I can describe myself a blues-savvy kid but I must admit that I’ve not always been 100% fond of all Mayall’s work. However, I couldn’t underestimate his gigantic contribution during the British blues boom of the 1960s. Having cooperated with moguls such as Alexis Corner or John Lee Hooker and having promoted game changers such as Peter Green, Mick Taylor or Eric Clapton, Mayall actively laid the foundations for the development of the British blues as we know it today.
The beginning of 2017 was, undoubtedly, nothing but exciting for the fans of John Mayall. The blues legend had only just released a new studio album called “Talk About That” when he announced a grand, worldwide tour. The tour comprising over 80 venues (and sometimes two performances per night!) seems quite impressive, considering the fact that last November Mayall turned 83. However, only two shows were planned for Poland – Stodola Club in Warsaw and, much to my surprise, CK Zamek in Poznan. This show was definitely not to be missed.
Well-known for frequent changes in the lineup, Mayall likes to emphasize that “keeping things fresh” is essential to his understanding of the blues as a genre that needs to keep evolving. The legend is believed to have cooperated with as many as 25 (!) guitarists in several bands. After publishing the above-mentioned album, he decided to part ways with his guitarist, Rocky Athas, and start the tour in a trio format. One could consider the constant changes controversial – “Leave well enough alone”, some say. On the other hand, if there’s one thing about Mayall we can all agree on, it would be his remarkable, youthful vitality. There was something absolutely stunning about him jumping and running on stage, not to mention the fact that he kept the band playing for almost two hours and was game to give an encore.
As a result of lineup changes, the show’s overall character shifted slightly towards a more experimental, avant-garde, jazzy style. The level of interplay between the musicians was phenomenal through the whole night. The trio was, without a shadow of a doubt, at the peak of its abilities. The musicians engaged in lengthy, interactive solo improvisations, which revealed the mastery of Jay Davenport on drums and Greg Rzab on bass. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Mayall a complete musician, as he sang, played the Hammond organ, the piano, the guitar and the harmonica. The wide range of instruments featured onstage made the blues classics abound in rich tones, reminding the audience of his influences tracing back to the origins of early acoustic Delta blues, eclectic jazz and R&B.
Unfortunately, there were moments where the band seemed to lack a solid rhythm guitar in the background. The rhythm section comprised only two musicians. As a result, it forced Mayall to switch back and forth between playing rhythm and lead. Clear and instrumentally selective performances made the overall effect original and invigorating, but also too coarse and lacking melody at times.
All in all, however, the blues star and his band wouldn’t disappoint even an acquainted, exacting listener. The audience was treated to a selection of songs from the past and the present. Well-known Bluesbreakers’ standards were interlarded with Mayall’s more recent work which gave the impression of a complete show. Now that I know Mayall is to release a live album next year, I bet a few tracks from CK Zamek will luck upon it.