New Orleans Music in Bits & Bytes Saturday, Nov 6 2010 

I don’t  download a lot of music; I mostly import the tried and true to my hard drive and swap out playlists when I’m in the mood to hear something different. Although it’s tempting, I’m not ready for 32 or 64 gig iPod…yet. But there’s new stuff coming out all the time and, once I read a few positive reviews and do some sampling, it’s to the online store I go.

In the past week or so, I’ve downloaded a couple of new albums that seemed quite dissimilar, but as I often find with my musical tastes, there are some striking commonalities lurking beneath the surface. The first was a no brainer: Kermit Ruffins’  High Hopes.” I suspect Kermit is testing his “Treme”-borne celebrity with something he’s long wanted to produce —  a big band album. As usual, what Kermit’s voice lacks in range, he balances with enthusiasm. And the band of New Orleans musicians and the arrangements are sparkling. I especially like his version of “If I Only Had a Brain.” He takes what could (and maybe should) be a mawkish trifle and turns it into a Caribbean-infused romp of musicianship. And from the beginning, I heard this rich, deep clarinet that could only be Michael White. I do miss album covers and even cd liners, as it took me a few keystrokes to confirm that fact. The whole package works musically and is unadulterated fun.

The other thing I downloaded was a stretch for me: a new album from Eric Clapton. I’m a big fan, but his work in recent years has been somewhat uneven. Worse still, I was under the impression that it was a collection of covers, which reminded me of the multiple pieces of drek that Rod Stewart has put out in recent years. I read a couple of positive reviews and sampled a few tunes. There was original stuff along with some jazz tunes you don’t normally hear new versions of. Certainly not the overdone schmaltz that Stewart has dined on. I liked it. Nice blend of vocals and guitar. A couple of tunes were a bit overproduced, but I bought it.

The tried and true sounds of Eric Clapton and predictable guests, such as Steve Winwood, Derek Trucks, and J. J. Cale were recognizable and expected, but there were some New Orleans sounds and vibes coming through on some cuts. Two tunes were unmistakable: “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” and Fats Waller’s “When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful.” Again, I heard that rich clarinet, a sly trumpet, and a piano style that can only be one man. Thankfully, in this case, detailed liner notes were downloadable, and I was able to confirm the work of Michael White, Wynton Marsalis on trumpet and the incomparable Allen Toussaint on piano. And throughout they were joined by other New Orleans musicians, including Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Bruce Brackman on clarinet, and Herman Labeaux on drums. The result is a joy and a testament to both the persistence and adaptability of New Orleans’ musical traditions.

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Allen Toussaint and “The Bright Mississippi” Sunday, Jan 31 2010 

The Grammy Awards will be presented tonight. Every year, it is safe say that music-wise, whether it’s jazz, blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, hip-hop, rap, well, you get the idea, there will be some musical notion from the street of New Orleans mixed in.

In recent years, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Lil Wayne, and Terence Blanchard have picked up Grammy Awards. But this year, with the exception of the Zydeco and Cajun category, New Orleans-area musicians are rather scarce among the nominees.

In spite of this, I’ll be watching to see if producer, composer, arranger, pianist, singer Allen Toussaint can score his first Grammy. Toussaint has produced acts like Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey, and Meters. Others like Glen Campbell and the Pointer Sisters has had megahits with songs such as “Southern Nights” and “Yes We Can,” respectively. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the 72 year-old, with a long and distinguished musical career, has yet to win a Grammy. That could change tonight with his first jazz album “The Bright Mississippi.”

In it, Toussaint applied his experienced producer’s chops and R & B infused piano to more traditional tunes. And the result is fresh and original. Well-deserved recognition for trying something new. And while Toussaint has decided not make the trip to Los Angeles, it’s high time for him to be able to put a Grammy Award on his mantelpiece back home.

Follow-up: Chick Corea and John McLaughlin Five Piece Band bested Allen Toussaint for best jazz instrumental band. However, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra won for best large jazz ensemble, and Buckwheat Zydeco garnered best Zyedco and Cajun cd for “Lay Your Burden Down.”