David Bromberg brings ‘Nothing But The Blues’ to Maui
One of America’s most respected roots musicians, David Bromberg has played with an impressive array of artists from Bob Dylan and George Harrison, to the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Willie Nelson.
Heading to Maui for a concert on Saturday, Bromberg talked about his most recent album, “The Blues, The Whole Blues, and Nothing But The Blues,” which features fresh interpretations of songs by Robert Johnson, Son House, Ray Charles and Sonny Boy Williamson.
“Most of my records have all sorts of genres and on this CD I stuck to blues, but all kinds of blues, which is unique for me,” he explains. “I thought it was time to do something that was a little more focused.”
Bromberg has loved blues from an early age. Enrolled at Columbia University as a musicology major, he was drawn to the Greenwich Village folk scene in the mid-’60s, where he could learn from musicians such as his primary inspiration and teacher, the Rev. Gary Davis.
“I got to be a seeing-eye dog for the Rev. Gary Davis, who was blind,” Bromberg recalls. “He was the greatest Piedmont (finger-style) guitar player. In later years I got to play with Mississippi John Hurt, and I played with Muddy (Waters) and B.B. (King), which was a great privilege. I had a lot of contact with first-generation blues players. I was extraordinarily lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”
A Grammy-nominated master of a number of string instruments (guitar, fiddle, Dobro, mandolin), in time Bromberg played and recorded with many famous musicians including Dylan (“New Morning,” “Self Portrait”), Nelson (“Shotgun Willie”), Ringo Star (“Ringo”), Kris Kristofferson (“Full Moon”), The Eagles (“One of These Nights”), Bonnie Raitt and Jerry Garcia.
He met the Grateful Dead’s guitarist/vocalist at the Woodstock Music Festival when they both took refuge from the rain. Garcia and other members of the Dead ended up playing on Bromberg’s early albums. “I knew Jerry from Woodstock when we sat and played in a tent, and everything else just fell into place,” he says.
As for Dylan, when Bromberg played guitar with Jerry Jeff Walker, “Bob used to come in and listen to Jerry Jeff. I never thought he paid any attention to me, but evidently he liked what I did and he called me one day and asked me to check out a studio. Of course it was a studio he had played in many times.”
Then there was former Beatle George Harrison, who played on Bromberg’s self-titled 1972 album, and co-wrote the song “The Holdup” with him at a Thanksgiving dinner. “We passed a guitar back and forth, and without trying we wrote a song,” he says.
Bromberg has only recently returned to touring and recording after taking a 22-year break. “I got burnt out,” he explains. “I was too dumb to realize it was burn out. I thought I had to find another way to live my life, which I did.”
The guitar virtuoso set up a business specializing in American-made violins, and last year sold a collection of more than 250 instruments to the Library of Congress.
“I love violins, I love what I do,” he says. “I started some jam sessions, one acoustic bluegrass and the other, Chicago-style blues, and I started really enjoying playing again.”
For his Maui concert Bromberg is joined by Mark Cosgrove on guitars, mandolin and vocals; Nate Grower on fiddle, mandolin, guitar and vocals; Josh Kanusky on drums; and Suavek Zaniesienko on bass and vocals.
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If Bob Marley had been an Indian kirtan walla instead of a Rastafarian he might have sounded like Jai Uttal on the first track of his new “Roots, Rock, Rama!” album.
A world music pioneer, Uttal had previously infused some Jamaican reggae and ska on his “Queen of Hearts” album in 2011. With his latest double disc he’s gone for full immersion.
” ‘Queen of Hearts’ was very much a ska album and I had so much fun performing those songs it encouraged me to dive deeper into a rootsy reggae approach,” he explains. “It has a Maytals’ ‘Funky Kingston’ feel.”
To help drive this exuberant collection, he called on musician friends from the Pagan Love Orchestra to uplift the songs with horn arrangements by jazz musician Peter Apfelbaum. “I was pulling threads from all kinds of styles of kirtan I’ve done over the years,” he continues. “It came out way better than I could have even imagined.”
