Saturday, December 22, 2012

God Preserve us

Serious jazz fans will scoff at these thoughts, but for the rest of us... imagine Jazz as dance music, featuring alternately X rated or forthrightly religious lyrics, being an underground phenomenon largely sustained as a grass-roots street culture tradition...

For those of us who grew up hearing our parents' Big Band favorites, and then the increasingly abstract stylings of the post-Bop scene the above statements seem utterly absurd and yet...

That's exactly how Jazz originated in the opening decades of the 20th Century before being superseded by alternately slicker Big Band and more cerebral Bee Bop and post-Bop styles rendering the earlier form, "Hot Jazz," a quaint relic.

But then aficionados from around the country converged on New Orleans in order to enjoy and then nurture the remnants of original Jazz culture that had survived as a strictly local phenomenon. And one result of this was in the inauguration of Preservation Hall, an art gallery who's owner invited "Hot Jazz" old timers to come and perform as much to indulge his passion for this music on as conveniently as possible as to give them additional opportunities to perform together and perhaps make a few extra bucks. And 50 years later, the Preservation Hall community is still going strong, in fact having become a successful mini empire employing dozens of musicians playing regularly at the flagship venue in New Orleans, mounting multiple touring units,recording and releasing myriad albums -- guaranteeing that early Jazz styles remain a vital and LIVING tradition.

Columbia Legacy's "50th Anniversary Collection" box set is a thoroughly reverent and comprehensive yet thoroughly lively, boisterous collection documenting the music that's come from this operation over the past five decades. The running order of this material is purposely NOT chronological, instead mixing recordings from all eras of Preservation Hall's existence and from a wide variety of line-ups. What's immediately striking is how comfortably it all sits side by side even when some seemingly anomalous elements are added - a lead vocal by Tom Waits on one track, the entire Del McCroury Band sitting in on another track, etc. It's powerful testimony as to the impact Hot Jazz has and continues to have on American music - Waits' take on "Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing" would be perfectly at home at any of his own albums from "Swordfishtrombone" onwards. Clearly the many musicians that have contributed to Preservation Hall over so many years have maintained a very consistent high level of artistry, preserved all the essential formal elements of the Hot Jazz style and immerse themselves in the passion that this music was intended to incite.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

We just got back from a brief stay in New Orleans. 10 pounds heavier; liver struggling to process all the red wine; and with a stack of recordings (of course!)

First off...we ran across a delightful little surprise. We'd grabbed a December issue of the local music magazine (full color, printed on slick paper -- how come New Orleans can support something like that while the rest of the country can't seem to support a national print 'zine devoted to music?) -- or maybe we peeped Offbeat's weekly online newsletter -- and noted a free screening of "Piano Players Rarely Play Together" a recently restored documentary that looked at three generations of New Orleans pianists, local legend Professor Longhair, one of his devoted disciples, Allen Toussaint, and one of Longhair's inspirations, Isidore "Tuts" Washington. This took place in the back dining room of Buffa's on Esplanade, a friendly, knockabout local bar and eatery. A very congenial and comfy place to watch a movie.

This was a hoot. First of all, there was a lot of performance, not only by each individual pianist, but they'd agreed to stage a performance and their rehearsals were filmed...luckily, as, tragically, Longhair died in his sleep a day or two before the scheduled performance (the two survivors went ahead and performed to honor his memory). All the performance footage is a treasure; first of all, just great music. Secondly, a fine document of vintage styles of playing who's original exponents are largely long laid to rest. Tuts was a barrelhouse player who incorporated elements of classical, popular music and mid century jazz into his stylebook over the years. Famously, Longhair added Carribean rhythms and melodies to basic barrelhouse blues and created the blueprint for much of New Orleans unique style of rollicking, piano-driven R&B (Fats Domino, Huey "Piano" Smith & The Clowns, etc.) Toussaint injected N.O. R&B's unique features to a wide range of more mainstream R&B, soul and funk styles minting some of the biggest records to associated with that city: Ernie K-Doe's "Mother In Law," Lee Dorsey's "Working In a Coal Mine," Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights" (a Toussaint composition), Pointer Sisters' "Yes We Can" (a cover of one of Allen's songs for Dorsey), LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" (another Toussaint song and production).

Third: the interview footage is priceless -- not only hearing these worthies' thoughts about their own music but hearing them discuss one another -- Toussaint being especially reverential when talking about Longhair, while Washington was quick to point out the debut Longhair owed him and Longhair being just as quick to downplay the debt while noting Toussaint's debt to him! Feisty, proud men, hungry to grab a bit of justly deserved recognition. The most priceless segments are where the three are rehearsing together. Washington keeps showboating (and indeed his technique is dazzling) and Longhair keeps scolding him while Toussaint just chuckles and keeps his mouth shut.

Then, as I'd mentioned, Longhair died and the documentary includes footage at his wake (intense stuff) and a fragment of the massive public turn out for his funeral proper. Afterwards, Pauline Waring the former wife of the film's late director Stevenson Palfi showed up, spoke with the crowd a bit and then popped open a box of newly released DVD re-release, selling 'em for $20 (Amazon lists a used VHS for $70 and otherwise you have to purchase from Louisiana Music Factory for $30 + shipping -- SCORE!)

I'll just give a quick run down of other purchases:

The Original Pinettes Brass Band "Finally" self released (purchased at Louisiana Music Factory) - this is pretty standard contemporary brass band fare - you can find just about all these songs on the first couple Rebirth Brass Band albums. But this is one of the few (perhaps the only ) all female brass band in New Orleans and I suspect that this recording is mainly intended as a calling card meant to attract live bookings. And for that's it's utterly effective. These are all lively, enthusiastic performances - sharp enough to have punch but loose enough to make you think that the recording sessions were a party in themselves.

