Henry Kaiser & Rome Yamilov – The Lenoir Investigations
11 songs, 1 hour and 20 minutes
J.B. Lenoir was an original and idiosyncratic Bluesman. Singing in a falsetto wail and flamboyant zebra stripe attire, Lenoir made a name for himself in the 50’s with solid R&B hits. A masterful and profound songwriter and adept guitarist, in the 60’s when the Rhythm took center stage over the Blues of R&B, Lenoir became a bit less en vogue. He added African drumming, deepened his songwriting (and his singing voice) and recorded the masterpiece acoustic sides with drumming legend Fred Below enshrined as Down in Mississippi and Alabama Blues! One need only listen to the unremitting “Born Dead” off of Alabama Blues! to understand the depth of understanding and courage Lenoir showed in testifying the Black experience in America and the deep emotions of his soul.
It is fitting then that the voluminously prolific and iconoclastic Jazz guitarist Henry Kaiser would choose Lenoir as a launching pad for a collaboration with young gun So Cal Blues Rock slinger Rome Yamilov. As with any good So Cal Blues record, The Lenoir Investigations was recorded at Kid Anderson’s Greeseland Studios with Kid playing the bass throughout. June Core on drums and Jim Pugh on keyboards round out the ensemble. Yamilov is a great husky singer but he concedes the vocal chair to Lisa Leuschner for 1 tune and Anderson, singing in his native Norwegian, on another. Harp ace Aki Kumar adds his distinct vocal/harp stylings to 3 tunes.
The Lenoir Investigations uses J.B. Lenoir’s vibrant music as a catalyst for thoroughly modern world music explorations of group improvisation and hypnotic jamming. Blasting open the structured, contained framework from which Lenoir wrote so poetically, Kaiser and Yamilov lead their compatriots through lengthy and diverse workouts. At the heart of this music is Kaiser’s raw Free Jazz playing. A disciple of Sonny Sharrock, Kaiser uses a battery of effect pedals and techniques to skronk, buzz, rip and swoon over the music. It has a similar effect as Vernon Reid’s contributions to the James Blood Ulmer collaborations, (the best of which is Memphis Blood – check it out if you don’t know it!). Kaiser’s otherworldly playing is given landing gear by Yamilov’s muscular playing and singing. The 2 balance each other and play off each other like Martian versions of Duane and Dicky (Allman and Betts that is).
Highlights include: the Reggae’ed up “The Whale Has Swallowed Me;” the darkly re-vamped “Rollercoaster Mojo Boogie” which surgically conjoins Bo Diddly’s instrumental free fall with the well trodden standard; the acoustic tinged spacious medley reading of “Alabama March Down in Mississippi;” and the relatively straight Blues of “People Are Meddlin’” with Kaiser eviscerating.
At first listen I didn’t fully understand what was happening on this record. The record was good, the exploratory and outrageous guitar playing right up my alley. But, it was not clear why this wasn’t just original music – take these great rhythms and write something new. Once I created a playlist putting the Lenoir originals back to back to each “Investigation” that I understood what Kaiser and Yamilv were doing. J.B. Lenoir’s music is profound and has deep meaning. Instead of interpreting it straight, which has been done very well before see Bonnie Raitt’s version of “Round and Round” as exhibit A, these musicians are inhabiting Lenoir. They are truly digging into the soul of the man and his muse and bringing themselves to it. Without appropriation or disrespect, Kaiser and Yamilov and co. put their souls and their ears into Lenoir’s music. It is a fitting tribute to a musician who in many ways did the same thing to his forefathers.