Van Morrison: Moving On Skiffle
Exile / Virgin Music 2448191410
If you’re a Van Morrison fan, you get used to the singer’s crankiness, but he probably pushed a little too hard on two recent outings—Latest Record Project, Volume 1 (2021) and What’s It Gonna Take? (2022). Van was mad that he couldn’t tour because of the COVID-19 pandemic and went after everyone from government officials to the media. He released the first album during the worst of the pandemic and received some blowback; some of it deserved, some unfair.
Even a longtime Van devotee has his limits, though, and while I’ll acknowledge that What’s It Gonna Take? was well crafted, I was worn out by the pandemic and didn’t really want to hear another LP’s worth of Morrison’s grousing about it. I was very pleased that with Moving On Skiffle, Morrison has decided to leave behind the fact that COVID-19 inconvenienced him.
Skiffle is a combination of folk music, blues, country, and jazz, played on acoustic instruments. The genre became very popular in the UK during the 1950s and inspired many of the musicians who later became part of North America’s British Invasion. Morrison has revisited the genre before, on The Skiffle Sessions: Live in Belfast (2000), which featured guests Lonnie Donegan (Scotland’s “King of Skiffle”) and English jazz trombonist Chris Barber.
That album followed the skiffle traditions by using mostly acoustic instruments, while Moving On Skiffle uses the genre as a point of inspiration. Morrison has reimagined the 23 tracks on the album, arranging them for his band and molding them to his own style. “Freight Train,” an American folk song written in the early 20th century by Elizabeth Cotten that was taken up by skiffle artists, becomes a swinging blues rave-up driven by Richard Dunn’s Hammond organ. “Careless Love,” on the other hand, is old-style C&W and features a sterling slide-guitar solo by Dave Keary.
Of the 23 songs on Moving On Skiffle, roughly half are traditionals, while the others are old blues and country tunes that became part of the skiffle movement. Morrison interprets all of them in ways that embrace his varied influences. Leroy Carr’s “In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down” is medium-tempo, gospel-infused blues here, while “Worried Man Blues” becomes a Jerry Lee Lewis–style rocker with a wailing piano from Stuart McIlroy.
Morrison and his musicians do a take on “I’m Movin’ On” that leans toward Ray Charles’s cover of the song rather than the Hank Snow original, while they turn Jimmie Rodgers’s “Travelin’ Blues” into honky-tonk country. Morrison’s affection for Hank Williams shows itself in two of the great singer-songwriter’s tunes. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” takes a page from Nashville’s past, while “Cold Cold Heart” is western swing. The band’s versatility is on display throughout Moving On Skiffle, and the backup singers switch gears easily between rock, country, and gospel.
Morrison rewrote the lyrics to the traditional folk song “Mama Don’t Allow” and changed the title to “Gov Don’t Allow.” He avoids the anger of his last couple of albums, though, and the song shows a light touch and even some humor. Morrison’s playful vocal is propelled by the band’s enthusiastic backing. Van Morrison began a solid run of albums in 2016 with Keep Me Singing, and not only is he back on track with Moving On Skiffle, he even seems to be enjoying himself.
Joe Lovano: Our Daily Bread
ECM Records ECM 2777
Format: 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV download
Our Daily Bread is Joe Lovano’s third album for ECM Records as leader of Trio Tapestry, which includes pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi. Lovano’s liner notes for the group’s previous album, Garden of Expression (2021), describe its methods: “This is not a band that starts from the beat. The momentum is in the melody and the harmonic sequence. And rhythm evolves within each piece in a very free flowing manner.”
Crispell opens “All Twelve” on the new disc with a sequence of minor-scale lines. Castaldi falls in behind her, adding counterpoint rather than a firm rhythmic foundation. As Lovano begins to play, Crispell gives harmonic shape to the music as she weaves chords into her melodic lines. The three musicians build on the core themes stated in the opening, varying their playing in intensity and force.
