Living Blues - Roger Gatchet
Harpbreaker Review - December 2018
Few would dare argue with the assertion that Mark Hummel is among the most talented—and consistently innovative—blues harmonica players to follow in the footsteps of the giants of the postwar era. Equally adept at both acoustic and amplified modes of performance, Hummel, who has been playing professionally since the early 1970s, has amassed a mile-long discography that includes over 20 albums as a bandleader and numerous live anthologies. His Blues Harmonica Blowout tours have become the catalyst for regional spinoffs around the country, and he was nominated for a Grammy in 2013 for Remembering Little Walter.
If all-instrumental, guitar-driven blues albums are rare, their harp-centric equivalents are even more so. Bob Corritore’s Taboo, released on Delta Groove in 2014, is a rare exception. Perhaps less familiar to blues fans stateside, Fabrizio Poggi’s Harpway 61 (2012) and Finnish harpist Helge Tallqvist’s In Footsteps (2015) are others.
With Harpbreaker, Hummel firmly stakes his claim on this under-populated territory. His own liner notes offer personal anecdotes that cut across his long career and illuminate his reasons for including some of the 13 tracks in this collection. One of the most striking is Cristo Redentor, the Duke Pearson–penned gospel-jazz instrumental that most blues fans associate with Charlie Musselwhite, who has made it a staple of his live shows for decades. Hummel’s thoughtful (and compared to Musselwhite’s version, slightly more aggressive) interpretation alternates between chromatic and diatonic harmonicas, with Kid Andersen striking an atmospheric tone with his subtle guitar work.
Little Walter deeply influenced Hummel in his formative years as a young player, as can be heard on Walter’s own Crazy Legs and other Walter-inspired tunes, from Evans Shuffle to Harpoventilatin’. The jazz numbers Señor Blues and Glide On, and a sweet, somewhat melancholic arrangement of See See Rider, diversify the set. Hummel is known for assembling top-notch studio and touring bands, and the list of musicians backing him here—Little Charlie Baty, Anson Funderburgh, Rusty Zinn, Billy Flynn, June Core and R.W. Grigsby, to name a few—is impressive.
With only five songs previously released between 2004 and 2016, even the diehard fans who own Hummel’s more recent recordings will have plenty of new material to enjoy with Harpbreaker.
BluesBytes - Bill Mitchell
Noted harmonica ace Mark Hummel lets his harp do most of the heavy lifting on Harpbreaker (Electro Fi Records), an all-instrumental album with the song selection coming from various previously-released albums, unreleased sessions, and a few new cuts. But the listener is also treated to some mighty fine guitar slingers, with a significant array of Hall of Fame caliber players on the album, including Anson Funderburgh, Little Charlie Baty, Billy Flynn, Rusty Zinn, Chris "Kid" Andersen, among others.
The music on Harpbreaker generally has a jazzy/swing feel to it, especially on the live version of Buddy Rich's "Rotten Kid," which gives Charles Wheal a chance to stretch out on guitar and includes a killer drum solo by Marty Dodson. "Walkin' With Mr. Lee" is a New Orleans classic, written and recorded in 1958 by saxophonist Lee Allen, and Hummel does an outstanding job at using his much smaller instrument to the same effect as Allen's iconic tenor sax.
"Cristo Redentor" is a slow number from the 2013 Hustle Is Really On sessions at Andersen's Greaseland studios. We're more familiar with Charlie Musselwhite's version of this number, but Hummel acquits himself well with very nice chromatic harp work. Little Charlie gets to show off on the fast-paced romper "Crazy Legs," a Little Walter original. I love every version of the Horace Silver classic "Senor Blues" that I've heard, and Hummel's version more than meets my expectations as he again shows how well the harmonica fits into a jazz format, making this classic jazz tune his own here. We get to hear more jazz harp on "Glide On," a mid-tempo number with exquisite guitar from Zinn and tasty piano from Chris Burns.
I realize that all-instrumental albums aren't always for everyone, but Harpbreaker does the trick for harmonica buffs, especially if you like hearing the instrument treated like it's part of a big band jazz ensemble. Recommended.
