Many improvisers would agree that having the feeling of the blues is a crucial part of jazz expression; however, the jazz and blues worlds don't interact nearly as often as they should. There are jazz musicians who will play Miles Davis' "All Blues" or Charlie Parker's "Parker's Mood" on a regular basis but wouldn't know John Lee Hooker from Little Milton; there are blues artists who are much more likely to work with a rock musician than a jazz musician. So it is a rare treat to hear a blues-oriented guitarist and a jazz-oriented guitarist co-leading a session, which is exactly what happens on More Conversations in Swing Guitar. This 2003 release is a sequel to bluesman Duke Robillard and jazzman Herb Ellis' 1999 encounter Conversations in Swing Guitar, and the CD proves that good things can happen when jazz and blues players interact. More Conversations in Swing Guitar is an album of very blues-minded instrumental jazz – it's hardly a carbon copy of Robillard's work with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, but the bluesman has no problem appearing in a jazz-oriented setting.
Vocalist/cornet player Al Basile's longtime friend Duke Robillard gets front cover billing, as well he should, as co-producer and guitarist on this impressive outing. The album, Basile's fifth, was even recorded at the guitarist's Pawtucket, RI studio called the Mood Room, hence the album's title. Musically, it's a combination of old-school R&B ("Baby Sister," "Be a Woman"), swamp-tinged rock & roll ("I'm in a Mood"), mid-tempo, Chuck Berry styled groovers ("Coffee and Cadillacs"), grinding blues ("Picked to Click") and even a jump blues throwback to the duo's Roomful of Blues days ("She's on the Mainline"). Robillard keeps the sound full yet stripped down – most of the tracks feature a standard three-piece – bass/drums/guitar setup – which leaves space for Basile's sly vocals and snappy lyrics. Basile, a teacher and fiction author who also has a Master's degree in creative writing, not surprisingly crafts lyrics that are far more imaginative and original than most blues artists'. But they never detract from these melodies that glide along sparked by Robillard's tasty licks.
Duke Robillard has always had one foot in the blues world and one in the swing/jazz universe. He loves both styles of music and enjoys not only playing them separately but combining them together. The founder of Roomful of Blues back in 1967, Robillard has led dozens of projects throughout his career, including collaborations with guitarist Herb Ellis, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Jay McShann. On A Swingin Session, he plays with some of his favorite musicians, many of whom originated (like he did) in Rhode Island. While six horn players participate, there are no more than four on any one selection, and some numbers do not have any. The contrasting tenor solos are fun to hear, with Scott Hamilton sounding smooth and mellow on his numbers while Sax Gordon is greasier and much closer to Illinois Jacquet. Present throughout are Bruce Katz (mostly on organ), one of three bassists (usually Marty Ballou), and drummer Mark Teixeira. Robillard takes vocals on half of the selections in his personable way, but it is his guitar solos, which hint at both Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker, that often take honors.
Duke Robillard’s won a reputation as one of finest guitarists in blues, but this disc also displays his command of rock ‘n’ roll, country, and jazz balladry. The latter drives his duet with country star Pam Tillis, "I’ll Never Be Free," which plays off their easy vocal interplay, Robillard’s classic picking, and his band’s swinging drive. It’s also a pleasure to hear him singing and slinging guitars with blueswoman Debbie Davies on the chugging shuffle "How Long Has It Been." But the best moments may be Robillard’s incendiary solos, like when he uncorks his Stratocaster in the middle of "Deep Inside," matching his lyrics’ cry of aching devotion with a hailstorm of quivering bent notes and brightly snapped strings in sharp, stinging phrases. Three songs later he’s playing in a twang and tremolo style like a Texas roadhouse veteran. In any context, what comes from Robillard’s nimble fingers and open mind is the sound of a master at work.
Best known as the founder of Roomful of Blues and for his short stint with the Fabulous Thunderbirds (replacing Jimmie Vaughan), Duke Robillard had only released two blues albums between 1996 and 2002. Although he was awarded the W.C. Handy Best Blues Guitarist award for 2000 and 2001 and his tireless road work always included plenty of stinging solos, Robillard left the jazz and worldbeat tangents behind for this welcome return to his first love. Those who have followed Robillard's career know that he's never been tied to one style, and Living With the Blues highlights his eclectic talents.
The Duke Meets the Earl seems like an obvious album, pairing two of New England's finest contemporary blues guitarists, Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl, who both share the same sort of hard, clear tone in their playing (Earl actually replaced Robillard in Roomful of Blues when the latter left the group for a solo career). For Earl, who has been working in a kind of jazz blues hybrid style in recent years, it marks a return to straight blues, and with guests like…
Since joining the Stony Plain roster in 1993, Duke Robillard has released an average of one album per year with the Canadian roots and blues label, and his sixteenth is a little bit of a departure: where his previous efforts have focused mainly on jazz and blues, this one is a celebration of the jump blues and R&B of the '40s and '50s, and Robillard sounds just as natural and is clearly having just as good a time with this repertoire as he always has on his previous projects. Highlights include a wonderful jump blues instrumental arrangement of the traditional song "Frankie and Johnny"…
At age 83, pianist/vocalist Jay McShann was still at the top of his game and providing many lessons for the younger "swing" cats and kittens. He is the epitome of what can be done when jazz and blues are mixed equally, especially when the fun factor is liberally added in. While some might find this typical, many others should revel in the sound of one of this music's last living legends who is still doing it, and doing it very well at that. The chemistry between McShann and guitarist/session leader Duke Robillard is considerable and undeniable, and makes Still Jumpin' the Blues enjoyable throughout. With such solid support from Robillard and the band, McShann has nothing to worry about. Everything you might want is here: classic versions of "Goin' to Chicago," "Ain't Nobody's Business," and "Trouble In Mind"; a nice rearrangement with tempo shift from mellow to mid-tempo on "Sunny Side of the Street"; Maria Muldaur's sultry singing on "Come on Over to My House," and especially the Bessie Smith evergreen "Backwater Blues"; wonderful instrumentals like "Moten Swing" and "Say Forward, I'll March"; and even a little Hawaiian slide accenting "Hootie's K.C. Christmas Prayer".