July 23, 2009

HOTG Summer Concert Series, Part 2

Toussaint At Tip's: Feelin' The Love

One of the best concerts by
Allen Toussaint I've been to in quite a while was his headline appearance at Tipitina's 30th Anniversary Party last year. With Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen opening the show, it promised to be a helluva night and definitely delivered. I've seen Toussaint play live numerous times, mostly at outdoor events such as Jazzfest in New Orleans and Festival Internationale here - and he's always first rate, having become more confident and comfortable in the role of frontman over the years. Some of those shows had better, more wide-ranging set lists than this one - but, still, this night seemed a cut above. Maybe what set it apart was being at Tipitina's packed to the rafters in a throw-down party atmosphere, and close to the stage; it was intense. The band was tight and in da pocket; and the man himself was really on top of his game, having fun, and playing his tuchus off! I'm sure the noisy, undulating, adoring hometown throng helped his attitude immensely, so much so that at at one point he said, "This is heavy. This is not business as usual!" Mark it down as another one of those timeless New Orleans shows when you are so into the music that you can't imagine being anyplace else in the universe other than that sweet spot.

An anonymous benefactor recorded the show on some little hand-held digital voice device - nothing remotely high fidelity - and recently bestowed a copy to me. I've enjoyed reliving the experience. So, I decided to share the joy and feature a couple of songs in our "concert" series, to give you at least a glimmer of what it was like being there. I had to convert the tracks to mp3 from another format - so the audio has been through a digital sampling Cuisinart by this point - but I still think you'll get the idea. . . .

Some other Southern night....

Intro and opening song
Allen Toussaint, live at Tipitina's 30th Anniversary Party, 1/19/2008

Man, I can't figure out what instrumental this is - a Toussaint original, I'm sure - and have been having a week-long senior moment about it. It sounds so familiar; and yet I have been all through my archives and searching online for a recorded version and cannot find one. Now, I know that there are some stone Toussaint freaks and geeks out there who can help a brother out. What is the title of this one - and has it been commercially released?

As you can hear even through all the sketchy club acoustics and downsampled compressed audio approximation, Toussaint and the band just came out smokin'. His rippin' and runnin' keyboard comping was powerful stuff without a doubt. And saxman Brian 'Breeze' Cayolle really impressed me anew - blowing hard and soulfully throughout the entire hour and a quarter set- a force o' nature. The locked and loaded rhythm section was the same group that has been regularly backing Allen for while now: Herman LeBeaux, drums; Allen's son, 'Reginald' on congas; Chris Severin, bass; and Anthony Brown, guitar. As you can maybe tell, the crowd, including me and my wife, just went nuts with the force and funk of this kick-off.

"I Feel Some Love In Here" (Allen Toussaint)

Yes, there was love and respect in the air that night: from Allen to us, from us right back at him, and from everyone to Tipitina's for it's three decade history of significance in the community as a venerated music venue, and more. In the early days, there were some picnic tables in the un-airconditioned club for eating the hippie-cooked food dished up with the beers and mainly homegrown music on stage. Professor Longhair often played there in his final years - the place was named after one of his best known songs (with that added 's) and was sort of set up to give him a home base where he could do his stuff. Over the years, the food and seating disappeared, A/C was installed; and Tip's grew up to become the place to catch quality roots acts from around the world. Since it's inception, I've seen more amazing shows there than probably any one other establishment. After several changes of ownership, Tip's has now morphed into part of a meaningful foundation offering entertainment plus a multitude of services to the music community. But it's still sacred ground; and you can always rub off some of the good juju in there by touching the bronze bust of Fess near the front door as you pass.

More of an extended vamp really than one of Toussaint's finely crafted songs, "I Feel Some Love In Here" not only set the mood for the love-fest, but allowed the band to stretch out a bit and solo over the percolating strut of a groove. Allen used the majority of the verses to give shouts-out to many of the more unsung artists who where a part of the scene back when he was coming up and making a name for himself - spreading the love to those who didn't get the breaks but contributed much to the city's heritage - a characteristically generous gesture from a man who has been having quite a professional resurgence over the past few years, but obviously doesn't want the world to forget that truly worthwhile music is a continual collaboration in and across time.

To that end, about half of Toussaint's set was a musical history tour in the form of a long medley (at least 15 tunes) of the great hit records birthed in New Orleans in the 1950s and 1960s, some of which he wrote and/or produced, some he didn't, from "Rockin' Pneumonia", though "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" and "Fortune Teller" to "Tell It Like It Is" and Cissy Strut" plus many in between. Then, he closed the show with two classics from Fess' repertoire, "Tipitina", of course, and "Big Chief", palpably summoning Longhair's spirit in the process - a fitting finale to a moving (in so many ways) night of celebration - and once again revealing Allen Toussaint to be not only a supremely classy act, but also a charming, disarming gentleman perfectly capable of getting way up into your funky business until you feel some love, too.