Big City Blues, Steve Daniels
Harpbreaker Review - October 2018
As prolific as he is proficient, blues harmonica maestro Mark Hummel presents, in his latest release, a full hour of instrumental blues, fronted by himself on "Mississippi saxophone." The tracks are culled from sessions spanning 2004 to 2018. Before listening I was skeptical; a few years ago I reviewed an all instrumental album by a European harp player who shall remain unnamed, and called it "harmonica elevator music." Not this one, though.
Hummel avoids the trap of monotony with a spiffy combination of expertise and a variety of tempos and moods. The expertise is not his alone; the diverse groupings include a stellar roster of guitarists: Charlie Baty, Rusty Zinn, Anson Funderburgh, Kid Andersen, Billy Flynn, and (a player previously unfamiliar to me) Charles Wheal. Among the other musicians, June Core and Marty Dodson distinguish themselves on drums, RW Grigsby on bass, and Bob Welsh on keyboards. Hummel composed three of the thirteen tunes, and arranged another, a nifty rendition of the classic "See See Rider"; among the remaining covers are tracks by Muddy Waters and Little Walter Jacobs.
In fact, one of the best tracks is a melding of two Littles: Walter, composer of the tune "Crazy Legs," with Little Charlie Baty dealing out sizzling lead guitar licks. Since departing as leader of the Nightcats (the West Coast, not Washington, DC band of that name), Baty has given freer rein to his jazz proclivities, but on this track he sticks to a blues motif.
We do get some jazz sensibility on the following cut, "Senor Blues," written by jazz pianist Horace Silver and memorably covered previously by Taj Mahal. With Rusty Zinn taking over the guitar duty and pianist Chris Burns making one of his several excellent contributions, the mid-tempo track is enhanced even further by the addition of trumpeter Lech Wierzynski and saxophonist Johnny Bones of the Oakland band the California Honeydrops. Right after that, Core and Grigsby deal out a gritty groove on the Hummel composition "Ready, Steady, Stroll!" while Zinn and Burns do their thing adroitly.
The entire set is energized from bar one of the opener, "Harpoventilatin'," an uptempo number with Welsh tickling the keys delightfully. We get slow tunes, we get fast tunes, we get "Walkin' with Mr. Lee," written by the late saxophonist Lee Allen, Hummel's artful harmonica renderings deftly replacing saxophone. We get ace guitarist Flynn burnishing the two most recently recorded tracks, spare outings accompanied only by Hummel, Dave Eagle on percussion and Aaron Hammerman on piano. And…we get Hummel's take on "Cristo Redentor," composed by Duke Pearson and identified strongly for decades now with Charlie Musselwhite's interpretation. It's graced by scintillating guitar work by Andersen and more masterful harmonica by Hummel, whose tone, slightly thinner than Musselwhite's, lends the tune an even more plaintive feel.
Making A Scene!, Richard Ludmerer
Harpbreaker Review - October 2018
Mark Hummel, harmonica player, vocalist, and songwriter formed his band The Blues Survivors in 1980. He released his first album as a bandleader in 1985. Since 1991 Hummel has produced the Blues Harmonica Blowout, a touring revue, with himself, The Blues Survivors and other guest harmonica players. This is Hummel’s twenty-first recording in his own name. He also appears on 14 anthologies including the 2013 Grammy nominated “Remembering Little Walter” which he produced. As a result that album won two Blues Music Awards: “Traditional Album of The Year” and “Album of The Year”. Overall Hummel has ten BMA nominations. In 2016 Hummel co-produced the Golden State Lone Star Revue with Anson Funderburgh.
This new harmonica album includes newly recorded and previously released instrumentals. The album opens with a Hummel original, “Harpoventilatin’ ”, live at Yoshis’ in Oakland, Ca. It appeared on his 2006 album “Ain’t Easy No More”. Featured along with Hummel, are guitarist Charles Wheal; Bob Welch, keyboards; Steve Wolf, bass; and Marty Dodson, drums. This same unit appears again on Little Sonny’s “The Creeper Returns”. From an earlier session is Buddy Rich’s “Rotten Kid” featuring Mel Brown on keys, and Dodson channeling Rich.
