Allen Toussaint, 'The Bright Mississippi'
Allen Toussaint The Bright Mississippi
ESSENTIAL "Dear Old Southland"
Allen Toussaint's new album couldn't sound more like New Orleans. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pianist and R&B hitmaker ("Lady Marmalade," "Workin' in a Coal Mine") revisits jazz classics by Duke Ellington, Leonard Feather, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt, and Thelonious Monk and takes them for a stroll through Preservation Hall, imbuing his own funky brand of pop-song charisma. The results are coolly sophisticated, an unfussy, mostly instrumental set of slink-and-slide joints shot through with a harmonic imagination that turns even a traditional hymn into an after-hours swing. Producer Joe Henry recorded Toussaint's band - Don Byron, Nicholas Payton, Marc Ribot, Brad Mehldau, David Piltch, Joshua Redman, and Boston drummer Jay Bellerose - live in the studio, squeezing fresh interaction from the ensemble. Raymond Bloch's "Dear Old Southland" becomes a Dixie montage as Toussaint and trumpeter Payton weave effortlessly in and out of sly "Summertime" motifs. From the Big Easy slither in a re-imagining of Bechet's "Egyptian Fantasy," through the bouncing strut of Monk's title track, to a piano duo with Ribot's acoustic guitar on a gorgeous contemplation of Ellington's "Solitude," Toussaint's musical soul guides all, making the classics sound like his own. (Out now) TRISTRAM LOZAW