The three horns in the David Bromberg Band made "Make Me A Pallet on the Floor" seem like a New Orleans jazz street parade, wailing and swinging with the support of Bromberg's guitar, his rhythm section, and mandolin and fiddle. The section John Firmin on sax, Curtis Linberg on trombone and Peter Ecklund on trumpet gave a sweet jazz flavor to some songs and soulful support to others at The Egg in Albany, NY on Oct. 23.
Bromberg, who's been touring with the same masterful band for years now, though far more infrequently, because he works a "day job" of building and repairing violins in Wilmington, DE , plays all kinds of music with equal skill and dexterity. Folk, blues, bluegrass, rock and even popish funk are all part of his bag. But jazz and blues flavors were prominent at this gig.
Bromberg's guitar could be heard with the likes of Jerry Garcia, Linda Rondstadt, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Dr. John, the Rev. Gary Davis, Bob Dylan and many others before he went from sideman to a distinct and popular leader in the 1970s. His style, he says, is influenced by B.B. and Albert King, as well as Charlie Christian and Rev. Davis.
"I just liked a lot of different kinds of music," he said days before the show. "And it also helped me learn. I would hang out with some good jazz musicians. I might have been a complete pain in the ass, except I could play ragtime. And they didn't know anyone who could play that ragtime stuff, so they thought of me as the ragtime guitarist. And I was able to learn from them. And at the same time, I would hang around with bluegrass players, and I might not have been able to play that music at first, but I played some blues. So I was the blues player to them. And I learned to play bluegrass style stuff. To the blues players, they might have thought I was a jazz player. Everywhere I could pick something up, I would. Since I had some validity and some discipline, I was able to hang out and learn."
Learn he did and his guitar, whether acoustic or electric, smoked throughout the concert. His electric work was bluesy and biting, and he also has a fine blues attack on acoustic, making notes bend and talk with a strong tone and crisp intonation. He can also pick the bluegrass stuff with the best of them. Bromberg doesn't use set lists, preferring to pull songs from the top of his head. There weren't any clinkers, whether it was high-energy blue grass like "Get Up and Go Fiddle Tunes" or the screeching soulful rock of "Sweet Home Chicago."
On "Make Me a Pallet" Firmin showed a beautiful fat clarinet tone that conjured up Barney Bigard before his licks got more modern. Throughout the night, Firmin was hot, playing hot blues and bar- walking soul on sax. Linberg is not a dexterous player, but has a sweet sound and spews out phrases that fit, as does Ecklund, a swing- era influenced horn player who has also toured with the likes of Leon Redbone.
On chestnuts like "Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair" the horns were essential to the climax of the song. Bromberg left a lot of his popular hits out, but it's inevitable that he covers some and "Sharon," the humorous diatribe about a carnival stripper, and "Where Are the Men" were two gems. Jay Ungar on mandolin and fiddle, Molly Mason on guitar and Jeff Wisor on fiddle were talented, as were the rock solid rhythms of bassist Butch Arndt and drummer Richard Crooks.
Bromberg's blues are always a highlight of his shows, and "I'll Take You Back" was preeminent. The sarcastic lyric of a jilted lover unwilling to take his partner back ("I'll take you back when James Brown ain't funky and King Kong ain't a monkey!") was modernized with words like: "when they find weapons of destruction in Iraq" and "when George W. eliminates the national debt." His preacher-like delivery was poignant, a perfect touch for the raucous mood of the piece.
In addition to being a first-rate musician, Bromberg is an excellent entertainer, part comedian and part raconteur. Both were on display this night. Even though they don't get out as much, his band is tight and the musicianship is as superb as ever.
New music will be released periodically by Bromberg at his website . He says he's done recording, but has a backlog of tapes from his concerts over the years that will be put on disc and sold on the Internet and at live shows.
"Recording companies have kind of become obsolete. You really don't need them anymore. I may sell less records by selling them on the Internet or at concerts, but I make more money from it in the end. Fame is no big deal," he says.
It might not be a big deal, but Bromberg's loyal fans won't forget him and it will be a pleasure each time he lays down his tools in Wilmington and dusts off his guitar and his band.