Duke Robillard has been on fire lately, not only issuing his own gems but aiding and abetting a whole raft of other very worthy artists (Sunny Crownover being just one), most often sitting in with them. Al Basile's another, but there's an unusual story here as well. Basile was a writer and poet, the first to earn a Master's from Brown University in Creative Writing, who then met and heard Robillard in 1969 and decided music was the way to go. Duke hired him in '73 as the trumpeter for Roomful of Blues, a group many reading this forum are quite familiar with, and things just grew from there.
Basile waited quite a while before going solo, meanwhile writing songs that have been picked up by others. Lately, he's been producing material used in TV and film, co-written with Robillard. 1998, however, saw his debut on the tightrope, and this is his seventh solo since—he has, as the succession of disc after disc has shown, been well accepted. Soul Blue 7 highlights the reason, a swingin' jazz-blues gig featuring Duke on guitar alongside six other gents, half of them horn players. Ah, but I haven't told you yet what axe Basile's toting: the cornet, a much ignored instrument outside classical musics but one capable of unusually muted melancholy, an instrument I see as akin to the oboe (even though the oboe looks more like a clarinet). Then there's the matter of a set of vocal chords as bluesily bopping as Robillard's fog-cutting guitar work.
Excepting a few mid-tempo tracks, the rhythm section is lush and lazy, rarely sprinting to stoke the fire, content to lay back and wallow in the mode, barroom boozy. Basile's blues croon lofts above it all and, though he wields that exotic little horn of his to great effect, singing is his gig. This means we have to watch out, 'cause that voice is going to catch on and brass lovers will be sweating, praying he hangs onto the axe. In effect, Al's kinda going the George Benson route so far, dividing time, and that's perfectly fine. As well, the disc's cuts devote plentiful spots to the entire band, achieving a lounge atmosphere to drown in. I think more than a few will find he's also a skosh like Louis Prima, not in any of the hyperkinetic sense Prima's legend still enjoys, but in feel and tenor. And, man o man, those Robillard interludes (catch Lonely are the Brave, where Basile gets down into it on his horn as well)!
Beyond that, there's Basile's devotion to music. Check out the liner photos of his CD collection. Yow, shades of Al Kooper! A man after my own heart ('cept I dig vinyl). And that blurred statuette of Flaming Carrot on page 2 of the booklet? Way too cool. And, Al, if ya ever get to meet Bob Burden, ask to see his private sketchbooks…some very funny-ass shit, as good or better than his Flaming Carrot comix. Especially catch his Little Nemo take-offs on taco eaters.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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