Cap Jazz Series: Mose Allison

Date and Venue 26 July 2010 @ 8pm | Vancouver East Cultural Centre (The Cultch)

Reviewer John Jane

IThe 2010/11 Cap Jazz Series opened its season early this year with the legendary Mose Allison in concert, not at Capilano Performing Arts Theatre, but at the East Vancouver Cultural Centre (known locally as the ‘Cultch’). When Capilano University programme director Fiona Black introduced Allison with the cautionary remark “He’s 82 and still on eastern time so, you might try and remember that” – I wondered just what to expect – did he have to be in bed by ten?

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Allison is easily capable of pacing himself over a two hour concert and if anything, actually got stronger towards the end. His voice doesn’t carry a lot of authority, but in fairness, it never really did. Local musicians John Nolan on drums and Rene Worst on double bass (a founding member of fusion band Skywalk) might never get an easier gig. Over the nearly two dozen tunes that the trio performed, there was barely a discernable change in tempi.

After kicking off the show with an introductory instrumental that seemed as if piano, bass and drums were playing a slightly different tune, the threesome settled down with the curiously titled Meet Me at no Special Place (I'll be there at no particular time) made famous by the Nat King Cole Trio.Not everything went so quite smoothly, Halfway through If only you Knew Allison audibly adjusted his piano playing to keep time with his singing. He joked around the flub by suggesting to the audience that he “should have written fewer words to the song.”

Listening to the Mississippi jazzman one gets the distinct feeling that his songs, few of which stretch for than three minutes, are semi-biographical. Such as with the cynical It's Just as Well the World Ended it Wasn't Working Anyway that marked his witty, observational way with lyrics. I could only muse on who his target was with the sardonic Your mind is on Vacation that featured Rene Worst with a dazzling solo on double base.

While his own musical style is rooted in Delta blues, he has had such an impact on a handful of British rock musicians including John Mayall, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Clash and The Who, that they have covered many of his songs. Certainly Allison has an extensive personal catalogue of great songs. Nonetheless, he’s not afraid to cover tunes by other distinguished musicians, adapting them to his easy going self-effacing humour and make them sound like his own.

He finished his concert with two fine variations: Joe Williams’ Baby Please Don't Go and Muddy Waters’ Rollin’ Stone and surprised the audience with an appealing rework of Willie Dixon’s My Babe as an encore. Less interesting was his first set interpretation of Jimmie Davis’s You are my Sunshine, which he slowed down to a crawl.

Directly after this concert, Mose Allison was on his way down the I-5 for six nights at Jazz Alley in Seattle. He still does around a hundred gigs a year – not ‘cos he has to – but ‘cos he wants to.

© 2010 John Jane