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CD & Live Review
Mark Hummel
@ Biscuits & Blues, 10/8/98
"Low Down to Uptown"
Tone-Cool CD TC 1169
12 tracks, 53 minutes
By Ray Stiles
Mark Hummel's new Tone-Cool CD "Low Down to Uptown" is an excellent offering of diverse musical styles that reveals the versatility of Hummel's harmonica playing. From traditional Chicago styles blues like James Cotton to the West Coast sounds of George Smith, Hummel has mastered the blues harmonica and even takes excursions into some swing, jazz and creative original songs. There is a very nice rendition of the Wynonie Harris song "Keep A Talkin'." He has also surrounded himself with an excellent supporting cast. The CD features guest appearances by Charles Brown, Junior Watson, David Maxwell and Mike Welch which, when combined with Hummel's solid harmonica playing, makes for a pretty potent album. He is a solid blues harp player who has mastered the Chicago and West Coast style of harmonica and is in the same class as Portnoy, Primich, Wilson, Piazza and Estrin This is also one of those albums that keeps growing on you with every listen.

At Hummelís live shows you pretty much know what to expect - solid harmonica playing in a versatile vein fairly similar to this CD but solidly founded in traditional blues harp. At this show his band also did an entertaining version of "Bo Diddley" with an extended drum solo and some very sweet, high-register harp playing with some very clear tones. The harp took the place of the voice in the song.

Hummel started playing harmonica while still in high school back in LA in the early 1970's. He said all his friends were pretty good at guitar so he thought he had a better chance at the harmonica. He was initially influenced by Jimmy Whitherspoon, Albert King, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Crayton, Rod Piazza and then he got into the old Chicago guys, especially James Cotton. His favorite singers were Jimmy Rogers and Brownie McGhee both of whom he got to play with. At the age of 19 he moved up to the Bay Area which had a stronger blues scene at the time with players like Elvin Bishop, Luther Tucker, Francis Clay, Musselwhite and Hooker. Hummel said the blues scene was still pretty much underground back then and other than the Filmore, you had to go to the ghetto clubs to hear it.

Mark said his band has served as a fertile training ground for many fine musicians who later went on to play in other bands. A young 19-year-old Rusty Zinn spent three years playing guitar with Hummel. Zinn went on to play with Kim Wilson and drummer Jimmy Bott left to play with Piazza. If you like blues harmonica, Mark Hummelís work definitely needs to be in your collection.

Tone-Cool Records Web Site: http://www.tonecool.com

This review is copyright © 1998 by Ray Stiles, all rights reserved.

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