One of the most inventive tracks features a brilliant synthesis of the “Hare Krishna” chant and the Beatles’ classic “Help.” “I was just in India and we spent some time in the Beatles’ old ashram in Rishikesh,” he says. “There’s a logic as the Beatles did some Indian chanting. One day I realized that all the mantras are about begging God to come and help you, so how appropriate to put it into a Hare Krishna song.”
In contrast to the upbeat, reggae-flavored “Rama Sun” first disc Uttal made with the Pagan Love Orchestra, the second “Rama Moon” disc is more mellow, reflecting Indian and Brazilian influences and featuring the Melodious Strings of Mumbai.
“There are a lot of different colors reflecting my journey with kirtan,” he says. “For years I’ve wanted to record in India and I made a lot of contacts with studios and musicians in India wanting to find a string orchestra, like a chamber ensemble. I found an American guy, a cellist in Mumbai, who studied with the son of Ali Akbar Khan, and had an ensemble.
“I wanted an old style of ’60s string orchestras in Bollywood movies. So he recorded to a two-track tape and left the tapes outside for three days to be deteriorated by the sun to get an old sound. It sounded crazy, a monkey could have run off with them.”
In conjunction with the release, Uttal partnered with the One Tree Planted organization. “For every CD that is sold, a tree will be planted,” he notes.
Acclaimed for his multicultural fusions, since the early 1990s, Uttal has released a series of influential albums based around Indian devotional music, seamlessly blended with elements of pop, rock, jazz, folk, electronica, and African and Brazilian rhythms. This string of exceptional recordings included “Monkey,” “Beggars and Saints,” “Shiva Station” and the Grammy-nominated “Mondo Rama.”
A gifted multi-instrumentalist, he played 13 different instruments on “Mondo Rama” and sang in Sanskrit, Hebrew and English, including adapting the Beatles’ psychedelic classic “Tomorrow Never Knows,” interwoven with a Sanskrit prayer. Some of his more introspective albums include “Music for Yoga” and “Loveland,” which are represented on the wonderful 2014 compilation “Lifeline: The Essential Jai Uttal and Ben Leinbach Collection.”
Performing at the Makawao Union Church on Friday, Uttal will focus on the new album. “I’ll do most of the songs,” he says. “I love these songs so much that I love to do them in many different ways. It keeps it fresh for me.”
* Uttal will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Makawao Union Church. He will be joined by tabla and harmonica player Daniel Paul. On Saturday at 4 p.m. he will lead a Bhakti Satsang that will include live music, kirtan, and discussions on devotional singing. Tickets for each event are $30 cash in advance or $40 cash at the door and are available at Maui Kombucha in the Haiku Marketplace, MacNet in Kahului, Monsoon India Restaurant in Kihei and Island Spirit Yoga in Lahaina.
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The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua’s annual Celebration of the Arts includes after-hours parties from 8 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday in the hotel’s Salon Ballroom. Friday’s entertainment includes John Cruz, Josh Tatofi, and ‘Nuff Sedd. Saturday’s music begins with Kamakakehau Fernandez, followed by Na Wai ‘Eha, and Kamaka Kukona and Leo Hone. There’s no cover charge, but you must be 21 and older to attend.
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Steve Grimes presents a CD release party for his latest recording, “Assorted Chocolates,” at 7 p.m. Friday at the King Kamehameha Golf Club in Waikapu. Musicians joining him include Kerry Sofaly, Tim Hackbarth, Steve Stusser, Eric Helmkamp, Fulton Tashombe and Rock Hendricks on sax. Admission is $15 at the door, and includes the new CD.
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Vancouver-based Celtic band The Town Pants makes its Maui debut with “Easter Rising 101” shows at 7 p.m. Friday at the Maui Coffee Attic in Wailuku. They will also perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Diamonds Ice Bar and Grill in Kihei, and at 7 p.m. Sunday at Mulligans On The Blue in Wailea.