The harmonica has developed something of a dicey rep. Clueless audience members playing amateur harp along with the band, tired revivals of yet another purist Little Walter imitator, and Blues Traveler-style wanking tend to make us forget that in the proper hands it is an instrument that in one moment can create a highly emotive cry (see: Junior Wells), and in another a breathtaking (no pun intended) saxophone-style solo (see: Toots Thielmans).
Cuban-born, Canadian-bred, harmonica player Carlos del Junco is fully capable of both types of moments. On Blues Mongrel, Little Walter's "Blues With a Feeling" and Sonny Boy Williams' "Nine Below Zero" prove that he is, to coin a cliche, steeped in the tradition. But if that were the sum of his efforts he would be just another in the current long line of purist revivalists whose well-intentioned efforts are contributing to the blues becoming moribund.
Luckily, del Junco has no interest in merely reproducing the sounds of the past, wonderful as they are. On this (as on his previous releases), he and cohort, guitarist Kevin Briet, expand on the jazz and country elements of the blues that are so often overlooked by the curators of the tradition. Like his mentor, Howard Levy of the Flecktones, del Junco is capable of playing chromatically on a standard blues-style harmonica. For the musically unschooled, this means that he can play all the notes on an instrument that was designed to play just some of them. Fortunately for us he uses this facility for good rather than evil, in the form of tastefully melodic solos--like the one on "Let's Mambo," a tune that celebrates the land of his ancestors. He is one of those rare musicians whose ideas are completely unhampered by the limitations of the instrument and, more crucial, whose ideas are unceasingly interesting.
He is joined on a virtually equal footing by Kevin Breit from John And The Sisters, who, after two years of lucrative restraint in Nora Jones' band, is unleashed here. Like his Junco partner (sorry, couldn't resist), Breit's definition of blues expands to include chicken pickin', be-bop, and exuberant humor. His five compositions provide perfect vehicles for guitar and harmonica excursions that range from joyful to heartbreaking, celebrating the full array of what roots music has to offer.
Blues Mongrel pulls off the difficult trick of proving that music can be simultaneously sophisticated and raw, technically adept and highly emotional, serious as a heart attack and as much fun as a circus clown. Thanks to artists like Carlos del Junco and Kevin Breit, the blues will continue to live and breathe for the foreseeable future. •
Michael Ross - http://www.puremusic.com/carlos.html
Harmonica master Carlos del Junco reminds people what they've been missing out˜assuming they're not already familiar with him. Blues Mongrel, his fifth release, transcends categorization and the surprises come fast and furious. Such as a total overhaul of Blues With A Feeling, as Carlos and guitarist Kevin Breit, twist it into a hybrid--half Little Walter-ish desolation and half Son Seals-like angst and fury--all surrounded by an arrangement owing as much to avant-garde Jazz as to Blues. Two imaginations like these ensure that this musical envelope will be pushed.
There‚s a kaleidoscopic of musical ideas and shapes: much like Bela Fleck, Carlos del Junco effortlessly blends numerous genres (Blues, Latin, Bluegrass, Jazz, Bebop, Country, Classical, R&B) into a coherent whole. For instance, a tantalizing version of the Man From Flint theme will get you leaping with joy. No Particular Place is lush, lively, and brimming with humor. Other instrumental treats include Let's Mambo, emblematic of the sensuous Latin rhythms that ripple so effortlessly throughout Blues Mongrel. Every one of these 12 glorious tracks is deserving of lavish praise, but Plain Old (Down Home) Blues blazes a special trail by stretching the Blues to its outer edge. Sonny Boy Williamson's Nine Below Zero is given an absolutely spine-tingling updating by dint of the dazzling virtuosity of Mr. del Junco. An extraordinary talent like Carlos del Junco (or Kevin Breit for that matter) would be a household name in most other countries. Blues Mongrel by Carlos del Junco is a triumph, and it merits my highest recommendation.
1997 - 2009 Harmonica Player of the Year - SEVEN times out of the Canadian Maple Blues Award's TWELVE year history
2005 "Best Blues" Award- NOW Magazine, Toronto, ON
1998 JUNO NOMINATION for BIG BOY cd
1996 Blues Musician of the Year Award&Jazz Report Magazine
1993 Hohner World Harmonica Championship – Trossingen, Germany Two Gold Medals in both diatonic blues and diatonic jazz
Born in Havana, Cuba, del Junco (loosely translated "of the reeds") immigrated with his family at the age of one. He bent his first note on a harmonica when he was fourteen, making his debut with his high school math teacher at a student talent night. In his early 20's del Junco was immersed in a visual arts career; he graduated with honours from a four year program, majoring in sculpture at the Ontario College of Art. Sculpture has definitely had an influence on his outlook on music: "Music is just a different way of creating textures and shapes."
Carlos is certainly not your straight ahead blues harmonica player. Carlos' influences are far and wide and can quickly stray from a straight ahead blues groove into more adventurous roots related territory which may include, jazzy, Latin, New Orleans second line grooves, or ska. He will occasionally take a blues standard and flip it upside down to breath new life into it. He has recorded with Bruce Cockburn, Kim Mitchell, Oliver Schroer, Zappacosta, and has also worked with Dutch Mason, Hoc Walsh (Downchild Blues Band) and Holly Cole.
Playing a ten hole diatonic harmonica, Carlos has developed the unique ability to play chromatically by using a recently developed "overblow" technique taught to him by jazz virtuoso Howard Levy. Overall, this approach to the diatonic harmonica, although much more difficult to achieve, is in many ways more expressive and communicative than the mechanized tone produced by the chromatic harmonica . Carlos is one of the few pioneers of this overblow method, bringing musical credibility to what has still been considered by many in the music industry - a fringe folk instrument. The sophisticated sound produced by del Junco is at once sensitive, soulful, and sexy while never forgetting the rawness inherent in blues music.
...In March/April 1995 del Junco travelled to Chicago with a Canada Council grant to study with Howard Levy. This year saw the release of of the critically acclaimed Just Your Fool a sizzling live session with Kevin Breit on guitar, Al Duffy on bass, and Geoff Arsenault on drums. It was this CD and the collaborative effort with Thom "Champagne Charlie" Roberts Big Road Blues, that won Carlos the 1996 Blues Musician Of The Year Award...
Carlos has toured Canada regularly since 1996 and tours often in Europe and the United States. He has played all the major jazz, blues, and folk festivals across Canada.