Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tom Tallitsch. Ride.

Tom Tallitsch.  Ride.
Posi-Tone Records, 2014.  Tom Tallitsch:

Tom Tallitsch isn’t part of the local music scene.  He lives in New Jersey, plays a lot in New York and Philadelphia.  He wasn’t even born in Northeast Ohio, so why are we reviewing his latest CD?  Because I discovered that he grew up in Westlake, took lessons from Ernie Krivda, and has lately been playing around town, so we are more than happy to take him on in Buzzard Tracks.  Tallitsch went on to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, works as a music educator at all levels, has a music tutoring business in Princeton, and his own radio show in Central NJ.  Lots of irons in the fire.  This is his fifth release as a leader, his second for Posi-Tone, and his first with this group of musicians.

Nine of the eleven tracks on the album are original compositions, the exceptions being “Life on Mars,” a Bowie tune, and “Ten Years Gone,” from Led Zeppelin.  Some rock songs translate well into jazz, others not so much.  I really like “Ten Years Gone,” with its piano opening, slow workup to a climax, and big band sound.  “Life on Mars,” on the other hand, sounds rather pop-like, the sort of thing more likely covered by a smooth jazz group, and although Tallitsch does a decent job with it, to me it never sounds comfortable.  Art Hirahara on piano has some nice work here, and makes the tune sound like “Layla” at the end.  

The title track opener is an absolutely delightful hard bop romp and a fine way to start the album.  Tallitsch fronts extensively here, which makes sense, to establish the tone of the program, although Hirahara gets some time, and Rudy Royston takes a drum solo.  The album could just as easily started off with “Rubbernecker,” although that’s probably not a good name for an album (unless you’re in country music).  Again, Tallitsch is strong on his tenor sax soloing, with a fine, rich sound (I can hear Joe Henderson here, as well as Krivda), and the rhythm section is very much in the foreground.  In “The Giving Tree” I can really hear the bass work of Peter Brendler coming through the mix along with the rest of the rhythm section, and the ensemble as a whole seems completely present and very tight in this uptempo track.  Michael Dease finally gets his chance to solo in “El Luchador,” (reference to a Mexican wrestler) a soulful extended number that, like nearly everything else on the album, has memorable melodies and excellent ensemble playing.  “Knuckle Dragger” takes us more into blues territory, with Dease and Tallitsch working beautifully together and trading solos.  Tallitsch plays low here, seeming to try to match Dease’s trombone, and it gets pretty intense.  

Tallitsch changes things up several times through the album with ballads or other slower tunes.  “Rain” is the first, and is a lovely tune, very soulfully played.  It’s gospel-like chords are combined with straight ahead balladry, and the melody sticks in the head.  “The Myth” takes the tempo a bit faster at times, and Tallitsch takes his tenor sax into the stratosphere occasionally in what I can only describe as a sound story.  There’s a lot of excellent work by Hirahara in this one, as well as the rest of the rhythm section.  The last track, “Turtle,” seems a mixed bag of tricks, but a successful one with solos by Dease and Tallisch dominating.

This is great music in the hard bop and straight ahead tradition, and it never flags in terms of its melodicism, quality of playing, ensemble togetherness, and variety.  A fine release from this quintet.

Personnel:  Tom Tallitsch (tenor sax), Michael Dease (trombone), Art Hirahara (piano), Peter Brendler (bass), Rudy Royston (drums).
Tracks:  Ride, Life on Mars, Rubbernecker, Rain, The Giving Tree, Ten Years Gone, El Luchador, The Myth, Knuckle Dragger, The Path, Turtle.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

R the Czar. Borrow My Ray Bans.

R the Czar. Borrow My Ray Bans.
Self-Produced, 2013. R the Czar:

The stream of sound that flows from the thoughts and impulses of R the Czar's Borrow My Ray Bans demands respect, and most certainly a generous helping of several listens to appreciate the power of these well-hammered bolts of musical prowess. To miss the expertly produced, searing feel of this album on your senses is a misfortune that should befall no one. Chock full of distinct flavors on every track and with plenty of cameos from local Cleveland singers and producers what is contained on this disc brings many kinds of talent to center stage.  

