CD Reviews


Higher Power Bernard Allison (Dsm) The son of Luther Allison inherited his father's abilities as a singer and guitarist, but he has always shown the influence of younger players, particularly Stevie Ray Vaughan. He's followed in Stevie Ray's footsteps in an extra-musical way on Higher Power by writing about the 12-step program that he used to cure his alcohol and drug addictions. Unfortunately, there's nothing of the scope of Vaughan's In Step or especially the great "Wall of Denial" here. Songs like "I've Learned My Lesson" and "New Life I'm In" are pretty thin.

Allison's forebears looked down the throat of some real demons and lived to write powerfully about the experience, and he simply doesn't make the grade here. There's no questioning the sincerity of Allison's musical reaction to his personal struggles, which are undoubtedly deeply meaningful to himself and his sponsor, but only fundamentalists and his most dedicated fans will see this faith-based initiative as a creative step forward.

Fortunately, not all of these tracks trace Allison's relationship with the Lord, and his newfound piety doesn't get in the way of his overdrive guitar playing, which still provides plenty of excitement. He includes a couple of his father's songs, "Raggedy and Dirty" and "Into My Life," and a solid cover of the blues chestnut "It's A Man Down There."-- John Swenson

Bernard Allison performs at 2:50 p.m. Friday, April 22, at the Popeyes Blues Tent.

I Remember the Night Your Trailer Burnt Down Bobby Lounge (Abitian) "We are offering this disk to the public at the request of the many people who have heard of the genius of Bobby Lounge, but who may not have had a chance to see him perform," explain the liner notes, which go on to point out that the late-baby-boomer-age Lounge performed his witty, slightly twisted piano tunes in the '70s, mostly at house parties.

Over long interludes -- the shortest song clocks in just under five minutes; the longest approaches nine -- of gospel, blues and barrelhouse-influenced piano, Lounge rants, testifies and orates, flipping deftly between twisted humor, sly sarcasm and a genuine storyteller's gift. There are almost too many priceless couplets on the album to relate; one gem is "If I seem haunted / and if I seem distant / it's only because I'm much better than you," from "I'll Always Be Better Than You."

This album, recorded live in 2004, marks Lounge's return to performing, and after a listening, the liner notes makes sense. Play it with guests in your house, and they'd be likely to ask, "What the hell is that guy talking about?" and then you could say, "Oh, that's just Bobby Lounge." It's fair to guess that that would be a pretty accurate recreation of an exchange at any of those '70s house parties where Lounge initially demonstrated his genius. -- Alison Fensterstock

Bobby Lounge performs at 2:50 p.m. Saturday, April 23, in the Popeyes Blues Tent.

God, Guns & Money Brian Stoltz (Long Overdue) Who'd have thought that the first great Iraq war protest album would come from the Funky Meters' guitarist? Having a brother wounded in the war has politicized Brian Stoltz enough to write a full disc's worth of scathingly topical songs. That doesn't make it a one-note album: Some tracks are satirical, some poignant and some just plain pissed off, but Stoltz never loses sight of his main point: Somebody's getting a big benefit from this war, and it isn't you, me or the Iraqis.

To suit the subject matter, the sound veers a long way from Funky Meters territory. The funk is more somber and the blues blaze with anger. Fans of Stoltz's guitar playing shouldn't feel shortchanged, as "War Song" and "Opposite Sides of the War" feature plenty of his trademark wailing slide. The title track features a rare shot of Meters rhythm.

More often, the guitar lays back to illuminate the lyrics. It shadows his voice on the disc's chilling centerpiece, "Chicken Hawk," which recounts his brother's return and spews venom at those responsible. At first, it's a mild shock to hear someone other than Steve Earle be this outspoken on a CD, but that's a sad reminder of how long it's been since musicians were expected to do that. -- Brett Milano

Brian Stoltz performs at 12:05 p.m. Saturday, April 23, on the Sprint/Sanyo Stage.

Set 1: An Evening With the Ellis Marsalis Quartet Ellis Marsalis Quartet (ELM) Pianist Ellis Marsalis began his career in the post-World War II jazz world, a time when musicians had to be seasoned veterans before becoming bandleaders; many didn't record under their own names until they were in their 40s. Jazz was primarily a live music performed for dancers and had yet to be widely perceived as a sit-down theatrical event. Marsalis has witnessed a paradigm shift in which jazz has become more of a concert music with riches available to the youngest players while many older musicians are overlooked. Fortunately, Marsalis himself no longer suffers from this neglect and leads a great quartet featuring his son Jason on drums that plays regularly at Snug Harbor.

Live at Snug Harbor documents a typical night's music from Marsalis' band, a mixture of hard bop rundowns, ballads, standards and New Orleans music. Marsalis dances across the keyboard throughout, showcasing his playing with a marvelous series of choruses on "If I Were A Bell," as Jason frolics along and Bill Huntingdon provides stalwart accompaniment on bass. The band's principal voice is tenor/soprano saxophonist Derek Douget, whose wild romp through "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" on tenor and spectacular soprano turns on "Sweet Georgia Brown" are worth the price of admission. -- Swenson

Ellis Marsalis performs at 2:50 p.m. Saturday, April 23, in the BellSouth/WWOZ Jazz Tent.

