In this northernmost outpost of the Caribbean, there has been a dearth of bands playing Jamaican music. This is a shame because the 1960s Jamaican bands such as the Skatalites formulated their ideas about ska and reggae from listening on the shortwave radio to New Orleans radio stations playing Fats Domino and Lloyd Price. Currently the Revealers and Zion Trinity are the standard bearers, but now there is another band full of skanking rhythms, 007.
The 007 debut CD, Studied Rudeness, is full of great songs and rock-steady beats. They model their music on the Studio One and Treasure Island recordings from Jamaica in the early 1960s and perform versions of the classic "Ba Ba Boom" and "The Tide Is High." They have great versatility in sporting three singers with distinctive voices. Drummer Jeffrey Clemens (of G. Love and Special Sauce) uses his slight rasp to great advantage on tunes such as "The Ties That Bind" and "Just Tell Me." Joe Cabral (of the Iguanas) does a great vocal turn on the aforementioned "Tide Is High" as the rest of the band soars with hip, almost doo-wop harmonies. Alex McMurray's impassioned take of "Got to Feel It" provides the last third of this CD with an added energy burst that takes this recording to a whole other level.
Although he doesn't sing, guitarist Jonathan Freilich (Naked on the Floor, New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars) certainly makes his presence felt with a varied six-string attack that takes its cues from James Blood Ulmer on some cuts and Ernest Ranglin on others. He and McMurray complement each other well as they lock in on both rhythm and lead parts. -- David Kunian
007 performs at 4:25 p.m. Thursday, April 29, at the Lagniappe Stage.
Jimmy Thackery and Tab Benoit
Whiskey Store Live
Whiskey Store Live, the recent release from the blues team of Jimmy Thackery and Tab Benoit, opens up with the lusty roar of the crowd as the band charges full throttle into the opening instrumental "Freddy's Combo." The guitars sting. The saxophones honk. The Hammond B-3 organ swirls and dips. This is roadhouse music at its finest.
And it doesn't stop there. The celebratory feeling continues for the entire 73 minutes of this CD recorded in 2003 way up north in Unity, Maine, and it doesn't let up. It moves from the swamp-pop party classic made famous by Lil' Bob and the Lollypops (and later Los Lobos), "I Got Loaded," to the kiss-off sneer of Bob Dylan's "Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat." Few play the dirty-boogie blues better than Tab Benoit, who's playing matches well with the relentless rhythm of Thackery's six-string.
Of course no live set is complete without a couple of slow burners. Benoit takes a soulful, raspy vocal turn on the Otis Redding classic "These Arms of Mine" as the band swells during the last measures in a way that would make any chitin' circuit bandleader proud. That's followed up by the set closer and theme, "Whiskey Store," a classic lament with a stop-time verse about "walking the back streets" and "The doctor tried to tell me to lay off that stuff." -- Kunian
Tab Benoit closes out the Popeyes Blues Tent at 5:45 p.m. Thursday, April 29.
For All Time
For All Time packages together Dave Brubeck's output from 1959-1965, starting with the classic Time Out and finishing with Time In. During this period, Brubeck's quartet experimented with then-unconventional time signatures -- hence the presence of "Time" in all the album titles -- but rehearing the albums now it's hard not to think about how time has passed.
In 1959, Brubeck wasn't the first to employ unusual time signatures -- Max Roach, among others, had already strayed from 4/4 on numerous occasions. But with the success of Time Out's "Take Five" and the quartet's fame garnered performing to college audiences, he popularized exploring time. Today's listeners might struggle to appreciate how groundbreaking these were back then, simply because so much jazz since has been played in 3/4, 5/4 and 9/4.
Presenting these albums as a boxed set does a disservice to Brubeck and the albums. Collecting them invites listeners to consider them in sequence as a narrative -- what happened over those six years? Heard that way, listeners notice saxophonist Paul Desmond's contributions becoming less frequent and less engaging, with Brubeck's classical-influenced piano playing dominating more and more. It's tempting to hear the albums as evidence of Brubeck indulging, or developing, artistic pretensions -- as if jazz as it was played by his contemporaries was not sufficiently challenging or too lowbrow. The modern, abstract paintings on the covers and Time Changes' "Elementals," which also featured a 45-piece orchestra, further that perception.
