Avant-garde art has been described as seeking innovation through experimentation, preferring novelty to formula and defying existing convention. The term "avant-garde traditionalism" could be a way to describe the music of New Orleans pianist Tom McDermott. Although it is rooted in the traditions of his adopted city, he pushes boundaries with his quirky compositions and interest in eclectic styles, such as Brazilian choro, McDermott, active there since 1984, is not as well known outside of New Orleans as he deserves to be. Over the years he has made a series of duets with the clarinetist Evan Christopher, the doyen of the New Orleans Contemporary /traditional new wave. Almost Native is their third collaboration.
The pairing of McDermott and Christopher is an interesting one. Christopher, one of the most expressive musicians in jazz today, is the primary exponent today of the New Orleans clarinet tradition of Sidney Bechet and Barney Bigard where emotional expression was emphasized. In contrast, McDermott takes a utilitarian approach to the piano in the tradition of Jelly Roll Morton where simplicity of interpretation provides a good contrast to Christopher's dynamism. You never feel they're trying to compete with each other; there's always a sense of collaboration much like a dance team in which both have the chance to individually shine.
Almost Native, consists of nine selections written by McDermott and two by Christopher. Subtitled Music From New Orleans and Beyond, Almost Native also explores tangential styles including tango, musette and beguine. It is a mélange of emotional moods and scenes. This range includes the mystery of a dark New Orleans Tango Quarter street in "Tango Ambiguo," the nostalgic musette "Le Ménage Rouge," the appropriately named Monkish "Spooky Blues" to the playful rhumba rhythm of "Heavy Henry." The dancing Brazilian Choro is represented by "Choro Em Paris" and the bonus track originally on the CD New Orleans Duets (Rabadash Records 2009), "Irresitivel." Christopher plays particularly tenderly on his own contribution, the gospel waltz "A Waltz for All Souls" and passionately on his beguine "Tande Sak Fe Loraj Gwonde." McDermott solos on the ho downish "The Dont-Mess-With-My Two-Step" and "Musette in A Minor." His most exciting moment is when he breaks into full stride in "March of the Pony Girls" while Christopher plays obbligato behind him. At the end is a sweet surprise where his solo piano selection Musette in A Minor is reprised on the Accordion.
The piano/horn jazz duet does not come quickly to mind as being part of the New Orleans jazz tradition but this format was first recorded by Jelly Roll Morton and Joseph "King" Oliver in 1924. Almost Native is an emotionally satisfying addition to this tradition.
Tango Ambiguo; Heavy Henry; Waltz for All Souls; Le Manège Rouge; Spooky Blues (for Booker)/Quite Enough Blues; The Don't Mess With My Two-Step; Chorando Em Paris; Tandé Sak Fé Loraj Gwondé; Musette in A Minor; March Of The Pony Girls; Irresistivel.
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