Rob Stone Featuring Elena Kato & Hiroshi Eguchi – Trio In Tokyo
Blue Heart Records – 2021
10 tracks; 42 minutes
Rob Stone was based in Chicago for many years but has now re-located to the West Coast. However, he has also been a regular visitor to Japan and, of course, there has been quite a tradition of Japanese players coming to play in Chicago, as was the case for bassist Hirochi Eguchi who lived there for some years, playing with a host of Chicago bluesmen as well as touring with Mavis Staples. Pianist Elena Kato spent time studying in New Orleans and has been a frequent accompanist for Chicago visitors to Japan. This set is an all acoustic outing, something of a departure for Rob compared with his usual electric blues band. However, it works brilliantly as all three musicians are joined at the hip, each following the twists and turns of the others, making a thoroughly enjoyable, relaxed outing. The material comes from a variety of sources and Rob contributes one original instrumental. Rob handles all vocal and harp duties, Elena is ever-present and Hiroshi sits out two tracks, on one of which he is replaced by Brad Hayman.
In the sleeve notes Rob explains that the trio started out recording a mix of acoustic and electric tunes with the idea of having something to sell at gigs in Japan. However, when Rob played the tapes to Big Jay McNeely he urged Rob to do more of the acoustic material. The two had planned to re-record Big Jay’s signature hit “There Is Something On Your Mind” and Chuck Willis’ “What Am I Living For”, but ill health overtook Big Jay who died before they could make the recording, so Rob covers those two songs in tribute to his late friend.
“No Money” makes an ideal opener with the three instruments in perfect harmony on the swinging tune that reminds you of T-Bone Walker. We then switch to an interesting take on “Got To Get You Off My Mind” that is a world away from Solomon Burke’s original but still works really well as Elena’s piano leads the way. “Come Back Baby” is from Ray Charles’ repertoire and Elena shines again whilst Rob sings the dramatic lyrics convincingly. The familiar “Poison Ivy” is taken at a sprightly jump rhythm before Big Jay’s “There Is Something On Your Mind” marks the half-way point in the album and it is a great shame that we don’t have Big Jay’s powerful sax to appreciate but the trio do a great job with Rob singing and playing well, Elena adding twinkling piano runs and Brad Hayman holding down the bottom end rhythm so well that you simply don’t notice the absence of a drummer.
Amos Milburn’s “Money Hustlin’ Woman” is well re-worked before the pace quickens for Louis Jordan’s tongue-twisting lyrics to “Jack You’re Dead”, a challenge for the vocalist but here, combined with Rob’s fills on harp replacing the horn arrangement, this is quite a tour-de-force. “What Am I Living For”, the second song from the intended session with Big Jay, is up next, a slow, mournful blues. Rob’s mid-paced instrumental shuffle featuring his harp, appropriately titled “Blow Fish Blow!”, has a false start, increasing the feel of an improvised arrangement. The album closes with Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene”, played at almost funereal pace, bringing out the sadness of the lyrics, just Elena’s piano behind Rob’s vocal and lonesome harp work.
Anyone unfamiliar with Rob should also check out his other discs. He is not a prolific recording artist (this is just his fifth disc since 2000), but all his discs are good and this one is no exception.