I've had the good fortune to spend the last few New Year's Eves in New Orleans, sampling the Crescent City's always-tasty menu of music, food and high-spirited holiday hospitality. But if I were back here in New York and looking for a place to usher in the year with appropriate laissez le bon temps roule flair, I'd make a beeline to the Village Vanguard, where Dr. Michael White transports the Big Easy to the Big Apple each December 31st.
For those who missed his recent stand at the Vanguardor those who know what it means to miss New OrleansWhite's latest release on Basin Street Records may provide a fix. One of the key figures on the New Orleans jazz scene today, Dr. White is a talented clarinetist who operates firmly within the New Orleans tradition but treats that tradition as a living, breathing, evolving art form rather than as a dusty relic suited for the history books.
Dancing in the Sky finds White expanding his skills as a composer, penning eleven of the album's thirteen tunes, which combine blues, rags, swing, gospel, parade music, and sundry other ingredients in a typically New Orleans musical gumbo. Highlights are many, including the uplifting title tune, the strutting Ellingtonia of "Algiers Hoodoo Woman," and the klezmer-meets-New Orleans stomp of "Gypsy Second Line." The fine band of local musicians includes trumpeters Nicholas Payton, Mark Braud and Gregg Stafford, pianist Steve Pistorius and vocalist Thais Clark, who channels the ghost of Alberta Hunter on the naughty novelty number "Angel in the Day (Devil at Night)."
While many of these tunes are plainly derivative, there's a deep joy and spirit to the compositionsand the playingthat's hard to resist. Here's proof that working within the tradition need not be limiting.
Track Listing: Algiers Hoodoo Woman; Dancing in the Sky (Reflection); The Truth of the Blues; Give It Up (Gypsy Second Line); The Hag's Rag; Angel in the Day (Devil at Night); Jambalaya Strut; When the Mighty Mississippi Sleeps; New Orleans Bounce (Out of the Woods); Creole Nights; Down by the Riverside; Amazing Grace; Dancing in the Sky (Transition)
Personnel: Dr. Michael White, clarinet; Lucien Barbarin, trombone; Mark Braud, trumpet; Detroit Brooks, banjo, guitar; Mark Brooks, bass; Thais Clark, vocals; Herman Lebeaux, drums; Kerry Lewis, bass, tuba; Nicholas Payton, trumpet; Steve Pistorius, piano; Greg Stafford, trumpet