Self-taught Johnnie Bassett never thought much of the barriers between styles, and I Can Make That Happen is better for that.
It’s not just that he combines jump blues and Delta stylings, something that’s interesting but not unexpected. Returning with the same group that made 2009′s The Gentleman Is Back such a crackling success, Bassett mixes soul, R&B and jazz influences into a set that includes a series of originals (most by keyboardist/co-producer Chris Codish) along with some smartly selected older favorites.
That range of textures and emotions belies Bassett’s own fascinating musical narrative: In the 1950s, Bassett was part of groups that backed Big Joe Turner and Ruth Brown. But by the 1960s, he could also be found on the very first recording of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. He’d continue on in this way, with career intersections that include John Lee Hooker and Lowell Fulson, but also Dinah Washington. During a stint in Washington State, he jammed with Jimi Hendrix, backed Tina Turner and Little Willie John — even played in a country and western group.
Together, this comingling of styles is the fuel that gooses I Can Make That Happen along — beginning with its opening track, a funky paean to the Florida-born septuagenarian’s adopted hometown, “Proud to be from Detroit.” Developing from a studio-jam riff, the track finds it groovy propulsion through the thumping bass of James Simonson — with a brightly swinging assist from the Motor City Horns, featuring Kaminiski (the project’s other co-producer), trombonist John Rutherford and trumpeters Bob Jensen and Mark Byerly.
Elsewhere, Bassett tears it up on a pair of good-time blues numbers, “Cha’Mon!” and “Let’s Get Hammered.” But he can also settle into a complex and gratifying solo, sounding something like T-Bone Walker but also Tiny Grimes, as on the title track — which began life as a demo by Codish and Jim “Moose” Brown, of “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” fame.
Bassett and Co. swing a little on the lone instrumental from I Can Make It Happen, saxophonist Keith Kaminiski’s “Dawging Around.” He handles a shared microphone with Detroit diva Thornetta Davis with thoughtful aplomb. Though ever the gentleman, Bassett even indulges in a pair of sly, lightly risque moments in “Spike Boy,” which its delicious train metaphors; and “Love Lessons,” written by Chris Codish’s father Bob. The cover tunes run a similar gamut, from Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” to Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby” to an intriguingly explored new version of Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary.”
Yet somehow I Can Make That Happen, his second project for Skydog/Mack Avenue Records, stands as only the fifth album to feature Bassett as a leader. That’s still difficult to believe, coming from a performer with this much to say.