Thursday, June 29, 2023

The Cucumbers: “Old Shoes” (2023) CD Review

The Cucumbers are back with an album of new material, the band’s first in a mighty long time. I fell in love with this band in the early 1990s when I was working as a DJ at KWVA in Oregon. It was during that time that Where We Sleep Tonight was released, an album that got a good amount of airplay. Songs from that album ended up on several mix tapes that I made (and also mix CDs, a little later). It was another five years before the band released Total Vegitility, and another five again before All Things To You. After that, there were some singles and compilations, and there were solo albums including Deena’s Rock River, and there was the album they did as members of The Campfire Flies, but no new Cucumbers albums. Until now, nearly twenty years after All Things To You. Old Shoes, the new release has a somewhat different vibe from those earlier albums, with more of an acoustic sound, but with the great, honest and sometimes quirky songwriting that made the band so appealing in the first place. The band was founded by the duo of Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried, and on this album, they are joined by their son Jamie Fried on drums, and by Rick Wagner on bass. All the songs here were written or co-written by Deena Shoshkes.

This new release opens with “Gotta Start Somewhere,” and from the moment it starts, I am put in a fantastic mood. The rhythm of the guitar has a positive, cheerful sound, and of course Jon’s banjo adds to that feeling. Deena sings, “You’ve gotta start somewhere/And anywhere is everywhere.” Oh yes, the line “And anywhere is everywhere” is exactly what I expect and want from this band. “Singing is believing/And dreaming is sweetening.” This is an absolutely wonderful song. It is followed by the title track, “Old Shoes,” a sweet love song featuring some gentle work on banjo. The first lines make me laugh each time I listen to this track: “Some people let go of things/I would never do any such thing.” You’d think she might be referring to holding onto grudges, or to hoarding, that sort of thing. But no, this is much more positive than that. And check out these lyrics: “I don’t mind it if you take me for granted/In a certain way, it’s sort of romantic/‘Cause one of my great luxuries/Is counting on your company/So dependable and true/Just like a pair of old shoes.” And Jon joins her on the line, “Just like a pair of old shoes,” which is perfect, the pair delivering the line together. This song looks back fondly over the long relationship and finds joy in the present. These songs were worked up during the pandemic, when most of us were taking stock of our lives, taking a more serious look at our priorities and trying to get closer to those we love, and Deena’s vocals express a good deal of love. “We’ve been through all kinds of weather/Think of all the steps we’ve taken together/I may not be shiny and new/But I’m the one that fits you.”

“Keep On Doing What You Do” has a livelier vibe from the start, and is more of a rock number, though delivered on acoustic instruments. Near the beginning, Deena sings, “I made a big production/From my imagination/It’s what I do.” I am just so glad these guys share the things that come from their imagination with us. This song is fantastic, one of the band’s very best. “And when the night is over/And I don’t want it to be through/I’m keeping my door open/Oh, won’t you please keep on doing what you do.” Well, that there is what we ask of this band, to keep doing what they’re doing here. I certainly hope there will be more releases in the near future. “Keep On Doing What You Do” is followed by “Mr. Moon,” a delightful, playful, light number. This one was written by Deena Shoshkes and David Graham. There is a sweet innocence to this song, a sweet joy, especially heard in Deena’s adorable vocal delivery. “Mr. Moon Moon Moon Moon, even though you’re far away/I love, I love, I love it when you shine your light my way/And I ain’t saving up nothing for a rainy day/‘Cause you’re just the guy to take my blues away.” And there is a really good instrumental section halfway through the track, featuring some excellent work on banjo. This is another song that is certain to raise your spirits.

