© The Financial Times Ltd 2013 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
August 16, 2013 7:49 pm
One of the great sidemen is back at the front. Midway through the opening night of a four-date residency at the venerable Soho jazz club, he’s singing and playing guitar. This isn’t how we usually imagine Booker T Jones – who, as Booker T & the MG’s on the indelibly groovy instrumental “Green Onions”, introduced pop to the Hammond B-3 organ some 50 years ago. But with Grammys for both his albums before his current release, this month’s Sound the Alarm , Booker T likes to keep us on our toes.
Proudly integrated in a segregated era – half black, half white – Booker T & the MG’s were the house band of the storied Memphis labels Stax and Volt. Booker T, now 68, was brought up with a wide musical hinterland, which gives his tunes subtlety as well as their satisfying stomp.
After a suitably funky overture here – each terse blast on the Hammond the sonic equivalent of a raised eyebrow asking, “How cool are you?” – the 1971 track “Melting Pot” seemed to turn imaginary cop-show incidentals into a Beale Street sonata, Vernon Black’s guitar-playing intricate and dreamy.
The set took off with “Born Under a Bad Sign”, the rhythmic oomph of Darian Gray (drums) and Melvin Brannon Jr (bass) delivered with casually intense authority. Then it was “just a little B-side we recorded for a blues”, and “Green Onions”. Albert King’s “Oh Pretty Woman” was the first to have Booker T on guitar, with an old-guys-still-got-it strut. But the standout was “Take Me to the River”, all defrocked gospel, and featuring a speedy rap from the ebullient drummer, as au fait with Q-Tip as Art Blakey.
Following a short break, Booker T returned to the Hammond to sing Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” – his playing spare, his speaky vocal at its most confessional. Either side of a carnival-like “Soul Limbo” (the TMS cricket theme) were two new instrumentals, “Feel Good” and “66 Impala”, a gentle sway and a sultry tryst with “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”. Pleasant, no more or less. At the last, “Time is Tight” grew into a victory march, that evocative organ blare so retro it could come with sideburns, yet somehow eternal.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.