Riveting Riffs review by Joe Montague;


"Cutler’s latest release, After Hours, perfectly navigates that land between jazz and blues that puts it firmly in both camps."

- John Heidt

STEW CUTLER TRIO - Insignia (Naim 058) I feel proud to have helped bring this superb cd to light - by introducing the wonderful jazz/blues guitarist Stew Cutler to a doctor friend of mine (Alan Eiges) to play a party, he in turn told a producer friend of his (Ken Christianson) about Stew's fine trio and was instrumental in getting the trio to record for the much respected UK label - Naim. Stew's superb trio includes Booker King on bass and Garry Bruer on drums. Ken recorded this marvelous trio in a church in Hinsdale, IL. and the sound is just perfect. Commencing with the beautiful, laid back elegance of "Whisper" - Stew has a superb, warm tone not too different from the lovely sound that Bill Frisell uses in recent years. The first solo is actually a swell one from bassist Booker King - Stew's solo is next and it is the essense of taste, balancing jazz and blues lines with a purity that shines. "QT" also shifts between a funky, blues section (Zony Mash-like) and a complex, spiraling section with intricate changes. I dig how the bass sets the tone on "Lovely Mary" another exquisite, bluesy, laid back gem which starts with a dream sequence and then turns into a Latin groove thing. On "Left Behind" Stew starts with some nice volume swirls, but soon the drummer is spinning quickly while Stew adds some hypnotic sustain-tone to his guitar and the trio takes off for the stratosphere as the pace gets quicker and Booker plays another inspired electric bass solo. Stew digs in and lets the blues wail with a slow burn groove on "East River Delta" with some subtle yet greasy slide and some finger twisting grit. Another great thing about this release is the way Stew's tunes are filled with nifty surprises - they often start one way, yet change midstream and become something else, but it all evolves so naturally. "Saudades on 8th Ave." has a great finger snapping latin groove and more tasty solos from the guitar and bass. "Elizabeth" has an enchanting, laid back and funky groove which shifts between the slow grease and swinging jazz vibe with a long, story-like solo from Stew right out of Wes Montgomery-land. Stew takes things further out on "Left Alone" where he uses some spaced out echoes on the guitar for the intro and then glides with bluesy echoed slide for the rest of the tune - the song does have a lonely feel, so the title is pretty apt. The title track "Insignia" is the longest one here and begins with a blues-drenched stop and start rhythm and builds from hushed waves and warm, gracious jazz guitar slowly letting those notes get fatter as his tone gets thicker - the drummer and bassist both take fine melodic solos which continues the flow just right - Stew also takes another fine, ultra subtle guitar solo with delicate volume pedal or pinky action that has an endearing dream-like haze. If any of you have been disappointed in the last few Bill Frisell cds for being too mellow, I urge you to give the Stew Cutler Trio a chance - an immensely sublime and superb jazz/blues guitar trio treat! $15.

Guitarist Stew Cutler gets all of his stuff out in one live recording. Trio/Live is betwixt and between jazz and avant-garde, blues and soul, rhythm & blues. Along with drummer Garry Bruer and bassist Gene Torress, the trio consumes ten compositions and throws them back as a pile of smoldering ash.

The trio begins this 2004 session, recorded at different spaces in Pennsylvania and New York, with “Left Behind.” Cutler sends a thin, whiny line that elasticizes through the air. It’s a warm-up and a shake- up as Bruer furiously beats time and Cutlter deftly picks at notes. The thuddy bass notes of Torres gallops up to his tinny, buzzy solo in the slowed-down section at the end.

“Mourning Dance” plays out the kind of wrung-out and dispirited feelings one gets but is too tired to rise up and do anything about. There is no resolution in sight for this type of blues! The time is free and dangles where Cutler’s fingers wag. “Mourning Dance” is one big cadenza, and that is challenging in that each man is relying on his ears, eyes and gut to communicate these emotions.

