January 19, 2006

Far Enough. . .For Now

"Gone Too Far" (Allen Toussaint)
Allen Toussaint, from Life, Love and Faith, Reprise, 1972

The line has been crossed

Just one more Toussaint cut, before we move on to other things. I mean, if I continued, HOTG could turn into Home of Toussaint Grooves. But, really, how many times does a New Orleans music legend lose his home, escape to New York, play gigs, get lionized by the media and rediscovered by music fans, turn 68, start making a record with Elvis Costello, and get a lifetime achievement award, all in five months? I’ve got plenty more evidence of the Toussaint touch socked away for other days, so, for now, this is a far as we go.

“Gone Too Far” is from the1972 Life, Love And Faith album on Reprise. Toussaint wrote, arranged, produced and sang every song, and played piano, acoustic guitar (that’s likely him on the slightly out of tune, but somehow charming, lead on this track) and harmonica. It was his solo debut for the Warner Brothers group; but he was already working for them, producing the newly signed Meters on their Cabbage Alley LP. As discussed earlier in our series, his 1970 Toussaint album suffered somewhat for not having the hometown vibe and his main session men on it; but three of the Meters are among the players* appearing on Life, Love And Faith, recorded at Jazz City Studio in New Orleans, giving it far more groove power than its predecessor.

I am sure Allen Toussaint would be the first to tell you that he is not a funk musician. For this arranger, composer, and performer, broken beats, hesitation and percussive counterpoints are simply some of his many expressive tools. He goes to them naturally and easily at times; but they don’t permeate all of his music. And often, the syncopation he comes up with is artfully, but oddly, constructed, rather than a spontaneous linear flow (“Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Working In the Coal Mine” come to mind). It’s as if he had a drum machine in his head (before they were in common use, boys and girls) on which he programmed the patterns for his studio drummers to play. As I have noted earlier, members of Meters, as well as other session players have attested to the lack of improvisation in Toussaint’s shop, at least on his own material; and several drummers weren’t entirely comfortable with it. I think that regimented playing may be why Zig Modeliste stopped doing his sessions – that and money issues. . .and paranoia. Anyway, you can hear that orchestrated concept at work, too, in “Gone To Far”. To produce great grooves with such tight artistic control is quite a feat; and more times than not, Toussaint and his fine assemblage do the trick.

In the 1990’s, I got a Japanese CD reissue of Life, Love and Faith to supplement my worn old LP. And it has sadly never had a domestic CD release on it’s own. But in 2003, Rhino’s Handmade division included it on their re-mastered, high class, limited edition (2,500), two CD set,
allen toussaint: the complete warner recordings, which also contained his other two WB albums, Southern Nights and Motion, plus a previously unissued 1975 concert recording. If you missed this, it is now out of print; so copies will be pricey. But take out a second mortgage, or send the kids to a public school next year, and buy one, it is simply an essential collection.

*The other players on Life, Love and Faith were
Vincent Toussaint, Leo Nocentelli, George Plummer, guitar
George Porter, Walter Payton, bass
Joseph Modeliste, Joe Lambert, drums
Alfred Roberts, Squirrel (a/k/a Cyril Neville), conga
Clyde Kerr, Francis Rousselle, trumpet
Gary Brown, Alvin Thomas, tenor sax
Red Tyler, baritone sax


Anonymous Anonymous said...

this little song reminds me of a true story....i was but a teenager growing up in the wilds of jacksonville. there was a black cultural affairs show called 'kutana' that aired each weekday morning at 10 AM. the theme song was, of all things, cissy strut. i watched this show daily on summer days when i was around 12-13. the announcer would repetitively announce the theme song as being by booker t and the mgs. me, being the teenage snob i was then (but surely not now, huh dan?) called the station on air to correct the guy. me-with my pubertyfilledcracking little voice-correcting the oh-so-hip host. it was great. occasionally, they used this toussaint song as a coda to end shows. as far as i recall, they never identified the artist (i knew, i had the record) and called it "black folk music". ok, maybe they got that right. or maybe not. i cant call them now to discuss it. i liked 'fingers and toes' from that era best. i think i still do.

9:11 PM, January 22, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

I do not find it to be snobbery, anonymus, to care enough correct misinformation and give credit where credit is due. And, if you knew who the Meters were and had Toussaint's album at 12 or 13, you obviously were not only on the right track but the good foot, early. Even if they were confused about the performer, what cool music to use on the show. Back folk music? Did they mean "black-folk music" or "black folk-music"? There is a difference - but I guess we'll never know. Yes, "Fingers and Toes" is a nice one, but with a much different groove. Truth be told, I tend to favor this Toussaint album as a whole over the others. Thanks for the revealing tidbid, anon.

11:44 PM, January 22, 2006  

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