The new Robben Ford Anthology is a two CD set representing the guitarist's early years. The tracks are gleaned from Ford's 1972 and 1976 releases titled "Sunrise", "Discovering The Blues-Live", "Schizophonic" and "Jimmy Witherspoon & Robben Ford Live".
A technical limitation of this site is that the CDs must be placed in only one category. I chose "blues" as Robben Ford is best known in that genre. In fact, the tracks presented on this set encompass blues, fusion and straight-ahead jazz. Ford is showcased on tenor sax, vocals and guitar. Certainly, the Robben Ford collectors will already have this material on vinyl but, to the rest of us, the boxed set provides a great perspective into the career of the "world-class" musician. A nice booklet by jazz writer, Scott Yanow is included in the package.
A native Californian, Robben Ford was born in 1951 and has been playing professionally for over thirty years, having started on tenor sax. Upon exposure to the blues, Ford became interested in the guitar and the work of Mike Bloomfield, part of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The tenor sax was not forgotten but took a backseat to the guitar. He formed a band with his brothers and they all eventually joined the Charlie Musselwhite group. Leaving Musselwhite in 1971 and reviving their own combo, the Fords recorded for Arhoolie. Robben met Jimmy Witherspoon in 1972 and the two toured for about three years. A career as a session guitarist followed and Ford recorded with artists of varied genres such as Bonnie Raitt, Herbie Mann, David Sanborn, Maria Muldaur, Toots Thielmans and dozens more. The eighties found Robben Ford with the Yellowjackets and the rest is history.
Disc One finds the guitarist submerged deeply in the blues with such pieces as B.B. King's "Sweet Sixteen", Willie Dixon's "Red Rooster", and some Ford originals, "Miss Miss" and "Sunrise". In addition to Robben's wailing guitar, Paul Nagle proves his worth with some down and dirty keyboard solos. Jazz fans will like "Eighty One" where Ford switches to tenor sax on the Miles Davis/ Ron Carter vehicle.
Disc Two features a few items by Jimmy Witherspoon and some unique Robben Ford jazz-blues fusion compositions. I really enjoyed the instrumental "Oh Gee" taken a furious tempo with Ford on guitar. The entire group just shines and there are nice bass and keyboard solos. Witherspoon sings a spirited version of Memphis Slim's "Everyday I Have The Blues" and follows up with "S-K Blues" and "Goin' Down Slow". The remaining tracks showcase the leader on some fine jazz pieces playing both sax and guitar.
The total result is a very satisfying anthology of a brilliant and versatile performer who straddles the fine line between blues and jazz to perfection.