Thursday, May 22, 2008

CD Review/Mr. B & Bob Seeley- Back To Back

Boogie Woogie piano, called it barrelhouse, slide piano. Call it whatcha wanna is one of the dying art forms of African American music. All the great Willie 'The Lion' Smith, Little Brother Montgomery, Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson and many, many others all purveyors of the form set the path.

In 1982 I had a chance to meet the legendary Little Brother Montgomery. We struck up a nice friendship under his death in 1985. I'd go out to the blues clubs to hear him play. Even visited him in his Hyde park apartment on occasion. He was always very gracious and would impart bit of his wide knowledge - about life. I will forever be indebted to him. And while I didn't get to know another great pianist in Blind John Davis I did see him play many time and attended his funeral. He and Little brother died the same year. What a one two punch!

At the same time I did get to know and hear one of their students in Erwin Helfer. what a pianist he is. And in that tradition comes Mr. B and Bob Seeley. Their co-lab, "Back to Back" (Megawave), is a delight from beginning to end. Well schooled are these two so we get an ample treat in the tried and true classics, 'St.Louis Blues', C.C. Rider, 'After Hours' plus more and more. I won't get into their individual style, blah blah blah. This just stomp down blues and boogie with a vengeance. Thanks guys.

Up for note are a trio of new releases from some female singers. Admittedly, I'm hard on singers. basically cause the standard is so high and the valley so wide. A friend who owns a record shop in Chicago once told me that his store is the last stop for obscure singers of all stripe. He's got a glut of them. What kind of exposure do they receive and how? That's the question he asks. There is on the air waves of WHPK-FM radio a show featuring singers. So we know there is a place, a vaunted place for jazz singers. But in these days with so many to choose from some of them just might get glossed over.

About a decade ago I can remember listening to several new discs of some new faces one of which was particularly woeful. The girl just didn't have it. She was trying lord knows. But she needed more seasoning. Silly me, I wrote that she sounded no more than just a "bathroom warbler". This singer was from California mind you. As fate would have it one night I'm sitting at the bar at the New Apartment lounge, home of Von Freeman's legendary Tuesday night jam session talking with a friend about the disc I'd previously had heard. I was telling him about the glut of singers who weren't ready but trudged on out there anyway. Little did I know that seated right next to me was the same singer I had trashed in the review!

She over heard our conversation and introduced herself to me. My jaw dropped! Flabbergasted.

She went on to tell me that she ha in fact read my review and asked what was it I didn't like about it. I went on to say, rather awkwardly I might add and rather nervously that I thought she could use some more tenure, more experience. After all this was her first time out.

She took it well. And then went on to tell me that she was improving and would go to even greater heights that I would expect.

Only time would tell. And needles to say, she didn't. Only releasing a meager handful of recordings. Sadly, she would a decade later succumb to lung and breast cancer.

Our singers here are Robert Duchak, Karen Johns and Leanne Weatherly. All of whom we've heretofore have no knowledge. Duchak's 'Intersections (' and Watherly 'Go and Find.. ( are self produced efforts and Johns' 'Star and Season' is on the Ptarmigan Music label.

Ms. Duchak has a lithe coquettish tilt to her voice. Her sidemen are top notch with pianist Pat Coil being the only recognizable name. The date features a stable of standards.

Ms. Johns does the 'over dubbing' thing giving her a New York Voice kinda bent, especially on the discs' opener 'Carry Me Away'. Her 'Night and Day' wavers in between Mellisa Manchester and Maria Mulduar. With a great band behind her it readily apparent she's not really a jazz singer. But might find an audience in pop. And I can see her putting in time at a piano bar in some hotel somewhere. The bridge between Ms. Duchak and Ms. John is reedist Jim Hoke, who guest on both discs.

Ms. Weatherly on the other hand has more top side than the above ladies. She too has top flight accompanists. With Wayne Wallace and Melecio Magdaluyo. And speaking of Maria Mulduar earlier Ms. Weatherly does a nice version of 'Midnight at the Oasis'. Most of the material is geared toward FM urban soft jazz. But its good stuff with solid arrangements. Her voice is natural and unforced and she writes five of the discs 12 tunes.