Vidacovich – Johnny Vidacovich
Paw Maw 02
It's already been a busy year for drummer Johnny Vidacovich, who has
rightfully gained legendary status in his native New Orleans but goes
shamefully unrecognized throughout the rest of the country. His band Astral
Project released Big Shot, one of the finest contemporary jazz discs
this year and the group's first as a quartet. In addition to touring with
Astral Project, Vidacovich (who Stanton Moore claims as a major influence)
holds down a weekly jam session at the Old Point Bar in Algiers that has
included everyone from George Porter Jr. to Luther Dickinson.
Vidacovich is further testimony to the drummer's art. Here, he teams
with the all-star cast of Crescent City players that consists of
sousaphonist Matt Perrine (Royal Fingerbowl, All That), keyboardist Michael
Pellera, guitarist Shane Theriot (the Neville Brothers) and saxophonist Tony
Dagradi (Astral Project) in settings ranging from duet to full band.
Vidacovich uses rhythm not just to keep time but as a lead instrument.
The diversity of the dozen tracks is impressive. The disc kicks off with
Pellera's funky "The Zone". The rhythm section of Vidacovich and Perrine
make use of the New Orleans tradition of the sousaphone replacing the bass
and provide an elasticity that allows Theriot, far more greasy here than in
the Neville Brothers and Dagradi to fly freely above the bedrock.
Project's Big Shot was heralded as a return to its Big Easy roots.
Vidacovich has always been the most quintessential New Orleanian of the
group and has his city's stamp throughout this project. "Second Opinion,"
showcasing the drummer Perrine and Dagradi (also great but highly
unrecognized musicians) is a romp through parade rhythms and culture. The
joyous celebration of a second-line bleeds through the tune and is a great
reminder of the pure pleasure of New Orleans street music. There's also a
slew of contemporary – not to be confused with smooth – jazz offerings from
the pens of Vidacovich and Pellera.
The only questionable cut on the disc is the Vidacovich composition "Deb's
Garden". Having appeared on Astral Project's 1999 disc "Voodoo Bop," this
line-up doesn't expand on the original and the only thing you'll find
missing is David Torkanowsky's sweet piano work.
Being a quintessential New Orleanian, Vidacovich is also a character. That
comes across in his three somewhat bizarre – and sparsely accompanied – poems. Whether denouncing "Jack Shee" for his materialism or extolling the
joys of caffeine in "Coffee," in which he owns up to drinking at least a
dozen cups a day, Vidacovich doesn't seem to be on the same page as most
Americans — but then again, the best New Orleans personalities usually
"Vidacovich" is further proof that the drummer and his compatriots are among
the slew of Crescent City that rank among the best anywhere. Unfortunately,
attention only seems to be paid to them at Jazz Fest time.