BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Given both his close identification with the music of his hometown of New Orleans and his prior history with tribute LPs to pre-rock & roll composers (cf. Duke Elegant, a nod to Duke Ellington, and Mercernary, a tip of the cane to songwriter Johnny Mercer), it was inevitable that Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack would get around to covering the music of Louis Armstrong. Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch isn’t an exercise in retro cool, however – no 1920s jazz here. Instead the Night Tripper adapts Satchmo’s standards to post-WWII R&B, from funk to gospel to hip-hop.
Thus “Dippermouth Blues” rolls as New Orleans second line funk, “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” (featuring vox from the Blind Boys of Alabama) grows into a widescreen soul epic, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” (with Ledisi and the McCrary Sisters) becomes a gospel powerhouse, “Motherless Child (featuring Anthony Hamilton) flows like a 70s soul ballad and “Sweet Hunk O’ Trash” (with a sassy Shemekia Copeland) evolves into acidic R&B. Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife,” with a especially funky arrangement, a Mike Ladd rap interlude and Rebennack’s laconic, conversational delivery, is so far afield from typical versions as to be virtually unrecognizable.
Of course, no Satch tribute would be complete without his best-known song “Wonderful World.” As the opening track, the indisputable classic gets a thorough N’awlins makeover, with danceable rhythm and a honking trumpet solo from Nicholas Payton. Speaking of brass, while the focus remains fixed on the vocal performances, Rebennack calls in plenty of ringers to add licks from Armstrong’s primary instrument, as Payton, Terence Blanchard, Arturo Sandoval and James “12” Andrews make prominent appearances throughout.
Louis Armstrong may have provided the raw material for Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, but make no mistake: this is a Dr. John LP through-and-through. As it should be.
DOWNLOAD: “Wonderful World,” “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “Mack the Knife”