When it comes to outdoor music festivals, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival held annually on the last weekend in April and first weekend in May has pretty much set the standard. (This year’s festival runs from April 22 to May 1.) First off, it’s typically a terrific time of the year for New Orleans as the weather is concerned. For New Englanders making the trek, it is usually just what the doctor ordered after our long, hard winters and hit-or-miss springs. Held at the Fair Grounds Race Course, Jazz Fest, as it is commonly known, offers a total of 12 performance stages running simultaneously from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day accommodating upwards of 450 different acts. Stylistically speaking, while New Orleans and Louisiana are well represented, the performers for this year’s fest are a wide ranging lot spanning B.B. King, Brian Wilson, and Dave Matthews to Wilco, Elvis Costello, and Randy Newman. In the spirit of Jazz Fest, we head to Louisiana for this week’ s Compact Capsules.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
This Is The Dirty Dozen Brass Band Collection
Shout! Factory DK-31782
It’s one of those memories that just sticks in your craw. It was a Monday night show at the Ocean Mist, easily a dozen or more years ago or so. Holding court was one of New Orleans foremost brass bands of the contemporary era, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Numbering almost ten strong, the sad part of it all was the band outnumbered the number of people in the room to see them perform. Not that the meager turnout seemed to matter a whole lot to the DDB boys as they proceed to unleash a serious New Orleans-styled Second Line whippin’ on the meager turnout. The brass players alone blew their horns with such power and authority on that cool Autumn night that I wouldn’t be surprised if they could be heard all the way over on Block Island. For the uninitiated, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band was begun in the late 1970s arising out of the New Orleans brass band tradition. Other than a few old line outfits – the Olympia Brass Band is the first one to spring to mind- brass bands were on the wane in the Crescent City at that time. Bringing a contemporary edge into its sound, credit the DDBB with rekindling the tradition to the degree that plenty of youngsters started hopping on the bandwagon. The beauty of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band over its almost 30 years is that a Jelly Roll Morton tune is at home in its repertoire as a Meters classic like “Cissy Strut”. In other, diversity in song selections is the spice of life where this band is concerned. If these guys happened to have passed you by over the years, the newly released This Is The Dirty Dozen Brass Band Collection is an excellent starter kit. A band that has collaborated in the studio with the likes of Elvis Costello, Dave Matthews, and even Modest Mouse, This Is The Dirty Dozen Brass Band Collection gathers together tracks from all of the DDBB’s albums. In all, the collection presents 15 highly potent tracks all hand-picked by the band, including four of out-of-print selections, for a whopping 78 minutes of music. Call them innovators of sorts using the traditional brass band music of New Orleans as a launching pad to head off in directions far and wide incorporating elements of funk, jazz, gospel and soul into its sassy and seasoned, brass band sound.
Live From the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Shout! Factory DVD 36787
Live From the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Shout! Factory DVD 34210
New Orleans’ first family of Crescent City-styled old school funk, the Funky Meters, get the DVD treatment with a live performance from 2000 captured at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. One of the most compelling live acts around and a band that personifies what makes New Orleans music special, this DVD captures the group on its home front. From what my eyes and ears tell me, if you were there in the flesh to witness it, this was one incredible show. Founded in the 1960s, The Meters at the outset employed a heavy dance groove mixing it with equal parts blues and soul to arrive at a funkified vibe distinctly New Orleans in flavor. By the 1970s, the band had come into its own and begun to establish a national following. They’d back Paul McCartney in the studio and open for the Rolling Stones on a worldwide tour. Still performing, these days they are considered one of the granddaddy bands of funk. Featuring 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound, as this DVD readily attests, the Funky Meters can still kick out the Crescent City-styled jams.
Fans of the old Cajun & Bluegrass Music Festival as well as its successor the Rhythm & Roots Festival no doubt know Michael Doucet and his band Beausoleil. Celebrating some 30 years in the business, the band hits the DVD age for the first time in its career with a 2002 performance, also captured live at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Like any Cajun band, studio records oft-times fail to capture the exuberance and energy of the live performance. With this live DVD, the Shout! Factory folks do a pretty darn good job at bringing that experience into your own viewing space. Loaded with special features – interviews with band members Al Tharp, Billy Ware, Jimmy Breaux, Tommy Alesi, David Doucet and Michael Doucet, Michael Doucet’s remembrance of fiddle greats Dennis McGee and Canray Fontenot, and two music videos – this DVD is must-have goods for Beausoleil fans.
Sugar Hill SUG-CD-3992
Head West from New Orleans on highway I-10 over the Bayou and the first metropolis you encounter is Baton Rouge. Keep it pegged at 70 mph and 40 minutes or so later you’ll come upon Lafayette. Come the weekend in that unofficial capitol of Cajun country, the place to be is the warehouse-turned-honky tonk called Grant Hall. It is a cavernous joint where live music, typically of the Louisiana variety, rules. As he has done for countless years each April typically timing his performance with the first weekend of JazzFest, guitarist Sonny Landreth and his band once again held court this past Saturday at the hall. Whereas there is not a lot hardcore Cajun per say with the music of Landreth, his distinctive guitar playing and songs pack a hole lot of swamp into their hoodoo grooves. Landreth, who played opening night at Grant Hall in 1980 accompanying the late Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier, gave the place a little payback at last year’s annual appearance by capturing his two-night stand on tape for release as a live album. That album, fittingly titled Grant Street, has just seen release and offers up 11 of Landreth’s best known songs. It is a collection that showcases just how dynamic a live performer, not to mention guitarist, Mr. Landreth truly is. Along with his band members, Dave Ranson on bass and Kenneth Blevins on drums, this is a trio that is obviously well-schooled in the many sounds that have come from the Bayou country around Lafayette. Working elements of everything from blues to Cajun to swamp rock to Zydeco, the sum total is 61 blistering minutes of high energy stuff definitely not for the feint-hearted. (Sugar Hill Records, P.O. Box 55300, Durham, NC 27717, or www.sugarhillrecords.com)
Louisiana Blues and Zydeco
Staying in the Bayou country, we step back a ways for our final capsule. Let’s start by stating that if I was asked to recommend a single recording that best represents Zydeco music, the release from the late Clifton Chenier called Louisiana Blues and Zydeco is the definitive album of the genre. As the 1965 album clearly demonstrates, Chenier was not called the King Of Zydeco for nothing. Whereas Chenier had had brief chart success in the 1950s recording for Specialty Records, he was pretty much relegated to playing the Crawfish Circuit following that short-lived moment. That was until Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz entered the picture. As far as Chenier music is concerned, credit Arhoolie Records with reigniting his career in the mid-1960s with Louisiana Blues and Zydeco his first album for the label. Recorded at the Gold Star Studio in Houston in May of 1965, the original LP devoted one side to authentic Louisiana Creole blues and Zydeco music all dripping with soul while the flip was a vigorous batch of rockin’ “French” music. Put simply, the description classic is an understatement for this record. Whereas the recording had first been reissued on CD by Arhoolie in 1990 (and is now out of print), this newly reissued version marks the first time these recordings have been available in stereo (and that includes the tracks from the original LP version). The reissue brings together the original 11 tracks from the LP, two tracks that appeared for the first time on the 1990 CD reissue, and six previously unreleased tracks. It represents Chenier at the top of his game and is Zydeco and its various derivatives at its finest. (Arhoolie Productions, Inc., 10341 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito, CA 94530, or www.arhoolie.com)