Guitarist Ronnie Earl has evolved from late-blooming blues axeman (he didn’t take up the guitar until his early 20s) into that rare blues artist who’s widely esteemed by jazz critics. The Boston-based guitarist is an unlikely jazz hero he doesn’t read music and he isn’t a master technician. Still, the 48-year-old Earl is an inspired improviser and the composer of melodic blues-based instrumentals. Perhaps most importantly, he seems to feel every note he plays.
Earl must have been feeling awfully mellow during these sessions. Healing Time is almost as serene as Grateful Heart, the 1996 release that was Down Beat’s "Blues Album of the Year." Like Grateful Heart, the new one contains a number of pretty melodies and an abundance of soulful improvisations.
Past members of Earl’s band The Broadcasters have departed for other ventures, but two of Earl’s previous collaborators reunite with the guitarist on Healing Time : keyboardist Anthony Geraci and bassist Michael "Mudcat" Ward. Both played with Earl in the Boston blues group Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, and both have signed on as new Broadcasters. Rounding out the lineup are legendary B3 master Jimmy McGriff, drummers Hank Greenberg (the third new Broadcaster) and Don Williams (McGriff’s skinsman).
Earl’s brand of all-instrumental blues continues to be defined by that humble spirituality he's embraced since kicking cocaine and alcohol addiction in 1987. As with its recent predecessors, Healing Time celebrates peace, love and beauty, although three of its first four tracks are covers. The opener "Churchin’" was written by McGriff, who plays on this swinging cut and also on Blues on a Sunday, a tune the organist co-wrote with Earl.
"Churchin’" features a grooving swing beat and bluesy solos by McGriff and Earl. "Blues on a Sunday" is a lengthy slow-blues number with passionate instrumental exchanges and a very soulful vibe. Aside from the fiery blues shuffle "Lunch at R&M’s" and Muddy Waters’ "Catfish Blues," the remaining tracks on Healing Time are extremely mellow. Earl originals "Glimpses of Serenity" and "Bella Donna" are graceful but exceedingly slow, while "Blues for Shawn" and "Song for a Brother" mix Allman Brothers-style blues with a mystical vibe remindful of Van Morrison. The CD closes with a brief but heartfelt rendition of "Amazing Grace."
Healing Time doesn’t possess the dynamism of Earl’s last release Colour of Love (there aren’t as many tempo changes and unexpected guitar explosions), but it makes for a peaceful, summery listen.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.