Jon Batiste, like so many of the great New Orleans pianists who came before him, cannot be contained. Batiste, whom locals undoubtedly still refer to as Jonathan, performs with unabashed exuberance wherever his mood stylistically takes him. As heard again on Social Music, that could be just about anywhere.
In grand form, the 26-year-old unleashes the training he received in jazz and classical music at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) and the Julliard School of Music. Those who appreciate these sides of the keyboardist’s talents get instant gratification. Following the rumble of thunder, Batiste opens the disc performing “D Flat Movement” solo on an acoustic piano. He’s back at the instrument for one of the album’s highlights, the Latin jazz infused “San Spirito.” The use of the tuba—played by Ibana Ruhumbika—instead of a bass works really well in this setting. The tune soon takes flight with the entrance of Eddie Barbash’s alto. Then drummer Joy Saylor totally swings the rhythm.
Batiste does pick up the melodica, an instrument he’s been turning to on his more modern, pop-driven material, giving such tunes an up-to-date flavor. He utilizes it well on “Let God Lead,” on which he sings the message filled-lyrics. “St. James Infirmary” could be considered an over-recorded tune, but Batiste and his obviously of-one-mind bandmates transform the chestnut by bringing in contemporary tonalities and some extravagant musical elements.
Batiste has long been known for his versatility. The cuts on Social Music play like a book of short stories. They each boast different themes, yet are obviously written by the same author or, in the case of this album, created by the same musician. Moving from jazz to pastoral music and interjecting a rag and a rather funny, rollin’ piano number, Batiste makes in Social Music some fascinating listening.