Three instrumentals previously appeared on Hummel’s 2010 recording “Retro-Active”. “Glide On” and another original “Ready, Steady, Stroll” feature guitarist Rusty Zinn; Chris Burns, keys; RW Grigsby, bass; and Willie Panker, drums. Horns are added on Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues”.
Lee Allen’s “Walkin’ with Mr. Lee” is from the Golden State Lone Star Revue including Hummel, guitarists Funderburgh and Little Charlie Baty; bassist Grigsby, and drummer Wes Starr. The same unit plays again on Little Walter’s “Crazy Legs”. On the former Jim Pugh is added on keyboards.
Recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studio is Duke Pearson’s “Cristo Redentor” originally released on Hummel’s 2014 album “The Hustle Is Really On”. From an earlier Greaseland session are two unreleased tracks Muddy Waters “Evans Shuffle” and a Hummel arranged version of the traditional “See, See Rider”.
Two more newly recorded tracks are also included. Baby Boy Warren’s “Chuckaluck” and another Hummel original “Billy’s Boogaloo” feature a unit with Hummel; guitarist Billy Flynn; Aaron Hammerman, piano; and Dave Eagle, washboard and percussion.
Hummel admits “at 15 years old…I was a miserable student, hung out with a drug and booze addled crowd and skipped a lot of school. Harp gave me a motivation I’d never had…I’d go to sleep at nights with Little Walter LP’s playing.” Hummel is both a student and a teacher as he has the tone and passion of his old school mentors. This is a must to own for every blues harp enthusiast.
The BluesPowR Blog
Harpbreaker Review, December 2018
Harmonica player Mark Hummel delivers knockout instrumental album in Harpbreaker
We don’t write about a whole lot of all-instrumental albums here, but harmonica player Mark Hummel‘s latest release Harpbreaker (Electro-Fi Records) is one that’s really too good to let pass without mention. A mix of newly recorded, live, previously issued and a good number of unreleased tracks chosen by Hummel, the album includes a baker’s dozen of tunes ranging from such classics as “See See Rider”, “Cristo Redentor” and “The Creeper Returns” to originals like the swinging opener “Harpoventilatin'” from a 2005 show at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California; a spunky, washboard and percussion-accented “Billy’s Boogaloo” recorded just this year; and the jazzy, swaying “Ready, Steady, Stroll!” from 2009’s RetroActive sessions. Continue Reading
★★★★★ Excellent Album! Great Stuff!
By Amazon Customer - October 7, 2018
For both harp aficionados and general listeners and those interested in all kinds of blues and blues derived genres and modified jazz this compilation is excellent. From the first song to the last, there is nothing but great listening. For the harp player, there is lots to learn, work on and play along with. Taking you from the depths to the heights, this is just a great album to put in your music library and listen to frequently! Great job!
"I just finished listening all the way through to your instrumental CD and i enjoyed every bit of it. It was a fun listen and an interesting listen. Good choice of tunes and well executed. Not sure really, but I think I’d pick Glide On as my favorite if I had to pick one. Good going! Well done! Bravo!"
- Charlie Musselwhite
"Ya think ya got the blues? Mark Hummel really gives it to you on "Harpbreaker", a delightful assortment of blues harmonica instrumentals that are guaranteed to make harpsters go - "Unbelievable!". Not merely a master of the 10 holes, Mark Hummel's wizardy on the chromatic leaves the listener with no doubt that he can really blow in every position. Hats off to this West Coast blues great for delivering another awesome record that sounds tough as nails."
- Aki Kumar
"Harpbreaker is a must to own for every blues harp enthusiast."
- Richard Ludmerer, Making a Scene!
"This is an album that you’ll come back to again and again. Do yourself a good turn and pick this up soon. Hit play, and it won’t be long before a smile breaks out."
- Barry Kerzner, American Blues Scene
"Never a purist, Hummel's new album, the all-instrumental Harpbreaker, explores every aspect of the instrument."
- j.poet, East Bay Express Staff Pick
"Without saying a word, Mark Hummel’s harp speaks volumes, for fans of contemporary, harp-fueled blues. He swings and stomps, rips and romps thru excellent instrumentals as only a true “Harpbreaker” can!"
- Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society