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Meeting of Music Masters

6th November 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Music is a universal language that has the ability to be understood and enjoyed by people from different cultures, nationalities, ages and races. It could be said that jazz, which has its rhythmic roots in Africa and draws its scales and instrumentation from Western Europe, boasts its own dialectic. Through the decades jazz has also enriched its own songbook with tunes that all players know and students are required to learn — “Green Dolphin Street,” “All Blues,” “Round Midnight” and, well, in New Orleans “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

When bass giant Rufus Reid, 73, arrives in New Orleans to perform at Snug Harbor on Thursday, November 9, he’ll team with pianist Ellis Marsalis, 83, and Herlin Riley, 60. Each artist was born a decade apart while all share the common language of the music that they will perform. The three have a deep history in the music that makes what some might consider an impromptu trio actually a complete unit.

Reid, who will also perform at the University of New Orleans’ Jazz at the Sandbar series on Wednesday, November 8, really came into his own as a leader and a much-called upon sideman when the Georgia native moved to New York after time spent in California and Chicago. His impressive resume includes 11 albums under his own name and recordings with such legends as saxophonists Eddie Harris and Dexter Gordon, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and trombonist J.J. Johnson among many others.

The multi-award winning artist remains prolific and progressive in his recordings as heard on this 2010 trio album, Out Front, which lit up jazz radio, and his latest release Hues of a Different Blue that featured a expanded ensemble. On both recording, Reid’s imaginative bass is solidly at the center of the works. That’s been true throughout his illustrious and respected career including his 1970 debut album, The Chase, on the highly-respected Prestige label.

Showtime for Wednesday night’s UNO Sandbar performance at the Cove is 7:30 p.m. with admission at a low $5. There are two shows at Snug Harbor on Thursday, 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield
A Beautiful World
(Basin Street Records)

Basin Street records has plenty to celebrate. The label is now marking its 20th anniversary and this recording, A Beautiful World, which was produced in honor of that event, has already climbed to the No. 1 position on Billboard magazine’s jazz chart.A-Beautiful-Mind-album-cove

Trumpeters Irvin Mayfield and Kermit Ruffins, the label’s most prolific artists and friendly rivals – remember their hilarious trumpet battles? – Take center stage on a disc filled with others from the Basin Street stable including its Grammy-winning group, the Rebirth Brass Band, clarinetist Dr. Michael White and percussionists Jason Marsalis and Bill Summers plus tons of other New Orleans musical friends and special guests. In fact there are some 50-plus musicians on this jam-packed release that boasts 26 cuts including a few short, spoken word interludes featuring actor Wendell Pierce. Considering the many artists involved and the number of selections it’s not surprising that there is plenty of stylistic diversity — several tunes, including the title cut, even feature a string quartet.

It also comes as no surprise that the album takes off swinging on a song co-written by Ruffins and Mayfield, that is a hot, happy number called “Well, Alright.” In a big band setting, the trumpeters take turns at the lead and saxophonist Ed Petersen blows some strong tenor. “Follow that umbrella!” Ruffins directs.

Among some familiar tunes like Ruffins’ “Drop Me Off in New Orleans” and the Rebirth’s “Do Whatcha Wanna” are some fine, newly penned tunes. A highlight is a collaborated composition by Ruffins, Mayfield and Cyril Neville simply called “Allen Toussaint.” The lyrics, rhythm and flavor of this tribute are much in the style of Toussaint’s own work. Neville, who is featured here and many times throughout the album, starts the song off remembering the first time he saw the snappily dressed, now legendary composer, pianist and vocalist. His remembrances are perfectly complemented by the Toussaint-ish piano of Ronald Markham and a lilting beat. They all chime in to sing the refrain, “I want to be like Allen, Allen Toussaint…”

Neville offers a fine version of the Meters “Be My Lady” that has bassist George Porter layin’ down the essential bottom with John Boutte adding backup vocals.

There’s quite a contrast between this beauty and the next street beat cut, “Footwork,” featuring tuba man Phil Frazier yet the placement works. That’s because both are totally New Orleans as is the album and Basin Street Records itself. The range of styles that are found in the Crescent City and played by the musicians onboard – modern and traditional jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, brass band and hip-hop — find a comfortable home here and on the hometown label.

Even the clever name of the album, A Beautiful World, was an inspired way to pay tribute to native son trumpeter Louis Armstrong — as well as New Orleans — by referencing his hit “What a Wonderful World.”

This article originally published in the November 6, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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