Jazzin' up the Holidays

Three stellar new albums spotlight New Orleans' diverse jazz scene.



Harry Connick Jr.
Every five years or so, singer/Broadway show writer/bandleader/arranger/movie star Harry Connick, Jr. puts out a piano album; 30, recorded in l998 but just now released, is his latest. How does it differ from 20 or 25? Well, as Harry has aged, the influences that have dominated his past piano albums have become better integrated. He now transmits, for instance, Thelonious Monk's percussive essence without the banging quality he sometimes showed on previous albums.

An overriding element in Connick's music is the New Orleans urge to entertain. It's a trait manifested on 30 via repeated jolts of deliciously quirky humor. Connick's rhythmic concept -- his ability to play around with the beat, to disguise the downbeat while keeping the tempo rock-steady -- is staggering. This playful approach puts him in the company of other time-jugglers like Marcus Roberts and Brad Mehldau, to name other jazzmen who push the rhythmic envelope.

Since Connick is an entertainer as much as a jazzman, he doesn't shy away from "Somewhere My Love" (AKA "Lara's Theme" from Dr. Zhivago) or "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree," tunes most hipper-than-thou jazzmen would avoid. Harry mines the jazz potential of these melodies superbly, with the spirit of James Booker always hovering nearby. Other highlights include a Booker-esque "Speak Softly Love," a spooky "Junco Partner" that walks the line between major and minor, an onomatopoeic "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and "I'll Only Miss Her When I Think of Her," with some suave piano and trumpet by Harry's old homey Wynton Marsalis. -- McDermott

Egg Yolk Jubilee
Brunch With Rocco Fancypants
Ever since they released their debut album, Champions of Breakfast, Egg Yolk Jubilee has been a bastion of brass-infused kitsch, giving rise to many a naughty night out for the club-going public. Whether or not it's due to ongoing invocation of the spirit of Ernie K-Doe, Egg Yolk has made a twisted and brilliant album this time around. Most of the songs on Brunch With Rocco Fancypants are staples from their live show, such as the old favorite "Brown Noise," which sounds dirty and regal at once. The opening bass line of this cathartic song gets you revved up like a bull in a pen, ready to lurch forward when the horns kick in. Though most of these songs sound like wacky new takes on old swing tunes, they're all originals, except for the cleverly rendered "Mommy," a relic from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' debut album. ("Mommy, where's Daddy?" a falsetto voice cries over an anxious tuba-blown bass line.) Vocals are few and far between on this album, but when they do crop up, they're goofy and wonderfully sinister. The instrumental stuff is tight, exploiting all sorts of stylistic influences without losing sight of Egg Yolk's signature brassy dissonance. "Dance of the Salivating Pickler" nods to punk rock, and "Requiem for an Asshole" tips its hat to Sun Ra and drags its feet like a requiem should. Every song on Rocco Fancypants tells its own story, lyrics or not. Egg Yolk Jubilee are already champions of breakfast. And now they're on to brunch. If they keep this up, it could mean anarchy come tea time. -- Diettinger

Live at the Old Point
"Welcome to the trombone," it reads on the inside back cover of Bonerama's debut CD. "You don't have to be afraid anymore." Most music fans don't appreciate the trombone, but if Bonerama can't change that, no band can. Though it's missing the visual thrill of a five-bone front line, Live at the Old Point does deliver the incredible sonic strength of Bonerama's peculiar configuration (five trombones, guitar, tuba, and drums). Drawing heavily on local funk standards, the album runs through a fairly diverse set of styles with jazz, rock, and some originals, displaying versatility. After all, the band features players from all walks of local music life, from the LPO to the Funky Meters.

Led by pro-trombone activist Mark Mullins (MuleBone, Harry Connick Jr.), Bonerama gets right down to business with "Bap Bap," a powerful Mullins original. The album really heats up on track three, with an eight-minute version of the recent New Orleans funk anthem, "Blues For Ben." The tune sounds like it was made for trombone, and an electro-trombone solo by Mullins takes it to an unexpected psychedelic level. By mid-album, the band has ventured to jazz and back. They visit the '70s rock era with an explosive cover of Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick," which works surprisingly well with horns. Plenty of wacky guitar work by Bert Cotton enhances the authenticity, and an awesome two-minute drum solo by the Funky Meters' Russell Batiste captures the spontaneous energy of live performance. After a series of moderately exciting jazz numbers and originals that sound like show tunes, the album closes out with Bonerama's perennial crowd-pleaser, Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein." -- Diettinger

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