Cutler hits the ruddy earth with “East River Delta”. It’s thick with changing speeds and times and swirls with eastern inflections. This piece exemplifies Cutler’s brand of “avant-blues”, employing irregular shifts in tempo and atmosphere. “Ardells Theme” gets funky and Cutlter leaves no lick unturned. Is that a putdown? Absolutely not. It’sa treat to listen to an artist tipping his hat to his influences and, in Cutler’s case, to his employers and bandmates – like vocalist Arziel “Z.Z.” Hill and guitarists Wilson Pickett, Eliot Sharp and Jimmy Dale Gilmore.

“Cole’s Mountain” sounds like a contemporary blues-rock anthem that speaks to a generation trapped by the manufactured angst of today’s Adult Contemporary and Rock groups and their longing for radio staples by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Cutler slides in with a six-note riff that is the skeleton of the piece. By the fourth and seventh measure, Bruer and Torres have jammed their feet in the door. All three play it close to each bar and never slip out of the slick groove they’ve created.

Cutler brings about some Southern hospitality and twang on “Yippie- tai-yi-yo”. Performed comfortably in 3⁄4 time, Cutler coos as Torres shuffles his brushes like a pair of well-worn boots along a dirt wood- board floor. Both Cutler and Bruer take liberties with the tempo as they ease each time into the tonic (the C chord) from the V7 (the G7 chord). This gives “Yippie-tai-yi-yo” authentic charm. Cutler cuts out with “Cut ‘n’ The Dove”, a free solo work that partially relies on electronic effects to create stillness and a bit of introspection.

Folks like Cutler are fortunate to partner with record labels that nurture artistic growth, musical integrity and are willing to shout from the rooftops their dedication and faith to the music. Cutler’s with New York-based Fountainbleu, a label that 1) shares his passion for roots music and 2) is in close proximity to him (he lives in New York.) Trio/Live is a slim but satiable guide through parts of Americana and one looks forward to more extended works from the trio. When one puts their finger firmly down on one destination on a map, they, in actuality, will go nowhere. Cutler travels freely around the musical globe and seems to find his way around with no problems.

 This is an interesting recording encompassing a wide range of styles, and reflects the background of guitarist Stew Cutler - who started out as a young player working with blues great ZZ Hill, and has since worked with an eclectic group of artists like Bill Frisell, Wilson Pickett, David Sanborn, Harvey Brooks, Lester Bowie, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Bobby Previte, Percy Sledge, Eliot Sharp and Jimmy Dale Gilmore. Recorded live with drummer Garry Bruer and bassist Gene Torres (who also engineered), this recording moves from blues to avant garde to rock fusion and world music in compelling fashion.

Cutler doesn't rely on effects as much as many of his peers and his energtic riffing at times recalls McLaughlin and Scofield. The opener "Left Behind" even calls up a bit of the spirit of Jimi on it's enjoyable ride. "Mourning Dance" slows it down a bit after the adventurous opener and the beginning shows Cutler to be equally adept at playing a down home blues that wouldn't seem out place on a David Bromburg album before the piece mutates a bit into a Frisell-like atmosphere. This is some quirky stuff - as the next number "Spaghetti Western" reminds us: here the blues and free form collide. Bruer provides solid drumming and Torres shows a deft touch on the lower register as well.

"East River Delta" starts out like an Allman Brothers tune with some hot slide playing then mutates into an Indian raga complete with Cutler's guitar morphing into a sitar. "Ardells Theme" features Torres' on some spicy bass licks, and is more a funky rocker, while "Whisper" is a quiet and delightful light piece that lives up to its name quite well. The wonderful "Cole's Mountain" may be my favorite - a folksy number in the Frisell vein, with a strong theme that canters between the melancholic and the melodic. Some real fine playing on this tune. "Yppie-Tai-Yi-Yo" follows and is a pleasnt lark, while the lengthy "Burma/Change of Heart" has some good moments, but not enough to support 14:36, and the album closer "Cut 'n' the Dove" is moody and mysterious and has its charms, but somewhat leaves you hanging, wanting more of the firepower Cutler displays earlier. As an intriguing mix of blues, jazz, rock and the kitchen sink displaying some seductively off-center guitar playing Stew Cutler's "Trio Live" should appeal to listeners who enjoy such outings.

