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Taj Mahal: An Evening of Acoustic Music

A point of annoyance for any music scribe who’s ever been overseas at blues or jazz festivals is the propensity of European audiences to clap along to the music on one-and-three. I’m sure the musicians themselves are equally annoyed but unwilling to alienate their Euro-fans by commenting on their rhythmically-challenged nature. They talk about it amongst themselves in the musicians bar after the gig but never make an issue of it on stage. Until now. Taj Mahal, a big attraction abroad, has finally pointed out the problem in no uncertain terms and for that deserves the musician’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. On his latest, An Evening Of Acoustic Music (Ruf 1009; 70:24) he halts a spirited version of Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling” to announce to his over-eager German audience: “No, no, no. This is schwartze music. For Mozart and Chopin and Vladimir Horowitz you clap on one and three. For schwartze music you clap on two and four.” His mini-clinic registers with the crowd as they are soon clapping along properly on solo acoustic versions of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” and Taj’s own boogie woogie “Big Legged Mamas Are Back In Style Again.” The engaging performer also turns in some serious picking on Reverend Gary Davis’ “Candy Man,” Mississippi John Hurt’s “Satisfied ‘N’ Tickled Too” and a Piedmont styled arrangement of “Stagger Lee.” Tuba player Howard Johnson, whose relationship with Taj goes back to some recordings together from the late ’60s, appears on the affecting Taj originals “Cake Walk Into Town,” “Big Kneed Gal” and “Texas Woman Blues.” And the ebullient Mr. Mahal bids aus wiedersehn to the crowd with a rousing banjo performance on the folky original “Tom & Sally Drake.” Now if only those in attendance can spread the word to the rest of the continent about that two-and-four thing.

Originally Published