The most enduring of musical forms. the Blues has expanded its range enormously from its origins in the American South. Robert Cray is the current superstar of contemporary blues. but. as KENNY MATT llESON discovers. at some remove from the raw.
earthy roots of the music.
‘You know. to me a blues song is literally a sad song. so people like Muddy Waters and l-lowlin‘ Wolf didn‘t always sing blues. even though they may have been using the same kind of musical structures in those other songs. Something like Mannish Boy. for instance. is not what I call a blues. I still like that stuff. but I don't think of it as blues.’
A cursory listen to any of Cray‘s albums (check Bad Influence. Strong Persuader or Don 't Be Afraid ofthe Dark) will bear out his contention. He is in his element on poignant. mid-tempo songs that reflect his love of a broader range ofsinging styles. ‘I like soul singers. especially Gospel-influenced soul singers. people like Sam Cooke and Bobby Bland. Many of the guys who sing blues got a lot from that soul feeling.‘
Cray hails from Eugene. Oregon. geographically distant from both the cradle of the blues in the so-called Mississippi Delta (an area near Memphis. several hundred miles north ofthe actual river delta). and the first home ofthe urban blues style in Chicago. Perhaps as a consequence. he absorbed the form alongside other strong inﬂuences.
‘I played rock and roll and I played soul. but I got involved with blues because I had some friends who were listening to BB King and Buddy Guy
and people like that. At first I was digging their guitar playing. We‘d sit around and learn all the licks from the records. but there was something about the feel ofthe music that I really dug. As I got a little older. I started to understand what they were singing about. and I liked the idea that the songs are about people‘s everyday lives. That's what interested me the most. and that's why I stuck with it.‘
Cray‘s version of the blues. as performed by his super-tight touring band. augmented by the ubiquitous Memphis Horns. owes a lot to the mainstream slickness of contemporary rock.
‘That‘s just something that happened in the band. with all the inﬂuences that we have from different kinds ofmusic. It‘s really not a case of us sitting down and deliberately trying to create that sound. that is just the way it came out from this particular mix of people. Richard Cousins was there from the start in 1974. and Peter Boe and David ()lsen joined in 1979. although Peter left for a bit. and only came back in 1984. It is a band. That‘s the way it has always been. and our sound wouldn't be the same without these players.‘
Robert Cray Band. Edinburgh Playhouse. July 9.
More than any other of jazz's great bandleaders. Duke Ellington's particular compositional genius is bound up with both the performance and the performers of his music. in a way which has few. if any. parallels in classical composition. The piano was Ellington's instrument. but in a wider sense it was really the orchestra which he played. and the distinctive textural and tonal qualities of his music were crucially forged from the highly individual sounds of the men who played them.
Pianist Cecil Taylor pointed out to me how interesting it was that ‘when other people have attempted to play his— quote - ‘arrangemcnts.' the sound was never quite the same.‘ Ellington. he asserted. was developing a sound world as personal as - although obviously very different from — that of John Cage. and the individuality of his great soloists. men like Johnny Hodges. Barney Bigard. Harry Carney. Cootie Williams. and the rest. had their part to play in that alchemy.
Despite that. there is no shortage of those eager to take on the Ellington songbook. and many of his tunes have passed into the standard repertoire. The band which Duke‘s son Mercer brings to Glasgow this weekend attempts to continue the great tradition by keeping it in the family. ‘My father kept himself abreast of each generation.‘ says Mercer. '1 le didn‘t allow a generation gap to exist. He always stayed ahead of things.‘
That openness to change is a tribute to Duke's genius for absorbing diverse musical forms into his own distinctive sound. as well as his willingness to continue experimenting even in his final years. when most of his surviving contemporaries from the swing era were happy to settle for nostalgia.
Mercer achieved an
award-winning synthesis of his father‘s style in the Digital Duke record. but Cecil is right: even in this unit. still bearingthe master's name. it doesn't sound quite the same. Which is not to say it doesn't sound good.
Stan Tracy. a long-time Ellington devotee and leader of one of the best groups in the country. brings his own tribute to the Duke during the Edinburgh Festival at the Usher Hall. His recent album [illingtonia is certainly a fine interpretation. (KM) Duke Ellington Orchestra. Glasgow Theatre Royal. lJuly.
()kay. so you‘ve got money to burn and itchy feet. and the recent
heatwave just isn't enough
to persuade you that you ought to take your summer break in Dunoon. Where can the jaded thrill-seeker look to break the grind of Majorca and Corfu. not to mention escape the curse of Euro-pop?
Well. maybe Jamaica. courtesy ofthe l8 month-old Music Travel Centre. who are offering an inclusive ten day trip from London to the island's famous reggae festival. Sunsplash ‘89. which runs from August 14—24. Featured artists this year will include Burning Spear. Dennis Brown. (iregory lsaacs. Ziggy Marley. Steel Pulse and Shinehead. among many others. and the action will take place in the Bob Marley Entertainment Centre in Montego Bay.
The inclusive trip starts at £695. which includes return ﬂights from London. hotels. and a guaranteed special Festival pass which not only gets you into all Festival events. but the
backstage hospitality area as well. The stay can be extended by 2. 7 or 9days for a surprisingly small extra cost (the full l9day binge starts at £845).
Music Travel was
l ! l
formed by a group of people previously involved in Adventure Travel. and specialises in organising trips to music festivals all over the world. as well as catering to the requirements of touring musicans. Next year. they are looking to break new ground by organising thematic trips like a Music Trail around America‘s various musical centres. and a Rhythm and Beaches sampling of the Caribbean‘s diverse riches. in addition to covering festivals ranging from Sunsplash to the Mozart Festival in Salzburg. Montreux Jazz to Chicago Blues.
. They consider themselves to be a genuinely European company ahead of the single market. and already have an office in Belgium. ltnportantly. they promise that they will not arrange any trip unless tickets for the actual events are absolutely guaranteed. and report a good reaction to the venture from all the Festivals they have approached so far. (KM) For information on Reggae Stump/ash '8 9 or forthcoming Music Travel events. ring ()I 38.? 7518. or write to Musit‘ Travel Centre Ltd. 1 Thane! Street. London W ( ‘l l’ 9QX.
Saxophone giant Sonny Rollins. who drew almost twice the Queen‘s l lall‘s capacity at the Usher l lall on his previous visit to Scotland. will play a single concert in the smaller venue on 22 August. The concert is part of Assembly Music‘s Edinburgh Festival season (again sponsored by TDK) at Scotland‘s premier jazz venue. which celebrates its ten yearsof involvement in the music with a special concert on June 30 (see Jazz).
The mouth-watering prospect of Rollins in a venue more conducive to jazz than the lisher l lall is slightly tnarred by an unavoidable clash which puts him on at the same time as the Mcliwan‘s [Edinburgh Jazz Festival's Tommy Smith lixperienee at Mcadowbank. Nonetheless. the combined programmes offer a wide range of music. including Courtney Pine and the (ieorgc RUssell ()rchcstra at Queen's Hall. and a French season featuring Stephane (irappelli and saxophonist (iuy Lafitte as part of the Mcliwan's event. Programme details on the latter are available now from the MlilJl-~ ()ffice. l thanongate. Edinburgh. See Book Now.
The List 30 June — 13 July 1989 37