Papa Mali's Supernatural Ball | 02.10

Words & Images by: Jeffrey P. Dupuis

Papa Mali's Supernatural Ball :: 02.10.10 :: Tipitina's :: New Orleans, LA

Papa Mali :: 02.10 :: New Orleans
Living in a place like New Orleans, the past is not really the past. The musical influence of people like Louis Armstrong and Professor Longhair is as palpable as the humidity. People talk about 'Fess as if he just played last week; The Meters aren't seen as an historical reference in NOLA funk, but as one of the building blocks of the NOLA vibe. For better or worse, the present is just an extension of our past that happens to be going on today. I get very excited when something reaches out from someone else's past to resonate strongly in the now. This was one of those nights when musical history reached out and smacked me on the back of the head, as if to say, "You need to know about this, sucka."

For his annual "Supernatural Ball" Papa Mali (guitar, vocals) tapped George Porter Jr. (bass, vocals), Nigel Hall (keys, vocals) and Adam Deitch (drums) to be the house band (Eric Krasno was snowed-in). I cannot say enough about the energy and excitement that Deitch and Hall have been bringing into their collaborations with NOLA musicians. The night was billed as a musical exploration of Donny Hathaway's Live and Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys.

Walking into Tipitina's is like walking into a small neighborhood bar where you know everyone, only it's not that small and happens to be one of the most revered music clubs in the world – with good reason. I like to tell people that I got my education in college but my real schooling occurred at Tip's.

On this night I was greeted by the sounds of solo piano pouring off the stage. With no billing, I inquired as to who was playing and found out that it was Josh Charles, a New York pianist, who held his own through original material as well as great covers of Professor Longhair, whose visage hangs in tribute over the stage. DJ and sax mash up Jermaine Quiz Entourage kept the party rolling through set change. The Soul Rebels Brass Band followed and were able to work the light crowd into a heated dance party, though more and more people joined as the night progressed. The band is in rare form these days, following the recording of a new album that seems to have energized them.

Papa Mali's Supernatural Ball :: 02.10 :: New Orleans
Moving on to the main event, I will publicly admit my ignorance of Hathaway's influence, so when I started digging I was amazed at the connections. Like being brought to bluegrass many years ago through Garcia's Old & In The Way, the band's musical journey pushed me to dig deeper into Hathaway after the show. And isn't that the point in some ways? Throughout the first set, Nigel Hall's soulful voice led the exploration though selections from Hathaway's Live album. Joined at times by the Dirty Dozen's Efrem Towns on trumpet, highlights included a wonderful version of "The Ghetto," a crowd-riling "You've Got a Friend" and a beautiful duet with George Porter Jr. on "Jealous Guy." A funkified "Everything Is Everything" closed the set.

Drinking my way through college as a guitarist, I was well aware of Hendrix's Band of Gypsys and was curious how the band would handle the material. Papa Mali's soulful guitar playing would be more-than-able to carry the lead lines, but that would have been too easy. Rather than make the second set a single-guitar fest, the band rotated in guest guitarists from NOLA, with Billy Iuso, Andrew Block and Matt Grondin each providing a different voice to the mix. In addition, a powerful horn section drove the tunes into new directions. The horn filled interpretations pushed boundaries and visited new spaces I never imagined with Hendrix.

Following the Hendrix selections, the band slipped into a few NOLA standards, including "Welcome to New Orleans," to round out the evening. Filled with both local and traveling music fanatics from all corners in for Mardi Gras, the Supernatural Ball will most likely be judged as one of the best sleeper shows of this Mardi Gras season.

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