Best Of 2016: St. Louis-Area Blues, Jazz And Crossover Recordings
It’s that time again. End-of-the-year “Best of” lists, ranging from films to restaurants to books to tweets, seem to be popping up all over the media. Just in time for last-minute holiday gift-giving, here’s a list featuring some of the more impressive blues and jazz recordings released in 2016 by St. Louis-area musicians, along with a few others who blend elements of those styles with genres ranging from hip-hop to classical music.
Why focus on blues and jazz? There’s increased interest in both musical genres here in St. Louis, thanks to the debut of the National Blues Museum Downtown this past April, and the regular blues offerings in Soulard at Hammerstone’s, 1860’s Saloon and other venues at south Broadway clubs, like BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups, Beale on Broadway and the Broadway Oyster Bar. There’s also a growing jazz scene in Grand Center, anchored by the Ferring Jazz Bistro, the Dark Room and the Kranzberg Arts Center, plus performances at KDHX’s The Stage during the monthly Wednesday night Grand Center Jazz Crawl.
So without further adieu, let’s get started.
The Green McDonough Band
“The Green McDonough Band”
Vocalist Laura Green and ace guitarist Rich McDonough were working in separate bands until they finally decided to form the Green McDonough Band at the beginning of 2016. The combination has definitely clicked. The new group toured Europe throughout April and May to major acclaim, and the debut recording showcases the exciting blend of Green’s powerhouse vocals and McDonough’s excellent six-string playing.
“Blues Heart Attack”
Guitarist/vocalist Jeremiah Johnson has been slowly building his musical resume over the past few years, and with “Blues Heart Attack,” he’s really hit his stride. On these 12 original songs, Johnson and his talented band create blues with a “Southern Drawl” (to quote one of his song titles).
Roland Johnson has been a strong presence on the St. Louis music scene for several decades. He’s honed his vocal chops over the years and has the ability to make any classic blues song or R&B classic his own. Add his stage presence, charisma and a talented backing band, Soul Endeavor, and it’s no surprise he’s built a solid following. Now Johnson has stepped out to record his own original tunes on “Imagine This,” and the results are worth the wait.
Montez Coleman has built a national reputation as a jazz drummer, touring and recording with the likes of trumpeter Roy Hargrove and piano legend McCoy Tyner. Now, he finally gets a chance to step into the spotlight as a leader with “New Beginnings.” Coleman is backed by an all-star lineup of musicians: pianists Peter Martin, Adam Maness, Phillip Graves and Tony Suggs, bass players Jahmal Nichols and John King, guitarists Eric Slaughter and Tom Byrne, as well as vocalists Brian Owens and Anita Jackson. Outstanding.
Vocalist Joe Mancuso and guitarist Dave Black both have established themselves as major talents. On this duo recording, they strip tunes that span the Great American Songbook (“Witchcraft,” “Summertime”), rock (“Moondance”), R&B (“Unchain My Heart”), blues (“Sweet Home Chicago”) and reggae (“I Can See Clearly Now”) down to the basics, recreating them convincingly in their own inimitable way.
Combine violinist Shawn Weil and cellist Bjorn Ranheim of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with bassist Sydney Rodway and multi-instrumentalist Adam Maness (think everything from piano, guitar and accordion to melodica, glockenspiel and assorted percussion) and you’ve got the 442s. “Relay” is the group’s second recording, and the band’s acoustic approach somehow balances influences from classical, jazz, folk, pop and touches of international flavor into a mesmerizing sound all its own.
“Gone With the Trends”
The iLLPHONiCS continue to break down musical genres and barriers with this excellent release. The band recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, and “Gone With the Trends” just may be the best of the group’s five recordings. Over the years, the iLLPHONiCS have honed a well-crafted balance of hip-hop, rock and jazz influences, and this recording nicely balances elements of all those styles.