Rant ‘N’ Roll: JP, Mac & Melissa

Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) has finally made the Louis Armstrong tribute album he’s always wanted to make. It’s called Ske-Dat-De-Dat…The Spirit Of Satch (Proper/Concord) and no one but Mac could’ve possibly made it in this way. Sure, he’s honored Armstrong before…but only onstage with two “Props To Pops” concerts, one in 2012 Brooklyn, one in 2013 Los Angeles.

Idiosyncratic, funky, surprising and mightily swinging, he’s taken the kind of liberties with the music of Satch that could only be dared without disrespect by a fellow New Orleans legend. I mean, man, his vocal on “Mack The Knife” doesn’t even use the song’s melody! Yet it works. It’s a violent murder song, originally written in 1928, arranged here for one of today’s greatest trumpeters, Terence Blanchard, amidst a rap ‘bout killin’! “What A Wonderful World” features the Blind Boys Of Alabama. “Tight Like This” has legendary Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. In fact, trumpet reigns supreme throughout. Mac’s smart. He might have taken these songs and totally turned them inside-out and upside-down (much more so, in fact, than his previous tributes to Duke Ellington and Johnny Mercer), but it’s all in service to the free-floating personality of Satch himself who, I do guess, would have approved. The most traditional of the batch is his beautiful duet with Bonnie Raitt on “I’ve Got The World On A String.” Then there’s the ballsy “Sweet Hunk O’Trash” with red hot mama Shemekia Copeland. It all ends with “When You’re Smiling,” with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band taking it home. Album Of The Year…so far.

Mac swears the project came to him in a dream: “Louis’ spirit came to me and told me to do something, that’s how this whole thing started. Louis told me, `Take my music and do it your way.’ It was the most unexpected thing in the world to me, to have Louis’ spirit show up like that, but he gave me a concept of where to roll with it that was spiritually correct. That made me feel very open to try some different things, because I felt that his spirit had okayed this record.”


The self-titled CD by Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio came as something of a shock. Stupidly expecting some lite-jazz noodling (don’t ask me why) from the pretty girl on the cover with a saxophone between her legs, I was blown away by this Concord debut. Bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Francisco Mela obviously inspire Aldana on this complex post-bop excursion into profoundly deep improv with daring arrangements and magical interplay. The three gel mightily (it’s their first recording together) on Monk’s “Ask Me Now” (no small feat), Harry Warren’s “You’re My Everything” and the eight originals they wrote for this eclectic meandering road of a CD that brings more and more jazz satisfaction to the fore with each repeated listening. Mela’s Cuban roots blend with the Chilean roots of Menares and Aldana to conjure up a mystical brew: no doubt, since Menares is a huge star in his native Chile and Mela, both as a leader in his own right and a sideman for legends like Joe Lovano, McCoy Tyner and Kenny Barron, have the ability to spark this rookie…and they do. She’s only 26, yet she plays with the verve and tenacity of Sonny Rollins.


JP Soars has blistered his fingers in South Florida metal bands. He’s one of the guitarists in Southern Hospitality (Allmans-on-Steroids). He’s researched the legendary three-fingered French guitarist Django Reinhardt [1910-1953] enough to result in his own foray into “Gypsy Jazz,” be it in duo or solo formats. As a blues artist, his 2011 More Bees With Honey was hipper than hip. Now, his third studio CD, Full Moon Night In Memphis (Soars High Productions), is here to cap an incredible career.

Whether he’s playing his hollow-bodied Epiphone six-string or his homemade two-string cigar box slide like those old bluesmen used to do on the streets of the South, Soars soars. These 14 originals bespeak a ragged elegance, whether he’s “Back To Broke” or “Missin’ Your Kissin’.” Pot plays a part too on his “Viper” and “Reefer Man” tracks. He doesn’t mind telling you he’s got a sweet little thing stashed away in “Little Mamacita” and “The Back Room.” He plays electric, dobro, acoustic, lap steel and that primitive invention of his, backed by drums, bass, sax, second guitar, trumpet and harmonica. It’s a doozy.