Allen Toussaint rediscovers New Orleans on new album

Fri Jun 19, 2009 3:33pm EDT
 
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - R&B legend Allen Toussaint has done with his music what America has been forced to do since Hurricane Katrina laid waste to his hometown -- take a new look at what is in danger of fading away.

His new album is a collection of New Orleans classics such as "St. James Infirmary" and songs from outside the Big Easy that Toussaint reworked into the style he grew up hearing, like Thelonious Monk's "Bright Mississippi," from which the album takes its name, "The Bright Missisippi."

The result is a departure from 1960s and '70s Rhythm & Blues and pop tunes for which the 71-year-old pianist and composer is famous, hits such as Lee Dorsey's "Working in a Coal Mine" and the Rolling Stones' "Fortune Teller."

But if the album differs from Toussaint's best-known work, it couldn't be closer to his roots in New Orleans, a city undergoing a slow recovery from the 2005 hurricane. There, the traditions of marching bands and jazz funerals have endured.

"There's been a resurgence of this kind of music," Toussaint said. "Also, I'm very glad about the New Orleans traditional jazz brass bands who help keep this genre alive, even though it's a little rougher than what we're doing on this particular album."

The soft-spoken Toussaint recently spoke with Reuters by phone before heading on tour to St. Paul, Minnesota, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Calgary, where on June 22 he headlines a jazz festival with Big Easy stalwarts, Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

LEADING LIGHTS OF JAZZ

"The Bright Mississippi" is filled with performances by leading lights of today's jazz scene, including clarinetist Don Byron, who joins Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Toussaint for the trip through old New Orleans with the song, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee."   Continued...

 
<p>Musician and songwriter Allen Toussaint performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana May 6, 2007. REUTERS/Lee Celano</p>