The concept is simple, the effects are maximal: you play, be it the B-3 or sometimes the piano, a number of blues oriented songs from your own back catalogue, for the most part from your most recent CD. You bring this up to taste with a couple of favourite tunes by others, you take care to bring in a couple of musicians that match your dazzling level, and there’s your recipe: it’s called Bruce Katz. Quite simple, provided your name is… Bruce Katz. With few means (an electronic B-3 and a guitar player who needs to retune to play slide because there was no room in the luggage for a slide guitar) the Bruce Katz Band showed up at Banana Peel for a typical blues night. All this in ghost village Ruiselede, where the majority of the locals hardly realise that blues bands from all over the planet pass on through on a regular basis, practically unnoticed and almost always on a Monday, just to give their all. Katz is well aware of the status of this club that’s entering its 50th season next September. Actually it’s more alive and kicking than ever. One glance at the names that put their signature on the tablets fixed on the beams that carry the roof told Bruce more than enough.
But Bruce Katz is a living legend of his own right. That’s why we hesitate to draw up a list of the musicians, not only blues artists, with whom he collaborated in some form or other, in the studio as well as on all kinds of stages, not only on keyboards but also on the bass guitar. We’d rather say: with whom did he not perform? zouden beter stellen: bij wie speelde hij niét? So we keep it short here: Bruce is a classically trained piano player and studied at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston (composition and execution) while he acquired a Master Degree in jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music, also in Boston, Massachusetts. Along the way he discovered the blues and everything that can be classified as ‘Americana’. There was the inevitable learning school of the small bands and he rose to distinction as the bass player of Big Mama Thornton, which meant that the blues came in the center of huis musical constellation. He joined Barrence Whitfield & The Savages, with whom he played for the most part in the eighties.
In 1992 Bruce joined Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, In the meantime he had become a much in demand session musician. With his own Bruce Katz Band he produced CD’s from 1992 on. ‘Homecoming’ (2014) is his eighth. He played with Delbert McClinton, Duke Robillard and John Hammond, to name but these giants of present day music. Between 2007 and 2013 he was a member of the Gregg Allman Band. Today he’s to be found on more than 70 CD’s as collaborator. These include records by Mighty Sam McClain (who sadly passed away June 16th…), Debbie Davis, Joe Louis Walker, Paul Rishell & Annie Rains, and even top singer-songwriter Mark Erelli, all major artists in their own respect. We musn’t forget to mention that for fourteen years he was a professor at the Berklee College of Music, and regularly gave and gives master classes. Nowadays he focusses on his own band. Now seemed a good time to leave Woodstock, NY, where he lives since ten years, and to cross the Atlantic once again, like in the good old days.
This Eurotour started in Banana Peel, but brings the band to Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, France and in the middle of all that, also to Café Bel Air in Breda Holland, near Belgium) June 27, Goorblues in Gooreind (Belgium) June 28 and The Maple in Ertvelde (Belgium) June 29. So there’s still a chance to catch the trio in the neighbourhood, and see them perform. Which we only can advise you to do. There was indeed something going on at BP… Bruce started out with the instrumental ‘No Brainer’ from ‘Homecoming’. On that new CD, the successor of ‘Live! At The Firefly’, guitar player and singer Chris Vitarello and drummer Ralph Rosen play a first rate rôle. They’re here today. At the end of the evening both have had ample opportunity to show why: Rosen is a solid rock, a house of confidence, a metronome that makes art out of functionality. Vitarello is an outstanding guitarist, with an astonishing technique and a broad creative range. He interacts well with Katz in short interventions or long drawn out solo’s. The leader himself pulls on the reins, focussed, driven and with sense of purpose. Most songs are provided with short and sharp comments, but it’s always the music that prevails.
After the opening shuffle and a chunk of steaming funk, we get a first peak with the ballad that Bruce wrote, together with the late Mighty Sam McClain, ‘Hangin’ Upon The Cross’. Chris proves here to be an outstanding singer. In ‘The Sky Is The Limit’ (from‘Homecoming’) he also emerges as a first class songwriter. Well worked out solo’s on respectively hammond and guitar spice up the song. Bruce takes to the piano for the first time tonight and suddenly we get ‘dangerously’ close to New Orleans. ‘Amelia’ is the name of this wonderful tune and we learn that Bruce wrote it for his beloved granddaughter (to be found on the latest CD) Funky ‘Every Hungry Woman’, written by Gregg Allman, gives Bruce the opportunity to go all the way on the B-3. It’s followed by ‘Blues Before Sunrise’, a monumental slow blues on the piano, also from the new one. In the instrumental, up tempo ‘Three Feet Of The Ground’ there’s even a small drum solo to be heard, unexpected but refreshing. First set ends with ‘Norton’s Boogie’, a genuine boogiewoogie, sure sign for Bruce to hammer on the piano and once again an indication of the versatility of Katz’ musical approach. During the following break, band and audience mingle and remarks, questions and jokes go back and forth. People coulnd’t care less that the venue surprisingly wasn’t sold out: the first part had brought those present in a remarkably good mood.
Set two started with an instrumental again, ‘The Czar’, that’s included in ‘Homecoming’. A new high is ‘King Of Decatur’. Now we’re at the heart of New Orleans, as the song refers to a figure that somehow seems to be well known in Decatur Street in the French Quarter van The Crescent City. In this song Ralphs second line gets all the credit, while Chris fires a wonderful gumbo of quotes the likes of ‘junko partner’, ‘mardi gras’ and other ‘jackomo fina nay’s at us, a great moment! But no time to catch our breath: next, Vitarello’s slide brings Elmore James back to life. While the guitar gets retuned, Bruce plays a short intermezzo, again proof that the man only lives when he can play, at least so it seems! The older ‘Ice Cream Man’ can be found on Bruce’s before last CD ‘Live! At The Firefly’: this version gives a pretty good idea how the tune sounded at BP. In the title tune of ‘Homecoming’ it’s again hammond time. The next instrumental gets a longer drum solo. We had been waiting for it, and here it is: één of the guitar heores with the last ‘King’ had to be played tonight. With ‘C.O.D.’, a single in 1965, the band honours no one less than Albert King.
Not unexpectedly, there’s a ballad coming on: Bruce wrote ‘Contrition’ some 20 years ago for a CD he made while in Europe. This slow tune builds up to an almost unbearable climax. Bruce jumps up during the fierce and fiery solo and what Chris squeezes out of his guitar is no mean feat. It could easily have been the apotheosis of the evening, but as it wasn’t yet eleven o’clock, curfew time, the Bruce Katz Band added two songs, firts the catchy ‘Greasy Sticks’, that Bruce described euphemististically as ‘kind of a groove thing’, and then, surprisingly, but certainly not less appreciated, ‘The Letter’, in 1967 a monsterhit for The Box Tops (with the great Alex Chilton but written by Wayne Carson Thompson (who died July 20th) and produced by that other giant, Dan Penn) But Katz plays it in Joe Cocker style, and indeed dedicates the rockmonument to the former plumber. There are encores, all the way up to curfew, with firts the T-Bone Walker boogie ‘Sometimes I Wonder’, followed by two typical ‘farewell songs’ on the piano (well known melodies, but those titles…), this rounding it all up in a graceful manner. Bruce Katz and his men gave those present a concert they’ll remember a long time, which inspired Franky Van de Ginste, the programmer of BP, to wrap up the evening with: ‘The Bruce Katz Band should come back quickly!’
Antoine Légat (original published in http://www.rootstime.be, written June 24th; this translation finished July 29th 2015)