Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pat O'Brien, harmonica and guitar double threat.

I sought out Pat O'Brien   on the net and after listening to some things he's done with Priests of Love and Scott Henderson, it seems that he is another case in point in how to use speedy playing techniques usefully, musically in a blues and blues/rock context. He is wickedly fast, among the fastest I've heard, and he is precise without seeming merely technically adept. He is very fine at playing a song's head arrangements in unison with his own guitar playing and whatever harmony instrument the particular ensemble happens to have, and he is simply awesome at building solos. He has control of his tone in that he warbles, vibratos, chokes, slurs and bends without nearly a vocal fluidity, and he shares with other masters like Sugar Blue and Jason Ricci the skill at building a solo.

 Below is a video of O'Brien and the POL performing Django Reinhardt's classic gypsy swing piece  "Honeysuckle Rose",  and take note of the remarkable ease with which O'Brien performs on both guitar and  harmonica. The unison lines he manages on both instruments as they state the tricky, bouncy melody has grace and swing mightily. The harmonica solo is fluid, melodic and turns around sweetly; the notes sparkle and glide through the rapid chord changes with a true sense of a tuneful, inventive jazz improvisation. Not unexpectedly , the guitar that comes after the restatement of the melody is no less agile, bluesy and true to the delicate rapidity of the Reinhardt original. Harmonica musicianship this good is uncommon even in a world that at times seems crowded with one virtuoso after another.


Tension and release is the name of the game, something the truly great blues guitarists have done pat-- BB, Albert and Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, Clapton. He eschews flashy lines for good parts of his improvisations and rather offers up superb note choices from lower, middle and upper registers (his glissando skills in the high notes is enough to make me put my harmonica down for a while and get schooled), long low moans, chilling chord tremelos, short, terse riffs, building to what seems to me an instinctive instance where a cathartic onslaught of fast, crazy , exhilarating lines finally achieving release.


 I have no doubt that O'Brien's demonstrated skill as a blues/rock guitarist informs his sense of how to build a blues harmonica solo. Many, many technically adept players rely and pat phrases and convenient power moves, too often, when they take their solos (I include myself in this category);this man strikes a player who has mastered his technique to the extent that like Butterfield and Blue it becomes something akin to a speaking. The phrases are spontaneous and individual, appropriate to the material. This is not a man who has only one solo he plays over and over. Pat O'Brien was unknown to me until now, and a big thanks to Adam for posting this. O'Brien combines technique and feeling and shows here and elsewhere a flawless sense of swing. Wild and wonderful harmonica work by someone who should be much, much better known than he already is.

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