Dr. John – Ske-Dat-De-Dat – The Spirit Of Satch – Proper CRE 35187-02, 58:25 ****:
(Dr. John – piano, vocals; Special guests: Terence Blanchard, Blind Boys Of Alabama, Shemekia Copeland, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Anthony Hamilton, Ledisi, Bonnie Raitt)
The only connection between Dr. John and Louis Armstrong is rather tenuous. Both were born in New Orleans although some forty years apart in age, and a millennium apart in musical influence. Nevertheless, in Ske-Dat-De-Dat, The Spirit of Satch Dr. John has put together a tribute to the master that is exciting, respectful, and bang on the money.
In a thirteen-track session, most of the tunes are of the popular variety that were associated with Armstrong as a singer. The two exceptions are Armstrong’s own composition “Gut Bucket Blues” and Joe ’King’ Oliver’s “Dippermouth Blues” both of which were originally instrumental numbers. On the former, Dr. John gives a jazzy vocal rendition of the piece with a dazzling trumpet interjection from Nicholas Payton clearly reminiscent of the Armstrong style. In the case of the latter tune, another trumpeter James “12” Andrews offers a strong, full-toned horn solo that rides over the band.
Throughout the remainder of the tracks, Dr. John takes an unorthodox approach to the music, aided and abetted by trombonist and arranger Sarah Morrow. Starting with “What a Wonderful World” done in a New Orleans down-home groove, it features the Blind Boys Of Alabama on a vocal introduction, and trumpeter Nicholas Payton as a soloist. It would be completely unrecognizable to Louis. Much the same can be said for “Mack The Knife” which after run-through of the lyrics by Dr. John done over a wicked funk, Mike Ladd does a rap on the story line, after which trumpeter Terrence Blanchard takes matters in his own hands with some upper register noodling.
A rockin’ bluesy version of “I’ve Got The World On A String” features Bonny Raitt in a duet with Dr. John (although no harmony) that also has Poncho Sanchez on percussion which adds another rhythmic dimension to the interpretation. Bringing a smooth jazz sensibility to “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” Anthony Hamilton’s vocal is in keeping with the composition’s traditional roots. So as Dr. John and his cohorts go about their business of making music their way, what might Louis have to say about it? Perhaps one of his quotations says it best : “There’s only two ways to sum up music; either it’s good or it’s bad. If it’s good you don’t mess about it, you just enjoy it.” There’s certainly no messin’ about with this music.
TrackList: What A Wonderful World; Mack The Knife; Tight Like This; I’ve Got The World On A String; Gut Bucket Blues; Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child; That’s My Home; Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen; Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams; Dippermouth Blues; Sweet Hunk O’Trash; Memories Of You; When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)