Nathan James At The Pub
Larry Nash/Spank Wilson in West L.A.
Review by Jim Merod
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Nathan James At Jim Kelly's Pub
"You can't get no respect no more, no way, see? It's all just cannibals out there
yellin'. Maybe it all goes back to real stupid music over the years, you know, like the
Beatles or Mick Jagger and worse yet...
At any rate, I don't take no [blank] from no one, not band mates or fans or agents 'cause I'm the real [blank]. I listen to me and maybe Hank Williams. That's it. I'm done." -- The former well regarded artist now known as [blank]
Early September has been a time for memorial tributes, national healing, and musical reflection. America has sought to reinvent self-confidence. Enter this sober landscape bluesman
Nathan James, age twenty-four, already an ageless musician.
While you have not yet heard of Nathan James, you will someday. He cut his blues teeth on the road with blues harpist James Harman. Nothing in that brutal travel regime accounts for the inherent, somewhat astonishing artistry this young man brings to performances. Master James is the real deal... a guitarist (acoustic, electric, slide) with enormous technique, touch, taste, and chops.
His vocal work is no less mesmerizing, a fact that follows from his deep respect for his material and for legendary musicians who preceded him: Big Bill
Broonzy, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Mississippi John Hurtt and others.
Respect is always at the core of a great artist's splendor since no artist invents his format or repertoire entire. Art is a learned exercise seeking boundaried freedom within any media or stylistic framework. Because of his native talent and humility, it is difficult to imagine a musician as engaging as Nathan James pontificating or complaining as failed musicians often do. This is a musician who takes care of business and leaves the whirligig of self-pity to inferiors.
Although he has not yet splashed down in the vast commercial pond that defines notoriety (name recognition, big paychecks, large egos, and all that defines "success" in America), the lack of pomp and bluster in young Master James is a genuine virtue . . . no strutting pontification, just low down, right on, no nonsense, take your heart and carry it away energy. Such energy begins with rhythm, an exotic (if apparently effortless) temporal surge that seems to gush from Nathan James. He has created a special tool, a simple but effective foot stomping board that allows him to perform without any percussion accompaniment beyond his own infectious toe tapping. Inventive and precise, this device allows James to establish his stunningly original one-man-band...
a potentially dreary and genuinely worn out format that traditionally has spawned unmusical gimmicks.
Nothing about Nathan James is gimmick-riddled. This is a young man who has more music within him, urgent for expression, than any five or six more experienced blues musicians you can round up for your local gig.
Musical triumphs inevitably begin with extraordinary rhythmic sense. The suave persuasiveness of Nathan James's music goes deeper yet. There is an informed absorption of the great blues tradition that frames everything he puts forth. His picking is clean and quick, flawless and (in one word) superb. His vocals rivet you to your seat awaiting the next surprising swerve across their earthy authenticity.
Self-deprecating to a fault, Mr. James will not acknowledge his own superior achievement, as if not to curse a still unfolding talent. What a departure such mature modesty is from conventional addictions to self-aggrandizement and bombast.
Recently, in a blues jam with experienced players, the leader -- a somewhat over the horizon player searching for lost inspiration -- departed the bandstand, leaving Nathan James to fill the
available space and time. Fill them, he did. His initial instrumental romp across a heavily-inflected, raucously perfect blues lifted his rapt listeners to their feet. His following vocal was met with cries of amazed appreciation. The lights had dimmed to an erotic glow. An intimate mood was set. A rare talent had just grabbed dozens of rowdy revelers by the scruff of their necks. When the leader returned, the bandstand shrank like air blown out of a collapsing balloon.
At Jim Kelly's Pub, a marble clad, well appointed bistro on the Pacific coast highway in Encinitas, north of La Jolla and the Del Mar Race Track, Nathan James' gigs attract local musicians who come to see and hear an unrivaled peer. Each song he chooses, performed as vibrantly with nonchalant ease as Muddy Waters or Frank Sinatra in their prime, lights the room with cheer.