Smokey Johnson "It Ain't My Fault." (purchased at LMF) This is released on the Night Train division of Tuff City Records. While I admire the catalogue these guys have amassed I've had nothing but bad experiences trying to buy CDs from them and now only buy their stuff from other sources rather than direct.

Smokey Johnson is best known for his decades-long stint playing drums with Fats Domino but preceded that with a decade of being part of Dave Bartholemew's session band throughout the 60's, this following 10 years of late night jams and backing up various local luminaries including the late James "Sugarboy" Crawford ("Jock E Mo" later known as "Iko Iko"). This collection documents a series of singles wherein he fused jazz, blues, R&B and early rock 'n' beats with New Orleans street parade ("second line") beats, creating a muscular, spare and incredibly potent brand of funk comparable to the best of the Meters instrumental releases on Minit.

Kid Ory "King of the Tailgate Trombone" on American Music (purhcased at LMF). Back in the 40's, there was a resurgence of interest in 20's "Hot Jazz" and a concerted effort to document that music and the original musicians who'd helped create and sustain it by labels created entirely for that purpose. American Music/GBH/Jazzology are a New Orleans based company devoted to keeping those recordings in print.

Kid Ory is largely known as trombone player with King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, contributing to their seminal 20's recordings. Recent historical studies, however have reminded music fans that Oliver and Armstrong, in fact, had gotten their starts as members of Ory's band - Armstrong being tapped by Ory while a teenager to fill Oliver's shoes when the latter departed for Chicago. He's creditted for breaching color lines in New Orleans as his band gained such prominence that fashionable white socialites felt compelled to have his outfit performing at parties, picnics etc., propriety be damned. Later in life he led the "dixieland" band at Disneyland (very trippy to think that Walt and company were among the main patrons of archaic New Orleans party music for a LONG time).

This album stems from recording sessions done in 1948 and 1949 and finds Ory and company playing lively, authoritative versions of standard NOLA trad jazz repertoire: "Panama Rag" "Chinatown, My Chinatown" "Do you KNow What it Means, To Miss New Orleans" etc. To my ears its a great exemplar of this style of music but I do know that this stuff is an acquired taste for most baby boomers and following generations.

On one level, it emits the whiff of corniness and that's 'cause by the 60's it'd become mainly a nostalgic rush indulged in by aged grandparents sighing over their glory days. That's likely what its function was at Disneyland -- to evoke a bygone era when things were slower, simpler and more wholesome (I'm supposing). But when you start looking at it in the context of the music's original emergence -- out of the collision of formally trained, middle class mulattoes who had a repertoire of light classical music and popular orchestral pieces with often self-taught darker skinned players primarily versed in the blues, mashed together as efforts to segregate New Orleans stepped up; or how it was then nurtured in the bars and brothels of the quasi-legal red light district of Storyville; and lastly -- that it was the inception of "Jazz" process - taking well known tunes and reconstructing them through group improvisation...well, it can be possible to disable one's childhood biases and really dig this stuff!

Isidore "Tuts" Washington "New Orleans Piano" The Larry Borenstein Collection Volume 3 on 504 Records. Purchased at a stall in the French Market out of a batch of stuff marked to $10. OK, you can figure out why I'd pick this up after seeing the documentary he's featured in. Larry Borrenstein ran an art gallery at 726 St. Peter Street in the French Quarter and started inviting local traditional jazz musicians to jam there after business hours in the 50's -- one of the few places that would have them once their music had been supplanted by R&B and rock n roll as popular music and by beebop and post-bop as contemporary jazz.

These sessions were recorded at the Associated Artists Studio before it was renamed Preservation Hall. The recordings were made "circa 1960" - about 20 years before the documentary was filmed. If Tuts playing in 1980 was spectacular you can imagine what it was like coming from a man some 20 years younger. From the sound of it, Borrenstein brought a home reel-to-reel into the room, set up one mic. So there's PLENTY of "room ambience" - which - if yr into utterly pro-Toolsed, auto-tuned, arrid sonic perfection -- this is your worst nightmare come true. If you'd wanna conjur up the atmosphere of being in Preservation Hall, not to mention at a time when there were probably just a few locals slouching in cheers, drinking a cold beer and enjoying some stubbornly venerable music...this is the shizzle.

George Lewis Ragtime Band "Live In Concert - 1963" 2 CD set on 504 Records purchased at a healthy discount in the French Market. Haven't listened yet but realize from pouring over the notes to the Preservation Hall box set that George and most of the ensemble were an important part of that scene and the diehard trad jazz movement in general. Looks good.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Trem-aniac alert! The latest episode in my continuing obsession-hobby, decoding the fictive narratives running thru the HBO series "Treme" determining their factual basis and tracking down pertinent artifacts has led me to Donald Harrison Jr.s '92 release "Indian Blues."

Lemme start by admitting that the decoding process is not awfully tough - every Monday morning Dave Walker of the Times Picayune posts his "Treme Explained" column which does all that, often with pertinent weblinks to restaurant webpages, Amazon downloads, Google maps etc. And NPR and HBO regularly post exegeses as well:;

Typically I only have time to check out Walker's column which has lotsa interesting info listed but it's not always complete so there's still detective work to be done.

Sometime during the first season, the segments capturing Mardi Gras Indian chanting and performance really hit me hard and set me on a quest for anything on record. I realized that I already had the Wild Magnolias and Wild Tchapitoulis albums and started listening to those. The latter features the wiry minimalist funk of The Meters backing up their uncle, George "Big Chief Jolly" Landry and his gang's chanting - honestly ace stuff. The former features more densely-packed arrangement by another batch of top NOLA players including guitarist Snooks Eaglin, Willie Tee on keys and "Uganda" Roberts (who'd been personally mentored by Professor Longhair in his youth) on percussion - vocals by Bo Dollis and co. with a special guest performance by Monk Boudreaux; for my tastes, the backing musicians lay it on a bit too thick and florid to thrill, but it's solid enough.