Flying at you elegantly the deft, devout soul of the album chimes character from the opening song "The Prefatory."  The unmistakable influence of R the Czar's faith is never far from his lyrics, whether they linger on the trials of survival, the struggle to support family, or the simple gratitude of being alive even if in pain or loss. The label of "gospel" could certainly be applied to "Borrow My Ray Bans," and while some might expect the classic hokey screed of evangelism to present itself here what you get instead is an exhibition of how strife can strike at the heart and still not reduce a person to tatters.  There are guts in the gratitude of "Praises to the Heavens" that are impassioned without being preachy."They say I'm lucky. Nah, I know why I'm blest. I can go anywhere without a gun or a vest. I say a prayer and I know I'm safe and all the chaos seems to go away." By no means is there ever a shred of doubt that sustenance acquired through belief in the divine factors into the lyrics and core of R the Czar.

Throughout the album there are intermittent appearances of the custom-made metaphor "borrow my ray bans," an invitation to see the world through R the Czar's eyes and experience the tribulations of his life, and what could have been a cheap gimmick of a title actually proves to be a theme that shows its merit. While shards of hardship are there the words often carry the same message: endure through arduous times. Nothing ever gets truly gruesome in terms of the images evoked but the friction is there, particularly in songs like "Matter of Importance," where violent feuding and senseless slaughter are called out for their absurdity:

"I'm just shootin' the shit and I heard the shootin' in Chardon. Niggas killin' for Jordan's I ask you what's more important? A man's life- or the shoes that he's sportin'? A man's life- or the girl that he courtin'?"

Words like the above are not minced. Clashes of different kinds are juxtaposed, and the fast-pace never lets down for those contrasts, each charged situation or feud checked off the list for their lower positions to the sanctity of life. Let your attention lapse for a second and you will probably miss a good piece of the nimble narratives at work. The connections of peace and oneness with others fighting out the same everyday battles are for the most part there, some songs engaging serenity more than others.

As regards the roles of  the producers in shaping this album the plethora of people that let out their creativity for R the Czar brought a depth of dimension that aptly separates one song from another. "We Gon' Be Alright" has a solemn, crystal hum imbued in its veins courtesy of producer Hurricane that puts down a nice canvas for R the Czar and Kayla Ray to do their thing, while the production style of Speakin' 2 Xistence on "Late Nights" possesses a mystic, twilight feel to it. Taken together this mix of perspectives is the kind of blended experimentation you want to listen to, varied in mood, approach, and methodology.

Nine of the fifteen songs on this album (one track, while not a musical work, is an insightful excerpt of a speech from the documentary "Hidden Colors") feature some additional artists to join R the Czar at the helm, with particular standouts like the very extraordinary, angelic Kayla Ray (the next Beyoncé?) and artfully endowed Nemo showcasing some impressively polished vocals. It bears mentioning that there is, of all wonders, a homage to the late Aaliyah among the fray, and if that doesn't earn someone bonus points then nothing does. There's a roulette of choices and the grandeur of the mix is all the better off because of it.

To be sure R the Czar is an authentic artist, somebody that's grown in a big way since he released his solo mixtape "Note2Self," with the production and scope of this album noticeably more developed. It'd be great if the gentleman could get himself a webpage instead of being erratically spread out across different social media platforms but maybe that's just the way the fellow wants to exist biographically on the internet, like a sorcerer with piecemeal clones of himself.  

As a creative figure R the Czar has got plenty of ideas and channels to draw from as so clearly can be heard in "Borrow My Ray Bans." Put his shades on for a while and let the man from Cleveland take you on a stellar ride. The fare is worth it.

Personnel: Armand "R the Czar" Davis (Vocals), Rau-Elle (Vocals), Forte Fly High (Vocals), Shad Hits (Vocals), Nemo (Vocals), Kayla Ray (Vocals), G'Bar (Vocals), D Snoww (Vocals), Qx3rd (Vocals), Pollo No Logo (Vocals), Tammy (Vocals), Speakin' 2 Xistence (Producer), Dube Villa (Producer), Hurricane (Producer), AP (Producer),  Down Beats (Producer).
Tracks: The Prefatory, Praises to the Heavens, Late Nights, U.G.L.Y., E for Effort, 100, Try Again, We Gon' Be Alright, Chess Game, Finger Pointing, Extermination, Matter of Importance, Chances, 2 Cents/2 G's, Will 2 Win, All For You.  

