After years of playing diatonic (traditional 10 hole) blues harps, I've purchesed some Chromatics in recent months and since I wanted to learn from a master, I bought this CD to practice while playing.
What a perfect choice! Stevie Wonder, John Popper, Toots Theilemans, and Lee Oskar are perhaps the greatest living harmonicists. But if you like these men, one listen to Larry Adler will make your jaws drop in awe! This man was to the harmonica what Jimi Hendrix was to the guitar and was truly the master of this instrument! He also popularized the use of the Chromatic harmonica (a more complicated type of harp with as many as 10, 12, or 16 holes and a handlebar to change keys) and pioneered its use as a lead instrument in jazz, show tunes, and classical music (as opposed to its more traditional backup use in blues and country music).
The CD itself is an awesome collection of Adler's recorded work from the 1930s (very clean sound, I might add) to some standards and Porgy & Bess tunes from the 1950s. "Londonderry Air" is actually "Danny Boy," and in the middle of the tune, Adler switches track from the traditional dirge and plays a jazzed up version of the classic Irish ballad. Speaking of jazz, our man hams it up and displays some early (1935) Chromatic pyrotechnics in "Tiger Rag." He clowns a bit while ad libbing some "Blackvoice" dialogue to the tune which as an African American with an open mind, I personally found more amusing than mean-spirited or offensive.
"La Mer" is actually the original French title of the standard "Beyond the Sea" and Adler's version could bring tears to the eyes. It is interesting to compare this to Stevie Wonder's more uptempo take on this tune a decade later (see "Stevie Wonder's Early Classics" Cd). Adler expanded the role of the Chromatic Harmonica while playing the lead solo on a complete version of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." He also plays on a recorded tribute to George Gershwin (a year after the composer's death and also speaks warmly about the famous compser on this track) and plays a delightfully moving version of "Bess You Is My Woman Now" from Porgy & Bess that will also make one wet in the eyes.
This may be frustrating for the harmonicist who uses this CD to learn and practice the Chromatic Harmonica, as Adler displayed some astounding wizardry with this instrument that is extremely difficult to come close to matching. But non-musicians will bask in the beautiful artistry of these recordings. Right now, a British Black kid named Phillip Achille is picking up where Adler left off in mastering the Chromatic in jazz, show, classical, and pop tunes. Let's wish him well. He and other aspiring Chromatic harmonicists have quite a legacy in the work of Larry Adler. Listen, marvel, and enjoy.