Mojo Risin’: UK pianist Tom Bell blends boogie woogie blues, classical on debut album Face to Face

Here at The BluesPowR Blog, we frequently receive albums that either incorporate elements of or cross more fully into such other genres as rock, jazz, soul, or country. But it’s not often that we encounter an artist who attempts to interweave the blues with classical music, aside perhaps from legendary Chicago harmonica player Corky Siegel (The Siegel-Schwall Band), who’s been doing it now for several decades with his Chamber Blues Band, due to release their fourth album Different Voices in April.

While Siegel employs very much of a team approach to his music, surrounding himself with a classical string quartet and numerous other musicians and vocalists, young UK pianist Tom Bell takes on the blues-classical challenge a bit more single- (well, actually, double-) handedly on his solo debut album Face to Face, an instrumental project that, although we don’t purport to be either the biggest fan of or expert on classical music, all sounds pretty great to us.

After starting on the bright, bubbly “Bell’s Boogie”, the twenty-something Bell moves into the more cultured stylings of Chopin, testing the waters on the serene, light tinkling of “Etude Op. 10 No. 1 ‘Waterfall'” and then venturing a bit deeper in with “Etude Op. 25 No. 12 ‘Ocean'”, with Bell never sounding the least bit in over his head.

On the blues side, there’s also a lively “‘F’ Boogie” with shades of the great Ray Charles; the New Orleansy shuffle of “Sunday Morning Blues”; the appropriately titled, groove-filled “Friday’s Groove” (all originals); plus Bell’s own arrangements on the familiar “Honky Tonk Train Blues” (Meade Lux Lewis) and “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” (Pinetop Smith), with additional classical tracks “Ballade No. 4 in F Minor” (Chopin) and Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata – 3rd Movement” helping to balance out the program.

Even though the blues and boogie numbers are of course the tracks that most appeal to us here, the classical pieces are also all rather entertaining and easily digested, with Bell’s playing probably deserving a heck of a lot more appreciation than a blues blog like us can give them. If – as was the case with us – it’s the promise of the blues that brings you to this one, we’re pretty sure you’ll agree that the classical numbers have what it takes to help keep you listening, making Face to Face a truly delightful and refreshing session to include in your collection.

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