The Maple Leaf
September 02, 2004
I set myself up big time. Even after my many near-orgasmic musical experiences with drummer Johnny Vidacovich and bassist James Singleton, plus their storied 25 plus year-long rock-hard musical telepathy, I questioned it. Before his trio's concert with organist Robert Walter Thursday night at The Maple Leaf, Vidacovich and I were talking about how well their show had gone the night before in Baton Rouge. After Vidacovich said Walter had thrown some musical curveballs during the concert, I asked if he and Singleton had thrown any back. You should have seen Vidacovich's face. He looked at me like I was crazy. Johnny's face lit up and the pride from the time logged with Singleton manifested itself. "Curveballs...we didn't throw curveballs...we threw golf balls wrapped in wet towels." Noted.
The trio didn't do anything different last night than they did in Baton Rouge. They sifted through improvised waste to find sustainable jazz/funk grooves, and they played around with originals or covers the three already knew. Walter is best known for his work with The Greyboy All-Stars, but none of those songs made it into the set.
The concert began with one of Vidacovich's now famous spoken-word like rhymes over music. Even though the world can be pretty confusing, as I watched Vidacovich smile without a care as he sang about the fun of bangin' on a drum, I reveled in the simplicity and joy of such a simple statement. Walter was wary of creating melodic lines during the first twenty minutes or so. He said before the concert he made a pilgrimage to New Orleans to hear the likes of Singleton, Vidacovich and Booker when he was younger, so maybe he was just a little nervous to be playing with his musical heroes.
Walter loosened up, and the concert got excellent. Each member got a chance to create grooves. Vidacovich showed the beauty in a simple beat, and Walter elicited shouts of joy from the audience with his finger work. Vidacovich and Singleton got their solos, but when it came to creating memorable musical moments, showing off wasn't where it was at. Singleton and Vidacovich both shouted out in ecstasy when the band was on fire as a collective. I remember holding my breath during a particularly gnarly progression. When the sound got psychedelic, Vidacovich turned on a strobe light behind him, and it worked. The light added some levity to the show, as if there wasn't enough already, and it was just cool to watch the light manipulate Vidacovich's drum strokes.
Walter just moved to New Orleans, and even though he will keep his 20th Congress band going, he's looking to start something new in town. He's been talking to Stanton Moore, but I suggest the rest of you start lining up.
So, the show was great, and The Maple Leaf got pretty packed. I'm not surprised, though. When Singleton and Vidacovich are on the bill, the quality of the show is assured.