By Geraldine Wyckoff
DECEMBER 1, 1997: It has been one of those special, "naturally New Orleans" kinds of weeks here in the Crescent City. Bruce Lundvall, president of the prestigious Blue Note records, expressed it well when he said, "I just came to New Orleans to sign a record contract, and here's this party!" Lundvall was viewing the crowd at the Treme Villa, where he was celebrating the addition of Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias to the Metro Blue label, a division of Blue Note/Capitol Records.
Following the formalities, there was food and three hours of great music including performances by Big Chiefs Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux, Marva Wright, Davell Crawford, Jo "Cool" Davis and Wanda Rouzan.
Thursday night was marked by the extraordinary performance of the Steve Lacy Trio at Snug Harbor. It's not often you see a group at Snug receive a standing ovation, but Lacy and his combo simply awed the audience with their playing.
Despite the intellectual nature of Lacy's original, often modal, compositions, there always remained a warmth, a connection to the audience as well as to jazz's past. Lacy referenced such historic reed players as Kid Ory, John Gilmore and Johnny Hodges, though in a modern frame. John Betsch's approach to the drums was about as close to the New Orleans style of modern drumming as I've heard -- he was swinging. And the bass of Jean-Jacques brought great elegance to each tune. It was a special night.
Tipitina's was packed for a live recording of Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. The crowd was treated to a number of brand-new tunes that will be heard on the CD due around Mardi Gras. So far, the consensus is thumbs up for the instrumental "New Orleans Is ..." and "Just Showin' Off."
Saturday night offered a mix of love and concern at a benefit for the legendary Johnny Adams at Mid City Lanes. The night was especially heartfelt because Adams, who has been diagnosed with cancer, attended the show. Highlights included performances by Wanda Rouzan with bassist George Porter, keyboardist Reggie Hall and drummer Herman Jackson. Now that is a band. Irma Thomas and Marva Wright, the Zion Harmonizers, Sharon Martin, Walter Payton, Bo Dollis, Monk Boudreaux and many more were present. Late in the night, Adams surprised everyone by taking the stage to sing "Please Release Me."
Sunday was second-line time with the Scene Boosters Social Aid & Pleasure Club. The most amazing sight this day was when an older gentleman in the club, dressed in his finery, got down and rolled on the street among the members stepping to the Pin Stripe Brass Band.
Topping off the day was Snooks Eaglin, a one-man band filling the Louisiana Music Factory with incredible sounds. He played everyone's requests, which, as always, included "Drop the Bomb" and my favorite, "Young Boy Blues" (which was written by Ben E. King). All of this music on Sunday was absolutely free.
Yep, it was an extraordinary week. ...
Allen Toussaint & Friends
A New Orleans Christmas (NYNO)
Allen Toussaint has gathered together the artists who record on his NYNO label to celebrate Christmas New Orleans style. Each of the musicians approaches the holiday tunes in a distinct way, so the disc features a range of moods and rhythms.
The disc opens with a fine original number from Larry Hamilton called "Christmas This Year." It's solid soul from an excellent band that includes Toussaint on keyboards, Bunchy Johnson on drums, Charles Moore on bass and Scott Goudeau on guitar. There's a lot of Al Green in Hamilton's style as he soulfully offers his message of love and happiness.
Hamilton is perfectly paired with Tricia Boutte (known on the reggae scene as Sista Teedy) for a strong performance on the seasonal soul standard "New Year's Resolution." They are a passionate pair. They dig into the call and response verses and rise as one when they meet. We'd like to hear more from this duo. Boutte's strong voice is also impressive on "Do You Hear What I Hear?" which gets a touch of funk from Bunchy Johnson's drumming. The funk beat works less well on the traditionally mellow "Merry Christmas Baby" contributed by saxophonist/vocalist Grace Darling.
Brass fun comes courtesy of the New Birth Brass Band, led by trumpeter/ vocalist James Andrews, on a lively "Santa's Second Line." Andrews, as always, keeps the beat on the street as he asks, "Santa have you been here?" Andrews returns in a more traditional jazz mood on "Christmas in New Orleans" -- a relaxed rendition that features a rare traditional jazz turn from Toussaint.
Toussaint's wonderful solo piano is highlighted on several classic Christmas songs, including "Silent Night" and "Winter Wonderland." He makes them his own by giving them a distinctive New Orleans rhythm and the classic Toussaint licks that are so intrinsically from his soul. My only complaint is that both tunes are too short -- we want more.
Wallace Johnson adds shuffling blues to the mix with "Christmas Comes but Once a Year." A strong band filled out by a horn section ties this package all together.
Gospel giant Raymond Myles is the spiritual leader on the disc. He offers some unusual and modern arrangement on "O Holy Night" and "We Three Kings." You've never heard them sung like this before! He tears up "O Holy Night" by intermingling spoken word phrases with screams as his background vocalists lay down a base. Unfortunately, on "We Three Kings," which is done in an urban contemporary style, Myles opted to use programmed drumming, which is always disconcerting.
A New Orleans Christmas is a stocking full of goodies topped with some very special treats.
The Essence of Kwanzaa
The Kwanzaa holiday is celebrated for seven days and nights from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, when each day represents a principle of life. Percussionist Bill Summers interprets the symbols of these principals and the spirit of the holiday on a lively disc. While the lyrics of his original material often relay strong, socially conscious messages, the rhythms and melodies are less than reverent. In other words, Summers and his band break loose and have some fun on the album, which is suitable for any time of year.
The disc opens with "Ghetto Get Up," a reggae-tinged song that, like all the material, is percussion-heavy. Another quality that is shared by all the songs is a sense of optimism, a sense of hope and faith.
Summers varies the instrumentation throughout the album as he moves through the African Diaspora of music, from the rap of "Ujamaa" to the soul of "Imani" (wonderfully sung by Phillip Manuel) to the jazz of "Kujichagulia" (with some fine piano from Nick Smith). The heart of Africa is heard on "Nia" and in the juju rhythms of "Yekola." The Caribbean is visited in "Umoja," with the sound of the berimbau and the simplicity of the arrangements adding to its tropical feel. There's even some strong funk as guest artist George Clinton steps in on "Dit It Done It Wit It."
For Summers, the essence of Kwanzaa is rhythm. It is the language that, while varying, links the African Diaspora in a common bond of understanding of shared knowledge. Through music, a language of people around the world, the principles of Kwanzaa can be celebrated by all in so many ways.
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