I’ve always been fond of the artists who refuse to be labeled. Not that there’s anything wrong with committing to one particular style or genre, in fact, most artists quickly find their strengths and stay with them throughout their career.
But there is something about those restless spirits who search in different directions and find their happiness in different places. Some artists would be more commercial if they stayed within the confines of a popular genre while others find deeper satisfaction in exploring whatever comes their way.
Those latter artists are the ones that intrigue me, constantly reinventing themselves and finding their place in the journey rather than the destination.
That’s a long winded way of introducing a new CD, Solo Ride, from keyboard wizard Bruce Katz. Katz, who has had a very successful career touring as a sideman for the likes of Ronnie Earl, Delbert McClinton Band, Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, John Hammond, and many other legendary artists. Perhaps he is best known as a member of the Gregg Allman Band from 2007-2013.
There’s more to Katz’ resume than those outstanding achievements. Katz has lead his own band, the aptly named Bruce Katz Band for over 25 years and was also an Associate Professor at the Berklee College of Music for fourteen years (1996-2010), teaching Harmony, Hammond organ labs, Blues History and Private Instruction.
What’s surprising to me about Solo Ride is that it took Katz a long time to record it. I thought his natural curiosity would have led him to release a solo work before now. And by solo, I mean just by himself. There are no other musicians on the album, and no other instruments. It’s an even dozen songs, eleven written by Katz with one cover of a great Tampa Red song, with no vocals, no guitar runs, no drum solos or any real sweetening of the music that I can detect.
Katz gets things off to a fast and raucous start with Down At The Barrelhouse. I love this style of barrelhouse piano and it just seems like it doesn’t get played enough. I think we’ll remedy that! The boogie woogie fans, rockers, and swing blues folks will really enjoy this one.
He follows up with Crescent Crawl, jazz, with the flavor of New Orleans. Some incredible runs and a virtuoso performance. Hopefully this will get played on our jazz program. Katz is no worried about staying in his lane and he plays jazz just about as well as any you can name.
The one cover on the album is from the great Hudson Whitaker, aka Tampa Red, It Hurts Me Too. This is one of the most interpreted blues songs (first recorded in 1940), it has become one of the standards. Katz does a good job with it, using a rather heavy left hand to add a percussive tap to the rhythm.
From the title, Praise House, I was expecting something a bit more gospel like. Instead, it’s certainly jazzy and would be perfect for jazz shows. The next track, Red Sneakers, has a kind of old fashioned charm about it. Like parasols and hoop skirts charm. Fun, jaunty number, very lighthearted.
His song, Dreams Of Yesterday, is very heartfelt. Even without words, you can feel his emotion in every note. Again, Solo Ride is not for people looking for a 12-bar shuffle, but if you’re looking for some beautiful music, this is a great album to have.
Midnight Plans is a cool dark jazz number. Like many of the songs on the album, they are not quite right for Time For The Blues but could easily find a home on jazz stations. He follows that with Easy Living, a quiet ballad that feels like it should be a standard.
From there he jumps into Going Places, a quick tempo swing number that I could see audience members getting out onto the dance floor. Sweet tune. And then he segues into The Way To Your Heart, an emotional song that’s slow and moving, not in a hurry at all.
Just for fun, Katz then plays Watermelon Thump, a little bit of boogie that might find its way onto the show. Lively, spirited, and a lot of fun to listen to. Might have to team it with Marcia Ball’s Watermelon Time, and maybe something from Watermelon Slim just for a watermelon trifecta.
He closes out the album with Redemption, which to me sounds like a song of searching, a song of striving. Of course, with instrumentals, the music often becomes a Rorschach Test to be interpreted by the listener in his or her own way. Your experience with the album may be entirely different than mine.
Katz is an amazing player. I’ve followed him for a number of years and had the pleasure of catching him live in a very intimate space. He’s impressive and I know that Solo Ride will be on my personal playlist when I write in the future.