Slow Poke: At Home (2007)
Slow Poke was one of those late-1990s New York City bands with a dedicated following of cognoscenti, who came to realize that this was a band of expert practitioners trying to change the clichéd approach to American roots music with their own distinctive interpretations. They did so in a deliberate and understated way that mimics memories of slow, steamy encounters on a rainy afternoon. With no need to rush things, the band achieves emphasis by tonal interplay between Michael Blake's husky saxophone voicings in direct counterpoint to slide guitarist David Tronzo's modulating, drawn-out slide runs. All the while, the rhythm section never allows the pace to cruise past a slow jog, with no lack of musical excitement.
The band was the aspiration of former Lounge Lizard cohorts Blake and Tronzo, along with the Bill Frisell rhythm section of bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen. This formidable stew of talent serves up unique renditions of classic American gems like Eddie Harris' "Listen Here and Neil Young's "Harvest in ways that redefined how this music could be played. Even the band's interpretation of Duke Ellington's "Rockin' In Rhythm becomes one more vehicle for its unique approach.
Blake's reedy saxophone, on his self-penned "Dry Socket and "The Saturday Option, shows a restrained attack, squeezing every last ounce of marrow out of each note without laboring into tedium. Then there is the superlative stylizing of Tronzo's slippery, sexy, languishing slide guitar. This is perhaps the most creative use of this instrument's eerie wails since Elmore James or Duane Allman, with a nod to modern slide master Ry Cooder. Tronzo's swinging slide on Blake's "Afro Blake is a joy of freewheeling expression on an instrument not normally heard in this format. All the while Scherr and Wollesen stay firmly but unobtrusively in-the-pocket, with marvelous restraint that only serves to exemplify the music's totality.
Playing this over several sittings allows one to appreciate just how good and different this music was and still remains. Following these musicians from whence they came will surely lead to more excitement, but for now, thankfully, we can appreciate what was preserved with this worthy re-release Slow Poke at Home.
Track Listing: Listen Here; Afro Blake; Harvest; Rockin' In Rhythm; Dry Socket; Make Out Machine; The Saturday Option.
Personnel: Michael Blake: sax, toy keyboard; David Tronzo: slide guitar, baritone guitar; Tony Scherr: electric and acoustic bass, guitar; Kenny Wollesen: drums and percussion.
Record Label: Palmetto Records
Style: Fringes of Jazz