Category Archives: Robert Mugge

Jazz Plus 1: Rhythm & Bayous,Will Downing & The Terry Hanck Band

Rhythm & BayousJazz Plus

New DVD spotlights Louisiana’s music excellence
By Ron Wynn
“Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” (MVD, 120 minutes)
The Louisiana music experience epitomizes the scope and vitality of this nation’s cultural heritage, and ace filmmaker Robert Mugge’s new DVD “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” showcases those qualities in marvelous fashion  What was initially supposed to be a travelogue feature documenting a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bus trip instead evolved into a comprehensive documentary with a host of informative interviews, reflections and encounters. Mugge dispenses with the bus trip portion via some early foundation footage that establishes the film’s premise. It is a series of visits to key locales across the state, plus interviews with knowledgeable experts, and most importantly, unforgettable performances from numerous Louisiana artists.
The film’s divided into three sections covering Northern Louisiana, New Orleans/Baton Rouge and the Southwestern region. There are stops at clubs, churches, record stores, and other key locations that collectively comprise key aspects of Louisiana’s amazing musical tapestry. The marvelous musical selections include blues, R&B, swamp pop, gospel, Cajun, Zydeco, jazzand rock, all delivered with an urgency and energy that comes only from those making music that live and love it, as opposed to cranking out whatever’s in vogue for strictly commercial purposes.
Kermit Ruffins, Frankie Ford, Rosie Ledet, Dale Hawkins, Henry Gray, Henry Butler, Nathan Williams, Warren Storm, Claude King, Hackberry Ramblers, La Famille Viator, and Rod Bernard are among the distinguished lineup. As with all his musical presentations, Mugge provides a stunning, comprehensive and varied portrait. Ford’s “Roberta” helps jump start things, while those who’ve either grown up in or experienced fervent church worship will be totally engaged by the marvelous Ever Ready Singers.
But it’s just as revealing to see lesser known acts like La Famile Viator, a family group whose young kids are doing traditional Cajun music with the identical flair and detail of grizzled veterans, or see personalities like legendary gospel DJ Sister Pearlee Toliver, doing the kind of programming that was once available on Black radio everywhere, but now can only be heard on a handful of legacy stations.
No matter your preference, there’s something you’ll enjoy hearing at some point on “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.” The disc also delves into distinctive areas of regional interest, like the “Easter Rock” celebration that combines a religious observance with a dance/stepping tradition. He also spotlights newer artists such as Lil’ Bryan and Lil’ Alfred extending and tweaking vintage styles, and venerable types like Henry Gray, who’s returned home to Louisiana after spending decades in Chicago backing the greats of modern blues.
Although there’s quite like personally visiting these Louisiana sites, the next best thing is seeing them and hearing the music soar the way it does throughout “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.
CD reviews
Will Downing – “Black Pearls” (Shanachie)
Will Downing
Downing’s first release in six years pays homage to women vocalists he’s idolized. Thankfully, he’s also won his battle with the auto immune disease Polymyositis, and is again singing with the robust sound and soulful ardor that characterized his past releases. It’s a treat to hear his approach on tunes previously done by vocalists ranging from Cherelle to Deniece Williams, Phyllis Hyman and others. Personal favorites include his soothing version of the Emotions “Don’t Ask My Neighbors,” a masterful interpretation of Brenda Russell’s “Get Here,” and a dazzling rendition of Williams’ “Black Butterfly.” Even tunes equally notable the first time around for dynamic arrangements (Cherelle’s “Everything I Miss At Home” and The Jones Girls’ “Nights Over Egypt,”) prove just as engaging and effective numbers when done as in Downing’s smoother, less driving fashion. His version of “Street Life” is slicker than Randy Crawford’s, but just as emphatic. Najee and Kirk Whalum add crisp sax assistance on “Street Life,” and atmospheric flute interludes on “Nights Over Egypt.” Downing is at his sensual best on “Meet Me On The Moon,” a suiting tribute to Hyman, and increases his ardor while reworking the Chaka Khan and Rufus number “”Everlasting Love.” “Black Pearls” proves a solid return for Will Downing, and is ample evidence he’s back in form and still an tremendous pure singer.,
The Terry Hanck Band – “From Roadhouse To Your House: Live” (Vizztone/TVR)
Terry Hanck
Saxophonist/vocalist and bandleader Terry Hanck’s Band seamlessly blends rocking blues, roadhouse R&B, soul covers and even a throwback tune or two in a rousing live session cut last year at the California State Fair. Hanck’s tenor sax style blends hot licks and high register effects with expressive melodic interpretations and fiery lines, while he’s an effective, alternately comical and earnest vocalist. The band’s best covers include solid versions of Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away,” Tyrone Davis’ “Can I Change My Mind” and the Louis Jordan war-of-the-sexes piece “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman.” The top originals are the surging opener “Good Good Rockin’ Goin’ On,” a testimonial to Junior Walker (“Junior’s Walk”) and “Peace Of Mind.” Besides Hanck, the tight group’s other stirring soloists include guitarist Johnny “Cat” Soubrand and masterful special guest Jimmy Pugh on an array of keyboards. The rhythm section of bassist Tim Wagar and drummer Butch Cousins keep the grooves tight and fluid, and the Terry Hanck Band offer 13 mostly engaging performances that show why they’re 2016 Blues Award winners.

