New Orleans 71-year old music legend/ rock and roll hall of fame inductee Allen Toussaint showed up at Herbst on Saturday night as part of SF Jazz's final weekend and gave one of the most flawless and sincere performances I've ever attended. He received a standing ovation when we strolled out on stage, sat down at the piano and proceeded to make sure the gesture from the crowd was justified. The next hour and a half can best be summed up with one word: authentic.
Playing a mixture of his own material, both old and new, along with other tunes I at least didn't associate with him (a very poignant version of Paul Simon's "American Tune"), Toussaint gave everything his unique signature by playing with care, grace and emotion without ever having to reach for a flashy note. He let the music do the talking for him- and it spoke of the deep history of New Orleans music and America's beyond it.
He gave an extended solo segment during "Southern Nights" that incorporated Chopin, barrelhouse, funk and blues then segued into "Ya Got Trouble" from the Music Man, which proved to be delight in his hands, before bringing it all back home again.
Echoes of Professor Longhair, Dr. John, the Nevilles all percolated through the set, but it was an unpretentious exhibition of his own legacy and his impact on the music of New Orleans. His back-up band was superb- especially Roland Guerin on the bass, who was giving his own masterclass on laying down a groove and anchoring the rhythm, and Renard Poche on guitar, sporting a very cool retro 70s look. Drummer Herman Lebeaux and percussionist Clarence Toussaint kept the music chugging along with finesse and I especially admired Toussaint's light flourishes on various triangles and chimes- so delicate they floated behind the music adding small but distinct and deft touches.
I almost wish this show had been held at a venue with a dance floor, because the funk served up certainly made me want to move. That's my only quibble about a show that was pretty damn perfect- well, I would have like to have heard "Yes We Can," but I guess we couldn't.
Using the essentially the same musical line-up as the previous evening's Hiromi Uehara gig, though with an extra percussionist in tow, the juxtaposition of these two shows back to back really provided an interesting display of musical versatility- and how far the boundaries of jazz extend. The instruments making the music were the same, but the two sets may have well have originated on different planets- or at least musically, they were worlds apart.
Those who missed this one missed out.