Kurt Crandall is a fine blues harp player who varies his tone and attack according to the wide variety of material at hand. From the opening languid 40’s derived lilting swing of band leader Lucky Millinder’s ‘Shorty’s Got To Go’ to the following cover of Snooky Pryor’s ‘Boogie Fool’ on which pianist Mike Sedovic impresses, Curt digs deep for his tone and doesn’t take long to leave his musical calling card.
He seems happiest on the mid tempo retro stuff, possibly because he has a limited vocal range. But what he lacks in the vocal department he makes up with the beautiful tonal range of his harmonica as he explores the blues from his native Chicago via Kansas City Jump blues to the heavy on the back beat west Coast swing feel.
But for Kurt, feel is everything. On the title track for example, he brings an almost country blues nuance to his harp playing emphasizing a sonorous feel in a duet with the dulcet tones of 91 years young Myra Taylor. It’s often said that you can best judge a blues artist’s credentials on a slow blues. Well on this low down shuffle, with its restrained harp solo and perfect rhythm section featuring the gentle brushed strokes of drummer Mike Schlick and further intuitive piano fills from Mike Sedovic, Kurt finds his true niche.
Rather than use songs as a thin smokescreen for solo after solo, he has that rare ability to lean into his solos as a means to accentuate the song. He really impresses on the cool jazzy instrumental ‘Gourmet Ice’, a fine all round band outing in which each member is an integral part of the whole. And it is simply the levels of feel and judicious moments of restraint that make this such a delight. Listen to Karl Angerer’s gentle guitar break and Kurt’s subsequent expressive harp solo before the thematic coda and you are hearing a band who dedicates themselves to the genre rather than using the latter for their own ends.
Later on they tackle a glorious slice of west coast wing on another instrumental the harp led ‘Hypomanic’, which is one of the very best tracks on the album. Again the band manages to swing in a sophisticated way that sets the perfect showcase for some delightful harp playing. That’s not to say that they can’t rock out, as guitarist Mike Sedovic toughens up his tone on ‘Late Night Rendevous’, sounding not unlike Junior Watson.
If there is a down side it’s simply that this album will probably only hold appeal for a limited audience stretching from down home and west Coast enthusiasts to jazzers. But in an age where both volume and various other excesses are too often used as an excuse for real substance, Kurt bides his time, explores the possible variations of his blues and settles for a gentle rolling style that makes the most of his core band.
You get the feeling Kurt Crandall could make it as a virtuoso harp player in his own right but for the moment his excellent band serve him superbly and provide the best imaginable foil for his well honed style.