Throwback Kermit Ruffins with the ReBirth Brass Band (Basin Street) In New Orleans, where our lack of interest in the zeitgeist of the rest of the world is almost a point of pride, does the idea of a throwback have any meaning at all? The word hit its vogue to describe sports jerseys from 10 years ago and soul music from 20, while in our town, high school freshmen consider it hip as hell to play a tune written in the early part of the last century on a sousaphone.

That said, even by Crescent City standards, Throwback is a throwback of sorts, to the days when Ruffins was the original trumpet player for ReBirth, and for the most part, their reintegration is seamless, though it has a bit of a you-do-yours-now-I'll-do-mine quality. The opening tracks are a run of vocal self-promotion and rowdy brass songs, including a stellar variation on Jean Knight's soul hit, "Mr. Big Stuff," before we get to sampling Ruffins' trademark swing and raspy, adenoidal, Louis-Armstrong-smokes-a-blunt vocals.

Standouts include his spoken-word recitation of daily specials cooked at bars around town, backed by ReBirth's riffing on "What Is New Orleans Part 2," and a wonderfully laidback version of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee." R&B diva Mary Griffin adds gorgeous toffee-rich, '70s soul-smooth vocals and Ruffins' rapping on the hip-hop "Up In Tha Hood." -- Fensterstock

Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers performs at 4:15 p.m. Saturday, April 23, in the BellSouth/WWOZ Jazz Tent. ReBirth Brass Band performs at 4:05 p.m. Sunday, April 24, on the Sprint/Sanyo Stage.

Live From the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival The Funky Meters (Shout! Factory) Up until this year's Jazz Fest, Generation Xers' live experience with the Meters has been limited to the Funky Meters, the touring machine that began in 1994 and includes Russell Batiste, Jr. on drums and Brian Stoltz on guitar with mainstays George Porter Jr. and Art Neville. The DVD, Live From the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival fully represents what Generation X has come to expect from a live Meters show -- groove based rhythms, virtuoso guitar leads, and jam band-like improvisations.

Unfortunately, the DVD, which looks like the footage that appears on the Acura Stage's video screen, doesn't capture the magic of Jazz Fest, much less a Meters set. Thankfully, the Funky Meters' performance surpasses the trite video production. Porter's bass lines on "People Say" alternate easily between slapping and picking, and at one point, he plays the pocket so perfectly that Neville steps back from his organ and plays a Porter-styled air-bass.

That said, the set features the band as close to a jukebox band as it gets. Songs stretch out, but one of the exciting features of a Funky Meters show is that precarious moment when it's no longer clear what song they're doing. The gradual musical migration from one song into another often culminates with a beautiful moment of surprise when it becomes clear what they've moved to.

In short, the new DVD is fun, but it's a far cry from being there. -- Reuben Brody

The Original Meters Reunion is at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 23, on the Sprint/Sanyo Stage.

You Don't Know What I Know Little Freddie King (Fat Possum) Unlike most New Orleans blues players, Little Freddie King favors the kind of raw sound and loose delivery that makes his addition to the Fat Possum roster positively inevitable. King's dirty guitar plunks and hey-there-see-ya-later relationship to conventional intonation immediately set him apart from the pack of sorry-ass pretenders who've turned da blooze into the soundtrack for truck commercials. Little Freddie's the genuine article, even if the liner notes unnecessarily fetishize his exploits involving alcohol and violence in an attempt to bolster his blues cred.

But where does this situate him in the company of his true peers? King's music bears little resemblance to his Texan namesake, the purveyor of revved-up, modernist chestnuts like "Hideaway," and has more in common with the reckless gusto and maniacal humor of alien personages like Hound Dog Taylor and Hasil Adkins.

Compared to his fellow Fat Possum artists, King exhibits none of the creeping malevolence or hypnotic drone of Junior Kimbrough or T-Model Ford. Rather, his take on the blues emphasizes wild good times and the karmic payback of surviving one's enemies -- both crucial coping mechanisms in the rough-and-tumble life. Two songs get spiked with beats and scratching to mixed effect, but it's King's jocular personality that carries the show. That title is undeniably true. -- Rob Cambre

Little Freddie King performs at 11:15 a.m. Sunday, April 24, in the Popeyes Blues Tent.

Choro Do Norte Tom McDermott (STR Digital) Tom McDermott, one of the great musician/theorists in New Orleans, has deconstructed the deep history of the city's piano music over the years and arrived at some interesting conclusions regarding the transition of Scott Joplin's rags into Jelly Roll Morton's early jazz. McDermott took this evolution a step back, into Brazilian choro music, some of which predates ragtime. McDermott saw an architectural relationship between all these forms -- forms he has experimented with on his own recordings. After making seven trips to Brazil to study and play with choro musicians, McDermott has assembled a masterpiece, Choro Do Norte.

