Picture yourself in a smoky cowboy-jazz joint around 1952, and you’ll get the picture on where Cow Bop is coming from. The combo’s music is tantalizing postwar bop, but with ample heaps of Western swing and country hokum ladled on for fun.
The mastermind behind this venture is Bruce Forman, the virtuoso swing and bop guitarist who resides in California and is a dominant West Coast jazzer. With wife Pinto Pammy’s superb vocals and crack musicians around them, Cow Bop comprises one of the most refreshing swing outﬁts in recent memory, as heard on their fourth album, Cowlifornia Swing.
For a sense of Forman’s fretboard mastery, listen to him rip on the opener, “It’s All Your Fault.” Instead of a gratuitous display of single-string chops, Forman separates the men from the boys with a dazzling chordmelody improvisation, one of the hardest jazzbox techniques to master. On “A Girl In Calico,” Forman plays a classic ’50s-style solo that brings Johnny Smith or Jimmy Raney to mind: it’s elegant, commanding, and has the kind of ﬁnesse that deﬁned the best archtop work of that era.
“Indian Love Call” features tight, fast unison phrases with saxman David Wise, speaking to Forman’s ace sight-reading chops. Later in the track, he lays out as compelling a jazz solo as you could ask for. In the country corn department, look for the campy “Mambo Italiano” and “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” the latter sporting a truly barnburning guitar solo.
On one level, you can listen to this CD and revel in the lightspirited cowboy jazz and crowd-pleasing antics of the band. But if you have any appreciation for jazz guitar, it’s hard not to be blown away by Forman’s playing. While he’s been on the jazz scene for more than 30 years – performing live, playing Hollywood movie dates (notably on Million Dollar Baby and Flags of Our Fathers), and teaching at USC – Forman seems to have found a sweet spot with Cow Bop.
It’s a catchy, likeable jazz vibe and a ﬁne platform for this guitar master to stretch out and blow. All told, whether you’re in it for Forman’s killer bop chops or the breezy Western swing, Cow Bop will make the perfect soundtrack for your next dude-ranch vacation.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’13 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.