November 2005

Al Kooper - Black Coffee
Favored Nations FN25202
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

The booklet that comes with Al Kooper’s great new CD, Black Coffee, includes his curriculum vitae, and to see his accomplishments laid out chronologically is impressive. I already knew he played on "Like a Rolling Stone," but I’d forgotten that he wrote "This Diamond Ring" for Gary Lewis, played with the Blues Project, stage-managed the Monterey Pop Festival, and discovered and produced Lynyrd Skynyrd. And that only scratches the surface.

Black Coffee is Kooper’s first solo recording since 1994, and it shows the full range of his talents. He wrote most of the tunes, plays a heap of instruments, and handled all the song arrangements. He has played so many kinds of music over the years, and so well, that the disc’s stylistic shifts feel relaxed and natural. Jazz, rock, and soul converge on Black Coffee, and Kooper and his band, a group of fellow instructors at Berklee College of Music that he calls the Funky Faculty, carry it all off with class and Úlan. The biggest surprise is how enjoyable Kooper’s singing -- a sticking point in the past -- has become.

If Kooper has a message here, it is that he enjoys playing music. He has had his disappointments with the industry (Black Coffee is on Steve Vai’s risk-taking independent label, Favored Nations), but it is the joy of playing that brings him back. Kooper once told an interviewer that he never felt Dylan owed him anything for playing the familiar organ line on "Like a Rolling Stone." "I wrote the organ part. That's my job." Very classy, and so is this disc.