David Bromberg Big Band, Al Kooper and the Funky Faculty - The Egg, April 2, 2011

After David Bromberg sang the first mournful chorus of “Diamond Lil” (“A man should never gamble . . .”), Peter Ecklund placed his muted cornet to his lips and blew one of the most perfectly crafted choruses I’ve ever heard. The fact that it’s not surprising doesn’t make it any less wonderful to experience. Ecklund is the same age as Bromberg, which means that both could be collecting Social Security, and both have roots in a century of American music-making, where any borders between jazz and folk, folk and rock, rock and you-name-it are just a blur.

Saturday’s concert at the Egg was a double bill, with rock icon Al Kooper playing the opening set with his bandmates from Berklee, the Funky Faculty. Kooper and Bromberg have intersected many times during their careers; both have played and recorded with Bob Dylan, and Kooper’s set included “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” which might otherwise have been on the Bromberg set.

But it was signature tunes like “Green Onions” that got the crowd excited. Originally a Booker T. and the M.G.s hit, it was a funk-filled romp for Kooper’s Hammond organ and his rhythm section: Jesse Williams on bass and drummer Mark Teixeira, with a solo spot by guitarist Bob Doezman that gave us a taste of the terrific surprises he’d continue to come up with.

Kooper introduced “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” (from his Blood Sweat & Tears album Child Is Father to the Man) as his “biggest earner,” and it certainly resonated with those of us fellow AARP candidates who remember the album’s release. Suddenly the Angel Band appeared—a trio of female vocalists led by Bromberg’s wife, Nancy Josephson—and did the London Bach Choir proud with their version of the opening of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which had put Kooper in the recording studio with the Rolling Stones. The crowd needed little encouragement to sing along. Then another sudden segue, and “Season of the Witch” brought the set to a raucous close.

It was a lot to hope for but it happened: Kooper sat in with Bromberg for the latter’s first three numbers. “Sloppy Drunk” set the stage for what was to come, a high-powered number with the unusual instrumental array, reading from left to right, of sax (John Firmin), cornet (Ecklund), trombone (Curtis Linberg), drums (Josh Kanusky), electric bass (Butch Amiot) and two mandolins (Mitch Corbin and Nate Grower). Kooper added texture and fills that had Bromberg beside himself with pleasure.

The ballad “As the Years Go Passing By” and the uptempo blues shout “Tongue” also worked solos for Kooper into the mix, and when the organist said good-bye, we had another surprise: Multi-talented clarinetist Don Byron was brought out, evidently with some surprise, to join the band on the traditional “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor,” which turned into a very extended and rapturously inventive jam.

Among the highlights of this lengthy set were Corbin’s guitar solo on his own “Toledo Bend,” a fingerpicking showcase; Bromberg’s unmiked vocal on “Drown in My Own Tears,” that brought the Angel Band back, also unmiked; the full band rocking out on “The Holdup,” from Bromberg’s debut album (co-written with George Harrison); and an over-the-top “Send Me to the ’Lectric Chair,” sung by Bromberg with snarls of delight as he romped through its murderous lyrics.

And what else could he close with but “Sharon,” an extended showcase for his guitar playing, storytelling and wicked sense of humor, with contributions from every player and, most vitally, the angel-voiced Angel Band. The two encores were “Helpless Blues” and “Diamond Lil,” with the band still, after two hours, at the top of their form.

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