BLUES INCORPORATED: ALEXIS KORNER'S BLUES INCORPORATED (1965)
1) Blue Mink; 2) Rainy Tuesday; 3) Yogi; 4) Sappho; 5) Navy Blue; 6) Royal Dooji; 7) Preachin' The Blues; 8) The Captain's Tiger; 9) A Little Bit Groovy; 10) Anything For Now; 11) Chris Trundle's Habit; 12) Trundlin'.
Introducing a new angle here — for the first time ever, Blues Incorporated operate on a completely instrumental basis, with Herbie Goins quitting in order to front a new hot Mod band, The Nightimers. Not only that, but the focus is very clearly shifted in favor of a jazz approach: around a third of the numbers are completely in the jazz idiom, and the rest at least tend to stray away from the 12-bar blues form, in favor of jumpier time signatures and extra sax work.
Naturally, with so much «authentic» jazz work to digest and assimilate, it is futile to expect that people nowadays would have any incentive to dig Alexis' noble attempt to lead British R&B in a different direction. Compared to jazz stuff that was en vogue or, more politely, «on the cutting edge» in 1965, this bunch of tunes is more or less on a «Mother Goose level» — Korner is taking more cues from Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman than Miles Davis or Coltrane. This is understandable, since he had no lofty goal of progressing from «intelligent entertainer» to «intellectual innovator». But this sort of music entertained relatively few people in 1965 — not to mention today — and its traces dissipated just as quickly as those of any other given B.I. album.
Which may be just a tad unfair, because Alexis and the band (Heckstall-Smith still manning the sax, along with Phil Seamen on drums, Mike Scott on string bass, and Johnny Parker on piano) are trying to achieve something. At least the opening number, ʽBlue Minkʼ, is unusual in its combination of a Chicago blues guitar style on Alexis' part with two fussy, dissonant sax parts blown in the background, kind of a Muddy-meets-Dolphy type of thing. Does it make sense? Is it inspirational? Mind-opening? Who knows? All I can say is — at least they make a creative effort, even if the resulting synthesis is not pleasing for either straightforward blues or jazz lovers.
The arrangement of Robert Johnson's ʽPreaching The Bluesʼ is likewise non-trivial, with a slightly discordant sax and tribal congas accompanying Korner's slide playing (which remains relatively faithful to Johnson's parts). The dissonance takes some time to get used to, but one could say that it only strengthens the hellish atmosphere of the track (remember, ʽUp Jumped The Devilʼ was the original subtitle). Again, an interesting, if not flabbergastingly exciting, take on an old classic, quite novel for its time.
The remaining tracks feature steadier tempos and less fussy arrangements, and also occasionally lapse into rewriting (ʽRoyal Doojiʼ is basically just ʽHerbie's Tuneʼ under a different name), but ʽSapphoʼ and ʽTrundlin'ʼ have charming dance potential, and Parker's ʽA Little Bit Groovyʼ features impressively dexterous piano playing for an allegedly «B-level» record. In brief, everything is totally listenable and undeniably professional, and if there are only one or two attempts at expanding existing boundaries, well... frankly speaking, quite a few highly applauded jazz albums do not really feature any such attempts, so let us not frown at poor Alexis Korner just because he dared to encroach upon such an alien turf. In a way, for some people, this might be the least predictable and most promising record in his entire career.
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