What I was really jonesing for was just unaccompanied chanting and that proved harder to find especially online where most of releases you'll find have little or no description by editors or consumers. Eventually Keith Spera at the Times Picayune tipped me to The Indians of the Nation release which gathered a number of Big Chiefs together to perform the standard repertoire in the traditional manner - group chanting accompanied by a variety of hand percussion - this is something ya hadda buy from the Louisiana Music Factory; wasn't anywhere else online at the time. This one's totally killer. I also stumbled across "Lightning & Thunder" by The Golden Eageles featuring Monk Boudreaux - download or manufacture upon demand only at Amazon - another great find in this vein.

In the midst of my searching I came across saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr.s "Indian Blues" and noted that while it had a couple examples of unaccompanied Indian chanting, other tracks were jazz instruments -- not what I was looking for at the time.

One of the main plot lines in season two of "Treme" is Delmond Lambreaux's gradual rapproachment with New Orleans in general and its unusual musical culture - one that puts a premium on maintaining historical perspectives, preserving age-old traditions and keeping them alive and vital. And where in most places around the country this would be the mission of academia and intellectuals, here it's part of street level culture: in New Orleans a place in a school marching band bestows equal or higher street cred than than membership in a gang. Kinda mind blowing.

Eventually Delmond has an epiphany while second lining behind his father's Indian gangThe Guardians Of The Flame while marching down Claiborne Ave. under the I-10 (of course one of the great crimes committed against African American society in New Orleans was civil authorities routing the elevated interstate right down the major commercial street of the Treme neighborhood -- just imagine the main drag in your home town, lined with grocery, hardware, clothes stores, lawyers offices, restaurants, clubs suddenly having an interstate plopped down, obliterating it). As Delmond grooves along to the polyrthymic percussion and tribal chanting he suddenly passes a boombox blasting some fiery post-bop jazz and it all lines up in his head. His mission becomes to make a recording that marries Indian chants by his father, Big Chief Albert Lambreaux, jazz instrumental backings, laced with tribal beats. He starts by enlisting one Donald Harrison Jr. who, playing himself in the series, has a formidable past credits and critical acclaim aplenty who accompanies him to talk Dr. John into taking part, eventually rounding out the recording line up with legendary bassist Ron Carter, Uganda Roberts on percussion (some other drummer too whose name escapes me right now) and his father on vocals. Towards the end of the season we see them in the studio recording "Hu-Ta-Nay," a glorious melange of street-wise polyrhthms, call and response chanting and sweet jazz blowing.

As season three starts, we find Delmond at a NYC record release party for the finished product and folks looking at the cover art - (they never show it in close up so I could be wrong) one Indian in full finery, looking "pretty" as can be joined by a second in regular street clothes. And the sleeve art looks familiar. Next day, I go take a peak at Donald Harrison's catalogue on Amazon and find "Indian Blues" - Donald in fully Indian finery. I investigate further - lead off track is "Hu-Ta-Nay." Featured players include Dr. John. Hmmmm. I started sampling tracks and "Hu-Ta-Nay" mixes chants, jazz, New Orleans R&B and Indian percussion. Others are indeed unaccompanied Indian chants, still others seem like straight ahead jazz. So I break down and order it.

When it arrives I peruse the cover. "Donald Harrison Jr. with Dr. John" "Mardi Gras Indians The Guardians of the Flame." I look inside - chants by Donald Harrison Sr. who leads The Guardians of The Flame. Yeah. Hard not to admit that this is the inspiration for this particular narrative line in "Treme"! And in typical freaky "Treme" style, they have the real-life inspiration participate in the fictionalized telling (as with Rogan Davis, who's the basis for the DJ Davis character appearing as keyboardist in the latter's fictional brass band/funk/hip hop fusion outfit).


Well, rather than a straightforward consistent fusion of constituent styles it's a mixture: several numbers serve up unaccompanied Mardi Gras Indian performance; others are pretty straight ahead classic modern jazz with a number of them based in or at least starting out by stating melodies from traditional Indian chants or R&B interpretations thereon - and some of these do include an undercurrent of Indian-style percussion to boot; then there's admixtures of R&B and jazz (a comfy fit since so much classic New Orleans R&B was performed by the jazz players outta David Bartholemew's band). And finally you've got numbers like "Hu-ta-nay" (this version actually is playing at the record release party according to "Treme Explained"), that bring all these influences together.

For my purposes right now, I woulda hoped for an album that featured the fusion of all the constituent elements from start to finish. But I do appreciate and enjoy the educational impact of having the different genres laid out side by side, then seeing the effects of mixing these two styles in this song, those two in that song as well as the full on fusions -- it does encourage ya to see how nfluences progress genres over the years, then double back, overlap, grow fruitful and multiply. A nice symbol of the ongoing functioning of music in New Orleans in the last century or so.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Did some shopping thru the supercheapie bins at Princeton Record Exchange and came up with some sweet stuff for $1.99!

*Glenn Mercer "Wheels In Motion" - 2007 solo outing from Feelies' singer/lead guitarist, co-songwriter. Features just about ALL the current Feelies (and their original bassist and second drummer [Anton Fier] on some tracks). The only one missing is co-founder, rhythm guitarist Bill Million. On first listen, that JUST what it sounds like -- any of the last 5 Feelies album with Bill's parts mixed out. On one hand all the good stuff IS there, on the other -- it is surprising how much Bill's writing input and guitar parts.

*Bruce Springsteen "Magic" - what can I say? I was born and raised in NJ. Springsteen played the Commuter Student Center, "The Ledge," frequently when I was attending Rutgers. It was pretty impossible for me to pass this up for the price though I probably haven't bought a Springsteen album new since, "Born To Run." On first listen - it's real nice. But honestly once Bruce found his stride on album #2 he's never released a bad 'un or one that didn't fit neatly within his oeuvre. He's always in great voice, surrounds himself with able players and the man DOES know his way around a tune. This will be good to have when those random Bruce moments hit.

