Friday, April 30, 2010

I lied

I realize I said I was done with talking New Orleans...then the missus decided we should watch the third episode of "Treme" last night which set me off again...

So, I am a dilletante. I do have an inordinate love of being surprised, hearing new stuff and tend to disappear down these rabbit holes of music discovery, never becoming an expert, but grabbing enough to have a decent sketch on hand.

"Treme" is the most music-centered dramatic series I've ever watched (tho not watching much TV overall I could be wrong) and in dealing with New Orleans and various aspects of it's culture naturally music should be an important part of it. But DAMN, there's a lot of performing going on and many that are fairly at length. I applaud Dave Simon for having the nerve to pace the show thusly and to make the viewers stew in the sounds presented. If you dig it, or can acclimate, I think you'll find it an unusual and most worthwhile experience.

Three episodes in, and having started watching after a couple days in New Orleans, this is pushing me to investigate in an ongoing fashion.

1) I've been digging thru the overall collection and seeing what I've already acquired over the years - actually a decent sampling for not having tried
2) picking up obvious items, mainly from Amazon -- if I had the patience I could hit stores but the chances I'd find what I'm looking for locally are pretty dismal
3) listening and realizing I haven't quite gotten what's intriguing me most

The result is a kind of quicklist that affects a reasonable TINY overview -- one that could serve the purposes of casual fans of the show that'd like to work the music into their day. You could probably cite hundreds of recordings you should own to have a decent collection, but times are tough and I think this list gives you some basics you can live with and decide what works for you and build on the stuff you dig most.

1. The Meters - Look-Ka Py Py - this quartet were one of the premimum session bands in the 60's and created their own unique brand of (mainly instrumental) funk influenced by indigenous rhythmic traditions and influencing in turn folks like Parliament (Mothership Connection esp.) Any of the re-issues of their Josie releases will do you nice - the Warner Bros. records are fine as well.
2. Kermit Ruffins - Putumayo Presents - a collection of his pre 2005 solo efforts. This cost $1.75 in mint condition. Nuff said. Ruffins plays straight up good timey traditional horn-driven jazz. He's a prominent figure on the show and looks to be presented accurately. On "Treme" he has a regularly weekly gig at Vaugn's and indeed the liner notes here refer to that ongoing residency and a live album he cut there. And mention his habit of cooking up barbeque outside of gigs, putting his rig on the back of his pick up.
3. Rebirth Brass Band - Kickin' It Live - Kermit went solo after having co-founded the Rebirth Brass Band. Rebirth are younger guys who are maintaining and the marching band tradition and keeping it alive and vital in the 21st century. "Folk" music forms are never pristine. Its practicioners have always incorporated what they'd liked and heard no matter what the source. They were the blog aggregators for their community in their day. So in a way, they're all the MORE authentic for continuing the process rather than just rehashing past repertoire as faithfully as possible.
So here the instrumentation is brass and horns driven by parade style drumming and punctuated by group chanting and/or call and response vocal interplay.
This is what's killing me today coz that drumming has got that loose limbed "rolling" feel that is the mark of my favorite rhythm things which include DC style "go go," fife and drum music and the Mississippi "hill" style blues (the late R.L. Burnside being the best known proponent thereof).
4. Professor Longhair "Fess" - yes, shame on me for knowing the legend and not previously owning any of the music (of course I own a tiny of fraction of all the amazing recorded music that actually exists in this world). He's a key transition point between the barrel-house and early jazz players and New Orleans' peculiar style of R&B. But you didn't need me to tell ya that. This collection gathers up his Atlantic singles and other session tracks (that were collected on LP a couple decades later, helping restart his career), some other singles releases and then material stemming from his revived career in the 70s. All funky, idiosyncratic, high spirited.
5. Lee Dorsey "Wheelin' And Dealin" - a greatest hits collection on Arista (?!) Dorsey was one of the exemplars of New Orleans' R&B that evolved from the music of Fess and others of his generation. Grittily soulful and marked by the offbeat rhythms peculiar to New Orleans...tho these rhythms travelled via trade routes and airwaves, took root in Jamaica and had enormous influence on the evolution of ska, rock steady and eventually reggae. Yep, there are plenty of other folks like Ernie K-Doe and other you want to, but this is a great start.
6.Various Artists - Cajun Early Recordings 4 CD set. One of those JSP collections that sell for $25-30. Non existent packaging but tons of music dirt cheap. Over 100 songs here. YIPES. So here's what the white folks outside New Orleans were up to at the beginning of the 20th century. Very influenced by French street music but more raw, faster paced and adapted to drive high spirited dancing.
7. Wild Tchoupitoulas - Mardi Gras Indians' street chants with musical backing by the Meters.
Mardi Gras Indian traditions are an important part of "Treme." The culture is a fascinating and complex one. These are working class African Americans who create elaborate and expensive costumes - a new one every year! - and they need to be hand sewn. Quick research indicates the tradition goes back over a 100 years and that it's possible that it arose as a response to poor black people being shut out of the parades held by well to do white people. In effect each "Indian" functions as his/her own float. It's hard to ignore the very African roots exposed through their chants, the drumming and other percussion that accompanies them etc. Backed by the Meters' signature eccentric funk this is essential listening.
8. The Golden Eagles Featuring Monk Boudreaux "Lightning & Thunder" (Amazon sells a CDR or download). And this is a recording of The Golden Eagles "krewe" caught au naturel with no amplified accompaniment. An initial search shows that most of the recordings by Mardi Gras Indians feature backing musicians. This release is one of the few that doesn't, though the Louisiana Music Factory offers 2-3 more (currently out of stock, probably due to their overall stock being raided by Jazz Fest attendees).
9. Various Artists "No Limit Records Greatest Hits" a handy document of the indigenous rap culture which has certainly had a good amount of success over the years though there doesn't always seem like overmuch influence from local musical traditions. Yet the lyric concerns are pure New Orleans and when you get to Mystikal -- not only is he one of the fleetest, most technically technically gifted rappers I've ever heard (spoken like a true middle aged white guy, eh?) but his open throated singing style is classic New Orleans very much in line with what you'll hear on modern brass band recordings (esp. New Birth Brass Band).

