An electrifying stew of hard rock, biker rock, Southern rock, and keyboard rock (we're talking 1983 after all), Nemesis may easily be Axe's defining statement: The band wants nothing more than airwave domination and to come into your town to help you party down. Ripped opener "Heat in the Street" bears a similar title to "Rock 'N' Roll Party in the Streets," Axe's biggest-ever hit from their previous offering, Offering (the CD reissue erroneously christens the song "Heat in the Night" but all that matters is Nemesis made it to disc), yet despite the obvious leitmotif, nothing can touch this red-hot, hard luck, fugitive tale which takes every right turn while crashing and burning in a league with the immortal Motörhead; Axe is always geared for the radio, though, throwing in keys and vocoder for a walloping slab of two-ton American rock.
This is an album that should not have worked. LaVern Baker (a fine R&B singer) was joined by all-stars from mainstream jazz (including trumpeter Buck Clayton, trombonist Vic Dickenson, tenor-saxophonist Paul Quinichette and pianist Nat Pierce) for twelve songs associated with the great '20s blues singer Bessie Smith. Despite the potentially conflicting styles, this project is quite successful and often exciting. The arrangements by Phil Moore, Nat Pierce, and Ernie Wilkins do not attempt to re-create the original recordings; Baker sings in her own style (rather than trying to emulate Bessie Smith), and the hot solos work well with her vocals.
Although best-known for his work in mainstream swing settings, guitarist Howard Alden has long been interested in later periods of jazz. On this superior outing, he doubles on seven-string acoustic and electric guitars (which allow him to add basslines). Lew Tabackin is on four of the ten numbers (three on tenor, one on flute) and pianist Renee Rosnes appears on six songs (including a duet with Alden on "Warm Valley"), while bassist Michael Moore and drummer Bill Goodwin are on seven. Alden takes "My Funny Valentine" and "After All" as unaccompanied solos but it is his meetings with Tabackin, particularly on exciting versions of two complex Herbie Nichols songs ("House Party Starting" and "The Gig") that are most notable. Recommended.
The third "complete" Pete Johnson CD put out by the European Classics label features the great boogie-woogie pianist in three different settings. There are eight formerly rare piano solos from 1944 that cover a variety of moods, five selections with a hot Kansas City octet which includes trumpeter Hot Lips Page, tenorman Budd Johnson and two vocals from the young Etta Jones, and eight intriguing numbers in which Johnson is gradually joined by an additional musician on each track. "Page Mr. Trumpet" is an exciting outing for Hot Lips, and the other top players include clarinetist Albert Nicholas, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham and tenorman Ben Webster. A particularly exciting release.
While one might reasonably prefer this, that or the other recording of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations, one should still take the time to listen to this 1997 recording of the work played on the harpsichord by Masaaki Suzuki on BIS. For one thing, Suzuki is the conductor of BIS' series of Bach Cantata recordings and it is interesting to hear what he can do on his own without other musicians as intermediaries.
Though he has shown a mastery and affinity for both electric and acoustic axes, Tommy Emmanuel's Higher Octave debut, Midnight Drive, finds him focusing almost exclusively on warm yet frequently aggressive acoustic melodies, complemented here and there by the raw, plugged-in energy of Robben Ford and Larry Carlton. The overall mix is the kind that smooth jazz lovers find easy to swallow, but offers more bite and adventure than most like-minded releases in the genre. Smooth jazz radio may find an easy mark with a laid-back take of Sting's "Fields of Gold," but Emmanuel's other tracks dig deeper, showing off a stylistic chameleon drawing from the many phases of his career. His soft pop side comes out on power ballads "No More Goodbyes" and "Stay Close to Me," the latter reminding us why guest saxman Warren Hill's biggest hit to date was called "The Passion Theme." Emmanuel's more aggressive blues-rock side (honed no doubt by a few years in the progressive mid-'80s ensemble Dragon) emerges with Carlton's help on "Can't Get Enough." The striking contrast between the pastoral, folksy roads of "Drivetime" and the disc's best track, "Villa de Martin" best reflects the gamut of Emmanuel's approaches.