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Review: Bob Brozman, Debashish Bhattacharya, and Martin Simpson


A Meeting on the Mountain


OK, so this Jewish guy, an English chap, and an Indian guy walk into a bar, and the bartender looks at them and says, "What is this, some kind of joke?". Only it isn't a joke, and the three of them reply, "No, we're the band!"

Friday, October 17th at Casanova, something very similar to this actually happened. And it wasn't some cheap gag. It was real. And it was a night of music nothing short of amazing! When I first heard of the triple bill of slide guitarists Martin Simpson, Bob Brozman and Debashish Bhattacharya, I thought it must somebody's idea of a bad joke. The idea of trying to combine British folk/blues, vaudevillian jazz/blues/early Hawaiian steel guitar and classical Indian music seemed as far fetched to me as putting Luciano Pavarotti, Garth Brooks and Heavy D on the same ticket. So naturally I had to go - just to see what would happen.

The first set started off tame enough. To lessen the shockwaves of three stylistically powerful types of music crashing together all at once, the trio decided to break the audience in slowly. Martin Simpson opened solo, diving headlong into some traditional Southern folk/blues ala Robert Johnson. Accompanying his bottleneck style guitar playing with strong vocals, Simpson captivated the crowd with a couple tunes that showed his deep roots in Celtic rock and his proficiency is Southern blues. It was a powerful opening statement! I figured it was going to be a tough act to follow.

Wrong again! Bob Brozman followed and proceeded to bring the house down with a rapid fire volley of tunes on the National Resophonic steel guitar. Sitting there on stage with this all-metal acoustic guitar on his lap, Brozman literally jumped through musical hoops as the slide bar danced up and down the strings. His right hand fingers seemed to spend as much time on the left side of the slide as the right. He achieved amazing echo effects playing harmonics on the tuners side of the nut, as well as the tailpiece side of the bridge, all the while thumping out a rhythm on the metal soundboard. I had never seen so many tricks, and so much humor come through in anyone's music before! The man was a virtual sit-down comic! And when the tune was over, he never missed a beat as he kept smiles on everyone's face with great one-liners. Brozman effortlessly blended the best razzmatazz of old style Hawai`ian steel guitar masters like Sol Ho`opi`i, Roy Smeck, Benny Nawahi, and Gabby Pahinui. to warm the audience (or warn the audience) for what was to come, Brozman asked tabla player Subashish Bhattacharya, (Debashish's brother) to join him for his last tune. Although it had a definite Indian flavor added by the tabla, it was still, however, a decidedly Hawai`ian steel guitar tune. It was nothing compared to what was to follow.

Debashish, with his brother on tablas, performed an arousing set of emotionally charged classical Indian tunes. I am used to Indian music being rather meditative and mellow. But what I heard was simply exciting! Playing off each other's seeming boundless energy, the two mesmerized the crowd with incredible intensity and virtuosity. Playing a modified arch top guitar (a 60's Hofner six string converted to a 22 string with a sitar-type bridge) in his lap, Debashish seemed very meditative and mellow, while his fingers seemed to break sound barriers on the strings! His slide bar actually seemed to blur for moments at a time, and yet his music didn't seem flashy at all. It was in fact very melodic and smooth.

OK, but I was still wondering how they were going to play all at once, or better yet, what were they going to play. The grand finale was grand indeed. I can't say I've ever heard anything quite like it, and probably never will again. But slowly and surely, all my doubts were erased as the four musicians jammed - in the real sense of the word - in spontaneous creation. What I thought might be disastrous cacophony of clashing musical forms, was in fact a beautiful blend of all their styles. could you call it Blues/'Jazz/Steel/Raga? Maybe. I couldn't categorize it.

I just called it great.

Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar

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