11 Guys Quartet – Small Blues And Groove
Nearly 40 years ago, four guys got together and had a great time playing the bars and clubs in and around Boston. They blended blues and rock and had as much of a great time playing together as the crowds did listening to them. They were called the 11th Hour Blues Band and featured Paul Lenart on guitar, Bill “Coach” Mather on bass, Chuck Purro on drums and Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt on harp. They recorded an album in 1985 entitled Hot Time In The City Tonight on the then rather new Tone-Cool Records. They played with other musicians and bands over the years but always managed to get together as their original quartet from time to time because the chemistry and camaraderie were important and something they enjoyed.
Fast forward to 2008 and the four of them landed in the studio to record a bunch of instrumental tracks that they had penned. No big showmanship, no histrionics on the guitar or harp; this was an effort to play solid tunes with restraint and just outstanding musicianship. Making good music was important but did not require “too many notes” nor stratospheric soloing. The stuff never went public until now, well over 10 years later. Now called The 11 Guys Quartet, the guys decided the world needed to hear this music. Given that Rosy Rosenblatt is the founder and President of VizzTone, they had a great vehicle to produce and promote the album and now the world has Small Blues And Grooves to savor. It’s stripped down, it’s all instrumentals and it’s very cool. No one is trying to outdo the other guy. It’s just a foursome of musicians doing what they do best- playing the blues!
“Road Trippin’” gets things started. It’s got a Freddie King vibe and it’s a slick instrumental with ringing guitar and solid harp work. It’s a great cut with a driving beat and a super hook to begin the set with. “Jackrabbit” is a swinging, up-tempo cut with a frenzied yet still controlled approach. It’s pretty cool stuff. Next up is “Sweet Taste,” a nice slow- to mid-tempo piece with more slightly dirty and very tasty harp. “Doggin’ It” features more guitar up front as both Paul and Rosy lay it out for us to enjoy. “Sleepless” is a slow and pretty tune made for a lazy day of sitting around and playing the blues. The guys stroll about almost carelessly yet quite together as they sublimely go through the paces of this sweet little cut. The pace certainly picks up with “East Cambridge Cannonball,” a fast number with a neat groove. “Speakeasy Serenade” is next, perhaps a somber sort of lament for the days of hanging out at the speakeasy with illegal booze and gambling and some loose women. The boys play with restraint and control as they work their way through this marvelous cut.
“Four Maypops” is up next, a song that likens the quartet to the “passiflora incarnata,” which is usually called the May-pop flower. It’s a pretty purple blossom with fruit that is an edible, leathery berry (the may-pop). It is the size and shape of a chicken egg; green as it grows and then and turning yellow as it ripens. When stepped on, it makes a loud pop. Here band gives us their take on this with a vibrant and upbeat musical treat. “Down And Dirty” is slow blues that does just what the title says. Following that is “Swing Low,” a jiving and bopping cut with a snare and bassline that moves along smartly. It’s pretty slick and gets you up and wanting to dance. “Hey Daddyo” continues a bit with that vibe but going more rockabilly in its’ approach. With “Midnight Streetcar” we get a lazy and thoughtful blues that nicely contrasts the prior cut. “Rhumba Boogaloo” gets us going with a bongo/tenor drum sounddriving the song and just nice harp and guitar work. Things conclude with “Swamp Ride,” a great little number with more stinging guitar and harp swapping off and taking us home.
Nothing is overstated or overdone here, just clean, cool cuts ranging from barely two minutes to just over four minutes each. Each cut gives us the impression that these guys are enjoying their work and that they can really play despite no one trying to make a big show of it. Spending over a decade awaiting release, we now get to hear this fine set of tunes. If you are looking for blues-rock anthems of major proportion then stay away; but if you are looking for a great set of blues tunes to kick back and enjoy with perhaps your favorite adult beverage or equivalent, then look no further.
The 11 Guys Quartet deliver up some cool stuff that showcases the East Coast blues sound of four great musicians doing what they do best- making good music. I really enjoyed the album and I think most blues lovers looking for a nice set of instrumental tunes will, too!