2011: A look back musically
3rd January 2012 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
In 2011, it seemed that the music never stopped. Between all the music festivals both big and small, the brassy second line parades and the action at the clubs, the year felt particularly full. That impression becomes amplified when talking to friends around the country who often ask with a bit of envy in their tone, “What another festival?”
It was a banner year for several, deserving New Orleans artists. After 28 years tearing up the streets and clubs, the ReBirth Brass Band hit it big receiving a much-deserved Grammy nomination for its solid, 15th album, ReBirth for New Orleans. We all hope that 2012 will bring the award home for the guys and the disc’s local label Basin Street Records.
Lil Wayne, of course, is more used to heading to the Grammys, but this year he stands another chance of heading to the podium numerous times as he’s nominated five times in various rap categories.
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews was on fire in 2011. The trombonist/trumpeter/vocalist and bandleader traveled the world in support of his latest disc True Dat. The disc, with his longtime group Orleans Avenue, soared up Billboard magazine’s jazz charts and hung right in there. Shorty’s definitely on a roll.
The Blues and Barbecue Festival presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation at Lafayette Square has really taken off in recent years. Some of the strongest acts this year included the incredible soul singer Bettye LaVette. She took the big stage after dark making her dramatic set even more compelling. Beneath the spotlights, LaVette took command, bringing to every tune all of the vocal riches she has amassed in her almost five-decade career. Finally gaining further recognition for her 2005 Grammy-nominated album I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise, LaVette proved herself as one of the greatest dispensers of soul music in our time.
The always incredible pianist/vocalist Henry Butler also headlined late at the Blues Fest and boasted a particularly singular performance. His repertoire held a great mix of styles and many folks outside of the jazz scene got their first taste of drummer Joe Dyson. Impressed by Dyson’s ability to move anywhere the eclectic Butler took the music, people were asking, “Who’s that drummer?” The answer: Dyson is a regular with saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., a member of The Bridge Trio and Davell Crawford’s cousin.
It’s always hot for the Cajun and Zydeco Festival but Terrance Simien turned up the heat even more at the fest’s Esplanade in the Shade stage. The accordionist and vocalist got the crowd jumpin’ to his zydeco rhythms and smoothed them out with some reggae and soulful ballads.
In the fall, the action presented by the Foundation moved to the Treme to celebrate the neighborhood and gumbo. Drummer Shannon Powell enlisted an all-star band for his outstanding set with pianist David Torkanowsky and a front line of trombonist Lucien Barbarin, reedman Charlie Gabriel and trumpeter Mark Braud. This was real deal New Orleans traditional jazz that equates to excellent musicianship, classic tunes and the important element of fun. With Powell and Barbarin on board, the jokes were flying.
The clubs are the everyday meat and potatoes — okay, the red beans and rice — of New Orleans. They sustain us. The nightspots offer more intimacy and usually longer sets by the artists so one can really dig in. New venues have been added to the pot including Irvin Mayfield’s I Club – hey thanks Irvin for bringing New Orleans music to the Hornets games. For a brief time Julius Kimbrough’s Prime Example was the place to be for jazz on Thursday nights. Here are just a few of the great shows of 2011. We’ll start on the jazz front because, after all, New Orleans is its birthplace.
Torkanowsky’s name again pops up for his show at the Prime Example. The pianist just has the knack – and connections – to put the right musicians on the bandstand. At the North Broad Street club, saxophonist Red Morgan, a longtime member of the late Eddie Bo’s Band, made a rare jazz performance.
Naturally, Snug Harbor, the granddaddy of the jazz venues, offered some of 2011’s highlights. Herlin Riley was often behind the drums on some of the most dynamic nights. He and nationally renowned pianist Jason Moran had never played together before performing there in a duo setting on one such night. Their interaction, improvisation and spontaneity were a wonder to behold. As always, pianist Davell Crawford offered many surprises at his Snug Harbor shows throughout the year. Audiences got a sneak preview of some of the material that will be heard on his upcoming album including the soulful “Creole Man.”
Not far away, trumpeter Lionel Ferbos celebrated his 100th birthday for two evenings of classic New Orleans jazz at the Palm Court. Naturally, the place was packed with family and friends. Nights at the Palm Court are always special when bassist Chuck Badie is on the bandstand. He brings a touch of his modern jazz background to the tradition.
Of great note, Preservation Hall marked its 50th anniversary in 2011. Keeping to its roots while also adding innovation has kept the Hall and its Preservation Hall Jazz Band vital.
Saxophonist Kidd Jordan teamed with two exceptional drummers this year. First, he was heard at Sweet Lorraine’s with the legendary, avant-garde drummer Andrew Cyrille plus a full band. Next up was Jordan in a duo setting with percussionist Hamid Drake at the Piety Street Recording studio. Beyond the superior performance of these masters, the unique aspect of this show is that it was captured live for an upcoming release on Valid Records.
Trumpeter Wendell Brunious made for a terrific and hilarious host at the opening of the new performance/recording room at the Old U.S. Mint. Like Powell’s set at the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival, Brunious gave listeners authentic traditional. It was particularly satisfying to hear the trumpeter alongside veteran trombonist Wendell Eugene.
Jazz isn’t the only music that rocked the world of New Orleans. Tipitina’s buzzed with anticipation for a super double bill of Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. Tip’s really felt like the old days that night with everybody dancin’ and shoutin’ and lots of musicians in the house.
Bootsy Collins funked the same spot on Tchoupitoulas and Napoleon with an exceptionally tight show for this veteran of the more loosely oriented Parliament-Funkadelic. The driving bassist and vocalist careened center stage doing material from his monster release Tha Funk Capital of the World.
Downtown, d.b.a. remained the prime venue to catch the magic of drummer Cedric Burnside getting down on some amazing Mississippi hill country blues. It’s a style like no other and Cedric learned it all by playing with his late grandfather, guitarist and vocalist R.L. Burnside. Feel like dancing? This was it.
When pianist Jon Cleary wasn’t on the road or playing with a band, he could often be found performing solo at d.b.a. It always proved to be a great way to hear this master of the New Orleans R&B style doing faves like Snooks Eaglin’s “Young Boy Blues.” Oh yeah, and early Saturday nights with vocalist John Boutte were and continue to be great.
Reggae hasn’t had the presence it once had in New Orleans. So many fans were extremely appreciative for the opportunity to hear the legendary Fredrick “Toots” Hibbert & the Maytals at the House of Blues. His “Pressure Drop” caused a frenzy. Is there a better song in the world?
The year 2011 had its sad losses but as Frank Sinatra sings, it was a very good year for music lovers. The resolution for those fans in 2012 would certainly be for the same and more. New venues should be allowed to flourish for the musicians to survive and the music to grow. Let’s make sure that the Mother-in-Law Lounge, now owned by Kermit Ruffins, opens and that North Rampart Street and the Tremé neighborhood can again hear the sound of music.
This article was originally published in the January 2, 2012 edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper