It’s funk, it’s jazz, it’s rhythm and blues… blended with lots of Latin grooves and elements of pop, rock, and reggae. The band eventually to be known as War was formed in 1969 and became a collective of 7 musicians. The band’s members came from diverse ethnic backgrounds and would each add their own musical seasonings to create an organic fusion of sound that has always been uniquely theirs. The positively-charged vibe of their music is part of their credo of hope, equality, and friendship. One thing is for sure – they still know how to throw a great party after 46 years, and that’s exactly what they did on the Main Stage at Confederation Park on Monday night as part of the Ottawa Jazz Festival.
At 67 years old, the band’s frontman, keyboardist, vocalist, and only remaining original member, Lonnie Jordan, is a larger-than-life character. There was some call-and-answer interaction with the audience on an early funk classic, “Slippin’ Into Darkness” (All Day Music – 1971), which was laden with some heavy bass grooves by Pancho Tomaselli, and great harmonica accents by Stanley Behrens. “Don’t try this at home!”, Jordan shouted as he shook his moneymaker for the crowd, before delving into the instantly recognizable, “Cisco Kid” (The World Is A Ghetto – 1972). With wireless mic in hand, he circulated the crowd, recruiting people in the audience to sing the song’s opening line. I loved the amazingly blended full percussion sound by both Sal Rodriguez (drums) and Marcos Reyes (bongos/percussion).
“Here’s one I wrote for Eric V. Burdon. I was young and full of fun at the time…”. Jordan was referring to the days when War had been Burdon’s backing band during the late 60’s/early 70’s, and the success they’d had with songs like, “Spill The Wine”. Saxman, David Urquidi donned his flute and played the song’s signature psychedelic cascading opening arpeggios. Jordan resumed with the song’s narrative, as its hypnotizing rhythm ensued. From there, they seamlessly took us into a steady 70’s funky beat in, “Galaxy” (Galaxy – 1977), which had the crowd on their feet. There was a booming bass solo, sprinkled with some great jazz piano, followed by an impressive give-and-take exchange of sax and harmonica, before all instruments went full-tilt in an immensity of sound. It was impossible at that point to stay seated.
Another highlight was the soulful, “All Day Music” (Galaxy – 1977), with its haunting harmonica intro, wonderful jazzy chord changes, its bossa nova rhythm, and beautiful vocal harmonies. From there it moved into a heavier Latin groove with “Ballero” (War Live – 1974), which included a heated bongo solo, and some rockin’ guitar work by Stuart Ziff.
The band continued with the wonderfully warm, “Summer“ (Greatest Hits – 1976), and, “Why Can’t We Be Friends” (Why Can‘t We Be Friends – 1975), a song about breaking down the barriers of racism and embracing the fellowship of humanity. By this time, the music had everyone in a swaying trance.
The boys saved their timeless classic, “Low Rider” (Why Can’t We Be Friends – 1975) to close the show, which Jordan announced, “…we wrote for all the ladies, and you’ll see why…” The ladies, indeed, took to dancing up a storm, then later, the music slowed, and Jordan took a moment to introduce all the members of the band and their places of origin. From the Bronx and Manhattan, to Montebello, San Diego, and Tijuana, the members of War remain true to the group’s roots, its philosophy of a better world, and to the hearts of their enduring fans.