July 12, 2009


A request from a reader/listener to post or re-post some live stuff from Dr. John and/or the Meters reminded me that it has been way too long since I have put up any performance recordings at all. So, I decided to do a little series off and on this summer featuring some more live material. The more serious traders and collectors out there probably already have these - one has been on YouTube for a while now. But, I hope you will agree it's good to get to hear these players in their prime from back in the day. Maybe we can put up some more recent funky stuff, too, as we go along. Today's kick off contains two vintage broadcast performances from the same year. Hope you enjoy 'em.


"Life" (Allen Toussaint)
Dr. John and the Rampart Street Sympathy Orchestra, 1973
(Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

Back in 1973, Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) was on tour in support of his new album, In The Right Place, which was doing very well for him on the basis of the radio hit singles taken from it, "Right Place, Wrong Time" and "Such A Night". Allen Toussaint produced the LP, geared it a bit more for the pop market, but recruited the Meters as the core rhythm section. The results were an exceptional mix of funk and quirky pop. As a result, Mac did some touring that year with the Meters, using them as a backing band a few times, and on other dates rolling as a New Orleans revue with his own band, plus the Meters and Professor Longhair on the bill, as well. In the case of this show, a live radio broadcast from a recording studio, with a small audience, it was Mac and his band alone, billed as Dr. John and the Rampart Street Sympathy Orchestra. For more details about the show, including a full set list and band line-up, check my earlier posts on two other songs from the night, "Let The Good Times Roll" and "Qualified". As might be expected, the sound quality and mix are excellent.

"Life" was a track from In The Right Place that Toussaint may have written just for that project, as I don't know of any earlier recordings of the song. One of his unique clockwork type of compositions built of simple parts, it transcends categorization as funk, pop or even New Orleans music. Its central circular groove used an ascending eight note riff that achieved its unique push-pull feel by being offset Instead of moving straight bottom to top in the course of its two bar run, it starts in the middle, climbs for four beats, then drops down to the bottom note to begin the second bar of four notes rising, continuing that back and forth sequence throughout. The rise and fall back had an implied syncopation that, coupled with the hip, broken shuffle of John Boudreaux's drums and the various other patterns layered in by piano, bass, horns and vocals, created an intricate whole that had to be played precisely to have the desired result. Hats off to Mac and his great road band for making it work perfectly live and seem so effortless.

Another aspect of "Life" I've long noticed is that it one of a number of Toussaint songs with lyrics that don't make much sense. The words sound good sung together; but I have listened to it literally hundreds of times over the years and could still not really tell you what it's about. Like some of the Steely Dan repertoire, having to be played as exactly written to work, plus the cryptic lyrics probably kept the song from being performed more often by others. The New Orleans eccentric genius, pianist James Booker, was one of the few to do it - and, of course, Toussaint himself, though he has never released a studio version of the song, and only infrequently does it live. Guess that qualifies it as somewhat of a rarity on several fronts.


"Look-Ka-Py-Py" (Modeliste, Neville, Nocentelli, Porter, Jr) and
"Jungle Man" (same)
The Meters, live in Chicago, 1973

Making another kind of sense altogether, the Meters' "Look-Ka-Py-Py" dispenses with any semblance of meaning and just uses vocal nonsense syllables to further syncopate it's deep funk groove. Originally recorded by the band in 1969 and released on Josie Records, the song got up almost into the Top Ten nationally and was one of a string of their singles that sold well during the period. The story goes that the band developed the it while driving to a gig, trying to mimic the sounds of their misfiring van engine.

This live version coupled with "Jungle Man" comes from a 1973 television broadcast they did while touring with Dr John and his band in the New Orleans revue format, which also included Professor Longhair (and on this show, Earl King). It was Mac's generous idea to highlight the under-recognized music from his hometown as he toured extensively on the basis of his hit singles from the
In the Right Place album. Well, that and Phil Walden was trying to manage both Dr. John and the Meters at the time and co-booking their dates. Unfortunately, the concept was a hard sell for concert promoters unfamiliar with New Orleans musical history and did not last too long.

