As John Huston tells Jack Nicholson in Chinatown: “Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.” Aging jazz survivors should be added to that list. And, as if to prove it, this collection from the Artist formerly known as Mac Rebennack, collecting the highlights from his four-album Parlophone tenure between 1998’s Anutha Zone and 2004’s N’Awlinz – Dis, Dat Or D’Udda, is packed with a surfeit of celebrity guest stars paying homage at the feet of an old master, from Gaz Coombes and Mick Quinn (Supergrass) and J. Spaceman (Spiritualized) to BB King, Mavis Staples and Paul Weller, either trying to snag a flicker of reflected glory, or scoring a couple of credibility points. He’s survived drink, drugs and numerous shootings, so it’s going to take a lot more than an overabundance of musical guests crowding the place to finish him off.
As with most Best of compilations, this is a patchy collection. The set starts strong, with the Good Doctor’s filthy voice in fine form, growling with a tone scorched by cheap liquor, and vocal chords pummelled from years of gargling with gravel. I Like Ki Yoka, Voices in My Head and Marie Laveau are drenched in his inimitably sleazy blend of voodoo blues and jazz, and It Don’t Mean A Thing is a worthy cover of Duke Ellington’s jazz standard.
Soon after, the set goes awry with the horrific smug jauntiness of Randy Newman guesting on I Ate Up the Apple Tree, a track so irritatingly twee the CD was in danger of being removed from the player and frisbeed out of the window.
The album then seems to jarringly shift styles with the Dixieland sound of Lay My Burden Down and the loping gospel Hammond jazz on I Don’t Wanna Know: two dazzlingly solid slabs of New Orleans jazz. Sadly, we also get lumbered with Food For Thot, a chunk of insubstantial jazz cheese that may impress the rubes and tourists on Bourbon Street, but is woefully inadequate on an album by a musician of his undoubted abilities.
The main problem is that about a third of the tracks are a bit too old fashioned. Yes, its retro and slick and old school, but there is a depressing air of “been there, done that”, whilst classic albums like his 1973 set In The Right Place still sounds raw, fresh and damn funky almost thirty years on. Nevertheless, there are enough flashes of brilliance here to show there is more than enough life in the ol’ Night Tripper yet.