An essential ingredient for a great barbecue is to have your coals white-hot before you throw the meat on the grill. Veteran New Orleans trumpeter, singer and bandleader Kermit Ruffins is nothing if not a Barbecue Swinger, and for his latest album, 1533 St. Philip Street , the musicians he’s recruited are ready to burn through every track, from classic blues to vintage bebop to freshly penned second line stomps.
Ruffins’ record is named after the address of his new club in the heart of the Crescent City’s Treme neighborhood , which was home to musicians including clarinetists Sidney Bechet, Jimmy Noone and George Lewis and continues to nurture contemporary artists including trumpeter James Andrews, Trombone Shorty and the Treme Brass Band.
In paying homage to the Big Easy’s rich and continuing jazz history, the band kicks off the album by blowing through a swinging rendition of “Ole Miss Blues,” a favorite of Ruffins’ idol, Louis Armstrong. The frontman does a fine job of honoring Pops’ legacy with his brisk, bright hornwork, and the band grooves flawlessly.
Things keep smoking with “Drop Me Off in New Orleans,” an original that pays tribute to the city’s culinary tradition as well as its general joyful spirit. Saxophonist Eric Traub, who contributed to Ruffins’ last album, Swing This , and has worked with a variety of local and regional musicians including Dr. John, Galactic, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, delivers a fine straight ahead solo, and drummer Arthur Latin II, bassist Neil Caine and pianist David Torkanowsky provide funky, grooving accompaniment for Ruffins’ gleeful vocals.
The classicist tackles other jazz gems, including “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” and “Black and Blue” with typical earnestness, breathing fresh live into “moldy fig” numbers that others sometimes plod through with uninspired veneration.
Ruffins’ rhythmic and musical versatility manifests in “I Still Get Jealous,” a tune which also features an dixieland clarinetist Dr. Michael White, and his playfulness and herbally-inspired humor rears its head in “Jack, I’m Mellow,” also with White on an extended solo. And “Bye and Bye” is a buoyant traditional old-time religion number bolstered by the fine singing of the One-A-Chord Gospel Singers.
Perhaps the highlight of the album is “Meet Me at the Second Line,” a New Orleans drummer’s dream come true. Latin II segues effortlessly between syncopated, propulsive, booty-shaking funk and restrained, straight ahead four-four timekeeping, while Ruffins’ regular collaborator, trombonist Corey Henry, gets his licks in along with Traub. Anyone who appreciates brass band music and “little big band” jazz will marvel at the way this group combines the best of both worlds.
Things move in a ‘60s direction with a covers of scat-singer Eddie Jefferson’s “Keep Walkin’,” showcasing Ruffins considerable talent for improvised lyrics, and Nat Adderley’s somewhat obscure “In the Bag,” a classic cool bop number originally recorded in New Orleans with a couple young local musicians, including pianist Ellis Marsalis and drummer James Black. Ruffins, who collaborated with Marsalis on his 1992 debut album World on a String , pays impressive homage to Adderley’s skill, too often obscured by his brother Cannonball’s fame, and Torkanowsky, a veteran of New Orleans’ highly talented modern jazz ensemble Astral Project , comps with understated grace through most of the tune, breaking out an eloquent, moving solo mid-song in tribute to Marsalis.
The album ends much like it began, with “Some of These Days” a brisk, dixieland-style tune that swings hard and gives everyone in the band a chance to demonstrate why the city that first gave jazz to the world still has so much to offer, from classic compositions and first-rate musicianship to progressive new styles and arrangements of songs both old and new. So grab a cold one, load up a dish of gumbo and enjoy the sounds of the man Down Beat magazine honored as the modern-day embodiment of Satchmo’s smiling soul.
Personnel: David Torkanowsky: piano; Kermit Ruffins: trumpet, vocals; Corey Henry: trombone Eric Traub: saxophone; Neal Caine: double-bass; Michael White: clarinet.