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Quickies: Mike & The Ravens, Pete Levin, Antonio Ciacca Quintet

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This installment of “Quickies” starts with the rowdy but eventually settles on the refined. A rocker, followed by a groover, concluded with a swinger (no, not that kind of swinger). They’re all from guys you might not have heard of but in their own way have quietly made significant contributions to the music scene of their choosing. In each case, their latest release should make those contributions a little more apparent to all.

As usual, the majority of the selections here are jazz, but even if you’re averse to that music form, at least stick around for the first entry; it’s about as far from jazz as one can get. Trust me on this…

PhotobucketMike & The Ravens Noisy Boys! The Saxony Sessions

Band reunions seem to be all the rage these days, with The Police and Genesis leading the pack. Here’s a band reunion that has a more interesting story line to it.

Mike and The Ravens was formed by five teenagers from Vermont in 1960. They were your classic, early-sixties garage band that played for frat parties, barn dances and lounges in the upper New England area. They also recorded several sides for regional label Empire Records during that time. The good times came to an abrupt end in September, 1962, when three of the group members broke into a church and proceeded to play rock ‘n’ roll over the PA system. A little jail time resulted and the band consequently folded.

Fast forward to 2005, when the original lineup of Mike Brassard (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Bo Blodgett (lead guitar), Steve Blodgett (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Brian Lyford (bass, backing vocals) and Peter Young (drums) decided to reform with the intention of recording their long-overdue debut album. After a false start or two, Noisy Boys! The Saxony Sessions is finally ready for release.

The record is devilishly fun, like some band trying to ape Reverend Horton Heat, only they’re not retro because they never went forward from where they started. It’s raucous, loud, messy, and proudly so. They used a variety of techniques to get that dirty sound: the instrumental beds were recorded live, the instruments used were in less-than-stellar condition and the whole record was recorded using 1″ analog tape.

Their intense “Roller, Roller, Rollerland!”, which became an underground garage band classic for the Twiliters in the sixties, is finally recorded by the band that wrote it. “She Wolf” with the lines “you think she’s smiling at you, but she’s just showing you her teeth,” should played at every Halloween party. The extended “Noisy Boys” lives up to its title and suggests what the band might have sounded like it they were active during the psychedelic era.

Come to think of it, Horton Heat sounds too tame compared against these old farts. Noisy Boys! The Saxony Sessions will hit the streets on August 12.

PhotobucketPete Levin Certified Organic
An aptly titled album, this organ trio-based effort is a hard-driving blend of jazz, funk and rock that isn’t loaded down with unnecessary filler, just lean, vintage grooves. Coming on the heels of this keyboardist’s first Hammond B-3-led release Deacon Blues, this one largely follows the same script.

Levin has mainly made his mark over the course of thirty-plus years scoring for TV commercials, drama series and feature films, as well as extended stints in the Gil Evans Orchestra and Jimmy Giuffre’s band. He’s also the brother of bassist extraordinaire Tony Levin, and both have played together in, among other projects, a Spike Jones tribute band.

Even within the fairly narrow realm of organ trio jazz, Levin mixes things up enough to hold your interest. “I’m Falling” is a James Brown-styled blues number, while “When I Was Young” gently swings. Selections like “The Question For U” comes closer to the rock side, making this sound akin to the power-organ trio Niacin than to Jimmy Smith. “Where Flamingos Fly” is plaintive adaptation of a classic Gil Evans piece.

Covers include a nicely remade version of “Love For Sale” and Moacir Santos’ “Nana.” Jaco Pastorious’ “Teen Town” is tackled, too, in one of the few versions not centered around a bass player.

Using a revolving cast of guitarists, most notably Joe Beck, each brings the right style to suit the song. Erik Lawrence, the son of former colleague Arnie Lawrence, expands the trio to a quartet for a couple of tracks.

All told, this is a consistently good effort, providing solid grooves that are edgy enough to avoid the “smooth jazz” tag, but contemporary enough to pull in listeners outside of the straight jazz crowd. Certified Organic became available on July 22.

PhotobucketAntonio Ciacca Quintet Rush Life
This CD is what the Director of Programming for jazz at the Lincoln Center has been doing in his spare time lately. German-born, Italian-raised pianist Antonio Ciacca has played with or studied under an exhausting list of jazz notables: Art Farmer, Lee Konitz, Dave Liebman, Steve Grossman, Kenny Barron, Wynton Marsalis, Benny Golson, Jaki Byard, Steve Lacy, etc., etc. After heading three releases with overseas labels, Ciacca is finally making his proper American debut with the domestic label Motema Music.

The music contained within this CD doesn’t break any new ground for jazz, but it’s an urbane blend of Oscar Peterson and Art Blakey, with a touch of Euro-jazz sensibilities thrown in. Antonio’s five-piece band is filled out with Kengo Nakamura on bass, Rodney Green on drums, Stacy Dillard on tenor sax and Joe Magnerelli on trumpet.

The nine selections contain mostly Ciacca’s advanced compositions supplemented by three covers. “The Great Squazin” lightly swings much in the same way Chick Corea’s “Tones For Jone’s Bones” does. “Chippewa” includes a lengthy middle section that borrows from “Cherokee.” Magnerelli puts in a choice trumpet solo on the sophisticated bop of “Flat 5 Flat,” and is highlighted even more on the old, forlorn standard “I Remember Clifford.” Meanwhile, Dillard’s tender tenor is featured on “Rush Life.” Throughout it all, Ciacca’s highly nuanced playing serves to uplift his unit, not upstage them.

The Rush Life CD is planned for a October 30 release, but is already available in digital form at Motema Records’ website.

“Quickies” are mini-record reviews of new or upcoming releases, or “new to me.” Some albums are just that much more fun to listen to than to write about.

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