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Call it what you want, it's Buddy Blue

Sordid Lives
Sordid Lives
By Buddy Blue

Bizarre / Planet: 2003

This review first appeared in the June 4, 2003 issue of Fahrenheit San Diego.

Why do folks insist on putting a label on Buddy Blue's music? Given the man's far-reaching interests and influences, it's a damn-near impossible task anyway. Besides, it's irrelevant what we call his music – the larger and more important point is how very, very good it is and how fortunate we are to have him.

His latest release, "Sordid Lives," is supposedly his first all-jazz album. But "Sordid Lives" is solely jazz the way Elvis Presley was solely a white gospel singer. Blue can't possibly escape all the other influences that permeate his thick, spicy stew of American music – and why on earth would we want him to?

The album opens with "Upsettin' Me," a song that provides an interesting perspective on his career in that this is the third time he's recorded the song.

On 1991's "Gutternsipes 'n' Zealots," the song was arranged as a simmering boogie shuffle. On "Dipsomania!" (1999), "Upsettin' Me" became a deep blues with Romy Kaye's full-throated vocals. And now the song is a slow dirge with Buddy delivering a measured, subdued vocal.

But the thing is each of these very different readings is absolutely true to the Buddy Blue sound.

Of course, as with every Buddy Blue release, there are some new twists to that sound of his. The instrumental "Horn Rims" shows a straight-ahead bop-tinged side that's not been heard on earlier recordings - no liner notes on the preview copy of the CD the label sent, so don't know who's playing, but the trumpet player gets a nice echoed mute effect on the lead while Buddy comps softly behind on guitar before taking a few measures himself.

"Uptown at Minton's" is an atonal, dissonant nod to Thelonious Monk, and utterly unlike Blue's usually melodic approach – and yet as spry as it is intriguing. "Monk Side Story" is an accessible straight-ahead bop piece, reminiscent of early '70s Dizzy Gillespie.

Longtime fans will be comforted by "Jesse's Back in Town," which could have been lifted from a lost Beat Farmers session. Those who dig his forays into the blues will find his cover of the traditional "St. James Infirmary" to be one of his best interpretations of traditional materials he's yet made.

The band behind Blue is outstanding on every cut; horns and piano providing Blue plenty of support on taking the lead, with the rhythm section equal parts syncopation and smooth.

Pure jazz? God forbid – this is something much better.

It's Buddy Blue jazz.