Thursday, April 24, 2014

CD Review: Joinery (802 Records 2014)

Joinery Personnel:  
Chuck Davison-lead acoustic guitar and mandolin and backing vocals
John Pozzi-lead vocals and acoustic rhythm guitar
Andy Foster-lap steel guitar and backing vocals
Colin Blazej-upright bass and backing vocals

Guest Musicians:
Vocals-Laura Molinelli, Lizzie Ross, Ruby DeFelice, Rebecca Way, Nora, Will, and Liz Mc Teigue, Donnie Davison, Jennings Berger, Mary Merill, Erin Carroll, Suzanne Jackson, Terry Davison.
Hammond B3 Organ-Felix McTeigue, Drums and Percussion-Tony Leone, Drew Guido, Bones-Tommy "Bones" Logan, Djembe-Perry Ryan, Cello-Eugene Friesen.

Producer-Felix McTeigue
Sound Engineer/Mixer-DrewGuido
Photos-Karen Knight, Gene Peroni
Recorded and mixed at- Vel Studios, Brooklyn, NY and Chuck's cabin, Londonderry, Vt
Mastered by Tom Hutton-Chester, Vt

 This review evolved out of a chance meeting with Colin Blazej one recent evening at The Works in Downtown Brattleboro.  I'd known the Joinery bassist since the early 80's, but we would only run into each other about every decade or so.  At one of our earlier encounters, Colin told me he had been learning to play the bass.  At this recent meeting, he'd been at it for 14 years and was pleased to report that this band he's a part of had just finished their first CD.  Caught up in his enthusiasm about the project, I offered to give it a listen and review it.  One of the nice thing about Vermont musicians in general is that they tend not to be aggressively competitive, and big egos are the exception rather than the rule.  By and large, we support each other's efforts and celebrate each other's successes.

Joinery's debut is a collection six originals; four vocal tunes by John Pozzi, and a pair of instrumentals by Chuck Davison.  Pozzi writes and sings with his heart on his sleeve, with a pop inflected presence that draws the listener into his world.  Davison's instrumentals are varied and deliciously exploratory.  The repertoire is rounded out with an eclectic batch of tunes by other artists which I would hesitate to call "covers" by any stretch.  One of the obvious strengths of this collective of craftsmen is their ability to recognize a strongly lyrical piece of music and to boldly take it to where it's never been.  Sam Cooke's Good News is rendered in a style that is reminiscent of certain Southern White Gospel at it's joyous and rural best.  Pink Floyd's Time is stripped down and re-purposed in a Bluegrass bag that lets the vocal have the prominence it deserves without the Floyd's signature plodding denseness.  A high point for me, Billy Bragg's You Woke up My Neighborhood features a "cast of thousands" approach to the backing vocal chorus; I wish I'd been there, it sounds like a splendid time was had by all as Joinery brought a little bit of Vermont to Brooklyn. 

Richard Mayer

April 25, 2014


Sunday, March 23, 2014

CD Review: Doug Hewitt: Roots in the Sky

Produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by: Doug Hewitt at Motif Recording Studio, Amherst, Ma 2014.
Personnel: Doug Hewitt-guitars, bass, keys, percussion, vocals.  Mitch Pine-piano, organ.
Rudi Weeks-bass.  Joe Fitzpatrick-drums.  Bill Shontz-alto/tenor sax, clarinet, flute.  Frank Newton-alto sax.  Michael Akrep-baritone horn.  Dave Bilodeau-trumpets, flugelhorn.  Stephen Katz-cello.  David Tasgal-violin, cello.  Arielle Parkington-viola.  Megan Rollins-harmony vocals.  Danielle Lorenzo-harmony vocals.

Western Massachusetts guitarist/singer Doug Hewitt has put his romantic heart and soul into this most recent offering.  Roots in the Sky comprises ten solid jazz/rock originals by Hewitt as well as a lovely rendition of the jazz staple I'll Remember April which is a seamless fit with the rest of the program.  For this outing, Hewitt called in a sizable cast of other local professionals to ensure that his compositions would be fully realized.  The love and workmanship invested in each tune is evident, the end result being a musically complex yet totally accessible experience for the listener.  Different combinations of ensemble players were used throughout, the effect being sustained diversity, color and interest from start to finish.

 I spoke to Doug Hewitt during the writing of this piece to get a sense of his creative process.  He told me that conceptually this collection has been in the works ever since Picasso Tomato and that he essentially composed the work in its entirety, then negotiated solo space with the players in the studio.  He was enthusiastic about the contributions of his players, who both honored his vision for the project while bringing there own creativity to the process.  

This was not Mr. Hewitt's first rodeo by any means; he has been writing songs since he first picked up a guitar back in 1970.  He produced an earlier collection of his music ( Picasso Tomato, also available at CD Baby) in 2006, as well as earlier ventures with the Zen Cats.  And Zen cat he is, with subject matter that runs the gamut from existential concerns to a love affair with the Cosmos and the love of a woman right down here on Earth.  All that love has made for a beautiful listening experience.  I look forward to the next one.

Richard Mayer


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Old Joe's Hittin the Jug-a film by Luke Jaeger 2000

This is project I had the privilege of participating in several years ago. The recording by Stuff Smith didn't run quite as long as the video did, so I was hired to play a "period" drum solo as the credits rolled. I improvised randomly for about an hour with various beats and effects, and engineer Dan Richardson actually created the solo by putting the pieces of my improvisations into an order that worked for the film and ended when it needed to. I'm not sure if it was a Pro Tools or similar program that he used but I was pleased with the results. My copy was a VCR tape at the time, so I was pleased to find that it made its way to YouTube eventually. My solo starts at about 3:05 following the Stuff Smith tune.  Enjoy!
► 3:56

Monday, January 13, 2014

Book Review: Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch

 Stanley Crouch, eminent social critic, music journalist, and co-creator of Jazz at Lincoln Center, has written a compelling account of the early life of pivotal jazz icon Charlie Parker.  Relying on research he began more than 30 years ago (much of it firsthand from Parker contemporaries and family members), Crouch has concentrated on the subject’s formative years in Kansas City prior to his relocating to New York where as we like to say, “the rest is history”.  Those aware of Parker’s significance are more likely to be familiar with the period after his arrival in New York in 1939, and through the birth of bop, the rise to fame and notoriety, and of course his tragic end in 1954.  Crouch has promised a second volume which will presumably cover that period. 

This story of Bird’s formative years and musical struggles in the crucible that was Kansas City in the 30’s is told against a backdrop of not only the music but the politics, racial issues, and cultural climate of the time, all areas where Crouch is a gifted and insightful reporter.  In fact it is the tangential subject matter that is of the most interest.  Crouch’s scholarship and his obvious appreciation of Kansas City’s place in American musical history, had this reader revisiting and rediscovering with open ears the music of Walter Page’s Blue Devils, the Bennie Moten Orchestra, Fletcher Henderson, and early Count Basie.

It’s interesting that in his public life Stanley Crouch is associated with a conservative wing of jazz scholarship, and yet has chosen for his subject the likes of Charles “Yardbird” Parker who, in his time strove to be anything but conservative, and took the alto saxophone and yes, jazz itself, to another level.  In Kansas City Lightning, Crouch has treated his subject, Charlie Parker the musician with love and respect, without glossing over the shortcomings of Charlie Parker the man.

Richard Mayer

(this review also appeared in the Brattleboro Reformer)