Zigaboo Modeliste's drumming on this take of "Look-Ka-Py-Py" was seriously wide open, loose-limbed and improvisatory, guaranteed to set backfields in motion. Unofficial (at that point) bandmate Cyril Neville's non-stop flurry of conga beats seemed to be an attempt to fill all the creative space the foursome left on purpose in the tune, which kind of worked against the concept; but things settled down as they segued into "Jungle Man" (from their second Reprise album, Rejuvenation), and dug down in the groove. It was a brief but musically subversive strut in the TV spotlight.

July 06, 2009

MID-YEAR REVIEWS: Everything Old Is New Again

I've had a few CDs sent to me for review this year, plus a couple more that I bought over the past few months. So, I am breaking in here mid-year to do some, ummm. . .uncompensated infomercials, I guess you might call them. This highly subjective short list does not scratch the surface of recent New Orleans releases. So, as always, I encourage you to do your own homework on the output of current New Orleans bands - since you might have noticed I cover mostly old, out of print vinyl - and purchase their products, go to their shows, keep 'em alive and thriving. Offbeat has plenty of gig listings, reviews and features in the magazine and online; or check the new releases at The Louisiana Music Factory, a business I regularly link to and plug because Barry Smith and his krewe have been representing the local music scene fairly and faithfully for 17 years now, hanging on by their fingernails through the Katrina disaster, while the indifferent corporate giants have come and gone. At least one cut from each of these albums will soon be in rotation at HOTG Radio. Now, on with the subjects at hand:

Wild & Free, The Radiators, Radz Records, 2008 - This great two CD set of rarities issued last year to celebrate the Radiators' 30th anniversary was sent to me by their label just a bit too late for my mini-reviews of 2008 releases this past January; but I have been diggin' on it in the meantime. Since I have covered the Rads a couple of times before, you regular readers (I use the terms "regular" and "reader" very loosely), may recall that I have been a fan of da band since their first year or so together, when I just happened to catch them playing at Tipitina's on one of my trips into town, either late in 1978 or early the next year. In my first powerful dose of their diversely influenced yet original brand of improvisational roots rock, I was reminded of the Band and Little Feat, while hearing a creative San Francisco Sixties kind of vibe interwoven with the real-deal organic essence of funky New Orleans R&B and Southern soul. Mightily impressed, I immediately jumped on board that night and let their impeccably played gonzo musicianship take me for a wild ride. Through the steamy, hazey air I swear I saw the walls of Tips literally rippling rhythmically with the intense waves of sound. OK, I admit I was contributing to that haze, but, still. . . .

In the spirit of experiences such as that, this CD offers some amazing sonic artifacts from back in dem days, including several live performances captured on singer/pianist Ed Volker's Akai reel-to-reel in 1978 at Luigi's Pizza, where they had a weekly gig, and at Tip's in early 1979 (I could have been at that one!). Listening to those is like time-traveling; and I'm reminded how solid and in the zone this band was from the start, already possessing their distinctive sound on Volker's ever-growing treasure trove of original tunes. The recording quality on the earlier live stuff is nothing short of miraculous, considering three decades of water under the bridge, with some literally spilling over the tapes, which were good and baptized by flooding back in 1995; but like the band, they held together through it all and lived to play another day.

The material on these CDs captures moments in time spanning all of those decades and is heavy on live content, with over half the tracks recorded at local gigs and venues around the country. There are choice, previously unreleased studio cuts, too, including two from 1978 done at the legendary Knight Studio in Metairie, where Rads guitarist Camile Baudoin was an engineer. If you are new to the band, Wild & Free would not be a bad place to start to get a feel for what they have been up to all these years. As confirmed fans and tape-traders well know, the Rads have always been best experienced first-person, in performance, or at least captured in their on-stage element. It was no accident that their very first album was a two LP live extravaganza of down and dirty, sweat-soaked rhapsodizing, Work Done On Premises, recorded at Tip's in 1980 and issued on their own label at the time, Croaker Records (also highly recommend). Frequent attendance at their gigs across the land is also advised (as is hearing protection), because, guaranteed, you will never hear the same show twice, as they spontaneously segue through their bountiful repertoire of originals and hip, often surprising covers. A couple of hours of CD programming, no matter how choice, is only a barely reasonable facsimile, a mere whiff of the heady hard stuff that these road-veterans can dish out on any given night; but, turned up loud enough, it'll do just fine until they roll into town.

