JOHNNY VIDACOVICH — Johnny Vidacovich, June Yamagishi & George Porter Jr. : We Came To Play (review)

JOHNNY VIDACOVICH — Johnny Vidacovich, June Yamagishi & George Porter Jr. : We Came To Play album cover Live album · 2003 · Funk Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
This release documents the long running series of weekly gigs led by drummer Johnny Vidacovich. Since the early 2000s Vidacovich has been assembling an ever-changing cast of musical co-consipirators for nights of unstructured jamming (originally at the Old Point Bar in New Orleans, and now at the Maple Leaf Bar for many years). There is rarely a set list but there are always great moments.

The most common early lineup of "The Trio" is heard here - Johnny V. with June Yamagishi on guitar and George Porter Jr. on the bass. As sidemen these three have played with a who's who of New Orleans music royalty - The Meters, James Booker, Professor Longhair, The Wild Magnolias, Henry Butler, Irma Thomas, and various Nevilles and Marsalises. And they have made waves outside of the city too: Vidacovich with John Scofield and Mose Allison, Porter with Tori Amos, and Yamagishi as one of Japan's most celebrated guitarists before he relocated to New Orleans. It's clear from their backgrounds that this group can make something from nothing.

The music heard on We Came To Play was recorded on a Wednesday night in the summer of 2002 and is representative of a typical trio set. Five long improvised jams, ranging from 8 to 15 minutes in length, with one foot in jazz and the other deep in the funk. Vidacovich and Porter keep the rhythm grounded in the New Orleans funk and second line feel. Although there's plenty of solo space for each player, there are also long passages of pocket-based jamming in which the trio just rides the groove. At times the jams have a dark, swampy texture that contains a faint echo of Bitches Brew, but put through a New Orleans filter. You can almost feel the sweat dripping off the CD.

All three players are at the top of their game. Yamagishi slashes and burns on his guitar solos and is as funky as they get as a rhythm guitarist, and Johnny V. floats across the groove like a butterfly and stings in his solos like a bee. But it's especially great to hear Porter stretching out in extended solos, something he didn't often do on record with the Meters or as a session player. He has tremendous chops of course, but he solos here with economical tastefulness, never letting flashiness compromise the groove. The album also includes two examples of Vidacovich's half-sung, half-spoken vocals on "Is It Nature's Rock and Roll?" and "Be Careful Who You Idolize," two examples of his poetry which pop up often on the trio gigs. Porter growls backup vocals in the background while Johnny reminds the listener to "Be careful who you idolize, use caution when you pick a guru - look inside for the true you!"

There's nothing particularly innovative or earth-shaking here. Rather, it's the sounds of another humid, funky night in the Big Easy, the city where the music never stops. The Johnny Vidacovich trio gigs will soon reach their 20 year anniversary, and after all these years, one thing hasn't changed: these guys came to PLAY.
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