There aren’t too many discs released these days by guys who play cornet. But then Al Basile, poet, novelist, and former member of famed Roomful oOf Blues, has some pretty high-profile friends to call upon when it comes time to record.
On hand for Soul blue 7 – yes, it’s his seventh solo outing, and soul -blue is an accurate description of contents – are guitarist and producer extraordinaire Duke Robillard, Roomful’s founder and the man who gave Basile his first break. Duke’s band provides the rhythm section – bassist Marty Ballou, drummer Mark Teixeira, and frequent keyboard collaborator Bruce Katz. The horn section – Doug James, Carl Querfurth, and Rich Lataille, – are all fellow Roomful alumni. Sugar Ray Norcia, who led that esteemed outfit for a time, adds harmonica to the disc’s closer.
With such a cast, musical excellence is pretty much a given. These gentlemen are the cream of the crop, seemingly able to swing in their sleep, and with Robillard producing at his own Mood Room Studios, both excellent sound and a loose, relaxed atmosphere are guaranteed as well.
Which leaves, really, two factors … Basile’s vocals, and the material itself. On the former, he’s adequate – he doesn’t have a great voice, but works well within his limits. And given he wrote all the songs, it’s only natural that he approaches each with an easy-going air of effortless authority.
Basile’s compositions, on the other hand, show significantly more depth than most blues-based fare. A poet and novelist, his carefully crafted lyrics actually stand up well without the music. Here, though, they’re married to suitably understated arrangements rooted in soul and blues, with lots of jazzy touches that ensure every tune swings regardless of tempo.
Most unfold at a leisurely pace, with instrumental contributions favoring tasteful restraint rather than virtuoso display. Given his unspectacular vocals, though, a guest vocal appearance or two next time out might add a bit of color and variety to Basile’s somewhat monochromatic palette.
All in all, though, this is a fine outing, with intelligent lyrics well-matched to superbly performed and produced music. Well done!