Rick Estrin & The Nightcats – Biscuits & Blues, San Francisco, 29.Mar 2009

Get in the soup and slide

This was one of the most entertaining nights I have ever experienced at Biscuits & Blues. In fact anywhere. The Nightcats took the stage with the sole aim of knocking the audience clean off their feet. And that’s exactly what they did. I defy anyone to sample this band live and walk away not feeling utterly satisfied.

It was a joy to see Rick Estrin in full flight and appreciate first hand why he has made such a name for himself not only as a harmonica ace, but also as an engaging raconteur and convincing song writer. Jerry Portnoy rightly describes him as a modern day Lieber & Stoller.

Sadly I never got to see the original line up with Little Charlie Baty on strings, although I am certainly aware of his strong reputation as a performer and studio artist. “All that meat, and them potatoes too!”Indeed his recordings with the Nightcats are quite sensational. Charlie is still around, but he’s taking five. Something they call ‘soft retirement’ in the trade. We can expect to see him again for band reunion gigs and special festivals, but in the meantime his slot is anchored by guitarist elect, Kid Andersen, whose playing is simply astonishing. (more…)

Jason Ricci – Biscuits and Blues, San Francisco 5th Dec 2007

Prelude

Jason RicciDeeply disturbed by my encounter with Barry Manilow outside Tiffany’s this afternoon (literally!), I was in serious need of some rehabilitation. Mercifully the Copacabana was closed for staff training, so Biscuits and Blues it was to be – where, to my good fortune, harmonica wizard Jason Ricci would be weaving his magic. Plenty of good hoodoo was assured.

Actually, I had never heard of Jason before, but he came highly recommended by Dave Barrett (Harmonica Master Class) and I intended to correct my ignorance. Dave couldn’t make the gig, but Aki Kumar, one of his students, was at the bar nursing a beer. We made our acquaintances and Aki initiated my re-education. Jason, he informed me, is originally from Maine, but currently works out of Nashville. His influences include Pat Ramsey and Johnny Winter, while his style includes fast flowing third position patterns, overblows and licks drawn from jazz, rock, samba and swing.

Jason took the stage playing through what looked like a Shure SM57 or Unidyne mic, into a 4×10 tweed 59 Bassman. The sound he created was at times reminiscent of Johnny Mars in full flight. Avant garde in urban blues terms, it is not your classic Chicago crunch, but a synthesised variant. The tone is a challenge at first, in fact it is ‘in your face’, but you quickly acclimatise.

Musically and artistically, Jason is as challenging as his adopted harp tone. He has planted his flag on the ramparts of Fort Radical. His appearance and his persona is that of an edgy Punk. His energy is arresting. His playing is simply astonishing. If I had to credit specific harmonica players and bands for redefining the blues’ boundaries, Blues Traveler, Alabama 3, Little Axe, Lee Sankey, Lee Oskar and Sugar Blue readily come to mind. Jason Ricci vaults them all.

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