Make Me A Pallet On The Floor, DC Boogie, St James Infirmary, St Louis, Pennies From Heaven, Bright Lights, Big City, I Almost Lost My Mind, The Rocky Mountain Blues, The Fives, Four O’Clock Blues and more…
Now an octogenarian, Erwin Helfer remains a master of jazz, blues and boogie woogie piano and this new collection shows that he has lost none of the artistry, taste and skill that he has demonstrated time and again over many years on other fabulous releases for Sirens.
An advocate of the ‘less is more’ school of musicianship, Erwin only plays notes where and when they should be played, controlling better than most the atmosphere, tension and beauty that can be squeezed out of an old Joanna. It is probably no co-incidence that he starts and finishes the album with two pieces credited to Jimmy Yancey, the opening Make Me A Pallet On The Floor and closer, Four O’Clock Blues. Both are slow and steady delights that Yancey, more than any other master of boogie woogie piano, so excelled at. He takes the same approach to a version of St James Infirmary, for me perhaps the best piece on the album.
It is not all like this though. Erwin mixes things up nicely with some upbeat boogie woogie playing on The Fives. And, for a few tracks he is joined by friends and long-term collaborators to present some band numbers, featuring a couple of guest vocalists (one of which being Ardella Williams, daughter of blues legend Jazz Gillum).
And if this is not enough, the album concludes with a few bonus treats. The first of these are three previously unreleased recordings of Erwin supporting the singing of Mama Yancey from 1957 and 1979. The other bonus is a fifteen minute conversation with Erwin talking about how he got his start in music and some of the people he met, be-friended and learnt from.
Let’s just hope that the album title isn’t a signal that Erwin is now about to retire. Rather selfishly, I hope there are more delights like this to come.
Review Date: August 2016