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September 2004

Dr. Michael White
Dancing in the Sky
Basin Street Records

Dancing in the Sky is about as close to old-time New Orleans jazz and its closely related forms as you can get these
days. Dr. Michael White, a professor of African-American music and Spanish and a long-time performer of New Orleans-style clarinet, enlisted some of the Crescent City's finest classic players, along with the modernist trumpet star Nicholas Payton, to enliven 11 of his original compositions and the standards "Down By the Riverside" and "Amazing Grace."

White's lilting "The Hag's Rag" could have been popular in the beginning years of the 20th century, while his "Jambalaya Strut" evokes the effervescent spirit of the Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and Sevens of the late 1920s. On the slow-moving "The Truth of the Blues," the leader's clarinet, accompanied only by guitar, bass, and drums, is languid and poignant, but on the quicker "Give It Up (Gypsy Second Line)" its dancing lines are almost Klezmer-like. "Creole Nights" opens with an atmospheric Ellingtonian sound and "New Orleans Bounce (Out of the Woods)" recreates the jump blues of the mid-20th century. And these are but a sample of the early styles White recreates.

The performers are very proficient in these styles, with trombonist Lucien Barbarin particularly effective at creating compelling choruses out of a few simple riffs. An especially pleasant surprise is the authenticity and skill with which the relatively youthful Payton deals with these historic idioms.

Originally published in September 2004
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