Fresh off his first win for the 2019 BMA for Best Acoustic Album (with Joe Louis Walker and Giles Robson), after multiple nominations, keyboardist master Bruce Katz goes alone on the acoustic piano for a full-length, purely instrumental album for the first time. Katz, of course, has a storied pedigree as a bandleader, sideman, and educator, having played with Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, John Hammond, the best New England blues artists and countless others. Katz has been a sideman on about 70 albums and in recent years has issues compelling work with his own trio. After thirty years, this was the right time for Katz to go it alone.
Katz holds a Master’s degree in Jazz Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music, after graduating from Berklee, where he subsequently taught for 14 years. It’s no surprise then that his repertoire spans jazz to blues to classical to country to gospel, many of which are featured here on his eleven originals and one cover. His piano playing on the award winning Journey to the Heart of the Blues was exceptional, whetting the appetite for this solo excursion.
Like most blues pianists, Katz (a five-time BMA Pinetop Perkins Piano Player nominee) has a penchant for New Orleans piano and thereby begins with “Down at the Barrelhouse” and “Crescent Crawl,” his limber fingers both pounding and gliding simultaneously. The lone cover, an improvisatory version of Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too” follows, depicting a more nuanced, slow and mid-tempo blues style. Then he introduces “Praise House,” inspired by the Blind Boys of Alabama. Katz says, “’Praise House’ refers to a hidden shack in the woods that enslaved African Americans would use as a refuge for religious worship.” He puts this imagery to music, adding a few jazz twists to the melody, mixing it with the gospel and blues, coloring the middle with some gorgeous, spacious passages.
Katz even throws in a country waltz with “Dreams of Yesterday”, reminiscent of “The Tennessee Waltz,” and reverts to ragtime with “Red Sneakers,” a ‘retro’ tune inspired by the red sneakers his daughter gifted him. “Midnight Plans” evokes the Ramsey Lewis piano style while “Easy Living” is another slow blues stunner. Naturally “Going Places” has Katz all over the 88s in dizzying boogie-woogie fashion before he returns to late-night nightclub ballad mode on “The Way to Your Heart.” “Watermelon Thump” is another boogie-woogie while the closer “Redemption” reprises some gospel, serving as a kind of modern-day hymn.
All the foundational elements of jazz and blues piano are here with the signature Katz touch. Katz is in top form, again demonstrating why he is so highly acclaimed in the roots and blues genres.