Blue’s jazz doesn’t go far enough

buddy blueOf all the music I’ve ever owned, the CDs labelled “Buddy Blue” are among my all-time favorites.

Why? Because Buddy Blue is nothing if not authentic. There’s no posing here. Buddy is a true American-music aficionado whose taste and range of knowledge spans the spectrum of blues, folk, country, jazz, rock, hillbilly, rockabilly, jump blues, ragtime — you name it. If it’s music made in America, Buddy has absorbed it. He hasn’t just picked up a few licks or memorized the right chord progressions. The full range of the American musical experience has become twisted in with his DNA.

Whereas many other purveyors of “retro” American music, whether it be Wayne Hancock or Big Bad VooDoo Daddy, succumb to mocking their own genres through comic book posturing, Blue plays music purely for the love of the concoctions he can mix. He imitates stylings out of love, and expands arrangements out of respect, not only capturing the essence of the older sounds, but also the intentions of the musicians who originally coined the musical vocabulary.

So when Blue announced he had signed a record deal to record an all jazz CD, I was excited. Blue is a formidable songwriter and given the sorry state of modern jazz, I expected Blue to release something truly astonishing.

For people not familiar with Blue’s music to date, especially jazz fans, Sordid Lives, might really knock them on their asses. Americans haven’t made jazz with this much gusto for at least four or five decades. Blue’s music hits listeners like too much mescal and cigarette smoke. It is full of life, not the listless life of the David Sanborn or Kenny G crowd, but jazz like it was meant to be, derelict and seamy.

Still, given Blue’s talent and inventiveness, it is a little disappointing that Blue didn’t take this all-jazz CD further. All but two of the tracks are remakes of songs from his four previous record. Great songs to be sure, and they are improved by Blues better understanding of his own material, a few jazzier touches, and an extra lick thrown in here or there, but for the most part, the arrangements don’t depart far from the originals. That may be a testament to how tightly crafted the songs were in the first place, and they were, but it would have been more of a treat to hear Blue stretch himself further.

All of the covers of himself makes the lone new, self-penned song on the CD all that more frustratingly tantalizing. “Uptown at Minton’s” is a fine tribute to be-bop, both in subject matter and execution. It once again displays the range of Blue’s talents, and shows what he could have done with this opportunity to make a through-and-through jazz album.

Longtime Blue fans need not feel the compulsion to rush out and buy this CD (ed. Rush out? You’re review is months late. Yes. Sorry.), but anybody who has never heard Blue, and has any taste for jazz at all, should give himself (or herself, of course) a steamy Christmas present in August and buy Sordid Lives. On its own, it is certainly a five star record.

Oh, another favor you can do for yourself, stop by Buddy’s site and sign up for his e-mail newsletter. It’s the most entertaining musician’s newsletter on the net.

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