Reviewed by Dan Forte
A colleague recently confessed to me that, aside from Live At The Regal, he wasn't exactly taken by any of the B.B. King stuff he'd heard. Which is understandable, to a degree, since, in fifty years of recording, not everything The King Of The Blues has cut has been "regal." But a shame, because in that formidable catalog there are some true gems. The classic is definitely 1965's Live At The Regal. If you don't have it, get it immediately; if you already dig it, I'd also recommend 1967's The Jungle and Blues Is King and '68's Blues On Top Of Blues, which are stellar.
But for the under-initiated, an equally essential piece of the pie from that period (arguably B.B.'s best) has recently been released for the first time by Rhino: a half-hour video performance of King on jazz critic Ralph J. Gleason's syndicated TV show, Jazz Casual. As the name implies, the series presented jazz greats (including Count Basie, Woody Herman, Dizzy Gillespie and even John Coltrane) in a relaxed, audience-less studio, playing and talking with Gleason. B.B. was the only "non-jazz" performer featured in the show's 31-episode run, which began in 1959, and on May 9, 1968, when the segment first aired, the guitarist was in his early forties (but looked much younger) and had just begun to break out of the chitlin circuit and play rock ballrooms like the Fillmore.
Opening with the bouncy, uptempo "Please Love Me," B.B. is fronting an unusually small quintet with the unorthodox instrumentation of guitar (King), drums (longtime sideman Sonny Freeman), trumpet and tenor sax (Mose Thomas and Lee Gatling, respectively), and organ (James Toney, who also supplies organ bass, with his left hand). Next is the minor-key "Got A Mind To Give Up Living," which was covered by the Butterfield Blues Band at the time. Here and throughout, the intimacy of the camera work (dramatic without being flashy, filmed in black & white) reveals King's every expression, whether pained or joyous, as well as offering invaluable glimpses of his fretwork.
"The Jungle" is a textbook shuffle, relaxed and swinging. Slowing the pace down for the R&B ballad "Darling, You Know I Love You," B.B. laughs as he realizes he called off the wrong key (B), but keeps rolling for one chorus of intro before signalling the band to shift to G, which they do seamlessly. Obviously, B.B. could have stopped tape and started over (and the show could have been edited so that the audience would never know about the fluff), but it's precisely these types of moments that made Jazz Casual so special. Before song's end, B.B. is flustered into hitting a clam or two, but this is about capturing the right feel, not honing it to sterile perfection.
In the 10-minute interview that follows a spirited "That's Wrong Little Mama," B.B. is articulate without seeming rehearsed--talking at length about his early influences, both blues and jazz, his distinctive guitar sound, and the younger crowd (players like Mike Bloomfield) who introduced his music to a new, wider audience. What a rare treat.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of misinformation in Rhino's packaging of this and the rest of the Jazz Casuals segments (sold individually on VHS for the price of a CD, and grouped together on DVDs for more bang for your buck--buy 'em all), so here is the correct track listing.
1. Please Love Me
2. Got A Mind To Give Up Living
3. The Jungle
4. Darling, You Know I Love You
5. That's Wrong Little Mama
7. slow jam
(C) 2001 - Dan Forte