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Music Review: Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers – Alphabet Blues

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Rod Piazza has always run a first rate outfit; despite occasional lineup changes, his Mighty Flyers, together for over thirty years now, virtually personify west coast blues. Swinging and eminently danceable, it’s music born of boom times, when work was plentiful and both money and booze flowed freely. And Alphabet Blues offers an object lesson in just how it’s done.

The incarnation of the Flyers present for these 1992 recordings, originally on Black Top and here re-released by HepCat, was arguably one of the finest. In addition to Miss Honey, Rod’s wife and a ridiculously accomplished, perennially-award-winning piano player, there’s Alex Schultz, he of the quirky, one-of-a-kind riffs, on guitar; long-time bassist Bill Stuve, a Flyers fixture from the beginning; and drummer extraordinaire Jimi Bott, whose intricate rhythms provide an exceptionally supple foundation for the band’s instrumental extrapolations.

Piazza, who grew up in California and honed his chops working with the late George ‘Harmonica’ Smith, is widely regarded as one of the best harmonica players on the planet. In lesser hands, the lickin’ stick is a limited instrument, but Piazza commands an extraordinarily rich tonal palette, augmented by a seemingly limitless musical imagination. And as a master showman, he knows just how to combine dazzling virtuosity with tight, intricate ensemble playing for maximum musical effect. His solos are invariably captivating, but it’s never at the expense of the rhythmic drive that keeps toes tapping and dance floors filled.

This outing finds the band tearing through a mostly original set that seems tailored to individual strengths, the Flyers flexing their musical muscles with easy aplomb. There’s “The Bounce,” an instrumental outing for Rod; “Tangled With A Woman,” a boogie-woogie showcase for Miss Honey, with Bott providing intuitive accompaniment; and “Can’t Get That Stuff No More,” featuring fine doghouse bass from Stuve. Schultz is brilliant throughout, from jagged rhythm work to sharp, stinging leads employing both tension and tone to excellent effect.

Extras include three tracks that have, ‘til now, only been available on out-of-print samplers, including “Chicken Shack Boogie,” “T-Bone Jumps Again,” and a Schultz instrumental called “Nook ‘N’ Kranny.” All are great tunes, equal to any included on the disc’s initial incarnation and well worth having.

This is seminal stuff, a recording that would help solidify and define the sound of west coast blues for years to come, and a genuinely great listen from beginning to end. Grab it while you can!

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