John Mayall: Live in London (2011)
Though John Mayall doesn't deign to call the unit that collaborates with him on Live in London "The Bluesbreakers," his current band is arguably as tight and sympathetic as any ensemble that's sported the moniker in the recent past. Fusing bassist Greg Rzab, drummer Jay Davenport and guitarist Rocky into a fluid ensemble, The Godfather of British Blues elicits versatility from this stripped- down instrumental lineup, opening with vocals, harp and some piano on "Another Man." It's just the first inkling of how Mayall works with sparse arrangements for the sake of simplicity, not lack of ideas.
One of the few John Mayall originals on this Leicester Square Theatre recording from November 2010, "Chicago Line" is a shining example of how Mayall's group. freshens the familiar. The band slips in an out of the Bo Diddley beat and, by regularly adding individual fillips and flourishes, refuse to simply grind it out; at just a little over six minutes long, this track is refreshingly compact. The quartet meshes equally smoothly on the subliminal lilt within "California."
A mixture of pride, respect and pure love of the blues form fosters the depth of feeling Mayall brings to the slow twelve-bar progression of "So Many Roads." Continuing a fifty-year career is a tradition in itself, but the man rightfully extends the history of the music on its own terms too. There's poetry in the main metaphor of the lyrics, which he accentuates through the rhythm he pounds out on piano, a deliberate gait underscored through the accompaniment of Davenport and Rzab. Athas makes a statement of his own here, too, and it's articulate, if not eloquent.
Live in London joins a long list of live entries in John Mayall's discography, during most of which he's generally avoided self-indulgence in his choice of tracks. However, the penultimate cut of this two-disc set, the eternal crowd-pleaser "Room to Move," is somewhat an exception to the rule; particularly at this point of the album, solos from Rzab and Davenport are unnecessary to demonstrate how tasteful are their chops. Nevertheless, this cut turns into an effective setup for the instrumental climax of Freddie King's "Hideaway," one final affirmation of the optimum audio quality as captured in Mike Aarvold's mix.
It may be presumptuous to forecast accolades for the musicians in this lineup comparable to the likes of their predecessors, including Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood and Jack Bruce. But, then again, to be in a group led by Mayall is cachet enough.
Track Listing: CD1: Another Man; Chicago Line; Ridin' On The L & N; So Many Roads; Checking On My Baby; Movin' Out And Movin' On; Mail Order Mystics; Parchman Farm. CD2: Early In The Morning; California; My Time After Awhile; Room To Move; Hideaway.
Personnel: John Mayall: vocals, harmonica, keyboards; Rocky Athas; guitar; Greg Rzab: bass; Jay Davenport: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced