DVD Review: “Ike & Tina On The Road 1971-72”

November 30, 2012

Ike & Tina Turner

Ike & Tina On the Road 1971-72 (MVD Visual)

 By Brian Arsenault

The story of what was bad with Ike and Tina Turner has been much told and neither this DVD nor I have anything to add to it here. What this DVD is about is what was good, even astonishing, about Ike and Tina that took place on stage.

Like Chuck Berry, Ike Turner could graft his rhythm and blues roots onto the tree of rock.  He would arrange and onstage virtually conduct his hot band while Tina and the Ikettes created a singing, dancing storm of performance that was part ‘60s girl group, part girly show, part James Brown level energy. The show would ultimately create the superstar Tina became.

Tina started life as Anna Mae Bullock. Ike added her to his Kings of Rhythm and called her Tina to rhyme with Sheena (of the Jungle) with the idea that if she ever left the band he could replace her with another “Tina.”

Cue irony.

Ike & Tina Turner

You need to know here that much of this film is crappy quality black and white, shot by now famous rock photographer Bob Gruen and his wife, Nadya.  It was a different era of video technology, but the result is no less precious for that. Just harder to watch in an era when the phone in your pocket shoots serviceable video.

You can’t follow many of the conversations and the audio quality of most performances is poor.  What’s remarkable is that even with the video and audio quality problems, the show sequences are often mesmerizing.

On “I Smell Trouble” Tina and Ike play off each other with her great raspy vocal and his electric guitar work that is truly electric.  You almost believe they are truly in love (more irony) and lust (more believable). Over the course of the video, and I believe edited correctly for this effect, Tina emerges from a persona as featured Ikette to full blown star.

As Tina sings the early part of their cover of “Proud Mary,” you just can’t look away. She’s building the tension that explodes into the raging finish. (Now you really can’t look away.)

The sensuality and sexuality of the performances here are way beyond the contrived “shocks” of Madonna and even her younger “little monster” Gaga cousin. I try to pick words carefully: unbridled, primitive, passionate, even savage, but one has to be culturally and racially sensitive. Still, let’s face it, the question becomes are you horny yet.  I think they were proud of that.

This video also shows how ordinary life is, even for those we see on stage.  Tina cooks for her kids in the opening sequence.  The band goofs on airplanes and in airports.  The dressing rooms are often dreary locker rooms or cramped windowless affairs where wigs are combed out and songs and dance moves are rehearsed.

You realize why a crown prince of rock like Ronnie Wood can say that all the rest is just filler between the couple hours on stage.  You understand why drink and drugs often become part of the filler.  In Ike’s case, it was cocaine that ultimately blew a hole in his septum and his career.

Ike saw what Tina was and pushed her increasingly to the front.  Was that perhaps a source of the ultimate tension between them?  It may have been officially the Ike and Tina Turner Review but more and more it was Tina Turner with her back up singers and band.

Tina soared beyond those days to the pantheon of rock goddess status that continues into her seventies. One of the great moments of the video is when she says to an interviewer that when she gets into her 50s, she still won’t be an old woman.  Is she yet? Nah.

Ike and Tina were one of those rare black acts that appeared both before adoring black audiences — listen to the crowd on the Otis Redding written “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (more irony?) — and white university students. The University of North Dakota.  Really.  (There’s some great footage of the band interacting with a North Dakota hotel staff.)

And there’s a lot of appreciation here of Ike as a composer/arranger/musician.  He was truly an innovator in rock music’s age of innovation. Not every great artist was a great human being in all respects. Nor is every great football player, corporate head or high government official.  But accomplishment at a high level is a rarer thing than nice guys.

To read more reviews, posts and columns by Brian Arsenault click  HERE.

Live Music: “And Then She Wrote” with Peter Marshall, Carol Welsman, Denise Donatelli

November 30, 2012

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  It was a return visit to Vitello’s Wednesday night for And They She Wrote.  The cast was slightly different from the line-up that brought the same show to Vitello’s  in June.  But the selections were largely the same classics from the Great American songbook, once again illuminating how many of those classics were written, or co-written, by female composers and lyricists.

