John L. Walters
The Guardian, 2008-05-23
A quiet legend before he was even out of his teens, Steve Winwood is one of a handful of musicians who shaped the way rock sounds. His hits with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith repurposed blues and soul with pop tunes and structures; his influence can be heard in anything from Prince to Paul Weller. Yet unlike peers such as David Bowie, Eric Clapton, or Lou Reed, he has never been public property. Now 60, he just gets on with making music. His latest release, Nine Lives, is an album with the feel-good looseness of his 1960s heyday and the melodic appeal of his 1980s solo hits.
Winwood takes the Scala stage with a band diverse in age and race. Brit-jazz saxophonist Paul Booth is the rookie, turning in gutsy performances on tenor and taking over Winwood's keyboards when the leader plays guitar.
Their set includes a generous dose of new material written with former Metro lyricist Peter Godwin: the African-influenced Hungry Man, the backyard guitar blues of I'm Not Drowning, the jazz-dance groove of Secrets, the mellow, radio-friendly Fly, and the slow and heavy Dirty City, with guitarist José Neto happily blasting out the parts that Clapton plays on the album.
Drummer Richard Bailey (once Jeff Beck's secret weapon) switches easily between rock, Afrobeat and Caribbean rhythms, while Karl van den Bossche's congas supercharge the grooves. Winwood rocks, but there is always space to breathe.
There is something magical and spine-chilling about the blend of his high voice - raw but never ragged - with the swelling richness of his Hammond organ chords. The simple, thrilling techniques that worked in early hits such as Keep On Runnin' still sound sweet in the new songs. And the closing Gimme Some Lovin' brings the house down.