Memphis Slim & Philippe LeJeune: Dialog in Boogie

memphisslim.jpgWhen I was in high school, one of my favorite disks from the Chess Records “The Real Folk Blues” series was the Memphis Slim collection. Memphis Slim (born in 1915 as either John Chatman or Peter Chatman — sources differ) — was raised in Memphis (duh) and started recording around 1940 after he moved to Chicago. He was one of the most amazing blues piano players of all time, and quite probably my favorite. He recorded about 20 albums under his own name and played on many others; after he toured Europe with Willie Dixon in 1962, he was so taken with Paris that he remained there until his death in 1988.

This fact eventually led to the current album under consideration, because in 1968 French classical pianist Philippe LeJeune saw Slim perform and became a blues freak. 12 years later, in 1980, LeJeune and Memphis Slim recorded an album together: “Dialog in Boogie,” and you have to fucking hear it to believe it.

The pair recorded as a trio with a guy named Michel Denis on drums; these two cats co-improvise their way through 10 tracks (5 written by Slim,  4 cowritten by Slim and LeJeune, and one authored by Denis) of pure genius. The classically-trained LeJeune is the ideal compliment for virtuoso bluesman Slim. Though some of the songs are clearly in the blues realm, it’s during the flat-out boogie-woogie numbers that you can really hear the virtuosity of the two players as they improvise around each other as seamlessly as I have ever heard two musicians play. In order to get the full impact of this disc, you simply must listen to it on headphones on high volume, whereupon it may get a little crowded in your brain with Slim and Philippe engaging in a smoothass frenzied fandango all over your head. likens LeJeune’s playing to “a syncopated freight train,” which I would agree with if freight trains were also surgeons. The point that this is music with chutzpah is well taken, however; if you can listen to this disk and not slap things rhythmically, I suggest that you are probably, politely put, unwell. One of the best disks I’ve ever heard from two pianists with chops that could feed a small nation.

Now the fun part… try finding it. I have been listening to a copy I checked out of the Oakland Public Library; has a copy for €15 and yea, that’s pretty much it. I can’t even find a scan of the damn thing online, hence the crappy digital picture reproduced here.

Yet another best-album-no-one-but-me-has-ever-heard, which makes me either a dipshit or a badass, depending.


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