Wednesday, June 22, 2011

John Boutté Crescent City Vocal Magic

John Boutté at 2011 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Photo © Ron Weinstock
I had heard of John Boutté and even purchased his CD Jambalaya prior to ever having a chance to see him perform. His performance of Louisiana 1927 from the first post-Katrina JazzFest, issued on a WWOZ CD for members, was one of the most compelling vocal performances I had heard in some time, and supplanted Marcia Ball for delivering the definitive performance of this Randy Newman song, of course enhanced by new lyrics and a terrific Leroy jones trumpet solo. Finally getting to see him a few years ago, he has become one of the must see acts at the New Orleans JazzFest, if his performances are the same weekend as I attend. Also, I have been fortunate to stay for his entire sets this year and 2009 as well as much of the set in 2010.

Boutté’s sets are also fortunately documented by JazzFest Live, the service that makes available on either CD or download, a number of performances from each year’s festival (Check This year’s set (from April 30, 2011 at the WWOZ Jazz Tent) was no exception so I am able to savor the performance I enjoyed in person. And what is striking is how his sets may have overlap in songs between years, but partly with different bands, but also partly from his own fresh interpretation of the same material, performances have a different character.

This year he had a full horn section with a piano-less band that included a fine band. The difference allows even songs performed one year after another like the Steve Goodman classic City of New Orleans (Arlo Guthrie did not write it) to sound transformed from his studio (and did the nice trombone solo in addition to trumpet), or earlier live performance from 2009. Same can be said of the traditional gospel “Beautiful City, titled by the JazzFestLive folks as One of These Days, with the earlier performance standing out with forceful acoustic guitar and trumpet in its sparser backing.

Then there is the jazz standard that opens this, Basin Street Blues, and a wonderful rendition of Little Willie John’s “Let Them Talk (titled by JazzFest Live as I Want The World To Know) done as a tribute to the legendary James Booker with nice horn voicings in support. Particularly moving is the moving rendition of his post-Katrina collaboration with Paul Sanchez Try to Find a Meaning, which he dedicated to those suffering in the Midwest US and Japan suffering from the natural disasters of the first part of 2011. 

John Boutté - Photo © Ron Weinstock
Boutté combines a marvelous delivery of a song’s lyrics with a way of phrasing that is completely engaging, mixed with a warm stage presence. Then there is also a wonderful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, with lovely flute accompaniment. By the time John Boutté closed with Treme Song, which many will know from the HBO series Treme, the audience had been satiated with his performance even if we wanted it to continue for another hour. And like his other JazzFest performances available from JazzFest Live, this sounds so very good back home.

I look forward to my next opportunity to listen to a musical Boutté call. 

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