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Photos: Mike Bouchard Charles Bradley took the stage after a quick two number hype warm-up by his backing band, Extraordinaires. His music career started when he was booking gigs as an impersonator for James Brown in a band called Black Velvet. This led to his discovery by Daptone Records, which produced his album and launched his career. He's performed in Ottawa previously, at Ottawa Bluesfest, and later a club show. A performance at the Bronson Centre last year was cancelled due to illness, yet he is clearly back on his smooth feet, with all of the energy of a musical man in full health. His powerful and soulful voice engaged most of the seated crowd to their feet after he'd swapped outfits to a sequined suit that glittered of gold. A fast camera shutter unveiled the true colour of the outfit to be mostly green. Sequins flickering are quite an optical illusion that a camera cannot seem to see. Bradley is an amazingly talented man with a killer band that offered a solid hour and a half of solid soul music at another wonderful night of the Ottawa Jazz Festival.
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It was a cold rainy day in the UK last in the spring of 2013 when I heard of Charles Bradley for the first time. I was watching some BBC after dinner, and was bemused by their evening line-up: a documentary on Marvin Gaye and a Barry White concert, two legendary soul musicians. But stuffed between those two episodes was a documentary on one Charles Bradley. I wondered to myself “who is this Charles Bradley who is bestowed the honour of being placed between Marvin Gaye and Barry White??” The documentary was entitled “The Soul of America”. This set expectations rather high obviously, but also triggered a curiosity in me to discover some new music, as I always tend to want to do. That cold wet evening, as I watched Soul of America I discovered soul and funk music, and my music rotation was never the same again. Fast forward to this past month’s Supercrawl event in Hamilton. I was shocked that Charles Bradley himself was the main attraction on the final day of the event. He seemed an unlikely act for Hamilton. But shock was quickly replaced by excitement and anticipation… especially when the full day’s line up included an entire array of artists from Brooklyn’s Daptone music label, dubbed the Daptone Soul Revue. Unfortunately a favourite Daptone artist of mine, Budos Band, were not on the bill, but knowing the label quality I knew that it was going to be a special afternoon. Before the Daptone takeover there was one band I was looking forward to seeing, and that’s Hamilton’s own Dinner Belles. They are a folk country ensemble that reminds me of a real good Saturday night back in the day in Ottawa. With guitars, mandolin, banjo, simple snare/high hat drum kit, and solid vocal harmonies, this band has the allure of being that real good group of friends that get together and jam for the love of music. Their set was entirely enjoyable, and triggered some nostalgic sentiments in me, which brought on a big smile for the duration of the set. After this feelgood set the crowd started buzzing in anticipation of the rest of the acts. So my plan was to essentially stick to the main stage all day, skipping a couple of notable acts on an another stage, including Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld performing material off her solo album, and Dinner Belles’ Terra Lightfoot who followed the bands set with a solo set afterwards on a side stage. First up were The Sugerman 3, a trio of non-distinctive but talented musicians, who played some tight funky grooves. It was nothing spectacular, but a good warm-up for the crowd to introduce the rest of evening. This is probably the long-term destiny for this band in fact, a warm up act for main bands, or possibly the backing band to some stand-out talent. Next up was gospel legend Naomi Jones and The Gospel Queens. Ms. Jones, an elegant elderly lady was treated with great respect by the audience as she took us to church with her music, and by the end she was presented with roses by the Daptones. Her backing band was none other than the Mehanan Street Band, a Daptone standard and favourite source of original grooves for hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar. After a long break, supposedly due to last minute border problems delaying a few members, Anitbalas took to the stage and proceeded to blast the audience with their funky politically-fuelled grooves. The step change from the previous act was quite noticeable, as Antibalas are definitely a world class band. The crowd broke into dance at this point, as the party was really getting started. Due to the scheduling issues that plagued the latter part of the schedule, there was some concern that Charles Bradley & the Extraordinaires’ set would be cut short due to curfew and equipment teardown time, but it was announced that Supercrawl extended the curfew so that Charles Bradley could get his full set in, which was really the only thing to do to avoid a riot in the crowd. What can I say about Charles Bradley that someone familiar with his music doesn’t already know? The man bares his absolute soul and leaves everything he has on that stage. This man is 65 years old, and still does the splits and various other James Brown moves. And how can you not feel absolute happiness by seeing the grin on the face of a man having the best time of his life after spending a significant part of his life living in poverty? The set towered through Charles Bradley’s best songs off of his two albums, including Heartaches & Pains, The World (Is Going Up In Flames), and The Golden Rule. His stage presence is absolutely incredible. You MUST stare at him for fear of missing a special moment. At the end of the set Charles Bradley came out into the audience, and gave hugs to everyone. Overall the Daptone Soul Revue was tremendously entertaining despite long wait times between bands, and was a tremendous conclusion to a terrific free three day event organized by the City of Hamilton. If the event continues to grow year-over-year as it has thus far, I simply cannot wait for next year. Highly recommended.