Rant ‘N’ Roll: What Is Hip?

In 1973, Tower Of Power asked that musical question, “What Is Hip?” The song’s lyricist, Doc Kupka, was quoted at the time as saying, “Being `hip’ is so short-lived. You can be hip today by wearing your hair a certain way. But what’s hip today might become passé.” To which I would add, you can be hip by tilting your hat a certain way too. Now please note the pictures of Lucky Peterson (with hat) and Theo Croker (with hair). Who is hipper than whom?

Croker blows some mighty trumpet. He’s the grandson of trumpeter Doc Cheatham [1905-1997]. Originally from Florida, he moved to China where he was part of a big-band backing vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater at the 2009 Shanghai Jazz Festival. The two hit it off immediately. AfroPhysicist (DDB/Okeh) is the result, his debut on her label (his third). While living in China, he played with a fusion band and a salsa band. AfroPhysicist shows the same kind of diversity. It isn’t even really a jazz album. You can’t categorize it. That’s exactly what Croker and Bridgewater envisioned at the inception of the project.

“Moody’s Mood” was first sung by Eddie Jefferson in the ‘50s (the tragic Pittsburgh singer murdered in Detroit in 1979), and covered by dozens, most notably Patti Austin, Amy Winehouse and Queen Latifah. Here, Bridgewater blows away all previous versions. Ditto for Nancy Wilson’s 1962 “Save Your Love For Me” and Michael Jackson’s 1979 “I Can’t Help It.” She’s a force-of-nature. So is vibraphonist Stefon Harris on Stevie Wonder’s 1973 “Visions.” But it is amazing trumpeter Roy Hargrove who steals the show on his own “Roy Allan,” a heartfelt tribute he wrote for his dad which appeared on his 1995 Family album as an instrumental. Who knew the cat could sing? Croker shines on his tribute to South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and also while dancing a complex dipsy-doodle with Irwin Hall’s alto flute in a song he wrote inspired by the dissolution of a love affair called “It’s Not You It’s Me (But You Didn’t Help).” “Light Skinned Beauty” rocks but also swings yet still retains a hip-hop element. Three genres in one song? AfroPhysicist Croker can juggle five or six balls in the air at the same time. Now THAT’S hip.

Lucky Peterson is, indeed, The Son of A Bluesman (Jazz Village). His father James performed in the Buffalo area for years and brought his five-year-old to the attention of Willie Dixon at Chess Records in Chicago. This resulted in a 1969 hit single (“1-2-3-4”) and before he was six, Lucky was on television and had a debut album entitled Our Future: 5 Year Old Lucky Peterson where he played organ and sang. It took 20 more years to make another album (1989’s Lucky Strikes). He also spent three years in The Bobby Blue Bland Blues Band, and another three with Little Milton.

Now a fixture on the Dallas blues scene, he sees this album as a self-produced culmination of a life in music: he does Wilson Pickett’s one-chord “Funky Broadway” as well as Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” (personal to him after battling drugs most of his life). Self-produced, wildly eclectic, with seething, stinging lead guitar and organ (he’s mastered both), the strength of this CD, though, his primal vocals, is enough to win anybody over. The dude just can’t be subtle. He’s a Mack truck driving at you at 100 miles per hour and if you don’t get out of his way, he’s going to flatten you and leave you like a dead skunk in the middle of the road stinkin’ to high heaven. That may not be hip but it sure is funky.