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Taking a Spin

Surveying new CDS from New Orleans artists playing weekend one of Jazz Fest

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Stanton Moore
Flyin' the Koop
(Verve Music)
Whether it comes from the street, the soul, or the cerebrum, Galactic drummer Stanton Moore knows how to channel energy into music. His second solo album and Verve Records debut, Flyin' the Koop, combines his funky New Orleans influence with modern studio techniques and artistic contributions from a high-powered group of national avant-jazz-funk players: Karl Denson on flute and tenor sax, Skerik on tenor, baritone and electro sax, Chris Wood on bass, and Brian Seeger (of Quintology, Moore and More) on guitar. Moore drives this group to funk-jazz perfection with a delicate balance of organic output and electronic enhancement.

Flyin' the Koop was recorded on an isolated chicken ranch in northern California, where the players composed most of the material in the studio to drum loops that Moore had created beforehand. Moore's influences are all over the place: "Fallin' Off the Floor" samples vocals from the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians, and "Amy's Lament" -- a slow, sad track named for Moore's wife -- utilizes a minor melody that's a throwback to his mid-90s stint with the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. There are brilliant dance-inducing jazz-funk compositions, sure to please groove-loving Stanton fans.

At times, the album ascends into improvisational anarchy or electronic overdrive. The closing track, "Organized Chaos," sounds like something from a Beck record, a positive indication that Moore and his musical cronies fear few musical boundaries. This album sets Moore apart from his contemporaries and establishes his national stature as a progressive drummer and visionary musician. -- Cristina Diettinger

Stanton Moore plays drums with Galactic at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, on the Acura Stage.

John Rankin
Guitar Gumbo
(STR Digital)
Veteran New Orleans guitarist and Loyola School of Music professor John Rankin is a scholar of New Orleans music and all things six-string, and his long-overdue new CD Guitar Gumbo plays like an unpretentious and joyous master class.

His opening take on the Earl King classic "Big Chief" sets the tone, with Rankin nimbly picking the opening progression's standard horn/piano line to cast the song in a new light. "Iko Iko" is similarly charming, as Rankin's unique tuning and picking take the song straight to the islands, sounding like a chorus of pan steel drums. He can wax sentimental, too, as on the ballads "If I Had You" and especially "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," which is stripped to its melody and delivered with lyrical grace. "Mr. Fotdella," a tribute to Jesse Fuller, is the album's barnburner, as Rankin puts a 12-string guitar through the paces, at times sounding like three guitarists. He takes two vocal turns on the CD, wrapping his warm baritone around a John Lee Hooker-inspired take on "Come Back Baby," and a carefree version of "Sunny Side of the Street" that nods to James Booker.

One of the charms of the album is its warm, pristine recording, which captures the sound of Rankin's fingers gliding across the strings, and the faint wooden echo reverberating from inside his guitar. It sounds pure and natural, just like the music on this fine offering from an underrecognized New Orleans virtuoso. --Scott Jordan

John Rankin plays the Columns Hotel every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., appears at Jazz Fest at 12:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, on the Lagniappe Stage.

Morning 40 Federation
Trick Nasty
(Independent)
Every artist deserves something resembling a free pass on sophomore efforts. Too often they're accused of repeating the sound of the first album that everyone adored, so of course they're redundant and not growing -- or they go off in some bizarre direction that leaves the faithful lost, thereby losing their original charm.

The Morning 40 Federation's Trick Nasty, the follow-up to its gritty 2000 debut, Your My Brother, skews more toward the former -- and there's nothing really wrong with that. It's not like the Ninth Ward has changed dramatically in two years; heavy drinkers don't sober up overnight. So the 40s plod on with their Jon Spencer-with-saxophone, "sleazy burlesque" punk blues to great effect. Remember, this is the band that got good in spite of itself, so if anything, Trick Nasty gets much credit for some borderline psychedelic guitar stretches without losing any of that essential gutter funk/punk that makes these guys so adorable. And is that a country-western lament I hear on "Homeless Words"?

"Sometimes it's great/ Sometimes it's shitty/ When you're living in the first Southern city," Ryan Scully groans to a circus-like saxophone treatment on "Jimmy Cousins Left Town and Stonewall Jackson Died." He continues, "But good or bad, bad or good/ I can't leave my own neighborhood." Then the boys slow the same tune to a crawl later in the album, re-naming it "Muddy Shnuckles Turned Brown." How utterly different and familiar at the same time. For this band, like its home, change is relative. -- David Lee Simmons

Morning 40 Federation plays Jazz Fest in the Blues Tent at 11:30 a.m. Friday, April 26, and later at 11 p.m. at the Blue Nile (532 Frenchmen St., 948-2583). The band also will do an in-store performance at 6 p.m. Monday, April 29, at Virgin Megastore (620 Decatur St., 671-8100).

Laura Freeman
A Baker's Dozen
(Independent)
After years of toiling away playing the happy hours and backing up Mike West and Myshkin, fellow hillbilly singer-songwriter Laura Freeman broke out last year with her debut CD, Greatest Hits From My 20s and 30s. Here she takes another important, versatile step in her career, creating a charming collection of children songs that will be on full display this weekend at the Jazz Fest's Kid's Tent.

"It's a fantabulous day to be a kid/ When you're inside looking out at the rain/ And you think, gee, what a pain/ Think of all the flowers waiting to bud/ And the frogs, and the slugs, and the loooovely mud," she playfully croons in a voice falling snugly between Iris DeMent and Allison Krauss. It's a perfect match for West's supportive guitar work, alternating between rhythmic chord strumming and delicate picking that suggests a backyard sing-along at an 8-year-old's birthday party.

Freeman's completely at ease with her material as she creates a kid's world all her own. The rockabilly stroll of "Fruit Boogie" sounds like Elvis going to elementary school as Freeman checks off a few of her favorite fruity things ("Mulberry, gooseberry, boysenberries, too/ Tangerines and tangelos from Timbuktu/ Kumquats are best in the south of Spain/ Apricots I like to nibble in the rain."

And any album that closes with a song like "Turn off the T.V." while actually making it sound like a fun idea, knows what's going on. -- David Lee Simmons

Laura Freeman performs with Mike West at Jazz Fest at 1:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, at the Kids' Tent, and at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 29, at the Spotted Cat (623 Frenchmen St., 943-3887).

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