Review: Bob Brozman
28 February 2002
In the 'Magic Zone': Bob Brozman
"I use metal objects to disturb air molecules in an organized manner. These molecules strike against the listener's eardrums, generating a small electrical signal to the brain. The brain responds by squeezing out a few chemicals. The listener feels this as pleasure…"
Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar
American stringed-instrument ace Bob Brozman, known for his virtuoso mastery of steel guitar, ukulele, and standard guitar, describes his music-making in a most unorthodox manner. But then he's a most unorthodox musician…a great player and performer with the maniacal intensity of a mad professor. 'Broz' is an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist in addition to being one of the planet's most in-demand guitar gurus.
As one journalist noted: "If music existed in another universe, Bob would be the Planet Earth's representative for an interplanetary collaboration."
'Have guitar, will travel' certainly seems to be the maxim of this mercurial man, whose itinerary and CV would put a United Nations' troubleshooter to shame. Brozman's touring schedule for the rest of the year reads: Australia (March, with appearances at the Adelaide Arts Festival and East Coast Blues Festival included), the UK (April/May), Italy (May), USA (June), Canada (July), Europe (August), Taiwan & Korea (September, and "16 countries in Africa" (October/November).
Broz redefines the term musical diversity on a global scale. A master of slide, fingerstyle, and percussive guitar, his exhilarating shows span the global and musical spectrum. His rhythmic dexterity resonates with elements of blues, jazz, gypsy swing, calypso, sega, and even the most modern hip-hop and ska beats. Likewise his chords and harmonies articulate an acute blend of timbres from Hawaiian, Indian, African, Japanese/Okinawan, Caribbean, and American roots blues.
His most recent projects have rendered his a true player in the world music scene. In the past year alone, he collaborated on stage and in studio with over four dozen artists in more than 13 countries. At the 1999 Festival d'Été in Quebec, for example, he assembled an international troupe that included musicians from India, Okinawa, La Réunion, Guinea, Greece, Cuba, and China - all performing for the first time together, live on-stage!
Bob Brozman's latest collaboration has been on our own patch, with Australia's 'pocket maestro' Jeff Lang. "What's different about working with Jeff from all the other artists such as René Lacaille (Réunion), Led Kaapana (Hawaii) is that most of my projects are involving ethnic kinds of music, non-anglophone."
Broz makes no secret of his admiration for Lang's playing. "When we met [at Woodford 2000/2001] we just had a similar aesthetic about improvising and creating music on the spot. I just thought it would be an interesting idea. I know he likes the way I play and I like the way he plays. So we met up; he came by my seminar in New York in June, and then we crossed paths again at a blues festival in Ottawa, Canada."
The respect is mutual. Jeff claims gigging with Brozman has enriched his own playing. As he said in a Barfly interview last week, "The rhythmic complexity in his [Bob's] playing challenges me to keep up when we work together…when I finished the last joint tour and went back to solo shows, there did seem to be more possibilities within the same songs of mine that was definitely a result of having just played with Bob for the previous two weeks. That's what happens when the music is open and you feel free to be inspired."
Since his first solo album in 1981, Bob Brozman's catalogue of recordings has grown by 26 titles to include 10 solo projects and at least a dozen collaborations with international friends, the latest, with Jeff Lang and drummer Angus Diggs, Rolling Through This World, was recorded in Melbourne earlier this year. But live music is his first love. "As much as I enjoy making records, there are aspects of playing live music that I enjoy even more. Playing live involves both intense presence, and a willingness to surrender and take risks every night, with the rhythms, the tones, the dynamics." Playing live says Broz "gives me a chance to get into the 'magic zone' where the flow between brain and muscle becomes ultra-clear."
Brozman is also a dedicated scholar, whose book, The History and Artistry of National Resonator Instruments, is recognized as the most authoritative work on the subject to date. He frequently lectures at schools and is increasingly involved with workshops and music camps. Bob is also an Adjunct Professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, where he lectures on ethnomusicology and is beginning research on string music in Papua New Guinea and islands in the western South Pacific Ocean.
An abundance of projects such as these has established Bob Brozman as, according to one reviewer, "the man whose musical empathy seems to know no bounds." But as he says, "There's so much music out there - I guess I'll get some sleep in the next life!"
Like most great musicians, Brozman takes his craft very seriously but maintains the infectious sense of fun that inspired him as a child to pick up an instrument and play. "When I was a kid," Bob Jokes, "I told my dad I wanted to be a musician when I grew up. He told me 'Son, it's one or the other'."
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