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September 20, 2012
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CD reviews: Bringing it home with sounds from Louisiana

For a fan of American music, there's always a touch of southern Louisiana in the air. At the moment, though, the flavor is a bit stronger. Big Freedia, the leader of the New Orleans hip-hop style known as bounce, made her local debut on Thursday at Belly Up; the club comes right back Friday with an early show by NOLA street group, the Stooges Brass Band. Last week, blues guitarist Tab Benoit, a native of Houma, put on a spectacular show at PAC3 in Carbondale, and the Wheeler Film Series screened "Beasts of the Southern Wild," an extraordinary film set on - and in - the Bayou.Some more sounds coming out of southern Louisiana:

produced by Ben Jaffe (Rounder) "St. Peter & 57th St." was recorded at the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's 50th anniversary concert this past January in Carnegie Hall. You might quibble with the location: Shouldn't the celebration album have been recorded at Preservation Hall, the French Quarter institution that gave the band its name, its start and much of its identity?Looked at another way, Carnegie Hall makes good sense. Jazz itself, born in New Orleans, is often referred to as America's classical music, and while that description breaks down in the details, it is fully accurate to say that New Orleans-style jazz has been an essential foundation of America's musical heritage."St. Peter & 57th St." truly does come off as a celebration. There's an exquisite guest list that encompasses rock (My Morning Jacket), bluegrass (the Del McCoury Band, which has become significant collaborators with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band), Americana (Steve Earle), hip-hop (Yasiin Bey, the rapper formerly known as Mos Def), gospel (Blind Boys of Alabama) and some of New Orleans' own (Trombone Shorty). But even with the wide-ranging guests, the music focuses tightly on New Orleans itself. My Morning Jacket and its leader Jim James help out on a two-part version of the dirge "St. James Infirmary"; Tiffany Lamson, singer of the Lafayette, La. group the Givers, gives an explosive reading of the spiritual "Just a Closer Walk With Thee"; and the proceedings close with the glorious "I'll Fly Away," featuring a whole bunch of the guests. Pianist and New Orleans icon Allen Toussaint leads the way through a song titled "Preservation Hall Jazz Band," putting the cap on the celebration.The origins of the music might be old, as are some of the musicians, but "St. Peter & 57th" is fresh and alive. My only complaint is that it's only one disc - surely this concert went on way more than an hour.

(Royal Potato Family)Vibraphonist and percussionist Mike Dillon was raised in San Antonio and has been associated with the fusion avant-garde, a member of Critters Buggin, Les Claypool's Fancy Band, Garage a Trois and the Dead Kenny G's. But Dillon has lived in New Orleans for seven years, and collaborates with the city's musicians, including Ani DiFranco, Galactic and, in the DVS trio, drummer Johnny Vidacovich and bassist James Singleton."Urn," which finds the gifted Dillon on electric vibes, tabla, Glockenspiel and more, leans toward the avant-garde, especially when Dillon sings in his unpolished, Primus-influenced style. But you don't have to strain your ears to hear the spirit of New Orleans, as Dillon's band prominently features trombonist Carly Meyers and the funky looseness of the city's pulse.

produced by Mark Bingham and Michael White (Basin Street)More New Orleans jazz than adventure. White, a 57-year-old clarinetist, New Orleans native and teacher at Xavier University, goes out there in his choice of material. "Adventures in New Orleans Jazz, Part 2" features instrumental takes on "Me and Bobby McGee"; the Turtles' "Happy Together"; Hank Williams' celebration of the Bayou, "Jambalaya"; and "Midnight Special," which was popularized by Creedence Clearwater Revival but began life as a Southern prison song. In style, though, White sticks to the traditions, and does a fine job of it, capturing the swing of Dixieland, the energy of brass band, and the whole essence of New Orleans.

produced by Fleck and Roberts (Rounder) Banjo was and is an essential part of the Dixieland style, though its place in New Orleans music seems to have been shoved aside by trumpet and piano. Enter banjoist extraordinaire Bla Fleck, who joins up here with the New Orleans combo the Marcus Roberts Trio, led by pianist Roberts and featuring drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Rodney Jordan. The group makes no attempt to go back to old Dixieland, but brings the music forward by combining bebop ("Let's Go"), New Orleans rhythms ("Let Me Show You What to Do"), and the innovative fusion approach that Fleck explores in the Flecktones (the standout title track). When they do peek backwards, it is to explore the African roots of New Orleans music, in the delicate "Kalimba." Fleck and Roberts divide the writing and soloing chores roughly equally, and the result is beautiful and innovative music with a foot in New Orleans, a foot in New York City, a foot in Nashville and a foot in outer space.stewart@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Sep 21, 2012 07:00AM Published Sep 20, 2012 05:24PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.