There aren't many all-instrumental blues bands around today, probably because it takes musicians of this level to really pull it off and keep things interesting. Katz is pretty much the king of the keys as far as I'm concerned (the fact that he was one of Ronnie Earl's Broadcasters was my first clue). I've been completely hooked ever since hearing his 1997 release, "Mississippi Moan". Like the live gig, the CD is really a marriage of jazz and blues. The band on this tour was made up of the same core musicians on the CD: guitarist Julien Kasper, drummer Ralph Rosen and bassist Mark Poniatowski.
Photo © 1999 Ann Wickstrom
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Katz alternated between piano and B3 (and even played both at once a few times), such as on Ray Charles' "Drown in My Own Tears". He led his troops through many of the tunes on Mississippi Moan, including "Hep-ology" (which also appears on Ronnie Earl's "The Colour of Love" under a different spelling), the fast & frantic "Jackalope Bar-B-Q", and an acid jazz offering of "Compared to What" (popularized decades ago by Les McCann).
Some of the biggest highlights of the show were the segments when Bruce was going it alone, playing the gospel-flavored "In the Garden" with it's booming bass notes and lower register chords and the pounding "Norton's Boogie". It was hard to believe how heavy, solid and steady his left-hand work was. And then there's Julien. What a creative and courageous guitar player this cat is. He was eliciting otherworldly sounds from his Strat. At times he sounds a lot like Eric Johnson, and - at the other end of the spectrum - Danny Gatton. His solos often go totally over the edge and he has many unique and original tricks up his sleeve.
The band dusted off a few tunes from Katz' first two albums: the title tracks from Crescent Crawl and Transformation as well as "Deep Pockets" and "BK's Broiler". They also pulled out a couple of new ones: "Beef Jerky", "The Screaming Fast Slow Blues" and a still un-named song. Bruce invited the crowd to make suggestions for it's title, but said they were thinking it should have something to do with the Teletubbies. Funny thing is, I had to agree! It had a somewhat silly, "Baby Elephant Walk" kind of feel to it. They also did a few covers, including the Earl King/Professor Longhair tune "Big Chief" and the fastest version of "San Ho-Zay" I've ever heard.
I suspect it will be a long time before we'll get a chance to hear the Bruce Katz Band again here in the Twin Cities, but you never know. Keep your eyes and ears open, and in the mean time pick up a copy of "Mississippi Moan" for some great, funky, greazy, jazzy, instrumental blues.
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This review is copyright © 1999 by Ann Wickstrom, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.