Quick. Who's the greatest 1960s guitar hero of them all? Hendrix? Clapton? For my money, it's Michael Bloomfield, the dead Jewish junkie who was so tortured, he had to take heroin just to sleep. When Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival, it was Bloomfield's guitar shrieking out the power chords. Ed Ward's slim 1983 bio has been finally fully fleshed out. 'Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero' (Chicago Review Press) is a revelation.
'Moonbeam Parade' (Ugly Cat) is Giulia Millanta's fifth and best CD. Born and raised in Italy, she's made Texas her home since 2012, writing 13 songs with the cream of the crop from the bands of Dylan, Dixie Chicks, Willie Nelson, Robert Palmer and Patty Griffin. She sings her profound lyrics with a bird-with a-broken-wing appeal. You just want to take her home and care for her.
The concept of a super-group in this day and age might be overplayed so let us just say that the fifth CD by The Cookers, 'The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart' (Smoke Sessions Records) is one of the top jazz CDs of 2016. How could it not be with this lineup?
Pianist/Composer Harold Lopez-Nussa, 33, may be from Havana Cuba but his 'El Viaje' debut (Mack Avenue) spans the globe in a jazz travelogue accentuated by his longtime piano/bass/drums trio now with Mayquel Gonzalez on trumpet and flugelhorn plus three heavily percussive guests.
Scott Tixier, 30, from Montreuil, France, plays the violin. His talented quintet consists of harmonica, piano, bass and drums with guests on congas and sax. His Sunnyside Records release takes one on a 'Cosmic Adventure.' He's a rather mystical cat, reminds me, in fact, of a jazz version of Lenny Kravitz.
It's one thing to be in tribute to an artist, a band or a classic album. It's another thing, and one rarely done if done at all, to be in tribute to a band's fluid changes and personal interplay or chemistry. This is what alto sax man Jim Snidero accomplishes beautifully on 'MD66' (Savant). His muse is the second great Miles Davis Quintet (Hancock, Shorter, Carrter, Wlliams). Yet 'MD66' is almost all-original.
A meeting of minds, cultures and genres has resulted in the self-titled debut of Opaluna (Ridgeway), a stirring duo combining samba, salsa, rock, folk, swing, modern jazz and world into a cohesive whole. Mexican-American guitarist Luis Salcedo and Columbian vocalist Susana Pineda's 10-track hour should blow your mind as the hippies of their home town of San Francisco liked to say.
Nowadays, when it comes to swing music, such bands as Svetlana & The Delancey Five and Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks party like its 1939. The self-titled debut by Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders (Organic Records) contains 18 songs from jump-blues and ballads to wild Lindy Hop dance tracks. Turn back the clock!
If you can imagine a Balkan brass band interpreting The Duke Ellington Orchestra's landmark 1963 'Far East Suite,' than you have an idea of what the New Yorkers in Slavic Soul Party! are doing on their latest outrage on Ropeadope Records as the band 'Plays Duke Ellington's Far East Suite.
Jochen Rueckert is on a 'Charm Offensive' for his second Pirouet release. Having immigrated to 1990s New York City from his native Germany, he's got some top-notch New Yorkers behind him to fuse classical music from India with jazz to create a whole new sub-genre. Blending ragas with jazz opens up whole new avenues of exploration and this quartet does Ruekert's eight complex originals proud.
Another winner from the left coast's Posi-Tone: consider it a 'Message In Motion' by Peter Brendler where six of the tracks feature no chords whatsoever as it's Brendler's bass augmented by Rich Perry's tenor sax, the trumpet of Peter Evans and Vinnie Sperazza with the type of kinetic drumming that continually moves the music forward.
'My Brother Elvis' by David Stanley (Impello) is a true warts-and-all look at Elvis Presley from an insider's perspective. Stanley's mom married Presley's dad to become The King's step-brother. Elvis yanked him out of high school and took him on the road at the tender age of 16, inaugurating the kid with five hookers on the first night of a tour. Five years later, Elvis was dead. But it didn't have to be that way. Still, I had to ask the burning question...
The Vaudevillian is 'Bringing Satan Down' (Busted Flat). Jitterbug James (guitar, whistling), Piedmont Johnson (bass, bull fiddle) and Norah Spades (kazoo, washboard) all sing and sell pics of carnival freaks and geeks from back in the day of off-road dime museums and medicine shows at their merch counter. This is where 1920s ragtime meets 1950s rock'n'roll.
Jazz is no place for children. Before I get excoriated, let me elucidate: sure, jazz education is paramount. But I have no patience for the next 12-year old prodigy or 13-year old country singer or 14-year old rock'n'roller. I want wisdom in my grooves, hard-won lessons learned by life itself. In the words of WC Fields, "go away kid, you bother me." That said, 'Algorithmic Society' (Tapestry), by The Girshevich Trio, is a pleasant surprise.
Tromonist/Composer David Gibson is making a case for himself to be included in the conversation of big-time 'bone men. A disciple of Curtis Fuller, 81, Gibson follows up last year's 'Boom' with this year's 'Inner Agent' (Posi-Tone). It's a free-swinging affair filled with adventure, high-wire daring and sweet melodic and harmonic constructions. It even closes with a Beatle song.