Sunday, April 2, 2017

Christian Coleman And The Blue Zen Band ~~ Jazz, Blues, Rock ‘N’ Roll

Christian Coleman is a blues musician making a living in Salt Lake City, Utah. A beautiful city, a beautiful state, but not one that’s known for its embrace of a blues culture. Sure, their basketball team is named The Utah Jazz, but’s that’s because they kept the name when they relocated from New Orleans.
Fortunately, the city has a major airport and a great highway system that allows Coleman and his compatriots, The Blue Zen Band to make forays into other cities and states so that they can play more blues. I’m all for more blues.
Being a successful musician in the blues and jazz fields in Salt Lake City means being able to play different genres. Need a rock band for your party? Here we are.
There’s a moment in the movie Blues Brothers 2000 in which Queen Mousette, played by Erykah Badu asks Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) to play something Caribbean. Elwood replies, “We do blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, funk, soul, we can handle rock, pop, country, heavy metal, fusion, hip hop, rap, Motown, operetta, show tunes, in fact, we've even been called upon, on occasion, to do a polka. However, Caribbean is a type of music, I regret to say, which has not been, is simply not, nor will ever be a part of this band's repertoire.”
After listening to some of Coleman’s work, I think he just might launch into something Caribbean…
His latest EP dropped in 2015; Jazz, Blues, Rock ‘N’ Roll is a five song record that showcases a few of the different style that he and the Blue Zen Band can cover. Aside from Coleman on guitar and vocals, the rest of the band is comprised of DJ Pierno on bass; Chriss Turner on keyboards; and Fabio Barbosa on drums.
Coleman also released two previous albums that were solo efforts, one was all acoustic and on the other he played all the instruments. I would like to take a look at those as well, although, perhaps not in the usual depth. Let’s see how it goes…
Jazz, Blues, Rock ‘N’ Roll starts out with a jazzy number Cissy Strut. I love jazz, even listen to it a lot at night when I’m not writing about the blues. This is a good version and Turner’s keyboards get a good workout on the song. It’s an instrumental and it gives the guys a chance to strut a little bit. I know this would be good live when the band could feed off the audience’s energy.
Next up is The Wind Cries Mary, the song originally written and performed by Jimi Hendrix. It’s the shortest song on the EP, clocking in at just shy of 4:30. Coleman’s got a decent voice, but trying to follow Hendrix is a daunting task. It’s difficult to catch the distinct vibe that Hendrix could create as he mixed blues with psychedelic rock and roll. Still, it’s not bad, and it is a very intimate rendition.
He follows that with So What. Some pretty cool jazz from one of the all-time greats, Miles Davis. So far, the band is picking some excellent material to replicate. The guitar work on this cover is very good, and the rhythm section does a good job of holding everything together. If I was in a nightclub listening to this, I would be hanging on just about every note waiting to hear what they did next.
Next up is a show tune from The Sound Of Music, My Favorite Things. I’ve heard a lot of interpretations of this song over the years and Coleman still surprised me with a bit of swamp music to start it off before segueing into more of a standard jazz interpretation with some soaring guitar runs. At first, I thought he would use some blues runs, but then he went a slightly different direction before trading off with the keys. Very cool, it’s no wonder the Jazz got the top billing on this album.
He ends up with Walkin’ On The Moon. This is some serious jazz that shifts time and rhythms to create an eleven-minute excursion. All of the band gets a chance to toss in their contributions, primarily guitar and keyboards. It’s got some real swing to it and it’s a great way to bring the album to a close.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Coleman is a very strong musician. The album is tight and well-produced. Many of the EPs that hit my desk containing 3-5 songs, generally of a shorter length and often not musically challenging. Well, these five songs are certainly a different approach.
Let’s see what the other CDs offer.
The most recent of the previous albums in Acoustic All-Star, which Coleman released in 2014. It was recorded at the 2014 Acoustic All-Stars Music Festival, at Fat's Grill and Pool in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s 100% solo and recorded live.
I love the yells and the harp that open up the album with A Man Just Wants To Play The Blues. It’s playful and exuberant, Coleman plays a pretty decent harp and his vocals are deep and growly, and this is a good way to get things cooking.
Next up is The Real Me. This one has a swampy feel to it. It’s a deep question to ask – who is the real me? Is it the persona that we put on for the public, or does that mask reveal the truth? Fascinating song with some deeper lyrics behind the wailing harp.
Magic Sam’s Keep Lovin’ Me is next and Coleman does a great job capturing that driving beat. It’s a good cover and it sounds like Coleman is having a great time on this number. Speaking of driving beats, how can you go wrong with the Buddy Holly classic, Not Fade Away? Using that patented Bo Diddley beat, Coleman channels Texas blues through a rock soul and comes up with another great cover.
The seminal Robert Johnson song, Me And The Devil Blues, is interpreted by Coleman, a brave choice after working the crowd into a frenzy on the last couple of songs. He digs deep to create the image of a man waking up to discover the devil waiting for him at the doorstep because “it’s time to go.”
More Johnson follows with his song of unrequited love, Love In Vain Blues. What can I say about Coleman’s choices? He’s pulling out all the stops, taking on classics and doing a good job of entertaining his audience while giving them a lesson in old-school blues.
Next up is his version of Willie Dixon’s I Just Want To Make Love To You. This song has been recorded so many times that Henry and I have joked about putting together a show that just featured all covers of the song. This is an interesting take on the song using a slower cadence and vocals that are stronger than he’s used until now.
Coleman then moves on to a few Dylan covers, starting with It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry. Dylan is a perfect choice for an acoustic show. So much of his work is written for, or easily interpreted by an acoustic arrangement. Good choice on this song. Same for Lay Lady Lay, a gorgeous love song originally written for the Nashville Skyline sessions. Here, Coleman’s vocals get a little raspy, but he has been performing non-stop for quite some time.
He follows those two with an original, 4th Street Boogie. He picks up the pace, adds a shuffle beat and some fancy harp work. It’s a wild song, but his voice is so ragged that I’m having a difficult time picking out all the lyrics. I like the song, but might like it more once I listen to it a few more times.
He gets back to one last Dylan cover, Just Like A Woman. This is a much more tender song, and the raggedness in his voice fits the lyrics like a glove. Beautiful version of a great song.
The closer for the album, Are You Experienced? is also the closing song from Jimi Hendrix’ debut album. What a bold choice, but as we saw on Coleman’s other album, he enjoys Hendrix and connects with his approach on a deep level. It’s hard to capture Hendrix’ legendary psychedelic rock with an acoustic version, but give Coleman his due for not only taking it on, but opening it up to further interpretation.
That’s two of Christian Coleman’s albums all wrapped up in a nice neat little package. I think his work is very good, and he handles different genres without pausing. I don’t know when or if our paths will cross, but I’m going to keep my eyes open to planes coming in from the west, and if I hear that he’s going to be within 100 miles of me, I’ll be there and enjoying the blues and the jazz.
I hope any of you who happen to catch him live will send me a report of the show, and I look forward to any future CDs.

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