“Blue Guitar” has a good energy, yet also has a sweet aspect to it. Again, the music on this release is so positive, and in these strange days, it’s especially beneficial to have these songs. “When I play my blue guitar/When I dance from room to room/And everything goes shimmering/Dreaming of the night with you.” Then “Ready For You” mentions dancing too: “We’ll go across the river/We’ll go dancing in town.” And, truly, this music feels like a cheerful, carefree dance, and makes us feel like engaging in one, in twirling about the place, all smiles, all optimism. The album concludes with “I’m Over That.” Here Deena is looking back to a moment when she was angry, yet the tone of her voice tells us, even before she says it directly, that she’s over that. “You can be the way you are/If I’m not near, well then I’m far/Far away as I can be/And then I’ll just go and see somebody else/And if there’s nobody else/Well, I’ll just see myself.” And I love the way the second time through these lines, Jon echoes the word “far,” and then joins her on the words “somebody else” and “nobody else.” There is certainly something playful about that, particularly as the song has an overall soothing, relaxed vibe.

CD Track List

  1. Gotta Start Somewhere
  2. Old Shoes
  3. Keep On Doing What You Do
  4. Mr. Moon
  5. Blue Guitar
  6. Ready For You
  7. I’m Over That

Old Shoes is scheduled to be released on July 21, 2023, and will be available digitally.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

RJ Bloke: “Hold Drugs Dear” (2023) CD Review

RJ Bloke is the name that Patrolled By Radar’s lead singer and guitarist Jay Souza is recording and performing under these days, RJ being the initials of his first and middle names. And Bloke? Well, the bloke is sort of that other side of a musician, the person that often comes up with the songs, the character that gets on stage. It is a term that Nick Lowe has used in interviews to describe the part of him that is on stage and is sometimes unable to perform more mundane tasks. Hold Drugs Dear, the latest release from RJ Bloke, was begun just before the pandemic, and then pieced together during it. It features mostly original material written by RJ Bloke, who plays guitar and harmonica on this album, as well as provides lead vocals. Joining him on this disc are Eli Wulfmeier (of Leroy From The North) on rhythm guitar and lead guitar; Bosco Sheff (former member of Patrolled By Radar) on rhythm guitar and lead guitar; Davey Allen (of Davey And The Midnights) on piano and organ; Peter Curry (of Los Straitjackets) on bass, drums, percussion and mandolin (Peter Curry also recorded and mixed the tracks); Alex Moore (of Livingmore) on backing vocals; and Spencer Livingston (of Livingmore) on backing vocals.

RJ Bloke kicks off the album with “Born Thirsty,” a song that has popped up in Patrolled By Radar set lists for several years (if I recall correctly, they introduced it in 2015). It is a song I’ve loved seeing them perform, and it’s so good to get a studio recording of it here. “It’s got a power over me, a power over me/I was born thirsty.” This track features some really nice work on guitar. It is Eli Wulfmeier who joins RJ Bloke on guitar on this one. “Born Thirsty” is followed by “Where Are You Now,” a newer song, one that I saw Patrolled By Radar play at Tom Bergin’s Public House last week, and one that I immediately liked. Drink plays a part in this one too, with RJ singing, “Cold and dark elixir/I mixed you in the sink/It had an insane effect on me.” RJ Bloke delivers some good stuff on harmonica. This one also features some great work on electric guitar. Bosco Sheff joins RJ Bloke on guitar on this track.

“I Feel Found” is another song that Patrolled By Radar has been performing for several years. As I remember, they introduced it in early 2016.  It’s a wonderful song, and I’m surprised it took this long for it to find itself a home on an album. RJ Bloke’s delivery is great, and I’ve always loved this song’s lyrics. Here is a taste: “There’s no hurt in the desert sky at night/Shooting stars are flirting with satellites/In a place where troubles drown/I feel found.” This one has just a bit of a pop vibe mixed in with that great raw country rock sound, and is one of my personal favorites. Eli Wulfmeier plays guitar on this one. Then “All You Need Is Enough” is a mellower number with more of a folk vibe. RJ’s vocals are even more in focus on this one, supported by nice work on acoustic guitar, and great touches by Bosco Sheff. This one has some interesting lyrics, such as these lines: “Children singing without fear/All embracing the right hemisphere of their brain/Where all they need is enough/They don’t have to wait forever/This world is tethered to your heart/Your every deed is love/Now we have control over the weather/We know the truth now.”

