Tomás Doncker, internationally acclaimed guitarist, has collaborated with Pulitzer prized winning poet, Yusef Komanyakaa, to produce “Big Apple Blues,” a funky, bluesy portrayal of New York City and all the history it holds. Doncker’s past collaborations are nothing to sneeze at, including names like Yoko Ono and Grammy-winning producer Prince Charles Alexander. Yusef Komanyakaa, a professor at New York University and world renowned poet, has seen more of the world than just New York, as a Louisana native who spent a considerable amount of time in Vietnam. Even though his words are centered around the Big Apple in this project, they paint a unique and authentic picture of New York that is undoubtedly fed by Mr. Komunyakaa’s incredible life experiences. As a result, Tomás Doncker Band‘s finished project is a wealth of creativity and vibrant storytelling.
The album begins with a bang, the title song starting with no less than a rumbling explosion of growling vocals, sizzling bass and the tremor of sustained guitar riffs. But the track soon settles into a smooth and dark mood of storytelling, which builds with steady intensity. In “The New Day,” in which the hard workweek is contrasted against the slowness of Church Sunday, and the opportunity to recharge. The song itself sounds like a Sunday morning, with bright sunny chords around a slow swinging drum beat and bass, laced with the sweetness of Doncker’s vocals. You can listen to it below.
The whole album is a unique combination of Southern soul and city chaos, which makes sense when you look at the title, “Big Apple Blues.” In fact, it seems to be held together almost entirely by contradictions. Doncker’s raspy vocals are hard to place at first; is it gritty and angry, or smooth and smiling? This contradictory makeup ends up working out to his advantage. Doncker’s versatility shows off brightly in the course of the album, as he puts to use both the sweetness and roughness of his texture at appropriate times, and painting a colorful, vivid picture for the listener. Komanyakaa’s lyrics bring the entire vision together, of course, with a style of storytelling that keeps the imagination at work while playing through the album.
When it comes to the tracks on “Big Apple Blues,” the bluesy-er, the better. The album hits its strong points with songs like “Hellfighters of Harlem,” which is most clearly an ode to the rich civil rights history of New York, and is equipped with harmonies that are reminiscent of the hauntingly full vocals of The Temptations in “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” “At This Midnight Hour” showcases the tiny tremors in Doncker’s voice, which can be hard to catch without the opportunities that specific song presents. Check out “Hellfighters of Harlem” below.
“Coney Island” presents a similar vibe as “The New Day,” but with a more idyllic, nostalgic feel. You can hear the smile in Doncker’s voice as he communicates Komanyakaa’s picturesque language. This song serves as the example for how Yusef and Tomás’ collaboration works; Yusef’s lyrics here are childlike and simple, and Tomás’ guitar and vocals imitate- and support -that exceptionally well. Doncker provides the color for an image constructed by Komunyakaa.
Their seemingly effortless ability to support each other’s medium using their own probably has something to do with the fact that the two have collaborated before, which yielded “Moanin’ at Midnight: The Howlin’ Wolf Project” album. The project was more than well received from sources such as Popmatters, All About Jazz, and Howlin’ Wolf’s own official website. The album is officially released today, October 21st, via True Groove Records. “Big Apple Blues” will be introduced live to audiences at the Dodge Poetry Festival, October 23-26th, sponsored by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. You can listen to the entirety of Big Apple Blues on Soundcloud now.