by Sandor Slomovits
Mark Braun (aka Mr. B) returns to the Ark on Saturday, November 27, for his tenth annual Thanksgiving weekend show. He also has a new CD and a new piano. He's clearly in love with this piano. The new recording, B at Home, is, as he writes on the liner notes, "the tangible result of the first several days of my relationship with this new piano." Think of it as their honeymoon.
The object of his affection is a 1924 Steinway model L. And we get to eavesdrop on this love affair. This is no awkward puppy love, but the meeting of a mature master musician with a lovely instrument, the two of them bringing out undiscovered treasures in each other.
Over the last three decades, Mr. B has studied, honed, and mastered his chosen field of blues and boogie piano. But he has also ranged widely outside those genres. The first tune here is "Festina Tarde," Italian for "Make haste slowly" a perfect way to begin a love affair. It starts as a tango in a minor key, with occasional blues colorings; it's only near the end, when Braun smooths out the rhythm and starts to swing, that we know we're listening to a bluesman.
"High-Heeled Sneakers" at first tiptoes through a delicate jazzy blues, mostly on the sparkling east end of the keyboard; gradually brings in the gravelly west end, like an approaching storm; and finally segues into a trademark Mr. B boogie stomp, ending with a chord that sounds like thunder.
There are expertly played jazz standards, like Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing," and classic blues, like Ma Rainey's "C. C. Rider." On an elegant "Amazing Grace," Lady Steinway exhibits an especially warm tone, demonstrating that this couple knows how to act in church, as well as in honky-tonks. The traditional Colombian folk melody "La Piragua," with its minor key and lush Latin harmonies, serves as a refreshing counterpoint to
the angular jazz and blues voicings of most of the recording.
Nearly half the tunes are Mr. B originals, low-down to highbrow, rowdy to lustrous, raunchy to lilting. The CD closes with "Duffy's Prayer," an original with a melody so lyrical you can almost hear the words.
Mr. B has always loved his pianos. In the early days of his career he'd sometimes carry one up two flights of stairs so he would not have to rely on an inferior instrument. He's not going to do that with Lady Steinway. But we can be sure that this honeymoon bodes well for a long, happy, and productive marriage.
[Originally published in November, 2004.]