The three-performer show, conceived by singer/actor/television star Peter Marshall, featured the vocal trio of Marshall, Carol Welsman and Denise Donatelli (replacing Calabria Foti from the original cast), backed by pianist John Rodby and bassist Dave Robaire.

Carol Welsman, Peter Marshall and Denise Donatelli

Carol Welsman, Peter Marshall and Denise Donatelli

The show’s premise – clearly inferred in the title – was explored via informative nuggets about such major female songwriters as Dorothy Fields, Betty Comden, Carolyn Leigh, Peggy Lee, Marilyn Bergman, Ann Ronnell, Ruth Lowe and others.  And there probably wasn’t a single person in the full house crowd who didn’t, at some point, gasp in surprise when the female writers or co-writers of songs such as “Willow Weep For Me,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, “Don’t Blame Me” and dozens of others, were identified.

Peter Marshall

Peter Marshall

Off the cuff whimsical remarks from Marshall, with sharp responses from Welsman and Donatelli,  added spontaneous humor to the evening, often enhanced by the addition of songs with their own humorous aspects – “Diga, Diga Doo,” “I’m Hip” and “I’m Shadowing You.”

Aside from its genuinely informative aspects, the real essence of this engaging musical evening was the blending of memorable songs with first rate vocal performances ranging from solos and duets to trios.

Marshall, whose checkered career has ranged from a long run on network television to Broadway musicals, sang with an easygoing relaxed style, finding the intriguing inner qualities of songs such as “Young At Heart,” ‘I’m Drinking Again” and winding up with the Frank Sinatra theme song, “Put Your Dreams Away (For Another Day).”

Dense Donatelli

Denise Donatelli

Among the several ensemble songs, the highlights included the ladies singing “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” Donatelli and Marshall exchanging colorful insults on “A Fine Romance,” and all three singers joining in on “Pick Yourself Up.”

Appropriately, however, it was Welsman and Donatelli, jazz singers gifted with extraordinary musicality, who provided some of the evening’s most gripping moments.

Carol Welsman

Carol Welsman

There were far too many to mention, but among the many highlights: Donatelli’s transformation of “Willow Weep For Me” into an embracing love song, and her touching reading of “Some Other Time” ; Welsman’s exquisite interpretation, enhanced by her piano playing, of “La Vie En Rose,” and her equally memorable “The Way You Look tonight.”

So, once again And Then She Wrote proved to be an entertaining, imaginative overview of an unusual aspect of American song, transformed into living color by a trio of fine vocal artists.

New Yorkers will have an opportunity to see and hear “And Then She Wrote” at the Metropolitan Room on January 11 – 14.

Photos by Bob Barry

DVD Review: “Patti Smith Live at Montreaux 2005”

November 28, 2012

Patti Smith

Live at Montreaux 2005 (Eagle Rock)

By Brian Arsenault

“She is a benediction.”

I was gonna do a combo review, you know, with one or two other DVDs. But Patti Smith deserves rather more than that, don’t you think? I mean, the first half dozen plus songs from this live concert DVD, ‘cept for maybe one, are just pure rock classics. More intelligent than many but connected to all.

One of Patti’s guitarists floats some liner note shit that she and the band “are jazz” but I think that’s just cuz they were impressed with themselves for playing Montreaux, where Miles and Ornette and all the others graced the stage.

Pati Smith

But “25th Floor” is a hard rocker where Patti takes her jacket off and just blasts it.

“Beneath the Southern Cross” has Townshend-like lyrics of “callow mist” and “to cry not any cry.” Patti picks up her acoustic guitar and strums frantically with Lenny Kaye while Tom Verlaine picks out the lead in a guitar storm while she twirls onstage.  This is performance rock for sure with an extended guitar break worthy of Pete.

On “Dancing Barefoot” you may lose your sense of place while Patti loses her “sense of refugee.” On “Redondo Beach” she shows she can spit as well as she can sing. That’s certainly rock, eh?

One (or two) of the satisfying things about this DVD is that it is simply shot on a simply lit stage. No distracting lighting or pyrotechnics or weird camera angles — must be that classy jazz influence, you say — and that’s terrific because to watch Patti work is one of those looks into true artistry. Like on her one universally known song, “Because the Night,” where her hands are as expressive as her voice.

