www.myspace.com/chicagobluesguide Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
February 6, 2010
By Mark Baier
For many CBG readers, Mose Allison’s urbane wit and jazz-eloquent style needs no introduction. Now 82 years of age, his career has in fact spanned the entire lives of most of his fans! Like a bridge connecting sophisticate jazz with rural blues, Allison’s influence on modern music was forged in the late ‘50s with a series of recordings for Prestige that cross-pollinated country blues and be-bop to create an unusual style that is equal parts Erroll Garner, Sunnyland Slim and Ogden Nash. Indeed, it is Allison’s witty lyrical turns that are his most enduring quality, earning him the title of “The Philosopher of Jazz”. His impact is most recognizable in the English invasion of the 1960s with the Who, the Kinks, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck all recording versions of his songs. At his recent performance at the Jazz Showcase, with the “Yardbird” himself watching over the stage, Allison memorably demonstrated why his music is still relevant and welcome.
Holding court from behind a Steinway concert grand, Allison started the night with a rollicking blues number that dexterously demonstrated a superb technique that characterized his complete command of the instrument. Accompanied by Kelly Sill on bass and Tim Davis on drums, Mose worked from one end of the keyboard to the other, stretching long legato melodies into pools of chords, swimming deep with Monk-ian complexity. The tune galloped through major and minor tonalities which were decidedly archaic in form and mood. The complexity of the chordal inversions and melodic resolutions were generous and dusky, evocative of a bygone era. This is music steeped in experience and wisdom of the ages. A cascade of vocal compositions followed, starting with “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, and continuing with a swinging arrangement of “City Home”, intoning powerfully on “When I Come to the City”, “Stop This World” and the unusually alliterative “Molecular Structure”. Allison seasoned the evening with works from other composers such as Nat King Cole’s “Meet Me at No Particular Place” and Percy Mayfield’s “Stranger in My Own Hometown” as well as a song that has become a Mose standard, John Loudermilk’s “You Call It Jogging” (but I call it running around).
Mose Allison has always had the knack of putting a smiley satirical face on the most dreary of situations, but none are as playfully apocalyptic as his “Ever Since The World Ended”, to wit:
Ever since the world ended,
There's no more black or white.
Ever since we all got blended,
there's no more reason to fuss and fight.
Dogmas that we once defended
no longer seem worthwhile.
Ever since the world ended,
I face the future--
With a smile.
Now that’s a special kind of optimism! With that emboldening him, Allison strode into “You Can’t Push People Around” with it’s swaggering rhythms and commanding old timey piano defiantly standing up to authority. In “My Backyard”, Allison went away to a metaphorical home, complete with a rubbery bass solo by Sill. Chicago's looming Blues legacy was not to be forgotten and Robert Lockwood’s “Who’s Loving You Tonight” and Willie Dixon’s hymnal “I Live the Life I Love, and I Love the Life I Live” ended the evening on a loving, familiar note. Allison’s acknowledgement of Dixon’s influence on him personally was a heartfelt coda to an intimate evening.
Despite his advanced experience here on earth, Mose Allison has been touring at a clip of 150 dates a year. And with the release of his new recording, The Way of the World, he shows no signs of curtailing the frequent flyer miles at all! The CD marks the artist’s first trip to the recording studio in 12 years, thanks to much convincing on the part of fellow musician and producer Joe Henry, who enticed Allison into his basement studio for a five-day session that captured Allison at his most spontaneous. It is worthy of note that The Way of the World is being released on the Anti- label, which is a division of Epitaph Records. Undoubtedly, Mose will be getting a kick out of that somber irony for years to come.
Adding mightily to the evening’s enjoyment was the reverent atmosphere for performance created at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase. The ample stage looks out to a room that is filled with historical artifacts, photos and playbills that harken from an era when Jazz musicians were royalty. The depth of the collection of museum quality vintage photographs and ephemeral material is staggering. Seating was a little bit tight at the SRO event, but the only ones left standing were the attendees arriving after the performance had begun. Given that the parking was a dream for a typical Chicago event evening (the lot is two blocks away, well lit and virtually empty), there is no excuse for not having a comfortable seat at the Jazz Showcase. Just tell them the CBG’s yardbird patrol sent you!