Review: Corky Siegel’s blues knocks down musical boundaries

“MORE Different Voices,” Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues (Dawnserly Records)

For more than half a century, Corky Siegel has brought new colors to the blues. “MORE Different Voices” is the latest endeavor by the composer/arranger to bridge musical genres and cultural divides, making the world slightly smaller and kinder.

Siegel has long favored classical flavors, and here he pairs his distinctive harmonica work with a string quartet, the result akin to a collaboration between Big Bill Broonzy and Borodin. Kalyan Pathak’s tabla and a parade of guests render any stylistic boundaries even more elastic. Not everything works, and at least a couple of cuts run too long, but Siegel’s adventurous approach defies the notion the blues are formulaic.

“Hine Ma Tov Blues” quotes “Mannish Boy” while featuring a Jewish melody even more ancient. “Joyful Jambalaya” is an instrumental jam with skittering strings and a gonzo harp solo. Even the 12-bar blues form becomes unpredictable on “Twisted” when the strings sound as though they might launch into Beethoven’s “Grosse Fugue.”

Throughout, Siegel keeps us guessing as to what will come next. Tracy Nelson sings a powerful rendition of her piano ballad “Down So Low,” and even 45 minutes into the album, it’s somehow a surprise when the classical strings enter.

They sound great. Tell Tchaikovsky the news.

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