Guy King: Solo and Organ Trio Recordings

By Myself I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is

GUY KING

By Myself

I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is

IBF Records, 2012

guyking.net

Guy King established his credentials in the six years he spent as bandleader for Chicago legend Willie Kent, during which his tough but nuanced lead guitar playing was a major part of The Gents’ hard-edged blues sound. Following Kent’s death in 2006, King embarked upon a solo career. His debut album Livin’ It, on which a new, tightly arranged style, inflected with smooth, jazz-shaded R&B, began to emerge, was nominated for a Blues Music Award; and the guitarist, a native of Israel, seemed to be everywhere at once, appearing nationally and internationally with his blues band, playing solo shows, and fronting an organ trio around Chicago. Then he seemingly fell off the map. As it turns out, King has been spending most of his time abroad, mainly performing in Israel and Brazil. Given that he is preparing to return to the United States for a series of dates scheduled around the 2014 Chicago Blues Festival, now seems a good time to take stock of the two excellent albums King quietly released at the end of summer 2012.

Willie Kent’s gritty electric blues were one thing; the uptown Livin’ It was quite another. What King does on By Myself is completely unexpected. Powerful interpretations of songs by pre-war blues icon Robert Johnson make up nearly half of the 15-song set. King shows a surprising affinity for the form, with a mastery of Johnson’s technique and chords, a snappy, percussive attack that brings a full and expressive sound to the solo guitar, and vocals that shift from full to falsetto, always sounding natural and often impassioned, as when his voice breaks in “Hellhound On My Trail,” where King evokes hopeless resignation in the face of haunting mystery. At the other end of the emotional register is the relatively plainspoken “Steady Rollin’ Man,” also among the strongest performances here. King’s singing takes on a notable resonance and vibrato, appropriately enough, on “Can’t Be Satisfied,” one of two Muddy Waters numbers, and thumps fleet runs on the bass strings of his guitar behind Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “Katie Mae,” which closes this portion of the program.

Don’t despair if Mississippi and Texas blues are not your thing. Five songs at the end of the CD come from an entirely different direction. Still solo, still built on King’s acoustic guitar and evocative singing, they touch on more contemporary and more cosmopolitan musical styles. “I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is” is a swinging, soulful, upbeat number with a jazzy flair. Next King reprises the sophisticated ballad “Alone In The City,” from Livin’ It. Stripped of its electric instruments and horns, it sounds more like Percy Mayfield or even Charles Brown at his gloomiest–with Ray Charles somewhere at the root of both versions. King overdubs subtle percussion on the last few songs, all in the bossa nova style, beginning with his reading of the jazz standard “Nature Boy,” continuing through his lively cover of Joao Gilberto’s “Acapulco,” and ending with a smoky “Besame Mucho.” This is music for lovers, indeed.

Recorded with Mike Schlick (drums) and Ben Paterson (organ), the two-CD set I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is offers a cool cruise through jazz and standards, blues and ballads, soul and R&B, and pop. The program begins with a band version of the title track before moving to Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite.” King then shifts from bop to the birth of soul, with an emotional “Drown In My Own Tears.” Next up is a light “Sweet Lorraine,” a rousing “Mojo,” then back to jazz with Stanley Turrentine’s bluesy “Sugar,” and on to Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love” and a “Going To Chicago” much toned down from any of the often-heard Joe Williams versions. King’s interest in Brazil comes out in Jobim’s uptempo “Agua De Beber.” Bobby Hebb’s pop smash “Sunny” yields to another Ray Charles ballad before King delivers a wondrous “Tear It Down,” capturing not only Wes Montgomery’s signature octaves but his excitement and effortless swing. Paterson is on fire here, too, and Schlick ably covers the drum breaks.

The second disc unfolds along the same lines, covering standards romantic (“You’ve Changed,” “Moonlight In Vermont”) and frivolous (“The Frim Fram Sauce”); jazz (“Green Dolphin Street” and workouts on McGriff’s “Vicky” and Burrell’s “Kenny’s Sound”); lush ballads from Billie Holiday (“God Bless The Child”) and Stevie Wonder (“Lately”); the breezy Brazilian “Brigas Nunca Mais”; blues (a pitiful “All Over Again,” from B.B. King’s catalog) and R&B (from Ray Charles once more, in a splendid “Roll With My Baby”). As is often the case with organ trios, some of the best material comes from unlikely places. King nods to the soul jazz tradition with sweet pop and elegant soul selections (“Isn’t She Lovely” and “Me And Mrs. Jones”), and surprises with the country weeper “Crying Time,” perhaps learned from Buck Owens, or remembered from bluesman Phillip Walker’s Playboy Records LP. In either case, it is devastating. Overall, the division between instrumentals and vocal numbers is about even, the latter showing King’s pleasant, expressive range, and on virtually every track, King and Paterson trade solos that, even when speaking the language of jazz, retain bluesy phrasing and tonalities. The group has a real feeling for the entire range of styles on What It Is, an absolutely lovely album on many levels.

