Mose Allison - piano, vocals; Jack Hannah - bass; Jerry Granelli - drums
Though he's been called "the William Faulkner of jazz" for his wry, incisively witty ditties delivered in a one-of-a-kind laconic style that he's been known for worldwide for more than 50 years, Mose Allison prefers to think of himself as having more in common with writer Kurt Vonnegut, whose grasp of existential absurdity was sublime. Indeed, there has always been a kind of philosophical, questioning bent to Allison's sardonic lyrics, along with an innate sense of Southern-ness to some of his imagery. Those qualities come across on this first of two sets at the Great American Music Hall, which captures the enigmatic pianist-singer-songwriter in fine form.
Accompanied by bassist Jack Hanna and drummer Jerry Granelli, the laid back Southern gentleman (he's from Tippo, Mississippi) opens with a decidedly Mose-like extrapolation on Duke Ellington's "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues," a tune he recorded on 1966's Swingin' Machine. The trio, which demonstrates a tight chemistry throughout, next runs through a lively, swinging rendition of the Hank Williams' staple "Hey Good Lookin'" before heading into the bluesy-jivey anthem "Meet Me at No Special Place (And I'll Be There at No Particular Time)," a J. Russell Robinson tune originally written for Nat King Cole, which Allison first recorded on his 1962 Atlantic Records debut, I Don't Worry About A Thing. Mose's frantic and humorous "If You Only Knew," which appeared on his current album at the time of this GAMH concert (the excellent 1976 outing Your Mind Is On Vacation), is followed by his ironically melancholy, dirge-like take on the Jimmie Davis classic, "You Are My Sunshine," which Allison premiered on 1968's I've Been Doin' Some Thinkin'.
Allison's wry, ingratiating style comes to the fore on a bristling rendition of his quirky uptempo blues, "You Can Count on Me to Do My Part," which he introduced on 1965's Wild Man on the Loose. He follows with "How Much Truth (Can a Man Stand)," a reflective, existential ditty from 1971's Western Man, before tackling his own classic, "Parchman Farm," which Mose introduced on his 1957 Prestige album, Local Color. Willie Dixon's "I Love the Life I Live," title track of Allison's 1960 Prestige album, is delivered with an authentic shuffle blues feel and some two-fisted playing by Mose. He closes out his GAMH set with a frisky instrumental that carries his typically eccentric rhythmic signature— a quirky, herky-jerky block chording style that is part Monkish with bits of Albert Ammonsesque barrelhouse swagger thrown in for seasoning.
An eternal hipster, Allison's influence on the British rock scene has been especially profound. His "Young Man Blues," from his 1957 debut on Prestige, Back Country Suite, was covered by the Who on 1970's Live at Leeds, while the Yardbirds covered "I'm Not Talking" on 1965's For Your Love, the Clash covered "Look Here" on 1980's Sandanista!, and Elvis Costello covered "Your Mind is On Vacation" on 1985's King of America and "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy" on 1995's Kojak Variety. In 1996, Van Morrison released an entire album of Mose covers entitled Tell Me Something: The Music of Mose Allison. In a BBC documentary on Allison entitled Ever Since I Stole the Blues, the Who's Pete Townshend offers this personal testimony about the man from Tippo, Mississippi: "Without Mose, I wouldn't have written 'My Generation.'"
At age 83, Allison continues to gig frequently. His latest recording, produced by Joe Henry for the influential indie label Anti- Records, is 2010's The Way of the World. Like the Mississippi River, Mose just keeps rolling along. (Milkowski)