*Paul Butterfield Blues Band "Incense Herbs" - I've belonged to many cultural subsets that reviled white blues rock -- Zappa-phile freak rockers, punks... -- and I still think the suspicion is sound but...hearing Danny Kalb rave about what a transcendental guitarmonster Mike Bloomfield was first time he heard him playing some little club, making the acquaintance of Howlin Wolf drummer Sam Lay and having him mention that he was a member of this outfit (who were the folks that backed up Dylan at Newport when he "went electric"), recalling Elvin Bishop's solo heyday and recalling he was the other guitarist. In retrospect seems very portentous. Now to give it a listen with mature ears.

*The Subdudes "Primitive Streak" - part of my NOLA research project. Just as the Treme bug had bit hard, I wound up at the mighty Louisiana Music Factory -- a little tipsy -- asked for a recommendation for a funk record, got handed a Galactic record and turned my nose up at it... "Ya got anything I can't find in a Best Buy and not by white guys." JEEZ WHAT A SNOID I WAS BEING! I've slowly come to appreciate to some small degree how complex that music scene is and has been. The interrelationships between bands and genres are exceedingly complicated and basically inextricable. So while the Subdudes ain't Huey Smith And The Clowns, their sort of easy-groovin' take on lightly Cajun-ized Americana rockin' does represent an important part in the culture.

*Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind soundtrack. I bought this to hear what exactly Jon Brion actually sounds like. I know his rep as a quirky, baroque-pop informed auteur - but it's not like there's a wealth of Jon Brion albums per se to acquire!

*Little Feat - eponymous debut. This actually cost $4.99. This first album is utterly distinctive in its mix of blues, rock and country flavors allied with some wonderfully ambitious structural conceits, renderering it fairly unique and pretty powerful stuff.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Geek that I am, my idea of a fun thing to do on Labor Day was visit Princeton Record Exchange -- one of my favorite record stores. Large if spotty selection of music in multiple genres, large vinyl selection and LOTSA budget bins.

Having just watched some 3 hour doc on Krautrock I was kinda hoping to fill some of the holes in my collection as -- being patronized by WPRB DJs, and staffed by avant music freaks extraordinaire -- there's usually a healthy amount of deep prog and vintage psychedelia on hand. I was looking for the 1st 2 Kraftwerk album (pre "Ralf & Florian"), Amon Dull (not AD II), Kluster (before they changed their name to Cluster). Had no luck whatsoever.

Started browsing the Soul & R&B section - and likewise, struck out. So I headed over to the general budget bins and then the "Cheap R&B/Hip Hop" shelves. And hit some sweet paydirt. Outkast "Idlewild" (certainly lacked the immediate hit material of its predecessor but honestly SOLID - lotta great cathcy and imaginative tunes, out-there instrumental arrangements), Neville Brothers "Uptown Rulers" greatest hits (I don't know that I buy in quite yet but nicely full blooded readings of "Hey Pocky Way" and "Brother John/Iko Iko"), Warren G's (a G-funk architect)"The Return of the Regulator" (the earlier "Regulate" is a classic -- smoove as shizz, bursting with Atlanta Rhythm Section samples -- perfect Summer afternoon fare), 2006's "Testimony Vol 1" by Indie Arie -- a wonderful proponent of "acoustic soul" (great tunes but the lyrics -- (as Creighton from "Treme" would put it - "a celebration of the wonder that is ME!") and "Lady Soul" by Aretha Franklin.

Growing up, Aretha Franklin was pretty ubiquitous - heard her singles all the time. It was in the air. Didn't need to buy the albums coz I was hearing her all the time. Eventually got a two CD great hits package that served me well for many years. But have been feeling that I needed to expand my collection and start picking up her Atlantic recordings. I must admit, that "I Never Loved A man The Way I Love You" and "Aretha Arrives" didn't thrill me. Her vocal performances are great. The playing's funky, authoritative and distinctive. But the A&R...a little shakey - "96 Tears," "Satisfaction" on "Arrives" -- are just good. Not transcendent.

"Lady Soul" on the other hand plays like a mix tape of Aretha at her gritty, funky best. It's EXACTLY what you wanna hear when you wanna hear vintage Aretha and not one second of filler. Even the slow jams grind out as sweatily or tearfully as you could want.

I'm NOT knocking ANY of Aretha's releases -- but if I was going to give a non-believer one of those early albums confident that by record's end they'd be converted "Lady Soul" would be it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Anyone who spends any time contemplating New Orleans' music history eventually is likely to encounter the phenomenon of Preservation Hall. This was a run down space on St. Peter's Street in the French Quarter taken over by an artist who was using it as gallery space, then in the 1950's decided to make it available as a venue for the adherents of pre-bop New Orleans jazz, a lot of them veterans of bands that were active in the 20's and 30's.

Before I started acquainting myself with Preservation Hall, I'd assumed it was A band per se - one where members had quit or passed away over the years and then were replace by new members but I've finally come to realize that it was initially a venue where a variety of bands performed -- some of them particular units per se and others one off sessions by whoever showed up that night; as well as admixtures of the two.

In the 1960's Allan Jaffe was coaxed into taking over and made it into fascinating umbrella organization several Preservation Hall Jazz Band line-ups being assembled and maintained and utilized for various purposes with one outfit regularly performing at the Hall itself while others would tour nationally and internationally.

My interest actually stemmed from trying to track down a recording of "Oh Didn't He Ramble" a traditional tune played at New Orleans funerals with a wonderfully macabre and mystifying lyric: "Didn't he ramble, ramble. Ramble all around. In and out the town. Rambled till the butcher cut him down." It's never explained who the butcher is or why he cut the poor man down. Clearly we're talking Grim Reaper here but one suspects that there could be a reference to a particular, now long forgotten, incident behind it. Ah well - another worm hole to crawl down!

