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

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Dr Brice Miller, Steve Glenn, Barney Floyd. Photo credit Danilo Navas
Dr Brice Miller, Steve Glenn, Barney Floyd. Photo credit Danilo Navas

The soli by dueling trumpeters Ashlin Parker and Ricio Fruge was humourously set up by an outrageously funny story by Adonis Rose and the orchestra also seemed to revel in the high and mighty brassy quarrel. There were also moments of great showmanship and musicianship during other songs – such as the challenge to percussionist Alexey Marti who responded with a masterful tumbadora introduction to “Tequila”, the gigantic 1958 hit song by Danny Flores for his group The Champs. The orchestra also brought to life the song’s famous dirty-sax solo. Trevarri Huff-Boone also shone on baritone saxophone. And if you thought that the tuba dwelt in the shadows of the stage, perish the thought, for Steven Glenn – a virtuoso on the diabolically difficult-to-play instrument – seized his moment in the spotlight with a breathtaking solo.

Some of the finest moments of the night also came during the songs that featured the two vocalists on that memorable evening

The finest moment together of Miss Gabrielle Cavassa and the velvet-voiced trombonist Michael Watson, whose vocal turn was at times even evocative of the great Al Jarreau, came with a glorious ballad, “With You in Mind”, which turned into a kind of enactment of the true love story envisioned by Mr Toussaint when he penned this ballad. Miss Cavassa also shone on Duke Ellington’s monumental song “Come Sunday”.

The song was written by The Duke in 1942, becoming the first part of his iconic “Black, Brown and Beige” suite. It’s most celebrated recording came in 1958 when Mahalia Jackson sang the lyric in the 1958 recording Black Brown and Beige (Columbia).

Gabrielle Cassava, Michael Watson. Photo credit: Danilo Navas
Gabrielle Cassava, Adonis Rose, Michael Watson, Chris Butcher, Terrance Taplin. Photo credit: Danilo Navas

Another breathtaking version came in 1965 when Queen Esther Morrow sang the song on Duke Ellington’s Concert of Sacred Music (RCA), the first in a trilogy of Sacred Concert recordings by the grand master of Jazz. Miss Cavassa “wept” the lyric in a benchmark version that night as she sang with extraordinary Gospel fervor and pathos especially when singing this, Alice Babs’ poetic entreaty:

“Lord, dear Lord above, God almighty,
God of love, please look down and see my people through.”

Miss Cavassa is an extraordinary interpreter of song and the work of Duke Ellington, of Mr Toussaint and others seemed to speak to her in a very special way. She surely had the audience hanging on to her every word that she sang with smoky eloquence. Michael Watson, was just as riveting when he was called upon to sing. The orchestra responded splendidly to both singers.

New Orleans Jazz Orchestra full band. Photo credit Danilo Navas
New Orleans Jazz Orchestra full band. Photo credit Danilo Navas

There is much to be said of the orchestra’s rhythm section and this is often left unsaid; left, as it were, in the back of the stage where not much of the spotlight shines because it’s almost always focused on the soloists. But the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra also boasted a superb drummer in Gerald Watkins and a marvellous bassist in Amina Michele Scott, who played with sinewy ingenuity, giving the music muscularity that it so greatly deserved. Miss Scott will be remembered because of the musicality she brought to her instrument and not only because she was the only woman in the group (other than Miss Cavassa, that is).

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