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Dr. John: Live at Montreux 1995

Jim Santella By

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Dr. John
Live at Montreux 1995
Eagle Eye Media
2005

Dr. John brought a strong band to the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1995. Everyone solos hard and often. He sings at the piano and keeps the house rockin' with his unique delivery. Backup singers shadow much of what he sings and provide plenty of depth. From the piano bench, he tells stories that roll out a distinctive New Orleans flavor. When he stands up to play guitar and sing, his blues band dishes it out with a heavy hand. His guitar solos prove quite expressive, too.

Visually, the representation of this concert works better than most, because the director has managed to switch camera shots at appropriate intersections all night long. When bassist David Barard echoes the leader's vocals as backup singer, the camera's there right on cue. When percussionist Smiley Ricks or guitarist Bobby Broom performs a similar vocal function, the camera is there without missing a beat. The same is true, of course for each thrilling solo; and Dr. John likes to share the solo spotlight with his band.

Saxophonists Ronnie Cuber and Alvin "Red" Tyler turn in superb performances, while the trumpeter's refrains pale in comparison. His pitch is frequently off target and his tone grates a little; however, he and the other horns blend their sounds together for much of the program, so it's not an awkward distraction.

The focus, naturally, is on Dr. John's searing vocals, and he's in top form. Standards such as "Blue Skies," "Makin' Whoopee" and "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You" reflect the New Orleans tradition appropriately.

High points of the program include: solos around the room on a traditional "Iko Iko," a hot shuffle on "Right Place, Wrong Time" that includes an electrifying guitar solo from Broom, and a hearty "Goin' Back to New Orleans" with its powerful big band arrangement and memorable lyrics.

The final three tracks listed below come from the 1986 Montreux Jazz Festival, and feature Dr. John alone at the piano. There's a substantial difference between his '95 performance and his '86 performance. He thrills just the same; whether performing by himself, or with his New Orleans Social and Pleasure Club band.


Tracks: Iko Iko; Renegade; Come On (Let the Good Times Roll); Tell Me You'll Wait for Me; Blue Skies; Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You; Right Place, Wrong Time; Makin' Whoopee; Goin' Back to New Orleans; The Big Bass Drum (On a Mardi Gras Day); I Shall Not be Moved; Mess Around; Iko Iko; Mac's Boogie; Tipitina; Junko Partner.

Personnel: Dr. John: piano, vocals, guitar; Hermann V. Ernest III: drums. backing vocals; Smiley Ricks: percussion, backing vocals; Robert Broom, Jr.: guitar, backing vocals; David Barard: electric bass, backing vocals; Charlie Miller: trumpet, flugelhorn, backing vocals; Alvin "Red" Tyler: tenor saxophone, backing vocals; Ronnie Cuber: baritone saxophone, backing vocals.

Program Notes: Approximate running time 93 minutes.


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