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Pace Yourself

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Album Review

Saying something is "the best" can be interpreted many different ways depending on circumstances. To say that this is the best album

harmonica player P.T. Gazell has made on his own doesn't mean much since it seems to also be the only album he has concocted as a leader. As a sideman, sometimes credited as Phil Gazell with related spelling errors, he was one of the hottest players in The West Texas Music Company, best known as backup band for the late Johnny Paycheck.

Fans of harmonica players know Gazell and find him technically way ahead of the pack on the little instrument, able to expressively articulate each note in a rapid passage with feeling as well as skill, inviting comparisons with jazz masters such as the tenor saxophonists Warne Marsh or Sonny Rollins. A "best" can be passed out in terms of harmonica playing that surely means something: Pace Yourself is one of the best recordings highlighting the harmonica ever made, pure and simple. This includes performances in all genres that the harmonica has worked its way into — which with a bit of research is revealed to be just about everything including Indian raga.

It isn't a matter of some genres — in this case country, bluegrass, and Western swing — coming off as better than others. The Gazell recording, originally created in the late '70s in Lexington, KY, is simply transcendent in its mastery of the music involved. Another "best" might be in terms of melodic interpretation and improvisation, because this is what makes the music from these sessions so timeless. Bluegrass fans might drool at the lineup, which includes Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas, who were both hanging out in Lexington in this period. To a man, the players always display wisdom in their choice of when to stay very close to the theme and when to take off and go somewhere else. It is really beautiful improvising from all concerned, not just the harmonica player.

Other aspects of Gazell's talents are more of a surprise on this CD reissue, heightened by the addition of two bonus tracks featuring The West Texas Music Company from roughly the same period. His singing is delightful, making highlights out of the rambunctious "Hold the Woodpile Down" and the Louis Jordan classic "Boogie in the Barnyard." It is no secret how well Gazell plays the kind of material that was associated with Paycheck in the '80s and there is plenty of that here — high-speed oldtime, jumping Western swing. The Pace Yourself sessions seem to have in turn hit a lode no matter what tune the group was trying, be it "Greensleeves" or the theme from "The Flintstones."

With this ability Gazell once again invites comparisons to Rollins. To bring the grand total up to three "bests" and three comparisons to Rollins, so does the fact that Gazell apparently dropped off the scene for quite some time, a hiatus which seems to have ended with his decision to reissue this material, originally put out on the Sugar Hill label. Let's hope Gazell makes up for all the lost time with further solo recordings, even if it is going to be difficult to top Pace Yourself as a document of the very special Lexington scene in the '70s.

Pace Yourself, P.T. Gazell
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  • 8,99 €
  • Genres: Country, Music
  • Released: 17 October 1990

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