There's always cause for celebration when Al Kooper comes home to New York City to perform. The legendary rock and roll pioneer, now 62 years old, kicked off his latest show at the B.B. King Blues Club backed by 2 members of his stellar band The Funky Faculty (Jesse Williams / bass and Larry Finn / drums). He donned his guitar and led off with a rollicking version of the Blues Project classic, "I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes," after which he moved to his familiar spot behind the Hammond organ. The remaining band members emerged (Daryl Lowery / sax and flute, Jeff Stout / trumpet, Bob Doezema / guitar) and the group dove into a monstrous cover of Booker T & the MG's "Green Onions." That was it. Al was in town and the place was rockin'. The band is astoundingly tight and strong, as they are all current or former professors from the Berklee School of Music in Boston (hence the name The Funky Faculty). Each member of the group is truly at the top of their game musically. You just don't get any better than this.
For those who are not familiar with Kooper or his work, he has a musical resume that could rival just about anybody's. His career has spanned 4 decades with his first big break coming as session organist on Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" album in 1965. He was a member of the renowned Blues Project, founded Blood, Sweat & Tears, was a session player for the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Who, George Harrison, and many others, plus discovered the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd band, producing their first 3 albums. The fact that this man has not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an absolute atrocity, but that's another story for another time.
Back on stage, Kooper devoted a good part of the set to some excellent numbers from his recent album "Black Coffee" and also performed several classic tunes including his jazz-fusion masterpiece "Flute Thing" and the Blood, Sweat & Tears chestnut "Somethin' Goin' On." But one of the things that makes a Kooper concert so special is the spontaneity of the set and all the humorous comments and insights that he provides between every song. He's genuinely funny with a twisted sense of humor that keeps the crowd thoroughly entertained, and even though at times he gets a little carried away and starts to ramble on and on, the audience doesn't mind one bit. They've come to see Al, and he always delivers the goods.
Behind the humor and laid-back persona however is a genuine musical mastermind. One is astounded by his virtuosity on keyboards and even more so on guitar (He was actually a session guitarist before becoming a celebrated keyboardist). During one number, he and guitarist extraordinaire Bob Doezema traded licks in a riveting instrumental break, battling each other for supremacy in an astounding display of musical brilliance. Kooper and his band members can meld together to create a massive wall of rock and funk then turn around and deliver a beautifully executed ballad as evidenced by Kooper's stunning rendition of the lush Ray Charles classic "Just For a Thrill." Simply put, this is one hell of a group.
Aside from the Kooper classics and his material from "Black Coffee," there were also a few other surprises tossed in like a rollicking version of Billy Boy Arnold's "I Wish You Would," made popular by The Yardbirds, and an electrifying cover of the old Roy Head number from 1966, "Treat Her Right" (introduced by Kooper as a little "head" music).
The show ran exactly 2 hours, but the audience was pumped and geared up for at least another 2 or 3. A Kooper performance is sheer joy from beginning to end. It cleanses the soul with great music, great humor and great vibes. I'm proud to say that I'm a native New Yorker just like Al, and it's always a pleasure to welcome him back home to the Big Apple. May he have many more homecomings to the great city where it all started 4 decades ago.
For more information about Al Kooper and his music, check out his website at www.alkooper.com
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