The influence of the jam band phenomenon on the local music scene deserves more refection. As a commercial enterprise, the genre has an obvious impact on the bookings and audiences that visit the city. Yet, creatively, how does the popularity of continuous, guitar-driven improvisation affect music in the home of improvisation? The latest release from Russell Batiste offers some clues.
Batiste is a giant, the most recent chapter in the epic tale of New Orleans drummers. Listening to him live, you get both the weight of lineage and the unique views of a man who loves John Bonham. Juggernaut and showman, he can blow your mind all over again on the 110th listen.
Yet records are for selling, and while this one hints at the entertainment potential of the group, the jamminess fogs over Batiste’s greatness. Six of the 11 tracks are instrumental, adult funk showcases for guitarist Sazo Shibayama and the substantial chops of the entire outfit. Stylistically, Shibayama chooses Dickey Betts over Duane Allman, which works well with Batiste’s inventive fills but rarely grabs your heart. Overall, the album feels like an appeal to jam band festival organizers worldwide. “Country Gravy” could be a half-page ad in Relix.
There are some anomalies. “Get on Down,” the Indian-influenced first track, does exactly that. An Auto-Tuned Jason Neville on “Trying to Make It Home” is a little odd, but oddly logical. On a fairly uniform album, both tracks remind us that we expect the unexpected from Russell Batiste.