Felix Cabrera and Jimmy Vivino
" Live At The Turning Point "
Suitcase Sound Recording

Blueswax 8
Rating 8

Strong Camaraderie, Deep Passion, and Big Fun, (11/04/09)

New Yorkers have been musically spoiled in that having the likes of Felix Cabrera and Jimmy Vivino gigging around in various band configurations was like Blues manna from heaven. But several months ago all of that changed when Conan O'Brien moved west taking not one but two Vivinos (Jimmy & Jerry) plus the extraordinary bassist Mike Merritt away from our scene. I've seen the core version of this band many times over the years, and even though there was a studio recording (The Black Italians), none of those great nights was ever (legally) captured and released. Until now, and while the New York City Blues scene has tapered down (no more Manny's Car Wash, Chicago Blues, and countless others), thank goodness for the tiny and wonderful Turning Point Cafˇ in nearby Piermont, NY, which is where this wonderful recording was captured. First and foremost, no egos here, as Cabera and Vivino alternate leadership with ease; the opening "I Didn't Know" vocals are by Vivino, and from the opening notes you know its going to be a great night as the band is coagulated and firing smoothly. Cabrera's immediately on fire and, like a sly cat, Vivino lays low, but not for long as this tune simmers to a sumptuous boil with great guitar riffs, excellent B-3 from Eddy Bishal's Hammond, all held done smartly by bassist Phil Butler and Bill Shroeder's drumming. Next up its Cabrera's turn with his wild "Animalism." Check out Vivino's churning guitar work and Felix's over-the-top vocal chops. Cabrera continues in the spotlight with Paul Butterfield's "Lovin' Cup" slickly rearranged with a dynamite B-3 groove, Vivino's non-stop Bloomfield impersonations that similarly explode into a marvelous blending of his own signature guitar, and Cabrera's intuitive harp.

There's more pedal to metal on "Kid at Heart" which is a driving shuffle where bassist Butler struts his stuff, and Cabrera ignites the entire enchilada. The open chords of Rice Miller's (Sonny Boy Williamson II) "Scared of That Child" sounded familiar, and while Vivino says, "It ain't 'Courageous Cat,'" it's similar," no matter. This is one hip tune, Vivino's vocal is dead on, the band is tighter than Paris Hilton's jeans, Cabrera is in the harp pocket, and Jimmy's solo is just so tasty.

Eddie Harris' instrumental gem "Listen Here" is killer and a workout for the entire band that stylishly weighs in at a little more than ten minutes, yet no one plays on excessively. First up is Bishal's B-3 that burns. Felix then with cat like instincts jumps in, and it's apparent this tune's going to roar, and roar it does as Vivino tries to join the fray gently. But that doesn't last, and off to the races they go!

From Vivino's recording Do What, Now? "Birds Nest On The Ground" is a funky delight with another powerful guitar workout for Jimmy. Note Vivino calling out to the band to "pick it up" as this tune finishes in a high-speed flurry. From Felix's For Green recording, comes "Self Argument in D Minor" where, other than Cabrera's spirited harp attack, comparatively things calm down. Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" allows Cabrera and Vivino to somewhat share vocal duties that lumber along for more than seven minutes (sometimes in Spanish, by Cabrera of course) and eventually segues into Ray Charles and James Burke Oden's "Going Down Slow" vocalized by Vivino. This excellent disc closes on this classic Blues tune that starts slowly but soon is propelled by a searing guitar solo. The boys say goodnight to the crowd, and you know a great time was had by all.

I was fortunate to have seen this exact same band twice this year, both times at the Turning Point, and look forward to more Cabrera/Vivino performances, but with Jimmy's new west coast digs, it won't happen as often. But I just checked www.FelixCabrera.com, and Felix is doing a gig with Vivino in California, so I guess it's just a matter of time as to when Jimmy visits the east coast and returns the favor. In summary, these guys belong together, their chemistry is magical, and their musical respect is obvious and mutual. Let's just hope that the next time(s) they unite they bring along the recorder so that we can have more of this very contagious and spontaneous music. Until that time, enjoy Live At the Turning Point. It's really a special capture of two consummate Blues pros leading an excellent band.

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com