novablues concert review

R & B Comes to Brooklyn
July 26-27, 1996

     Well, everyone seems to know just what kind of music most appeals to people, regardless of age, race, background or social status - it's that classic r&b sound of the '60's. The public seems to know it, concert promoters seem to know it, booking agents seem to know it. The only ones who haven't figured it out are the people with the most invested in the music industry - the record label owners and the radio station owners. But they've always been the last to catch on to a lot of things.

    The Celebrate Brooklyn Festival, which hosts a summer series of concerts and performances every summer at the Prospect Park Bandshell, has been presenting an especially interesting lineup this year. Friday, July 26th marked a rare New York appearance of the Allen Toussaint orchestra, which came north from New Orleans to promote Toussaint's new album Connected. Toussaint is the unassuming Johnny Appleseed of New Orleans r & b, having worked behind the scenes since the late '50's with a wide-cross section of artists. Positioned behind his grand piano, he opened the show with a bunch of his originals, such as Mother In Law and Workin' in a Coal Mine - all hits for others over the years. In the middle of the set, blues vocalist Wallace Johnson came on stage and engaged the crowd for five or six soulful tunes, after which Toussaint moved into high gear and kept the syncopated New Orleans funk/soul sound going for the rest of the show. The crowd was dancing in the aisles.

     As much as the crowd liked the funky New Orleans sound, it liked the Memphis soul sound even better. On Saturday night, Sam Moore, also making a very rare appearance in New York, ignited the crowd with his renditions of some of his big hits done with Sam & Dave - Soul Man, I Thank You, When Something Is Wrong With My Baby - along with other soul favorites of the same era. No one could resist, and Moore was enjoying himself just watching and listening to the crowd take over the vocal chores on the classics. Behind Moore was the Uptown Horns, the ultimate pickup band, and a great self-contained r & b band themselves (as they demonstrated during their opening set).

     Both Allen Toussaint and Sam Moore proved, that after having spent decades in the music world, that they are top-notch musicians and can sing, and in the case of Toussaint, play the piano as well or better than at any point in their careers. Better, I should add, than most of the artists currently selling millions of albums and getting heavy airplay. Why then, doesn't the music industry recognize their obvious talent and put its resources behind these artists?  Well, the short answer is that the people calling the shots in the music industry cannot distinguish between great music and mediocre music, and even if they could, wouldn't really care unless there was a strong financial incentive for them to do so.

    The long answer... well, that's another story.