Greg Szlapczynski

Greg Szlapczynski - Gregtime

Ben asked me to review Greg Szlapczynski’s new live cd GregTime. I’ve really appreciated Ben’s efforts in raising our awareness concerning the great players on his side of the "Pond." I was fortunate that Howard Levy stopped by while I was preparing this review, so I have the benefit of Howard’s insights to pass along in addition to my own.

Greg is most decidely in the generation of diatonic players who are extending the possibilities of the instrument. Howard’s comment was, "This guy’s got ideas." What I most appreciated was the range of his musical tastes: from funk to fusion to pop then right on through the blues vocabulary . . . it’s all there.

I also, being a recording studio owner and producer, appreciated the quality of the recording. The drums sounded great. The harmonica was mixed right where I would want it if it were my own recording. The vocals and guitar and keys were also blended in a very appropriate way. I’d say that the horns (when they appeared) were a little less distinct, but that was far preferable to their competing with the aforementioned parts. Great job all around!

I’d like to go through the disc tune by tune:

  1. Pour Le Meilleur-(Greg Szlap)

  2. Ben is going to have to translate from the French here, but the tune itself needed no translation at all. It is an instrumental that grabs both the listener and the audience from the first note. I guess I would call the style "Fusion Funk" if I had to characterize it. I just love this kind of approach to the harmonica and Greg nails it. His tone, lightly colored by distortion, is reminiscent of Lee Oscar or Milteau. I can clearly hear the Milteau influence on his tone. Carlos del Junco hipped me to Milteau’s Explorer back in 1991, and I can see how an entire generation of European players would want to pick up on his luscious sound.

    I just love how great the drums sound, and how great Greg sounds blowing lines with the horn section. Greg’s solo is in cross-harp, with some sort of delay. He’s obviously listened to the Lee Oscar songbook, then later punctuates his point with a lot rougher tougher and distorted playing that works very well.

    The guitarist (Jeremie Tepper) takes over midway through the tune and gives it a decided rock-fusion edge to which the audience is very receptive. Greg and the band then come back in to blow the head and take it out. Very strong effort. I especially like that it’s not just an exercise to blow the harp, but a very hip and clever tune.

  3. Do What You Do-(Greg Szlap)

  4. Greg starts the next tune as the applause dies down and utterly changes the mood by tongue-blocking some Sonny-Boy-type lines. The sound is amplified acoustic and again mixed great with great "tremolo" on the opening tongue-blocked chords. (According to Joe Filisko, "tremolo" differs from "vibrato" in that there is no bending of the notes-and Greg handles it very well).

    The thing that I like about this tune is that Greg takes a basic blues shuffle "feel" and mixes it with elements of classic pop tunes; extended melodic lines through the verses, with a distinct and well-written bridge. His vocals are very solid, but with a real nice vocal "tone" which is often missing when modern players try to sing the blues.

    I couldn’t help suppress a smile hearing Greg’s obvious strong "feel" for the American blues (southern) vocal idiom as I live right here in North Carolina. It reminds me of a guy I met a couple of years ago at the Augusta Festival in West Virginia named Dominic Turner. Dominic was a slide player from Australia. Dominic had the whole Delta blues thing down . . . slide, voice, you-name-it. One day I asked him how he got so obsessed with this obscure little folk style from so far away in the American Deep South. He took a swig on his beer, then replied with a wry, sly little grin, "Ya gotta understand mate, Ahm from way deep down in South Australia."

    So, I guess that Greg must be from way deep down in South Poland.

  5. Niech Poplyna Lzy-(Greg Szlap)

  6. Mood change again, this time to a minor key. The song is sung in what I assume is Polish, so I can’t tell you much what it’s about. Musically, he again shows a nice feel in how to construct a tune. I like how the horns work here with him. There’s a lot more space in this piece, so the horns blend in very well with the rest of the band. I would have liked to have heard him approach this tune from another direction than the cross-harp minor that he chose, but he again obviously knows what he is doing and plays through the changes melodically, powerfully, and beautifully.

  7. B.A.R.J.O.-(Greg Szlap)

  8. This one starts out with a cool guitar/hi-hat reggae feel (which I of course love to hear). He then works through an utterly cool little musical interlude. Howard tells me that the line he plays is based on the whole-tone scale (thanks for the heads-up there Mr. Levy). He then resolves it with a more traditional rock-styled section in which he moves up a half-step. Then, it's back to the whole tone reggae-jazz parts. He plays it in the amplified acoustic style and it’s just way-cool. He of course uses all the modern diatonic bends and overblows to pull this off.

    The keyboard player (Marine Bercot) gets a chance to be featured after this and takes a very satisfying ride through all the appropriate idioms associated with this musical territory.

