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Posts Tagged ‘records’

CD Review: Hilton Ruiz, “Strut”

Posted by dlockeretz on October 28, 2015

Note: This CD review is a companion to D Theory #98.

In the fall of 1990, my sophomore year in high school, I came across a CD at the library whose cover, for some strange reason, caught my attention.

Hilton Ruiz's record Figuring that if the music was one tenth as exciting as the image, I checked it out and scurried home to listen to it. It took perhaps ten seconds of the funky groove of the band’s cover of Lee Morgan’s classic, “The Sidewinder”, to get me hooked. Unlikely as it seemed, I was so enthralled by the music that I almost immediately forgot about the album cover. Not only did I love the record but it inspired me to dig further into jazz. Almost immediately I went from feeling awkward and uncomfortable with the style to a full-fledged jazz snob.

Despite the impact the record had on my life, it slowly vanished from my playlist. Over the next quarter century I started listening to music for pure enjoyment less and less, although I never fully forgot this record. Lately I found myself curious to see if it would stand up to my memory. I bought a copy on eBay (it’s also available at Amazon). Would the same record that appealed to a hormonal teenager trying to make sense of jazz resonate with a 40-year old journeyman? As the late Mr. Ruiz might have said: Sí, señor.

Powered by Ruiz’s exciting piano, a tight horn section and a rhythm section that, while sometimes busier than necessary, never lets up on the energy, this diverse collection of tunes amounts to that all-too-elusive beast: ear candy with staying power. The rocking “Sidewinder” allows each band member to introduce themselves in an hot update of Morgan’s hip ’60s track. Saxophonist Sam Rivers contributed “Bluz”, an angular be-bop melody set over a smoldering Latin groove. Two mid tempo compositions by William Allen (not a band member, perhaps a friend of Ruiz’s?) – “Soca Serenade” and “Aged in Soul” – mix up the feel, both featuring the horn section.

The two longest pieces – trombonist Dick Griffin’s “All My Love Is Yours” and the only Ruiz original, “Goin’ Back to New Orleans” at eight and almost eleven minutes respectively – wear out their welcomes. Both have fun, uptempo grooves and nice interplay between the horns but could have been trimmed to five or six minutes; one doesn’t see the development that might be expected in compositions of that length. The two ballads on the record – the short, lounge-y “Why Don’t You Steal My Blues” and dramatic solo rendition of Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” – are the final two tracks, which seems an odd choice of sequencing. Even if one were to read the 2 1/2 minute “Blues” as a prelude to “Lush Life” ending a high energy record with a ballad is anti-climatic. Thus, when listening to the record start to finish (yeah, I know, I’m old) one is left with the impression that the sum of the parts are greater than the whole.

Nevertheless, reconnecting with “Strut” has been an enjoyable experience for me. The record has long been out of print and sadly, Hilton Ruiz left us far too soon in 2006, at the age of 54. Thankfully, the music lives on and will hopefully create new generations of jazz geeks in the years to come.

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Music review: Hawks, “The Hawks”

Posted by dlockeretz on November 19, 2013

Talk about one from the vaults.

Calling this a “CD” review would not have been accurate as the LP is long out of print and currently unavailable in any physical format, save for original copies that may be floating around.  However, thanks to digital technology and the internet, the music of Hawks, an early 1980s “power pop” band from Iowa, is still alive.  The songs on their eponymous first album have stood the test of time fairly well, providing an example of the thin line that can separate success and obscurity.

Like many people who came of age pre-internet, I’ve sometimes wondered if a long-forgotten product might still be alive in some way, shape or form in cyberspace. Often times the more obscure the item, the stronger my desire to find it.  I’m not exactly sure how this album got back into my head, nearly a quarter century after I originally came across it–one of ten records in one of the dollar “grab bags” my local record store used to sell–but it did, and once it did, I had to find it.

The name Hawks might not seem particularly imaginative, but it worked for this band on two levels: Iowa is the Hawkeye state, and it just so happens that the initials of the five last names of each band member spell the word “HAWKS” – Dave Hearn (keys, vocals); Larry Adams (drums); Frank Wiewel (bass, vocals); Kirk Kaufman (guitar, vocals) and Dave Steen (guitar, vocals.)  Perhaps their strongest influence is the Beatles; on the dust jacket of the original LP the band included a brief tribute to then-recently murdered John Lennon.  The introduction of “Let Me In” strongly resembles that of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”  However, the record can also be seen as a sort of time-capsule of the late ’70s and early ’80s in music: the steel guitar and vocal harmonies on “Right Away” could have come off an Eagles record while “Dancing in the Shadows” is a guitar-riff heavy track with a four-on-the-floor beat that perhaps tips its cap to disco.  Harmonically, several songs transcend the typical structure of chord progressions and show a jazz influence similar to Chicago or the Doobie Brothers.

If the songs have a weakness it’s the lyrics; they’re not ’80s embarrassing but they don’t stand out. “Lonely Nights” is an uptempo track that provides ear candy in the style of the Cars but its lyrics, describing a breakup in the way that pop songs have since the 1950s, are disposable.  In “American Girls”, the band embraces a minimalist New Wave sound but fails to give any of the titular ladies any depth of memorability (it’s no “88 Lines about 44 Women.”) Expect rhymes along the lines of “Okay/Day” and “Imagination/nation.” The vocals are generally solid but not exceptional.

Hawks released a second record in 1982 and was in the process of recording their third when they were dropped from Columbia.   The various members of the band have remained active since then and were inducted into the Iowa Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

For another review of Hawks’ first record, click here.

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