Roosevelt Collier

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Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival
July 2019


Roosevelt Collier is a smiling, heavyweight musical genius. A pedal and lap steel guitar player from Miami, Florida, he is sometimes simply referred to as The Dr. Though known for many acclaimed collaborations, he only released his debut solo album, Exit 16, in 2018. He tours with his own band, which changes on a regular basis. This time it was a young trio, also from Florida and each musician impressively proficient on their instruments of bass guitar (Rodrigo Zambrano), drums (Armando Lopez) and keyboards (Jason Matthews). They were each given turns to bring to life the beauty of their instrument, with Collier looking on encouragingly. They are also, in the tradition of Jazz, well tuned into each others’ musical style and wavelength, and had a cool and relaxed manner as if they were jamming together in the bandroom. Collier connected with us right away as an audience, joking about how driving on the left on British roads had led to some close calls on the way to perform in Edinburgh, and seemed genuinely overjoyed to receive such a warm welcome from the festival audience. The Piccolo tent is just as it sounds, a cosy and intimate setting to enjoy a performance from a small band. It’s a temporary structure; friendly and comfortable, but with mystifyingly great acoustics.

Collier began the show on his lap steel guitar, with Roosevelt the Dr. printed on the front. He’s named Doctor for mastery of this unusual instrument; a guitar with pedals and levers that can allow for a great deal of complexity. He gave us the eponymous track from his album that’s on the GroundUP Music label founded by Grammy award-winning Snarky Puppy’s manager (bassist and composer) Michael League. He has produced and contributed to some beautiful tracks for Collier; Exit 16 track itself is expansive as it steadily builds in intensity with a few Hendrix-worthy rock guitar moments.

Zambrano’s guitar strap broke half way through the set, leaving him temporarily disconcerted. Encouraged by Collier to sit down and keep it going, he sat on his speaker and did just that. It didn’t seem to matter a bit, because even without vocals, and playing just four instruments, the band was able to masterfully weave in a myriad of influences into the sound. Trippy, psychedelic tinges melded into a Detroit House vibe, then veered over into disco territory and some heavy funk, with the legacy of Collier’s gospel background and early years of playing in church with his cousins shining through all these layers of genres. Pedal steel guitar is associated with sacred music around the world, though it originated in Hawaii, and is popular in country music.

Supernatural Encounters was possibly my favourite number with its insistent beat and extravaganza of rock guitar spread over a deliciously indulgent five minutes. Their slow, swingy cover of Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel lets you experience the roots of the song structure differently from the original and feel the ancestral connections Black music has across genres. Happy Feet is fast and funky, a fun tune that had everyone moving. h

Make it Alright is a tune where Collier encourages some audience participation, and the crowd readily clapped along to this long, cheerful track. Satisfying and uplifting; this one took us on a comforting journey reminiscent of the waves of an early morning chanting session in an ashram.

Collier took his time deciding on what tune they should leave us with. “I’m from the South, so I’m gonna play some blues for y’all”, Collier beamed at us, before launching their last heavy blues number and encouraging us all to come up front and dance. An elderly man with a hearing aid was ecstatically swaying in his seat, a shy teenager behind him clapping along with the tune, an auburn American woman in a leather jacket rushed to the stage to rally to Collier’s dance call. As the audience continued standing for an enthusiastic ovation, the young French musician next to me exclaimed “That was the very best concert I ever saw in my life!” I think most of the crowd would probably agree. Quincy Jones has not dubbed him “the best there is” without reason.

Reviewer: Lisa Williams

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