Stew Cutler’s ‘artsy bar band’ has Greenwich Village vibe
You can feel the bohemian panache of New York’s Greenwich Village in guitarist Stew Cutler’s music in the same way Northern California’s aura tints the songs of Robben Ford.
Cutler reminds me of Ford in places on “Every Sunday Night.” He’s played alongside Percy Sledge, David Sanborn, Robin Holcomb, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and even Meat Loaf through the years, so he’s able to draw upon a unique variety of likes and interests, besides the grit of his New York City home. The title of this, Cutler’s sixth album, is derived from his weekly residency at Arthur’s Tavern, the West Side’s historic “Home of the Bird’” jazz club. On it, Cutler and his superb band focus on jazz, soul, funk and the blues, and they mix it up with distinctive flair, subtlety and, of course, plenty of heat.
Cutler refers to his collective as “An artsy bar band,” which is an apt description. They’re precise, yet down and dirty. The idea was to play a set as if they were at a rousing Arthur’s show. So, they cut nine songs in a single day’s session, wildly achieving their goal in the process. From the spacey opening to “The Grind,” which moves along purposefully and with dangerous guitar snaking about, to the lightly jiving “Miss D” at the end, top-notch entertainment never wavers. Cutler’s high-pitched tone calls to mind Tommy Bolin during “The Grind,” the title coincidentally used by the late, great and sadly misguided guitarist for one of his own rockers. Bolin did play on the celebrated “Spectrum” album by Billy Cobham, so the influence may have originated there.
“Gumbo Trane” goes just where its title suggests; six and a half minutes of free bebop with undertones of the Crescent City. Organist Nick Semrad shines in his extended solo there, and the backbeat provided by drummer Bill McClellan cannot be beat. Cutler’s cutting of a completely soulful version of Gregg Allman’s “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” is reverential, and its timing coincidental, given Allman’s passing sometime after this session was completed. Singer Bobby Harden steps up on the song, swings for the fences, and blasts it out of the park. No easy task, which explains why Allman is so rarely covered. JT Bowen of Asbury Park, New Jersey’s Red Bank Rockers takes the microphone for Sam and Dave’s “When Something is Wrong with My Baby,” and does a fantastic job singing that perennial favorite.
Cutler’s prodigious facility on the guitar pairs well with his ability to showcase magnificent players, singers and songs here. The results amount to an out-of-left-field album not to be missed.
Stew Cutler‘Every Sunday Night’Label: Conga
ABOUT Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.