New Blood for the Blues
For centuries there has existed a rare, temporary medical condition striking a dozen or so tourists annually in Florence, Italy, the cradle of Italian Renaissance, and a city which simply groans under the weight of her myriad masterpieces. For these few tourists, encountering masterpieces pretty much wherever the eye lands, creates symptoms including amnesia, dizziness, and disorientation, and often requires a hospital stay. French novelist and writer Marie-Henri Beyle, known as Stendhal, was struck with the malaise in 1817, thus finally giving the illness a name: Stendhal Syndrome.
Boulder, Colorado has recently experienced an opposing variation of this rare malaise, in that rather than the visiting tourist being struck, it is the locals who are visited by it. And it’s not as much a visual attack, it’s an oracular one. It’s known as “JRS,’ or Jason Ricci Syndrome, and it clobbers Boulder periodically. The symptoms are the same. The treatment, however, rests not in minimizing the exposure, but intensifying it. The patient becomes incapable of resisting finding JRS-related masterpieces online and listening for hours on end, abandoning sleep and nutrition. And on occasion, all mental reason.
This most recent documented case was at the Boulder Outlook Hotel and Suites, which, aside from being a great (and green) hotel, is Boulder’s home of the blues. It arrives in the form of Jason Ricci and New Blood, the kickin’est jam band, well, probably ever. Ricci is a harmonica virtuoso, master, prodigy, alien. When he takes the stage with Shawn Starski on guitar (another prodigy alert!), Todd “Buck Weed” Edmunds on bass (who looks like he’s having fun beyond measure), and Ron Sutton on drums (who, ironically, seems to be the quiet one), the oblivious patient is spot-welded to the seat by the G forces of sound. Perfect, clear sound.
To paraphrase Muddy, the blues had a baby, and his name is Jason Ricci. Reviews aplenty for this remarkable band (many trying to make near impossible comparisons) can be found online. They were also listed in the Mercury News “Top Ten Shows of 2005” with Prince, Rush, and Green Day. (Has anyone ever heard of PS, or RS, or GDS? No!)
Disclosing that the author is not a musician, and therefore ill-equipped to analyze on a technical level, it seems to me that every note emanating from Ricci carries every experience of his young life. One does not have to be musically skilled to understand that some things just can’t be explained (and though Ricci slams Red Bull™ throughout his performance, I don’t care what their slogan is, NOTHING can give you those kind of wings. At least not over the counter. [Note to self: contact Red Bull™ people for ad campaign idea: 30-second videos of Ricci]. For more technical reviews, see their website, jasonricci.com. WARNING! If your speakers are on, prepare for the onset of symptoms.
In Ricci’s hands, the harp becomes an entire symphony, creating sounds of countless instruments. During one of his solos, it took merely looking away to be certain I was hearing a guitar solo. But I wasn’t.
Then he sings. Just consider if James Brown and Janis Joplin had a child. He’d sound like Jason Ricci. Spellbinding in its raw power, the patient again feels his life’s experiences. And with all due respect to the late James Brown, he has nothing on Ricci’s primeval scream. And in terms of the hardest working? See a show and decide for yourself. Ricci works so hard, even the audience needs a shower afterward.
The skillful gentleman on drums was clearly born to it. Drummers are tough; they’re too fast to follow visually, but the ears can somehow hear it all, the expertise and passion. Ron Sutton possesses both in abundance.
As a long time fan of the blues, I will admit to a guitar bias. I live for it. There isn’t a bad mood a great solo can’t alter. At only 27, we can all look forward to mood alterations for decades to come from Starski. He’s one of the gifted ones. He could masterfully hold his own sharing a stage with Kenny Wayne Shepard, or Buddy Guy, or Bob Margolin. (And for our female patients, he’s easy on the eyes).
Speaking of easy, Buck Weed enlivens his bass with a fluid effortlessness that is a mesmerizing serenity in the middle of a Ricci Storm. Or a Starski Storm. Held higher than I’ve ever seen, Buck Weed caresses that bass like a sweetheart without whom he cannot exist. He appears wholly in love with his job.
Speaking of being in love with a job. Another harp master, Al Chesis of the Delta Sonics, is the wonderful soul who advised me to review Jason Ricci and New Blood [another note to self: send Al a nice bottle of wine]. Sitting there at the Outlook, being annihilated by some of the finest music ever generated, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so very in love with my job. Thank you, Mr. Ricci, Mr. Starski, Mr. Sutton, and Mr. Weed. I now live for your December 21, 2007, appearance at the Outlook. And, since the Delta Sonics play here a bit more often, I will have copious opportunities to thank Al again, and again, and again.