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The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise - All Jams on Deck
Robert Mugge – Director & Editor
DVD – 96 minutes
What do you get when you mix over a thousand blues fans, more than thirty of the best blues musicians or bands - and the warm Caribbean sun? You have one of Roger Naber's floating blues parties, better known as the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. Naber's genius was to make it possible for blues lovers and musicians to spend a week sailing the high seas together, where the relaxed atmosphere and laid-back attitudes remove the barriers between fans and musicians.
Director Robert Mugge has built his career documenting various music genres and the artists that make the music special. With more than thirty films to his credit, Mugge has garnered praise for his work like his documentaries about Al Green, Sonny Rollins and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the New Orleans musical community (New Orleans Music in Exile). His second DVD to take a look at the Blues Cruise phenomenon focuses on one of the many aspects that make the cruise so unique – the nightly Pro Jam sessions, held outdoors with a 1 am start time on the aft pool deck. There is a different artist designated to host each session during the week.
The disc starts with Tommy Castro and Elvin Bishop discussing the genesis of the nightly gathering of the professional musicians where they get the rare opportunity to play together, sometimes for the first time. These sessions are always intriguing for the audience as they get to witness these once-in-a-lifetime combinations, like one film segment that features Johnny Winter and Elvin Bishop trading guitar licks with Edgar Winter on keyboards.
Another sequence has Marcia Ball leading the jam backed by an eight piece horn section and Jimmy Thackery on guitar for Bobby “Blue” Bland's “I Woke Up Screaming”. Ball later comments that having all of the horns made the song sound just like she imagined it in her dreams. Another highlight is the frenzied boogie-woogie jam in the Piano Bar featuring Eden Brent, Commander Cody and Kellye Hunt. A second segment showcases host Leon Blue with Hunt and the Commander. Guitarist Vasti Jackson joins Coco Montoya and ends up walking through the theater, his high-energy performance delighting the audience.
The film includes commentary on the art of jamming and the inherent issues of leading a session from Thackery, Coco Montoya, Larry McCray, Kim Wilson and Lee Oskar. The Rev. Billy C. Wirtz and Cody explain some of the finer points of piano players working together in two enjoyable segments. Bill Wax of the SiriusXM BB King Bluesville program and noted music producer & historian Bob Porter lend some historical perspective to the history of jamming, with its roots in jazz music. Vasti Jackson and Laith Al-Saadi provide an enlightening demonstration on the finer points of guitar players working together in the jam format.
Other musical highlights include a run-through of “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop's Raisin' Hell Revue with Kid Andersen on guitar and John Nemeth adding an electrifying vocal. Castro's “A Good Woman is Hard to Find” features a sizzling solo from guitarist Mighty Mike Schermer and some tantalizing piano from Commander Cody. Sista Monica Parker's powerful voice sounds right at home with Lee Oskar and the Lowrider Band behind her, with Larry McCray stealing a bit of the spotlight with his red-hot guitar licks. The final jam is a dream-come-true for harmonica fans with Rick Estrin, Oskar and Nemeth joining Kim Wilson.
The disc closes with a harmonica duet featuring Wilson and Oskar, a quiet little number that provides a sharp contrast to all of the other musical fireworks in the film. Mugge and his partner, Diana Zelman, have managed to create a work that suceeds on several levels. It educates viewers on the art of jamming while providing actual performances that illustrates the points under discussion. You get exciting combinations of great musicians playing for their own enjoyment as well as the fans who manage to stay up that late! And it provides a close-up view of what the Blues Cruise is all about. You will certainly play this disc more than a time or two.
Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.