Like many of the black blues and jazz musicians of his generation, Memphis Slim found both an audience and a home in Europe for the last 20-plus years of his life, basing himself in Paris beginning in 1962 and remaining there until his death in 1988.
In that span he recorded an astounding 50 or so albums, not including the various recordings of his live performances that still continue to surface.
While it could be argued that his peak years were in the '40s and '50s, the recordings he made in the last third of his life were incredibly intimate and frank, and he didn't shy away from addressing racial and social injustice in the later songs, even while he kept his blues performances smooth and accessible.
This fine set, recorded in New York in 1967 on one of his U.S.
tours, is a case in point.
Slim sounds warm, assured, and often pointedly poignant on songs like the majestic "Freedom" and the direct and honest "I Am the Blues." He blasts loose at the piano for the barrelhouse "Broadway Boogie," then coasts warmly through the bubbling "A Long Time Gone." On the marvelous "Ballin' the Jack" he hits a light, swinging groove that isn't so much blues or jazz but a simple, elegant mixture of the two, given atmosphere by Eddie Chamblee's tenor sax and Billy Butler's sleek guitar.
Slim recorded so much that it is difficult to say exactly when he was at his best, since he was always professional and solid, but this set is undeniably special, featuring Slim doing his thing backed by a fine band, and listeners will definitely get a feel here for the measure of the man.