Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Jed Potts and the Hillman Hunters - Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, 21 February 2016

Guitarist, singer and occasional banjo player Jed Potts is a mainstay of the Edinburgh blues scene whose playing I’ve enjoyed in various different contexts at times over the last couple of years.  But when it comes to his blues trio Jed Potts and the Hillman Hunters, their schedule and my diary have conspired against me catching them again since the launch of the Edinburgh Blues Club two years ago.  No matter, this week the planets were aligned for once, and I managed to catch them at the Jazz Bar – and, as a special bonus, with a horn section drawn from some of Jed’s compadres (the Hillman Husky Horns, no less).
Jed Potts - Eyes Wide Shut
They kick off in trio format though, with a Freddie King instrumental, and from the off there’s great guitar from Potts, attacked with funky exuberance.  The following ‘Fishing After Me’ – essentially ‘Catfish Blues’ by another name – reinforces that sense of gusto.  Over a shuffling rhythm, Potts gets physically engaged in his soloing, responding to the rhythm of the song.  And on a subsequent slow blues his guitar licks go in unusual directions, with variations in tone including some nicely squelchy notes.
The horn section enters the fray for BB King’s ‘Days Of Old’ – which, let’s face it, would be better titled ‘Gonna Ball Tonight’ – and immediately hits the bullseye.  By the time they get to Larry Williams’ proto-rock’n’roll jump blues ‘Boney Maronie’ the whole outfit is in top gear, with a great sax solo from Tom Pickles, rumbling guitar from Potts, and a belting horn ensemble passage.
They drift through something which Potts characterises with a Neil Young quote as “starting off slow then fizzling out”, but which actually features nicely woozy horns and a tense, piercing guitar solo.
One of the key things about Jed Potts, I think, is his pervading sense of fun, whether it’s on Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson stuff of a ‘Blueberry Hill’ mode, with biting guitar sounds and Hispanic undertones, or when blasting through Chuck Berry’s ‘Back to Memphis’, with the horn guys showing well-drilled synchronicity – or indeed on Gary US Bonds ‘New Orleans’, where his guitar solo demonstrates his happy knack of taking you where you want to go, but surprising you with how you get there.  And into the bargain, he’s capable of taking blues of different modes, and elements of New Orleans funk, and melding them into something coherent.
Potts was ably assisted here by Jonny Christie on drums, Craig McFadyen on bass, and the horns of Tom Pickles (sax), Charles Dearness (trumpet) and Ross Lothian (trombone).  For his next adventure I’d like to see whether he’s got some original material up his sleeve.
Support act Piranha Blues also feature a tasteful selection of blues covers.  ‘Help Me’ is restrained and reflective, with an interesting guitar solo from Richard Price and mournful harp from guest Roy Mitton.  ‘Mean Old Frisco’, meanwhile, hits the mark as a shuffling country-ish blues, with a nicely twangy slice of guitar from Scott Hannah.  Personally I’d like stuff like ‘Tore Down’, ‘Walking By Myself’ and ‘Ice Cream Man’ to have a bit more welly – just kick it in the nuts, guys! But that’s probably more to do with my previous acquaintance with these tunes with anything else. To be fair though, on the set closer of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘The House Is A Rockin’’ they duly deliver the kind of rough and tumble that keeps me happy.

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