Sunday, September 6, 2015

Gerry Jablonski and the Electric Band - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 5 September 2015

Balance and variety.  When Gerry Jablonski and the Electric Band get those two elements working in tandem, they’re very good.  The balance is between Jablonski’s guitar and Pete Narojczyk’s harp, personifying a happy collision between mainstream (but not derivative) blues-tinged rock and a throwback to the days when harp players were often the star soloists in Chicago R&B outfits.  In itself that synthesis is an original approach.  But like Bad Company, or in more recent years Thunder, Jablonski and co also broaden their repertoire with excursions into other territory.
Their strengths are immediately apparent as they kick off their set with some grinding, pulsing riffing before Narojczyk kicks in on harmonica with punkish intensity, as a preface to some classic call and response with Jablonski.  None of the individual elements may be new, but with a driving rhythm section the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  The following ‘Hard To Make A Living’ ramps up this formula, with a surge of wah-wah guitar from Jablonski followed up by a ferocious harp solo from Narojczyk.
'Blow that harp, Pete!'
They follow that up with differently original stuff, Jablonski contributing jazzy chords to the delightfully upbeat ‘Lady & I’, on which Grigor Leslie on bass and Lewis Fraser on drums show how they can swing.  By the same token ‘Rich Or Poor’ has the kind of restrained but funky feel of some of Bad Company's more laid back offerings.
They throw themselves into the title track from their latest album, ‘Trouble With The Blues’, with some squelching bass from Leslie a prelude to fierce harp and guitar solos.  The following ‘Hard To Make A Living’ builds from mournful harp into a swell of power, in classic slow blues territory.  Balance is in evidence throughout all of this, the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
Variety comes with ‘Anybody’, a plaintive, almost Beatle-ish ballad on which Lewis Fraser shows off his vocal talents.  ‘Big Bad World’, meanwhile, illustrates their willingness to take on big subjects lyrically - the reference to Putin’s Russia flexing its muscles understandable given the Polish origins of Jablonski and Narojczyk.  ‘The Dance’ follows, one of their best pieces of writing, spinning off from mainstream rock in a similar fashion to something like, say, the Stones’ ‘Under Cover’. ‘Virgil Cane’, an apparently seldom performed track from their Life At Captain Tom’s, offers another instance of out-West type Bad Company or Eagles sounds.
And then . . . and then the balance is lost for a while with the likes of 'High On You', a prosaic, 70s style power ballad, where the harmonica may still be present but takes a back seat to epic guitar soloing.  Gerry Jablonski’s axe hero capering wears thin when not balanced with Narojczyk’s twitching urgency. The guy has guitar-playing chops, but they are best deployed in combining with the strengths of his fellow band members, rather than exploring epic guitar wig-out horizons.
Thankfully, ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ saves to the day, closing the set with the kind of funky, original sound that they’re capable of at they’re best, before they brew up a rabble-rousing racket of an encore with the boogie of 'Sherry Dee', whipped up out of all recognition from its recorded version.

Openers the Simon Brett Band are admirably tight but loose through much of a set exploring Clapton/Cream/Cale stylings.  Brett’s guitar injects a jolt of energy into the all too often soporific ‘Call Me The Breeze’, while Dougie Hamilton on drums looks like he’s having a whale of a time delivering some excellent drums on ‘Crazy Mama’.  Meanwhile Tracy Shaw on bass gradually ups the ante from a casual stroll to jazz it up and gel with her bandmates’ vibrancy.  John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boom Boom’ is a similar high point, with plenty of dynamics thrown in.  But by the time they reach the closing ‘Pack It Up’ they’re in danger of gilding the lily, giving it plenty apart rather than together.  Less is more sometimes folks – the whole should be greater than the sum of the parts.

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