The Best of the Beat Sunday, Jan 20 2013 

2009 NEW ORLEANS JAZZ & HERITAGE FESTIVAL PRESENTED BY SHELL - DAY 1

Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews

For 25 years, Offbeat magazine has provided some of the best coverage of entertainment, food, and culture in New Orleans. In addition to its monthly rendering of what’s happening in the Crescent City, it provides a very active website that tracks daily information of life performances and up-to-date news. And annually, it sponsors the Best of the Beat Awards to recognize the best music in a city that is synonymous with music.

This year provided few surprises, but it recognized some stellar, unquestionable musical achievements, some of my very favorite artists, and validated a healthy percentage of my voting for the awards. All in all, I’m pretty satisfied.

Dr. Michael White

Dr. Michael White

The Artist of the Year Award went to Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. On the heels of two very successful albums, I believe he is on the verge of national recognition. The New Orleans-borne eclecticism that marks his music is likely the main thing holding him back. Andrews was also recognized as best “R&B/Funk” artist and as the best trombonist  And Dr. John, the venerable yet adaptable scion of swamp rock was recognized for Album of the Year, for his remarkable collaboration with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, “Locked Down.”  In addition to this well-received album, Dr. John was recognized as the best “Roots Rock” performer and keyboardist.

Clarence "Frogman" Henry

Clarence “Frogman” Henry

Some of my other favorite reward recipients: Best R&B/Funk Album: “Carnivale Electricos,” Galactic; Best Bounce Artist: Big Freedia; Best Traditional Jazz Artist: Kermit Ruffins; Best Brass Band: Rebirth Brass Band; Best Brass Band Album: “Unlock Your Mind,” The Soul Rebels; Best Drummer: Stanton Moore; Best Female Vocalist: Irma Thomas; Best Male Vocalist: John Boutté; and Best Clarinetist: Dr. Michael White. Some of my heroes receiving lifetime achievement awards were: Al “Carnival Time” Johnson; Clarence “Frogman” Henry; and the Dixie Cups.

To cap off the awards, at least as far as I am concerned, WWOZ was recognized as the best radio station; Basin Street Records as the best recording studio; and the Roots of Music, the wonderful marching band , after-school program, was recognized for non-profit achievement/community music award.

Now, on to the Grammys!

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Mardi Gras Miscellany Wednesday, Feb 15 2012 

OK, I’ll be arriving in New Orleans three weeks, one day and 21 hours from now, not that anyone is counting. In the meantime, there is a lot going on in the Crescent City. A few days after the Grammy Awards, a few days before Mardi Gras; well, things are popping and in a blaze of randomness, I’ll try to capture it, in keeping with the season, without adding any unnecessary structure.

  • Rebirth Brass Band returns from the Grammy Awards — After nearly thirty years of producing great music, Rebirth scored their first Grammy for best regional roots album. Kermit Ruffins, one of the band’s founders, the Baby Boyz Brass Band, and other friends and musicians, greeted the band as they arrived at the Louis Armstrong International Airport. Here’s the video.

    Rebirth Brass Band receiving the Grammy Award.

  • King Cake Crown awarded — for the last few weeks, Judy Walker, food editor for the Times-Picayune has led a team of king cake tasters throughout the New Orleans region to find the finest Carnival-season confection. The judges visited six bakeries that were picked from over 20,000 reader votes. nola.com provided videos from visits to the six bakeries, including: Gambino’s; Haydel’s; Manny Randazzo’s; Nonna Randazzo’s; Randazzo’s Camellia City; and Sucre. All bakeries put forward three King Cakes except for Sucre, which makes only one. The six top cakes were pitted against one another and the top three were separated by but 1.5 points. The winner, announced today was Manny Randazzo’s pecan praline king cake. A celebration ensued at the bakery.
  • New Galactic album — Galactic, the great New Orleans funk/rock band has a new album, Carnivale Electricos, coming out on Mardi Gras Day. Since the whole concept is a reworking of classic Mardi Gras tunes, it seems cruel to make us wait until the season is over. I have heard snippets, but not the whole album. Thankfully, Conan O’Brien and Team Coco are providing a full album stream for the album. For a listen, go here.
  • New Orleans City Councilwoman Dorothy Mae Taylor, 1992

