Jools Holland “Piano, Vocals and Drum Frenzy”at the Blue Note, February 3rd, 2018, Reviewed
Let me take you down, because I’m going to 1987, when I interviewed Jools Holland for Creem: “Laconic, easygoing, bored, a trifle indifferent. He’s the former co-presenter of The Tube,an English youth-pop-comedy TV program, seen occasionally on MTV. Suspended for six weeks after saying “groovy fucker” on the air (“the straw that broke the camel’s back”), The Tube was highly rated by critics, not highly rated in the Nielsens. Before the six weeks were over, the producer had quit and, after five years, The Tube was cancelled. Quote: “It was high profile but I only worked two days a week. A part-time job.”
Now let me speed dial you through 30 years: Jools left Squeeze, became the MC for BBC2’s music program “Later With Jools Holland,” got an MBE, introduced the world to Amy Winehouse and Adele, formed the 18-piece Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra with former Squeeze drummer Gilson Lavis -an offshoot of Jools Holland’s Big Band -a two person affair with just piano and drums and returned to New York for a four night residency at the Blue Note as Big Band and at last night’s early show claimed, “They say you only play New York twice in your career: once on the way up, once on the way down…. It’s good to be back”. I was actually at the Squeeze gig on the way up at the Ritz, and preferred the one down last night.
Jools is a master MC, on the Blue Note stage with his piano taking care of about a quarter of the real estate (if he’d brought his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, the audience wouldn’t have fit), he was as charming as you could imagine, self-deprecating, witty, and so easy going you fell into his boogie woogie groove with ease. Out to push his latest album, 2017’s fine collaboration with Puerto Rico’s favorite son Jose Feliciano, As You See Me Now, the oddest thing about the evening was… well, first the lack of a bass player obviously, but also the setlist was weird. It made more sense to me to use featured singers sparingly, instead he gave the last six songs to boogie woogie singer Ruby Turner. Sure, I made note of her name, sure, I’d see her anytime, but also sure, Jools the MC sat down and handed over the reigns. Much smarter was surprise guest Jose Feliciano, who sang Holland’s bluesy boogie new perennial “Happy New Year” with a raspy jab. For the encore Jose showed up again on a fine version of Ray Charles “Hit The Road Jack,” and it was just enough. The Gilson Lavis solo on a tremendous piece of boogie woogie was a fast thumper all over the high hat and bass drum, again: just enough. Jools, who must be considered one of the top boogie woogie players jazz pianists was tremendous, his English cool displaced on a particularly arduous break out that left him (and us) breathless. Mabel Ray and Louise Marshall, sang back up as necessary and were given three songs between them.
Though the evening’s high point was Ruby’s “Peace in the Valley” and any problems in her performance were far from musical, Jools needed to maintain the setlists integrity, keeping steady, taking us through his career (which, lest we forget, included enough rock and roll to make sense of Jose’s Jerry Lee Lewis), instead he did something less useful. Still, this was the real deal by a true master, it was a privileged to watch Jools hands pound from one end of the piano to the other in a rhythmic two for the price of one masterclass for a terrific 75 minute show.