And that -- relentless cheer, unending joy in the act of making music -- is at the heart of this beguiling musician's art. Although he has not yet fully plugged himself into the high-current circuit of major blues companions, and has not yet completed his debut album (which is en route), Nathan James is genuinely a major blues talent. Everyone starts somewhere and this young man has a long head start over just about everyone in his often too-derivative artistic generation. If you love the irrepressible soul of country blues, keep your ears ready for this cat. Lock the name Nathan James in your mind. This young man is here to stay...
a bluesman from the past, at home in the present, hard at work for the future.
Larry Nash And Spanky
On The West Side, Los Angeles
Pianist Larry Nash was on fire recently at a late afternoon gig in the sun-drenched foyer of the Westin-LAX. Accompanied by saxophone powerhouse
Rickey Woodard, Nash romped through an hour's 'warm up' set, showing his martini and beer nut listeners how varied jazz and blues material truly is . . . how implicated, one within the other, they are.
Nash has recorded with, among others, Cannonball Adderly, Eddie Harris, Lena Horne, Bobby
Hutcherson, Willie Bobo, Marlena Shaw, Stan Getz and other jazz luminaries. His gigs, in any format or circumstance, are always stellar affairs. Maestro Woodard, whose album credits are too numerous to list -- including stints with Jimmy and Jeannie Cheatham's suave blues aggregation; legendary pianist Gerald Wiggins; and his own band's several Concord Jazz releases -- is a musician who embodies the Golden Era of the great jazz heritage. His artistic predecessors are Buddy Tate, Lockjaw Davis, and Jimmy Forrest.
Nash, for his part, has created a splendid band, seldom out of work, fortunate to sport the extraordinary talent of Mr. Woodard: an artful association that drove this raucous late afternoon party to higher highs than most in attendance anticipated.
Such cheerful midweek festivities were engaged by the booking genius of Merle
Kriebich, a savvy woman who knows who and what to match musically. This occasion sailed under the banner of vocalist
Spanky Wilson, who further heated an already warm mix of blues and ballads. The quartet's hour-long groove remained unbroken as Ms. Wilson emerged to keep the steady churn going.
Those in the crowd aware of Wilson's forthright way with a song greeted her entrance like the long lost cousin she truly is. Now returned to Los Angeles after years in Paris, Ms. Wilson strutted her material with a smooth, infectious brio that captivated old friends and made new ones. Every foot in the ample hotel foyer was abob with motion. The long partnership between pianist Nash and vocalist Wilson appeared in each musical nuance. It documented an old lesson. The blues cannot be faked.
The authentic blues, that is, in all of its essential forms. What does such authenticity consist of? The question lures chroniclers and historians to search for adequate insight. The answer is simultaneously obvious and elusive. The blues depend upon feeling...
not so much the low down, dirty feeling of love denied (deferred, destroyed) as that other more winsome element of human expression: celebratory lamentation.
Mr. Nash has perfected the art of celebrating those subtleties of regret that demand declaration. The blues in its classic (permanent, uplifting) incarnations insists upon speech and song… an almost prayerful yet wholly secular songful speech that puts the world on notice. Someone under the spell of the soulful blues mood, in its vast insouciance, will not be denied...
and so essential statements of the blues are almost always ecstatic, even when they cry with immiserated self-abnegation.
Larry Nash seems to understand such things. His expression of blues-like victories scours the hundred-year blues archive, its musical tricks and emotional turns -- its semi-literary dramatic prologues and quasi-tragic reversals hung out across the reach of his keyboard's aching voice. In concert with the resolute Spanky Wilson, the blues put their stamp on a crowd enthralled by such sultry lessons on a balmy afternoon. Who, better than two blues pals, Wilson and Nash, to loose soulful demons? What, better than the bottomless cornucopia of Rickey Woodard's horn, to magnify that ache?
Musical generosity is a gift without contradiction. The blues (you dig?) ain't no private enclave. It's your own mojo brewing. It's about timing, since time keeping (time's slow yet sometimes much too quick release) is at the root of feeling.
Get on the train. Toss your papers aside. Here's the news: Spanky Wilson's back home waking early snoozers from slumber. Settle in awhile. Ask Mr. Nash to play "So What?" Tug at Ms. Wilson's sleeve. More
Strayhorn. More Basie. Whatever it is they offer, it's the last best thing you'll need.