Bobby Lee Rodgers and his trio bandmates sent a warning shot across the Wanee bow Saturday night at the Manhattan Dolce Bar and Bistro. The BLR Trio gets lead-off batter status all three days at Wanee, but they are flexing clean-up power right now.
At some point, somebody is going to call me for plagiarizing myself. Didn’t I say last time that this trio sounded better than ever? What, do you just cut and paste?
Observation: almost every band on the scene has been bringing the heat, impossibly topping that last incendiary show. There seems to be a collective surge of talent, desire and unbridled joy. I know, it’s a tough job going to see all this live music, but somebody’s gotta do it. There’s no time like the present to get out there to see all of these great musicians. What are you waiting for anyway? Bastille Day?
Halfway through the opening set Saturday, I leaned to Sharon and said, “I know my brain’s probably fried, but they sound better than ever!” She nodded, then added, “And they’re having fun!” They certainly were. The room was slammed with dancers (!) grooving to “Outer Space,” and BLR wisely just let the groove percolate as they jammed the tune toward Funkytown.
They began the set with several great jazz songs perfect for the room, opening with “Ike Stubblefield,” which led directly into a beautiful reading of “Freedom Jazz Dance.” During “Ike,” BLR and bassist Rodrigo Zambrano had some spirited exchanges. All the while, drummer Tom Damon was laying down superb time. There are flashier drummers out there, but Damon is dead on the one, sheer perfection for this band. And Damon has this smile, this wonderful look as he plays. It is impossible to watch him and not smile right back.
BLR also offered one of his jazz compositions, “Plate Hot,” straight out of the bebop songbook. Then came “Outer Space,” BLR’s most covered tune. Zambrano revealed some awesome new “space bass” effects (new to me, anyway) and took two tremendous solos. Smiles all around. Another vocal tune, “Give ‘Em Hell,” followed.
It’s funny when you go to hear music in a room where there are others not there to listen to music. There were some ladies in the table in front of me, and I thought they’d be a distraction, but then they started dancing, and when they weren’t dancing they were listening. Kudos to the band from engaging the crowd.
The second set was just as much fun, kicking off with “Beggin’ You to Stay.” The version of “When the World Comes Tumblin’ Down” was remarkably jazzy, and Damon took a brief and delightful drum solo. That was followed by “Lighthouse.”
Manhattan owner Lovie has been working with WMNF’s Thor and Wayne, hosts of the jamband show In the Groove, to bring in live music such as this once a month. Their joint commitment to making this work is a really positive sign for the Tampa music scene. So then Thor asked Bobby Lee to play “Body in the Lake.” It doesn’t take much imagination to figure that one out. Excellent!
The dance floor was busy most of the evening, and it filled up for the closing “Victor the Snake Man.” My server, Lucas, confided, as I inquired early on about adult soda options, that I was his second table. Turns out he is a percussionist who did a great job on his first night while watching Damon and the band with genuine admiration. He started to tell me who the band was when I arrived, and I hope in retrospect I wasn’t dismissive when I said, “Oh, yes. I know who they are!”
There was actually time to sit and talk for an hour after the show. Bobby Lee relishes the opportunity to play his jazz shows at the Green Room in Ft. Lauderdale and elsewhere. One night it might be an evening of Coltrane music, then Parker, or Jobim. The possibilities are endless. He listed Tal Farlow, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Rainey and Joe Pass as major influences.
He said he has guitar “lines,” jazz sentences from these giants. He plays them over and over, every day, so that they flow like water. That, he described, gives him the ability to improvise on those sentences. That is where the creativity surfaces, interlacing, interweaving, reinterpreting and reverentially playing these lines. This is evident in everything he plays.
He talked about the recent Cigar City Brewgrass Festival, where he got to play with another brilliant guitar player, Eddie Roberts of the New Mastersounds, who was touring with his band West Coast Sounds. The two did a Vulcan mind meld, since they are clearly on the same wavelength; Roberts is a Grant Green devotee.
The first time I saw Bobby Lee was in 2006. He had been a member of the Codetalkers with Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.). Bobby Lee left the Codetalkers to put together a band which was getting a lot of hype. It was called Herring, Rodgers and Sipe. That would be Jimmy Herring and Jeff Sipe, both members of the original Aquarium Rescue Unit along with the Colonel. (ARU is playing a reunion tour this summer.)
Just as they were beginning to cruise, some other band asked Herring to play with them (those pesky Widespread Panic boys). Abruptly, H, R & S were no more. Bobby Lee has been content to make his own great music and play the music of the masters. He has a closet of bass players and drummers somewhere, all of them great players, whom he can call upon when needed. This particular trio, however, is on fire of late.
That means, you Wanee people, you need to get up early enough to catch them Friday and Saturday morning. The band will have a Thursday slot on the Mushroom stage. They are setting the bar WAAAAY up there. You’ve been warned!