Bona Makes You Sweat: Ricard Bona at Le Bataclan, Paris
November 21, 2009
"On va bien s'amuser ce soir." Those were Richard Bona's opening words at the Bataclan, and he and his band did not disappoint. Lots of fun was had by all in attendance. From a critical standpoint, however, one had to wonder if the music was really the focus of the evening.
Bona is an absolute monster on the bass. Many in the jazz world are aware of his status as the inheritor of Jaco Pastorius' throne. Yet, as written in this review of his latest CD, Ten Shades of Blues (2009, Wrasse Records), his excellent solo work has gone underappreciated. But the meticulous work that this multi-talented artist does in the studio does not translate nearly as well to the stage. Especially the material from Ten Shades of Blues.
Paris is like a second home for Bona, and he is always well-received here. Throughout the evening, he was as animated as ever, urging the crowd to sing along and dance. The crowd as well was in good spirits, bantering back and forth with the bassist and obeying his every command. The crowd even acquitted itself well when asked to provide vocal backing, such as on songs like "M'Bemba Mama," "O Sen Sen Sen" and others.
What was the show missing, then? Quite simply, musicianship. Surprising, given the above praise for Bona's bass playing (without even mentioning his immensely creative vocal stylings), but certainly that was the case on this night. Some of the fault was in the song selection. Tunes like "M'Bemba Mama," a beautifully understated ballad in the studio with superb guitar playing from Sylvain Luc, and "Shiva Mantra," dominated in the studio by Indian musicians, did not adapt well to a live environment. At other times, the arrangements did not allow for much improvisation and thus sounded somewhat stale.
When the musicians were able to stretch out, however, some significant highs were reached. Bona's talents are best shown when he is improvising, when his facility with both his voice and the bass are on full display alongside his playfulness and effervescence of personality. In succession, a fully improvised duet with his guitarist and a layered vocal morsel in the tradition of his native Cameroon kept the crowd in rapt attention. In addition, a cover of a Jaco Pastorius composition was lively and upbeat, with references thrown in to Weather Report's "Birdland," Miles Davis' "Jean Pierre," and Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water." Fans looking for an extension of Bona's work in the jazz realm of the music of Pat Metheny, Joe Zawinul and Mike Stern would do best to stay away from his live shows. Those who know what to expect will be treated to an enjoyable evening punctuated by moments of greatness.