Jon Batiste – “Hollywood Africans”- CD


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Jon Batiste plays the perfect sidekick as Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” music director. When the camera finds him at the piano Mr. Batiste is a leader, directing his Stay Human band through a wide range of music.

On his new release, “Hollywood Africans” (Verve), Mr. Batiste comes out of the gate hard and fast. The opening track, “Kenner Boogie,” evokes a lineage of New Orleans pianism: Champion Jack Dupree’s propulsive boogie-woogie; the groove-based magnetism of Fats Domino’s early rock ’n’ roll; the tumbling Afro-Caribbean beats of Professor Longhair’s jazz-colored rhythm-and-blues.

The rest of “Hollywood Africans” may come as a surprise—a revelation, even—for Mr. Batiste’s fans. The mood, crafted with producer T Bone Burnett, is introspective. Even the most declarative tracks suggest vulnerability. Mr. Batiste combines well-known songs and original compositions to form a fairly seamless statement that nods toward legacies but sounds personal.

His new music represents a bold professional move and an elegant meditation on complicated truths from a young black man thrust into stardom, still sorting out traditions of richness and pain.