Review: Dr. John Performance Short, Sweet

Great New Orleans pianist plays Ellington tunes, some of his hits in New York.

New York Post

NEW YORK — The balance between quantity and quality is delicate in music. Nobody wants four hours of garbage, but nobody wants to be denied their money's worth, either.

Take Dr. John's first performance of the evening at the revered Blue Note jazz club Tuesday night.

The good Doctor and his Crescent City backing trio played for little more than an hour — but they were terrific.

It seemed that no sooner had the band taken the stage with the famed Big Easy piano man than they were making a final bow and saying good night.

Between the start and the rousing, hanky-waving encore finale of his 1973 funk hit "Right Place, Wrong Time," the man played a number of lovely songs, many from his new Duke Ellington tribute, Duke Elegant.

The two standouts had to be the party tune "I'm Gonna Go Fishin' " (RealAudio excerpt) and the standard mood ballad "In My Solitude."

Despite the show's brevity, most of the house seemed thrilled by the intimate surroundings.

They cheered Dr. John's drawling gravel growl, his piano rolls inspired by the ghost of Professor Longhair, and his very distinctive organ work on a couple of instrumentals.

The musical highlight was Dr. John's very spooky, voodoo-drenched anthem "Walk on Gilded Splinters."

Amid the exotic sounds of slide whistles, pinged triangles, shaky eggs and wobbly special-effects instruments (nameless to all but the most experienced percussionists), Dr. John made the audience recall why he's known as the Night Tripper.

The extended swampedelic jam was a bold choice for a seemingly mainstream audience, but in the end even the stiffest stiff in the house loosened up to the exotic rhythms and weird sounds.

When he speaks, call him Muttering John. Even his New Orleans cohorts had question marks in their eyes when he briefly addressed the audience. He was as indiscernible as Popeye with a mouthful of spinach, but whatever he said must have been well-intentioned, since he grinned at the end.

In all it was a fine show: The Doctor was as charismatic — and enigmatic — as always, his piano work was masterful and the band was hot.

Still, it isn't greedy to want more than 65 minutes of music for the $30 cover (with a $5 minimum). It only seems right, especially when the performer is as seasoned a pro with as large a songbook as Dr. John.

— Dan Aquilante