The tale of an older man’s May-December dream romance with a much younger lady set to blues nocturne melodies? Who would have thought? Well, the great Al Basile did. The man always thinks, always seems to be writing songs, and pursues a variety of other literary and musical interests to boot.
Basile was the first trumpet player with Roomful Of Blues in the mid-1970s, but he’s also an oft-published poet, and holds a Master’s degree in writing from Brown University. With the pandemic keeping musicians off the road, Basile decided to bide his time by writing, recording, and releasing “Last Hand” as the fantastic blues album that it turned out to be. But he’s also been preparing to turn all its songs into a dramatic audio play, complete with actors.
In the meantime, sit back and enjoy these songs, and the story, for there’s much here to savor. “It Ain’t Broke” sets it all — especially your feet and rear end — in motion. Basile and his mean band (pianist Bruce Bears, bassist Brad Hallen, and drummer Mark Teixeira) create a swinging groove with a swagger right in step with the cocksure, come-hither sentiment expressed.
Motive for that attitude lies then in “Invisible Man,” a dark, complex look backwards at a boyhood full of reservation concerning the opposite sex — one that’s still buried deeply. And so it goes. Further details of the saga need not be revealed, because the music alone will have listeners spellbound from beginning to end. Wafts of jazz float across and intersect with shades of blues wonderfully, the musicians conjuring various scenes and locales with their deft playing.
New Orleans comes to mind often, especially evident in the strutting beat of “What Would You Be Doing?” Bears really shines. Basile’s friend Duke Robillard, the founder of Roomful, usually plays superlative guitar on Basile’s albums. But in a surprisingly welcome move here, there’s no guitar to be found. Bears’ sparkling, cascading rolls of piano notes therefore share the spotlight with Basile’s superb vocalizing. His voice is tough, but conveys all manner of expression. He practically never picks up a horn either, but does play cornet at the end of “Don’t,” using it to accent the strange, tentative feeling of freezing a moment in time. And any moment in time that Al Basile fills with his music is a moment well worth experiencing.
— Tom Clarke
- Al Basile
Label: Sweetspot Records
Release: Aug. 21, 2020