Robert Gojo

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Vanessa Rubin & Don Braden. Full Circle.

Vanessa Rubin & Don Braden.  Full Circle.
Creative Perspective Music, 2013.  Vanessa Rubin:

We’re reviewing this album because Vanessa Rubin is a Clevelander, getting her start in the city with the Blackshaw Brothers and working with the Cleveland Jazz All-Stars before moving to New York back in the 80s.  We are always amazed at the number of fine artists that grew up in the region.  This is her ninth album (if I’ve counted correctly), and she’s made a fine career for herself as a jazz vocalist.  We will talk about Mr. Braden too, who’s had his own long and outstanding career, even though he’s from Kentucky & Cincinnati (Joking--I love the guy.)  I think it’s wonderful that these two artists have teamed up, and I am sorry that I missed their recent show at Nighttown.  The vocalist/saxophonist pair-up is a long-standing tradition in jazz (think Billie Holiday & Lester Young), and this album continues it in fine form.

Rubin’s voice is a soulful alto, lower than Sarah Vaughan’s, perhaps closer to Cassandra Wilson in range but different in other ways.  She can use it to great effect in almost any style, whether singing Broadway tunes or getting down and bluesy, but never gets too wild, usually singing in a relatively controlled manner.  Braden is a consistently excellent tenor sax player in the hard bop tradition.  I’ve enjoyed several of his many previous albums (I haven’t heard them all), with my favorite being Fire Within. The two have assembled a great band around them.  The addition Kyle Koehler on organ gives the album a strong classic feel, and Dave Stryker on guitar adds both beautiful solos and variety.  Two tracks are instrumental only, “Day Play” and “Twister,” where the band can unwind and do extensive soloing.  Everybody swings well together and Cecil Brooks III keeps everybody in line as well as providing a cool drum solo.

The songs they’ve chosen for the album include originals as well as tunes by Tad Dameron (another Clevelander), Michel Legrand, and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson.  They start off with “Are You Ready for Me,” a swinging blues tune that ignites the album.  The strong swing component continues in “I Can’t Wait,” “Lover Man,” and especially the closer, “Hold It Right There,” with Rubin at her bluesiest.  On this last one, Koehler is particularly strong on organ.  Of course, there are several ballads interspersed, which feature Rubin’s voice and Braden’s sax, or alternatively his flute work.  These include “Never Let Me Go,” “You’re a Joy,” and one of my favorite tunes, “Hey There.”  I really enjoy the interplay between Rubin and Braden.  The only song I didn’t care for is “Pure Imagination,” not because of their performance, but simply because I don’t like the tune.  Can’t win them all.

As you may be able to tell, I am very pleased with this album.  It has fine performances, great variety, and a sophistication I enjoyed through multiple listenings.  When I was younger, I was mostly into jazz instrumentalists.  As I have matured (or just aged), I’ve come to appreciate vocalists more and more.  Vanessa Rubin is one of the reasons for that.  She is remarkable, and I strongly recommend her work on this album as well as her others.  Don Braden is a fantastic musician as well, and together they have made a very satisfying album.

Personnel:  Vanessa Rubin (vocals), Don Braden (tenor sax, flute, alto flute), Dave Stryker (guitar), Kyle Koehler (organ), Cecil Brooks III (drums), Kahlil Kwame Bell (percussion).
Tracks:  Are You Ready for Me, Love Makes the Changes, I Can’t Wait, Day Play, Never Let Me Go, Lover Man, Reveries Do Come True, Hey There, You’re a Joy, Twister, Pure Imagination, Hold It Right There.

The Grand Wazoo

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Johann Strauss & The Ohio Light Opera. Die Fledermaus

Johann Strauss, Jr.  Die Fledermaus
Performed by the Ohio Light Opera, July 8, 2014, Wooster, Ohio.

