||THE HARMONICA EDUCATOR
The Harmonica Educator
by David Lipkind
Guitarist Bobby E., harmonica player Clint Hoover, percussionist Mac Santiago, and bassist Jim Chenoweth have put together a fine album of acoustic roots jazz. All of the ten songs are original compositions, and feature relaxed, melodic chromatic harmonica playing by a true master of the instrument.
Right off the bat the quartet swings in with "Riptide," a song that almost takes you over the edge, but keeps you planted in the groove. 717, a beautiful ballad written by Bobby E., is a great vehicle for Hoover's magical chromatic abilities. He demonstrates a relaxed, mature sound, and works his solo into a mixture of passion and restraint. His vibrato is full, and carries the weight of the light accompaniment.
Ripley's Waltz (Dream of the Serpent Dog), gives us a glimpse at the many levels of talent Hoover has achieved on his axe. The opus starts out with an Arabic introduction, leading us into a melodic passage that leaves Hoover room to stretch out. Bassist Chenoweth then takes the spotlight and gives us a taste, before leading the trio back into the head.
A refreshing aspect of this album, besides all of the material being original, is Hoover's stylistic approach toward the harmonica. Hoover stands on his own as an amazing musician with a unique and individual voice. Jazz guitarists owe a nod to Charlie Christian, but they all do not have to be compared to him. The same is true for chromatic harmonica players in relation to the remarkable Toots Thielemans. Hoover stands on his own as a fine player, compared to any musician, regardless of the instrument. It is also refreshing to see the harmonica used in an ensemble, without the "front man" disposition. Howard Levy in the Newgrass ensemble Bela Fleck and the Fleckstones, Jim Fitting from Boston blues rockers Treat Her Right, Mickey Raphael in Willie Nelson's band, and all of the great players to come up through Muddy Waters bands. These are prime examples of the harmonica being used as another instrument in a group setting. On Dream of the Serpent Dog, Hoover takes the majority of the solos, but this is a group effort.
Hoover's diatonic playing is also another reason to consider him a master of the mouth harp. The song Snake Oil, starts with a deep melodic introduction by Hoover on the diatonic. His tone is pure and acoustic, with a tasteful demonstration of hand and throat vibrato. It also sounds as if Hoover sneaks in some overblows/draws into the mix, to give him that extra melodic dimension.
Overall, this is a very atmospheric, vibrant album that lets harmonica player Clint Hoover shine bright, along with a creative percussionist, swinging bassist and an accomplished guitarist that lays down apt rhythms and tastefully melodic solos. Dream of the Serpent Dog, is a very refreshing chapter in modern jazz. Just as Sandy Weltman deserves credit for being a truly original, innovative player, Hoover deserves equal praise as a deserving star in the jazz world.