The Lost Southlake Sessions, The Radiators, Radz Records, 2009 - I waited so long to talk about Wild & Free, this one came in - so I've doubled up. Although the Radiators have made, recorded and sold music on their own terms for the greater part of their 30 year history, when these session were done, they actually had a record deal with an entertainment conglomerate, music videos*, national commercial radio airplay, and the possibility of breaking big. Between 1987 and 1989, the Rads recorded two of three albums for Sony/Epic, Law Of The Fish and Zig-Zaggin' Through Ghostland, mainly using the relatively new Southlake Studios in Metairie, LA. There, at various points during the late 1980s, they also cut a number of demo sessions - original material, mostly written by keyboardist Ed Volker - that went missing along the way amidst the comings and goings of a regularly touring band. As Ed told me recently via email through their Radz label, "A lot of tapes were lost one way or another from Southlake over the years. . . . This [the recently found material on the new CD] is all from a cassette we took pains to master; and it was an exploratory demo session, never meant for release, but the years have been kind to it, so we decided others might like to hear it, too." Excellent decision, fellas.

A stroke of luck uncovered the cassette; and, thankfully, the Rads saw fit to digitally re-master and release it, so that we all now have access to at least some of those lost sessions, 14 songs, to be exact. It's a kick to listen in on formative, yet focused versions of these tunes, a number of which were later recorded for official releases. And while the sound may not quite be master quality, the kick-butt performances on this CD certainly are. Shoot. Maybe they never meant to release these sessions commercially, but they certainly could have - maybe should have. Much of the masterfully played material was that strong. Instead, renderings of six of the tunes found on The Lost Southlake Sessions appeared in 1991 on the band's third, final, and, to me, most uneven Epic album, Total Evaporation (a title which perfectly summed up their deal with the label), recorded in Memphis with the legendary Dixie Flyer, Jim Dickinson [who passed away 8-15-2009, I am sad to update], producing. Of course, that ship has long since sailed and sunk; but it seems now that the album could have benefited by using more of the songs from that lost cassette. Several more of them did eventually make it onto the Rads' later releases for various independent labels, including their own, and, of course, into the incredibly large reservoir of material they channel live nightly. Still, six of the songs here are new on CD, having never before appeared on a sanctioned Rads release.

Ultimately, I find this CD to be much more than just a cleaned up collection of old demos that only hardcore fans might want to hear. It merits a broader appeal. Volker is being too humble when he says simply that "the years have been kind" to the material. This music holds up incredibly well, still sounds fresh, and excellently represents the band's formidable session chops. Even within the limiting, insulated studio confines, they have always made compelling music together; but it is different from the feedback, spontaneity, and maximum energy of their wild and free on-stage experience, which will always be their true domain. There's much to enjoy from the Radiators either way.

* See 'em via YouTube: "Like Dreamers Do" and "Suck the Head"

Mindbender, Brother Tyrone, Joe's House of Blues, 2008 - Brother Tyrone came up on my none too finely tuned radar rather by accident, when I was doing some reading about the untimely death of the great New Orleans drummer, Wilbert 'Junkyard Dog' Arnold. Somewhere (how's that for journalistic excellence?) I saw that the last sessions JYD played were for this album. So, I had to check it out, knowing not much about Brother Tyrone other than having seen his name on listings around New Orleans before. Still, I kept forgetting to look for the CD when I was in town (I'm easily distracted), until, finally, I saw Tyrone on this year's Jazzfest lineup and made sure to be at the Congo Square stage that day and time. What a payoff. He and his fine band (most of whom played on this CD) kept me spellbound and grooving for the entire set of soul/blues tinged with funk. I could not believe that I had been missing such a stone soulful, old-school type singer for so long - why wasn't Brother Tyrone more widely known?

For the answer to that and more details about the CD, read Keith Spera's article on Mr. Tyrone Pollard at nola.com. Let's just say he's been keeping a low profile way too long, and is another example of the incredible musical talent nurtured in city's neighborhoods before Katrina tore them asunder. But, back to my impression of this album, which was produced by Everette Eglin, who also did the tasteful and tasty guitar work and wrote a number of the tunes. Mindbender is only Brother Tyrone's second CD (and like the first, Blue Ghetto, independently released), but it sounds like he has been making records for decades. Never over the top, the approach here hearkens back to the days of straightforward record-making in the South when all you needed was the right material, a great rhythm section, effective horn charts, and a singer at the microphone who could bring it all - no muss, no fuss, no gimmicks. Tyrone's vocals infuse the predominately blues-based songs on Mindbender with a genuine, natural, heartfelt soulfulness. My picks of the batch are Eglin's originals, all Katrina-related, "If You Ain't Cheatin'", a tale of post-flood separation and temptation, the funkified, wisely hip "When It's Gone, It's Gone", which manages to make seeing your record collection flushed out of your house seem funny ("There goes Albert King. He's too big to float."), and the poignant, in-the-pocket "New Indian Blues", that tells of Tyrone's deep connections to the people, places, and culture of the 6th Ward.

