Johnnie Bassett | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Johnnie Bassett 

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JOHNNIE BASSETT

In the 60s, Detroit-based guitarist Johnnie Bassett worked with Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Tina Turner, and Little Willie John, as well as more elemental bluesmen like John Lee Hooker and Washboard Willie. He even played on some of Smokey Robinson's first recordings with the Miracles. But in the middle of that busy decade, Bassett also formed his first organ trio, and ever since then the sounds of urban soul jazz have dominated the albums he's put out under his own name. His latest, Party My Blues Away (Cannonball), is a bit less smooth and nightclubby than his previous releases, with punchier production, chunkier horns, and--on tunes like "Big Boss Woman" and "Johnnie's Boogaloo"--booty-shaking funk bass lines. The studio ensemble is basically his regular band, the Blues Insurgents, who augment his guitar with drums, organ, tenor sax, trumpet, and sometimes piano or electric bass. Bassett also adds vocals, though they're not his greatest strength: his broad, grainy baritone sometimes sounds labored, and he's chosen too many songs with trite or childish lyrics ("Send You Thru 2000" makes arch references to Viagra and the millennium, and "Good Good Goodies" mostly repeats variations on the title ad nauseam). His guitar leads, on the other hand, are supple and tonally rich, and his solos display impeccable syntax--he'll preface a phrase with a quick, attention-grabbing grace note, introduce his theme with a couple snaky single-string lines, bend upward into an aural question mark, and conclude with a gently declamatory chord, all within the space of 12 bars. Yet there's nothing studied or stiff about his playing: He swings and skips breezily above the jaunty, horn-heavy groove of the title track, and on the meditative ballad "Kissin' Me Goodbye" his guitar lines twine and tickle all over saxist Keith Kaminski's moody riffs. And "Good Good Goodies," despite its lightweight lyrics, is relatively aggressive, as Bassett alternates B.B. King-style string bends and probing upper-register jabs over a driving shuffle beat. For this show he'll be accompanied not by the Insurgents but by a combo of keyboard, bass, and drums. Saturday, December 16, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.

DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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