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Michael Bocian/Bill Dearango/Tom Rainey: I Am the Blues

A fixture on 52nd Street during its heyday, the late guitarist and quintessential bebopper Bill DeArango gigged regularly with Ben Webster and recorded from 1945-47 with the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Slam Stewart, Red Norvo and Ike Quebec. At the peak of his powers, he dropped off the scene and returned to his hometown of Cleveland, where he opened a music store, taught guitar and mentored a generation of promising young jazz musicians in town, including saxophonists Joe Lovano and Ernie Krivda, percussionist Jamey Haddad, and guitarists James Emery and Michael Bocian. In later years, DeArango went through a startling transformation from blazing bebop stylist to wide-open free-jazz player, as evidenced by his radically skronking, distortion-laced 1993 recording on GM Records, Anything Went (with Lovano, bassist Ed Schuller and drummer George Schuller).

I Am the Blues is a document of a loose, freewheeling 1994 jam held in Cleveland with DeArango (who passed away in 2005), Bocian and drummer Tom Rainey, a remarkably creative player and stalwart on New York’s avant-garde scene. Although DeArango was 73 at the time of this recording, he plays with youthful enthusiasm and cathartic abandon on several free-improv pieces, including “My Favorite Little Vamp,” on which his angular, wah-inflected lines recall the edgy, harmolodic six-string excursions of James Blood Ulmer. Bocian complements DeArango’s spiky attack with speedy precision picking and warm-toned, fluid lines. And Rainey underscores the spontaneous proceedings with melodic instincts and a highly intuitive approach to the kit. Bocian and DeArango engage in some dark counterpoint on the pensive “Our First Duet,” which sounds like it could’ve been on the soundtrack to David Lynch’s Eraserhead. Other highlights include a hauntingly beautiful take on “‘Round Midnight” and DeArango’s warped, Lord Buckley-esque spoken word offering, “I Say to You Please.”

Originally Published