

Sound in Action Trio — Gate (Atavistic ALP160CD)

The Sound In Action Trio is a two drums + reeds adventure which on their debut, Gate, sets Vandermark's reeds against dual drummers Tim Daisy (stickman for The Vandermark 5) and the legendary Robert Barry (former drummer for Sun Ra and others). Instead of the free-jazz slugfest I anticipated, the Trio moves like a well-oiled machine through a set of tunes! And they engage these tunes as well any "normal" jazz combo of horns-plus-rhythm section, except the absence of bass and piano gives the Trio a multitude of options to explore on this eleven track mix of originals and interpretations.

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Vandermark and crew certainly bring the fire to "Horizontal Fall (For Han Bennink)" and Albert Ayler's "Love Cry," but also mix things up like when Vandermark hints at bass clarinet basslines on Eric Dolphy's "The Prophet," and the drummers frame in the structure behind Vandermark's piping, Steve Lacy-esque Bb clarinet on Herbie Nichols's "House Party Starting." The drummers also are able to 'comp behind Vandermark's tenor solos on "Togo" and "Side Car (For Tony Williams)," then shade and color more impressionistic pieces like "Slate (For Paul Lytton)," which really brings out the empathetic musicality of all involved.

Bridge 61 — Journal (Atavistic ALP172CD)

Daisy returns with Vandermark in the group Bridge 61, which recorded its debut disc Journal in 2005 and adds Nate McBride on acoustic and electric basses and Jason Stein on bass clarinet for a compelling set of shapeshifting originals that span the stylistic range from fuzz-bassed rockers to free-jazz blowers.

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Stein's highly textural, throaty bass clarinet is consistently satisfying. McBride shines on both acoustic and electric bass and along with Daisy contribute two tunes a piece to Vandermark's four originals. Daisy's "Dark Blue, Bright Red," with both Vandermark and Stein on clarinets (Vandermark later switches to tenor and back), finds the group experimenting with nuanced time and dynamic shadings through sharp group interplay which is further evidenced in Vandermark's "A=A, b=b (For Antonio Topias)". In Vandermark's songs like " Various Fires (For This Heat)" and "Shatter (For Sonny Sharrock)" the ensemble weaves through styles and moods without reference to postmodern irony or any hint of pastiche. Exemplary modern jazz.
-Bob Holub


You can pick up these albums online through the labels, or at your favorite Chicago store to buy jazz.


About the authors:

Bob Holub is an attorney, musician and writer who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Carey Eyer is a photographer and blues enthusiast living in Spokane, Washington. He has also reviewed tape for The Beale Street Caravan and The House of Blues Radio Hour.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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