Fred Wesley

Live at the Jazz Cafe, London 7-11-10

By Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards

It was February 2008 when the Godfather of Funk trombone, Fred Wesley Jr. last brought the New JB’s to town and their return visit was as eagerly anticipated as it was then – even more so having experienced such a tremendous feel good factor previously.

Fred Wesley @ the Jazz Cafe / Photo: Jeff G Photography
And so it was that the New JB’s assembled on stage minus Big Papa amid tumultuous roars and whoops! Straight away Dwayne Dolphin, whose physique somehow depicts the archetypal bass player, began twanging the familiar intro to Herbie Hancock’s, Chameleon. Thirty seconds later the crowd roused again, this time for the ‘Main Man’ Fred Wesley Jr. as he sauntered onto centre stage, picked up his horn and began a choreographed side to side sway with his fellow horn section.

Two and a half minutes into the groove Mr Wesley laid down his first solo of the evening. Has ‘Chameleon’ ever sounded funkier? I think not! Guest alto saxophonist, Dale Gordon then got his moment in the spot light and represented big time. Next up to solo was to be Uncle Ernie Fields Jr., his distinctive black and silver tenor sax looked majestic and boy could he play it! Gary Winters soon stepped to the fore, the rounded tone of his trumpet soothing ones ears. Gary made way for Reggie Ward on guitar to represent before everyone joined in for a full blown crescendo. And this was just their opening salvo!!

Ernie Fields Jr. @ the Jazz Cafe, London / Photo: Jeff G Photography

Next came the big phat infectious groove of ‘Damn right I am Somebody’ with Mr.Wesley leading the way swaying side to side as he delivered his trademark staccato solo. Once again Gary Winters followed suite, this time muting his horn, producing some subtle and sweet sounding emissions. Ernie Fields Jr. completed this round of solos. With the crowd suitably warmed up, Fred and his cohorts raised the funk stakes by off loading a pulsating version of ‘No One.’

Dwayne Dolphin (bass) @ the Jazz Cafe, London / Photo: Jeff G Photography

The opening five or so bars making you believe that the tune belongs to the score from a 1970’s action thriller. Two and a half minutes in and the animal that is Dwayne Dolphin took over proceedings, laying the down the nastiest three minute bass solo The Dood has witnessed. His thumbs must be made from asbestos, because I do believe I saw smoke rising from his axe strings! Special mention must be made here of Bruce Cox who kept a tight rhythm on the skins whilst Dwayne did his thang.

FW then got to expose his softer side with two significantly more downbeat tracks; ‘For the Elders,’ Fred’s dedication to the great Jazz and Funk musicians of yesterday, and then the soulful ballad, ‘In Love in L.A.’ Fred’s trombone control was as masterly here as on the more recognised up tempo jams. Interlude over it was back to familiar territory with the toe tapping, head nodding refrains of ‘Same Beat’ filling the Jazz cafe air – the crowd needing little encouragement to chant ‘Same Beat’ in time with the groove.

Ernie Fields Jr. @ the Jazz Cafe / Photo: Jeff G Photography

Then Fred and his new JB’s took us back to his 1974 album ‘Breakin’ Bread’ pumping out the title track. Mr. Wesley began his narrative, explaining to keen listeners about how it was back in the day when his Mom would bake a traditional bread called, *‘Hoecake’ bread. He also goes on to extol the virtues of good ole family values and get togethers. Everyone to a man and woman joined in with the catchy chorus, ‘Breakin’ bread with my Mama, breakin’ bread with my mama, breakin’ bread!’

Fred Wesley @ the Jazz Cafe, London / Photo: Jeff G Photography

The transition into the classic deep down and dirty licks of ‘Pass the Peas’ was ecstatically welcomed by a very appreciative audience as there was an even smoother segue into an equally legendary Funk classic, ‘Gimme Some More.’ Now we entered the back end of the show and it was time to unveil Fred’s long time friend from upstate New York, vocalist Willi Amrod. Willi took to the stage dressed in a white shirt, black waistcoat, black trousers and a black woollen cap to perform, ‘Everywhere is Out of Town,’ a song he wrote for Fred’s new album, ‘With a Little Help From My Friends.’ The grittiness of Amrod’s vocal marrying neatly with Fred Wesley’s and Pee Wee Ellis’ musical arrangement.

Willi Amrod – Guest vocalist with Fred Wesley and the JB’s/ Photo: Jeff G Photography

Willi, quite rightly remained on stage to partake in the climax to the evening. Then Fred and the guys once again piped up and hollered, ‘We’re gonna have a funky good time! We’re gonna have a funky good time! We’re gonna take you h-I-g-h-e-r!’ Yep, the incredibly uplifting and punchy Wesley/Brown composed ‘Doing It to Death’ had the room of dedicated funk-a-teers, jamming, singing and waving their arms in unison. Fred proved he had plenty enough puff in those well trained lungs to send down yet another fierce solo that even the late godfather of Soul, James Brown himself would have appreciated and praised him for.

Gary Winters (trumpet) @ the Jazz Cafe, London / Photo: Jeff G Photography

As the band left the stage the audience remained steadfast, knowing full well Fred Wesley’s signature encore tune and perfect grand finale to any gig was yet to come. Sure enough, Fred and his band of funky men gathered for one of the best ‘feel good’ songs ever written, ‘House Party.’ He had us in the palm of his hand, orchestrating everyone from start to finish as we sang, ‘Gonna have a House Party! Gonna have a House Par-teeeeee!’ Once again Fred Wesley Jr. had demonstrated that he has long since loosed the shackles of the JB’s sideman, and was one hundred percent, front man and the ‘Main Man.’ He is band leader, pied-piper, entertainer, story-teller, conductor and trombone player supreme all in one ‘Super-Funky’ body.
Michael J Edwards

*Hoecake is a type of thin cornbread made of cornmeal, salt, and water, which is baked on a griddle. It became known as “hoecake” because field hands often cooked it on a shovel or hoe held to an open flame. Hoes designed for cotton fields were large and flat with a hole for the long handle to slide through. The blade would be removed and placed over a fire much like a griddle.

Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards with Joya Wesley (Mr. Wesley’s Daughter & Manager) after Fred Wesley and the New JB’s gig @ the Jazz cafe, London

Essential Album: With a Little Help From My Friends (Sep 2010)

01:Spring Like (Pee Wee Ellis) [3:47]
02:Swedish Funkballs (Wesley) [4:01]
03:Beautiful (John Dolgin) [5:09]
04:Ashes To Ashes (Wesley, Cox, Dolphin) [4:15]
05:Palms Up (Dolphin) [5:59]
06:Homeboy (Maceo Parker) [4:55]
07:Obamaloo (Madsen) [5:01)
08:Everywhere Is Out Of Town (lyrics by Willi Amrod, music by Wesley/Ellis) [4:41]
09:Peace Fugue (Wesley) [4:42]

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