Blues in Other Colors
Blue Duchess Records
BluesWax Rating: 7 out of 10
When is the Last Time You Heard a Blues Song Featuring Piano, Oud, and Rhaita?
This all-instrumental album by piano maven David Maxwell represents a respectful and inventive bluesman’s foray into foreign musical cultures, a melding of traditional blues with the undeniable blues “sensibility” of many other countries. Intended initially as a collaboration with Harry Manx, a talented Canadian stringman who has incorporated Indian structures and instruments into multiple blues albums, this 2007 project eventually benefited from the participation of multiple skilled musicians playing Moroccan oud (a stringed guitar precursor) and rhaita (an oboe-like double reed), Turkish ney (reed flute), congas, and Manx’s own mohan vina, a combination of guitar and sitar. One track even highlights a balafon, a tuned percussion instrument in the xylophone and vibraphone family. Oh, yes, there are the expected bass, drums, and electric guitar as well.
Such cross-fertilization is not new in the blues world. After all, blues is generally acknowledged to have arisen from West African music. Taj Mahal has been exploring Caribbean and African music for years; contemporary bluesmen Alvin Youngblood Hart, Corey Harris, and Eric Bibb, among many others, have followed in his footsteps. Charlie Musselwhite and Lynwood Slim are two who have pursued the blues to South America. Back in 1966, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band probed deeply and simultaneously into psychedelic and Asian strains with the title track of its influential album East-West.
Maxwell plays acoustic piano on twelve tracks of this album, electric piano on just one. Those tunes with shared instrumentation often sound similar; for example, “Big Sky” is virtually a reprise of the opening cut, “Movin’ On.” “Interlude B” has an almost Scottish as well as North Africa ambience, the rhaita mimicking bagpipes. “Interlude A” gives prominence to the oud, with Maxwell’s piano lending rhythmic support and a few impressive fills. Manx shows his mastery of the mohan vina on several songs, particularly “Blue Dream,” where he alternates mesmerizing droning with high keening notes and some dazzling single-note runs.
There is even some undeniable blues! “Cryin’ the Blues,” one of several duets, pairs Maxwell with electric guitarist Troy Gonyea for a poignant slow blues, and “Rollin’ On” gooses up the tempo in a standard guitar/piano/bass/drums format with Maxwell tickling those ivories in fine form.
The result is an eclectic baker’s dozen cuts that run the gamut from free-form Indian trance meditation to almost recognizable classic blues. Lovers of stereotypical jump, Chicago, and horn-driven soul-blues genres will have to look elsewhere, and those who want to dance will be disappointed, but appreciators of originality, syncretism, and virtuosity will be pleased.
Steve Daniels is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
David Maxwell on Piano
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