VOICES Notes and news on Jazz releases
15 NOV 11 CHRIS SLAWECKI
Pianist/vocalist James Booker was one of New Orleans' most notoriously flamboyant musical personalities (which is really saying something), yet he released only two studio albums before he passed at age 43 in 1983. Classified (Rounder, '83) features this master pianist in quintet performances with some of the Crescent City's best musicians -- including fatback drummer John Vidacovich and Little Richard's renown saxophonist Albert "Red" Tyler -- and in the solo spotlight.
New Orleans funk doesn't come much better than Booker's cover of Lloyd Price's famous "Lawdy Miss Clawdy." Vidacovich thumps out drums so rocksteady that you can't resist his beat, while Booker's cakewalking piano and vocal -- an upper register howl for the last two verses -- slither and throb with rhythm. He also solidly rocks Fats Domino's goodtime blues "One For The Highway."
Booker wasn't shy about showing off his technique. He stuffs sections of his solo "Swedish Rhapsody" full of ruffles and trills and crescendos, and he breaks "Angel Eyes" down into a solo blues with dramatic pauses and chords that wash away in a torrent of melody. He jumps on "Professor Longhair Medley: Bald Head/Tipitina" at a greyhound's pace so syncopated that he displays the rhythmic power of an ensemble all by himself.
The three live titles in Concord's James Booker catalog are firecracker hot: New Orleans Piano Wizard: Live! (Rounder, 1992); Spiders On The Keys: Live At The Maple Leaf Bar (Rounder, '93); and Resurrection Of The Bayou Maharajah: Live At The Maple Leaf Bar (Rounder, '93).