|Cory Henry at Union Chapel.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved
Cory Henry – The Revival Project
(Union Chapel, 17 May 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
Cory Henry, keyboard maestro with Snarky Puppy, flies the flag for the Hammond B3 in the most personal of his ventures, The Revival Project. Alongside funk drumming perfectionist, TaRon Lockett, who sits in on Henry’s other band, The Funk Apostles, the duo ripped up the Union Chapel with a cruise through a generous selection of Henry’s favourite songs, kicking off with his deep church and gospel roots, and diving in to the jazz, r&b and popular songbooks with a repertoire put together on the fly, adding personal twists to every song, which he does in response to each audience and setting on the night.
Brought up in Brooklyn, Henry started playing organ aged two, encouraged by his father and church-going, gospel chorister mother. He was in talent contests at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem at six. The church organ at The Greater Temple of Praise was one of the springboards to his becoming a youthful master of the Hammond, and, twenty-plus years later, was the venue for his live recording of The Revival. Finding himself at the Union Chapel – maybe the most beautiful church he’s played in, he reflected – made it the perfect venue for this non-stop two hour gem of a concert.
Opening with the full-on contemporary gospel of I’m a Soldier (in the Army of the Lord), Henry was in jaw-dropping Hammond mode, welling, vamping and diving, scraping the keys, drizzling light jazzy phrases, paddling bass lines, to recall Jimmy Smith’s early Blue Note church-and-blues inflected style. Lockett kicked in with a tight, fat, rolling drum beat worthy of the late Richie Hayward of Little Feat, and they never looked back.
There’s a great video of the self-taught four-year old Henry in full flow on Amazing Grace , the first song he learnt to play, which he revisited in dynamically bluesified manner – even Lockett couldn’t suppress a broad smile at Henry’s pyrotechnics!
In the most memorable rendition I’ve encountered, Coltrane’s Giant Steps was taken right out of the box, obliquely stretched and skewed, distorted elastically off-key, then power-accelerated with Lockett’s fine clattering drive. Henry was letting his hair down, having fun, waving arms in a mini-dance at its conclusion.
Henry brought in his vocals for the first time on a slow, emotional version of the great I’ll Drown in My Own Tears – ‘I don’t want to be drowning by myself, baby,’ he sang. His grainy vocal delivery was powered up as he went through the ritual of splitting the more-than-enthusiastic audience in to two halves to share the vocals on a gospel-style ‘song that never ends’, Naa Naa Naa.
There were a few surprises from the popular canon, just to prove that there are no boundaries – only fine songs! Yesterday emerged after a folkie intro and ended up sounding like it had always been an American soul staple! God Only Knows gracefully crossed secular with religious and Bill Withers’ Lovely Day was reduced, dismantled and re-engineered with sharp, riffy runs and a blues edge. With a heavy beat, Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues stood up as a song for our times, deep-down dirty and echoey – ‘Trigger happy policemen, Only God knows where we are heading’.
And no better way for a funk devotee to sign off than by exploding in to Parliament’s hefty Give Up The Funk and to encore with a heartfelt When Doves Cry in tribute to Prince, whose overwhelming impact Henry acknowledged, also mentioning that virtuoso percussionist Lockett had been one of Prince’s last drummers.