Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tom McDermott's Bamboula

While thought of a ragtime and traditional new Orleans jazz pianist, Tom McDermott is a pianist who resists such easily categorization. Certainly his performances of a Scott Joplin rag or a Jelly Roll Morton stomp as well as his playing in various classic New Orleans ensembles might foster that view  However, we are talking about a person also conversant with the classical-blues-funk fusion of one James Carroll Booker and very adept at the Brazilian cousin of ragtime, Choro. To the previous items,  add that McDermott is as intriguing a composer as a marvelous pianist. Some of you may be aware of him from his appearances on the HBO drama Tremé.

This leads us to a marvelous retrospective of recordings by McDermott over a span from 1994 to 2011, Bamboula (Minky Records). This was curated by Van Dykes Parks, a person of certain fame himself. In his brief appreciation of McDermott, Parks compares McDermott to the pioneering New Orleans composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. In the manner the rhythms of Congo Square marked that composer's work, the rhythms of Cuba and Latin America similarly infuse the work of McDermott. This recording contains 16 selections from albums by McDermott. They include solo selections, duets and marvelous ensemble recordings with his close musical associate Evan Christopher, trombonist Rick Trolsen and several Brazilian musicians.

I can't think of a better McDermott recording to make casual listeners better take note than the title track, his marvelous arrangement of Gottschalk's most famous composition. It is performed at a brisk tempo with with an irresistible hot rhythm with McDermott's fluid and clean ragtime-laced playing along with marvelous trombone and clarinet. Opulence contrasts with its stately classical flavor with some lovely soprano sax. This track is followed by a playful ragtime-flavored duet with Christopher, Irresitîvel. On Scott Joplin's Heliotrope Bouquet, McDermott steps away from the piano as Christopher and Trolsen are supported by the Brazilian string players (Caio Marcio is outstanding on seven-string guitar). Patrick Harison's accordion supplies a gypsy jazz flavor to Musette in A Minor.

For Brenda is a lovely original rag on which McDermott, with his lovely playing, evokes the graceful charm of Joplin.  The interplay with Christopher on another duet, La Manege Rouge, displays their empathy for each other. Its back to Brazil for a rendition of Joplin's The Chrysanthemum with fresh rhythmic accents, while another duet with Christopher, Tango Ambiguo, (translated as ambiguous tango) with its subdued tempo is especially lovely. Lost Rio is a wistful solo piano performance, while the closing Santa Teresa is another spirited original choro with wonderful playing by his Brazilian and New Orleans associates (Henry Lentino is scintillating on bandolin). 

Van Dyke Parks has curated a terrific introduction to Tom McDermott's recordings on Bamboula. The sixteen selections provide listeners a chance to experience the depth and range of McDermott's piano playing and compositions. I would not be surprised if this leads many to delve further into his recordings and music. Highly recommended.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of Tom McDermott & Evan Christopher performing duets at the New Orleans Record Store, Louisiana Music Factory.


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