Taj Mahal rolled out the roadhouse version of his multiple personalities, emphasizing the brisk and gritty R&B that influenced several of his late-1990s recordings. All fun and good, the horn-driven evening was a throwback to the soul revues that Little Milton and Bobby Bland have kept alive, yet this show lacked the diversity that has made Mahal such an engaging performer for the last 30 years.
Show paralleled his new live album, “Shoutin’ in Key,” issued on his Kan-Du label and distributed by Hannibal, which last year released his stellar collaboration with Mali’s Toumani Diabate, “Kulanjan.” The House of Blues show started, as does the CD, with a joyful and lengthy run-through of the old Bill Doggett instrumental hit “Honky Tonk” and then ran rough-shod with Otis Redding’s “Think.”
Set peaked when Mahal slipped out of the Southern soul vein and tapped into more sublime work such as Horace Silver’s groove-‘n’-bop “Senor Blues” and some slow blues. Mahal, disappointingly, left his guitar in the stand for much of the evening, turning over the lion’s share of the solos to saxophonist Joe Sublett and second guitarist Denny Freeman. It allowed the band to consistently roar, especially on Hank Ballard’s “The Hootchi Cootchi Coo” and Redding’s “Mr. Pitiful,” but it kept humor or nuance to a minimum.
Mahal is among performers on a short list who have set the in-concert bar incredibly high for themselves. His new album is taken from three nights of lengthy shows at the Mint on Pico Boulevard, perfs that were exhilarating, far-ranging and career encompassing. The album, narrowed in scope — one imagines — for continuity’s sake, reflects but a quarter of the sort of music that reverberated through that hall a year ago.