Monday, November 1, 2021

 

JohnMayall is a multi-instrumentalist in the sense that an office worker is a multi-tasker. This would mean, for our purpose, someone able to do several things simultaneously poorly. A better analogy might be an old joke, a jack of all trades, master of none. Mayall is someone who dabbles on harmonica, guitar, keyboards, having a tentative command of blues basics and not much else. I wouldn't even call him an instrumentalist--dabbler pretty much gets what he does. His penchant for finding tasty and distinct blues guitarist was undoubtedly aimed at fleshing out what otherwise would have been a thin, brittle sound from the blues breakers had he featured himself as a featured soloist. Mayall is not an exciting musician.  Of course, I  give Mayall full credit for putting together crackerjack bands that have, at times, making it possible for Mayall to release first-rate albums. The albums I listen to especially are USA Union featuring the sadly underrated Harvey Mandel on guitar, Larry Taylor on bass, Sugarcane Harris on violin, and, of course, Turning Point, with the splendid, Desmond-y sax work of Johnny Almond and Jon Mark on acoustic guitar. Mayall's harmonica work was more texture than anything else, save for the excellent workout he accomplishes on Room to Move. These were band albums with credible, blues-based tunes with jazz used as texture, groove, and pacing. Too often, much too often for me, though, Mayall has pushed his harmonica work to the forefront, usually following a hot guitar solo or sultry work out from a reedman, and the effect is like a blowing out a tire when you're cruising at a comfortable rate of speed. It's my view Mayall was playing catch up with what the Butterfield band was doing with their jazz-rock ventures. What Butterfield and his crew did on East-West with the Work Song and the long title improv, released in 1966, is so profoundly ahead of its time that I consider Mayall's contribution to the fusing of jazz, blues, and rock as a bit less important than you do. It's a matter of taste, I realize, and I'm just stating mine, perhaps obnoxiously so. It may well be an unrealistic expectation of mine for musicians described often enough as "band leaders" to be solid and confident soloists no less than the musicians they hire.

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