Lou Donaldson, at nearly 88 years old, is probably one of the very few US jazz musicians of his era still touring. It was a joy to hear him at Ronnie’s last night. He’s well known for his fabulously funky (and much sampled) soul jazz albums, recorded for Blue Note in the 1960s and early ’70s, which have been rediscovered by new generations (and consequently widely sampled by the likes of Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Kayne West, Dr Dre and Eminem). He’s perhaps more respected by some for his improvisational work on the early recordings of Thelonoius Monk, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver and Art Blakey (earning his bebop credentials on A Night at Birdland).
Donaldson introduced the set by nailing his colours to the mast and telling us “you are going to see straight ahead jazz, no fusion, no confusion” and “not Snoop Doggie Dog or 50 Cent who ain’t worth a cent!.” Playing the alto saxophone, his expressive individual tone still sounded in fine fettle accompanied by his tight band featuring Randy Johnson on guitar, Akiko Tsuruga on Hammond organ and Fukushi Tainaka on drums,.
It was a treat to hear the classic tunes Blues Walk, Alligator Boogaloo and Gravy Train. Tsuruga, in particular, appeared to be having a great time unleashing huge rushes of intensive organ cascades interspersed with nimble funky phrases, while Johnson displayed some restrained fast fluid licks. Fast and Freaky was a great vehicle for Tainaka’s entertaining percussive talents.
It’s often the case that legends of his generation, in their later years, prefer to affect a more theatrical style with humorous digressions, frequently playing as many standards as nuggets from their own back catalogue and this gig was no exception. There was a healthy dose of self-deprecating repartee and a slightly cutting remark about Miles Davis! He also sung the blues to great effect with a suitably hoarse-voiced rasp on Whisky Drinkin’ Woman and It was a Dream
Personally I would have liked to hear a few more of Donaldson’s own classic compositions, but there were smiles all round at the end of a hugely entertaining and charming set by a charismatic jazz veteran.
What a Wonderful World
Fast and Freaky
Whisky Drinkin’ Woman
Bye Bye Backbird
The Wake Up Song
It was a Dream