The only version I owned was by ex Fairport Convention guitarist Ashley Hutchings and while it's a rousing knees only made me long for something outta NOLA itself even more. Looking online I found a version included on Preservation Hall Jazz Band's "New Orleans Vol IV" for $3. I read a fair amount of disparaging buyer reviews, knocking these "slick" and "anemic" performances and touting the 50's recordings that Neshui Ertegun (Ahmet's older brother) had done and some local releases that came afterwards. But those cost considerably more and $3 seemed like the right price point to get my toes wet with -- and here was "Oh, Didn't He Ramble."

When I got the CD in the mail -- I was pretty stoked, threw it right on the changer and was, entirely entranced. A lot of these players were old buzzards at the time and sound like it -- but SALTY old buzzards with a million musical tricks up their sleeves and who'd been LIVING the life these songs depict from youth through to their old age. It was pretty fuh'in delectable. I quickly picked up a cheap copy of "New Orleans Vol. 1" and was similarly charmed.

I started filling the changer with a mix of Preservation Hall, Kermit-era Rebirth, Eureka Brass Band, Treme Brass Band (the '95 all-star line up that mixes old timers with their most ardent young acolytes - including Ruffins and Trombone Shorty's brother James Andrews among others), Lil Rascals, etc. and get to hear how various musical ideas and traditions are maintained while evolving over the decades -- which is one of the central characteristics of the NOLA musical experience as far as this Yankee can tell. And the historian and music geek in me is continually thrilled and fascinated getting to experience music that is so powerfully part of a continuum, reliant on its context and community in a way most commercial music and even underground music scenes just are not.

Recently a friend of mine sent me a promo of a new 4 CD anthology of Preservation Hall Jazz Band recordings and even the just the burns with white paper info sheets are pretty sweet coz of the music contained therein -- a comprehensive survey of the back catalogue of this brand which includes the recordings Ertegun had made, the local releases that came before the CBS then Sony releases, the indie stuff that's happened since. Cunningly they've mixed up the repertoire instead of organizing it in chronological order so that old and new sit side by side and honestly it's hard to discern which dates from when without looking at the notes with a few notable exceptions when special guests like Tom Waits or Del McCoury or Andrew Bird appear. And while the idea of injecting big and apparently incongruous "names" into a tradition-rooted project like this appears like heresy -- honestly Waits does a terrific and totally credible version of the old Creole dance tune "Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing" ...even compared to Danny Barker's version from the 40's which has been in regular rotation 'round this house since that fateful day that "Jazz A'La Creole" arrived (this being the record that Antoine Batiste grabs to take with him in the scene where his family is about to evacuate pre-Katrina -- during the flashback in the season finale of "Treme")

Another live music highlight of Spring 2012 was Rebirth Brass Band playing Union Transfer in Philly. UT is a newish venue opened by the Bowery Presents folks outta NYC (carpetbaggers) and a local promoter. It was once a train station and more recently was home to a Spaghetti Factory (a chain family restaurant). In its new incarnation, the building has been tricked out nicely - meant to look a bit lived in and post-industrial (which fits right in with a significant portion of Philly) but also nicely stylized. Mainly a standing venue but with strategically located bleachers scattered about so that the frail of limb can take the occasional break.

Opening act was a a special gathering of several Philly based brass bands (never even knew there were such beasts! stupid me!) who gave spirited readings of various soul and pop standards. All very rousing but with so many players blowing at once (about 20) it was hard for melodies and riffs to really cut through and be clearly audible, let alone punchy. But it was sweet that instead of just one of the Philly outfits getting the spotlight that a bunch got invited to share it.

I should point out that UT was FULL - so about 1500 in attendance - a hell of a lot more than I expected to show up for a brass band from New Orleans in Philly! So, clearly a lot more folks hep to this music 'round here than I ever imagined or maybe just a lot of "Treme" addicts? Either way -- very cool

Rebirth came on to tumultuous applause and fair amount of Mardi Gras umbrellas (this show came at the opening of carnival season) and got down to business. Immediately the difference between earnest amateurs and seasoned pros was apparent - the tunes and beats came through loud, clear and ever so funky. The sound was sophisticated, complex yet focused and never became cluttered or murky. The interplay between robust horn arrangements, propulsive second line rhythms and lusty group chanting was intoxicating and seductive. Even up in the balcony where we retreated to (to have ready access to bleacher seating) it was impossible not to start dancing.

After the show we went down to buy a CD off one of the junior members who's drawn merch duty. Cost about $6 than buying it online. OY! That's what the heat of the moment will do to ya! Having gotten "Rebirth of New Orleans" home I have to say that while there's a lot of great playing here and some memorable tunes that compared to their earliest recordings -- featuring Kermit Ruffins, one of the founders of the group -- it's a little slick, a little pat and has more of a serious jazz feel, less rawness, funk and Mardi Gras Indian style percussive derring do. Compared to Coldplay of course this is the mother-of-all-stinky-butt nastiness -- but compared to their back catalogue...they've cleaned up their act a tad.