She snarls out the opening lines of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” before sharing the vocals with a band mate.  She might send a chill up your spine on this one.

Of course we also have to endure “activist” Patti.

A wonderful start to a Grateful Dead like rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” gets muddied while fading into “Momenti Mori.”  There’s something cloying about rich musicians, actors, etc. attacking the rich who got there by actually doing something like building a business.  Remember that video of the Dead climbing into their Corvettes and Porsches after the tour where barefoot kids sold tie-dyed t-shirts to get enough to share a bowl of rice, blow a joint and see the show.

And a peace ballad, really Patti?  Is this 1967? Hasn’t our generation finally learned that war and conflict are the natural condition of human kind. How’s that Arab Spring going?  In Egypt, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Plus, you know what they say about the Irish, they only want two things: peace and revenge.

As for the claim that “People Have the Power,” would that be the people who want to impose sharia law or the guys serving in the army or the shop owners or the Occupiers or the NRA? Which people? Please tell me, Patti. Or is it just “all that jazz”?

But still, Patti, when you’re being something better than an activist — that is, an artist — well then,

“Oh God, I fell for you.  Oh God, I feel the fever.”

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

Picks of the Week: Nov. 27 – Dec. 2

November 27, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Carol Welsman

– Nov. 27 & 28. (Tues. & Wed.)  “And Then She Wrote.”  With Peter Marshall, Carol Welsman and Denise Donatelli.  A new version of an entertaining show dedicated to the female composers and lyricists of the Great American Songbook.  Tuesday night the duo of Marshall and Welsman perform; on Wednesday, Donatelli joins them in a trio.  She replaces Calabria Foti from the original cast.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Nov 27 – 30. (Tues. – Fri.)  Bela Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio.  It may sound like an odd combination, but banjoist Fleck and pianist Roberts are both dedicated musical adventurers.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Louie Cruz Beltran

– Nov. 29. (Thurs.)  Louie Cruz Beltran.  The busy percussionist and bandleader adds vocals to his impressive array of entertainment talents, singing and playing Latin Standards, American classics and a few surprises.  He’ll be backed by pianist Carlos Vivas, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Ramon Banda.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

– Nov. 29 – Dec. 2.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Marcus Shelby Quartet.  Bassist Shelby offers a program celebrating “the evolution of American social movements through music.”  The Skirball Cultural Centert   (310) 440-4500.

– Nov. 30. (Fri.) Bob Mintzer.  “Homage to Count Basie Band.”  Saxophonist Mintzer leads an evening of big band music dedicated to the classic rhythms of the Basie Band, and featuring some of the Southland’s finest players. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Dec. 1 (Sat.)  The Anonymous 4. The all-female vocal quartet, well-known for their Renaissance music performances, take a different tack with  “Love Fail,” a contemporary work composed by David LangCAP UCLA Royce Hall.    (310) 825-2101.

Bill Cunliffe

– Dec. 1. (Sat.) Bill Cunliffe’s Big Band “Holiday Kick-Off.”  The Big Band weekend at Vitello’s continues with pianist/arranger/composer Cunliffe’s celebration of the holiday season. Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– Dec. 1. (Sat.)  8th Annual Fil-Am Jazz Festival. An evening celebrating the growing numbers of fine Filipino jazz artist.  Heading the line-up, Charmaine Clamor, the Queen of Jazzipino.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

– Dec. 2. (Sun.) The Blind Boys of Alabama. The multiple Grammy-winning gospel singers, performing for decades, are a musical inspiration.  An SFJAZZ event at the Herbst Theatre.    (866) 920-5299.


– Nov. 29 – Dec. 2 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Tom Harrell Quintet. Trumpeter Harrell leads a stellar ensemble in a program displaying his extensive talents as an instrumentalist and composer.   Jazz Showcase.   (312) 360-0234.

