Erwin Helfer – Erwin Helfer Way
The Sirens Records
This Chicago piano legend has been on the scene for over forty years, playing with many of the blues greats. At one time he accompanied Mama Yancey, wife of the late great Jimmy Yancey. He has released albums on his own along with many collaborations. Along the way he has absorbed many piano styles and forged them together to create his own sound. This release finds him playing in various configurations: solo, trio and full band. He enlisted the services of two well-versed sax players-John Brumbach and Skinny Williams. What he has come up with is a joyful journey through Chicago and New Orleans piano stylings.
The CD leads off with the perennial “stage entrance” number “Chicken Shack”. We get a great version here with satisfying sax and piano breaks. The slow gospel flavored “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” evokes a New Orleans jazz funeral, although with just one sax. Erwin does up “The Fives” proudly in this boogie-woogie workout, a tune popularized by the great Cripple Clarence Lofton. “Within”, an original composition is a slow and brooding solo piano blues. On “Exactly Like You” he continues the New Orleans piano player tradition of doing up standards in New Orleans style, ala Professor Longhair. Erwin teams up with Barrelhouse Chuck for a two piano boogie-woogie romp on the original “E & C Boogie” to great effect.
There are two interpretations of the immortal Jelly Roll Morton’s tunes. On the slow and deliberate “Winin’ Boy” he is backed by drums and bass only. “Tin Roof Blues” feels like a leisurely stroll through the streets of New Orleans. John Brumbach’s sax playing here is “spot on”, not to mention Erwin’s deft piano technique.
The old “chestnut” “Sweet Georgia Brown” is awarded a loose and limber delivery, highlighted once again by Brumbach’s sax and piano by the master. Skinny Williams joins on sax to double the fun on the exuberant closer “The Preacher”.
There is much here for the piano, blues or New Orleans music fan. Erwin and company cover the gamut of piano blues from happy romps to slow introspective numbers. Every player here right down to the rhythm section is a seasoned pro.
The production by Steven B. Dollins keeps everything crisp and clear. This offering is a pleasant break from the usual guitar drenched blues that is so prevalent in today’s music. Give yourself the gift of a journey into piano blues heaven.