King’s achievement is all the more impressive when one considers that both albums were recorded virtually off-the-cuff. Inspired after an evening’s gig, King cut the solo album in a single session, using an acoustic guitar belonging to the studio. In much the same way, the 30 songs on the organ trio record were laid down, in much less than 24 hours, during the course of an all-nighter, with a brief follow-up later in the afternoon. One might reasonably wonder if there is anything he can’t do, and where he will take us next. King has in fact been writing and recording new material, with an ear sensibly tilted toward producing great music, without much concern for genre restrictions. The touchstone artists whose work inspired the two works considered here–Muddy Waters, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stevie Wonder, Nat “King” Cole, and Ray Charles in particular–seem likely to play a continuing role in King’s musical development. That is an evolution I don’t want to miss. In taking the varied music he loves and recasting it in new combinations, Guy King is going about his art the right way. Musicians with genuinely big ears are rare, and talent like King’s is rarer still.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought these CDs from the artist’s Web site.

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Nuestro Camino

dupree lp 05 outside

Dupree

Nuestro Camino

Public Hi-Fi Records, 2013

http://mikeflanigin.com/mikeflanigin/Dupree.html

http://www.public-hifi.com/

Nuestro Camino was made the old fashioned way. A few players, well acquainted with and sympathetic to each other, got together in a good-sounding room to run through a set of songs, and a talented producer/engineer got the results down, in real time, on tape. Certain details were, of course, changed. The session did not take place in Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey living room; instead, Jim Eno captured the sounds at his Public Hi-Fi Studio in Austin, Texas. The modern day Ben Dixon is drummer Kyle Thompson. In lieu of Baby Face Willette or John Patton, we hear Mike Flanigin, a Hammond organ maestro who regularly plays blues with Jimmie Vaughan at the Continental Club, and lays down serious funk behind Mike Barfield.  Rather than Grant Green, Jake Langley–whose versatility has been shown through his work  with artists as diverse as Pinetop Perkins and Cindy Cashdollar, and in his five years touring with Joey DeFrancesco–is on guitar.

Their band is called Dupree, and the music they make, refreshingly free of environmental contaminants and artificial additives formulated by modern science, is organ trio jazz in the best tradition: heavy on soul and standards; lowdown, yet often elegant; and clearly intended to move the body and spirit at least as much as the mind. Nuestro Camino is, quite simply, superb. Six songs make up the core of the album (more about that later). Greasy and propulsive, Flanigin’s “The Turtle” recreates the blue beat sound of vintage soul jazz. Thompson’s impossibly syncopated groove underpins the proceedings; Langley blends funky chording and Green-inspired single notes; and Flanigin builds tension mercilessly in his solo. The smoky blues “Malibu Classic” runs cooler, the B3 adding stabs and swells in the background as the guitar outlines the head and takes the first few lead choruses, mixing octaves, burbling note combinations, and fluid lines. Flanigin’s organ solo is full of hip rhythmic displacements and winding phrases.

Cooler yet is the moody, minor lope “All Or Nothing At All.” Thompson drops bombs throughout, giving the standard a rolling feel that sets the table for Langley’s fleet lines and some beautiful work from Flanigin, who dials in a series of fantastic tones as he plays around the melody. In the invigorating “KC,” Flanigin holds a pedal note beneath increasingly insistent lead lines to great effect; his overdriven tone is sure to induce ecstacy in B3 fanciers. Thompson’s part is hard R&B, just a funky, displaced beat away from Motown’s signature four-to-the-bar snare hits. The swinging “Leon’s Thing” motors along nicely, Flanigin’s trebly, hollow tone balancing Langley’s rounder sound. A vaguely flamenco-flavored guitar introduction eases the trio into the exotic “Moto Guzzi,” a sultry piece that evokes palm trees and tropical breezes, splitting the difference between Latin and tiki sounds.

Four bonus tracks round out the set. Langley submits “Nightcap,” a mellow, swaying meditation. Tina Brooks’s “David The King” and Horace Silver’s “Cookin’ At The Continental” shift the focus slightly, letting Dupree work out in hard bop settings. They excel here, too, playing with imagination and intensity while maintaining a solidly bluesy feel. The album’s surprise pick hit, taking a page from later developments in soul jazz, when pop tunes provided new launch pads, is the Bacharach-David composition “Close To You,” originally made famous by The Carpenters, here taken to church with beautiful tones and a subtle approach.

I began this piece by pointing out the project’s throwback vibe. Probably nothing illustrates that more clearly than the fact that the CD edition was actually an afterthought. The bonus tracks, included on the CD, are available as downloads to those who purchase the LP or 8-track versions of Dupree’s album. Yes, you read that correctly: the recording is available on 8-track tape. In any format the listener chooses, Nuestro Camino is wildly successful at extending the organ trio tradition. The album feels great and sounds incredible; its music is perfect for driving, for dim-light chilling, or for intensive listening. Dupree has it going on in every department: creativity, chops, groove, dynamics, tone, and songs. Highest recommendation.

TOM HYSLOP

I purchased this CD from Public Hi-Fi’s Web site.