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Adam Nussbaum: The Lead Belly Project

Dan McClenaghan By

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The blues is simple music. What do they call it? Three chords and the truth? They say the same about country music and rock, but that's another article. But for much of American music, blues is the bedrock, be it rock, soul, funk, a good slice of country western, and, yes, jazz.

Drummer Adam Nussbaum zeros in on the blues with the Lead Belly Project, exploring the seminal delta blues of Huddie Ledbetter (1888-1949), aka, Lead Belly.

An inspirational artist, Lead Belly has found its way into jazz explorations often. Saxophonist Clifford Jordan went there in a big way with These Are Our Roots: The Music of Lead Belly (Atlantic Records, 1965); and saxophonist Geof Bradfield—inspired by Lead Belly via Jordan, presented in 2015 the excellent Our Roots (Origin Records).

Lead Belly was one of the smoother, more polished of the delta blues artists (it is, of course, relative), his sound less raw than that of Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton or Son House. Interestingly, Nussbaum and his cohorts lean toward the raw side with their takes on Some of Lead Belly's best known tunes. It's two guitars, Steve Cardenas and Nate Radley, joined by saxophonist Ohad Talmor and drummer/leader Nussbaum, immersed in the glorious simplicity of the music. Talmor's sax has restrained, rough-around-the-edges sound at times, and a big, holy, resonant tone at others. The guitar-manship is refined, luminous—a country twang sneaks in on "Bring Me A Little Water, Sylvie." They have a rockabilly feel on "Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)."

As rough hewn as this quartet's renderings are, there is also a deft exquisiteness to them. A loose, spontaneous, soundtrack-to-America feeling, with top level musicianship involved in the serving up elemental sounds.

Track Listing: Old Riley; Green Corn; Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night); Bottle Up and Go; Black Betty; Grey Goose; Bring Me a Little Water, Sylvie; You Can't Lose Me Cholly; Insight, Enlight; Sure Would Baby; Good Night Irene.

Personnel: Adam Nussbaum: drums; Steve Cardenas: electric guitar; Nate Radley: electric guitar; Ohad Talmor: saxophone.

Title: The Lead Belly Project | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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