Clarinetist Evan Christopher, a frequent collaborator with McDermott, and trombonist Rick Trolsen, who leads his own Brazilian music project, Gringo do Choro, are joined by members of the Brazilian group Tira Poeira -- Sergio Krakowski on pandeiro, Henry Lentino on bandolim and Caio Marcio on seven-string guitar. The result is a true synthesis of New Orleans and Brazilian music, with the complex, undulating rhythms of McDermott's compositions contrasting with the lush reading of Morton's "Sweetheart of Mine" and Joplin's "The Chrysanthemum," which exfoliates into a gorgeous new form. The recording ends with a stirring rendition of the 1845 composition "Bamboula" by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who lived in New Orleans and died in Rio. -- Swenson

The Danza Quartet featuring Tom McDermott and Evan Christopher performs at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, April 24, in the Economy Hall Tent.

Strange Fruit Irvin Mayfield (Basin Street) Irvin Mayfield could easily be accused of hubris. On Strange Fruit -- inspired by Billie Holiday's harrowing song about a Southern lynching -- Mayfield takes on a heavy topic with a nine-movement epic performed by the 19-member New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and the Dillard University Choir, and for the most part does it justice.

Strange Fruit tells the fictional story of an interracial romance in 1920s Louisiana. When the white Mary Anne's white boyfriend discovers the affair, he whips the white residents into a fury that leads to the lynching of her lover. Mayfield seems determined to capture more than just the horrors of Jim Crow South; he evokes an entire moment in history, both the sorrows and the joys, through jazz. Simple folk melodies appear in "Oral Traditions of the South," the joyous sounds of a second line drive "The Elder Negro Speaks," and the sultry horns of the "Ballad of the Hot Long Night" reveal the passions of two lovers unconcerned with the consequences of their actions.

Mayfield's arrangements for the choir recall Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite, from the almost operatic voices integrated with the sounds of the big band on "Opening Statement" to the moment when the choir becomes an angry mob shouting, "String Him Up." If only Mayfield had trusted his music enough to dispense with the narration between the movements. The written narrative, with its rather simple story and occasionally broad sexual innuendo, takes away from the power of Mayfield's impressive music. -- Todd A. Price

Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra performs at 4:15 p.m. Sunday, April 24, in the BellSouth/WWOZ Jazz Tent.

Rock With the Hot 8 Hot 8 Brass Band (Louisiana Red Hot) Rock With the Hot 8 starts with a blast of horns leading into a dance number, "Jisten to Me." The trombones riff against the trumpets' melody line as Dinerral Shaver's snare drum whaps fast, relentless rolls. It's an original number, but it reflects the attitude and aesthetic of modern brass bands to such a degree that it sounds like a standard already. In terms of standards, the Hot 8 does a great job with Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing." They maintain the smoothness of the original while the horns add a less cool and more plaintive, almost pleading tone. The late Joe Williams' "Rastafunk" combines punchy notes from the trombones with a tight, reggae beat from the rhythm section, especially Benny Pete's sousaphone.

The CD does fall short in a couple of instances. The rant complaining about the social aid and pleasure clubs comes off as petty and immature. If the Hot 8 had couched their thoughts in a more general fashion as the ReBirth Brass Band did when it said, "You don't want to go to war with the ReBirth Brass Band," it might be more effective. Other than that, Rock With the Hot 8 jumps out of the speakers with an assertive, catchy presence that indicates a great future for this relatively young band. -- David Kunian

Hot 8 Brass Band performs at 5:40 p.m. Sunday, April 24, on the Jazz & Heritage Stage.

Live at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival BeauSoleil (Shout! Factory) Like the Funky Meters' simultaneously released Jazz Fest DVD, this BeauSoleil disc -- recorded a year later, in 2002 -- is fine as far as it goes. The band's in good form; the set list includes band standards (with an especially lively "Eunice Two-Step") and lesser-known tunes. The cameras also capture plenty of Fest ambience, including Beatle Bob dancing up front. The problem with both DVDs is that bands with this much history, and this deep a repertoire, deserve a fuller presentation. BeauSoleil's performance runs under an hour, and even that gets interrupted a few times for interviews. This gig also focuses on traditional Cajun songs, rather than the more progressive numbers that leader/fiddler Michael Doucet slips onto their albums.

The disc does bring out the intuitive jazz-like interplay between the band members as Doucet's solos go everywhere but where you expect, and the beautiful surround mix is reason enough to get the disc. Al Tharp's bass hits deep from the bottom and Billy Ware's triangle dances in the rear speakers. Extras include two surprisingly imaginative videos, plus interviews with each band member -- though even Jazz Fest lovers won't need to hear them enthuse about the event quite this much. -- Milano

BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet perform at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 24, on the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage.


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