“I have three things in common with Ella Fitzerald,” Ben Harper said to the Montreal audience who braced the extreme heat that has overtaken Montreal for the past few days to hear him and Charlie Musselwhite play at the Montreal Jazz Festival, “A commitment to civil rights, partnering with others, and been married three times.” Harper is the twentieth recipient of the Ella Fitzerald Award following in the footsteps of Sade, Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin et Erykah Badu, and other musical giants. Harper thankfully recalled how in 1994, as a young 25-year-old, he first performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and had been “amazed to see an entire city taken over by music.” Now, 48-years old, and none the wiser, he still hasn’t seen anything like it. And thanks he gave by playing an all-out, take no mercy, leave-no-prisoners-behind performance that left members of the audience literally howling, crying, laughing and swaying to the music. In light of his latest award, it was only à propos that Harper started the evening with the classic “Summertime,” composed in 1934 by George Gershwin, and spectacularly jazzed up by Ella Fitzerald with Armstrong’s trumpet introduction. It was soon followed by “When I Go,” a gritty guitar, hard blues taken from his and Musselwhite’s No Mercy in This Land album released in March 2018.
Dedicated “I Don’t Believe a Word You Say” to Trump
Harper dedicated “I Don’t Believe a Word You Say” to Donald Trump, with opening lyric “I see your mouth moving, But there’s a circus coming out,” making clear how he feels about the 45th President of the United States.
“When Love is Not Enough” is one of those love songs that can only be composed and performed by souls who have loved and lost, and still feel the pain. Chills were running down my spine. Harper has collaborated with many musical greats, but there’s no doubt that in my mind, Charlie’s harmonica and Harper’s voice and slide guitar were meant for each other. Mississippi-born Musselwhite, a Blues Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy Awards winner, said, “To me, the harmonica is like a voice” and last night, those lucky enough to attend the concern, heard it, and I, 18 hours later, still vibrate with the emotion that came across in his harmonica. Musselwhite speaking of Harper said,”Ben is a sensitive man with music and the people who play it.” No doubt that these two are an inspired pair. The duo has collaborated on three albums No Mercy In This Land, Get Up! and Sanctuary and are now touring to promote No Mercy in This Land.
When I Go
The Blues Overtook Me
I Don’t Believe A Word You Say
I’m In I’m Out, And I’m Gone
Trust You To Dig My Grave
I Ride At Dawn
Found The One
I’m Going Home
Blood Side Out
When Love Is Not Enough
When The Levee BreaksFor the encore, No Mercy In This Land
The Bottle Wins Again
All That Matters Now
My only disappointment is that I didn’t get to meet Ben and Charlie after the show and asked them a few follow-up questions. Perhaps, I’ll catch Ben when I’m back in California.