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Taj Mahal at SF Jazz

The great Taj Mahal is at SF Jazz this week, and I was fortunate to see last night's show. Billed as the Taj Mahal Trio, with Bill Rich on bass and Kester Smith on drums, they have been his band for quite a few years now. Born in Harlem to a West Indian father who was a jazz musician, Taj has always incorporated music from all over the world, Caribbean, African, South Pacific, through to spirituals, field hollers, rural, and even Chicago electric blues. And the blues it is. He has one of the most distinctive blues vocal styles, coupled with Rev. Gary Davis inspired finger picking. "Who was that guy in the 60's who used to open for everybody?" a friend asked me recently - it was Taj Mahal. On the stage last night was a beautiful copper dobro, a banjo, a Martin steel string and a nylon string Takamine, and a custom built Howard Roberts inspired arch top, as well as a Kurtzweill (Ray currently serving as head of AI at GOOGLE) electric keyboard. He would pick up an instrument, and then decide what to play. It ranged from West African griot to lots of country blues. The last two tunes before the encores where rousing, loud, distorted electric Chicago styles blues, that got the crowd, mostly pretty young women, up and dancing. I learned last night that his first band 50 years ago was with Ry Cooder, called The Rising Sons. Columbia never released the project. Fools.