Castaldi uses cymbals and temple bells on “Grace Notes” to set a spiritual, meditative mood. Crispell’s arpeggios and chord runs carry suggestions of a raga, but veer occasionally into American gospel music. Lovano plays both tenor sax and tárogató, an Eastern European reed instrument that has some of the tonal character of a soprano sax. The piece moves through several motifs, each creating a unique emotional space.
Each of Lovano’s compositions on Our Daily Bread follows a different path. The title track is airy, pastoral, and bright, with Crispell’s melody lines floating effortlessly. “The Power of Three,” on the other hand, is jagged and emphatic. “One for Charlie” is Lovano’s tribute to the great bassist Charlie Haden. Lovano plays the piece solo, and he expresses a sense of deep respect, as well as grief at the loss of a musician with whom he had a long history.
The three musicians interact intuitively, letting Lovano’s evocative compositions guide them. Castaldi provides color and shape for the pieces, and Crispell alternates between expansive chording and simpler intervals that provide firm support for Lovano’s excursions. Her own solos are also affecting and well developed.
The sound on Our Daily Bread is outstanding, in keeping with ECM’s high standards (the album is also available on LP and CD). The trio recorded at the Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano, Switzerland, and the level of detail is often breathtaking. Lovano’s saxophone is three-dimensional and vivid, Crispell’s piano resonates soundly, and the smallest details of Castaldi’s percussion and drums are easily audible.
The music on Our Daily Bread, which is improvisational but hard to classify, is at home at ECM; the label has a long history of allowing musicians like Joe Lovano to take risks.
Carmell Jones: The Remarkable Carmell Jones
Pacific Jazz / Blue Note /UMG Stereo-29/B0034579-01
Carmell Jones is probably best known to jazz fans as the trumpet player on Horace Silver’s 1965 jazz classic, Song for My Father. He appeared as a sideman on several recordings in the early to mid-1960s, and released four albums as a leader: three for Pacific Jazz, and one for Prestige. He chose to move to Europe in 1965; had Jones stayed in North America, he likely would have enjoyed wider popularity.
The Tone Poet release of The Remarkable Carmell Jones brings his 1961 debut for Pacific Jazz back into circulation. Jones is accompanied on the session by tenor saxophonist Harold Land, pianist Frank Strazzeri, drummer Leon Pettis, and bassist Gary Peacock.
“I’m Gonna Go Fishing,” an 11-minute exploration of a Duke Ellington song, gives the LP a strong lift-off, with Jones and Land stating the theme before Jones launches into a beautifully developed solo. His tone is clear, his ideas well developed and confident, and every note is firmly articulated. Land’s solo is exciting and bold, and Strazzeri’s is flowing and bluesy. Peacock’s feature is energetic and fiery, and the piece then moves into a satisfying exchange between Jones and Land before returning to the opening theme.
Jones wrote the solidly swinging “Sad March” and the beautiful ballad “Stellisa.” The first is reminiscent of Lee Morgan’s hard-bop writing for Blue Note. Like Morgan, Jones plays with strong technique and a steady flow of ideas that are both smart and deeply felt. Land’s solo is animated and gritty, while Strazzeri’s is understated and melodic. “Stellisa” demonstrates Jones’s melodic inventiveness and sensitivity with a ballad. His clear statement of notes and his firm hold on even his quickest lines are often astonishing, but he never loses sight of where he is heading melodically.
When I compared this new pressing with my CD copy of The Remarkable Carmell Jones, which is included in a 2003 Mosaic Select set of Jones’s recordings for Pacific Jazz, I was struck immediately by the amount of room Kevin Gray’s new remaster gave to individual instruments. The soundstage was wider and allowed each player’s contributions to reach my ears better. There was also much more low-frequency power—I felt as if I were truly hearing Peacock’s extraordinary bass work in its full glory. I also noted that the channels were reversed. A quick email to UMG confirmed that Gray’s master was correct in this respect.
As with all Tone Poet releases, The Remarkable Carmell Jones is beautifully pressed at RTI and packaged in a heavy-cardboard cover with tipped-on artwork. What’s most important about this release is that it restores a vital piece of jazz history.
. . . Joseph Taylor