Right now my floor is littered with a buncha other releases I should mention, the Wild Magnolias, DJ Jubille, Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings, Dr. John, Los Hombres Calientes. And I KNOW all this is NOT EVEN SCRATCHING THE SURFACE. But really tackling this subject is a gargantuan and frankly daunting prospect and for those who just wanna grab a Paul Prodhumme cookbook, whip up some red beans and rice, crack a Budweiser and have a few things on hand to play beyond a Meters' greatest hits and Fats Domino I offer these few suggestions.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NOLA finale

There's a great line in Henry Miller's "Sexus" or "Plexus" (one of those), where he comments on standing in an open field in high Summer, his experience being his thoughts on how he'll write about it and that this in an of itself alienated him from actually experiencing the enviroment per se - rather than the artistic process he'd apply to it. As soon as I read that I promised myself to avoid living life that way, at a remove or too. And yet...

I was watching episode 2 of "Treme," there's a neat scene where you've got a pair of street musicians (most likely transplants to NOLA) playing for some Midwestern kids who were in town with their church group participating in a rebuilding project. The male musician starts giving the kids a hard time for suddenly becoming interested in NOLA only post-Katrina -- rather ungraciously (we'd gone back a couple months after the flood and all the natives we ran into were nothing but gracious and thrilled that visitors were already starting to come back). And when they request an "authentic" song, he really gets snarky - says he'll play "When The Saints Go Marching In," demanding $20 for condescending to play it. And suddenly I flash back to being at Louisiana Music Factory, asking for "funk" and turning my nose up at the Galactic CD offered. Galactic ARE from NOLA, are respectful of the traditions of the music that they're playing and funky white guys just ARE accepted as part of the overall musical community once they've paid their dues. So, mea culpa.

In fact, I spent 2 days digging thru boxes of CDs in the basement (the overflow collection) searching for my Mystical CDs and found those, a Dirty Dozen Brass Band collection and a Galactic CD and the diversity and excellence of all this stuff shook me summarily out of my neat little NOLA funk and Cajun music rut. OY, do I feel silly!