A Review of Queen Esther Marrow’s “The Harlem Gospel Singers Show” Good-Bye Tour


Queen Esther Marrow (M)
Queen Esther Marrow (M) 
Photo: Thomas Brill

Published on Sunday, 1 January, 2017 at 16:47

By Erik Abbott

Queen Esther Marrow has been singing professionally for over fifty years, after having been discovered by Duke Ellington, who made her a featured performer in his first “Sacred Concert” world tour in 1965. In the 1960s she was in the US Civil Rights movement, performing in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s crusades.

For decades she worked with musical legends including Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Theloneus Monk, (recent Nobel Laureate) Bob Dylan, and her idol Mahalia Jackson, as well as forging a successful career in musical theatre, film and television.

In 1992 she formed the Harlem Gospel Singers to share the Good News of gospel music with the world. The Singers’ subsequent European concerts have been a huge success. 

Photo: Thomas Brill

On New Year’s Eve, the Good News arrived in Luxembourg at the Grand Théâtre for a stop on their farewell tour.

And my-oh-my, did the stately hall swing and rock.

Faith and joy in glorious song

Gospel music, with its gloriously powerful vocals, is of course rooted in a deep Christian faith, but its long popular and commercial appeal is no doubt due to its unwavering joy and messages of hope—one that any lover of music, regardless of religion or lack of it, cannot help but enjoy.

Queen Esther and the Harlem Gospel Singers bring it to life with an evening of non-stop artistry and fun. From harmonies that never fail to induce shivers from their sheer beauty, to solos from every one of the extraordinary six-member Singers that shake the roof, the concert was a spectacular celebration of cheer, a perfect way to close out one year and welcome another.

Outstanding solos, profound musical chemistry

Queen Esther reigned over the evening, but shared the stage with her Singers with the easy camaraderie of old friends and artists who clearly relish working together. The Singers—Keesha Gumbs, Deaun Parker, Jahlisa Norton, Rodney Archie, Keith Branch and Marvin Lowe—are each outstanding as soloists but also blend as a group with profound musical chemistry.

The band features blues great Stew Cutler, who has a couple of wonderful guitar solos (including a terrific salute to Prince), as well as Emanuel Gatewood, Jim Pryor, Leroy Thompson and Marquis Jemale Sayles. The saxophonist (unspecified in the programme) also shines in his solos. They are led by the incomparable Anthony G. Evans, the Music Director, a volcano of personality and humour—and a virtuoso at the keyboard.

Every number was a delight, but a few moments stuck out for me: Queen Esther and Evans leading the Singers in “Amazing Grace”, Evans and the Singers’ rollicking “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”, Lowe’s beautiful rendition of “Make Them Hear You”, Archie’s solo in “Buildin’ Me a Home”, and the medley of favourites from the Singers’ and Queen Esther’s history.

And of course Queen Esther herself, whose remarkable voice remains pure and strong.

Keeping hope alive and bringing joy

The show was interspersed with some slides from her career and she addressed the audience directly, sharing about the joys of performing and the work she’s done, as well as exhorting us not to despair or give up hope in an era in which she sees an effort to roll back the gains of freedom and civil rights around the world. 

Photo: Thomas Brill

Borrowing from Barack Obama, in her own urging to “Keep Hope Alive”, she also thanked us for our time, noting that we may not hear her here again. She said to the full house, “You’ve changed how I see the world. I hope I’ve brought some joy to you.”

Fret not, Queen Esther. You most certainly have.

When and Where:

Queen Esther Marrow’s “The Harlem Gospel Singers Show” Good-Bye Tour continues at the Grand Théâtre, January 1, at 5pm.