JAZZ & BLUES - Life and Style - The Independent

JAZZ & BLUES

Back in 1992, a band called the Red Devils burst out of Los Angeles with a record produced by Def American boss Rick Rubin that had the likes of Mick Jagger hailing the return of the spirit of Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Billy Boy Arnold and other uncompromising blues greats. Now, after a long break, the star of that record is back with an album on the Hightone label simply called 13 Featuring Lester Butler. Though the album features the same kind of no-nonsense approach, vocalist and harpist Butler is on even better form, with a driving band helping him power his way through such classics as "Smoke Stack Lightning" and "Baby Please Don't Go" as well as his own compositions in the same vein.

Indeed, Bay Area-based Hightone seems to be in a rich seam at the moment, with both contemporary releases and, through the Testament and HMG imprints, important reissues from the likes of Jessie Mae Hemphill and Otis Spann. Frankie Lee's The Ladies and the Babies, originally put out more than a decade ago by Hightone, itself is a minor soul-blues classic that deserves a much wider audience.

Much more restrained is Hello Friend, an album produced by stellar entertainer Bill Cosby as a tribute to his late son, Ennis. You might wonder whether the world needs another version of the Jazz Messengers' favourite, "Moanin'": but the band assembled for this session - including master pianist Cedar Walton and inventive horn players Bobby Watson and Lester Bowie - give it and other well-known numbers, such as Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder" and Horace Silver's "Senor Blues", more oomph than is usually the case with such projects.

Meanwhile, Manu Dibango, the African saxophonist who was a pioneer in fusing the continent's traditional sounds with jazz influences, is at Ronnie Scott's, Frith Street W1 from Monday (9 Feb) until next Saturday, with Israeli-born pianist Jonathan Gee in support.

On Tuesday (10 Feb), another saxophonist, Tommy Smith, begins a run at the Pizza Express jazz club, Dean Street, W1. Still only in his early thirties, the Scottish-raised performer has an impressive track record, and with a band featuring Julian Joseph, has great capacity to surprise.

Roger Trapp

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