Slow Poke: At Home (2007)
Formed at the home of bassist Tony Scherr, Slow PokeDavid Tronzo, Michael Blake, Scherr and Kenny Wollesenplay everything slower and funkier. It's an extraordinary idea for a jam bandbring the groove way down and somehow the vibe and energy go way up thanks to the new focus. It certainly helps that all of these guys are virtuosos and truly care about the aesthetics of sound. This debut disc caught the attention of Paul Simon and producer Lee Townsend, and has now been reissued and remixed to startling, ear-grabbing effect. They have since added songs by Kurt Cobain, Johnny Cash and the Rolling Stones, amongst others, to their repertoire, and then there are fine originals by Blake and Tronzo.
The album opens with a soul jazz classic by the late Eddie Harris, "Listen Here." The groove is so slow and deliberate that the full measure of funk is boldly and newly revealed. Blake takes the tenor lead and combines a beautifully earthy tone with a startling take on the melody. Tronzo is rightly known as a true wizard of the guitar and his electric solo on this track is smartly played jazz that jams into the blues deeper and fatter than most. Blake plays with harmonics and growling sound effects and always present is the rock-solid, stunningly recorded bottom of Scherr and Wollesen. The slow jam "pokes ever forward with Scherr's righteous solo and even more of Tronzo's snaky guitar. It should never endand, with the lovely fade it seems that it never does. And listen here to the great mastering work of Gene Paul of classic Atlantic Records fame.
Blake's "Afro Blake is possibly the most up tune on the set, but it moves at such a calculated pace that it sounds almost stately, even with the clear rock beat. The composer leads the way with that beautiful tenor sax and the band calls for a different kind of dance, but a dance just the same. The groove is South African township but it's made it to these shores with a new sense of purpose. Blake's other originals also create new passion in some traditional styles; his "Make Out Machine seems to have taken every 1950s R&B, New Orleans and rock groove and transmogrified them. For more consciousness-opening, hear how Slow Poke rephrases, in "slowpoke motion, Neil Young's "Harvest and Duke Ellington's "Rockin' in Rhythm." It sometimes feels like this is the first time these tunes have been played. The Ellington tune is a revelationagain you don't want it to end. This sense of discovery and rediscovery is what defines the group.
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 and baritone guitar: Tony Scherr: electric and acoustic bass, guitar; Kenny Wollesen: drums and percussion.