mea culpa - gone AWOL since...MARCH?! Yipes. Funny how time slips away. Well, I've not been idling. Work's been thriving, the garden was kept in shape for most of this year, made a buncha trips to Asheville, Los Angeles, Baltimore, DC -- even NYC (which for me STILL feels like a work commute (which it normally is!) There were many musical highlight during this time as well (OF COURSE) and besides all those relating to vintage R&B, soul, jazz, etc. the biggest was...seeing Kraftwerk at the Museum of Modern Art! To be honest I was not initially jazzed when these dates were announced and never attempted to buy tickets. Hell, I didn't go see these guys live in the early 80's when they played the Ontario Theater in DC around the release of "Computer World" - tickets were EXPENSIVE (for my then-threadbare pockets at least) and I was dubious as to what kind of show they'd put on as the hype was that they were carting their entire recording studio around with them and reconstructing it for each night's performance. Not likely anyone would be leaping about, thrashing, er computers, or engaging in any of the shennigans that would register on my ideas of entertaining live performance at the time. And Amy wound up PISSED that tickets had sold out before she even knew that Kraftwerk had annouced these dates. AND THEN - she won tickets from! Made her very happy. And I was not adverse to tagging along, seeing as how this could the last go-round for these geezers (or me for that matter!) She'd won tickets to Sunday's show which was for "Electric Cafe" performed in its entirety followed by a greatest hits segment. We went up early, had a nice feed (which was our introduction to Prosecco -- DRY Italian sparkling wine: YUM!) headed over to MOMA and got on the already lengthy line and enjoyed a nicely balmy evening for a while. Upon admittance we made straight for the Atrium where the concert was being staged, noted the merch area and went over to check it out. While Amy was poring over the goodies I struck up a conversation with a volunteer doing security who clued me in to the fact that there was a sweet spot in the center of the audience area where you'd get full advantage of quad sound system and 3D visuals which we then proceeded to, happily planting ourselves. Right on time (8:30PM, 8PM? I forget exactly when, but relatively early) the scrim cloaking the stage raised and at their totemic podiums stood -- Ralf Hutter...and three other guys I'd never seen in any photos of the group I've come across. Later press accounts noted that two of them have been in the band since the "Tour De France" days and the last one was a recent edition, in charge of controlling the visuals. And while music's the priority for me, I must admit that the visuals were mighty cool being 3D (glasses came with the complimentary program) with each song getting its own unique video treatment. Some were vintage music videos, others were created specifically for recent live performances. They were all nicely done and no doubt a strategic part of the show considering that the four musicians remain glued to their work stations, eyes glued to their gear, occasionally reaching down to tweak this or that (some press account revealed that most of them just had iPads and were working via apps). Hutter actually sang and played a small keyboard hidden by the lip of his podium. And... It sounded AMAZING. "Electric Cafe" was not my favorite Kraftwerk album but their "performance" (it'd seem that basically everyone started their respective drum, bass or keyboards program, monitoring the song-program and make alterations as necessary -- excepting Hutter who, again, was performing in real time) was vivid, full-bodied and as funky and danceable as utterly white people can get; and I mean that as a compliment. After performing "Electric Cafe" in its entirety in album sequence they launched into the second half of the program which was a career retrospective that touched on most of the key tracks from all their albums from "Autobahn" onwards. I don't know that I'd say I could die happy having finally seen them play "Trans Europe Express" and "Pocket Calculator" live -- but it was an undeniable thrill and just plain great visionary pop.

Blood Music Sex Magick panel at SxSW 2012

On March 16, the SxSW Music Conference in Austin, TX played host to the Blood Music Sex Magick panel discussing the interplay between magickal theory and practice and popular music over the last 100 or so years.

The panel was moderated by myself and comprised, Andrew WK, Erik Davis, Alison Fensterstock and Brother Joshua Sharp

On his website Andrew W.K. describes himself as "the KING OF PARTYING. Infamous for his bloody nose, famous for his high-life attitude, beloved for his songs like, "PARTY HARD", "WE WANT FUN", and "YOU WILL REMEMBER TONIGHT", Andrew's true will is to use all forms of entertainment to create feelings of pure joy, fun, love, freedom, and possibility.

"He is a multi-faceted musician and performer. Starting his musical career at age 4 with classical piano lessons, then exploring experimental and fine art interests, Andrew went on to create his own brand of extremely high-energy rock 'n' roll. Andrew grew up in the open-minded Midwestern city of Ann Arbor. At age 18, after being accepted into The Art Institute of Chicago, Andrew decided instead to move to New York City and pursue art and music on his own. He released his first album ‘I Get Wet” in 2001 and has been busy recording, touring, lecturing, making television appearances, producing other artists and the like ever since.

Erik Davis has been writing about the intersection of popular culture, media technology, and alternative religion for over twenty years. He has written a number of books, including the 33 1/3 book on Led Zeppelin IV and the more recent Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica. He hosts the popular podcast Expanding Mind, and is currently earning his PhD in religious studies at Rice University.

Alison Fensterstock is a New Orleans-based music and pop culture writer. Her work has appeared in Paste, Vibe,, MOJO, Q, the Oxford American, the New Orleans alt-weekly Gambit and the New Orleans Times-Picayune where she blogs regularly

In 2011, she co-wrote the book "The Definition of Bounce" with rapper 10th Ward Buck She was the bounce consultant for season 2 of HBO's dramatic program "Treme" and co-curated the bounce and hip-hop documentary exhibition and oral history archive "Where They At," with the photographer Aubrey Edwards.

She is also the programming director for the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation, for whom she researched the Louisiana State Museum’s “Unsung Heroes” exhibit on Louisiana R&B, rock, garage and blues.

Joshua Sharp was the founding Master of Alombrados Oasis, the New Orleans based body of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a Thelemic initiatory fraternity. He has been an initiate of this Order since 2002 and has had an avid interest in Thelema, the discipline of Magick, and the method of Scientific Illuminism since 1999. He has also been an Aspirant to the A.'.A.'. since 2008 and continues to prosecute this Great Work.

Joshua is a graduate of the University of New Orleans and holds a continuing interest in neuropsychology, philosophy, and the sciences in general. He holds a strong interested in the intersection between ritual and music. He continues to explore both of these as sources for inspiration and as techniques for producing the ecstasy of transcendence.

The major revelations of the Blood Music Sex Magick panel were:

The practice of magick is alive, well and apparently valid in our scientific era; that most popular American music was infected by the conventions of religio-magickal practice at their inception; that these conventions have been affecting and been manifest in the work of a number of massively popular musical performers, sometimes intentional and sometimes not; and finally that an acknowledgement of what’s popularly termed “magick” at the very least can lead to an appreciation of one’s environment and circumstances that results in additional zest and excitement.

