Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Memoriam: Bert Jansch

Pentangle: Sweet Child


Bert Jansch: Angie


Most of the time, Bert Jansch is described as a British folk musician. Fair enough, since many of the songs he performed were from the British folk cannon. But Jansch’s first inspiration was the American blues musician Big Bill Broonzy. Broonzy started out playing for dancers in juke joints, so he had to lay down a solid beat. But, on top of that beat, Broonzy had a gift for improvising. He could get that beat so solid that you could still feel it, even when Broonzy wasn’t playing it during a solo. Bert Jansch learned his lessons well, and always provided rock solid rhythm for the group Pentangle, while John Renbourn took the flashy solos. In Pentangle, Jansch also played the intricate finger-picked rhythm lines that are a feature of tradition British folk, and the group added rock, jazz, and even Indian influences. As you can hear on Sweet Child, Jansch could handle it all beautifully. But, as a solo artist, Jansch often looked back to the blues, albeit with a British accent. His performance of Angie is a fine example of this. There is that solid beat, but the freedom of the solos is also very much there. Jansch did not play by the musical rules, which is a fine definition of creativity. But he always gave the song what it needed. He won’t be laying down that solid beat any more, but I can still feel it.

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