Nancy Wright – Alive & Blue
Vizztone – 2019
12 tracks; 78 minutes
Nancy Wright’s sax work has been featured on many albums in recent years, including releases by Frank Bey, Johnny Burgin, Chris Cain and Mighty Mike Schermer amongst many others. She has also released three studio recordings but this is her first live album. Recorded at the famous Saloon in San Francisco (where Tommy Castro started out), the album features Nancy on sax and vocals with her regular band of Jeff Tamelier on guitar/B/V’s, Tony Lufrano on keys/B/V’s, Karl Sevareid on bass and Paul Revelli on drums. This vastly experienced outfit can boast names like Robert Cray, Joe Louis Walker, Tower Of Power and Elvin Bishop on their CVs! The recording was a spur of the moment decision, Nancy approached Greaseland Studio the day before and engineer Bobby Yamilov was available to record the gig, Kid Andersen mixing the results back at base in San José, CA. The material includes five of Nancy’s originals and seven diverse covers. The generously filled album provides several extended numbers on which the players get plenty of opportunity to stretch out; indeed only one track comes in at under five minutes.
The album opens in funky mode with the original instrumental “Bugalu”, immediately followed by Lonnie Mack’s “Been Waiting That Long”, one of two reprises from Nancy’s 2016 release Playdate! Lonnie was a mentor to Nancy and the song shows that she can handle the vocals as well as play sax. A fast-paced run through Bobby Bland’s “I Don’t Want No (Wo)Man” (suitably amended for a female vocalist) concludes the opening trio of uptempo tunes. The soulful “In Between Tears” comes from the Irma Thomas songbook and has a fine piano solo and a bright style that continues into another original instrumental “Jo-Jo”, a jazz-tinged tune with a nice plucked guitar feature.
“How about some blues?” enquires Nancy as the band launches into “Sugar Coated Love” on which the band gets up a real head of steam and Nancy blows some wild sax. Another reprise from Playdate!, “Warranty”, is the only original here with lyrics and Nancy sings it soulfully as we return to the funkier side of things with Jeff playing wah-wah rhythm on a song that states that relationships never come with extended warranties. Nancy suggests that the slow instrumental “Bernie’s Blues” might be a good tune for some “belly rubbing”! It’s a late night blues with breathy sax over twinkling piano and, although it runs to over seven minutes, the track does not outstay its welcome at all. Indeed, to this reviewer’s ears, the last 30 minutes or so of the disc are the best, starting with this track.
We then get a great version of the old jump warhorse “Hands Off” (Priscilla Bowman/Jay McShann) which rockets along in splendid fashion driven by Paul’s drums and with a really exciting solo from Nancy that threatens to blow the roof off The Saloon. Claiming to need to catch their breath after that the band eases into King Curtis’ “Soul Serenade”; it is always a pleasure to hear this wonderful tune and this is an excellent version which takes its time and offers solo spots for all the front line players: Nancy’s raspy sax leads the way with an extended solo before she gives way to Tony’s electric piano stylings, followed by some gentle guitar work from Jeff before Nancy returns to take the tune home. Karl’s bass work is a vital part of the success of the tune as the rhythm section follows every twist and turn – great stuff!
Allen Toussaint’s “What Do You Want The Girl To Do” is a bit of a challenge for Nancy’s vocal range but the music is excellent with swirling organ, piano highlights and a rousing sax solo. The band closes their set with “Rutabagas” which, I learn, is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, what we in the UK call a ‘swede’. What this has to do with the tune is unknown but it is a cheerful instrumental with a slightly jazzy feel and a very catchy tune that makes a satisfying end to the album.
Captured live with no overdubs, this set demonstrates that Nancy has assembled a very tight band who can play across styles with ease, making for a varied and enjoyable live album.