At first, I wasn’t going to review this operetta, as Nicholas Jones had already done so for Cleveland Classical (  But as it turns out, most of the major parts for this year were double-cast.   With five of the major performers replaced by others (Gordon, Roberts, Maida, Brian, and Windt), I saw a rather different performance, so I thought I would present my thoughts.

A poster from an earlier era
Die Fledermaus is certainly one of the more famous operettas, with thousands of performances since its 1874 debut.  It celebrates late-19th century Vienna, as one might expect from the hands of Strauss and his librettists, Richard Genée and Karl Haffner.  There champagne flows in abundance, everyone throws wild parties, nobility (real or imagined) are revealed as clever or stupid, and heaping gobs of wealth create the scenes.  The plot revolves around a revenge plan of a Dr. Falke over a practical joke played on him by Eisenstein.  He hopes to embarrass the latter at a party given by a gender-bending Russian Prince.  In the meantime, his wife’s (Rosalinda) lover (Alfred) is forced to make believe he is her husband, and spend the night in jail for him rather than dishonor her in front of the warden (Frank), who has come for Eisenstein.  Are you following the plot?  Well, it gets more complicated in Act II with both Eisenstein and Rosalinda pretending to be nobility at the party, and all hell breaking loose before resolving itself in Act III in a drunken morning move from party to jail.  It’s all rather silly, and the plot is really more of an excuse to play some wonderful music.

Nathan Brian
The music.  I love Strauss’s music, and the OLO Orchestra did a magnificent job with all of it, from the “Overture” to the “Finale.”  The tunes in Die Fledermaus are some of the cream of Strauss’s composing, and his music stays in my head for days after I hear it.  Kudos to the Assistant Conductor, Jonathan Girard, and his able ensemble.  As for the singing, I must say it was a mixed bag.  Some of the singers, notably baritone Nathan Brian as Dr. Falke, soprano Emily Nelson as the maid, Adele, and soprano Tanya Roberts as Rosalinda Eisenstein were delightful.  Brian was especially crisp and articulate in his singing, a quality I look for in male characters and sometimes find wanting.  Nelson’s singing was lovely, with some beautiful runs in her “My Dear Marquis,” and Roberts had a good, strong voice that pierced the rafters of the Freedlander Theatre in her csardas. Some of the other singers were less forceful in their vocals, and the contrast with those I’ve mentioned above made it seem as if they weren’t pushing very hard.  I realize that it’s no simple trick to project over the orchestra’s music to the back rows, but that’s the job.  The ensemble did a very good job overall with the choruses.

Emily Nelson
The other stuff.  The acting was generally quite good, although one expects a certain amount of overacting in this genre for comedic effect,and I got my share.  The sets were well done, as would be expected with the OLO’s usual production standards (the bat on the curtain was great!), and the costuming nicely appointed, although it could easily have been more flamboyant. The dancing was excellent, with just the right amounts of both grace and comedy.  And speaking of comedy, the bit done by Jacob Allen (Frosch, the drunken jailer) between Acts II and III was a riot.  If I quote him correctly when he suggested a line for reviewers about his own performance, “Fantastic!  The best I’ve ever seen!”  

Overall, the OLO has done another fine job of presenting a classic, and the audience was clearly appreciative of their efforts.  I plan to see several more of their productions this season, as I am always engaged and surprised with each performance.  I urge you to support this festival in its 36th year.  There is nothing else like it.

Tanya Roberts
Cast:  Stefan Gordon (Gabriel von Eisenstein), Tanya Roberts (Rosalinda), Anthony Maida (Alfred), Emily Nelson (Adele), Michael Lucas (Dr. Blind), Nathan Brian (Dr. Falke), Jayson Lebaron (Frank), Arielle Schmidt (Sally), Jacob Allen (Frosch), Gretchen Windt (Prince Orlofsky), Spiro Matsos (Ivan), with ensemble, and the OLO Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Girard.
Songs:  Overture.  Act I:  Turtle-Dove Who Flew Aloft; Ah, My Lady Says; When these Lawyers Don’t Deliver; Come Along to the Ball; To Part is Such Sweet Sorrow; Drink, Mr Darling; Good Sir, Are You Accusing Me?; No, No, You Set My Doubts at Rest.  Act II:  What a Joy to be Here; From Time to Time I Entertain; My Friends, Your Kind Attention; My Dear Marquis; How Engaging, How Exciting; Csardas: Voice of My Homeland; Finale: Champagne’s Delicious Bubbles.  Act III:  Entr’acte; Melodrama; Ever Since I was a Baby; To Judge his Expression; Finale.

