Lead Belly Re-imagined
One of my favourite records from recent years was the somewhat surprise-debut from Adam Nussbaum. The stalwart sideman has been the safest pair of hands – with either sticks or brushes – behind a great many legends (John Scofield, Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman, Paul Bley, John Abercrombie) but for his first time as leader he chose to cover a bunch of Lead Belly songs. It was intriguing – but also warm and lithe and lovely. The playing exquisite and playful, the arrangements interesting – and it was a nice twist on being influenced. No one could have predicted that a session drummer’s debut would be shining a light on the influence of Lead Belly. But of course there’s no reason for this not to be the truth. That’s the thing with influence. Somewhere along the way we seemed to confuse the term and think it only pertains to styles so similar as to soundalike, lookalike, read alike…not the case. Not the case at all.
And so it’s far less of a surprise this time but Nussbaum is back – with the same crew – for round two. Lead Belly Re-imagined is a further set of the folk-blues legend’s material bent to suit the shape of the sort of jazz Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell helped Ginger Baker push into place 25 years ago.
Guitarists Steve Cardenas and Nate Radley pull at threads of the songs while saxophonist Ohad Talmor runs wild and free (Laura).
There’s something lovely about the way this bass-less quartet uses the guitars to both gently coax and state the melody (When I Was A Cowboy) and supply a shimmering, tremulous version of a bottom end (Rock Island Line).
Nussbaum is happy making loads of space and shuffling deep (Shorty George) or sitting so tight in the pocket as to be the song’s spare change that is never spent (Princess Elizabeth). His brushwork remains tasty (Relax Your Mind) and when he does open up and strike out – including very compositional soloing – it’s with the full flair and flow of a great New Orleans groove (Governor Pat Neff).
As with volume one you can approach this as a fan of the original material and be awed by these re-shapings, or you can come to this as a fan of modern quartet jazz, ready to leave in search of Lead Belly’s original song offerings.