The Putumayo brand, founded in 1975 as a clothing line, has long been a retail gateway for First Worlders into the diverse indigenous designs and crafts of Latin America, Africa, Asia and other non-Western cultures, with a hippie-friendly bent. In 1993, company founder Dan Storper " a New Orleans resident since 2004 " launched Putumayo World Music, a label that cranks out colorfully packaged CD compilations of songs gathered from all corners of the music-making world. In 1997, Storper sold the clothing branch of the company to focus entirely on music, and in recent years, New Orleans and the American South have enjoyed attention from the label. It has put out several regionally themed albums including a New Orleans-flavored Christmas CD, a kid's music CD, Cajun and zydeco compilation albums, a collection dedicated to Tremé horn swinger Kermit Ruffins and CDs of Delta blues and Americana. As of this month, the company is expanding its commitment to the city, opening a branch office on Magazine Street and releasing yet another Crescent City-themed compilation titled New Orleans Brass. Storper, whose wife is a native New Orleanian, has put his money where Putumayo's mouth is in the two years since Katrina, stepping up to the plate to donate more than $250,000 in proceeds from sales of some of the New Orleans collections to post-hurricane musicians' relief efforts. Two years ago this month, Putumayo produced a free concert and second line from Tremé to Woldenberg Park that was filmed for Spike Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke.
'New Orleans is one of the original sources of much of the world's music. Jazz and rhythm and blues had their beginnings here," says Storper. 'Putumayo's increased focus on creating collections of blues, jazz and other southern American roots genres is well served by having a resource center here as well as a regional sales and marketing office."
If New Orleans Brass seems rather tame to Louisiana listeners, it's because the record, like all Putumayo releases, is designed as an entry-level introduction to a musical genre for newbie buyers who will find them exotic. The thick booklets that come with each release serve as a primer on each artist and the history or relevance of the songs. New Orleans Brass brings Putumayo's national audience up to date on musicians who are famous in New Orleans but not well known outside this rather insular bowl. Still, it's disappointing to see that none of the young, contemporary second-line stalwarts are represented " no Hot 8, no Soul Rebels, not even the now-venerable Rebirth Brass Band, whose anthem 'Do Whatcha Wanna" ought to be required listening in Brass 101. Instead of the raucous street parade New Orleanians associate with brass, we get the cleanest possible takes on the genre, like the gospel-tinged tracks 'I'll Fly Away" by John Boutté and 'Over In The Gloryland" by Preservation Hall regulars Glen Andrews and the Lazy Six. Bob French and his Original Tuxedo Jazz Band do a lovely, melancholic 'St. James Infirmary," but the pick-it-up ending " the joyful, upbeat part of the tune that implies the jazz funeral's march back from the cemetery " seems audibly missing. Some nice standouts " that one could imagine parading to " are James and Troy Andrews' opener, the traditional 'Bourbon Street Parade," Dr. John's sly growl paired with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on 'It's All Over Now," from the 1989 album Voodoo, and Kermit Ruffins' cheery, laid-back 'Tremé Second Line (Blow Da Whistle)."
The exhaustive album liner notes include a shout-out to the Louisiana Music Factory, whose staff helped select some of the tracks for the record. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of New Orleans Brass will go to the Renew Our Music Fund. The enhanced audio CD also features a music video produced by the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, featuring Ingrid Lucia, Irvin Mayfield and others playing the song 'Do They Play Jazz In Heaven?" Although New Orleans Brass offers little that's new musically for veteran New Orleanians, it does indicate that the company is poised to be an excellent neighbor.
- Putumayo released New Orleans Brass to coincide with the opening of new local offices.