In short, For All Time calls Brubeck's legitimate position in jazz history in question when it shouldn't, and invites listeners to hear it in ways that cause Brubeck's deceptively dexterous playing to be overlooked. -- Alex Rawls
The Dave Brubeck Quartet performs at 4:10 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at the BellSouth/WWOZ Jazz Tent.
Kim Carson and the Casualties
Live at Tipitina's
Live albums are great for documenting a moment, as Live at Tipitina's does for Kim Carson and the Casualties. The band has changed drummers since the album was recorded in 2003, and with Theresa Andersson's success, she's not likely to remain a member for long. Live at Tipitina's captures Carson and the band that has got her this far, though in all likelihood it won't be the band that will accompany her in her future outside of New Orleans. Still, live albums rarely feel like the shows, and Carson's Live at Tipitina's is no exception.
That's not a knock on the performances or the songs, which are a mix of Carson's originals and covers of songs by Willie Nelson and Ernest Tubb, among others. The band is rocking, and "Honky Tonk Gal" sounds spirited, as if Carson is enjoying her crush on the guy on stage. In Whiskeytown's "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart," she drops just enough sorrowful low notes into the song to hint that it's more felt than the lyric would suggest.
Subtleties such as these are always the exception to the rule with live recordings; trying to capture the elusive essence honky-tonk (itself a social experience) is equally difficult. Live at Tipitina's captures a good honky-tonk band on a good night, but it isn't Carson at her best. -- Rawls
Kim Carson & the Casualties perform at 12:30 p.m., Friday, April 30, at the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage.
Jeff & Vida
Judging by their third album, Loaded, Jeff & Vida are red-blooded meat eaters (and if they're vegetarian, they eat hearty vegetables). Based on the evidence here and on their previous album, The Simplest Plans, country and bluegrass aren't sounds for them to admire like Faberge eggs or goof on like the kids who eats paste, nor do they play them to celebrate America's poor folk. Instead, their CDs sound like the natural expressions of passionately led lives.
On "Baby Don't You Do Me Wrong," for instance, it sounds like cheating on Vida Wakeman would earn the cheater at least the chance to duck flying crockery, and if that was all, he should consider himself lucky. There's a swagger in her performance as if she enjoys her own intensity, but Wakeman's not just a hot mama. On "Everybody's Darling," she sounds convincingly wise, while her voice softens and sounds in need of protection in "Blessed But Not Favored." In short, in songs that sound like they come from lives actually led, she sounds like a real person with a healthy complement of emotions.
Both Wakeman and Jeff Burke have pop backgrounds, having come to acoustic music in their teens. The chops are there -- Burke's a fleet, clean mandolin and banjo player -- but the song remains the thing. In their case, this means urban songs, or songs that don't require city listeners to identify with their country cousins. It also means that while they appreciate tradition, they aren't purists. "Blacktop Shine" romanticizes growing up in a way John Mellencamp might recognize, and "I Cried" is a lovely jazz ballad that could be a standard if jazz standards can still be created at this late date. -- Rawls
Jeff & Vida perform at 1:35 p.m. Sunday, May 2, at the Lagniappe Stage.
New Orleans Serenaders
The Music of Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory
In the 1960s, a gaggle of northern European musicians descended on New Orleans to bathe in the sounds of George Lewis, the Humphrey Brothers and other stars of Preservation Hall. Forty years later, the ever-tasteful trumpet player Clive Wilson is still here, and among various projects he leads the New Orleans Serenaders.
This is a savory group, with everyone's favorite Jelly Roll Morton specialist, Butch Thompson, at the keys, and New Orleans native (and former Time magazine bureau chief) Tommy Sancton playing terrific clarinet throughout. The disc covers familiar terrain ("I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "Potato Head Blues") but keeps things interesting with oddities such as "Yaka Hula Hickey Dula" and Cole Porter's "I Love You, Samantha."
