We got the sad news about the passing of Tommy Ardolino yesterday morning. The NRBQ drummer was a perpetual wonder, the hard-hitting bottom of a rhythmically sophisticated band that made complex maneuvers – combining swing’s glide with rock ‘n’ roll’s thwap – seem as easy as pie. Moon Pie, too be exact. My Facebook comment was something like “he was determined to bring pleasure to every gig.” There’s no question about that.
The beloved outfit has been adrift for a while. A health crisis hiatus turned into a dangerous fissure and then into an insurmountable crack from what I hear. Joey lives on the Cape and plays strong music with Johnny under the name the Spampinato Brothers. Al, who left long ago, lives in Nashville, writes hits for chart dudes and shows up for occasional reunion fests in Western Mass. Terry has won a fight with cancer and has recently morphed his well regarded Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet into NRBQ – a gutsy move, and quite a legend to live up to, of course; the Q is one of the most revered rock groups around, so no wonder lots of people have their eyebrows raised about the nomenclature thing. There was a big story on the transition in the Boston Globe, and Adams was cast as a guy defending a controversial decision. On the newish Keep This Love Goin’ (Clang!) the band drives through a bunch of songs that are cut from the classique Q template. They’re jumping and fun, odd and entertaining. They tip the hat to zydeco kingpin Boozoo Chavis and raid Tin Pan Alley for “Gone With The Wind.”
Opinions differ as to whether the music is in the same ballpark as the group’s best work. One thing’s for sure: Adams is a charismatic bandleader who turns the stage into a hotbed of grooves. Jazz here, rockabilly there, pop all over the place. He knows a mess of tunes, and is a sage filter when it comes to connecting the dots. His new associates are an energetic lot. New Yorkers can sample the stuff for themselves at Iridium on Tuesday, 17 and Wednesday, 18. The group comes complete with the Whole Wheat Horns, this time around master trombonist Art Baron and wily tenor saxophonist Klem Klimek blending together. Wouldjaifyoucould? That’s good.