Heavy Timbre: Chicago Boogie Piano

Various Artists

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Heavy Timbre: Chicago Boogie Piano Review

by Dave Nathan

On one glorious day in June of 1976, five of Chicago's most prominent piano blues/boogie-woogie players got together for a session reminiscent of rent parties of the past, when this music was played loud and long enough to cause eviction, thereby avoiding the payment of overdue rent. Sirens Records made the original recording and has reissued it with five bonus tracks from the same session. On the bonus material, laughing, glass-clinking, and conversation are picked up. The outcome is more than a hour of blues/boogie-woogie played in the Chicago tradition. That city, as much as any, can claim to be the Mecca for this kind of music. Two of the style's more famous pacesetters, Albert Ammons and Meade "Lux" Lewis, were working as taxi drivers before being "discovered" by impresario John Hammond. Here Blind John Davis leads off with three cuts, vocalizing on two of them. Sunnyland Slim opens his tunes with a short announcement of what he's going to do and then does it. Willie Mabon's approach is somewhat lower in volume with less momentum that the two preceding artists, more in line with traditional blues. The next two artists, Jimmy Walker and Erwin Helfer, who recorded together during the 1960s and 1970s, are not as well known as their compatriots, at least outside of Chicago. But their performance confirms that they belong in this rarefied company. One of the class tracks is "Big Joe," where Sunnyland Slim plays organ on a duet with Helfer. Each of the players was a fine exponent of this style of music on their own. But when thrown together in something akin to a competitive setting, the playing reaches heavenly levels. This collection of a jazz piano form which unfortunately has lost some of its burnish over the years is highly recommended.

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