New York

Eliane Elias

– Nov. 27 – Dec. 1. (Tues. – Sat.)  Eliane Elias   Brazilian pianist/singer Elias makes her Birdland debut.  Expect an evening ranging from Elias’ superb jazz piano to her authentically Brazilian way with a song.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

– Nov. 27 – Dec. 2. (Tues. – Sun.)  Geri Allen ‘s Timeline Band.  Pianist Allen honors the connection between jazz and tap dancing in a performance featuring the rhythmic stepping of dancer Maurice Chestnut. Jazz Standard.   (212) 889-2005.


– Nov. 27 – Dec. 1. (Tues. – Sat.)  The Mingus Big Band.  The music of composer/bassist Mingus is kept vividly alive, in all its many manifestations by the Mingus Big Band.  Ronnie Scott’s.    +44 (0)20 7439 0747.


Kenny Barron

– Nov. 28 & 29. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Kenny Barron Solo Piano. He’s been everyone’s first call jazz pianist for decades, but the most intriguing way to hear the free-roving Barron improvisational imagination is in this kind of solo piano performance. Jazzhus Montmartre.   (+45) 70 15 65 65.


– Nov. 29. (Thurs.)  Carmen Lundy.  Jazz singer Lundy’s superb interpretive artistry is enhanced by her original songs.  Blue Note Milano.   02.690 16888.


– Nov. 30 – Dec. 3. (Fri. – Mon.)  David Sanborn.  Alto saxophonist Sanborn’s unique, blues-driven style has impacted the past few decades of arriving saxophonists.  He performs selections from his new, 2-CD album, AnthologyBlue Note Tokyo.  03-5485-0088.

A Twist Of Doc: The 67th Anniversary of Charlie Parker’s “Koko” Sessions

November 26, 2012

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Charlie Parker is known as the creator of Bebop, the man who changed jazz as drastically as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Due to a ban on recording by the American Federation Of Musicians from 1942-44, Parker’s great musical discovery would remain a mystery until the release of his take on the Ray Noble classic “Cherokee,” recorded on November 26, 1945.

CHarlie Parker

Although Parker had recorded “All The Things You Are,” “Hot House,” “Salt Peanuts” and “Groovin’ High” back in February and May of that year as a side man with Dizzy Gillespie, these sides didn’t demonstrate what Parker claims to have stumbled upon as far back as 1939 during his first visit to NYC from Kansas City. While playing over the changes of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee,” Parker realized that by abandoning the traditional melody line and improvising over the chord changes with altered harmonies he could do anything.  “I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melody line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That’s when I was born.”

Although many musicians were aware of what Parker had found and was using musically while attending or witnessing jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem or at the clubs on 52nd Street, the rest of the world came very close to never hearing this musical revolution on record.

There was chaos from the very start of the day for what turned into arguably the greatest jazz recording session of all time, exactly sixty-seven years ago.  On November 26th, 1945, Charlie Parker was booked to record a standard 3 hour, 4 side session for tiny Savoy Records at WOR studios in NYC.  This was Parker’s very first session as a bandleader. The band he had booked for this date was Charlie Parker’s Reboppers: Miles Davis: trumpet, Dizzy Gillespie: trumpet and piano, Bud Powell: piano, Curly Russell: bass, and Max Roach on drums.

The complications began when session producer Teddy Reig showed up at Parker’s apartment that morning to take him to the studio. There was no Bud Powell. Parker informed Reig that Powell had gone to Philadelphia to assist his mother in house shopping. Dizzy Gillespie was present and Parker told Reig, “Here’s your piano player.”  Supposedly, Parker also contacted a pianist he had heard on some of Dexter Gordon’s Savoy sessions from September named Argonne Thornton and asked him to show up and play.

Sixty-seven years later, there’s still confusion about what Thornton did in fact play on this date, since Gillespie was known to have played a bulk of the piano accompaniment according to Reig’s session notes.

Dizzy Gillespie

At WOR studios, Reig and Savoy owner Herman Lubinsky sat in the recording booth, with Parker, Davis, Gillespie, Russell, and Roach in the studio. They were scheduled to record two of Parker’s original blues; “Billie’s Bounce” and “Now’s The Time” and two covers, one based on the George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” and the other on Ray Noble’s “Cherokee.”

