New CDs from New Orleans Musicians Raise Hell and Hope
Musicians remind us why New Orleans matters
By Mel Minter
Thanatos and Eros, that timeless couple, never dance closer than when in New Orleans, where every breeze carries scents of mortality and carnality. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that despite the devastation of Katrina, the indifference of the Bush administration, and the incompetence of the Army Corps of Engineers, the city is showing small signs of a resurgence.
The most encouraging sign yet: an efflorescence of new CDs from New Orleans musicians young and old. Uptown funk, the trad jazz of the Quarter, the Treme’s second line—you can hear it all and more on these CDs, and you can help keep the music, its musicians, the city and hope afloat by plunking down your cash.
You may have trouble finding some of these at your favorite local record store. Try the Louisiana Music Factory, a New Orleans record store that specializes in the local fare (www.louisianamusicfactory.com, 504-586-1094).
“This is the place, y’all, where the music never dies,” they chant in the title track, a Perrine original that captures the joyful near-chaos of a New Orleans’ second line. That irresistible rhythm under that brassy street music makes you believe it, too. Sousaphonist Perrine has put together an eclectic, exuberant, spirit-lifting collection of traditional and original tunes that communicate the city’s musical variety while underscoring its position as the capital city of the Caribbean. In Perrine’s grasp, the sousaphone seems nearly as pliant as a clarinet, and his arrangements turn even creaky old warhorses like “Muskrat Ramble” into party tunes that just won’t stop. (Lordy, when will I ever get to sleep?) He gets assistance from a who’s who of current New Orleans players, including James Andrews, Big Chief Alfred Doucet, Tim Laughlin, Tom McDermott, Larry Sieberth, Michael Skinkus, Rick Trolsen, Don Vappie and many more.
Pianist Tom McDermott, originally from St. Louis and a resident of New Orleans since 1984, spent some time in Paris post-Katrina as an artist in residence at the invitation of the French-American Cultural Exchange. This lively recording from March 2006 shows McDermott in fine form, roaming at will over the diverse territory he has staked out over the years, mixing James Booker riffs into a Jelly Roll Morton tune, deconstructing the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” extemporizing on Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” taking Handy, Gottschalk, Waller, J.P. Johnson and Booker in hand, if you will, and throwing in a boogie and a choro of his own. The adventurous McDermott will go haring off down paths that look to mere mortals like sure dead ends, but he inevitably finds illuminating connections that take you somewhere you couldn’t get to from here. His fingers sound like they must be double-jointed to do what they do—and by golly, they are.
Evan ChristopherLive at the Meridien (Jazz Traditions Project) and Delta Bound (Arbors Records)
Evan Christopher, the world’s finest proponent of the Creole clarinet tradition, has been pretty much living out of a suitcase since Katrina. He did, however, set up shop in Paris for a time as an artist in residence for the French-American Cultural Exchange. The nine tracks on the live disc, recorded there in August 2006, capture Christopher, with David Blenkhorn (guitar), Sebastien Girardot (bass) and Guillaume Nouaux (drums), in a breathtaking tour of material that ranges from Duke Ellington to Ornette Coleman, Howard Arlen to Scott Joplin, and a fine original, “G’wine Home.” The Arbors studio recording, dating from January 2006, finds him with pianist Dick Hyman and two stellar New Orleans stalwarts, bassist Bill Huntington and drummer Shannon Powell. (Dr. Bruce Boyd Raeburn, curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane, provides fine liner notes.) The four of them light up historic New Orleans tunes (Tony Parenti’s “Vieux Carré”), compositions about the city (Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans”) and Christopher originals that celebrate master Creole clarinetist Lorenzo Tio, Jr. On both discs, Christopher brings to the music a well-informed sense of tradition, incomparable lyricism, tasteful energy and a dangerously seductive tone. Damn, that man can play.
This funk—ooh, whatta smell—could come from only one place on the planet: uptown New Orleans. Ivan Neville, son of Aaron, is the front man on the B-3 organ, and cousin Ian Neville, son of Art, joins in on flaming Hendrix-influenced guitar. The fruit don’t fall far from the tree, y’all. But this is hard-core, driven by two bassists (Nick Daniels and Tony Hall) and a snapping drummer (Raymond Weber), all with impeccable funk credentials of their own. “Meanwhile” offers political advice in the wake of Katrina: “Vote for me. I’m running for my life.” “Turn This Thing Around” tells us, “We got to help them people, too.” Party music with a message. “Yeah, you right,” as they say down in Louisiana.
Help Rebuild New Orleans
From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 29, the anniversary of the Katrina disaster, the First Unitarian Church at Comanche and Carlisle will hold a fundraising dinner catered by the Cajun Kitchen, with music by the Route 66 Revelers. Proceeds will help defray the costs of sending up to 12 volunteers to work on rebuilding New Orleans under the auspices of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.
Tickets are $15. For more information or to donate, call the church at 884-1801.