Ilya Portnov review…November 29, 2017….

ILYA PORTNOV

STRONG BREW

SUNNY AFTERNOON BLUES–SURFIN’ THE BALTIC SEA–DANCE OF A LONELY DOLL–CINCINNATI FLOW RAG–IN A TOWN GARDEN–BEHIND THE WALL–STRONG BREW–1928–TILL THE EARLY MORNING

Ilya Portnov was born in the USSR in 1989, and his dad was always playing British Invasion rock such as the Beatles and Stones around the house.  Young Ilya  started out with classical piano, but was always drawn to the sound of the blues harp.  He found one of his dad’s old ones, and, as the old folks say, “boys, that was all she wrote.”  Ilya studied seriously at the New England Conservatory in Boston, and became the first person to be accepted with their main instrument being the diatonic harp.  In his youth, he had a harp teacher in the USSR who taught him the “overblow” technique, enabling him to play a full chromatic scale on the diatonic.

Those unbelievable chops are all over the nine instrumental cuts of his debut solo set, “Strong Brew.”  He touches on blues, jazz, and, even some of his homeland’s music along the way.  The whole shootin’ match was parlayed over at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios out in sunny San Jose, and features Kid on guitar and bass, Chris Burns on keys, June Core on drums, Rob Vye on acoustic guitar, and Ben Andrews on the fiddle.

Ilya and Ben team up quite well on the set’s opener, the jazzy original “Sunny Afternoon Blues,” with the harp and fiddle playing in lockstep.  They re-appear a bit later with another swingin’ cut, a cool read of the Rev. Gary Davis’ “Cincinnati Flow Rag,” with Rob Vye on acoustic guitar.  And, he closes the proceedings with the tango-riffic “1928,”  followed by a brisk, Diddley-esque shuffle “Till The Early Morning,” with Kid wearin’ out that tremolo guitar.

We had two favorites, too.  “Surfin’ The Baltic Sea” is sho’ nuff a surf number, backed by Kid’s twangin’ licks.  And, “Behind The Wall”  is straight, no-chaser Chicago blues all the way, done up in a style that would make Carey Bell and both Walters proud as can be!

Ilya Portnov brings a ton of styles to the table and pulls ’em off with aplomb.  That versatility drips all over the grooves of this set, and all blues fans are urged to take a long pull from this mighty “Strong Brew.”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow…The Nashville Blues Society.

 

 

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