Contrary to popular belief, the devil ain’t in the details. The devil is in finding the thing one does well, concentrating on that, until the task is done, and the work speaks for itself. And, in musical circles, a listener is charged with finding what makes a song speak to one’s soul. Often, the electric guitar is the red herring in the mystique beyond what gives a song its groove. Occasionally, the piano is what sinks into the listener’s subconscious, grabbing one by the metaphysical collar, and demanding in a soft voice: “Listen.”
Sometimes, sitting down, and working through the magic, piece by piece, is the thing.
Stripped down and lean, subtle and pure, focused and loose, outside of his normal element with the Crowmatix, Professor Louie, aka Aaron Hurwitz, has crafted a sublime little pocket of sonic gold in his corner of the universe. Playing solo, with only an occasional vocal on a mixture of covers and originals, Hurwitz allows his fingers and voice to tell the whole story. Minimalism underlines the historic vibe of these 13 tracks.
Rugged & Funky is a smart, lively, engaging work that rewards the listener. Spinning the disc on a late night drive to a gig, flipping its circular spell during the early morning while writing words for some deranged muse, and, again, rolling its pearls past the ears mid-afternoon, gave this listener a sense of displaced time and place. As if the clock didn’t really matter, Professor Louie was just playing for all time in multiple places, but always with the same result: these are tunes that mean something, and it ain’t in the details. There is a heart beating under the surface of each track, and Hurwitz knows that.
The pianist, who fronts Professor Louie & the Crowmatix, a respectable grab bag band of rock, blues, and roots music, has been around to know this vibe well. Hurwitz has played with a variety of musicians from Commander Cody to Graham Parker. But, for a true connection to the man’s work, arguably, his lasting impression will be the fact that his piano was featured on the final three The Band albums, and, along with the Crowmatix, performed as the backing band on a Rick Danko album, and featured on a Garth Hudson album, while keeping the musical spirit alive in that mystical town called Woodstock.
Hurwitz offers well-selected American classic covers on this album, which span from Americana (The Band’s “Ophelia”) to dance hall jazz (Lionel Hampton’s “Hamps Boogie”) to hard urban blues (Muddy Water’s “Rollin’ & Tumblin,”) to a wonderful expanse of ethereal jazz—lyrical, majestic, and pure (Bud Powell’s “Time Waits”). Of the pianist’s original material, “Give Me Luck,” has an infectious playful attitude, which is quite charming. Elsewhere, on more covers, “Forever and Ever,” a piece for piano and vocals, written by Champion Jack Dupree, captures the pianist’s soul in a sweet two-and-half-minutes. The title track, another piece written by Dupree, helps define the album’s spirit, as Hurwitz weaves a circular pattern, the hook rolling back and forth, over and around, while he solos with the other hand, in various scattershot patterns of melody. And, in the end, that circular path, paralleling the improvised figures racing out in all directions, is really where the magic lies. The devil ain’t in the details; he’s all around, and, sometimes, one just needs to play a tune or two, to calm that sick beast down and take note.