Review: Bob Brozman
THE SUN, Gold Coast, AUS
24 November 1999
The Groucho Marx of the Blues with A Passion for Guitar
By NOELLA SANDSTROM
Bob Brozman may have the distinguished title of ethnomusicologist, but to thousands of music lovers across the world he is the 'Groucho Marx of the Blues.'
Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar
The international virtuoso, considered the best slide guitarist to be found, has been spending much of the past 20 years giving live performance tours through the US, Canada and, in recent years, Europe.
Select appearances at folk and blues festivals around the world, and in concert halls, theatres, and universities and on radio and television, have been interspersed with various recording projects, including nine CDs and creating band arrangements and music for stage, radio, and film soundtracks.
The comments have been as dazzling as his live performances: 'Virtuosic displays including blurred strums, double and triple picked passages, rapid hammers and pulls that would drop the jaw of any rock flashster…driving rhythms and searing bottleneck' - Guitar Player Magazine, USA; 'Engrave his name in letters of fire on the Mount Rushmore of American slide guitarists' - Rock and Folk Magazine, Paris. 'Real intensity and unselfconsciousness, foremost among slide guitar innovators' - Frets Magazine.
Brozman is a master of blues, slide, hot jazz, Hawaiian, and Caribbean guitar styles, with a novel mix of American and world music played on vintage guitars.
His voice, described as his second instrument, ranges from deep growling blues to jazz scat singing to Hawaiian yodel to calypso to French chanson.
As anyone who has ever seen Brozman at his energetic and charismatic best will agree, this is no ordinary guitarist and the chance to hear him play is a rare privilege.
Not that Brozman really cares about any of the hype. He is a musician born and bred - he started playing the guitar at five and his uncle Barney Josephson was a prominent New York club owner who ran Cafe Society in Greenwich Village, one of the first places anywhere where black and white musicians played on stage together.
He is also a performer through and through. He has a repertoire of guitar acrobatics that most people will never see the likes of and all of his special effects come not from electronic devices but from his own hands.
He pounds the guitar like a full drum set, whips it up behind his head, spins it in the air and has a wit that passes quickly from the zany to the sardonic.
Brozman plays an amazing array of guitars and slide guitars, a mandolin and a ukulele - and in a more variety per minute display than any other solo guitarist.
Asked whether his show was a bit energetic and unusual for a solo act, Brozman quickly responds: "I'm probably a bit of a wise guy maniac. An educational comic. It's a bit of a wild show and I do some crazy things with my guitars."
Now in Australia for the first time after a sellout tour of the US, Canada and Europe, the American musician says he considers it a success because he had had a 'lot of good jamming'.
With him are five of his guitars - out of his total collection of 130, many of them from the National line of metal-bodied resonator guitars.
"They're the most uniquely American ever made, representing America's melting pot as well as the transition from acoustic to electric guitars," he said.
"They were invented by Slovakian immigrants and made in Los Angeles from 1926 to 1939 to satisfy the need for a louder guitar for jazz bands and recording.
"They were intended for Hawaiians and white dance orchestra guitarists, but wound up in the hands of black blues players, white hillbilly performers and jazz and various ethnic guitarists."
Brozman said the unique instruments were made obsolete by the production of electric instruments, although they had a much wider dynamic range than that of either electric or conventional wooden guitars.
"My guitars are my portable universal translators, so I can communicate with people all over the world," he said.
Brozman's interest in recent times has been in the traditional music of the Indian Ocean islanders. In September this year he recorded a CD called Warabi Uta in Japan with sanshin (Okinawan snakeskin lute) player Takashi Hirayasu - an experience he said was an unforgettable cross-cultural exchange.
"It was beautiful... for me to go and record with Takashi, we can barely speak each other's language but in four days we made this amazing, beautiful thing together," he said.
"It's an exercise in letting go of a lot of things - ego, preconceptions - and I try to maintain what I call a beginners' mind."
Warabi Uta, out now on Respect Records, is a blend of traditional Okinawan music and speaks of village life, things like sugarcane cutting, tending goats, watching fireflies.
"I originally started in blues and found out that every country in the world has its own form of blues," he said.
"The blues came with the Europeans and colonisation. The Europeans brought instruments with them, but the locals were able to do much more interesting things with them than the Europeans."
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