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Live From New York

Sean Noonan, Richard Bona & Sugar Pie DeSanto

By Published: January 22, 2012
I ended up sitting at the front end of a long, frontal table, virtually onstage, and in a prime location to submerge myself in surround-sound percussion, plus the direct output of Bona's amplifier, right in its sonic flight path. All the better to study the bassist's minute, percussive skipping across the strings, his vocals acting as an extension of his instrumental complexity, or vice versa. The horn team of trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and trombonist Ozzy Melendez jumped from punchy riffing to nimble, emphatic soloing. Melendez, in particular, buzzed with urgency, his solos bonding salsa flash to Cuban son earthiness. Percussionists Luisito Quintero and Roberto Quintero also varied their roles, stoking the beats, then delivering frequent solo passages, whether springing from a congas or timbales base, with chekeré (gourd-rattler) and cajon (box-seat resonator) embellishments.

Over at the piano, Osmany Paredes appeared to be arriving from a slightly different place, his solo spots establishing a more jazzy aura, but a jazz hybrid coming straight from Cuba. The flow was still maintained, but his passages gave pause for contemplation before the harder horn-driven grooves returned. Bona also cleared a zone to allow some completely solo voice/bass guitar lightness, as songs emanated from his entire being, tripping feather-light, as organically as possible, smeared with subtle pedal effects. Another advantage of sitting right at the stage-lip was to observe at close quarters the sheer exuberance and delight that this band took in their creations. They pretty much admitted that even they were surprised how immediately this new music had coalesced into such a profoundly uplifting entity.


Sugar Pie DeSanto
The Bell House
December 31, 2011

Ringing in the New Year at The Bell House can be habit-forming, especially when a new tradition has evolved where the Brooklyn soul collective Dig Deeper takes over the proceedings. For the last three New Year's Eves, they've presented some mighty fine shows, drawing a partying crowd which just happens to retain its specialist musical tastes in the midst of a champagne stream. This double bill with soulsters Sugar Pie DeSanto and Lee Fields was, not surprisingly, sold out. Fortunately, this didn't mean that the joint was too overcrowded. There was still room to shimmy.

Recently, veteran singer DeSanto's birth certificate was unearthed, revealing that this supposed child of San Francisco was actually born in Brooklyn—even though, soon after, her family departed the borough. To commemorate this newly established status, Dig Deeper pushed for one of Brooklyn president Marty Markowitz's famed proclamations. They succeeded, and lo, this Medieval-styled scroll-document was displayed just before DeSanto took to the stage. Actually born as Umpeylia Marsema Balinton, it's easy to see why she considered Sugar Pie as a more wieldy stage name. Her career began with work in Johnny Otis
Johnny Otis
Johnny Otis
b.1921
producer
and James Brown
James Brown
James Brown
1933 - 2006
vocalist
's revues. As her birth certificate says, DeSanto is now 76 years old, but she has the burning energy of a performer 50 years her junior. Can this lady be the Iggy Pop of R&B? She was so uppity that the audience lived in fear of her next witty or withering observation. DeSanto's dance moves were in keeping with this spiky attitude, as she stretched her legs into the air and rolled around on the stage, a small (just under five feet), wiry yet powerful figure. Her voice retained a complementary strength, rugged and raunchy in its delivery of her pointed soul-blues combination.

The Sweet Divines band acted as backing, minus three of its four namesake singers, thus becoming The Divine Soul Rhythm Band, but still directed by keyboardist J.B. Flatt. Sole remaining Divine singer Jenny Wasserman took the role of DeSanto's frequent collaborator and younger cousin Etta James
Etta James
Etta James
1938 - 2012
vocalist
. Many of the hits were delivered during a concise, hard-hitting set: "Go-Go Power"; "Soulful Dress"; "Slip-In Mules"; and the sprawling, later-period slinker, "Hello San Francisco." Part of the set's thrill was to observe DeSanto cueing solos from the players, joking about who was the boss, but ultimately proving her dominance by acting as a conduit for their energies. Another thrill of a sort was provided when she invited a somewhat tall male dancing partner up onto the stage, proceeding to wrap her legs around his waist while he twirled her around. Then, DeSanto herself descended into the audience for further gyrations. Just two examples of her highly impressive youthful exuberance.


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