Don Blackman: London Jazz Cafe

No need for an enormous back catalogue when you've got this much charisma...

No longer sporting the beaded plaits he displayed on the cover of solo album ‘Blackman’, Don Blackman is now a balding, portly man. But 19 years after the release of his career defining, career enhancing and career enduring album, Don Blackman sings like a angel. A funky angel.

Of the six members of his live band, only Brit soloist Angie Brown (one of tonight’s backing singers) and bassist Dale Davis, really get on the good foot – Blackman’s style. They show off and pull out the stops, getting their instruments to go places remixes and samples cannot. More than once Blackman beams at them because he knows that anyone jamming with him has to wear a number of guises (as Blackman himself does – going from authoritative musician to lampoon artist). This is the man, remember, who has played in Parliament Funkadelic. Who has recorded with Mary J. Blige and Janet Jackson, who Master P and Snoop Dogg sampled all on the strength of one album…

Given the brevity of his back catalogue, tonight’s gig is pre-destined to be short. But being the synth-driven keyboardist he is, Blackman simply extends, suspends and lengthens melodies. He repeats ad-libs and enjoys the indulgent freedom instrumental-based material provides. The girls boogying at the front of the stage quickly cotton onto this and demand, an hour into the set, that he sings the divine ‘Holding You, Loving You’ once again just for them. And he does. Ordinarily, Blackman never does encores.

The appealing thing about Blackman’s work is the fact that it seems so anonymous; that you don’t know you know it until you hear it. But tonight’s sold out performance is played to the devoted fan. The second generation of soul boy ravers – the guys and girls who followed British sound systems around London throughout the ’80s who have come for the live evocation of their memories.

While they are not the ones raising their hands to the jocular funk numbers, ‘Yabadabadoo’ and the lambasting ‘You Ain’t Hip, they are the cats closing their eyes as the demure, ’70s-sounding classics: ‘Heart’s Desire’, ‘Holding You, Loving You’ and ‘Since You’ve Been Away So Long unfurl. Tracks which, like Blackman’s time onstage, comes to an end too damn quickly.

Jacqueline Springer