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The Bruce Katz Band's: Get Your Groove!
by George Graham
(American Showplace Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/5/2018)
When you think of the electric, or even acoustic blues, the instrument that comes to mind in the guitar. Part of that is the way a guitar can bend notes in a bluesy style. But it seems that recently, some blues keyboard players have been getting their due, including Mitch Woods, Dave Keyes, John Ginty, and even the venerable and still active British blues man John Mayall, who plays keyboards rather than guitar. This week we have another appealing blues album by a veteran keyboard player, Bruce Katz. His new release, at least his ninth under his own name is called Get Your Groove!.
Bruce Katz first heard a record by the great blues pioneer Bessie Smith at age 10, while Katz was studying classical piano, and soon was attracted to blues and boogie-woogie piano styles amidst his classical training. He went on to study composition and performance at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he later taught for 14 years. He got his masters in Jazz Performance at the New England Conservatory of Music. Katz worked with guitarist Ronnie Earl and his group the Broadcasters for several years, and became an in-demand sideman and studio musician. He has performed regularly with bluesman John Hammond, and was a member of the Greg Allman Band, and also performed with groups headed by Allman Brothers members, Jaimoe and Butch Trucks.
Katz has been releasing a series of albums under his own name with his bands since 1992. His last album was called Out From the Center, released in 2016. Get Your Groove continues Katz’ appealing keyboard-oriented blues, in mostly classic styles from soul to funk to textbook blues shuffles. He is featured about equally on Hammond B3 organ and piano. He is joined by guitarist and vocalist Chris Vitarello, who appeared on Out from the Center, and drummer Ray Hangen. When Katz is on piano or not playing the bass line on the organ, Matt Raymond is on electric and acoustic bass. A special guest is Jai Johanny Johanson, better know as Jaimoe of the Allman Brothers Band, and in whose own band Katz has played.. The material is mostly original by Katz, though guitarist Vitarello contributes two tunes, and the better part of the album is instrumental. The record lives up to its title Get Your Groove! with a good collection of generally easy going tunes, and not a lot of flashy playing. Although really well done, a number of the compositions sound like straight-down-the-middle blues tunes. Some have a kind of New Orleans beat, while there is not much in the slow blues category. Most have a little harmonic or melodic twist here and there, but there’s no denying that this is the blues.
Opening is one of the vocal tracks, a traditional song Hesitation Blues. It’s served up as a kind of classic smooth blues shuffle with tasteful playing all around.
That leads into the album’s long instrumental jam, Freight Train, with the Allman Brothers’ Jaimoe on the drums. <<>> As it goes on, it becomes an Allman Brothers style jam, including a quote from the Allman Brothers’ In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. <<>>
Katz is featured on piano on an original called Beef Jerky one of several tracks that have a kind of New Orleans groove. <<>>
With a kind of funky Gospel sound is Shine Together, a vocal track. <<>> It also features features Jaimoe on drums, who gets a chance for a bit of a drum solo. <<>>
There are not many slow blues tunes on this generous 64-minute album. One is the instrumental called River Blues, with Katz on piano as well as his organ. <<>>
There are a couple of tunes with lyrics that have a message. Make Things Right is a good bluesy rock tune with Vitarelli singing about the need to come together in a divisive world. <<>>
The title track Get Your Groove! is in a classic New Orleans piano style, and it comes off particularly well. <<>>
Another tune with lyrics that have something to say is Wasn’t My Time, by guitarist Vitarelli. It tells the story of a close call in an incident of gun violence. <<>>
The Bruce Katz Band’s new album Get Your Groove! Is well named. It’s nicely done, appealing, often dancable blues led by the keyboard maven. It ranges from soul to jazz to funk to a rock jam, though all of it covers fairly familiar territory. If you’re looking for something iconoclastic, this is not your album. But it’s all handled with plenty of aplomb and it’s the kind of recording you’ll went to keep going back to for its infectious spirit.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” For an electric band, the sound is clean and undistorted by studio effects. And Katz and company resisted the trendy tendency to introduce the technical shortcomings of old analog recordings, which is getting common on retro albums like this one.
While the frontmen of most blues bands are guitarists, keyboardist Bruce Katz has created another first rate album in the classic American style.
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