Moon Haw Records
Guitarist Jim Weider and his various Project Percolator ensembles cover a lot of musical ground in the course of any given night. A typical Project Percolator set might incorporate elements of out-there-and-back jazz, nasty-assed funk, rock as rock gets, slap-yerself-silly rockabilly and deep-groove reggae – just for starters. And usually Weider himself is leading the charge with his old, faithful ’52 Telecaster, living proof that the most basic of Leo Fender’s machines can do just about anything asked of it when in the right hands.
So, given all that, Project Percolator’s presence at the 2013 Mystic Blues Festival in Mystic, CT was no surprise. The blues are just another course in their smorgasbord of sound – and this set from 6/28/13 proves Weider and company know how to dole out their blues in a number of different flavors.
Drummer Rodney Holmes has been Weider’s collaborator since the early days of Project Percolator, with a revolving cast of players much like Phil Lesh’s various Friends. Bassist Steve Lucas has been Holmes’ wingman for a number of years now: as fearless, funky and fierce as the situation calls for. Whereas Weider has usually had another guitarist to spar with (Percolator alumni include Mitch Stein and Avi Bortnick), the 6/28/13 show saw Clifford Carter sitting in on keys, offering up new paths for Weider to travel. And special guest for the Mystic festival performance was bluesman Hook Herrera on vocals and harp – a departure from Percolator’s usual all-instrumental format.
The set is a total blues sandwich, with a mix of Herrera originals and some old standards bookended by a pair of draw-off-and-let-it-fly jams. “You’re A Great Girl” eases things off on a funky glide, Holmes and Lucas building a launch pad for the rest of the ensemble’s liftoff. Herrera is there from the get-go: there are no vocals on “Great Girl” but he lets his harp do the talking with cool-as-hell chuffs and wails, building to a wild spiral of sound. Carter’s first solo of the night is total Sunday morning smoothness, giving way to a quick minor-flavored passage in the final seconds to transition to Weider’s angular workout. Applying a bit of wah pedal for flavoring and accents, Weider works his way into a powerful flurry – and then just as quickly retreats to let the song close. (The good ones know not to show too much too soon, boys and girls.)
The band proves their blues credentials with a run of tunes that begins with Herrera’s Chicago-style “No Matter What I Do”. For all the wild voicings that Carter pulls out of his keys during the set, his playing on this song simply nails the vibe of spilt beer on the yellowed keys of an old upright – raw and perfect. It’s cool to hear the Lucas/Holmes powerhouse settle into this selection of grooves – from the raunch of Willie Dixon’s “Bring It On Home” to the goofy-grinned rave-up of “You Know It Ain’t Right”. Herrera is the real thing: his vocals range from switchblade smooth to greasy growl, while his harp work is a combination of classic wails and moans with powerful rhythm chugs and intricately-delivered phrases.
And then there’s Weider, who cut his teeth on the blues many moons ago. At times, he tucks in with Lucas and Holmes to support the groove; other times he’s out front, sounding like a psychedelicized Hubert Sumlin (“Bring It On Home”) or channeling some of Roy Buchanan’s wild side in a squall of blistering bends and crazed harmonics (“Southside Women”).
Percolator takes things out with a 25-minute version of “Man Cry” (off 2009’s Pulse album). The centerpiece is Rodney Holmes’ drum solo – a mix of blistering power and total control. Combining drumming this ferocious with taste is a rare thing, but Holmes is a master of just that. In the meantime, Carter chooses the gonzo route for his final break of the night, his keys sounding like the mad mutterings of a Martian wino, while Lucas’ bass paves the way to Holmes’ rhythm excursion with thick passages of feel-it-in-your-bones wump. Herrera once again proves his harp can jam with the best of them, laying down a gale-force blast of jungle noises early on and pulling off a wild-ass call-and-response with Weider’s magnificent slide work on the homestretch.
You can file it under “blues” for sure, but the latest live release from Jim Weider’s Project Percolator is more than that: this is the sound of masters at work.
Brian Robbins hangs with the Martian winos over at www.brian-robbins.com