JAZZ / House calls: Phil Johnson on MAC Rebennack at the Jazz Cafe

MAC Rebennack has been a barely living legend for a quarter of a century now, and it looks like it. The alter ego of psychedelic New Orleans voodoo prince Dr John the Night Tripper, he first entered British consciousness by way of a cover version of 'Walk on Gilded Splinters' in 1969. Today, he's like a late picture of Dorian Gray, black beret replacing the jewelled head-dress of the good doctor's glory days.

Apart from the old voodoo walking cane crooked over the mike stand, and a few choice bits of esoteric jewellery, this was clearly a Rebennack rather than a Night Tripper gig. The distinction is worth making: in the old days, when Dr John sprinkled magical gris-gris dust as he played and sang, it wasn't always realised that his creator was a white acolyte of the New Orleans R&B scene of the 1950s who had learned from Professor Longhair and Huey 'Piano' Smith while still a schoolkid. After moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, Rebennack joined the expatriate New Orleans community of session musicians and recorded Gris-Gris, his first album. The Dr John concept, named for a 19th- century New Orleans character, was born and Rebennack hit the circuit, backed by a band, a snake-dancer and voodoo drummers.

Now it's just Rebennack, the piano and the Dr John songbook, a walking encyclopaedia of New Orleans music from jazz to funk opening with some expert boogie woogie. Latin-inflected triplets leaping from his fingers like the proverbial fish-a-jumping, Rebennack sounded great but looked tentative. Barking out the vocals in that trademark black-voiced whine, with a bleary-eyed hangdog look - like Zero Mostel or Tom and Jerry's bulldog on a bad day - Rebennack is a deeply serious artist saddled with a repertoire that makes people want to have fun. Even the hits, such as they are, like 'Right Place, Wrong Time' or 'Not Her, Not Her' come across in solo mode like lachrymose laments. Half of the audience stood with eyes closed in spiritual communion, while the other half looked like they thought a conga-line was coming up any minute.

Like the old trouper he is, Rebennack just carried on regardless, getting better and better as the long set progressed. An instrumental version of Ellington's 'In a Sentimental Mood', for example, was heart-stoppingly good. He remained more or less expressionless throughout, a working musician doing his job, no more and no less, and not a trace of gris-gris dust hit the stage. 'I just do what I do,' he told me. 'I'm no hellfire thing, but I do know how to sell a song; I just do it and it's me.' After the gig, he sat in the dressing-room staring into space, smoking a cheroot, not really knowing how great he had been.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'