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Robben Ford: Tiger Walk

Robert Spencer By

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Listening to this new Robben Ford disc reminds me how much this man's guitar contributed to the sound of the much-maligned late period of Miles Davis. At its core Tiger Walk is a quartet recording centering around Ford, Bernie Worrell on clavinet and organ, Charlie Drayton on bass guitars, and Steve Jordon on drums and percussion. Benmont Tench of Heartbreakers fame plays organ on "The Champ," with Russell Ferrante on piano and Lenny Castro on percussion. Castro chips in on the hard-driving "In the Beginning" as well. Bob Malach adds tenor to three tracks; Ronnie Cuber brings in his baritone-tones for two.

Way out in front of this barrage of driving funk is Ford's guitar. His artistry is undeniable and shown to good effect throughout this recording. Every now and then I caught myself listening for that unmistakable Harmon-muted trumpet to drift in over the groove, but most of the time Ford's pyrotechnics are more than enough to hold one's attention. "In the Beginning" is hot, but "Ghosts" (not Ayler's) ups the ante. "Freedom" shows that our man can play sweet too, although Jordon hardly lowers the level of his drums. "Red Lady w/ Cello" contains, alas, no cello, or red lady either, but does feature some wah-wah from Robben such as to make another of his old bosses, George Harrison, proud or envious, depending on his state of Krishna consciousness. "Just Like It Is" should not be overlooked by wah-wah fans either — sounds like "Haitian Divorce," but meaner, leaner, and cleaner.

"I Can't Stand the Rain" ventures into real down-and-dirty blues territory, and Ford shows he belongs. One of the other tracks is called "The Champ," which he very well may be at this point. Of funky electric blues guitar. Or of groovy Milesian leisurewear (check out his tigerprint shirt in the inside photo.) Tiger Walk is as solid an outing as has ever come from this man, who is certainly a master of his instrument and chosen genre.


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