The panel was led off by Joshua Sharp, a long time member of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a magickal Order once helmed by notorious ceremonial magician Aleister Crowley. Sharp explained the myriad areas of study and types of practice that comprised his pursuit of this interest which included the works of Christian mystics, Hebrew Qabalahists, and Greek magical papyri to name a few and as yoga , meditation and martial arts. No magic wands, no sacrificing virgins, no crystal balls, just lots of intense earnest study and application. The goal of all this was first and foremost self-understanding and self-mastery but also having visionary experiences and creating objective change. None of this conforming to popular stereotypes of Dungeons and Dragons aficionados wielding elaborate, arcane spells, wearing gaudy costumes primarily to bring a bit of glamor into otherwise pathetic lives.

Alison Fenstertock, an active music journalist from New Orleans then addressed the influence that the ritual music of Vodun practioners performing in Congo Square had on the Jazz, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll that would eventually emerge in that city. She identified the distinctive rhythms, peculiar syncopations that were intended to induce particular trance states, opening up participants in rituals to possession by respective Loa/deities with different Loa having distinctive emotional make-ups -- aggressive, erotic, serene and so on -- affects echoed in the mood altering powers of differently composed and performed secular music. Fensterstock also discussed the relationship that various performers had with the religio-magical traditions of New Orleans pointing out that even those who weren’t devotees still were notably influenced - comparing this to how many New Yorkers, whatever their ethnicity, use a smattering of Yiddish and have to have their bagel and lox in the morning!

Author and radio show host Erik Davis addressed the matter how seriously prominent rock musicians had been in their involvement with the occult. He cited artists like Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, David Bowie and the band Black Sabbath among others and noted that there was a range of actual practice and belief ranging from Black Sabbath’s viewing occult topics as purely spooky trappings, straight out of horror movies and intended are entertainment and nothing more to Jimmy Page who’s discreetly but vervetntly discussed his belief in and practice of the magickal techniques established by Aleister Crowley for decades now. One of his main points was that even when artists are using occult language and symbolism without any sincere belief in its efficacy that they do in fact have a life of their own that becomes activate by such use; it creates a “current,” or flow of synchronicity that impacts the objective world and the audience in ways that the artist likely never intended.

Musician Andrew WK expressed his excitement at sharing the panel with these other speaks, thanked them for all he learned from their presentations. He voiced his opinion that involving such studies and practices in one’s life should and could lead to a strong, healthy and more deliberate sense and expression of individuality and thus life as a celebration of joy and creativity.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Frenchman Street Blues

One night we were watching some episode of season 2 of HBO's "Treme;" the episode ends, credits roll, someone counts off "1-2, 1-2-3-4!" and an incredibly infectious brass-driven groove kicks in - easily one of the most exciting pieces of music I'd heard in quite a while. After checking with the "Treme Explained" blog at I discover that the performance is of "Knock With Me Rock With Me" by the Lil Rascals Brass Band, vocals provided by one Glen David Andrews (I highly recommend you buy a download of this track at your earliest convenience).

As the weeks roll by and I read over more installments of "TE" I note his name popping up kinda regularly, often referring to the fact that he'd turned from habitually hanging with the more criminal elements around town to becoming more socially conscious and trying to discourage inter-clique violence and the like. He was one of the key speakers at the march against violent crime that ended up at New Orleans city hall where many voiced dissatisfaction with the police departments apparent disinterest and ineffectiveness at maintaining the peace as well as acknowledging that communities needed do what they could within their own neighborhoods to discourage and not condone, tolerate or glorify violent crime.

Suddenly I had credit for a free download from and purchased "Knock With Me..." and wound up playing it incessantly for a good week, and then purchased a copy of the full album "Buck It Like A Horse." While the rest of the album doesn't quite measure up to the "Knock With Me..." and most other tracks are instrumentals it is high spirited, motorvating stuff throughout. I really don't regret the purchase.

But I was left jonesing for more of Andrews and eventually wound up buying downloads of "Walking Through Heaven's Gate" - a gospel album - and "Dumaine Street Blues" - relaxed Hot Jazz i.e. brass, banjo and vocals. The former was fine stuff -- full choir backed by full electric band and Glen's powerful, raw voice shines throughout. But it was all a bit too pat. No surprises, no twists. Honestly, any able singer could have turned in the same effort. "Dumaine Street Blues" - also very able, but also pat -- really sounded like Andrews trying to fill the shoes that Kermit Ruffins appears to be vacating as starts cashing in on his national visibility via "Treme," playing more and more out of town dates, abandoning his residency at Vaughn's, etc (and no shame in trying to spread his down and dirty, good time trad jazz around the country -- and THIS is the time, not in 5 years when "Treme"'s history).

Still -- that voice! The fire he brought to "Knock With Me..." couldn't be a fluke. So as we started planning our most recent jaunt to NOLA we were hoping he'd be playing, and indeed he was - Monday night at DBA, last night of our stay. We started the evening with excellent FREE red beans and rice at Tujacuqes on Decatur street with our friends Tom and Arion, then dropped in on Jan and Claudia who brought us up to date on their tussling with insurance agents and various government officials to be able to finally start repairing fire damage to their house in the Vieux Carre, then on to DBA.

We arrived a little late but still early in Glen David Andrews and company's set. He was backed by tuba, guitar, drums and sax if I recall; he was singing and occasionally blowing some trombone.

The place was packed, spirits were high and Glen obviously was aiming to please.

The set was loaded with tried and true New Orleans crowd-pleasers, songs made popular by Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, John Boute's "Treme" theme song, gospel, Dr. John. It was the New Orleans greatest hits set-list that anyone who'd gone to a Fat Tuesday party anywhere in the country would feel right at home with. As the set proceeded, Glen regularly touted his "Live At The Three Muses" (this being a club/restaurant a block or so down Frenchman Street) and both he and another band member walked through the crowd while the rest of the band vamped on selling the CD (and how could I not under the circumstances?)

