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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blues Incorporated: At The Cavern


1) Overdrive; 2) Whoa Babe; 3) Every Day I Have The Blues; 4) Hoochie Coochie Man; 5) Herbie's Tune; 6) Little Bitty Gal Blues; 7) OK You Win; 8) Kansas City.

With Beatlemania already in full swing and the British rhythm & blues scene already beginning to be populated by newcoming young ruffians, this record already has less historical significance than R&B At The Marquee — yet it is also an honestly much better album. First, unlike the «Marquee» sessions, this one was actually recorded live (February 23, 1964, at The Cavern in Liverpool, already made famous by the Beatles' residence): expectedly, it catches Korner's band in a more adventurous and riskier state of mind, where their purpose is not only to «introduce» their influences, but to actually do something with those influences as well.

Second, with several years of experience behind their backs, Blues Incorporated were almost beginning to develop some sort of personal identity — very important in an era of swiftly increa­sing competition, even though it was still never enough to make Korner into a superstar (not that he ever entertained any such ambitions). Clearly, they were listening not only to «mass appeal» records from the Chicago blues scene, but to various strands and strains of jazz as well, and intro­ducing «bizarre» elements into their own musical approach.

This particular line-up, other than Korner himself, included mostly new players: Dave Castle replacing Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax; Malcom Saul on organ; Vernon Bown on bass; Mike Scott on drums; and Herbie Goins on vocals, although Alexis himself takes the lead on several of the tracks (allegedly, he abhorred his own singing voice and only sang out of necessity — which is understandable, since he has a raspy croak that, at best, comes across as «funny»; still, in terms of mood, it agrees well with many of the arrangements, and it is still light years more «acces­sible» than, say, any random Jimmy Reed vocal).

Of all these people, Dave Castle is the loudest, and his sax frequently tends to outshout the voca­list (ʽEveryday I Have The Bluesʼ is a particularly illustrative example: no sooner does Alexis in­troduce Herbie Goins to the Cavern audiences as «someone who can sing» than the frenetic blurt­ing from Dave's pipe completely prevents us — and I am not even talking about the actual audi­ence at the club — from assessing that statement). Some find this a problem, but not me: the noisy ambience generated by Dave's ruckus is intermittently irritating... and curious — certainly B. B. King would never have dreamed of performing the song that way.

The lengthy instrumental ʽHerbie's Tuneʼ, ironically named after the band's only non-performing member, is quite solid — a carefully constructed workout in 12/4, with Castle and Saul taking time to improvise and Mike Scott turning in the obligatory drum solo, probably making this the earliest «jazz-style rock instrumental» in the history of British rhythm & blues, and a pretty good one: everything gels, even if the main theme, with its rather monotonous rise-and-fall pattern, is hardly on par with Charles Mingus.

Alexis throws in a few of his own compositions, introducing ʽWhoa Babeʼ as a «John Lee Hoo­ker type blues» (not that John Lee Hooker would care for such saxophone exuberance on his re­cords, but otherwise, a fairly good definition) and giving the other one the ambitious title of ʽOverdriveʼ — although, frankly, the only performer to remain in overdrive throughout the album is Dave Castle, so much so that they should have honestly credited this one to «Dave Castle's Blues Incorporated». He even manages to dominate ʽHoochie Coochie Manʼ, no matter how much Alexis tries to revert attention to himself by playing a «stinging» slide guitar solo.

Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it amuses, but in the end, it is what gives At The Cavern its dis­tinct flavor: Britain had its fair share of competent sax blowers, yet, for the most part, they were either bit players of relatively little significance (e. g. Mike Vickers of Manfred Mann) or played in a strictly pop configuration (Mike Smith of the Dave Clark 5). Heckstall-Smith was among the few exceptions, but he had not yet latched on to his chance to shine — so Dave Castle takes the lead here and blows 'em all away, for bad or for good. Yes, and Herbie Goins does have a nice blueswailing tone, after all (check out ʽOK You Winʼ for proof).

Thumbs up, of course, and there is also an expanded reissue of the album that includes an addi­tional six tracks recorded live for the BBC that same year — including ʽTurn On Your Lovelightʼ and ʽPlease, Please, Pleaseʼ, showing how much Korner was really getting into soul-based R&B at that time, way beyond his passion for the Chicago blues scene.

Check "At The Cavern" (CD) on Amazon
Check "At The Cavern" (MP3) on Amazon

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