Jon Batiste Brings the Party to Harlem This Weekend
Jon Batiste makes a whirlwind stop in town tonight, May 1 and tomorrow night, May 2 uptown at Minton’s for a couple of rare solo shows. It’s hard to be cynical about this guy – to call him exuberant is an understatement. The jazz and soul crooner/shouter/pianist/bandleader is New Orleans to the core, and he can really bring the party. He’s the rare artist who draws on hip-hop as much as second-line marches, southern soul, gospel, funk and jazz with some unexpectedly austere classical touches and makes all of it work, in the process creating an original sound that’s hard to resist. Rousing singalong choruses, mighty vamps that make long launching pads for high-voltage solos and lots of audience participation are part and parcel of his live show. He’s just as likely to bust out his melodica and mingle with the crowd as he is to make the piano echo and roar. Which makes sense – he’s got a theatrical side and a charisma that’s scored roles in the tv series Treme as well as in Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; you can score a seat at the bar for $25, where the sound is just as good as it is at the considerably more expensive tables. That’s how to do this vibewise: what Batiste plays is music for hanging and good times. This isn’t a room where the crowd is going to be silent and rapt this weekend.
His most recent album, Social Music, came out in 2013 and is streaming at Spotify. It’s a showcase for pretty much everything Batiste does. The opening number, D Flat Movement, has a neoromantic gravitas that contrasts with its silly title. The big concert favorite is Let God Lead, propelled by Ibanda Ruhumbika’s tersely funky tuba. The best number is the brooding, crescendoing, bolero-tinged anthem, San Spirito. There’s also reinvented Scott Joplin ragtime; oldtime blues (St. James Infirmary); a pensive wee-hours Manhattan street scene by alto saxophonist Eddie Barbash; and the ecstatic crowd-pleasers that have made the guy a hit on the jamband circuit as well as within the jazz community. Party uptown tonight, people.