Best of all are the multi-thematic pieces such as Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" and Morton's "Wolverine Blues," where the mix of textures, fresh riffing and inspired ensemble playing on the shifting themes bring an element of surprise to a genre that in lesser musicians' hands can quickly grow stale. -- Tom McDermott
Clive Wilson & the New Orleans Serenaders with Butch Thompson perform at 12:20 p.m. Sunday, May 2, at the Economy Hall Tent.
Earth vs. The Radiators (DVD)
The Radiators aren't particularly a jam band. They're more about songs than instrumental workouts, and can easily do a full night of five-minute numbers. But there are nights when they throw out the script, stretch everything out and aim for the stratosphere. It was one of those nights, the third of their 25th anniversary celebration run at Tipitina's last January, that's captured on their first live DVD.
Hornmen Mark Mullins and Karl Denson, who appear on most of the disc, lend a different flavor to the familiar tunes, taking "Confidential" into Sun Ra's orbit. In fact they get a bit too much of the solo space, sometimes pushing guitarists Dave Malone and Camile Baudoin to the sidelines. But the street-party feel takes over by the time they get to "I Like it Like That," with George Porter Jr. doubling Reggie Scanlan's bass and Theresa Andersson on chorus vocals and slinky dancing.
There are enough new songs for a studio album, with a highlight in keyboardist Ed Volker's "Waiting for the Rain" -- one of the sweeping soul epics that he writes on a really good day. On the funkier side, Malone's Meters homage "Monkey Meet" has finally made it to disc.
A fan himself, director Geoffrey Hanson stays true to the tight-but-loose spirit of the band, knowing when to zoom in tight for a solo and when to catch the interaction. And he's packed the disc full of bonus goodies, including live summits with Gregg Allman and Maceo Parker, and some fun backstage footage. Throw in plenty of Tipitina's ambience -- including a good-karma opening shot of someone stroking the bust of Professor Longhair -- and you've got one that old and new fans can treasure. -- Brett Milano
The Radiators close out the Sprint Stage at 5:40 p.m. Sunday, May 2.
Soul Trinity Volume 1
Fredrick Sanders has a wide and varied resume. He has done stints with the Lincoln Center Jazz Band and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. His piano playing has graced the recordings of Alvin Batiste, Philip Manuel, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. On his recent CD, Soul Trinity, Sanders continues to establish a definitive personality in his playing and writing.
Sanders' playing has a distinct sound and style, bright and light with very little dissonance in his touch. On tunes such as "Ones of Wisdom," Sanders opens up like Keith Jarrett's ECM recordings but without of any of the indulgence that can make listeners roll their eyes. At other points, he seems to be channeling some of McCoy Tyner's techniques and rolling, sustained figures that bring songs such as the title track to a grand and building climax.
Sanders also give his bandmates room to shine. Bassist Rodney Whitaker takes several solos that contribute immensely to the songs but thankfully never takes them too far from the melodies or harmonies. Drummer Troy Davis reveals a subtle touch with the brushes on the ballad "Waiting on Your Word." The entire trio plays together complementing each other in a way that recalls Bill Evans' telepathic trios from the early 1960s or some of Vince Guaraldi's music for the Peanuts cartoons. This recording has a playful soul with a depth underneath that grows upon repeated listening. -- Kunian
Frederick Sanders & Soul Trinity perform at 12:20 p.m., Friday, April 30, at the BellSouth/WWOZ Jazz Tent.
Chris Smither has never seemed to be in much of a hurry. It has taken New Orleans-born singer-songwriter 30 years to get 10 albums out, and that same languor applies to his music. Whether it's 2003's Train Home or his third album, Honeysuckle Dog, Smither's songs and performances move with the patience and ease of someone who understands the value of taking it easy.
Honeysuckle Dog has aged gracefully, but it does show its age. Coming from an era when the Warner Bros. and Elektra record companies seemed more interested in good art than good commerce and signed acoustic folk and blues acts, a song like "Sunshine Lady" features lyrics and a flute part that scream "1973." Still the song, like all of Smither's originals on the album, has a pop sensibility that tightens up the softest lyrics. At that point, Randy Newman was still a cult artist, and covering songs by him and Mississippi John Hurt wasn't self-consciously eclectic.
