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CD reviews: soon coming to a stage near you

Stewart Oksenhorn
Neko Case makes her Aspen debut at the Belly Up on June 2.
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Among the bushels of musical acts coming to the valley this summer, many of them will be hauling copies of their latest recordings with them. Here’s a glimpse, with more to come next week.John Scofield”That’s What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles”produced by Steve Jordan (Verve)Guitarist John Scofield has long had his feet in electric jazz, having contributed to Miles Davis’ funky electric projects in the ’80s. In the ’90s, Sco’ took the short stride into the jam world, thanks largely to “A Go Go,” his wonderful album with groove trio Medeski, Martin & Wood. Now, Scofield steps into r & b waters, with a marvelously inventive tribute to the late Ray Charles. Sco’ and producer/drummer Steve Jordan round up some guests who might not have been on everyone’s list: rock singer-guitarist Warren Haynes, who takes lead vocals on “Night Time Is the Right Time,” and pop singer John Mayer, who joins Haynes in the “What’d I Say” choir. More expected contributions come from Dr. John, Aaron Neville and David “Fathead” Newman, Brother Ray’s longtime sax-man.But it’s not all about the guests. On the instrumental “Sticks and Stones,” Scofield’s distinctive guitar work leads the core band – keyboardist Larry Goldings, bassist Willie Weeks and Jordan – in a groove workout reminiscent of “A Go Go.” Every tune, from the Mayer-led “I Don’t Need No Doctor” to the deep “I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” with Mavis Staples on vocals to a solo acoustic, Spanish-tinged “Georgia on My Mind” is given thought.Sad to report, but Scofield, who was originally scheduled to play the Ray Charles material at Belly Up, will instead play his usual material.John Scofield plays in Jazz Aspen’s JAS After Dark series at the Belly Up on June 24.

Neko Case”The Tigers Have Spoken”produced by Case and Darryl Neudorf (Anti-)Thirty-something singer Neko Case shows equally her punk roots and alt-country leaning on this slim (30-something minutes) but satisfying live album, recorded last year. With a full but no-frills voice, Case covers much territory: a cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Soulful Shade of Blue,” the traditional spiritual “This Little Light,” her own splendid cry for freedom “The Tigers Have Spoken,” which rings with overtones of the Pretenders, and the punk rockers “Loretta.” The production here is raw and echoing, with the pedal steel the most prominent of the country band instruments. It seems a perfect fit for Case, who mines both the grit of Johnny Cash and the lush pop of Dusty Springfield. As a bonus, Case’s versions of most of these songs have never been on record before.Neko Case makes her Aspen debut Thursday, June 2, at the Belly Up.Steel String Theory”Curve in the Road”produced by Steel String Theory

Another young North Carolina bluegrass group with a distinctive sound, Steel String Theory delivers all-original, all-acoustic, all-good music on its 17-song debut. While they sing of the usual bluegrass topics – heartache, trains, rivers – the trio cooks on its instruments, and has a vocal approach that doesn’t mimic the past. For a twist, “Left at the Lurch” is adapted from Mahler, and is introduced by a Bach prelude.Steel String Theory opens the Bluegrass Sundays series on top of Aspen Mountain on June 12.Kermit Ruffins with the Rebirth Brass Band”Throwback”produced by Tracey Freeman (Basin Street Records)Twenty-odd years ago, Kermit Ruffins and Philip Frazier hit the streets of New Orleans to help revive the brass band tradition of their hometown. Eventually they became the core of Rebirth Brass Band, which Ruffins left in the early ’90s in favor of a solo career as a Louis Armstrong-style singer-trumpeter. Here Ruffins and Rebirth, with Frazier still holding down the big bottom end on tuba, finally reunite. And though the sounds are just what you’d expect – a big, brassy shot of New Orleans – it still feels so good. They celebrate with a bunch of Ruffins tunes – including “Here to Stay,” the mournful-to-merry tone matching the mood of a New Orleans funeral parade – and covers of Dr. John’s “Mardi Gras Day,” Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” and the spiritual “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.”Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers open Glenwood Springs’ Summer of Jazz series on Wednesday, June 1, at Two Rivers Park.

Dr. John”N’Awlinz, Dis Dat or D’udda”produced by Stewart Levine”The Best of the Parlophone Years”(Blue Note)For New Orleans icon Mac Rebennack, there’s always plenty of musical space in the Big Easy. On “N’Awlinz, Dis Dat or D’udda,” Dr. John the Night Tripper goes practically Gothic; witness the downbeat, ancient-sounding reworking of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” a duet with Mavis Staples. The album features a thick guest book, from bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown to Willie Nelson to New Orleans icons the Neville Brothers and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. But there’s no mistaking who’s leading the parade, as Mac gives yet another twist, this one with a gospel flavor, to New Orleans.”The Best of the Parlophone Years” rounds up tracks from Dr. John’s handful of recent albums, and they reveal an artist with a lot to say. Those albums include “Duke Elegant,” which had Rebennack funking up the Ellington songbook; the rocking “Creole Moon”; and the spectacular “Anutha Zone,” on which Dr. John was joined by a slew of contemporary British rockers.Dr. John performs two shows – at 8 and 11 p.m. – on June 6 at the Belly Up.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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