Album reviews: country blues summit “TajMo,” Alan Broadbent w. strings

Broadbent Graphic

Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’: “TajMo” (Concord)

If I ruled the world, and it is decidedly a good thing that I do not, all my recording pipe dreams would bear fruit. Given two brilliant acoustic blues musicians for one recording session, for example, I’d insist that they keep it raw. To quote Jerry Seinfeld: “I’m in Idaho, I want a potato.”

“Tajmo” is the new merger between Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’. Representing different generations by birth, they could both be said to be of the golden age of the “Delta Slide” era of blues.

I may be a bit tainted with purism by a recent viewing of the amazing “Epic” documentary series on PBS. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do! Taj Mahal is a commentator and he simply bleeds passion for the forbears of Americana. He rhapsodizes about men like Mississippi John Hurt and Charlie Patton. Which is hardly a revelation, given that even his most progressive recordings are steeped in the roots of the Delta.

“TajMo” is not intended to be a display of reverence for that bygone era. Neither of these acoustic titans has anything to prove in that regard. Polished and produced is the byword here. Only two tracks are stripped down. And Sleepy John Estes’ “Diving Duck Blues” is the superior of the two.

If nothing else, “TajMo” is a great display of the vitality and modernity of these steel guitarists who also know how to make a pop record. Which is exactly what this is. Jazz vocalist Lizz Wright makes an appearance, as does Bonnie Raitt in this highly inclusive jaunt. The head-scratcher for me is the cover of The Who’s “Squeeze Box.”

As for that pure Delta aura? Do what I did. Trot out the Okeh and Vanguard sides.

Alan Broadbent “Developing Story” (River Records)

Jazz has had a begrudging relationship with string orchestras, to put it diplomatically. This is rooted far back, but a notorious example would have to be when Charlie Parker recorded his loved and loathed “With Strings” sessions at the apex of his brilliant career. Whether he did it to sell records, (mission accomplished), or to please his overlords has become largely academic. History now views those recordings in a favorable light as justice dictates. His execution is pure Bird, strings or not.

For me, the “wince factor” was not the oft dreaded “with strings” descriptor on the latest from Alan Broadbent. It was a peripheral glance at the words: “Abbey Road.” Suffice it to say the novelty of Beatles cover jazz wore off for me shortly after the band broke up. I was seven.

Of course, I forgot that there’s a pretty well-equipped recording studio on the titular street. And it is occasionally home to great pop classical ensembles like The London Metropolitan Orchestra.

Broadbent is wearing the four-cornered hat on this one: Composer, Arranger , Conductor and Piano. The opening suite: “Developing Story,” is a three movement tone poem that is befitting any concert hall.

But the “Kind of Blue” Miles Davis realm and the ballad vibes of John Coltrane are well-suited to this outfit. Going up north? This one is ideal for the lake season.

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