Besides the Junkyard Dog, who played the grooves fairly straight and to the point, and Eglin's expressive guitar tones on these tracks, other players of note are Marc Adams on keyboards - one of the city's best and a good songwriter, too (Tyrone does his deep soul "Can't Stop This Heartache"), and the always welcome Jack Cruz on bass, Wilbert Arnold's long-time groove partner in 'Wolfman' Washington's Roadmasters. The sparingly used horn section is unidentified. Tyrone partners with vocalists Sean C and Richard Dixon on a couple of tracks, and is righteously backed by two singers from the Gospel Stars, Rev. Mark Sandifer and Elijah Ott. Kudos, also, to engineer Mark Bingham of Piety Street Recording, who makes these tracks warm and inviting, with sounds that are real and richly textured - a feast for the ears often lacking in the digital domain. I hope this outstanding project bends some more minds and brings Brother Tyrone the prominence he deserves at home and abroad. He's still got time to make him some history.

Slither Slice, New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Threadhead Records, 2009 - Last and definitely not least on the list is this monstrous groove machine that manages to tie together top of the line playing, compelling, often intricate original jazz compositions, and the ultra-funky rhythms of the streets of New Orleans. The Nightcrawlers are a brass band with a difference and like no other in their hometown. Has it really been nine years since their last CD, cut live at the Old Point Bar in Algiers, and 12 years since their last studio recording? Guess they've all be busy elsewhere, as this group has always been the quintessential side project, its members vitally active at any given time in other groups - and, of course, there was that life-changing flood that sidelined everything. . . . After all this time, the line-up has changed somewhat, although the core of the group remains: trombonist Craig Klein (Bonerama, solo work, and more), saxophonist Jason Mingledorff (Papa Grows Funk), trumpeter Barney Floyd (New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and more), and sousaphonist Matt Perrine (Bonerama, Tin Men, solo work, and you name it). Completing the group on Slither Slice and their occasional live gigs are Satoru Ohashi, trumpet, Brent Rose, tenor sax, Derrick Tabb, snare drum, and Terrence 'T-Bell' Andrews, bass drum. Various guests drop in on certain tracks, too, including drummer Stanton Moore and keyboardist Rich Vogel of Galactic, Alex McMurray of Tin Men, and guitarist Brian Stoltz of the Funky Meters and PBS.

I had been waiting for this CD since seeing the Nightcrawlers play an intense set at the French Quarter Festival last year (and this year, too) and hearing them say that they were getting ready to record much of the material they were playing that day; and
Slither Slice lives up to my great expectations from start to finish. Cocktail music to chitchat over this is not, nor is it simply repetitive grooves, unison blowing, with a few perfunctory solos thrown in. An amazing amount of syncopated fire gets stirred up by their two drums and a sousaphone rhythm section. Add to that the complex, polyrythmic interplay and counterpoint of the assembled brass give and take, blowing, pumping, slurring, punching, gong new places in innovative ways; and you've got music that cannot be denied. Fun as it is, there is more going on than just one big throwdown funkfest of a party. This is music of substance, stimulating on multiple levels, freeing your ass, in George Clinton's dictum, for your mind to follow.

I think the Nightcrawlers have again raised the bar for brass band music in the city with this offering, in terms of musicianship and writing. Not since the Dirty Dozen were in their creative prime has a group taken the game to another level and smoked it like this. A funked up version of Verdi's Aida with a Caribbean feel? Even their one cover tune is outrageous.

Though not regular street paraders as a unit, the Nightcrawlers have distilled the unique essence of local brass band music, instilling the celebratory feel and kick with fresh, ingenious, and memorable tunes; and the evidence is
Slither Slice, a project thankfully made possible with a production loan from the Threadheads. It could have come from nowhere else but New Orleans - where the new so often incorporates the old in surprising ways- and validates the sense that the spirit and cultural health of the city, as the band says, are gonna be alright, alright.

Longtime follower who have been with the band from their first two Rounder albums, New Orleans Nightcrawlers from 1996 and Funknicity from 1997, and caught their all too rare live dates, and/or that Live At The Old Point CD, will not be surprised by all this - just pumped; and if you have not been to the party so far, you can just jump into the second line right here, then backtrack later. It's attention grabbing stuff. People are going to talking about it and yeling for more. If these guys don't watch it, their regular gigs may soon become the side projects.