Fan favorites, Charmaine Neville and Michael White debut recordings
6th July 2011 · 1 Comment
By Geraldine Wyckoff
The Louisiana Weekly
Dr. Michael White
Adventures in New Orleans Jazz – Part 1
(Basin Street Records)
It wasn’t so long ago that it would have seemed impossible to imagine traditional jazz stalwart Dr. Michael White including a Bob Marley composition on an album. The New Orleans clarinetist did just that by performing the reggae master’s “One Love” among other surprises on his latest CD, Adventures in New Orleans Jazz – Part 1.
Particularly since Katrina, as well as following his residencies at A Studio in the Woods, White appears to have further embraced a wider musical spectrum that is strongly evidenced on the disc. By no means has he disavowed his dedication to this city’s classic jazz as is also evoked here. It’s that he apparently views it more as a part of a whole; as a part of the Diaspora’s musical culture.
The sound of a lone balafone, a wooden instrument akin to a xylophone, played by Ivory Coast native now New Orleans resident Seguenon Kone, aptly acts as the opening for White’s “West African Strut.” The tune evolves when the clarinet makes its entrance and takes a trip to New Orleans to swing before returning to the continent. The journey sets the demeanor of the disc that travels seamlessly between genres.
White holds up the classic torch on the chestnut “Basin Street Blues” with his long-time keeper of the flame trumpeter Gregg Stafford coming in on some fine vocals and trumpet. The excellent sound quality throughout the disc, particularly enhances the number. As he’s been doing during more recent years, White adds to the traditional jazz songbook with original material such as the Latin-tinged “Mpingo Blues.” His flowing clarinet phrases are adorned by tasty interjections by Wendell Brunious’ trumpet. Banjoist Detroit Brooks gets in on the action with his solid rhythmic support and solo.
There’s something uplifting about a simple walking bass line. Kerry Lewis utilizes the technique on the upright as an introduction to “South African Medley: Pata Pata/The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The familiar melodies and rhythmic sway beam with joyfulness with White’s clarinet offering a certain lilt. One could imagine the roar of Lucien Barbarin’s trombone representing the lion of the latter song.
The trombone once provided a major tone for reggae music and Barbarin lays it in just right on the aforementioned “One Love” that segues into “People Get Ready.” Brunious’ horn acts as the lead voice with White “doodling” beneath. The tune works.
The album remains in the Caribbean for a rousing “Haitian Celebration: Rara Second Line/Haiti Cherie” with drummer Herman LeBeaux enthusiastically leading a percussion ensemble made up of various members of the band. Saxophonist Godwin Louis, whose parents were born in Haiti and who was a student at the Thelonious Monk Institute, finely teams with the clarinetist on the second, swaying section of the tune before taking a fine solo. With Barbarin also aboard one can clearly hear the relationship between the music of the island nation and New Orleans.
The Caribbean and New Orleans sing together on Paul Simon’s “Take Me to the Mardi Gras.” With Kerry Lewis strutting on tuba, the closing number happily sashays and then second lines down the street. Adventures in New Orleans Jazz — Part 1, a spirited album that lives up to its name, ends though White’s adventures have only just begun.
Charmaine Neville Band
Before the Storm
One could consider every Monday night at Snug Harbor to be a record release party for Charmaine Neville Band’s new album Before the Storm. The vocalist has held that spot on the Frenchmen Street club’s schedule for over 25 years and these cuts were recorded there between May and August of 2005 or, as the title states, Before the Storm.
Several elements on this disc stand out. For one, the choice of material here ranges from funk to jazz, to Caribbean flavors and groove. The variety shows the vocalist’s and the band members’ — keyboardist/accordionist Amasa Miller, bassist/vocalist Jeffrey “Zak” Cardarelli, guitarist/vocalist Detroit Brooks and drummer/vocalist Gerald French – chops and versatility. Neville also avoids an over-abundance of party-down attitude that works well live when folks experience her stage presence and dance moves but might not have translated as well on disc.
The album opens smartly with the Stevie Wonder-penned, Chaka Khan hit “Tell Me Something Good” that is totally suited to Neville’s voice and attitude. Check out French’s funky, light-touch intricacy on the drums that nicely suits Brooks’ understated guitar tone and complexities.
Miller moves from the electric keys to the acoustic piano to show off his chops on the jazz-oriented “Incognito,” one of four Neville originals on the disc. Jazz plays a substantial part both in the album’s repertoire and in Neville’s scatting as well as the musicians’ liberal use of improvisations as heard on another Neville-penned number, “Love Jam.” It even plays a part on Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “My Funk” that gets down and provides a lot of fun as well as perhaps the curiosity of the album “Yellow Submarine.” With its change of rhythm and nuances plus the familiar refrain not stated until the very end, the version remains almost unrecognizable.
Neville, the daughter of Charles Neville and great niece to George “Big Chief Jolly” Landry of the Wild Tchoupitoulas, returns to her roots to take the album out on “Indian Medley.” Here, French, who masks Indian with the Wild Magnolias, comes in on vocals.
With its excellent sound quality, Before the Storm captures some of the best of Charmaine Neville, an artist of energy, spontaneity and plenty of jazz and jam licks.
This article originally published in the July 4, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.