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The Mudsliders

JJ Milteau Bastille Blues

JJ Milteau does a lot for the harmonica. First with his albums and his participation to numerous great French singers albums. It has to be noted that there are not so many session musicians whose own production shows a real artistic vision.

Then with his harmonica methods. Is there one French harp player who hasn't used one of JJ's methods at some point ? These methods can be divided in 3 categories:

- The 'pure' methods dealing with the basic technical stuff.

- The tablature books with CD proposing instrumental exercices (with only the theme being transcribed in the book).

- The song-books proposing the complete score of his albums.

This review focuses on the transcription of Bastille Blues, his one but last CD. In fact the album itself already contains a simple but effective instrumental piece ( « Ruine Babines Blues ») and his play-back track as well as tablature in the CD sleevenotes.

The song-book we are talking about here, though, features both the complete transcription of all the harmonica parts of each track (theme and choruses, in tablature and regular notation) and all the original play-backs on a CD. This is perfect for playing great songs with one of the best French line-ups!

Each piece is introduced by a little commentary written by JJ on the spirit of the song, the harps and the gear used.

In JJ's song-books, the technical level is quite high: no overblows (or nearly) but a perfect control of all the traditional bends and a real dexterity on the whole range of the harmonica. However, the songs featured in Bastille Blues are marginally easier than those featured in previous albums like "Routes" or "Merci d'etre venus..."

However, the odds are that the majority of the harp players are going to reproduce the themes and not analyse the improvisation, which can be more difficult to deal with. It is probably more interesting to create one's own improvisations on known and catchy themes. That being said, it's nice to have the transcription of specific and tricky parts of a solo when one wants to study them in detail.

Like in his previous albums, JJ sometimes uses harps tuned differently than Richter (often Harmonic or Natural Minor) which are, as he says himself, "good boosters when one lacks ideas". So this is the chance to start discovering these tunings different but as interesting as the classical Richter.

Of particular interest are : :
- « Rue du Rendez-Vous », a jewel of sensitivity and nostalgia, played on an E Harmonic Minor harp. It's slow and practically without bends, so it's fairly straightforward to play. The accompaniment perfectly sets the mood, with bass, piano and the drums played with brushes. Laurent Vernerey, JJ's great bass player, has co-written the tune.

- « Au Bellevue I et II » : two differents versions of the same theme, in 3rd position. The jazzy version actually features a few overblows in the solo ! Very rare on JJ's CD ! The second version is straight-ahead blues, very 'binary', which illustrates the possibility of completly changing the atmosphere of a given tune.

-« Réunion » : This peace is a duo with JJ on diatonic and Olivier Ker Ourio on Chromatic. Very simple but effective for the diatonic part and the chance to try the chromatic for diatonic players.

At the end of the book, the guitar chords of all the songs are written down.

My only regret about this product is that the two bonus tracks from the limited edition release of Bastille Blues are not featured in the book. It's a shame, particularly for the great tune "Butte aux Cailles". 

Laurent Vigouroux