Mighty Sam McClain & Knut Reiersrud

Mighty Sam McClain & Knut Reiersrud
One Drop is Plenty

Valley - B0055IU42Q

By Tony Del Rey
February 2012

Uniting a prototypical bluesman with a jazz-fusion guitar player may not strike the average listener as the most outré combination imaginable. But taking into account the fact that Mighty Sam McClain hails from Monroe, Louisiana, while Kurt Reiersrud resides in Oslo, Norway, does make it seem a rather odd pairing. Geographical considerations aside, the duo’s joint effort, One Drop Is Plenty, blends the essence of their divergent worlds into one elegantly displayed arrangement of sonic creativity.

Eschewing the prerequisite I-IV-V blues format in favor of chromatic chord patterns and frequent key changes associated with smooth jazz and 1970’s-era fusion, the album’s 11 original tracks pair McClain’s dulcet baritone with Reiersrud’s ambient guitar textures to produce not simply songs, but rather whole compositions.

The ensemble, comprising bass, drum, guitar and piano/synthesizer, lends to the material a level of sophistication that is both fresh and immediate. The band’s polished sound - particularly on cuts like the moody album opener, “Life,” and the gospel-flavored title track, “One Drop Is Plenty” - fuses McClain’s tasteful, soul-driven melodies to Reiersrud’s clever chord sequencing and use of shifting modalities.

This seamless melding of elements realizes its full potential on “Long Time Running,” the album’s most commercially viable track. Consistent with much of the material found on One Drop Is Plenty, the basic melody and lyric are of a blues feeling, McClain’s heartfelt lines yearning for a lost love’s hopeful return. He’s at his finest when he allows the instrumentation surrounding him to dictate where he goes with the melody. Here it carries his voice clear to the top of his register.

An abbreviated circle-of-fifths piano figure roils and swells toward the song’s chorus where it changes keys to enjoin Reiersrud’s whistle-clean solo, which he dispatches in short, sharp bursts of tone and nuance. As accomplished a player as he is, Reiersrud never resorts to the kind of highbrow, self-reverential showiness that so many jazz-fusion players use as their calling card. I expect American audiences will hear more from him in the not-too-distant future. Or not.

The problem with jazz-fusion, of course, is that it’s very much a connoisseur’s buy; its fan-base a category of cultural snobs and musical dilettantes. For its part, the blues enjoys a marginally wider audience, but it doesn’t move the needle in popular music the way it once did, due in part to the genre having been artistically mined out decades ago. Ergo, McClain and Reiersrud’s determined effort to cross-pollinate.

Whether One Drop Is Plenty attains the recognition it deserves as a blueprint for future endeavors unifying the two genres remains to be seen. We can only hope other artists who possess McClain’s and Reiersrud’s keen sense of moment will find the motivation to follow suit – even if they have to cross an ocean to do it.

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