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Jazz Review : Maupin-made Blues At The China Trader

September 04, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER LEONARD FEATHER

Back in the days when coffee cost a dime and the bar on the corner offered a free lunch, a certain part of New York's West 52nd Street was known as Swing Alley, so named for its profusion of jazz clubs.

Now, a similar situation threatens to erupt within a stretch only a few blocks long, in the Toluca Lake segment of Riverside Drive. There, the Money Tree has long been identified with a policy of jazz singers and piano combos. In the last year, Alfonse's has converted to a full-scale jazz policy.

Only a block or two farther west, the China Trader some weeks ago brought back a musical regimen that was a staple in the late 1960s, when Bobby Troup was on hand.

Under the direction of Donna Lee, the former singer, the back room of the Trader now offers, Tuesdays through Saturdays, some of the same brand of jazz fare often heard across the street at Alfonse's (Jack Sheldon, Ross Tompkins, Sandy Graham). Tuesdays are given over to a blues singer named James (Popeye) Maupin.

Cast in the Joe Turner-Joe Williams mold, Maupin is a show-business veteran who mixes up pop standards with some of the blues classics that belong to Kansas City and Chicago history.

His tone well-suited to the blues, Maupin tends to indulge in the sort of sudden croaked notes that Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson does so well. On two or three songs he seemed not to have learned the lyrics, or to have inserted changes that would have been better left unmade.

Reportedly, horn players have been dropping by to sit in with Maupin. This may supply an energy level that was too often missing Tuesday, despite the always inventive Larry Gales, whose bass solos enlivened the proceedings. Roger Spotts' piano seems out of place when Maupin tries to set a deep blues or gospel groove. Spotts, Gales and the drummer Wendell Bond furnished the sole support. What's needed is soul support.

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