“Feed It To The Fish” is the only song on this disc not written by RJ Bloke. It was written by Doug Kershaw, who released it as a single and also included it on his 1969 album The Cajun Way. The song is a lot of fun. There are several different elements at work here, including an Irish folk vibe, a Kinks-like garage sound and of course a Cajun thing. RJ Bloke delivers an excellent rendition of this delightful and kind of a crazy song. That’s followed by “Hold Drugs Dear,” the album’s title track, and also one of its strongest tracks. As I mentioned, this album came out of the pandemic, and this song’s lyrics mention Pfizer: “Swallow Pfizer ‘til you’re equal parts.” There is a lot to love about this song, including its lyrics. Check out these lines: “Carnivore, this is your brain/High on dinosaur remains/These things and more/Will entertain you/When you’re down/Bloated suits in Senate seats/Though I am dead upon my feet/I will not retreat/Into the safe and sound/Where we’re prettier and we don’t cry/One of the top ten reasons why/Nobody gets their own supply/We sell cars here/And we hold drugs dear.” Those first couple of lines quoted here playfully refer to that anti-drug commercial where the guy says, “This is your brain on drugs.” Remember that from the late 1980s? I also remember all the jokes, like “This is your brain on drugs with a side order of bacon.” I love what this song has to say, but I also love the way it is said. RJ Bloke’s vocal work is particularly good here. Eli Wulfmeier delivers some excellent work on guitar, and this track also features some wonderful work on piano. Darice Bailey plays piano on this one.

The “sha-la la-la” vocals at the beginning of “Coast Is Clear” come as a surprise, a sound that takes us back several decades. This song too contains some good examples of RJ Bloke’s talent for writing lyrics: “Radioactive werewolves of Chernobyl/How we defend against the kindness of a stranger/While we’re walking along/Down here on the Eastside/With the evidence/So far away.” This one also contains some really good work on keys. And this track features the addition of horns, with David Ralicke playing both saxophone and trombone, helping to make this one stand out. The disc concludes with “A Sailor’s Mind,” which returns to more of a country vibe and mentions drinking: “Fill me up with/Beer and liquor/I'm in love/With a stick figured girl.” Bosco Sheff plays guitar on this one.

CD Track List

  1. Born Thirsty
  2. Where Are You Now
  3. I Feel Found
  4. All You Need Is Enough
  5. Feed It To The Fish
  6. Hold Drugs Dear
  7. Coast Is Clear
  8. A Sailor’s Mind

Hold Drugs Dear was released on February 14, 2023 on Nomad Eel Records, and is apparently available on CD, vinyl and even cassette.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Willie West: “The Soul Sessions” (2023) CD Review

Willie West has been performing since the late 1950s, recording great soul and blues songs under his own name, and playing with other artists, even fronting The Meters for several years. In 2015, he released an album titled Lafourche Crossing, which featured covers of some of his favorite songs as well as several original songs. That album has now been re-issued as The Soul Sessions, and for the first time is available on vinyl as well as CD.

The album opens with “I Got The Blues,” which Willie West wrote with Leo Nocentelli for Albert King. It’s a great blues number with a full sound, including horns. Has a woman ever mistreated a man more than as described here? “She wrecked my brand new car, people/She even pawned my diamond rings/She poured the salt out of the shaker/She didn’t leave me with a doggone thing.” Listen to the guitar telling the tale, bemoaning his fate. And before the end, Willie West warns us, “The blues can come to you in any shape or form.” That’s followed by a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Somebody Have Mercy,” the first of three Sam Cooke songs he performs on this album.  Here again a woman has done him wrong, and so he just has to leave: “I’m going down to the bus station with my suitcase in my hand.” This track features some really nice stuff on keys, plus some wonderful backing vocal work. A few seconds after the song ends, there is an odd a bit of silliness before the end of the track.

