Thursday, November 10, 2011

After Katrina, Moving to a Higher Ground

In April 2006 I wrote reviews on several post-Katrina benefit albums. This is the second review of those I am posting. Here is the first which originally appeared in the April 2006 (issue 281) of Jazz & Blues Report as well as the April 2006 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. I likely received a review copy, not sure if from the record company, a publicist or Jazz & Blues Report.

Jazz at Lincoln Center did one of the first TV benefit shows, Higher Ground, Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert, which has been made available on Blue Note. Given that the Artistic Director of Jazz From Lincoln Center, Wynton Marsalis Wynton Marsalis, is from New Orleans as well as the city’s seminal place in the history of jazz and American popular music, it is not surprising that they came out early to help try to help the cradle of jazz recover.

Despite being presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center, the music presented here includes much that is not strictly jazz including a marvelous gospel number by Shirley Caesar and lively number by Buckwheat Zydeco. Art & Aaron Neville revive Professor Longhair’s Go to New Orleans with Allen Toussaint on piano, Art Neville on organ, an uncredited guitarist, Wes Anderson on alto and Wynton Marsalis on trumpet on a spirited recording followed by Dianna Krall rendering Basin Street Blues, with a nice traditional jazz feel to the backing evoking Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

James Taylor’s simple solo rendition of his Never Die Young, and Dianne Reeves treatment of The House I Live In both give the lyrics special meaning in light of the performance context as does Norah Jones on a solo performance of Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going To Rain Today. Terence Blanchard’s performance Over There may be the strongest straight jazz performance with its somber mode, whereas the music of New Orleans is celebrated by Marcus Roberts on Jelly Morton’s New Orleans Blues and Wynton Marsalis’ revival of Dippermouth Blues, from the first recordings made by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with a young second cornet player whose nickname was Dippermouth.

Trumpeter Irvin Mayfield plays a marvelous Just a Closer Walk With thee, just backed by pianist Ronald Markam, Bette Midler is marvelous on Is That All There Is, which some may be familiar of from Peggy Lee. The closing Come Sunday with Mark O'Connor on violin is a moving treatment of a composition originally part of Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige, and later done by another legend from new Orleans, Mahalia Jackson.

Like the city celebrated here, the performances contain a variety of styles, idioms and moods.

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