Dr. John: Ske-Dat-De-Dat, The Spirit Of Satch

Dr-John-the-spirit-of-satch-album-cover

Dr. John
Ske-Dat-De-Dat…The Spirit of Satch
(Proper/Concord)
4 out of 5 stars

Look no further than the title to understand the origins of Dr. John’s motivation to pay tribute to Louis Armstrong, one of his New Orleans hometown’s most fabled musicians. The pianist claims that Armstrong’s spirit came to him and said “take my music and do it your way.” John needed no more impetus, especially since he has already honored Satchmo on stage and released similarly styled album tributes to Duke Ellington and Johnny Mercer.

It’s a rollicking affair that touches on gospel, blues and funk, with plenty of jazz, all filtered through Dr. John’s by now patented piano and his scratchy, talk-sung voice. Innovative horn charts power much of this, including a super funky, almost indistinguishable “Mack the Knife,” so different from either Bobby Darin or Armstrong’s versions due to an arrangement that also features a rap interlude—perhaps not entirely necessary—it’s almost unrecognizable.  “Tight like This” takes an unexpected detour into Latin territory complete with Spanish vocals from Telmary. Bonnie Raitt swings in to trade verses and add her usual sass on the cool pop of “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and Shemekia Copeland does likewise on a bluesy, swaggering “Sweet Hunk of Trash.”

Not surprisingly, Dr. John invites a fair share of trumpeters such as Arturo Sandoval, Nicholas Peyton, Terrance Blanchard and the entire Dirty Dozen Brass Band to further juice the already vibrant proceedings. When the album kicks off by transforming the schmaltz of “What a Wonderful World” into a delightfully soulful gospel, New Orleans mid-tempo rave-up, it’s clear Dr. John has found his groove on Satchmo’s material by updating it without losing the inherent sweetness that made the trumpeter/singer so legendary.

The 13 tracks dip into obscurities as well as more popular material, tapping less familiar tracks such as “That’s My Home,” the Dixieland of “Dippermouth Blues” and digging back to the mid-‘20s for “Gut Bucket Blues,” the latter first performed by Armstrong and his Hot Five. All are revived by Dr. John with respect and a few dozen terrific backing musicians. It’s a feisty, dynamic hour long set that does what it sets out to: captures Armstrong’s indefatigable spirit and keeps his music alive for a new generation.