New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Putting “Jazz” back in Music

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New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Putting “Jazz” back in Music
Terrance Taplin and Alexey Marti. Photo credit: Danilo Navas

Moreover we got to hear the first solo of the night – a breathtaking one by tenor saxophonist Ricardo Pascal – several bars long (and reminiscent of – if not in length, then certainly in heft – the legendary 27-bar solo taken by Paul Gonsalves with the Duke Ellington Orchestra on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival). This was “Jazz” coming alive, not only – proverbially – in the flesh but, more importantly, in the spirit, just like the day in July when The Duke and his great band performed on Rhode Island. On the 29th of February the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra had just cut loose and there was no looking back.

Inheriting a proverbial mess, Mr Rose rebuilt the orchestra seemingly from the ground up together with other founding members

Adonis Rose, one of the best-known protégés of two famous men: the first was his uncle, Chris Severin, once the bassist in the band of the legendary Allen Toussaint and the other was the great New Orleans drummer and history-come-to-life, Herlin Riley. Mr Rose came to greater prominence when he was called upon to pick up the pieces of The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra after it was hit by the double whammy of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Irvin Mayfield, the founder of this celebrated orchestra (in 2002), who was forced to step down from artistic leadership in 2016. Inheriting a proverbial mess, Mr Rose rebuilt the orchestra seemingly from the ground up together with other founding members, Ed Peterson, Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown and pianist Victor Atkins. After a year in limbo, Mr Rose led the revival of the great orchestra, recording under his leadership an iconic album Songs – The Music of Allen Toussaint (Storyville Records, 2019).

Gerald Watkins and Alexi Marti
Gerald Watkins and Alexey Marti. Photo credit: Atael Weissman

The North American tour of the ensemble brought this music to life again. Seldom has a Jazz orchestral programme (with poignant and joyful vocals mixed in) hung together so perfectly, with each successive song in its repertoire tightening the ratchet of intensity towards the proverbial final burst of explosive energy on “Do What You Wanna” with which the programme ended. It helped that all of the performers directed by Adonis Rose – from the brass and woodwinds to the rhythms section and featured vocalist – the seductive-voiced Gabrielle Cavassa – who worked together like a well-oiled machine to create the rippling Jazz grooves.

Every one of these masterful musicians were at the top of their powers and it seemed that everyone had interiorised Mr Toussaint’s music perfectly. So much so that they seem to effortlessly swing their way through the technical challenges – and there certainly are some, especially on “It’s Raining” and “Southern Nights”. One of the remarkable moments early on in the programme came when the orchestra showcased “Working in the Coal Mine”; alto saxophonist Khari Allen Lee not only shone on his instrument, but also brought the house down with his Blues shout at the end of the song.

Victor Atkins (piano), Khari Allen Lee and the saxophones section. Photo credit- Atael Weissman
Victor Atkins (piano), Khari Allen Lee and the saxophones section. Photo credit- Atael Weissman

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