Mose Allison - piano, vocals; Jack Hannah - bass; Jerry Granelli - drums
Though he's been called "the William Faulkner of jazz" for his wry, incisively witty ditties delivered in a one-of-a-kind laconic style, Mose Allison prefers to think of himself as having more in common with sardonic writer-humorists Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut and Ambrose Bierce, all of whom had a firm grasp of the absurd while poking sticks at the foibles of life. Indeed, there has always been a kind of philosophical, questioning bent to Allison's lyrics, along with an innate sense of Southern-ness to some of his imagery. Those qualities come across on this 1977 set at the Great American Music Hall, which captures the enigmatic pianist-singer-songwriter in classic form.
Accompanied by bassist Jack Hannah and drummer Jerry Granelli, the laid back Southern gentleman from Tippo, Mississippi breaks the ice with a frisky instrumental version of Buddy Johnson's blues tune "You Won't Let Me Go," which Mose first recorded on his 1957 debut on Prestige, Back Country Suite. They follow with a frisky instrumental, "Scamper," that showcases his typically eccentric rhythmic signature: a quirky, herky-jerky block chording style that is part Monk with bits of Albert Ammons-esque barrelhouse swagger thrown in for seasoning. Allison's country boy perspective on big city life is delivered with verve and a touch of down-home wit on his pointed "City Home" and "If You're Going to the City."
Allison next turns in a slow, bluesy meditation on Duke Ellington's "I Ain't Got Nothin' But The Blues," a tune he recorded on 1966's Swingin' Machine. The trio romps through a lively rendition of the Hank Williams staple "Hey Good Lookin'" before heading into the jivey anthem "Meet Me At No Special Place (And I'll Be There At No Particular Time)," a clever J. Russell Robinson tune originally written for Nat King Cole and later recorded by Allison on his 1962 Atlantic Records debut, I Don't Worry About A Thing. Mose's frantic and humorous "If You Only Knew," which appeared on his excellent 1976 outing Your Mind Is On Vacation, is followed by one of his own early anthems, "Parchman Farm," from his second Prestige album, Local Color. "How Much Truth (Can A Man Stand)" is a reflective, existential ditty from 1971's Western Man. And he closes out this Great American Music Hall set with a lively rendition of Willie Dixon's shuffle blues number "I Love The Life I Live," title track of Allison's 1960 Prestige album.
An eternal hipster, Allison's influence on the British rock scene has been especially profound. His "Young Man Blues," from his 1957 debut on Prestige, Back Country Suite, was covered by the Who on 1970's Live at Leeds; the Yardbirds covered "I'm Not Talking" on 1965's For Your Love; the Clash covered "Look Here" on 1980's Sandinista!; and Elvis Costello covered "Your Mind is On Vacation" on 1985's King of America and "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy on 1995's Kojak Variety. In 1996, Van Morrison released an entire album of Mose covers entitled Tell Me Something: The Music of Mose Allison. In a BBC documentary on Allison entitled Ever Since I Stole the Blues, the Who's Pete Townshend offers this personal testimony about the man from Tippo, Mississippi: "Without Mose, I wouldn't have written 'My Generation.'"
At age 83, Allison shows no signs of slowing down. His latest recording, produced by Joe Henry for the influential indie label Anti Records, is 2010's The Way of the World. Henry captures the essence of Mose in one insightful passage to the liner notes of that album: "For many of us, Mose Allison has long stood as a great swaying bridge spanning our strange, stormy times: linking the fifties to the present; the mystical country blues to the urbanity of jazz; tough beat poetry to wistful self-reflection; seduction to candor, heart to mind, wit to wisdom; Mark Twain straight through to Willie Dixon, with Chico Marx barking directions from the backseat, James Stewart at the wheel." Like the Mississippi River, Mose just keeps rolling along.
-Written by Bill Milkowski