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Quintessential music of New Orleans

11th June 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Treme, Music from the HBO Original Series – Season 2
Various Artists

“These are New Orleans songs, performed by New Orleans musicians, in the bars, clubs and streets of that same city for a television drama filmed and recorded in the same spaces,” writes David Si­mon, creator and executive producer of the HBO series “Treme.” That simple statement accurately describes the contents and flavor of the album on Treme, Music from the HBO Original Series – Season 2. On the disc, however, the snippets of tunes used on the artistically produced television show that often finds local folks gathered together for maximum viewing pleasure, can be enjoyed in their complete length.

The album begins with the street beats of the Hot 8 Brass Band on “New Orleans After the City,” a tune that contains the repeated phrase — “504” — that meant so much to so many people post-Katrina, the time in which the series is set. Few people could ever have imagined the significance that the New Orleans area code 504 would have in their lives. Spotting that number on a cell phone had the ability to light up a day for those who were scattered across the United States.

The funk, rap and horns continue on a powerful collaboration between some of this city’s hardest hitting artists, Galactic, the Dirty Dozen and Juvenile on “From the Corner to the Block.” In some ways, it’s a reminder of how, during the time of mass exile from New Orleans, so many musicians came together who might never have done so. And yeah, the song kicks.

The diversity of New Orleans music is definitely represented with the album moving from brassy and booming to the waltz tempo of the Subdudes melodic “Carved in Stone” that includes violinist Lucia Micarelli. Mica­relli, who is seen in the television series, is featured several times on the disc working along side of pianist David Torka­nowsky on the jazz standard “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and with vocalist John Boutte on his popular song, “Sisters.”

It’s interesting to contemplate how those outside of the state’s lines will hear this, well, gumbo of music and whether they can realize the fine thread that weaves between artists and styles as diverse as Cajun accordionist Steve Riley and vocalist Al “Carnival Time” Johnson who both celebrate Mardi Gras in their own unique way. Listeners from outside of Louisiana would, of course, be better prepared if they were regular viewers of “Treme.” That is probably true for locals as well as it’s a pretty long, musical road between Eunice, Louisiana where Riley’s “La Danse de Mardi Gras” was recorded and Carnival Time’s rhythm and blues world of New Orleans. The path is naturally shorter from pianist/vocalist Jon Cleary’s soulful “Fren­ch­men Street Blues” to saxophonist Donald Harrison’s Mardi Gras Indian world of “Hu-Ta-Nay.”

Dr. John brings the album all together in his wonderfully mystifying way. Accompanying himself on piano, he acts as the soothing guru offering words of wisdom and hope for his fellow man. He is the sound of New Orleans – the past and the future. “It could be a little taste of heaven if we only knew our worth. All we’ve got to do is want it bad enough to push ourselves through,” he sings on the heartfelt closer, “You Might be Surprised.”

Tuesdays with Davell

In March, pianist and vocalist Davell Crawford awed sold-out crowds at Snug Harbor during a Tuesday night series that included a tribute to Fats Domino with an all-star band complete with a rhythm and blues heavy horn section. Another night the “Piano Prince of New Orleans” brought in a choir for an evening of gospel music that left people actually crying from the emotional impact of the performance.

Crawford is again taking up residency on Tuesday nights at the Frenchmen Street club beginning on June 12. That first night the ace band will include his cousin, a remarkable drummer to keep an eye on, Joe Dyson. He’ll be joined in the rhythm section by Crawford’s longtime, go-to bassist Mark Brooks and percussionist Alexi Marti. One of this city’s most soulful and inventive modern jazz saxophonists, Clarence Johnson III always brings something extra to every endeavor and is sure to take this set a step further. So what style of music can one expect from this eclectic group led by the always surprising and diverse Crawford?

DAVELL CRAWFORD

“That means it’s gonna be some damn good music,” Crawford declares while remaining elusive about the direction this group might take. All things are possible – some jazz, some old school rhythm and blues. A future Tuesday promises the arrival of saxophonist Donald Harrison, one of the great blowers of alto in the current modern jazz era and a musician who, like Crawford, enjoys mixing things up.

If you missed Crawford’s shows in March, you’ve got another chance to experience his genius. If you were there, you’re sure to be back. Crawford will perform at Snug Harbor on Tuesdays through June 26. Showtimes are 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended.

This article was originally published in the June 11, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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