Review: John Mayall – Smokin’ Blues

Posted on: Tuesday, Jul 3, 2012

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John Mayall – Smokin’ Blues

(Secret Records: SECCD047)

Here’s a nice addition to the vast back-catalogue of the legendary British bluesman and band leader John Mayall, although perhaps the title, “Smokin’ Blues” may be a little deceiving as this release has a quota of jazz flavours – I suspect these recordings have seen the light of day before, and hail from two concerts in Frankfurt, almost exactly a year apart – 2nd May, 1972 (four tracks) and 17th May, 1973 (eight tracks).

This was very much during Mayall’s ‘no star guitarist’ era of the ‘Jazz Fusion’ and the band, apart from the man himself on vocals, piano, guitar and harmonica, features Freddie Robinson (aka Abu Talib) (guitar), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Clifford Solomon (tenor sax), Victor Gaskin (bass) and Keff Hartley (drums) – with Red Holloway replacing Clifford Solomon on sax for the 1973 tracks.

Mitchell (ex-Horace Silver Quintet) and Solomon (ex-Lionel Hampton) were very much jazz musicians, with the blues edge coming from guitarist Robinson, who worked with Howlin’ Wolf in Chicago, and drummer, Hartley . . . who was on board in a later Bluesbreakers line-up. Bass player Gaskin also hails from the jazz scene, having played with Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley and Chico Hamilton.

The 12 tracks here, basically amount to eight, as four are ‘spoken’ narratives or intros, and the sound quality is not of the highest order . . . however putting that aside proceedings gets off to a lively start, after a band introduction from Mayall, with his own “Got You On My Mind”, a bluesy shuffle, with some jazz leanings,  featuring some nice guitar from Freddie Robinson and harmonica from Mayall. “No Smoking” is a leisurely slow blues that is punctuated by the brass of Mitchell and Solomon, and tasteful licks from Robinson.

“No Holds Barred”, the last of the 1972 songs, rides on a nice funky groove, with some impressive work from Keef Hartley on the drums. The second concert again is opened with a band introduction, leading into the 11 minutes plus of “Feels Good In Frankfurt”, with Mayall on piano and the guitar of Robinson again standing out. The jazzy shuffle of “Next Time Around” is again a very lengthy piece with a driving groove from the rhythm section of Hartley and Victor Gaskin, and the whole ensemble soloing.

“Sad To Be Alone” sees Mayall again on harmonica and a somewhat anguished vocal, but is underpinned by some glorious guitar work. Blue Mitchell gets an introduction from Red Holloway before featuring on Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty” with some great trumpet before the band kick in on this funky, jazzy number. Proceedings end on a uptempo, rollicking blues in “Make My Bed Tonight”, with the German audience stomping and clapping along . . . they certainly enjoyed it!

Not from John Mayall’s greatest period, but a very worthy release and a fitting tribute to many of these great players who are sadly no longer with us, including Keef Hartley, Freddie Robinson and Red Holloway.

GRAHAME RHODES

www.secretrecordslimited.com

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