“Said To Myself” is an original number with a wonderful groove. There is a good deal of funk to this track, and a good deal of power and joy behind its performance. “And I finally realized, and I have opened my eyes, oh yeah.” Willie West then goes back to Sam Cooke for the classic “You Send Me.” He gives us a gorgeous rendition, featuring one of the album’s best vocal performances. There is also some good work on keys and saxophone, but it his voice that is the focus here. He delivers a passionate performance that makes this track stand out. I love that he stretches this one out. The track is more than six minutes, the longest of the album, and I would have been happy with a few more minutes of it. It’s that good.

You can never go wrong with Gershwin, and on this album Willie West gives us his own spin on “Summertime,” adding some funky elements, and delivering another strong vocal performance. “One of these mornings, you’re gonna rise up singing, yes you will/Then you’ll spread your wings and off to the sky/But until that morning, baby, you don’t have to worry.” The funkiest moment is that instrumental section in the middle, which features some seriously cool stuff on keys. This is a lively rendition, particularly in that section. That’s followed by “Got To Cut You Loose,” an original song, written by Willie West and Robert L. McLaughlin. Everything is working so well on this delicious blues track. It contains great stuff on keys, guitar, saxophone, and another tremendous vocal performance. Just listen to the way, after the jam in the middle, he delivers these lines: “We started out together, baby/I thought it would last a long, long time/Now it seems I’ve got to cut you loose/And I’m about to lose my mind.”

“Got To Get You Off My Mind” is another original number composed by West and McLaughlin. Ah, I suppose after he cut her loose, he was still thinking about her, so this other step became necessary. This one has a groovy power. He sings about trying to get the woman off his mind, but of course finds himself thinking about her all the time. Heck, he’s singing about her too. And we learn he’s conflicted, saying he loved her from the start, that he’s sorry they had to part, but also asks why she had to break his heart. Ah yes, these things can be confusing, and the only way to work it out is through the blues. Another of the disc’s highlights is his gorgeous rendition of “People Get Ready,” with his daughter YaDonna West joining Willie West on vocals. And the way that sax rises in the second half is excellent. That’s followed by an energetic cover of that blues classic “Dust My Broom,” featuring some rocking stuff on keys.

Willie West gives us a sweet rendition of “Talk To Me, Talk To Me,” a song written by Joe Seneca and originally recorded by Little Willie John in 1958.  His vocal work is moving, excellent. I love the way he delivers these slower soul numbers. “The many ways you speak of love, I’ve heard it before/But it sounds so good every time/Please say the part that I love just once more/Darling, I’m so glad you’re mine.” “Talk To Me, Talk To Me” is followed by the final of the album’s Sam Cooke songs, “That’s Where It’s At,” which features another passionate vocal performance. “Please stay one minute more/That’s where it’s at.” Oh yes, I think he could convince anyone to stay. As he did with “You Send Me,” Willie West stretches this one out a bit, and there is some surprising whistling in the second half. The album concludes with “Blues In The Night,” written by Johnny Mercer. Here it is all about his vocal performance, as he delivers the song a cappella. A very cool ending to the disc.

CD Track List

  1. I Got The Blues
  2. Somebody Have Mercy
  3. Said To Myself
  4. You Send Me
  5. Summertime
  6. Got To Cut You Loose
  7. Got To Get You Off My Mind
  8. People Get Ready
  9. Dust My Broom
  10. Talk To Me, Talk To Me
  11. That’s Where It’s At
  12. Blues In The Night

The Soul Sessions was released on April 21, 2023 on both CD and vinyl.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

Music continues to provide that dose of humanity that is lacking in other spheres. Here are notes on a few new jazz albums you might want to check out.