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Filed under 2016, Blues, CD's, film reviews, Louisiana, Music Reviewing, musical documentary, rhythm & blues, Robert Mugge, Soul, The Terry Hanck Band, Uncategorized, Will Downing

Robert Mugge’s “Pride and Joy” reissued on Blu-ray

Pride And Joy Front
Robert Mugge’s “Pride and Joy” reissued.
By Ron Wynn
Even though Robert Mugge’s superb film “Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records” was originally issued in the early ’90s and has just been reissued on Blu-ray DVD, it remains every bit as vital and important now as it was over two decades ago. That’s because Alligator Records’ chronicle reflects the blues’ struggle and perseverance as an idiom. Though there are some fans in both genres who fail to grasp this, blues in the 21st century operates very much like jazz. Both are treasured and vital art forms that now lack front and center attention from their primary originating audiences: Black Americans.
Since its inception Alligator has always had on its roster a solid mix of veterans and newcomers. There have been both tremendous players well schooled in the music’s history and emerging artists who’d apprenticed, listened to and worked alongside past greats, but were now interested in crafting their own vision of this timeless music. “Pride and Joy” blends a marvelous 20th anniversary concert with a valuable documentary presentation on the label’s history. The mix of performance footage and insider interview analysis shows what makes Alligator special and also profiles the array of fine artists who’ve recorded for it.
It’s also a look at a true record man, the label’s founder Bruce Iglauer. If you’ve ever met, interviewed or spent any time around him, you’ve seen someone loves the music in a way only a genuine record person does. Every Alligator artist that I’ve ever interviewed says the same thing about Iglauer, that he’s never tried to tell them what or how to record, instead concentrating on finding ways to make the very best record possible. That sounds simple, but the bottom line is so much of what you often hear on commercial radio reflects much more the vision of a particular producer or studio than the individual artistic contribution of an artist or group.
Iglauer is frank and open in assessing both how the label started, and what it took to survive and become one among a handful of premier American blues companies. He didn’t get in the business to be a billionaire, nor did he strive to make a brand sound that you could plug any act into and create a hit. It is refreshing to hear someone talk about music in an easily understandable, yet also knowledgeable fashion. He knows sound and recording technique, but he also knows the importance of taking chances in the studio, of being able to shape a contemporary presentation while retaining a classic foundation, and the difficulty that any blues act faces in an era when many consider the sound at best something to be respected and admired, but incapable of having anything to say about what’s happening today.
Mugge’s documentary also explores thorny issues of class and race without getting bogged down in academic language or melodramatic rhetoric. It becomes clear rather early, even before Iglauer acknowledges it on camera, that the contemporary blues audience is heavily White, and that there aren’t many shows airing blues today that aren’t connected to either college or community radio. There’s a lengthy set of reasons for that situation, and a lot of complex factors that have filled numerous books penned by everyone from critics to academics to polemicists, and thankfully much of that isn’t in this documentary. However it is clear that Iglauer and many Alligator artists have done what they can to make music that reflects the era, something that’s even more evident when you listen to some of the current Alligator albums and artists.
One thing that would be nice if a second volume is ever made would be a discussion of how certain 21st century changes in the business have affected (or whether they have) how Alligator does business. For instance, the proliferation of streaming services and downloads, and the resurgence of vinyl. Would also love to know Iglauer’s views on the impact of record stores disappearing all over the place, and what the death of so many giants in the music means for the future.

There are other bonuses with the Blu-ray version to entice those who previously purchased the original DVD. There’s audio from 10 additional songs on the tour plus a short featurette that outlines some of the steps involved in making “Pride and Joy.” Anyone familiar with Robert Mugge’s lengthy, distinguished filmmaking history knows any project he makes is well worth purchasing, but “Pride and Joy” is a special treat both for music fans in general, and especially anyone who loves the blues.

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Filed under Alligator Records, Blu-Ray, Blues, Bruce Iglauer, record labels, Robert Mugge