Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Taj Mahal: Maestro

Doug Collette By

Sign in to view read count
Maestro is the perfect title for this Taj Mahal album. No matter who the star cameo is on a given track—and there is a famous name on almost every one—it's quite clear that the source of direction (not to mention the original inspiration) comes from Mahal himself. Not surprisingly, the best moments arise in his role as a bandleader.

His own Phantom Blues Band accompanies him on a salty take on "Scratch My Back," the steady pump of the rhythm section accentuated by horns. In a tropical variation on that theme, Mahal calls upon Los Lobos and his own daughter Deva for a reggae-influenced arrangement of "Never Let You Go" that is as tender as the previous track is earthy. A bedrock twelve-bar Elmore James would be proud of, Mahal gives "TV Mama" a twist: it's all about a high-tech TV. Los Lobos reappears here, not surprisingly, since the group knows all too well that the blues has always been about what affects people most deeply.

In a demonstration of the difference between mere admiration and genuine musical empathy, Ziggy Marley aids in no small part to authentically render the cultural dislocation of "Black Man Brown Man." The track's success may not be wholly surprising considering it's Marley's band, but it's also emblematic of Mahal's ability to simultaneously fit in with other musicians and inspire them to his level of excellence.

"I Can Make You Happy" is one of a pair of cuts including The New Orleans Social Club with George Porter Jr. and Leo Nocentelli (as produced by Warren Haynes) and it reaffirms the blues foundation of Mahal's music in general and this album in particular. Still, as on "Hello Josephine," all involved approach the genre from a New Orleans angle, injecting the performance with just the right amount of idiosyncratic rhythm. Sandwiched in between is "Slow Drag," whose narrative (not to mention doleful horns) might be the soundtrack to a NOLA funeral—only this time it's for a love affair, not an individual. And it's Mahal's own band that conjures up this voodoo, reaffirming the accuracy of their instincts and those of their leader.

The individual cameos on Maestro are, in contrast, hit and miss. "Dust Me Down" is one of the disc's more conventional blues numbers and, to his credit, Ben Harper isn't intimidated in the presence of Mahal, but he doesn't exhibit the same level of natural gusto. Likewise Jack Johnson on "Further on Down the Road," who doesn't elevate his self-styled groove to match the jaunty gait signaled by the sound of Mahal's harmonica and furthered by his own gruffly charming singing.

"Strong Man Holler" almost sounds like an afterthought in its dreamlike dirge beat but, by the time it's over, Mahal and His Phantom Blues Band erupt into a high-stepping dance that is emblematic of the elemental spirit within Maestro's dozen tracks.

Track Listing: Scratch My Back; Never Let You Go; Dust Me Down; Further on Down the Road; Black Man, Brown Man; Zanzibar; TV Mama; I Can Make You Happy; Slow Drag; Hello Josephine; Strong Man Holler; Diddy Wah Diddy.

Personnel: Taj Mahal: vocals, guitar, harmonica, banjo; Ben Harper: vocals; Angelique Kidkjo: vocals: Jack Johnson: vocals; Ziggy Marley: vocals; C.C. White: background vocals; Deva Mahal: background vocals; Tracy Hazzard: backing vocals; Pebbles Phillips: background vocals; Leo Nocentelli: guitar; Johnny Lee Schell: guitar; David Hidalgo: guitar; Cesar Rosas: guitar; Jason Mozersky: guitar; Takeshi Akimoto: guitar; Ivan Neville: B3 organ; Henry Butler: piano; Mike Finnigan: keyboards; Jason Yates: keyboards; Mick Weaver: keyboards; Michael Hyde: keyboards; Steve Berlin: organ, baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone; Larry Fulcher: bass; Conrad Lozano: bass; Jesse Ingalls: bass; Paul "Pablo" Stennett: bass; Bill Rich: bass; George Porter: bass; Tony Braunagel: drums; Cougar Estrada: drums; Michael Jerome: drums, percussion; Debra Dobkin: percussion; Angel Roche: percussion; Louie Perez: jarana; Carlton "Santa" Davis; Raymond Weber: drums, rub board; Kester Smith: drums; Joe Sublett: tenor saxophone; Darrell Leonard: trumpet, trombonium; Rudy Costa: alto saxophone; Angela Wellman: trombone; Billy Branch: harmonica; Bassekou Kouyate: ngoni; Toumani Diabate: kora.

Title: Maestro | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Heads Up International


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Music in the Room CD/LP/Track Review Music in the Room
by Glenn Astarita
Published: December 10, 2017
Read Of Light and Shadows CD/LP/Track Review Of Light and Shadows
by Phillip Woolever
Published: December 9, 2017
Read Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven CD/LP/Track Review Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven
by Doug Collette
Published: December 9, 2017
Read The Chicago Blues Box 2 CD/LP/Track Review The Chicago Blues Box 2
by Chris Mosey
Published: December 9, 2017
Read I Speilvendthet CD/LP/Track Review I Speilvendthet
by Glenn Astarita
Published: December 9, 2017
Read Book Of Sound CD/LP/Track Review Book Of Sound
by Gareth Thompson
Published: December 8, 2017
Read "Dialectrical" CD/LP/Track Review Dialectrical
by John Sharpe
Published: June 19, 2017
Read "More Than This" CD/LP/Track Review More Than This
by Henning Bolte
Published: February 28, 2017
Read "Loneliness Road" CD/LP/Track Review Loneliness Road
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: May 11, 2017
Read "WAHOO!" CD/LP/Track Review WAHOO!
by Greg Simmons
Published: February 13, 2017
Read "Aram Bajakian's Dolphy Formations" CD/LP/Track Review Aram Bajakian's Dolphy Formations
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: December 28, 2016
Read "Peace" CD/LP/Track Review Peace
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: December 18, 2016

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!