    An Integrated Mardi Gras — And to all of this frivolity, let’s add a bit of history. Twenty years ago, City Councilor Dorothy Mae Taylor had the audacity to force old-time Mardi Krewes to abandon the racism and sexism that they represented. And while jail time was dropped as part of the ordinance, the new regulations  forced old-time krewes Comus and Momus off the streets. Rex and Proteus agreed to the new regulations and continue to parade. According to columnist James Gill, Taylor should receive credit for making Mardi Gras krewes more color-blind and the season as a whole, an all embracing celebration. It is good not to forget such achievements.

The Best Louisiana Albums of 2011 Thursday, Jan 26 2012 

In the January 2012 edition of Offbeat magazine, the brilliant music writer, John Swenson, identified “The 40 Best Louisiana Albums of 2011.” Needless to say, I can’t argue with someone of his caliber, in large part because his musical range and expertise is far greater than mine. However, I can laud his “best of” list while identifying some of my favorites that are part of it. And for the most part, I was not disappointed in his selections.

Most of my picks are in the top 20, so I was a little disappointed to see Galactic’s The Other Side of Midnight in the second half of Swenson’s ranking. It is Galactic’s first live album in a decade, and collaborations with New Orleans artists give it great traction. It includes performances by Trombone Shorty, Corey Henry, and the Soul Rebels Brass Band; however, I am most drawn to tracks with the timeless Cyril Neville and singular Big Freedia.

In the top 20, Swenson has American Legacies, a singular smash-up between the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Del McCoury Band. It is a brilliant paring of traditional jazz and blue grass, although some of the tracks do feel a bit contrived and transitions jarring. However, upon further visits, it seems to make more sense. I like it.

When it comes to the Rebirth Brass Band, I have a hard time being objective. Suffice it to say, I was pleased that their Rebirth of New Orleans was at Swenson’s number 10. There is much to like here and let’s admit it, it’s just plain fun. If asked to pick favorites, I’d give a  nod towards the raucous “I Like It Like That,” “A. P. Touro,” and their update of the traditional tune, “Exactly Like You.”  Flea Broussard’s sax on “What Goes Around Comes Around” is worth the price of admission, alone.

At number eight, I love everything about Dr. Michael White’s new album except for the title. When he told me it was called  Adventures in New Orleans Music Part One, I had an unmistakable flashback to music appreciation classes in middle school. But the album is far greater than that. White’s ensemble is superlative, with White’s rich clarinet, Gregg Stafford’s trumpet and vocals, and Lucien Barbarin’s trombone — incomparable musicianship . And White’s arrangements, traditional in idiom, but fresh and modern in application, is stunning. His duet on “House of the Rising Sun” with Detroit Brooks on banjo is haunting and oh so memorable.

At number six, Swenson has Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses. Again, I have a hard time being objective on this one. The first time I saw her playing with the Panorama Jazz Band, I instantly fell in love. The energy, fun, and joy that she puts into her playing the sax is a musical contagion. And that is present throughout this tribute to the great New Orleans clarinet/soprano sax player, Sidney Bechet. The sound level on vocals could be stronger, but the loving treatment of these traditional jazz chestnuts is priceless.

At number one is my number one for the year: Trombone Shorty’s For True. Of all the New Orleans musicians I think have the stuff to make a mark nationally, from Kermit Ruffins to Big Freedia, I think Trombone Shorty is first in line. This album put him on the late night circuit. His “For True” provides the background music for one of Ashton Kutcher’s Canon camera commercials. It is clear that the time is ripe for “supafunkrock.”

So, a great year in 2011. Looking forward to an even better year in 2012. And while you are waiting, get out there an enjoy some great New Orleans music.