Jon Batiste – Hollywood Africans – Verve Records B07FVQF29 41:34 ***1/2:

( Jon Batiste – piano, vocals )

Juggling the daily grind as the bandleader for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” and working with record producer T Bone Burnett to put together his first album Hollywood Africans, Jon Batiste has proven that he is a person of many talents and unlimited energy.

Although mostly a solo affair (piano/vocals) there are nevertheless some background vocals and supporting instruments dispersed over the eleven tracks. In a judicious mix of musical genres, Batiste uses popular standards, original compositions, and New Orleans throwbacks to provide a tasty musical potpourri.

As Jon Batiste grew up in Kenner Louisiana, the album opens with an original number appropriately entitled “Kenner Boogie”. In true boogie woogie fashion, Batiste uses his left hand to create drums/bass rhythm section, while his right hand is dancing and gliding across the keys. There are no flies on him as he growls through the number.

“What A Wonderful World” was inextricably associated Louis Armstrong, which would generally deter most performers from taking it on. However Batiste has chosen to do so and it could be charitably said, that Armstrong should have no concerns about loosing his relationship to the number.

A tangible link to Batiste’s roots is Irving Mills/Joe Primrose touchtone “Saint James Infirmary Blues”. Done at a slow blues march tempo, Batiste’s vocalizing and piano captures the ethereal and haunting aspects of the number.

Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought Of You” is taken as an ultra slow ballad in sotto voce vocalizing. This approach is tender, with a single run through of the lyric which proves to be romantically effective.

“Is It Over” is a Batiste composition that has a soul singer influence. He uses the song as a vehicle as a cri de coeur through the effective use of a call and response with the background female choir. An organ provides some mournful interjections that adds to the pathos of the number.

The album closes with another Batiste original “Don’t Stop”. He exhibits his piano technique by covering Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata as the musical backdrop, while he sustains his emotional balladeer approach to the lyric.

Jon Batiste is a multifaceted  musician who is at home in a variety of genres.

TrackList:
Kenner Boogie
What Wonderful World
Chopinesque
Saint James Infirmary Blues
Nocturne No.1In D Minor
The Very Thought Of You
Green Hill Zone
Mr. Buddy
Is It Over
Smile
Don’t Stop

—Pierre Giroux