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Horn of plenty

Al Basile is still groovin’ on The Tinge
By BOB GULLA  |  March 12, 2008

The Tinge, Al Basile’s sixth album and the follow-up to his 2006 set Groovin’ In the Mood Room, proves once and for all that Basile is a bard of the blues. It also reunites him with bandmates from Roomful of Blues — Basile was Roomful’s original trumpeter — with Duke Robillard producing and guitaring, as usual. The record is sexy, wistful, resolute, and confident, marked by Basile’s evocative cornet and his poetic lyricism. Like great laidback blues and R&B, it simmers and swings its way through a sweet, baker’s dozen tracks. The Tinge demonstrates that the blues is not something you pick up and play, it’s something you grow into. And Basile, who also dabbles in jazz, has grown up very nicely. Here’s what he said in an e-mail exchange.

Why do you feel compelled to explore so many musical genres?
I love music in many genres and have specialized in American roots music like blues, jazz, soul, and classic R&B, so I know thousands of different songs, and that helps me know the form songs take in those styles. I try to let any idea that comes to me tell me what form it needs to take, and with song ideas the rhythm often seems to suggest the style: sometimes I get ideas that fall right into familiar patterns, like 12-bar blues forms. Or sometimes it’s the lyric idea that does it, and then I get patterns that are unusual but dictated by the story told in the words. “While We’re Dancing” is a good example. I had an idea about people who are older and miss dancing close to each other, and who can’t understand young people standing apart from each other. That idea needs an older approach, so it came out like some of the songs Louis Armstrong did in the ’50s like “Kiss To Build a Dream On,” a simple, melodic song with sincere lyrics. I should say that I do this with other kinds of writing as well. I write a lot of poetry, fiction, and sometimes plays, and there again the idea tells me what form to use.

What are your expectations with this album?
I wrote the material on The Tinge knowing I wanted to play a lot of cornet on it, which I hadn’t done on the previous two CDs, and that made me think I should enlarge my horn section to make my own horn sound fit into something comfortable. When I got Rich Lataille and Doug James on the project we had three-fourths of the original Roomful horn section, so I made sure we had material that drew on the blues side of jazz that we featured in that band. That way I could try to get it noticed by blues and jazz audiences. I’ve always had Duke produce me and play on my CDs, and we have a bunch of extremely versatile and talented guys — Marty Ballou on bass and Mark Teixeira on drums, and this time Bruce Katz on keyboards — who understand all the styles I write in, and play them all with authority. That makes me pretty lucky, because I need people like that to make me sound the best I can. I hope to keep it all going and develop an audience over time that knows and likes the different things I do.

Where are you right now in terms of your career? Midlife crisis? Uswing?
When I started my record company Sweetspot Records 10 years ago, I’d been a sideman with Roomful of Blues, a leader of small local bands, and a songwriter who wrote for other people, and I always thought I’d get around to recording my own songs eventually. Then my father passed, and I felt it was time to do the things I really wanted. I’d been teaching at Providence Country Day since 1980, and that had slowed down my writing and performing, because it takes so much time and energy to teach, but I went ahead anyway and I was able to get three solo CDs out from 1998-2004. They were all critically well-received, but since I wasn’t touring or selling CDs (except online) it was slow getting noticed. Finally, I quit teaching in 2005 and began to put more time into the business. I hired a radio promoter for the first time on my blues CD Blue Ink in 2004 and it made #18 on the Living Blues chart. That got me a distribution deal. Then I hired a publicist for 2006’s Groovin’ In the Mood Room and that reached #14 and got a lot of great reviews nationally and internationally. I felt like I had a lot of momentum coming into the making of this album.

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