Gig review: BLUES EXPLOSION – Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London, 26 February 2017

Blues Explosion is the house blues/jazz/funk band at Ronnie Scott’s and has a residency on the last Sunday of every month at this intimate venue.

It’s a stylish show. Each musician is highly accomplished in their own right and the band performed very much as an eight piece ensemble, showcasing diverse talents, styles and moods.

Marcus Bonfanti led the first few numbers. He is a blues guitarist/vocalist of some repute, with a couple of solo albums under his belt already. I saw his raw performance at the Borderline a couple of years ago, promoting the album ‘Shake The Walls’. Tonight was a more cultured and refined guitar display, complementing, rather than dominating Tony Remy on the other lead guitar, and the piano/keyboard and brilliant brass section.

Bonfanti’s gruff, baritone vocal was seen to great effect on the opener, Solomon Burke’s ‘Get Out of My Life, Woman’ and the funky, driving Dr John track ‘Renegade’.

Then keys man Paddy Milner, sat behind a baby-grand piano somehow shoe-horned on to the tiny stage, took over the vocal duties. The Band’s ‘Rag Mama Rag’ galloped along on fast paced honky-tonk groove that left Paddy positively breathless by the end.

Next came a change down with a stunning rendition of Memphis Slim’s ‘Mother Earth’. The tight, tingly, staccato instrumental crescendo was a thrilling prelude to Paddy’s gentle, poised piano interval. The venue was rapt, save for the tinkling of the ice cubes in my neighbour’s Mojito, giving the tickled ivories a run for their money.

I was in the eye-line of the drummer as he looked at Paddy throughout this extended passage, picking up cues and adjusting his fills as needed. He never broke his gaze once. All the time there was a smile about the corner of his mouth. This may be a cliché, but I love to see a band playing with such obvious joy and respect. Everything sounds better.

The brass section had solos in nearly every track. Winston Rollins on the trombone brought exuberance and flair to his pieces and the audience couldn’t get enough of it. I have never ever said that about the trombone before and I suspect I never will again.

A couple of Freddie King numbers passed the baton back to Marcus. ‘See See Baby’ featured a rasping, spare solo delivered from underneath a whirlwind of his black hair, head thrown back in effort. Contrast that with Tony Remy’s cool style on his set piece track just before the interval. Tony was crouched over his guitar, barely moving a muscle, save for the fingers that wrought out effects and harmonics; maybe just a twitched grimace as he coaxed a top end bend from the strings.

The second set followed a similar ensemble template. Paddy whipped up a storm of boogie-woogie mayhem on a couple of his leads and Remy found a more measured contribution on the otherwise weak song ‘How Long’ penned by bassist Nick Cohen. Brilliant work.

The funk quotient smashed off the scale with The Meter’s ‘People Say’, which filled the place with wobbly bass lines and complicated time signatures. It didn’t do much for me, but I was clearly in the minority. The same with Nick Cohen’s ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ bass piece, which seemed a little laboured to me.

Rare points of mediocrity though in a fine show. Maybe the highlight, but it’s a tough call, was the infectious ‘Ophelia’ from The Band, where the brass section blew up a proper storm of Memphis horns; or maybe it was the rollicking Delbert McClinton track that followed it.

It may even have been the set closer: an edgy, rhythm heavy BB King track given a workover that its owner would not recognise until Bonfanti cranked out the solo. At that point the tones could have resonated straight from the polished rosewood bodywork of ‘Lucille’ rather than Bonfanti’s beat up old Telecaster.

And that’s how this sophisticated, cosmopolitan Sunday night crowd was left dancing in the aisles. Class.

Review by Dave Atkinson



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