Jazz Guitar Life thanks JGL contributor Norm Marier for this review and for reaching out to Jazz Guitarist Steve Blum. Norm’s work, support and encouragement is greatly appreciated!
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Flashback to my youth playing cocktail hours at the legendary l’Air du Temps jazz club in Montreal back in the mid eighties. After the set, I spotted American jazz guitar master Stephen Blum sitting at the bar. I had heard him play previously and realized that this visiting American was “the real deal”. I had to pick his brain regarding how to play in a more “modern” fashion. His response has stuck with me for decades: “Hey man, it all begins with making a song sound pretty”.
Blum should know something about “making a song sound pretty”. He joined Peggy Lee’s orchestra at the tender of 18 in October 1966, which ironically, was my age when I met him.
Flash forward to 2023 and thanks to today’s age of social media I came across an exciting recording of the Stephen Blum Trio – Super Trio Live @ The Cafe’ No – with none other than Cecil McBee on bass and Matt Wilson on drums.
In speaking with Stephen recently, he explained that in 1991 he sat in with jazz greats Cecil McBee and Kirk Lightsey at a restaurant called Zinno. It turned out that McBee lived in the state of Maine during the summer which happened to be where Blum was staying at the time. Blum invited McBee to play on his regular gig at Café No and what followed was a remarkable and unrehearsed show with Blum, McBee and Wilson playing at the top of their game!
“The 3 of us, myself, Matt Wilson and Cecil had never played together before prior to this gig! There was no rehearsal, and no set list …we just got up there and played. It was totally spontaneous…”
Fortunately, and unbeknownst to Blum at the time, the complete set, which I consider to be a truly great jazz guitar trio performance, was recorded on a “live to Two-Track cassette recorder” and subsequently – 32 years later – “…the recording was digitized, mastered and edited with the help of John Montagnese and myself in the summer of 2023 at The Carriage House Studios …” resulting in a year-long undertaking.
This live recording begins with “If I Should Lose You”. Blum’s mastery of solo jazz chord melody is immediately evident from the get-go with a great intro. What follows is Stephen’s virtuosic playing backed up by the first-rate rhythm section of McBee and Wilson.
“Good Bait”, played with a straight walking tempo, has Blum interweaving Wes-like octave playing with quotes from various standards.
Bill Evan’s “No Cover, No Minimum” is used as the blues vehicle. Blum is an all-round skillful guitar player having explored many types of music, including Brazilian. On this tune, Blum’s proficiency of the blues is fully on display followed by an up-tempo bop version of “Perhaps”.
The almost mandatory Bossa of any jazz set is provided by “Black Orpheus / A Day In The Life” while the ballad of the set features a thoughtful rendition of Monk’s “Round Midnight” which showcases another wonderfully adept chord melody intro by Blum.
Stephen Blum seems to play it all on this particular recording: Impressive double-time played lines, interesting weaving of “inside/outside” ideas, chord lines that fill in the sound of the guitar, bass, drums format. Super Trio “Live @ The Cafe’ No is a truly great performance by all concerned.
“Invitation”, played very up-tempo, was meant to be the set closer. Blum blasts through the tune playing mostly single lines in true Pat Martino fashion. Blum told me this was meant to wrap up the set but the “people demanded more” so they immediately pulled out “Summertime” and a blistering short version of “Mr. PC” to close the set. We can hear the enthusiasm of the crowd on the recording in what must have been a most memorable night of jazz guitar in a dazzling trio format.
Recently, Blum told me there are still another two or three tunes that could be released so cross your fingers that this happens sooner than later.
Having last heard Blum over 35 years ago it was very enjoyable for me to purchase and listen to this great recording. It’s a truly unique live recording that took 32 years to get out to the public, and thankfully is now available on Bandcamp for all to hear. Turns out that Stephen Blum wasn’t joking about making a song sound pretty. Thank you Stephen!
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