The Harry Allen Orchestra: “With Roses” – Harry Allen is an accomplished tenor saxophone player. On his new album, With Roses, the band plays original material written or co-written by Roger Frankham. And actually, there are basically two bands playing on these tracks, the common elements being Lucy Yeghiazaryan on vocals, John Di Martino on piano and Mike Karn on bass. On the opening number, “It All Catches Up With You,” Harry Allen is joined by John Allred on trombone, Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, Warren Vache on trumpet, Grant Stewart on tenor saxophone, and Aaron Kimmel on drums. This song’s lyrics make me think of a certain criminal who spent a few years in the White House, particularly these lines: “You play fast and loose with the truth/You do it a lot/But the truth catches up with you, my friend/Like it or not/You’re a conman and you’re on the run now/Got your face on every database/You’re arrested on Fifth Avenue/Because it all catches up with you in the end.” And it looks like it’s finally catching up with him, doesn’t it? Let’s hope so. I particularly love the mention of Fifth Avenue, because that is the street he claimed he could stand in the middle of and shoot someone without losing a vote. Remember that? This is a lively, swinging number, with some delicious work from the horn section and a wonderful rhythm. A fantastic start to the disc. Then the second track, “Be The One,” features Peter Anderson on clarinet, Will Anderson on clarinet, Dan Block on bass clarinet, Steve Kenyon on flute, Kathleen Nester on flute, and Bryan Carter on drums. And Lucy Yeghiazaryan adjusts her vocal delivery to the different tone, the different sound of this one. “Let’s get lost/To be found/Let’s have fun,” she sings, before reminding us “There are monsters out there.” But they will present no real trouble, she assures us. This is a song of adventure, and it includes some nice work on bass clarinet. “The Maestro,” which is performed by the first band configuration, swings and contains a cool bass line as well some great stuff on drums. Bruce Brown wrote the lyrics for both this track and the opening track. Lucy Yeghiazaryan delivers a moving vocal performance on “Here In Rome,” a song about a lost love. Here she tells us, “I know travel doesn’t solve a thing/A passport’s not an answer.” Ah, but it makes sense, doesn’t it, to want be somewhere else. Roger Schore wrote the lyrics to “That Far Away Fella,” which also mentions a passport: “His passport is strictly mental.” Yup, in this one, the travel is all done in the mind. This track features a wonderful lead on piano. “That’s When The Fun Starts” is the sole instrumental track on this album, and it has a nice Bossa Nova vibe and features some really good stuff on saxophone. That’s followed by the album’s title track, with lyrics by Mark Winkler. This one begins gently, with a pretty, but lonesome opening section. Lucy Yeghiazaryan gives another strong vocal performance. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “And morning’s too early/With breakfast for one/Now I’m here, sipping coffee/Feeling just like a fool/Asking you please forgive me/With roses.” The album’s closing track, “On My Way,” was also co-written by Mark Winkler and Roger Frankham, though on this one Frankham wrote the lyrics. It’s about a relationship that is at times a long-distance one, something I know from experience is incredibly difficult. This song has a positive vibe. “Now I’m on my way/Flying home to you.” This album is scheduled to be released on June 30, 2023.