Jeff Wanser

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mr. Stress. Stress Relief.

Mr. Stress.  Stress Relief.
Pal ‘O Mine Records, 2014.  4 CD set.  Mr. Stress:

Okay, kids, sit back and listen to old Uncle Wazoo tell you an amazing story.  Bill Miller, aka Mr. Stress, has been a part of the Northeast Ohio blues scene since the 1960s.  He started the Mr. Stress Blues Band, which went strong, with various lineups, for decades.  He influenced dozens of musicians and entertained thousands of fans.  However, Mr. Stress, now in his 70s, fell on hard times.  He had a stroke, lost his home, and with no family, found himself about as down and out as one can be.  Enter Mr. Colin Dussault, longtime friend and musical colleague, who, with the help of other folks (it’s all in the accompanying booklet), got him both medical help and financial assistance.  Dussault is raising money to continue this assistance, and this 4-CD set, Stress Relief, is a part of that.  Dussault put out the call for tracks to be donated to this set, and the response was astounding.  More than 58 artists have contributed old songs, recent songs, unreleased tracks, 70 in all.  This list is Who’s Who of Northeast Ohio blues (and considerably beyond).  Needless to say, although the set is attributed to Mr. Stress, and he’s the focus, he’s hardly the only artist here.

How the hell do I describe this monster?  Most of the artists contributed one track, but Mr. Stress himself is represented by several from his own band (one unreleased), and a couple more from when he worked with the Colin Dussault Blues Project.  Just about every blues artist I can think of, and some I’ve never heard of, have something here.  There’s a Lockwood tune, a Wallace Coleman song, an Alan Greene Band track, and the list goes on and on, with Austin “Walkin’” Cane, Travis Haddix, Richie Green, Blue Lunch, and so many others.  They’re heavy on Disc 1, but also strewn throughout.  This is nothing short of the biggest compilation of Northeast Ohio blues ever put together (that I know of).  

But as they say on the infomercials, “Wait, there’s more!”  There are plenty of artists who aren’t blues folks who also contributed.  Hillbilly Idol, Brigid’s Cross, Ernie Krivda, Michael Stanley, Carlos Jones, Cats on Holiday, again the list goes on.  About the only genres missing are polka and heavy metal (well, maybe Granicus qualifies).  What Dussault never explains in his notes is how in the world he got tracks from bands that haven’t existed for decades.  The Tree Stumps?  The Blackwelles?  Audi-Badoo?  This stuff was released on 45s back in the 60s.  Some of it is garage rock, and fits the bill nicely.  I really like “The Mover,” by the Missing Lynx, another lost band.  Most of these are found on Disc 2, along with songs by the Armstrong Bearcats, Mary Martin & the Tuna Band, Bob Gatewood, and lots of others.

Mr. Stress in the old days
I must admit, I am less familiar with some of the artists on Discs 3 and 4, although there are major exceptions.  I’m not sure how Dussault decided on the organization of the set, but you can’t just skip a CD over, because you will miss great stuff.  Disc 3 has 15-60-75 The Numbers Band, Michael Stanley, Jim Ballard, Brent Kirby & the Lost Fortunes, and Carlos Jones & the Plus Band.  Disc 4 has Travis Haddix, Richie Green, and “Amazing Grace,” played as the closer by Pet Cavano.  But don’t miss the rare track by Granicus, from back in the 70s, Jeff Sherman singing “Lonely Avenue,” and Denny Carlton singing “Indians Blues” on Disc 3.  The last disc has its own treasures, with tracks by Aces & Eights, The Stokes Brothers, and Bill Lestock.  I find myself frustrated, not being able to tell you everything here, and I’m sorry that I missed some folks.  Needless to say, this is a great set of music, and although not every track will suit every taste, the vast majority are highly satisfying.

