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Review: Bob Brozman

THE AGE, Melbourne, AUS
Friday 12 January 2001

Musical assault of a learned showman

Bob Brozman
Continental Cafe, January 10

American guitarist Bob Brozman describes himself as something of a renaissance man. Taken out of context, such a remark might sound like self-aggrandisement. But even before you hear him play a cursory glance at his extensive website reveals an artist who is simply too curious to confine his interests to one musical genre.

Brozman's teaching videos range from traditional bottleneck blues (Bob's complete blues toolbox!) to hot jazz, Hawaiian and Caribbean styles (Add a touch of the islands to your playing!). His approach, however, is not that of a dabbling dilettante. On the contrary, Brozman is an ethnomusicologist whose authority and commitment underline every phrase that bursts from his beloved National guitars.

His concerts, peppered with concise nuggets of information, could become dry lessons in history or sociology in the hands of a lesser artist. But Brozman teaches almost by accident rather than design.

His playing is filled with a bristling energy that leaps from the stage and demands your attention, as he slaps the sides of his guitar with alarming force or coaxes sweet, sliding harmonics from its shining body.

At the Continental Cafe on Wednesday night, Brozman had tricks aplenty up his copious, kaftan-like sleeves. But he has too much respect for the music to turn his shows into a three-ring circus. Every gimmick has a purpose, each musical joke a punchline that augments our understanding and admiration of these instruments and the repertoire with which they're associated.

Naturally, it's amusing to watch Brozman assault his miniature mandolin (the charango) or his precious vintage National, strumming and shaking them so vigorously that at times he looks more like an alligator-wrestler than a musician. But as he twists and turns, he is expertly manipulating the dynamics and modulation of his instrument by altering its distance from the microphone.

Likewise, his wild scat singing might bring to mind a calypso carnival king crossed with Django Reinhardt on speed, but his vocal phrasings are as precise and perfectly judged as his feisty guitar riffs.

"So many instruments, so few ideas," he laments wryly, as he peruses his collection of metal-bodied and laptop guitars. This is a man whose keen musical intellect is tempered by a self-deprecating wit, and an approach that despite his academic background is warm-hearted and inclusive.

There were times during his concert on Wednesday when the stage lights would bounce off one of his gleaming instruments and momentarily dazzle the audience. It was an appropriate visual metaphor for an artist who effortlessly melds technical brilliance with a spontaneous, almost throwaway charm and an unmitigated sense of adventure.

Bob Brozman will return in March for the Brunswick Music Festival and the Port Fairy Folk Festival.

Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar

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