The band started with “Warming Up A Riff” which was based on the “Cherokee” chord changes. The original title of this tune was “Savoy Tea Party.”  The band was unaware that they were being recorded, which is evident in the existing track’s jam session feel, with Gillespie laughing loudly in the background.

The band then did several takes of Parker’s straight Kansas City blues “Billie’s Bounce.” The 5th take was the master from the session.  Followed by four takes of another blues, “Now’s The Time.”

Three takes of the tune based on ‘I Got Rhythm” were laid down and were titled “Thriving From A Riff,” which would later be known as “Anthropology.”  Parker was not happy due to some very obvious problems he was having with his sax.   Despite his brilliant playing, you can hear the squeaky mouth piece of his instrument on the master takes of “Billie’s Bounce” and “Now’s The Time.”

Miles Davis

At one point, Parker stopped the session to go downstairs to get his saxophone fixed at a music store. When he returned with his axe repaired, a 19 year old Miles Davis had temporarily vanished. A frustrated Parker went into a beautiful and haunting ballad, then titled “Meandering,” which was based on the changes of “Embraceable You” with Dizzy playing Monk-like, syncopated piano chords.

Next, it was time to record Parker’s version of “Cherokee.”  And there are still disputes over the exact personnel. Thornton claims to have played piano while Dizzy played the intro on trumpet along with Bird’s alto sax.  But Reig states that Roach’s drum solo after this intro was created to give Dizzy enough time to put down his trumpet and run to the piano.

It was also clear from the first take that Parker hadn’t intended on recording his version of “Cherokee,” using his masterful improvisational discoveries.

During the first take of “Savoy Tea Party,” using “Cherokee” chord changes, Parker played the classic “Cherokee” melody line.  But Reig and Lubinsky stopped the tape and reminded Parker that they would have to pay royalties for the song if he played it so obviously, which neither the label nor Parker could afford.

Parker and the band stopped. To simply warm up, Parker went into “Koko,” his own melody line based on the chords of “Cherokee,” demonstrating the enthralling musical discovery he’d made back in 1939.  Lubinsky shouted out “Wait, let’s record that!”

Max Roach

With the original stated melody line gone, replaced by his “Koko” melody, Parker could fly and he did. After a complex eight measure intro by Parker and Gillespie, followed by Roach’s bombastic drum solo, Parker let loose, gliding all over the instrument in a manner never heard before. “Cherokee” and “Savoy Tea Party’ were dead, giving way for the immortal “Koko.”  And Parker owned “Koko” with fierce determination.

To younger jazz musicians and people open enough to go where Parker was taking the music, Parker had provided the key to a golden kingdom. This wasn’t an easy task and only true virtuosos could follow Parker’s example.

Many musicians and fans of the swing era, previous to this, thought that Parker (rightly nicknamed “Bird”) was just playing any old thing and they hadn’t realized the complexities of the harmonies Parker created, not to mention his unparalleled dexterity. No one had done anything like this before, and generations of musicians would copy Bird’s every note and nuance from then on.

No instrumental jazz recording had broken similar barriers since Coleman Hawkins’ rendition of “Body & Soul,” recorded with his orchestra in 1939, in which Hawkins only hinted at the song’s melody and improvised freely over the chord changes for two choruses.

Bebop had broken free from the smelly taverns on 52nd street and smoky after-hour jams at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. Now everyone could hear this music and everyone did.

I first heard “Koko” and the entire “Koko” sessions on a Savoy Parker Compilation called The Charlie Parker Story when I was 13.  The music frightened me. Parker’s tone was the deepest blues I had heard since Robert Johnson. The phrasing and harmonies seemed rebellious and daring like nothing I had heard before. There was a danger involved with what Parker and his cohorts were playing, as though, if one person made a wrong turn, everyone would fall off the tightrope wire.

Parker was like a laser beam, shooting through every interval on his alto sax.  Every time I listen to “Koko,” I still envision reaching the top of a giant hill on a rollercoaster.  And just when Max Roach’s drum solo ends, it’s time to take that dive into unknown twists and turns, and marvelous leaps and spills.

