Ilya Portnov – Strange Brew | Album Review

Ilya Portnov – Strange Brew


9 Tracks/40:50

Greaseland Studios has become the go-to place to get a quality recording, with producer Kid Andersen at the helm. Not only does Andersen deliver killer sound, but being a musician, he also understands the intricacies of the music. That allows him to provide more detailed guidance in helping an artist shape their musical vision in the studio. It helps the cause when he contributes his formidable guitar skills, as he does on this release, in addition to playing bass on eight tracks. Other key contributors include June Core on drums and percussion plus Chris Burns on piano and keyboards.

But the real star is the Russian-born harmonica ace, Ilya Portnov. Now based out of Los Angeles, Portnov has fashioned a diverse instrumental offering that deftly mixes his wide-ranging musical interests. Blues fans will certainly welcome “Behind The Wall,” a riveting tribute to Little Walter with plenty of fat tone and over-blows, with Robby Yamilov on bass. “Sunny Afternoon Blues” is a light, swinging tune that features some fine violin accompaniment from Ben Andrews and an equally striking piano solo before Portnov dances around on the upper register of his diatonic harp.

Portnov switches to chromatic for a waltz through “Dance Of A Lovely Doll,” with Burns once again impressing on piano. The arrangement for “In A Town Garden” is centered on the organ, generating a late night feel behind dazzling solos from the leader and Andersen on guitar. The title track is another original that combines the blues with some Eastern European folk influences, highlighted by Portnov’s heady improvisations. “Surfin’ The Baltic Sea” is a thrilling, high-energy romp sparked by Andersen’s sparkling fills. Rob Vye adds acoustic guitar to jaunty cover of the Rev. Gary Davis tune, “Cincinnati Flow Rag”. Andrews is back on a piece based on the tango, “1928,” his mournful violin tones playing off the melancholy that Portnov generates on the chromatic harp. The band gets loose on the closing track, “Till The Early Morning,” with Portnov and Andersen wailing away on their instruments over an infectious Bo Diddley-style beat.

This is Ilya Portnov’s first release under his own name, following a band project from several years ago that featured Brazilian choro music. You can be sure that we will be hearing more from this fascinating artist with a unique musical outlook. Anyone that loves harp playing of the highest order needs to hear this recording, as does anyone with an adventurous set of ears.

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