Pianist, writer, producer and arranger Allen Toussaint can justifiably be called a living legend. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he helped define the New Orleans R&B sound of the '60s and '70s through his work with Lee Dorsey
, Irma Thomas
, The Meters
and Dr. John
, then went on to collaborate with rock giants like The Band
, Paul Simon
and Little Feat
. He also produced the funk classic "Lady Marmalade" for LaBelle and wrote "Southern Nights," a number one hit for, of all people, Glen Campbell
Toussaint's first solo effort in more than a decade is a heartfelt tribute to his hometown of New Orleans and the classic jazz on which he grew up. Producer Joe Henry, a jazz-loving rocker who also produced The River in Reverse
, Toussaint's 2006 album with Elvis Costello, surrounds Toussaint here with a talented and eclectic crew including guitarist Marc Ribot
, clarinetist Don Byron
, New Orleans-born trumpeter Nicholas Payton
and, from Henry's own band, bassist David Piltch
and drummer Jay Bellerose. Pianist Brad Mehldau
and saxophonist Joshua Redman
also sit in for a track each: the cerebral modernist Mehldau showing his earthier side on Jelly Roll Morton
's "Winin' Boy Blues" and Redman offering gorgeous, rough-hewn solos on Ellington-Strayhorn's "Day Dream."
Although he's spent his career in other genres, the 71-year-old Toussaint, an heir to the rollicking New Orleans piano style of Professor Longhair
, Fats Domino
and others, is clearly at home playing this music. And the rest of the band feeds off Toussaint's laid-back vibe and obvious joy in revisiting the music of his youth. Highlights include Ribot's spot-on acoustic guitar solos on Ellington's "Solitude" and Django Reinhardt
's "Blue Drag" and Byron's moving clarinet work on the gospel standard "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." The set's most surprising and memorable number is the title track by Thelonious Monk
, which Toussaint and company turn into a strutting New Orleans shuffle.
Egyptian Fantasy; Dear Old Southland; St. James Infirmary; Singin' the Blues; Winin' Boy Blues; West End Blues; Blue Drag; Just a Closer Walk with Thee; Bright Mississippi; Day Dream; Long Long Journey; Solitude.
Allen Toussaint: piano, vocals; Don Byron: clarinet; Nicholas Payton: trumpet; Marc Ribot: acoustic guitar; David Piltch: bass; Jay Bellerose: drums and percussion; Brad Mehldau: piano; Joshua Redman: tenor saxophone.