There’s never any telling what incarnation of Jorma Kaukonen is going to show up. Hot Tuna (electric or acoustic) with lifelong confederate Jack Casady on bass or simply by himself. The one thing you can sure of is that it won’t be in any sort of reunion of the band that made him famous, Jefferson Airplane. Which, when you think about it, is a loss principally in Kaukonen. He and Airplane vocalist Marty Balin made, as the saying goes, beautiful music together. They were the blues and r&b component that fueled the group’s hardest rocking. When Balin quit with Kaukonen and Casady following suit, the group turned into a pop parody of itself.
Primarily, his guitar playing comes straight out of the Blind Rev. Gary Davis book of dramatic, elongated riffs that sound like spider on speed skates. He’s clean to the point of being immaculate and, unlike a lot of technically proficient artists, the passion in his playing is clear. He can mix styles effortlessly – country, bluegrass, blues, rock, even classical (check out his original number Mann’s Fate for an interesting ear-friendly experience). Pretty much everything except jazz – which makes his playing the Dakota a bit of an oddity –all of it blended a style with his own signature indelibly stamped on it. For good measure, his singing is done in a one-of-a-kind voice. Where you’ll hear nine white vocalists out of ten singing blues in blackface, that’s something he’s never done. Whether it’s the streamline rock of “Angel of Darkness”, the funky blues of “Come Back Baby” or the sweet warm of “New Song For The Morning”, you get a pure, unpretentious quality. This reviewer’s favorite. Plus, he’s a fascinating lyricist with a bent for the existential. Put it all together and it’s not hard to understand why he’s still a success after all these years. Pushing his new album Ain’t In No Hurry (Red House Records), Jorma Kaukonen is at the Dakota for a 7PM and a 9PM set on April 11.