Jason Kush: “Finally Friday” – Jason Kush is a saxophone player and composer. His new album, Finally Friday, features all original compositions. The quartet on this album is made up of Jason Kush on tenor saxophone, Alton Merrell on piano, Jeff Grubbs on bass, and David Glover on drums. Things get going with “Hasty J,” a lively and exciting number that features some energetic playing on saxophone that keeps charging forward, until approximately halfway through the track, when the piano takes over, keeping that lively spirit going. This track feels like it is about letting loose, seizing and enjoying the moment, not looking back at all. That’s followed by the album’s title track, which expresses relief and joy at reaching the end of a work week, of getting to that time when one can relax, cease to care or pretend to care about someone else’s business. This works for the end of any stressful time or situation, or at least a respite from it. And it features a wonderful lead on piano that seems to say that it’s fine to grab some time for repose, but what is even better is turning to your own joys, finding your own freer ways of expressing yourself. The idea that you can only be yourself for a couple of days each week is depressing and absurd, but nothing is stopping you from taking the feel of this track and applying it to the rest of your time. And the saxophone seems to announce, to shout, I am here, I am alive. May we all find ways of expressing that same thing, that same joy. Then “Slipping Through The Cracks” seems a bit more pensive at the start, at least in the saxophone work. Interestingly, the drumming has a good deal of energy, a good deal of movement, even in those opening moments. And that sense is what takes us into the main body of the piece, and soon things are cooking, particularly during Alton Merrell’s lead on piano. That is when this track gets particularly exciting. And toward the end, there is a cool lead on bass. That section features largely just bass and drums, with some occasional comments on piano. Things then get mellower on “With Thoughts Of Agnes,” which has a gentler approach and looks into memories for solace. “Asked And Answered” also begins in a more relaxed, contemplative place, and picks up energy at certain moments. Then “Easy Going” has a wonderfully soothing vibe, the saxophone seeming to tell us thing are going to be all right. Sometimes we can all use a little encouragement. “Soledad Del Otoño” has a somewhat haunted vibe as it begins, and the saxophone has a lonesome tone. There is a longing here, a feeling of loss. But the music does not dwell in one place, finding power at times. The album concludes with “Razor Burn,” a fun and rockin’ number to raise your spirits, featuring a delicious bass line. Everyone gets a chance to cut loose here, and the results are excellent. This album was released on March 3, 2023.

Eric Lilley Trio: “Three” – Eric Lilley is a pianist and composer who has been performing and recording since the 1980s. This trio, however, is relatively new, putting out its first album in 2020. The trio is made up of Eric Lilley on piano, Mark Diamond on bass, and Tony Black on drums. Three, the trio’s third release, features all original material, including two piano solos. The album opens with “Goats,” which has a fun, breezy feel from its start, Tony Black setting things in motion on drums. This track moves, pops, swings, and has a delicious Latin vibe that is more pronounced in certain sections, with Jose Espino joining the trio on percussion. It is a delightful opening number. That’s followed by “Jereices’ Step,” which is a nod to “Gloria’s Step,” and so contains some wonderful and cool work on bass, including a really good lead. There is a playful sense to this track, as it moves us through different sections. “Kendras’ Waltz” has a light opening that makes me think of a bright sky and carefree summer days, with hints of something more serious. I can’t help but wonder about the placement of the apostrophes in the titles of this track and the previous one. Is this a waltz danced by two people named Kendra, and the other a step done by two people named Jereice? Anyway, this track also features an excellent lead on bass. That is followed by “Bill Evans,” and as you might expect of a song with that title, it contains some wonderful work on piano, taking inspiration from Evans. And of course I am delighted to find a good drum solo in the second half of this track. “May Day” is a solo piece that features some gorgeous, timeless work by Eric Lilley. He pulls us in closer toward the end, when the piece gets somewhat quieter and takes more breaths. “About Face,” which follows, is a cheerful, fun number, and it includes a conversation between bass and drums in the second half. Then “Few And Far Between” begins on piano, the instrument like an interesting character you just want to follow through its day. “Any Day Now” is the album’s second solo piece, this one having a more lonesome, thoughtful feel at the beginning, and grows, with moments of hope and wonder. Jose Espino joins the trio on percussion again for the disc’s closing track, “Visiting Hours,” this one having quite a different feel from the opening track. Here we are placed in a strange, late-night realm where there is the possibility of magic. This album was released on March 17, 2023.