For audiences today, one of the appeals of the album is the roster of guest artists. Though the album was recorded after Smither had relocated to Philadelphia, Dr. John's piano measures out a gentle lope and a hot solo for the title cut, while Lowell George and Billy Payne of Little Feat play on "Rosalie" and "It Ain't Easy." George's genius is evident on "Rosalie" not so much in the slide solo, though it's fine, but more in his playing during the verse, swooping from note to note to emphasize the song's rollicking nature. Also appearing are journeyman keyboard player Eric Kaz and a young Patti Austin singing background vocals.
Though the album's vintage shows, there's no getting around Smither's charm as a singer. He's casual, but not so much so that the emotion is lost. He's also not such a folkie or a blues man that he forgot the value of a hook, so even a song with a title as improbable as "Homonculus" catches. -- Rawls
Chris Smither performs at 1:45 p.m. Sunday, May 2, at the Popeyes Blues Tent.
Most bands break up for a reason, and if they ever reconvene it's for the money, not the music. Fortunately that's not the case with the much-beloved subdudes, who've reunited with Miracle Mule after calling it quits in 1997.
Charter members Tommy Malone, John Magnie and Steve Amedee began playing together again last year, and it was immediately obvious that their time apart made them appreciate what they once had together. The gospel-tinged "Morning Glory" wastes no time recalling the group's strengths -- an ensemble sound notable for its sympathetic vibrations and harmony vocals that sound like these boys grew up together.
Freddie Koela, Bob Dylan's road guitarist, produced the album with an ear toward keeping those vocal harmonies in the foreground and mixing in Magnie's accordion and piano playing in ways that make the record echo the ambience of the first two recordings by The Band. Like those albums, Miracle Mule feels more like friends getting together to play some songs rather than a band meeting to record an album.
Any group that has Tommy Malone in it is going to feature some hot guitar playing, which we get here on "Maybe You Think," "If Wishing Made it So" and "I'm Angry," the latter showcasing a slide guitar duel between Malone and Koella. Other highlights on the album include the beautiful "Known To Touch Me," Malone's Louisiana-influenced "Standin' Tall" and "Oh Baby," and the title track, which oddly is included as an unlisted bonus song at the end of the album. -- John Swenson
The subdudes close out the first day of the second weekend at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 29, at the Sprint Stage.
Dr. Michael White
Dancing in the Sky
Dr. Michael White has done just about everything that can be done in the field of traditional New Orleans jazz. The acknowledged perfect master of the form plays this century-old material as if it had only been discovered yesterday, and his clarinet technique is second to none. His perfectly smooth tone can skate across a piece with wintry tranquility, yet he can growl and smear with menacing intent or doleful mourning.
White managed to translate a life-changing meditation retreat at Studio In the Woods into the impetus for writing new material in a traditional jazz vein. Others have done this, but never so well. In a transition reminiscent of the work of the Argentine poet philosopher (and tango lover) Jorge Luis Borges, White has assimilated the tradition, then translated it, using its terms, language and syntax, into his own lexicon.
He needed a lot of help to bring this material to life and he assembled an outstanding band to make the album -- Nicholas Payton and Gregory Stafford on trumpets, Lucien Barbarin on trombone, Detroit Brooks on banjo and Steven Pistorius on piano among others. "Algiers Hoodoo Woman" evokes a spooky tone at the album's outset as White mines an Ellingtonian theme reminiscent of "Black and Tan Fantasy." White's crystal tone is well featured on the mournful "The Truth of the Blues" as well as the up-tempo "Give It Up," "New Orleans Bounce," "Jambalaya Strut" and the title track, a lively second line tribute to the late Tuba Fats.
Dr. White has proved with this album that traditional New Orleans music has a future as potentially great as its past. -- Swenson
Dr. Michael White & the Original Liberty Jazz Band featuring Thais Clark and special guest Nicholas Payton perform at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at the Economy Hall Tent.