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Blue’s jazz doesn’t go far enough

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buddy blueOf all the music I’ve ever owned, the CDs labelled “Buddy Blue” are among my all-time favorites.

Why? Because Buddy Blue is nothing if not authentic. There’s no posing here. Buddy is a true American-music aficionado whose taste and range of knowledge spans the spectrum of blues, folk, country, jazz, rock, hillbilly, rockabilly, jump blues, ragtime — you name it. If it’s music made in America, Buddy has absorbed it. He hasn’t just picked up a few licks or memorized the right chord progressions. The full range of the American musical experience has become twisted in with his DNA.

Whereas many other purveyors of “retro” American music, whether it be Wayne Hancock or Big Bad VooDoo Daddy, succumb to mocking their own genres through comic book posturing, Blue plays music purely for the love of the concoctions he can mix. He imitates stylings out of love, and expands arrangements out of respect, not only capturing the essence of the older sounds, but also the intentions of the musicians who originally coined the musical vocabulary.

So when Blue announced he had signed a record deal to record an all jazz CD, I was excited. Blue is a formidable songwriter and given the sorry state of modern jazz, I expected Blue to release something truly astonishing.

For people not familiar with Blue’s music to date, especially jazz fans, Sordid Lives, might really knock them on their asses. Americans haven’t made jazz with this much gusto for at least four or five decades. Blue’s music hits listeners like too much mescal and cigarette smoke. It is full of life, not the listless life of the David Sanborn or Kenny G crowd, but jazz like it was meant to be, derelict and seamy.

Still, given Blue’s talent and inventiveness, it is a little disappointing that Blue didn’t take this all-jazz CD further. All but two of the tracks are remakes of songs from his four previous record. Great songs to be sure, and they are improved by Blues better understanding of his own material, a few jazzier touches, and an extra lick thrown in here or there, but for the most part, the arrangements don’t depart far from the originals. That may be a testament to how tightly crafted the songs were in the first place, and they were, but it would have been more of a treat to hear Blue stretch himself further.

All of the covers of himself makes the lone new, self-penned song on the CD all that more frustratingly tantalizing. “Uptown at Minton’s” is a fine tribute to be-bop, both in subject matter and execution. It once again displays the range of Blue’s talents, and shows what he could have done with this opportunity to make a through-and-through jazz album.

Longtime Blue fans need not feel the compulsion to rush out and buy this CD (ed. Rush out? You’re review is months late. Yes. Sorry.), but anybody who has never heard Blue, and has any taste for jazz at all, should give himself (or herself, of course) a steamy Christmas present in August and buy Sordid Lives. On its own, it is certainly a five star record.

Oh, another favor you can do for yourself, stop by Buddy’s site and sign up for his e-mail newsletter. It’s the most entertaining musician’s newsletter on the net.

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About Howard Owens

  • Mac Diva

    Harold, the issue you are confronting, the impact of smooth jazz, is influencing jazz fans all over. Out here in the PNW, the major jazz festival, the Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz, has fallen on hard times. Jazz purists were withdrawing their support, so the enabling body decided to reduce the size of the festival and return to its roots. This year’s attendance was down to 2,000 from 10,000 to 12,000 previously.

    The dilemma is smooth jazz draws the crowds, but alienates the deep pockets. (Sort of like a hip hop audience showing up at the symphony.) In a way, it is an ‘high’ art versus ‘low’ art issue. I haven’t gotten around to writing a blog essay about this. Perhaps you, or Natalie, who I’m sure is knowledgeable about the topic, would like to tackle it.

    I haven’t banned smooth jazz from my collection. I find it good background music when I am deep into serious writing. However, my preference is for more complex jazz and blues.

  • Mark Saleski

    “Americans haven’t made jazz with this much gusto for at least four or five decades”

    not true.

    there is tons of great, hard-hitting, improvisational music being made all the time. it’s just way below most people’s radar….either that or it’s “too difficult” for most people’s tastes.

    check out stuff on Aum Fidelity, CIMP, Winter & Winter. it’s out there.

  • Howard Owens

    So I go to Amazon and paste in “Aum Fidelity” so I can check out a few tracks.

    I listen to samples from several different artists.

    What a bunch of crap.

    This isn’t jazz. It’s five-year-old boys turned lose with synths, cymbals while their older sisters pluck a few guitar strings or pretend to play the violin.


    If you want some jazz, go invest in some Count Basie or Duke Ellington or John Pizzarelli or any number of other great, true artists. Don’t try to peddle these self-indulgent, post modern (I realize self-indulgent and post modern in the same sentence is redundant) noodlings as music.

  • Mark Saleski

    yow! that slamming sound you all just heard was a mind closing.

    off to the audiologist.

  • Howard Owens

    Ah, the good ol’, tried and true Straw Man of the open-mind/closed mind dichotomy. Well worn, but always useful for a run around the block.

    Who has the closed mind — the person who says the emporer has no clothes, or the person who worships the false god of different for difference sake?

  • Mark Saleski

    oh fer chisakes…words cannot express lameness of tossing out and entire fricken’ genre of music…but i can see we’re both wasting our time with this.

    and by the way, Bucky Pizzarelli is a great artist. John Pizzarelli is a talented hack who shills for foxwoods.