Leo Nocentelli and Zigaboo Modeliste, B.B King Blues Club & Grill, NYC- 5/27
It has been said that funk is among the most difficult styles of music to play. And while some would argue with that sentiment, what is clear is that playing just a few notes or beats is just as difficult as playing too many notes or beats. A truly great funk artist is able to lay back and "feel" the groove, more so than in almost any other style of music. It's not about dexterity or a voluminous quantity of notes. It's about the groove, it's about the funk. And few, if any, did it better than the pioneers of funk, The Meters.
These days, the founding four members of the aforementioned band have gone separate ways. While all are still active, two of the members, Art Neville and George Porter Jr. find themselves touring and performing with more consistency than the others, thanks to one of the better live acts in the country these days, The Funky Meters and, for George, its offshoot PBS. But Leo and Zigaboo still remain "out there" making appearances and gracing many a stage during Jazzfest in New Orleans, including this past year when they performed together at The Howlin' Wolf.
So it was with great interest that my friends and I made our way over to BB Kings for a full concert by the other half of The Meters. In addition to these two monsters of funk, Doug Wimbish of Living Colour fame (although not the original bassist in that band) and Robert Walter of 20th Congress (and Greyboy Allstars) notoriety were along for the ride, putting four musicians on stage, each of which could surely bring "the heat." Unfortunately for the audience, one brought enough to set the building on fire
Whether it was during "Fiya' On the Bayou" or "People Say," Leo Nocentelli's overbearing guitar work too often overshadowed some of the best funk songs ever written. Few would argue that funk is about laying back and going with the moment, so it's curious to me why one of the founding members of one of the greatest funk bands in all the land would choose to play as many notes as possible as quickly as possible. To a large degree, it didn't matter what song was being played because, inevitably, they all degenerated into the same thing: A Leo guitar solo. Granted, all the other members got turns soloing, which essentially turned the evening into a merry go round, where each member took turns playing something over the chord changes, so it wasn't "only" Leo, but it was predominantly Leo.
That's not to say there was no redeeming quality to the show. If nothing else, it was, to a degree, entertaining. Zigaboo remains one of the funkiest drummers on earth and the tunes are still top notch and Leo's guitar work is, at times, stunningly good. The songs themselves, as played by Leo and Zigaboo, adhere more strictly to the original Meters versions, and that is certainly interesting to hear live as The Funky Meters, after all these years, have their own take on the original tunes. However, somewhere along the way, Leo's lead work moved beyond funk. It moved beyond the groove and found itself in some other world where "Africa" and "Hey Pocky Way" didn't dare dwell.
Unfortunately, the audience stayed right where they are.