The Nashville Jazz Workshop’s Jazz Cave often resembled an old-school R&B honky-tonk club on Friday night as Charles “Wigg” Walker showed a packed house the meaning of soul in both classic and contemporary senses.
Over two 60-plus minute sets, Walker shouted, moaned, wailed and constantly took the crowd on the search for secular salvation that permeates and defines great R&B/soul singing.
Though he’s made much of his 21st-century impact fronting a large band in the manner of classic R&B orchestras, Walker’s accompaniment on this night, the first of a two-evening stand as part of the NJW’s Black History Month celebration, was a three-piece combo that provided both tight, crunching grooves and outstanding support on slower ballads and story songs.
Guitarist Pat Bergeson has long displayed his acumen for the fluid voicings and piercing chords that are a patented part of the jazz stylist’s vocabulary. But he consistently demonstrated on a host of tunes that he’s just as superb playing 12-bar blues or filling in spaces between vocal dips and swoops.
Organist Charles Treadway skillfully worked the pedals to provide the backdrop normally supplied by either an acoustic or electric bassist, while being adept in both rhythmic and lead categories.
The final ingredient was drummer Pete Abbott, best known as the recent drummer for the Average White Band. He never got a solo all night, yet was a vital component as he kept building, creating and working amazing grooves, rhythmic textures and beats.
Walker’s been on the soul/R&B scene since the early ’60s, though he joked “I’m only 28.” He knows every trick of the trade, from manipulating phrases, extending lines and working the crowd to carefully milking narratives for full impact, particularly on heartache and blues pieces.
His voice never lost any energy or impact despite the set lengths, and he continually urged the audience to interact, while acknowledging that the normal soul/R&B fan base tends to be a bit louder and more constantly responsive than that of jazz. “Are you having fun,” was one of his persistent questions, and there was audibly increased reaction over both shows from an appreciative crowd that didn’t thin out much during the set break.
There were a host of highlights, but prominent among them were both vigorous covers and stirring originals. He did a solid job on The Four Tops’ “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I Got),” which opened the show, and was spectacular on the closer “C.C. Rider.” He also did a fiery version of “Fleetwood Cadillac,” and showed a more sophisticated side with a savvy rendition of “Teach Me Tonight.”
He also revisited his past, doing such previously recorded numbers as “Please Open The Door,” (first set closer), though this version was taken a bit slower than the original.
Yet perhaps the most revealing tunes were new numbers from a forthcoming project that includes appearances from both Bergeson and Treadway.
On “That Kind of Love,” “I Like Em’ Like That” and “It’s Just a Matter of Trust,” Walker sang with a ferocity and range that proved he’s still a formidable vocalist, as well as illustrating these songs deserve some attention.
“Hopefully someone will play them somewhere so we can get cab fare home,” he laughed, before going into “It’s Just A Matter of Trust.” Sadly, urban contemporary radio has little use for traditional soul tunes done by young folks, let alone those from people who were working before many current radio programmers were born.
Anyone interested in black cultural history got the opportunity to hear some Friday night at the Jazz Cave, as Charles “Wigg” Walker displayed all the virtues of a great R&B/soul vocalist. Thankfully, he’s still very relevant today, at least to anyone interested in fine songs and topflight performances.
IF YOU GO
Charles “Wigg” Walker performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9 at the Nashville Jazz Workshop’s Jazz Cave, 1319 Adams St. Admission is $20 / $10 high school and college students with ID. Tickets for both nights will go on sale Monday, January 28 at 10AM and will be available online on this page or by phone 24/7 at Brown Paper Tickets (800-838-3006) or during business hours at the NJW office (242-5299). A small convenience charge is added to online or 800-number purchases.