One also began to note that he spent more time dancing (quite agiley and athletically!), kibitzing with the band, exhorting the audience to dance, twirl hankies in the air (a Second Line tradition), leading them in "Who dat" chants, and so on than he did singing per se or playing trombone. A lot of songs went on a LONG time without very much happening except the band vamping while he capered.

In the final analysis, Glen's talent as a singer and frontman were firmly established but as a band leader, it seems he's got some growing to do. Or not. Not to sound too presumptuous but if you were a "Treme" devotee making your first trip to New Orleans and caught this set, you'd likely think you could check a dozen musical must-dos off your list. True dat. This is the perfect Cliff Notes version of the contemporary trad-based New Orleans music scene. A fine starting place.

If you've already done a bit more delving however it'd come off as a bit shallow, lacking in following the various genres and traditions touched on into their deeper and more distinctive/eccentric recesses.

I STILL think Glen David Andrews is a massive talent and if he were willing and able to apply himself to any one of the stylistic areas he's able to reference glibly and really put his heart into the music, instead of into pleasing as big an audience as possible I think he'd make some incredible, mind-blowing music.

"Live At the Three Muses" basically documents the sort of set we saw that night at DBA. So, if you've got a "Treme" loving friend who bought the soundtrack albums and wants just a little bit more, this would be a nice gift for 'em. Or yourself if you're looking to put your second toe into the water.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Consuming Passion

We went to New Orleans in December. Had a great time. Visited with dear friends, ate good food and bought up a buncha good stuff.

"Lives Interrupted" by Keith Spera - an account of several iconic New Orleans performers who've faced various trials in recent years including Fats Domino during the Federal Flood (what the rest of us call "Hurricane Katrina") and Mystikal doing time in the stir - got it signed by Keith and gave it as an Xmas present.

"Daisy Buchanan's Daughter" by Tom Carson - a work of sarky fiction by GQ movie critic - a sequel to The Great Gatsby. Purchased at the mighty Faulkner House book shop - got it signed and gave as an Xmas present as well.

A book on Storyville (tome's downstairs so I can't give you title or author). But an interesting batch of essays on various aspects of the establishment and functioning of the U.S.'s original almost legal red light district. There's chapters on the early history of vice in New Orleans (that mentions that the French emptied a couple prisons and transported the inmates to their American colony to provide wives for the settlers - THANKS!), on music in Storyville, on the entrepeneurs who profitted from the enterprise (and beyond the Madams there were lotsa "respectable" citizens bankrolling the houses and benefitting from their operation). Also includes a number of previously published photos by EJ Bellocq and some that were previously unpublished. And I came across this book looking for a copy of "Storyville Portraits" - originally a catalogue published by the MET in NYC in conjunction with the first exhibition of these beautiful and thought provoking photographs. No one in NOLA had it in stock and apparently they go for a pretty penny when they do come in (I got one for $50 from Abebooks when I got home).

AND THEN -- I'd planned on doing some intensive shopping at New Orleans Music Factory on Decatur street and when I saw that Keith Spera was doing a book signing there on Saturday scheduled my visit around that. And let me tell ya -- that was a scene you'd only find in New Orleans! During Keith's signing Ellis Marsalis - Wynton's pop - was performing on the store's tiny stage, promoting his own Christmas CD. He was followed by Chris Thomas - the gent who played the Robert Johnson character in the Coen Bros. "O Brother Where Art Thou". Yeah, all in one afternoon, all free.

Louisiana Music Factory is your standard, comfortably lived in old school record store. Decent sized but not huge. The fittings could have been installed anytime from 1960 onwards. It's one of those places that looks and feels like a haven for music FREAKS. And infamous for the amount of New Orleans related recordings they keep in stock which is likely about 90% of the stock. So the mind is summarily boggled. In fact, it's taken 10 years of visiting and two years of actually doing some serious study of NOLA music history to be able to navigate it meaningfully.

Even in this age of iTunes and there's STILL stuff you'll ONLY find here (at least at a reasonable price). I'll expound on these in the future but for now just listing:

Treme Brass Band "Gimme My Money Back" - an old school brass band as opposed to the the relatively younger breed ala Rebirth or Soul Rebels and this line up features Kermit Ruffins and James Andrews

Various Artists "Ace Story Volume 1" - Ace was the label run by former Specialty Records A&R man Johnny Vincent - lotta virulent, greasy, downhome R&B, rock 'n' roll and swamp pop all unmistakably flavored with that distinctive NOLA tinge - even if was recorded elsewhere in the South

Ernie K. Doe "Here Come the Girls" - 2 CD retrospective on UK Charlie label - and I knew from reading Offbeat that it was on sale for the month of December for $15.99. These are all Toussaint produced and (largely) composed and cover both Toussaint's rollicking R&B style (i.e. "Mother In Law") as well as the distinctive funk style he developed when the Meters became his house band.

Wardell Quezerque "Sixty Smokin Soul Senders" - Quezerque, as I've mentioned before, is not nearly as well known as his rival songwriter/producer Allen Toussaint outside of NOLA but at home he was held in high esteem indeed by the local musicians of note including Toussaint who called him "the Black Bach" and the "Creole Beethoven." This 2 CD set indeed collects 60 of his 60's soul sides cut with a variety of singers, most of whom only had local success. But throughout this is raw, funky and heartfelt. And if a lot of tracks clearly are trying to appropriate contemporary stylistic vocabularies from Memphis, Detroit and Muscle Shoals, no question but that Wardell did in fact master them all and with the right distribution could have been a major hitmaker on a national level.

ALSO - we ended our visit at DBA on Monday night (after chowing down on free red beans and rice at Tujacques) where Glen David Andrews was playing. This is something I couldn't miss as his performance with the Lil Rascals Brass Band on "Knock With Me, Rock With Me" is one of the most startling, powerful and original musical performances I've heard in the past 5 years. And he was hawking a "Live At the Three Muses" CD at the show -- how could I pass that up?