I think I got carpal tunnel syndrome just typing in all the artists in this 4-disc set.  Surely you don’t expect me to list the tracks too?  This is a must-have set for blues fans, and nearly anybody who likes Northeast Ohio music.  And giving Mr. Stress some relief is a worthy cause for a great musician.  Colin Dussault has done remarkable work in putting this together. The set is $30, plus $5 for shipping, and comes in a DVD-sized container.  Hell, you spend more on beer.  

Personnel:  Mr. Stress Blues Band, Colin Dussault’s Blues Project, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Wallace Coleman, The Alan Greene Band, Alex Bevan, Jeff Varga, Brigid’s Cross, Hillbilly Idol, Blue Lunch, Joe Bell & the Swing Lizards, Austin “Walkin’” Cane, Gangsters of Blues, I-Tal, Robert Leonard, Becky Boyd, Crazy Marvin, The Armstrong Bearcats, The Tree Stumps ‘66, and ‘68, The Blackwelles, Audi-Badoo, The Missing Lynx, Mike Hay & Loren Schulte, David Krauss with The Blues Drivers, Kristine Jackson, Fred Tobey, Mary Martin & the Tuna Band, Cats on Holiday, Rich Spina, The Reese Daily Band, Bob Gatewood, Eroc & Friends, The Mighty Tigues, Greg Hurd, The Burnt River Band, Moko Bovo, Hollywood Slim, Michael Stanley, Brent Kirby & the Lost Fortunes, Morrison & McCarthy, 15-60-75 The Numbers Band, Carlos Jones & the Plus Band, Jeff Sherman, Jim Ballard, Charlie Wiener & the Icons of Perseverance, Denny Carleton, Granicus featuring Woody Leffel, Ray Fogg, Billy Sullivan, Travis “Moonchild” Haddix, Aces & Eights, Copperfoot, JiMiller Band, Richie Green, The Ida Red Band, Colin Dussault’s Acoustic Side Project, Alan Leatherwood, Blues Chronicles, Frankie Starr, Ernie Krivda/Kenny Davis Jazz Quintet, Easy Street, The Bad Boys of Blues, The Stokes Brothers, Bill Lestock, Mossy Moran, Pete Cavano.

The Grand Wazoo
Colin Dussault with Mr. Stress, recently

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thoughts on Reaching 20,000

Thoughts on Reaching 20,000.

I suppose in the world of the Internet, reaching 20,000 pageviews on a blog is no big deal.  Some blogs do that in an hour.  But it’s a milestone for us.  It took us nearly two years to reach it, which works out to about 850 hits per month, although for much of 2013 and 2014 we’ve been viewed more often than that.  I tell myself it takes time to build something, but as my parents always said, I have high hopes but no patience.  

I would like to thank all the people who have written reviews of CDs and concerts over the past two years.  You have all been great to work with (well, most of you), and I look to your continued help in getting interesting things to read posted on Buzzard Tracks.  We will continue forth with heads held high.

Given our niche focus on music of Northeast Ohio and by Northeast Ohio musicians, it’s no surprise that we haven’t become the next Pitchfork.  But that was never our intention.  We wanted to be a big fish in a small pond, but so far, we are still a small fish, and it turns out that the pond is bigger than we thought.  Northeast Ohio is musically deeper and wider than any single blog can handle.  Our ability to produce blog postings has been somewhat limited by available writers.  In the Hiram College community, including alumni, I have only found a handful who have the combination of being good writers who want to write about local music and also have the time to commit to a review cycle of a month.  There are several possible solutions to this dilemma:  a. dig deeper into the community; 2. find some way to pay people (never happen); c.. reach out into the larger Northeast Ohio community for those willing to do some reviewing and reporting.  

So, here’s the deal.  If anyone in Northeast Ohio would like to write for Buzzard Tracks, I’d like to hear from you.  I am especially interested in concert reviews (of NEO music, not just folks passing through), thought pieces on music in the region, retrospectives on specific artists or genres, and short essays by musicians about their work.  Of course, you can review CDs too, but it sure is easier if I don’t have to mail stuff to you.  Any takers?  All you get is glory, and if that’s good enough, please contact me at  

Your Editor,
Jeff Wanser