Monday, May 5, 2008

Gig Review: Rene Trossman Band

U Malého Glena
30th April 2008

The first of day May is a public holiday in the Czech Republic and that can mean only one thing: the last night of April is a good opportunity to stay up late and go see some weekday music. With no work to look forward to when the dawn breaks, apart from snoozing off the last groans of a malty hangover, a free Wednesday night in Prague is the perfect opportunity to drop in and see Rene Trossman and his Blues Band.

It is not so much that RT plays Chicago blues, it is more that that he is Chicago blues to the core. A city with a rich and diverse music scene, it was there that Trossman cut his teeth on the club circuit. As such not only are his chops pretty hot but also there is real gritty authenticity in his performances. I’ve heard “Sweet Home Chicago” done many times, but when it is sung by some greenhorn who once changed flights at O’Hare it sounds like a bunch of bull. In Trossman’s hands I am reminded of why that song is so great. They should ban anyone who hasn’t lived in the Windy City for at least two decades from even humming it.

Rene was backed as usual by Taras Voloshchuk on acoustic bass and the agile Tomáš Vokurka on drums. Playing an unusually small and simple kit he still manages to get a wide array of sounds. Together they form a flexible and interesting rhythm section, guiding even the most hopeless foot-tapper into their art. Unusually Groovemeister Jan Kořínek wasn’t in the line-up, providing his funky organ sounds and taking up a large share of Little Glen’s little stage, but sitting in for him was fellow Groove player, Jiří Hokeš on guitar. Playing with a jazzy flair Hokeš added to the depth of the overall sound, as well as taking a fair few lead lines himself. Kořínek’s organ does lend the band a distinctive sound, but it was certainly interesting to hear them with a two guitar attack for a change.

As usual there was a mix of blues standards and original pieces sitting comfortably side by side, the latter including “My Endless Blue Mood” and “Postmarked Illinois”. Both are available on Trossman’s Postmarked Illinois album. Standards included the energetic “Caldonia”, “Big Boss Man” (as popularised by Jimmy Reed), and the timeless blast of “Mojo” – a fitting tribute on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of the great Muddy Waters. With the RTB you not only get some superb music but also a little blues history lesson thrown into the deal!

As ever at UMG there are performers that aren’t on the stage and that I didn’t pay to hear. Down in the “submarine” (as RT referred to it) there are no quiet places to talk. Especially if you’re a bunch of big loud Germans. Thankfully they were late for the first set and started to shut up a bit during the third, and so it could have been worse. At London’s Jazz Café there used to be a sign by the stage saying “S.T.F.U. during performances”. This is not an unreasonable request, and one wishes that UMG would invest in such a sign. It would be almost as pleasing to see in there as the naked lady poster. Somebody wanted a birthday dedication for “Basil”, and one hopes that there were a few Fawlty Towers fans in the house that night. The band was, as always, professional and accommodating. It is more than I would be.

Rene and his band are regarded as a must-see act when they tour Europe. As such is it a privilege to have access to their music on a weekly basis. “Chicago to go” with a fat side of Bernard beer makes for a filling menu; just the thing to burn up a Wednesday night in style. And by the time he’s finished with “Sweet Home” you’ll be thinking about a trip to the travel agent.

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