Big Harp George – Chromaticism | Album Review

bigharpgeorgecdBig Harp George – Chromaticism

Blues Mountain Records – 2014

12 tracks; 48 minutes.

Born in the USA to a Palestinian father and American mother, George Bisharat made his first recording in 2002, playing harp on one track of the Otis Grand/Joe Louis Walker album “Guitar Brothers”.  Otis invited George to contribute to another of his albums “Hipster Blues” in 2006 but it has taken a further eight years to see this debut CD appear.

Why the delay? Well, George has a day job teaching Law at the University of California in San Francisco but has now set out to take what was always a hobby to a professional level.  On this disc George is backed by a dream team of Northern Californian aces including Little Charlie Baty and Rusty Zinn on guitar, producer Chris Burns on keys, engineer and Greaseland studio owner Kid Andersen on bass and occasional guitar and old friend Raja Kawar flew in from Paris to play drums. Michael Peloquin adds sax and Kent Bryson vibes to two tracks each.  George plays chromatic harp on all tracks bar one where he plays diatonic and also handles all the vocals.  The album features an even split of George’s originals and covers from a wide variety of sources.

The CD opens with a wonderfully swinging version of Charles Calhoun’s “Smack Dab In The Middle”.  Once covered by Count Basie, George takes the Basie band horn lines and translates them to harp most effectively.  This is a song that has been well done by many artists (Roomful Of Blues and Ry Cooder spring to mind, in very different styles) but this version, aided by some nice, jazzy vibes work by Kent Bryson, is a cracker.  George has a good voice too, clear and pleasant which bodes well for the rest of the album.

Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Crazy About You Baby” is another frequently covered tune but, again, George’s version is excellent with some very strong piano, George on diatonic on this cut.  It is also worth noting the bass playing of Kid Andersen here which is fluid and funky and beautifully featured in the mix, a further indication of how well this album was recorded and mixed.

Two T-Bone Walker tunes appear on the album, an interesting choice for a harp player: “My Baby Is Now On My Mind” has a nicely poised guitar solo from Rusty Zinn and “Hard Way” brings Kid Andersen’s T-Bone style guitar to the fore, George’s singing harp fitting the rhumba beat perfectly. The other two covers are “Someday” (Johnny Green) which features Chris on organ and is played as a dedication to George’s mother who loved this song from the great American songbook; the closing track “Drum Boogie” (Roy Eldridge/Gene Krupa) obviously features drummer Raja but is also an opportunity for others to get some solo action, including saxman Michael Peloquin and Little Charlie’s very jazzy guitar.

The first original is a tribute to the late Paul deLay who was a big influence on George’s development as a harp player.  “Left Too Soon” is a slow blues with an elegiac feel as George takes his time in the intro before he sings of how sad he was to lose Paul at such an early age.  For the harp technicians George plays in second position chromatic on the title track “Chromaticism”; for those of us who simply enjoy the music this jump instrumental swings like crazy with George and Little Charlie leading the way!

George tells us something about his attitude to modern technology in “Cellphone Hater”, a slow blues with some fine picking by Rusty and moody sax by Michael: “Does anyone remember when a man’s business was purely his own? Well, that’s all gone now, gave it up to that little telephone.”  “Strolling Down Bliss Street” references a street in Beirut but could apply to anywhere that evokes positive memories in the listener.  Little Charlie’s guitar intro is great and leads well into George’s lively vocal and harp on another swinging piece of upbeat jump blues.

In contrast “Cocktail Hour” is a cool instrumental with the vibes adding to the jazzy feel of the piece, accentuated by Little Charlie’s sensitive guitar stylings.  The final original “Hey Jaleh!” pays tribute to George’s wife as George and the band swing along terrifically on an upbeat number with Chris’ piano and Rusty’s guitar to the fore.

In the sleevenotes George says that he aspires to play ‘locally, maybe get some invitations to festivals’.  On the evidence of this CD he should expect rather more invitations as this is superb music, well played and produced and comes highly recommended by this reviewer.

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