    The guitar plays it very cool throughout, which is a nice change from his huge rock/fusion tone of the preceding pieces, and handles it very well. The drums (Marc Grelier) and bass (Sophie Bourdon) work the reggae-jazz groove very tastefully and keep the whole thing "sounding" just right. I like it!!!

  9. Hookie Boogie-(J.J. Milteau)

  10. Greg then gets the crowd clapping (and no doubt dancing) with a cajun-inflected blues instrumental piece from his mentor Mr. Milteau which resolves into cool jazz-inflected, behind the beat shuffle. The joint must’ve been a-jumpin’ as Mr. Milteau joined Greg up on stage. I can’t tell you for sure who played what, but the whole piece was very solid and obviously very inspirational for all involved. I’d say that Greg played the first-position-y high notes as he has that sound on some of the other pieces. They resolve their solos with a tongue-blocked line right out of the Sonny-Boy lickbook that no doubt sent the crowd into a frenzy.

  11. Who Do You Love (E. McDaniels)

  12. Greg is again joined by Mr. Milteau on this classic shuffle. Greg’s vocal is again confident and authentic (in a Euro-sort of way). I’m gonna guess that Mr. Milteau starts things off with a low-F, then Greg comes in after with the high-F harp. It’s pretty cool stuff and the crowd obviously likes it. Sounds like a good time was had by all-which is the whole point of this type of tune-isn’t it???

  13. Lois-(Greg Szlap)

  14. Back to Greg-land. This tune sounds like it could have been written and performed in 1958 (in the Kind of Blue mode). I like how Greg confidently constructs an appropriate melody, and plays it well; again handling the bends and overblows very comfortably. I’ve always felt that the harmonica has a great affinity for trumpet-sounding pieces, and this is what Greg achieves here. The band again handles the foray into this territory very solidly with another nice keyboard part featured. I especially liked the very tasty and tempered guitar work.

  15. The Blues Will Never Leave You-(Greg Szlap)

  16. The guitarist switches axes here to his acoustic, and Greg plays a real tasty acoustic blues intro. They blend vocals really nicely, which makes me think that they’ve "done" this duo-thing before. The tune is again written nicely with some well-written little melodic extensions, which Greg plays through consciously knowing when certain notes are called for to compliment the chord changes. Neat stuff. The rest of the band then joins in (very tastefully), and it all works great.

  17. Fifi a Donf-(O. Ker Curio)

  18. Greg is then joined by chromatic player Oliver Ker Curio on one of the chro-man’s tunes. It’s a minor-keyed swinging instrumental excursion into all the cool places that you’d want to hear the chromatic go through. I especially liked the turn-arounds and the dual chromatic and diatonic line-playing. Greg follows with a lovely melodic turn on the diatonic showing his varied and very confident third-position chops (again working the bends and overblows to full advantage).

  19. Can’t Live Without-(Greg Szlap)

  20. The guitarist again pulls out the acoustic to launch into a classic Van Morrison-sounding tune; which of course is one of my favorite places to go. The only thing missing is the women singing backups. The piano and guitar interaction during the verses is very subtle and very very effective. It sounds like Greg starts out his solo with a low-D harp, then switches to the regular version, which sounds way cool of course.

  21. Jolie Cosette-(Greg Szlap)
    This tune sounds like a first position cajun romp; lots of trills and chords to affect a zydeco. He pulls it off just fine. The guitarist’s choice to use a distortion-colored tone here is not what "I" would have chosen and I felt like it detracted from the vibe that the harmonica established, but each to his own in matters such as these.

  1. Run Me Down-(Traditional)
    Greg again pulls out his amplified harp hat for this one. The horns are blaring and there’s a cool little vocal chorus in the back callin’ and respondin’ . . . Greg’s fine sense of Chicago phrasing melds well with his confident and seamless excursions into less well traveled harmonica territory on his solo here. A keeper . . .

  1. Tie Break Blues-(J.M. Ecay)
    The set concludes with a tune penned by the guitarist Jean-Marie Ecay. It again displays Greg’s abilities to play a melody cleanly and highlight that aspect of the diatonic.


Greg Szlapczynski is an important voice in the emerging voice of the diatonic. He has done his homework and studied the blues masters and has confidently and reverently incorporated many aspects of that technique. He has also obviously listened to Milteau and Levy (and Carlos del Junco?) and Lee Oscar and Weather Report and Van Morrison and Miles Davis as well. I love that he has a broad musical palette that he draws from, and has the technique to pull it off. Any harmonica player would want to hear what he is doing; but harmonica or not, this is just plain good music.

Paul Messinger

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