Times ain’t now like they used to be: David Bromberg is an entrepreneur, while Al Kooper is an educator. Who knew THAT was gonna happen 40 years ago? But these two musical icons (and longtime friends) aren’t done by a long shot, if last week’s double-bill at The Egg is any indication.
Bromberg only tours occasionally these days – either with the Big Band or in a small, acoustic format. For the uninitiated, don’t let the phrase “big band” throw you off; the noted multi-instrumentalist isn’t trying to make a living off the Great American Songbook. (Lookin’ at YOU, Rod Stewart!) The “Big Band” qualifier only means there’s more Bromberg to love, and we loved it a lot as he led the brass-centric, fiddle-licious octet into the roaring opener “Sloppy Drunk.”
“I LOVE my whiskey!” he snarled, going off-mic for a fast mock-rant at the almost-full house. His electric guitar snarled pretty damn hard, too, as he gave a textbook lesson in how to slide your way to nastiness. His was the last solo on a long-form piece that gave the “Double-A.R.P. Horns” a chance to get loose. Reedman/pennywhistler John Firmin, horn player Peter Ecklund, and trombonist Curtis Linberg stacked serious muscle onto the hard-nosed Chicago blues “As the Years Go Passing By” and the Preservation Hall-like plea “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor.” The latter tune featured a special guest educator – UAlbany’s own Don Byron, whose wondrous clarinet work added depth and authenticity.
The fiddles were provided by Nate Grower and Mitch Corbin, although Corbin also added monster work on guitar and mandolin. “I take perverse pleasure in the fact that I always have a guy in the band who plays guitar better than me,” Bromberg confided before leaving the stage entirely to Corbin, who ripped off a flowing instrumental that must have sold a few of Corbin’s own CDs in the lobby. Corbin and Grower added even more swirl to a medley of Irish reels in the early part of the set, and they helped Bromberg give “Summer Wages” the sad smile it needed.
Bromberg may have lost a lick or two, but he’s still got one of the most evocative voices ever, and his arranging skills are almost unequaled. His instrumental version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was absolutely exquisite (It even brought a tear to Bromberg’s eye), and his solo-acoustic, off-mic take on “Drown in My Own Tears” hit dead-center. “Drown” was brought home by the “appearance” of the three-woman vocal group Angel Band (featuring Bromberg’s wife Nancy Josephson), also singing off-mic. Then the trio joined Bromberg and the Big Band for the sensational set-closers “Send Me to the ‘lectric Chair” and “Sharon.”
The Angels made their first appearance during Al Kooper’s opening set – which was only fair, since Kooper added some sweet Hammond B3 to Bromberg’s first few tunes. “You got the history of rock and roll right there,” Bromberg said of Kooper, and we got little pieces of his amazing résumé during a tasty one-hour performance that had plenty of Kooper’s trademark humor. (“The average age of the people who come see me is… deceased.”)
Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” got the slow blues treatment; the Blues Project’s “Flute Thing” became “FUNKY Flute Thing”, with satisfying results; and his Otis Redding tribute “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” led off an outstanding closing medley that showed just how hot Blood Sweat & Tears was before David Clayton-Thomas screwed it up.
“Thanks for making the place sound full,” Kooper cracked at one point. Hey, Al, empty seats (of which there were few) just meant we didn’t have to share the fun.
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Kooper’s singing is unique, like Mose Allison singing rock ’n’ roll. His support, The Funky Faculty, from Berklee School of Music, were professional, professorial and, at times, though not often, a drop wild, particularly guitarist Bob Doezman. Bromberg and his band sounded great. He controls the song and the room like a master, playing the self-righteous wronged man in his sad ballads, growling improvised angry lines on his blues tunes.”
THE DAVID BROMBERG BIG BAND SET LIST
Sloppy Drunk (with Al Kooper on Hammond B3)
As the Years Go Passing By (with Al Kooper on Hammond B3)
It’s Over (with Al Kooper on Hammond B3)
Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor (with Don Byron on clarinet)
Irish fiddle medley
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
(Mitch Corbin solo guitar)
Levee Camp Moan
Drown in My Own Tears
Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair
AL KOOPER & THE FUNKY FACULTY SET LIST
Just One Smile (solo)
Green Onions (Booker T & the MG’s)
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (Bob Dylan)
I Got My Eye on You
Just for a Thrill
FUNKY Flute Thing
I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know>
You Can’t Always Get What You Want (with Angel Band) (Rolling Stones)>
Season of the Witch (Donovan)