The Best of the Beat Sunday, Jan 20 2013 


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!

2012 Jazz Fest Posters Unveiled Saturday, Feb 4 2012 

2012 Jazz Fest Poster of Trombone Shorty, painted by Terrance Osborne.

This week featured the unveiling of this year’s Jazz Fest and Congo Square posters. Since the late 1970s, these posters have been sought after by jazz aficionados and art collectors alike. Some have complained that recent posters had become somewhat stodgy and last year’s portrait of Jimmy Buffett by local radio personality Garland Robinette ruffled a lot of feathers. This year, both posters feature local musicians, with the Jazz Fest poster painted by a well-regarded New Orleans artist.

The 2012 Jazz Fest poster features 26 year-old musician and singer Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, who is gaining national recognition for what he calls “supafunkrock.” Painted by Xavier University graduate Terrance Osborne, a veteran Jazz Fest/Congo Square artist. The poster beautifully captures the athleticism of Andrews ‘ playing.

The accompanying Congo Square poster is equally arresting and features trumpet player Shamarr Allen. It was painted by Carl Crawford of South Carolina, who received recognition for his artwork at last year’s Jazz Fest.

There is a great gallery of Jazz Fest/Congo Square Posters, past and present at Art4Now. You may also purchase posters and other collectibles from the site. For me, recent favorites include the 2008

2012 Congo Square poster featuring Shamarr Allen, by Carl Crawford.

poster featuring Irma Thomas, the “soul queen of New Orleans,”  the poster of Allen Toussaint in front of the St. Louis Cathedral (2009),  Osborne’s 2007 Congo Square poster of Rebirth Brass Band’s Phil Frazier, and his 2010 Congo Square poster featuring New Orleans icon “Uncle” Lionel Batiste.

Jazz Fest itself falls on the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. However, the posters last forever.

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.

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.