Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Allen Toussaint - The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch, 2009)

Pianist and arranger Allen Toussaint make his mark playing funk and R&B, but his roots run deep in the Gulf Coast of the United States, especially in his hometown of New Orleans. This album was organized as a return to his musical roots, playing standards and songs that had influenced him during his formative years. Producer Joe Henry put together an impressive band with Don Byron on clarinet, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Marc Ribot on guitar, David Piltch on bass and Jay Bellerose on drums. The New Orleans feel resonates on the opener "Egyptian Fantasy", where clarinet bubbles up from the mid tempo parlor piano like mist on a hot and humid day. The sleepy and sultry "Dear Old Southland" continues in this vein. Things really don't really start to develop fully until the standard "St. James Infirmary" brings a nice sounding guitar interlude, with piano and drums marching along. Toussaint's piano is the centerpiece of "Singin' the Blues" and "Whin' Boy Blues" sounding at times like the old New Orleans "professors" of history, but the music is so respectful that it seems to be missing some of the emotion. Nicholas Payton takes lead on "West End Blues" and lives up to the tradition of Armstrong and Oliver with a nice performance over a slow march feel and sweet acoustic guitar accents. The highpoint of the album is the title song, Thelonious Monk's wonderful "Bright Mississippi" which wakes everybody up and inspires the musicians to a strutting and joyous performance. The music on this ablum is certainly respectful to the tradition of early jazz, and that indeed might be its greatest drawback - the music is too reverential. At times things seem so dusty and sepia toned that they begin to sound like museum pieces rather than dynamic compositions that are as meaningful today as they were when they were originally recorded. What left is pleasant and safe music that is just missing that little spark which is needed to make it truly come alive.
The Bright Mississippi - amazon.com

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