I also went on a mini buying spree and found a Kermit Ruffins collection put out by Putamaya for $1.75 (OY!) and a double Professor Longhair collection for $13 -- something around 40 tracks. While I do prefer digging around actual stores (Positively Records in Levittown is my very favorite followed by Princeton Record Exchange), sometimes it just is cheaper and more expedient to use Amazon esp. for somewhat odd selections (i.e. used Kermit Ruffins CDs).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

my find in New Orleans

On our last full day in New Orleans, I got slightly loaded at Stanley's (on Jackson Square) and commenced the only real shopping we did. Braved the long take out line at Cafe Du Monde and bought a couple cans of their Coffee & Chicory blend -- my favorite coffee in the world (no knock against NOLA's Community Coffee; but I likes this better). Then I wound up at Louisana Music Factory. Not really having a lot of time I availed myself of the advice of the gents behind the counter. "Can you recommend any homegrown funk?" The man hands me a Galactic CD. Hmmm. "Sir, I appreciate this recommendation but might there be anything that I wouldn't know about and be able to readily snag off Amazon?" I'm advised that there hasn't been much NOLA funk come down the pike since the glory days of the Meters BUT he hands me the Dumpstaphunk "Listen Hear" EP - PAYDIRT!

To my jaded old ears this seems like a nice end result of the evolutionary line from the Meters to Parliament's "Mothership Connection" (their most NOLA sounding joint methinks) to Fishbone's "The Reality Of My Surroundings" (which I like better than their earlier ska offerings) and now to this. Heavy guitar delivering wonderfully syncopated lines that highlight the "blues" in Rhythm & Blues, killer rhythm section: solid, chunky, swinging. Coarsely handsome vocals.

These guys are fronted by Ivan Neville of that legendary NOLA musical dynasty -- also a veteran of Keith Richard's side projects.

This has got to be one of my favorite records of the year to date!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New Orleans

I'm just back two full days from a trip to New Orleans it and missing it bad already ! I held off on watching "Treme" till we'd actually been back (it's been over 2 years now) as it'd have been too weird to watch the show and THEN be back there.

As soon as we landed and unpacked I was itching to run down Chartres to the venerable Napoleon House, our customary first stop. This inn was posited as a hiding place for Napoleon Boneparte, once he'd be snuck out of Europe -- but he wouldn't have it. It doesn't seem to have been painted since then, is always rocking stately Classical music. The victuals are so-so but the atmosphere is priceless. We walked off the wine and cheese plate strolling down to the North end of the French Quarter and looked for Coop's (the missus had pulled an article from the NY Times about offbeat places to chow in NOLA and was eager to visit places we'd never been to). Coop's was comfortably grubby in the way that charms folks who don't put too much store on hygiene (me!), the staff were friendly and attentive, the wine, serviceable and the friend chicken pretty damned good. A tad oily, but they managed to get the skin crisp to the point of tasting like bacon - oh yeah! The coleslaw somehow managed to taste of potato salad (a good thing!) and the sausage and rabbit jambalya was pretty damned reet. Afterwards we traipsed into the Marigny to see the "R" Bar which is owned by an acquaintance. A righteous bar. Dark, sorta cluttered but actually very spacious as NOLA dives go. A place you wanna spend hours at. Had a nice glass of red zinfandel there and drunk-texted the owner before walking back to our Canal Street hotel. A healthy walk and good way to burn off all the drinks!

I visited the Bywater for the first time (had breakfast at Satsuma and then walked back to the French Quarter) ; it was one of those sweet neighborhoods that was fully broken in and fulla people that seemed very happy to be there. Every couple blocks you'd spy another funky coffee house or thrift store-decored bistro peopled with lotsa relaxed patrons. Out on the street it was pretty quiet at noon time, most folks away at work. It was sunny and just a might hot which was a treat for an East Coaster still waiting for Spring to finally settle in.

We had fine lunch (really a day's feeding!) at Willie Mae's Scotch House in the Treme: Southern fried chicken with rice and a butter bean puree - heavenly. Low income housing in the surrounding neighborhood been torn down since our last visit and construction crews were running pile drivers putting big ol' beams into the ground for house foundations. On the drive back to the Quarter we were told they were working towards putting up new cottage style low income housing.

More on this stuff later