Bruce Katz – Solo Ride
12 songs – 50 minutes
Most blues fans will have heard pianist/keyboardist Bruce Katz play at some point, even if they were unaware of it at the time. A 30 year veteran of the music business, Katz has released 10 solo albums, appeared on over 70 albums by other artists and toured with many others. His resume includes work with the likes of Ronnie Earl, John Hammond, Delbert McClinton, Gregg Allman, Duke Robillard, Little Milton, Maria Muldaur, Jimmy Witherspoon, Paul Rishell, Mighty Sam McClain, Debbie Davies and David “Fathead” Newman. He has also led the Bruce Katz Band for the last 25 years. In 2019, Katz was awarded the Blues Music Award for Best Acoustic Album for Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues with Joe Louis Walker and Giles Robson.
Solo Ride sees Katz continue down the acoustic route explored on Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues, but this time he has recorded 11 original piano instrumentals and one cover version with no other musicians at all. The result is a wonderful release that not only allows Katz to pay tribute to his influences but also lets him showcase his virtuosic-yet-always melodic playing.
Katz kicks off with “Down At The Barrelhouse”, a rollicking ragtime number played with joyful exuberance before leading into “Crescent Crawl”, a song flavoured with the sounds of New Orleans that also includes a smart yet subtle nod to Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”.
The only cover on the album is an inspired re-interpretation of Tampa Red’s “It Hurts Me Too”, with Katz’s left hand laying down an irresistible groove as he cleverly varies the tempo to emphasize the absent lyrics, even while the right hand is dancing around the melody.
“Praise House” acknowledges Katz’s gospel influences as the notes tumble downwards, with a hint of jazz in some of the more discordant moments, while “Red Sneakers” is a stride tune that evokes the style of Scott Joplin both in the slide and glide techniques of the performance but also in the joyful bounce in the music. One can easily sense the simple happiness of walking on the sunny side of the street. By contrast, “Dreams Of Yesterday” is a country waltz that perfectly captures that melancholy sense of longing and loss.
“Midnight Plans” has a beautifully funky middle section while “Easy Living” has a more modern sound akin to a Randy Newman song. Katz picks up the pace again with the breakneck boogie of “Going Places” and the mid-paced bouncing shuffle of “Watermelon Thump”, which together sandwich the pop-influenced “The Way To Your Heart” before leading into the uplifting closing track, “Redemption”, an intense and articulate statement of hope.
Solo Ride is a genuine delight to listen to. One might think that a full album of solo piano instrumentals might become slightly repetitive, but Katz holds the listener’s attention throughout through the variety of styles essayed, the quality of the musical compositions, and the emotional depth and applied elan of the performances. Ben Elliott at Showplace Studios recorded, mixed and mastered the album and deserves praise for so clearly capturing the warmth and power of Katz’s playing.
A very impressive release.