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Carlos Del Junco brings mad harp skills to Hornby Island

World champion jazz/blues harmonica player Carlos Del Junco is launching his new album, Mongrel Mash, with a tour of Western Canada that includes a March 6 show at the Hornby Community Hall.
Carlos del Junco blows his harp March 3 at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River and March 6 at the Hornby Community Hall.

At first, world champion jazz/blues harmonica player Carlos Del Junco thought a live album would be a fitting followup to his Juno-nominated 2010 release Steady Movin.’

But, after growing frustrated with sound quality issues, the two-time Juno nominee decided instead to make a “live album in the studio,” capturing all the rawness, energy and diversity of Del Junco’s live show with the crystal clarity of a studio set.

The result is Mongrel Mash, a collection of the old, new, borrowed and blue, showcasing Del Junco’s mad skills on harp and longtime collaborator Kevin Breit’s singularly quirky musical accompaniment — plus the rock-solid backing of the rest of the Blues Mongrels: Henry Heillig on bass, Jorn Andersen on drums and percussion, and Denis Keldie on organ.

The album opens with a swampy, rockin’ Breit original called The Crazy Bastard, and follows it up with Del Junco’s own My Favourite Uncle, an airy, summery-sounding blend of New Orleans and Hawaii.

From there, it moves through two more covers and three updated renditions of Del Junco audience favourites before closing with Lil’ Laptop, a new-millennium remake of Rockit 88, in which fast computers replace fast cars as the focus of macho one-upmanship.

Two Mark Sepic compositions from Del Junco’s 2001 album Up and at ’Em get new treatments on Mongrel Mash. Mariachi goes from a middle-of-the-road Mexican piece to an edgy, rockin’ Latin romp in which Del Junco truly makes the piece his own. The Field, on the other hand, slows down to become a moving melody with a long, atmospheric guitar lead-in courtesy of Breit.

Just like any great live set, the album is punctuated with rip-roaring extended solos and plenty of raw, impassioned playing.

Del Junco is one of only a handful of musicians in the world adept at using the overblow technique on diatonic harmonica. The extremely difficult technique, taught to him by jazz virtuoso Howard Levy, allows him to play chromatically on an instrument that is normally meant to be played in one key centre — and it is in many ways more expressive and communicative than the mechanized tone produced by the chromatic harmonica. Del Junco’s sound ranges from sensitive and soulful Stan Getz-like riffs to raw, rockin’ and raunchy solos that prompted one reviewer to call him the Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica.

The Cuban-born, Toronto-raised Del Junco has been named Harmonica Player of the Year seven times in the Maple Blues Awards’ 14 year history. He’s earned the Best Blues title from Now magazine, and he’s received Jazz Report magazine’s Blues Musician of the Year Award. His albums Big Boy and Steady Movin’ were both nominated for Junos.

He began his solo career in 1993 after winning two gold medals at the Hohner World Harmonica Championships in Germany — in both diatonic blues and diatonic jazz. He has released a total of eight solo albums and has recorded with Bruce Cockburn, Kim Mitchell, Cassandra Vassick, Oliver Schroer, and Zappacosta. He has also worked with Dutch Mason, Hoc Walsh (Downchild Blues Band), and Holly Cole.

Del Junco tours regularly in Canada, the U.S. and Germany. He is launching Mongrel Mash with a tour of Western Canada starting March 2. Del Junco blows his harp March 3 at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River and March 6 at the Hornby Community Hall.

— Heather Kitching Publicity