A surefire way to test the mettle of a musician is with the extended solo. The more "blow" choruses there are to fill, the clearer the read on a player's resources -- and limits. Blues-harmonica ace Mark Hummel is one of those who pass this test with flying colors. Well-versed in the work of the masters, Hummel reignites classic harp sounds and techniques with his own persevering sense of invention. It's the old sound and the real feel, but the Oakland-based Hummel consistently finds fresh ways to put it, verse after verse.
A regular in the Bay Area blues scene since moving there in the early '70s, Hummel first appeared on record in 1985. His catalog numbers eight albums, including a pair featuring late piano-and-vocal legend Charles Brown. Quite unsurprisingly for an outfit from those parts, Hummel's Blues Survivors belong to the West Coast movement that includes other harp-fronted bands such as Little Charlie & the Nightcats and Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, which fuse classic Chicago blues with swing and roots-rock. Hummel's next disc, Blowin' My Horn, due out this fall, sports blues-shaded covers of Buddy Rich and Johnny Otis alongside the leader's own tunes and, oh yeah, plenty of long harp solos.