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Duke Robillard: Blue Mood

Ace guitarist Duke Robillard uses these two releases to illuminate differing areas of his musical profile. Blue Mood features his interpretations of anthems made famous by the great Aaron “T-Bone” Walker, whose sleek lines and swinging manner brought sophistication to the blues without sacrificing its earthiness. New Guitar Summit puts Robillard into the swing/jazz arena for a spirited exchange with fellow guitarists Jay Geils and Gerry Beaudoin. Indeed, both discs are so strong it would be silly to rate one ahead of the other. Instead, Blue Mood serves as an interpretative showcase, while New Guitar Summit offers more dazzling instrumental sequences, licks, riffs and exchanges.

Robillard takes a more deferential posture on Blue Mood, striving to capture T-Bone’s feel on “Lonesome Woman Blues,” “Hard Way” and “Born to Be No Good” by almost replicating Walker’s tuning and sound at times. He has the appropriately funky, slicing tone on “T-Bone Shuffle,” and “T-Bone Boogie,” though Robillard doesn’t imitate the solos note-for-note-but he’s clearly concerned with authenticity in his voicing and presentation on “Alimony Blues,” “I’m Still in Love With You” and “Tell Me What’s the Reason,” and he accomplishes that goal with tasteful, supple playing and solos.

While the performances on Blue Mood are unquestionably excellent, they’re also sometimes less energetic, nowhere as loose or forceful as Robillard can be in peak form.

By comparison, there’s no such problem on New Guitar Summit. Indeed, even on songs where he’s the third soloist like “Bennie’s Bugle” or “Never Say Never Again,” Robillard nicely pivots off ideas previously formulated by either Geils or Beaudoin, then will double back and deliver either a sneaky refrain, a clever retort or a smooth set of his own riffs before returning to the central melody. When he’s the leadoff player on Bill Jennings’ “Glide On,” Robil-lard leaps off with a jubilant, careening solo that quickly puts both Beaudoin and Geils in response mode, though they each make get recoveries when their turn comes. While this isn’t a cutting contest in the strictest sense, each player does take pains to establish their own personality within the jam. Robillard’s an easy swinger, while Geils veers into blues and rock lines and Beaudoin serves as the bridge between the straightahead jazz sensibility and the more outside rocking blues permutations.

Originally Published