Jon Batiste in Portland

Hana Gustafson on February 26, 2024
Jon Batiste in Portland

I haven’t been to church in years. But I did have a religious experience…

Enter The Spiritual Practice of Jon Batiste.   

Music has become increasingly secular, deprived of heart and soul in lieu of quick writes and redundant lines destined for the pop charts and a pretty penny. However, that cannot be said for Batiste—whose Louisiana roots carry the ability to transport his audience to a different place entirely—an artist who breaks the mold as a commanding presence, bandleader and lyricist.

Welcome to church.

Batiste has brought this audience deep into the Bayou, to what feels like a location 100 miles outside New Orleans. From a dream-like state evoked by the music, an image conquers a small white church from the turn of the century. Some of the wooden siding has been removed by fierce storms for which the region is known, but the structure is intact, standing, vibrating with sound. Willows surround the place of worship and cast a pattern of lines mimicking the branches above.

The aforementioned scene derived from the sonic experience of Batiste’s current tour supporting World Music Radio. Specifically, night one at Portland, Ore.’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Feb. 16 was a journey that might have required passports if a couple of zeros were added to the budget. But instead, Batiste used sound to transport his audience: selecting “Tell the Truth,” “Flames,” “I Need You/Ray,” “Freedom,” and “We Are” to evoke elements of gospel splendor, funk tendencies and R&B flavor.

Jumping instrument to instrument and showing flashes of his many talents made that first portion of the night a fast and fleeting experience, due in part to the liveliness of Batiste’s energy, which added fire with the application of dance breaks reminiscent of James Brown and David Byrne. The delivery was timeless. It could have been 1822 or 1982, but whatever decade the musician immersed the audience in, it was tinged with an ambiance of vintage energy (think of it as an extension of Batiste’s Architectural Digest home tour with wife, Suleika Jaoud, each room, or song, so very thoughtfully arranged.) 

“I feel like now we are family, and I want to see you get down!” Batiste encouraged as he guided everyone to his next location. From church, we arrived in the big city, at some small decrypted bar known for the best live music, kept quiet by regulars.

“Cry” served as the first song to the bar-like sequence and featured a live shift from acoustic to electric guitar, showing off the multi-instrumentalist’s undeniable chops. Seated, Batiste remarked, “from the concrete grew a flower,” the poetic opener to “Master Power,” which inevitably unfolded into sing-a-long, featuring the audience’s rhythmic responses on “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

For the final stop of the Batiste guided tour,  it was time to jump from one island nation to the next, presented as “Raindance” and “Worship.” “Drink Water” was layered in horns, though it maintained an essence of reggae appreciation. A tender moment arrived when Batiste’s band left him, allowing for a solo piano moment and the metamorphosis of “Butterfly.“ “Running Away” gave way to the main frame’s instrumental outro and a single-song return to cap the event.

All said and done, the World Music Radio tour is not to be missed. Young, old, mom or dad, this is the kind of music that will continue dominating airwaves for generations to come—a cultural soup comprised of Batiste’s unique blend of herbs and spices. Needless to say, it can’t be replicated.