11 Guys Quartet delivers big sound on Small Blues and Grooves

While we’re on the topic of great new releases from the VizzTone Label Group, here’s another one well worth checking out. Although their names may not be as familiar as those in the band about which we told you in last week’s post, the members of the 11 Guys Quartet have been playing together even longer, having first come together in the early 1980s and then proceeding to share the stage and studio on and off for the following decades.

About a dozen years ago or so, the band went into the studio and recorded a live album of original instrumentals, a project that didn’t see the light of day until now, released by VizzTone as Small Blues and Grooves. The album’s press materials don’t really say why it took so long for the album to be released, but we’re guessing the delay probably wasn’t the result of the band not being able to find a good record company to work with, as one of the members — harmonica player Richard Rosenblatt — happens to be the president of the VizzTone Label Group!

It doesn’t matter that this music wasn’t recorded this decade; the 14 tracks here make for some timeless stuff, consisting of one great instrumental blues track after another and some of the most expressive playing we’ve heard in quite some time, a perfect example of the phrase “blues with a feeling”.

With Rosenblatt joined by Bill Mather on bass, Paul Lenart on guitar, and Chuck Purro on drums, the band rolls through a terrific set of their own songs stretching from upbeat numbers like the hopping “Jackrabbit” and careening “East Cambridge Cannonball” to slow, steady tracks such as a swaying “Sleepless”, gritty, creeping “Down and Dirty” and strolling “Midnight Streetcar”. 

Although we hear from Rosenblatt fairly frequently through his role with the record company, which also includes guesting on a song or two for some of the label’s releases from time to time, it only takes a couple of tracks here to realize that we just don’t get to enjoy enough playing from Rosenblatt outside of this project, whose work on Small Blues and Grooves could easily be mistaken for the likes of Billy Branch. 

Raw, greasy numbers like “Doggin’ It” and the closing “Swamp Ride” combine with the delicate grooves of tracks such as “Speakeasy Serenade” and “Four Maypops”, the definitely swinging “Swing Low” and the smoking, Bo Diddley-ish beat of “Hey Daddyo”, with the opening “Hideaway”-like “Road Trippin'” helping to round out the album.

While it’s true that some of the songs may resemble the sound of classics such as “She Caught the Katy”, “Honest I Do” and “Scratch My Back”, we can’t say that we mind, and don’t believe that most other blues fans will either. It’s evident that the members of the band genuinely connect in their playing, helping to ensure that the only small thing here, despite the album’s title, is the chance you won’t dig what these guys are selling!

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