Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch
Some reviews will tell you this album, a tribute to “the spirit of” Louis Armstrong is a 5-star classic, so full of life and joy and bursting with colourful and clever interpretations; reimaginings. Other reviews will tell you this is over-stuffed, almost cumbersome. I guess I’m here to tell you that it’s both – but the good outweighs the bad I reckon. And it kicks off so well – What A Wonderful World taken a million miles away from its now syrupy-soppy-spongy ballad, and besides ain’t no way you can breathe new life in a standard like that without turning it on its head. And then it’s the same deal for Mack The Knife, why it’s almost back to the feel of Quincy Jones’ Back On The Block – though updated, not suffering from any 1980s feel. There’ll be some that will wince at the thought of rap verses sneaking in on a Satchmo standard – there’ll be others that can understand that Armstrong was a proto-rapper himself and that this contemporary reimagining of his songs – set inside new grooves – is wise to pay lip-service, as it were, to the hip-hop form and feel.
Nicholas Payton and Terence Blanchard and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band are all here to blow and they’re all so good. Bonnie Raitt sounds wonderful duetting on I’ve Got The World On A String and the arrangements across the album by trombonist and co-producer Sarah Morrow are frequently inventive, exciting and imaginative – that opening spin through What A Wonderful World as NOLA funk is really make or break I reckon. You like that you’ll stick around for the album. You hate that – can’t go with it – there’s almost nothing here for you then.
So I’ll sit through things like Anthony Hamilton’s R’n’B ballad take on Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child – it’s too smooth, especially given this song and how it deserves to be sold (to be told with a grit) but it’s still definitely its own kind of wonderful.
It’s where the problems start to show though – overstuffed with guests and people pushing and pulling in different directions, we start to lose the feel and flow of the good Doctor – he knows grit, he knows New Orleans, and he knows the music of Armstrong, he is the selling point here – even for all the great guests.
But the good stuff here really is fantastic – even when Dr. John does a laidback croon on That’s My Home it’s warm and charming. But when he’s stirring that cauldron of his special funk gumbo, as on Dippermouth Blues, that’s when we get the magic. I want more of that and less of the polite self-serving appearances, as is the case with The McCray Sisters and Shemekia Copeland. The feel of the album almost grinds to a halt in the middle, too slow, too safe.
It’s those exciting reinventions – the carnival funk of When You’re Smiling, the deep soul of Gut Bucket Blues – that’s when Dr. John is out front and speaking Louis Armstrong’s language in his own tongue. So buy the album – and then clip a couple of songs from it. Make your own perfect run-sheet.