All of the players were perfect on that historical day. Many critics and players put down Davis because he didn’t demonstrate the freneticism on trumpet that Gillespie was known for. This can be heard on “Now’s The Time” recorded that day. Davis played very few notes but because they were the right notes, he created a counterpoint to what Parker was playing, a brilliant contradiction that would define his own sound.  Dizzy’s style wouldn’t have been right on “Now’s The Time” — this was the Kansas City blues Bird grew up on, and Miles knew it.

“Koko” was one of the greatest revelations in American music and unfortunately one of the last. The fact that it almost didn’t happen the way Parker conceived it, makes  everything played that day all the more precious and also makes one wonder what would have happened to jazz history had it not come off.  I don’t want to know.

To read more posts by Devon Wendell click HERE

Live Music: Deana Martin at Catalina Bar & Grill

November 25, 2012

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA.  As if her name wasn’t enough to identify her, Deana Martin was introduced in her Christmas show at Catalina Bar & Grill Friday night by a big screen video projection of her father.  That’s right, the late Dean Martin.

2nd and 3rd generation celebrity performers are nothing new in Los Angeles (and New York, for that matter).  Some have built successful careers on their own, despite (or because of?) their well-known names.  Frank Sinatra, Jr. and Natalie Cole come to mind among numerous others.

Deana Martin

But the enhanced visibility generated by names and lineage isn’t enough to create a career as a performer. It takes talent, as well.

A quality that Deana Martin has in abundance.

Performing with a sterling quartet – pianist/singer John Proulx, bassist Chuck Berghofer, guitarist John Chiodini and drummer M.B. Gordy – she was a non-stop dynamo of musical energy.

Blessed with a warm, intimate vocal quality, a gifted lyrical story-teller, Martin convincingly found her way into the musical heart of everything she sang.  Although one could detect – in an occasional tune – the timbres or the phrasing of her father, she clearly had her own interpretations of everything she sang.

Since it was her Christmas show, the seasonal items blossomed in abundance: “Silver Bells,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?,” “Let It Snow,” “It’s Christmas Once Again.”  And one of the high points of the show, reserved for the final segment, was an audio/video presentation of Martin singing “White Christmas” with the late Andy Williams..

Between songs, she was an engaging raconteur, telling tales about growing up in Beverly Hills, about greeting – and participating in — celebrity carol singing groups going from door to door at Christmas time.

Martin also sang numbers associated with her father or his friends.  Among them: “Come On-A My House” (Rosemary Clooney); “I Won’t Dance” (Frank Sinatra and/or Fred Astaire).  As well as – from her father’s songbook — “Volare,” “That’s Amore” and “Memories Are Made of This” (done with a Dean Martin video).

Further widening her presentation, she teamed up, humorously, with a few performers who had worked with her father, and sang a warm duet with pianist Proulx.  Her final song, appropriately, was her father’s signature “Everybody Loves Somebody.”

Well-planned, well-crafted and well-delivered, the show was the work of a performer whose talents reach well beyond her celebrity roots.  Entertaining as it was, however, one couldn’t help but wish to hear Martin some time in a setting that has nothing to do with her lineage, singing songs unrelated to her father or the Rat Pack, thoroughly revealing the unique talents that are her own.

Photo by Faith Frenz.

Short Takes: Of Wind and Rain, Plaintive Guitars and Joyful Jazz

November 23, 2012

By Brian Arsenault

Cathie Ryan

Through Wind and Rain (Mo Leanbh Records)

I wasn’t too sure what I thought of Cathie Ryan’s Through Wind and Rain through the first couple of songs, which seemed sort of frivolous, even cutesy. But, ah, when she sings the darkly beautiful “Mo Nion O” three songs in, then I felt the haunting quality of a lullaby that can only be Irish.  Be safe, without a care, is a true Irish hope for a child in a land so often troubled.

She moves on to the traditional “Go From My Window,” where a lady tells a love brought back “by wind and rain” that he “can’t have harbor here.” A lady regretful but wry and strong nonetheless.  Wonderful whistles and harmonies support her.

This album is the first in seven years by Ryan, an American one generation removed from Ireland who took her troubles back to the “old country” to recover her strength before returning to recording and touring.