Sharon Sable & Joe Holt: “Once Upon A Summertime: The Music Of Blossom Dearie” – Vocalist Sharon Sable and pianist Joe Holt team up for a celebration of the music that Blossom Dearie is known for, including a couple of songs she co-wrote, and are joined on several tracks by Amy Shook on bass. They kick off the album with “Little Jazz Bird,” the song Blossom Dearie chose as the first track for her My Gentleman Friend album. You can never go wrong with Gershwin, and Sable and Holt deliver an absolutely delightful rendition of this song from Lady, Be Good. Sharon Sable gives us an adorable vocal performance here, one that is friendly, cheerful and warm. And Joe Holt’s work on piano is equally wonderful, particularly his solo in the track’s second half. They keep the mood light with “You Fascinate Me So,” another song that Blossom Dearie included on My Gentleman Friend. Sharon Sable’s performance on this track is a bit more breathy, and works perfectly. And I love when Joe Holt’s fingers seem to be dancing upon the keys. Sharon Sable and Joe Holt choose a total of five songs from My Gentleman Friend, the other three being “L’Etang,” “Gentleman Friend” and “Boum.” “L’Etang” is beautiful, sung in French. “Boum,” also sung in French, is another of the album’s delights. They also give us several songs from Dearie’s 1958 album Once Upon A Summer Time, including the title track (which obviously also functions as this disc’s title track), “Tear For Two,” “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” (which is delivered as a solo piano piece) and “Down With Love.” “Down With Love” moves at that great breezy pace, like Blossom Dearie’s rendition, and it is the first of this disc’s tracks to feature Amy Shook on bass, who keeps things popping. This track has me smiling the entire time. Then “Once Upon A Summer Time” is gorgeous and moving, and has me lost in memories that may not, in fact, be my own. Sharon completely inhabits this song. “They Say It’s Spring” comes from another 1958 Blossom Dearie album, Give Him The Ooh-La-La. When Sharon sings of spring, her voice sounds like that season, like new joy and excitement. When she sings “light as a feather,” her voice takes on that light feel. While Sharon Sable and Joe Holt focus on material from early in Blossom Dearie’s career, they do include two songs she released in the 1970s. The first is “Inside A Silent Tear,” which was included on Dearie’s 1970 album, That’s Just The Way I Want To Be. Sharon Sable and Joe Holt deliver a touching rendition, joined by Amy Shook on bass. The second is “I Like You, You’re Nice,” which was included on her 1973 album, Blossom Dearie Sings, Volume 1. These two later songs are the two that Blossom Dearie co-wrote. This album was released on April 11, 2023.

Melvin Smith: “Perseverance” – Melvin Smith is an incredibly talented saxophone player and composer. His new album, Perseverance, finds him playing in two different configurations. Both feature Jeremy Warren on drums, while one includes Jeb Patton on piano and Corcoran Holt on bass, and the other includes Greg Lewis on organ. Melvin Smith plays tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone on this album. The album begins with “Sound For Sore Ears,” written by Jimmy Heath. This track features Jeb Patton on piano, who offers some warm playing. For me, this track starts to get really good a couple of minutes in when Melvin Smith is able to get looser and freer on saxophone. That’s when his playing has a greater joy. Jeb Patton then delivers a delicious lead on piano. And check out that work on drums beneath that lead, as exciting as the drum solo which follows. Then Greg Lewis plays organ on “Karita,” a track written by Robert Watson Jr., at first holding back as Melvin Smith gets things going. Lewis then gets a chance to shine nearly three minutes into the track. But for me, it is Jeremy Warren’s work on drums that is the main draw of this piece. Jeb Patton returns for Melvin Smith’s rendition of “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” and here it is the bass that first gets our attention. And Melvin Smith’s playing is passionate, his sax giving us what would be the vocal line of the song, before things get loose and cool, leading to some really nice work on piano. “Letter To The Ancestors” is the first of Melvin Smith’s original compositions, and it is performed by the organ trio. It is both somber and joyous, acknowledging and celebrating those who have come before. And even more than that, this piece seems to communicate with them. The next Melvin Smith composition, “Gettin’ It,” is a delicious, funky number featuring a great beat. The saxophone at times seems to be dancing to that beat. This one is also performed by the organ trio, and that lead on organ halfway through is a lot of fun. Plus, this track features a fantastic drum solo. The final of this album’s Melvin Smith original compositions is its title track, “Perseverance,” a strong piece featuring Jeb Patton on piano. This exciting tune drives forward with a sense of purpose and desire, all four musicians delivering some of their best work here, with Melvin Smith in particular shining throughout. This album is scheduled to be released on July 14, 2023.