[Dixielandjazz] Lincoln Center Blues?

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Oct 27 06:32:52 PDT 2004

New York City Jazz Musicians are fond of saying "Well, you can't hit a home
run every time," after a disappointing solo performance. Looks like Mr.
Ratliff thought this first evening of a three night story of the blues was
somewhat less than well presented.

Steve Barbone

October 27, 2004 - NY Times - By BEN RATLIFF
JAZZ REVIEW'  Looking for the Roots of the Blues

Three Shades of Blues: Roots," the first in a three-night series of Jazz at
Lincoln Center concerts at the Rose Theater tracing the blues from its
prehistory to the present, wasn't really a lesson enacted upon the audience.
For the most part it was an ideal notion sent up like a balloon.

The idea behind Monday's concert was that the blues comes from Africa, and
Corey Harris, Randy Weston and Taj Mahal were there to prove it. But the
concert struggled under a truth that's obviously much more complicated. If
the performers could have been presented on the strength of their own
complex combinations of influences, the rubric would have been lost. But the
concert would have been so much more likable.

Mr. Harris, the singer and guitarist, opened the show diffidently. He was
the focus of Martin Scorsese's television documentary last year, which
traced the blues back to West Africa, and he played a few songs with the
percussionist Darrell Rose. He is an American folk musician who's interested
in many corners of the world, of which Africa happens to be one; among the
tunes he played were a Malian song, as well as "Money Eye," a kind of
imaginary calypso that had little to do with the blues or Africa. Another
was "Special Rider Blues," a Skip James tune that he recently recorded in
Mali with Ali Farka Toure. One has to ask: if an African musician has played
a blues song, does that make it more African? And was the forest obscuring
the trees? Were we missing the chance to learn something about Skip James?

Mr. Weston, the jazz pianist, came on next and talked in amiable
generalities about music as "spiritual mathematics" and about the
relationship of jazz and blues to African classical civilization. When he
sat down to play, he was as good as ever; he has a rich, well-defined sound,
as deep as a well. But the African musician next to him seemed beside the

He played two of his most common pieces, "The Healers" and "African
Cookbook," and as he operated in a continuing clash with the Senegalese kora
player Abdou M'Boup, the music itself seemed to disprove the concert's
theory. Had the kora, a kind of 21-string harp, been tuned to the piano? You
play a single scale on a kora, and you can't change keys; how could Mr.
Weston's sumptuous harmonies move along with the kora? Neal Clarke's
percussion solo and Alex Blake's bass solo, flashy applause-getters, pushed
the questions aside.

Finally, Taj Mahal arrived with good instincts, putting his shoulder to the
proposition and meeting Africa halfway. He performed with the kora player
Mamadou Diabate, confidently reprising a few songs he recorded five years
ago with that musician's cousin Toumani Diabate, on the album "Kulanja."
(The instruments were well tuned to each other.) One was a banjo and kora
duet, and the American banged and scraped the strings while the African
played little cascades in the rhythm's empty spaces. It was a concentrated
performance, making sense within itself as well as fulfilling a sociological

For a finale, all hands came on stage to play Taj Mahal's old song "I'm
Gonna Move to the Country and Paint My Mailbox Blue," making an
agglomeration of sound but reaching no conclusions.

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