Bruce Katz Band

Bruce Katz Band
Live! At The Firefly


By Art Tipaldi
January 2009

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Though Bruce Katz is widely known for the cerebral jazz delights he cooks up, itís commanding the nasty B-3 at the lowdown greasy blues joint on the other side of the tracks that thrills him.

Katz doesnít just play the B-3: He charbroils blues like a short order cook workiní the grill. Shuffle to any tune and Katzís B-3 wails with huge vibrato chords which ebb and flow with massive volume as either the songís foundation, or as the smoldering main course. Katzís history features five previous records as leader, and more than 60 records on which he has appeared as a valued sideman - including his five-year stint as Ronnie Earlís musical foil in the Broadcasters.

Supported by his veteran rhythm section of former Broadcaster bassman Rod Carey, and Ralph Rosen, Katzís drummer since 1995, Katz has all he needs to take the keyboards off road whenever he feels. But the addition of the bandís newest member, guitarist Chris Vitarello, intensifies the ensembleís inventions.

The night begins with Katz heatiní the B-3 keys to white hot intensity on “Deep Pockets,” and Charlie Mingusí “Better Get In Your Soul.” Both adhere to the jazz tradition where you state the head, then follow your inspiration. Too many new blues ventures are centered on wailing guitar solos and offer no balance with the instruments. However, Katz and his band are skillful enough to keep every listener continually surprised.

The seven-plus minutes of slow, twisting piano blues on “The Blue Light” has Vitarello coaxing blue tones a la Earl, while Katz schools the audience in blues piano history. By songís end strings and keys are in perfect synch.

The other slow blues, “Marshall County,” offers the bandís intense appreciation for the spirituality within their music. On “Southern Route,” Katzís cascading waterfall piano notes roll and flow down the Big Muddy until they reach the Crescent City, where they morph into James Booker meets Fess on Rampart Street.

The follow-up calls the band back for “Bugged Out,” a funky, acid jazz featuring Katzís torrid B-3 journeys around Vitarelloís pinpoint guitar work. Every piano player owns a boogie woogie in his bag and “Northons Boogie” frees Katz and Vitarello in a rollicking, back and forth blowout.

The night ends with two standouts: “Victoria” is a sultry, applause filled performance anchored by Careyís and Rosenís solid foundation; “Brother Stevie,” featuring the organ guitar music popular in Texas ballrooms in the 1950s, is Katzís tribute to his manager, Steve Langbein.

These two nights, recorded last April at Ann Arborís Firefly Club, hit the musical jackpot.

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