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Live at Jazz Fest this weekend and on CDs

22nd April 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Everybody knows, especially record labels, that for maximum exposure the time to get that CD out is during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (April 26-28 and May 2-May 5). The reviews here are from two artists who know how to put on a great show every time they hit a stage. Their vibes translate to their albums too with an outpouring of fun, talent and affection. Jazz man Kermit Ruffins and zydeco hot-shot Terrance Simien are both the real deal and what Louisiana music is all about.

Kermit Ruffins
We Partyin’ Traditional Style!

(Basin Street Records)

We-partyin-traditional-stylOld-school New Orleans has always been close to Kermit Ruffins’ heart and soul. The trumpeter, vocalist, chef and club owner loves to hang around and learn from his elders be they musicians or just guys and women from the neighborhood. So it comes as no surprise that on his latest CD, We Partyin’ Traditional Style!, as the title suggests, Ruffins blows on tunes from this city’s classic jazz songbook. “I just pulled out songs that I fell in love with as soon as I started playing brass band music,” Ruffins explained in a recent interview when talking about his early years with the Rebirth Brass Band.

Ruffins, of course, often went to the source for material for past recordings though, as on his last CD, 2010’s Happy Talk, he brought in some modern material like “More Today Than Yesterday” and utilized a big band. On We Partyin’ Traditional Style!, he almost totally turns to tunes that are deeply woven into New Orleans’ musical fabric backed simply by a combo.

The trumpeter enlisted some of the finest purveyors of traditional jazz for the project. They are New Orleans artists who live and breathe this music including the great drummer Shannon Powell and trombonist Lucien Barbarin. While other, very fine musicians, can try to replicate the authenticity of the spirit and humor that’s core to this city’s classic jazz, these guys were born into it.

Ruffins shines most when he’s relaxing on tunes like “Exactly Like You,” that opens with the banjo of Don Vappie, another guy who knows what it’s all about. The combination of the big personalities of Ruffins and Powell are pretty irresistible on this cut and throughout the album. Also giving fine performances on the disc, which was produced by the noted Tracey Freeman, are pianist Steve Pistorius, bassist Richard Moten and clarinetist Tom Fischer.

It’s difficult not to think of one of Ruffins’ mentors, the late, great vocalist and bass drummer “Uncle” Lionel Batiste when listening to the warm version of “Careless Love.” Barbarin literally slides into this one on his horn.

Ruffins contributes only one original to this album of chestnuts, his “Treme Second Line.” Through previous recordings and live performances it has already made its way into New Orleans’ musical consciousness and thus works comfortably among the classics.

Kermit Ruffins made it hip among younger audiences to enjoy traditional jazz. Both new fans of the genre and those who have long been dedicated to the music that was born in New Orleans should cheer. When all is said and done, on We’re Partyin’ New Orleans Style! Kermit is bein’ Kermit.

Kermit Ruffins & the Barbeque Swingers perform at Jazz Fest in the Blues Tent on Sunday, April 28 at 4:30 p.m.

Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience
Dockside Sessions

(MusicMatters Records)

Terrance-SimienThere are people who think that all zydeco music sounds alike just as folks do when considering any genre of music they may not be very familiar with – jazz, blues, reggae. Terrance Simien breaks that mold to pieces. The Grammy-winning accordionist and vocalist proves zydeco’s diverse possibilities once again on his latest CD, Dockside Sessions. Simien writes like a traditionalist and sings in Creole French on his original material like the high-flying, two-step of “Time for Me to Dance/C’est Mon Temps Pour Danse.” Then he moves on to reinterpret poet/folk artist Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” a song from early in the legend’s career that Simien, singing in English, successfully resurrects. It’s one of three of Dylan’s compositions that Simien chose to include on the disc.

It’s always been amusing that domesticated and barnyard animals have long made their way into zydeco lyrics and storytelling. (Think, Boozo Chavis’ “Dog Hill” and Clifton Chenier’s “I’m a Hog for You Baby.”) Simien keeps the tradition alive with his own poppin’ “In the Dog House” that is rhythmically driven by frottier player and drummer Keith Sonnier. We might not understand the lyrics but we get the message that the dog house is the dog house in any language.

Talent obviously runs in the family as heard when Simien’s daughter, Marcella Simien, steps to the microphone on “Ave Magnolia.” She and the beautiful ballad share an unusual, almost foreign quality that somehow brings to mind both Paris in their sophistication and Africa in their tonality.

It wouldn’t be Terrance Simien if some reggae wasn’t included in the album. Both zydeco artists and some Mardi Gras Indians such as Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles are well-known for being inspired by the Jamaican style and recognize its links to New Orleans and the entire African diaspora. The connection is in the rhythm and the social consciousness message. Simien, an outstanding vocalist who was influenced by the great Aaron Neville, closes on Frederick “Toots” Hibbert’s – of Toots & the Maytals fame – giant classic “Pressure Drop.” “It is you-ooo, oh yeah, yeah, yeah…” That’s the way to end a great album and a great set by Terrance Simien, a zydeco master and world-invigorated artist.

Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience perform at Jazz Fest at the Fais Do-Do Stage on Friday, April 26 at 6 pm

This article originally published in the April 22, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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