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David Haney: Blues Royale and Ota Benga of the Batwa

Elliott Simon By

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David Haney Trio
Blues Royale
CIMP
2007


David Haney & Julian Priester
Ota Benga of the Batwa
CIMP
2007


Pianist David Haney first came to the attention of the creative improvised music crowd through collaborations with trombonist Julian Priester. In addition to a variety of well-honed skills and fertile imagination, Haney's classical training enables him to expose the innards of composition while highlighting stylistic interconnectedness in a unique and resourceful manner. Two new releases continue in that vein but with somewhat of a twist. Blues Royale features Haney with a duo of bassists for postmodern explorations of seminal early country blues while Ota Benga of the Batwa pairs him once again with Priester for a program of historically inspired creative music.

All three musicians on Blues Royale create inspired music in the moment but this session's strength lies in the treatments given to classic tunes from influential country bluesmen of the '20s. Haney has chosen his muses wisely and kicks things off with a triple take on guitarist Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues . Johnson, a prototypical bluesman who, legend has it, went to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil, penned "Big Road Blues with traces of rag and minstrel that Haney and bassists Mike Bisio and Adam Lane use to their musical advantage. These bassists have complementary styles and what is a somewhat peculiar trio benefits from their ability to pluck and bow simultaneously, resulting in a very warm earthy sound that is most appropriate to the material. Blind Willie Johnson's gospel-infused "Soul of a Man and Papa Harvey Hull's "France Blues likewise benefit from their approach. Haney, who plays the piano's insides as well as the keys, is surprisingly at his best here when augmenting and comping behind Bisio and Lane. They, one in the left channel and the other in the right, make this a fascinating and different study of the blues.

Ota Benga of the Batwa musically retells the tragic story of Ota Benga, a member of the African Batwa pygmy tribe who was brought to America in the early part of the 20th Century. Exhibited at the Bronx Zoo until outcry from African-American clergy ceased the display, Benga spent part of his life in an orphanage before relocating to Virginia where he eventually committed suicide. Priester's trombone has an absolutely gorgeous tone and patina on these meditative pieces; he blends beautifully with Haney's thoughtful chords on the opening "Theme for Ota and its subsequent variations. The story continues with stops that reveal the resolute "Batwa Spirit , the insides of "Howard Asylum and the inevitable conclusion "The End of Ota . A beautiful duet recording that exquisitely merges Haney's inventive chords with Priester's rich timbre against an historically interesting backdrop.


Tracks and Personnel

Blues Royale

Tracks: Big Road Blues, Variation on Big Road Blues pt. 1, Variation on Big Road Blues pt. 2, Soul of a Man, France Blues, Old Landmark, Blues Royale, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, Cardboard Watch Dog, Good Morning and Good Bye, Blue Savannah.

Personnel: David Haney: piano; Mike Bisio: bass; Adam Lane: bass.

Ota Benga of the Batwa

Tracks: Part 1 - Theme for Ota, Part 2 - Variation on a Theme for Ota, Part 3 - Variation on a Variation for Benga, Part 4 - Batwa Spirit, Part 5 - Glasberg, Part 6 - Howard Asylum, Part 7 - Like Dersu Uzala, Part 8 - Fire Speaks and recedes, Part 9 - Sense Her, Part 10 - Sea of Glass, Part 11 - Shuffle, Part 12 - Uttarakuru, Part 13 - The End of Ota.

Personnel: David Haney: piano; Julian Priester: trombone.

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