Think you know New Orleans music? Think again. While the Neville Brothers and Dr. John are true legends of the Crescent City Sound, listen up as one of the Big Easy’s own dishes on five bands that will make you feel a good kind of dirty. Most of these bands don’t travel much, so consider venturing down from the Blue Ridge to the Bayou.
WORLD BEAT DOWN
Panorama Jazz Band Come Out Swinging
The Panorama Jazz Band plays music from all around the globe, and every note and nuance is designed to make you shake your ass. Panorama features the classic New Orleans jazz ensemble instrumentation—a front line of clarinet, trombone, and saxophone with a rhythm section comprised of tuba drum set and banjo—and their new release Come Out Swinging features everything from American swing to klezmer to Bulgarian mazurkas. Think the Asylum Street Spankers without the irony but with a well-worn passport.
Dumpstaphunk Listen Hear
You are probably aware of New Orleans’ place in the funk tradition (see The Meters, Allen Toussaint), but the gnarliest stuff coming out of this town these days is from Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. Their CD Listen Hear is full-impact funk. And they are road dogs, so you can go get hit in the head in person. Like Sly Stone and Fishbone had a baby and lit it on fire.
Wazozo Newton Circus
Belgian-born Helen Gillet’s Wazozo plays French chansons and musettes that are, simply put, charming. Gillet sings in French while accompanying herself on cello with help from Daron Douglas on violin, Luke Brectelsbauer on harp, and Gregory Hood on guitar. On their debut, Newton Circus, much of the material is taken from such artists as Edith Piaf and Georges Brassens, but the beauty and wit are entirely original.
Narcissy is the greatest band in the known universe and I’ll tell you why: 1. They have the coolest band name; 2. Front man Jay Holland will play the guitar in his pants; 3. They have songs with such titles as “Stairway To Hell” and “I Hate The South” (full disclosure: Holland is from Pensacola, Florida). In short, super sludgy rawk.
The Naked Orchestra From Pandemonium To A View Of Eidolons
There are 23 musicians and one conductor on the new Naked Orchestra CD and each one is indispensable. The brainchild of guitarist-composer Jonathan Freilich, the group was formed a decade ago “to see what it would sound like.” For kicks, Freilich writes operas. Most of New Orleans’ greatest creative musicians are heard here interpreting Mr. Freilich’s compositions, along with offerings by the ensemble’s conductor Dr. Jimbo Walsh and Richard Theodore a.k.a. Harry Lenz. How to describe? Mingus at a barn burning. Almost crime-jazzy. Not for the faint of heart. The recording was made just a few days before Hurricane Katrina and was only mixed and released recently. From a seemingly simpler time, but you wouldn’t know it. Don’t be afraid. It’s fun to drive to.
Alex McMurray is a New Orleans guitarist, singer, and songwriter. His latest CD is How To Be A Cannonball.