Sunday, December 1, 2013

BOBBY WATSON'S CHECK CASHING DAY, PLUS NEW ALBUMS FROM TIM WARFIELD & RALPHE ARMSTRONG


Check Cashing Day Bobby Watson (Lafiya Music)

The alto saxophonist Bobby Watson has never been shy about expressing his political views in his music.  He's written many politically themed songs during his career. “Check Cashing Day,” Watson’s new album is a political jazz album that honors the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered that day.

Watson wrote 11 of the 15 cuts on the album. Bassist Curtis Lundy and vocalists Pamela Baskin-Watson wrote the others. Watson also hired poet Glenn North of Kansas City to write poems to accompany some of the music on “Check Cashing Day”.

The music is wonderful. But the album's weakness is North’s poetry. It doesn’t add anything interesting, provocative, or memorable to the project. The album feels like a platform for North’s work. Watson would've achieved his end had he just presented the music and decided against working in the poetry.

Inspire Me!  Tim Warfield (Herb Harris Music)

After listening to tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield’s new album "Inspire Me!," I'm stilled convinced he's incapable of shoddy craftsmanship. “Inspire Me!,”  is his second release this year. In March, he put out “Eye of the Beholder”.  Warfield made "Inspire Me!" for Herb Harris Music Co. The album is the first of a HHM Jazzmasters Unlimited Series. 

“Inspire Me!” opens with three door-busters “Monkee See Monkee Doo,” “Robert Earl” and “NY Daze NY Knights”. Warfield kept the furnace on high for most of the album. The most thoughtful cut on the album is the slow jam “When I’m Alone With You”.

HomeBass Ralphe Armstrong (Detroit Music Factory)

This is jazz bassist Ralphe Armstrong’s debut as a leader. That’s surprising because Armstrong has been a internationally known jazz musician for decades. Why has it taken so long  for him to release a debut? I can only guess that he was too busy blessing other musician’s projects to focus on his own. Armstrong has worked with James Carter, Aretha Franklin, Sting, Frank Zappa, Jean-Luc Ponty, and John McLaughlin. With that much mileage on his bass, it’s no wonder Armstrong hasn’t had time  for himself.

In November, The Detroit Music Factory released “HomeBass,” a live concert of Armstrong at the 1996 Detroit Jazz Festival with his then group the The International Detroiters trumpeter Rayse Biggs, drummer Gayelynn McKinney, pianist Henry Gibson, guitarist Toty Viola, and vocalist Audrey Northington.

“HomeBass” documents how multi-faceted Armstrong is. On stage, he's a comic, a selfless bandleader, a ham, and a skilled jazz bassist. If you doubt that, check out his improvising on the album’s opener “The National Anthem” and on the oldie “Dear Old Stockholm”.

On "Freedon Jazz Dance," Armstrong put the zoom lens on Rayse Biggs. Biggs plays two trumpets simultaneously. Then Armstrong tossed the car keys to Henry Gibson. Gibson took his original composition “Birdie” out for a spin. 

Armstrong showboated the closer “Miles We Got To Go,” a flashback to his jazz fusion days. That cut is the only eyesore. Overall, “HomeBass” is a pleasing debut from a jazz musician who's invested much of his career blessing other musician’s projects.
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