The irony of going back to Ireland to achieve “a better life” is not lost on this album. “Liberty’s Sweet Shore” tells the tale of all the emigrant Irish who came the other way to America: “leaving all we’ve known, the clothes on our backs all we own.”

It’s a true American story isn’t it.  Whether it’s emigrant Irish or my own Italian grandmother, with three babes in hand, “200 crowded altogether” in steerage, heading to a husband who went earlier and made enough money to bring over his wife and children. Or a Mexican family pushed into the back of a truck with too many others, in great danger from the very people transporting them.

That is why so many of us who are not Irish find ourselves, our lives, in Irish music.  There’s pain enough and joy enough for all.

There are the children who “live in fear” of the “Daddy,” who’s likely to come home drunk and wallop whoever he “stumbles over.” There are the lovers who “Walk the Road Together,” “All the way through wind and rain.”  But will they really “never deceive my heart again?” Will any of us?

Cathie Ryan’s is another of those marvelous Irish voices which the Goddess Fortuna has granted that land where the rest of fortune has often been unkind. And there are others singing harmonies with her. There is terrific guitar playing, whistles of flute-like quality and instruments I don’t even know.

All to give that finest of Irish blessings. “Fare Thee Well.”

* * * * * * * *

Jose Luis Monton

Solo Guitarra (ECM Records)

Only guitar. Only one guitar. Yet at times you will swear that there are at least two playing.

Jose Luis Monton is a marvel on Solo Guitarra, a work based in the flamenco of his native Barcelona, expanded to take those of us who have never been there to a Spain (“Espanola”) of the imagination, of the mind and heart.

The music is longing, regretful, passionate, close to violent at times and seductive at others. How can anyone so master the acoustic guitar or, indeed, any instrument?

I can’t tell you about his technical excellence; I don’t have the knowledge, the vocabulary. But you need none of that to ponder on “Con Permiso” if he is asking for love, understanding, forgiveness — all of those.  There is the intensity of love making but without any salaciousness.

“Altolaguirre” snaps, then seduces, and by the end seems to tease.  One has to listen for the differences.  Active listening is required here the way great writers require active readers.

At its core, Monton’s music takes us into ourselves.  Or does it reveal ourselves?  That is the universality of all great art.

I could be wrong about any of the “Detalitos,” but I know that song is about how close, at times, passion can be to violence and violence to passion. Here is all the drama of the flamenco.

On “Al Oido” you find that Monton has listened to Bach and it is also one of the several places you will swear two guitars are playing. Fits all those layers of Bach, doesn’t it?

Manfred Eicher, the “E” in ECM, says the producer’s role is to “capture music he likes and present it to those who don’t know it yet.” Precisely.

* * * * * * * *

Jeff Holmes Quartet

Of  One’s Own (Mile High Records)

Adam Kolker  Jeff Holmes  James Cammack  Steve Johns

I start with all the names because this is truly a quartert, not just three guys backing a fourth. They play together. Oh yes they do. And they make a joyful noise. Holmes name may be on the band but he plays with them and makes sure we hear all that jazz.

“Waltz #3” makes me wish New England summer could come back for a day to throw the windows open to catch the ocean’s breeze on a sunny afternoon.  The sax work is particularly notable here but everybody is good everywhere.

“One for CJ” has some Monk pacing and tempo but without the dissonance. Holmes’ piano playing provides Vince Guaraldi buoyancy and Bill Evans stylishness.

On the opening “Macaroons,” Kolker’s sax is as happy as Holmes’ piano with which it intermingles.  Deft is the word that most comes to mind here and elsewhere about John’s  drumming, the ability to move forward or slide underneath at just the right moments.

I could make the same kinds of comments about so many of the songs here. Kolker’s bass clarinet will make you hold your breath on “Poinciana” and Cammack’s bass takes a lead amidst all the bottom support he provides.

I know I keep returning to the upbeat, joyous nature of this music, but we too often think that good music, particularly good jazz, must be serious even sombre to be taken seriously.

But, whether a tightly arranged tune or an improv session, and there are both, the CD is first rate throughout.

This debut album of the quartet closes with “So Long, Farewell” but let us hope they don’t mean it.


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