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Bob French
Marsalis Music Honors Bob French
(Marsalis Music)

Drummer Bob French's new album from Marsalis Music sounds the way traditional New Orleans jazz should. It swings and swells and is full of great performances. The record is part of a series produced by Branford Marsalis to honor unsung jazz heroes. Previous entries to the catalog were dedicated to drummers Jimmy Cobb and Michael Carvin. French's band includes people such as banjoist Bill Huntington and bassist Chris Severin, whom French has played with for years as well, as newcomers such as trombonist Troy Andrews and trumpeter Leon "Kid Chocolate" Brown. Special guests saxophonist Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. also add greatly to the proceedings. This set consists of standard New Orleans fare that French has been playing for years, but the songs never feel trite or stale. Songs such as "Basin Street Blues" feel especially energetic as vocalist Ellen Smith adds a little spice to the traditional lyrics in her rendition. French's drumming is crisp and martial on the George Lewis-penned "Burgundy Street Blues," as Marsalis's soprano saxophone takes the melody in place of the usual clarinet. The next track, "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," has lovely interplay and harmony in the contrasting melody lines of the horns at the opening, as the drums and bass stay solidly and stately in the pocket. Such interplay is in the spotlight on Marsalis' and Connick Jr.'s duet "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" as Maralis sweetly plays and solos over Connick Jr's mournful chords. This continues the duets that were so memorable on their release Occasion. French even sings a couple times, livening up tunes we've heard a million times such as "When the Saints Go Marching In." That song and all the others on this excellent release can sound tired, but French and his cohorts here make them sound like living, breathing citizens of the city that birthed them. -- David Kunian

Alvin Batiste
Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste
(Marsalis Music)

Finally New Orleans is graced by a new record from clarinetist and composer Alvin Batiste. He's been called "the country's foremost jazz educator" by Thelonious Monk Jr., board chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Batiste is also regarded as the premier jazz clarinetist in the world today. This is his first release since the self-produced Words, Songs, and Messages in 1999. Here Batiste is in his usual excellent form both as a player and a composer. His tone is beautiful and never falters. The flow of ideas from his instrument seems unending, especially as he solos over the dense drums and woodblocks of master drummer Herlin Riley on "Bumps," and on "Bat Trad," in which Batiste's melodic playing gets pushed by Riley's relentless cymbals with snapping snare drum accents. Although the clarinet has a reputation for being an instrument of traditional or swing jazz, Batiste plays it as modern as they come. In the opening, lilting playing of his composition "The Latest," Batiste's clarinet builds his solo to notes much higher than most clarinetists will attempt before bringing it back to the range of mere mortals. Most of the tunes are Batiste compositions except for a meditative version of Buddy Johnson's "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone" and a pretty take on the standard "Skylark" featuring guitarist Russell Malone in a lyrical mode. The album finishes with a rousing version of Batiste's "Salty Dogs," and pianist Lawrence Fields and guest saxophonist/producer Branford Marsalis take spirited romps over the bluesy stomp before vocalist Edward Perkins repeats the lyrics that could sum up Batiste's attitude on this record: "I am free/Salty Dogs don't bother me/Got my head in the right place/with the human race/so you see/I am free." -- Kunian

Ingrid Lucia and the Flying Neutrinos
Don't Stop

Ingrid Lucia's latest album title could also describe the curvy songbird's career. Growing up with a gypsy band of traveling musicians for a family, Lucia has been singing for her supper and moving around -- largely between New Orleans and New York -- like a vaudeville trouper ever since. Her retro style went over big during the swing dance fad of the late '90s, but since that's faded, Ingrid has remained. Why? Because this is New Orleans, where that sound isn't "vintage." It's what people play. Lucia's latest version of the Flying Neutrinos band has assembled some of the city's crack players, making Don't Stop a hot trad-jazz album and a perfect backdrop for Lucia's distinctive, juicy, full-voiced squeak. Duke Heitger (whose searing trumpet solos got the swing act Squirrel Nut Zippers a gold record in the '90s) lets loose on the Leiber and Stoller street parade "New Orleans." Craig Klein's trombone doubles the entendre on the coy blues "Big Long Slidin' Thing." John Fohl's electric guitar brings honky-tonk twang to "Hometown Blues" and his and Lucia's original composition "Down Home." Lucia's understated, quietly emotional take on "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans" could almost convince you that you want to hear that song one more time. -- Alison Fensterstock


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