June Yamagishi is the most celebrated electric guitarist in Japanese music history. His move to New Orleans in search of a higher level of musical enlightenment was something like British guitarist Eric Clapton’s decision, at the high point of his popularity with the supergroups Cream and Blind Faith, to become a sideman in the American blues and R&B band of Delaney and Bonnie. Yamagishi played with the Wild Magnolias before forming a New Orleans supergroup with John Gros on keyboards, called Papa Grows Funk, and when PGF returned to Japan, Yamagishi and the band were treated like royalty.
So it is that the Japanese label Coastline has issued a live record of Gros and Yamagishi in a new band, recorded live in New Orleans at Tipitina’s, several years after PGF disbanded (although the band still reunites for an occasional show, like this year’s May 6 reunion concert). Gros and Yamagishi’s fiery and funkified interaction is in its full glory on this set, with bassist KenKen and drummer Nikki Glaspie pouring jet fuel on the conflagration.
Gros and Yamagishi are in top form on the electrifying opener “Pass it!,” one of PGF’s signature tunes from the 2007 album Live at the Leaf, here played at breakneck speed. The band slows down the groove for the funky R&B of Billy Preston’s “All That I’ve Got,” featuring Gros singing in a nasty baritone. Yamagishi contributes a beautifully composed solo. Gros then lets up on the gas for “Cocaine and Chicken Fricassee,” the most PGF-like track from Gros’s most recent solo album, River’s on Fire. A terrific cover of the Gros favorite “Come Together” is then followed by Titus Turner’s “All Around the World.”
The Tipitina’s set ends with an apocalyptic medley of Meters funk and Led Zeppelin hard rock, moving from Leo Nocentelli’s “The Hype and the Hoopla,” through “Good Times Bad Times,” and the Meters’ “Funky Miracle.”
The record adds a little lagniappe from a live set at Tokyo’s Club Quattro, a showcase for June’s gorgeous invocation of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, “June’s Spirit,” which breaks into the Meters’ “Ain’t No Use.” The Gros/Yamagishi magic is a classic New Orleans sound that’s always welcome in any context.