I suppose at a Robben Ford concert, along with a one drink minimum, is a one musician per table minimum as well. His type of music, rich with harmonic complexity, has a limited yet intensely loyal appeal. To many guitarists he is a legend. Whatever configuration of musicians he assembles to tour with, will draw an audience solely on the fact that Ford is there.

Some configurations are better than others. The good news for his latest tour is this current configuration may be one of his best. Appearing this week at Yoshi’s in Oakland and on to Seattle. Some tickets are still available. Further Tour and CD “Trial by Fire” to follow (in March).

One of the premiere guitarists working today, he has been previously profiled here.

His latest project reunites him with some longtime collaborators. All are well established veterans in the music business. Bassist Jimmy Haslip, founding member of the Yellowjackets, guitarist Michael Landau, member of James Taylor’s Band of Legends, and drummer Gary Novak, have resumes loaded with dozens of some of the best known people in the music business. Usually that type credit is an empty cliche. Check out these collaborators web sites and you’ll see they really have played with EVERYONE.

On the heels of an unreleased CD, Ford’s band performed a odd set of some debuts, obscure tracks from the past, and some blues chestnuts. Debuting material is always tough going, and some of this new material is challenging – with nontraditional structures, weird lyrics, and Landau singing lead. Not sure this is quite what the Ford crowd was expecting. But they did rally, and by the time the band closed with Spoonful, everyone was happy they turned out. Turns out Landau has a fine, deep, and rich singing voice.

The thing is this with great musicians – they are never limited by their material. They will find a way to “get there” musically and take the audience somewhere with them on the shoulders of their musicianship. They did that in spades, several times during the show. Most notably on an original called Underwear, that had a most bizarre, abrupt time-change interlude that featured a remarkable Strat solo by Landau, while Ford, Haslip, and Novak provided the ethereal backdrop. That, for me, was the highlight of the show – it was magic and made me glad I saw this configuration of musicians.

Everyone got to play. Ford with Dumble tone, did his lead thing as well as showcasing his overlooked super-tasty comping behind Landau’s solos. Haslip, who more than any other virtuoso bass player working today, never overplays – fully supported the deep grooves set by Novak. When Jimmy solo’s, you realize he could overplay all night, and fans would probably love it. He remains committed to the rhythm – which Novak was laying down with fury.  Novak too never overplayed, stepped up with his poly-rhythms and ghost notes when the music allowed.These guys are all pros.

And then there was Landau who toured with Ford three decades ago. Many who I was seated with didn’t know Michael Landau (this included a few guitar players). I have known of Mike for years and followed him through his solo work (Check out Tales from the Bulge) and Burning Water. His style, which like Jeff Beck eschews a pick and uses the whammy bar, is just different. It was a great compliment to Ford who solo style is more linear. This contrast of lead styles worked well, and has the potential to awesome (as it was several times during set).

Perhaps once the CD comes out, some of these songs will connect better with the audience. With this much talent on stage, with the right material, every song can be winner.

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