Three Shades Of Blue
J. Beaudoin | Waltham, MA USA | 12/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The following review is by noted music writer Ted Drozdowski. He was present at the live taping of the PBS TV show CD Highway at the Stoneham Theater in 2002 which became the New Guitar Summit DVD: Live At The Stonham Theater.
BY TED DROZDOWSKI
The three guitarists - Jay Geils, Duke Robillard, and Gerry Beaudoin - are seated on stools across the front of the stage, swinging like crazy through Count Basie's "Broadway." The music is practically throwing sparks, though this is just the sound check and, for now, chaos is boss. Technicians in ninja black are crawling all over the Stoneham Theatre, testing boom microphones, laying cables, and trying to get the hornets out of the PA.
JAY, DUKE, AND GERRY: live these men and their vintage guitars and sound bring an over-spilling reservoir of fresh energy to both the standards and their. own contributions to the catalogue.
Robillard takes a solo, but his guitar is
competing with the angry buzz of the
stage-left speakers. Next, a crackle
fires through the air like static
electricity. Then the microphone for
Robillard's acoustic guitar starts to feed back, and the low string on Beaudoin's custom seven-string Benedetto joins in, humming its way to a low howl. The TV crew's stage manager hovers nervously, waiting to give the three six-stringers instructions as bassist John Turner's cord starts popping. Both soundmen move in and begin pulling things apart, less than a half-hour from the taping's scheduled start.
Nonetheless, when the audience has filled the restored theater's comfortable seats and the cameras begin to roll, all that's past. The trio, who have swapped their blue jeans for earth-toned suits and are augmented by bass and drums, start with a sprint through "Glide On." Robillard takes the first solo, which is full of precisely sculpted notes. Then Geils steps in, upping the ante with slurs and unpredictable accents, and he's followed by Beaudoin, who caps his solo with a long, smart statement chiseled from gorgeous chords that brings a flood of applause.
So goes the rest of the November 8 taping oUite PBS show CD Highway, this episode being a live-wire celebration of the warm, distortion-free vocabulary of jazz and blues guitar from the '30s through the '60s. All three players deliver beautiful solo after beautiful solo, precise harmony and unison playing, and witty turns - like working quotes from Miles Davis's "All Blues" and a snatch of the Jeopardy theme into exploratory improvisations. Plus there's husky, soulful singing from Robillard in his "Lonely Blues" and a nice vocal turn through "Ain't Nobody's Business" by Beaudoin.
The performance, which marks CD Highway's jump from a half-hour to an hour-long show, is an overdub-free delight, just like the trio's new Retrospective (Q&W Music). The disc convenes Beaudoin, Geils, and Robillard for three new recordings, rounding out its 11 tunes with jazz-blues cuts from solo albums by Robillard and Beaudoin and a cut from Geils's Bluestime group with his old J. Geils Band partner Magic Dick on harmonica. Beaudoin, a distinguished blues and jazz player and educator, is the nucleus of the group. In 1993 Geils came to one of Beaudoin's gigs and introduced himself. A short time later they paired up for their first performance together, at the Rendezvous in Waltham. Beaudoin soon began inviting Robillard, the founder of Roomful of Blues and a stalwart of the contemporary international blues circuit, to join them at gigs. And the group they've dubbed New Guitar Summit formed.
"I do a performance with seven guitarists in New York every year, and it's fun, but not as much fun as this," Beaudoin says after the show as the trio briefly unwind in the substage dressing room. "The three of us are buddies."
They're also longstanding friends of this music - vintage jazz from the days when it was enriched directly by the waters of the blues. "I started out as a trumpet player, but I had no horn chops," says Geils, sipping a gin and tonic made from a swanky little portable bar that's built into a chubby brown attache case he carries ("It's from the '50s"). "For our own reasons, we all ended up being guitar players, but we're playing the same kind of music that first grabbed us."
"I've been listening to swing-era jazz since 1970, when 1 started Roomful of Blues," Robillard explains. "My parents probably listened to some of that, and I remember seeing Lionel Hampton and Basie on TV when I was a little kid. Once I realized how connected to it I was, well, it just became the ultimate form of music for me, because it's got jazz improvisation, a blues sound and feeling, and a dance beat. Which to me makes it the most entertaining music."
Especially live, where these men and their vintage guitars and sound bring an over-spilling reservoir of fresh energy to both the standards and their own
contributions to the catalogue. With just three full-trio cuts, Retrospective barely taps the thrills they're capable of live. But Geils mentions that a fl.1l1 trio CD is on the agenda. Their label, the Saugus-based and nationally distributed Q&W, has the same owner and artistic director as CD Highway, Tony Weston. That made the trio a natural for the first hour-long episode of the show, which jumps to affiliate stations in April.
the trio a natural for the first hour-long episode of the show, which jumps to 1oO affiliate stations in April.