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10/08/11

Dr. Michael White
Adventures in New Orleans Jazz, Part 1
Basin Street Records

Here we find clarinetist Dr. Michael White blending traditional New Orleans jazz with, as he states in his liner notes, “influences and songs from diverse sources, like Africa, the Caribbean and popular music from the 1960s and ’70s.” Since Africa and the Caribbean have been integral to the New Orleans musical gumbo from the beginning of jazz, and since New Orleans artists produced many national R&B hits through at least the mid-’60s, this isn’t too big a stretch. So, genealogy aside, this is a delightful album, a joyful one for the irrepressible soul that shines through on tunes such as “Careless Love” (shout-sung by Cynthia Girtley), “South African Medley” (“Pata Pata” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”), Bob Marley’s “One Love,” Paul Simon’s “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” and the spirituals “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

Dr. White employs 12 musicians in various combinations on the album. Bassist Kerry Lewis’ huge thumping beat is an irresistible contributor to the infectiousness throughout. White’s “West African Strut” introduces the album, with Seguenon Kone on balafon establishing the African mood before White’s clarinet begins to wail New Orleans-style, bringing us from the Motherland to Bourbon Street. “Careless Love,” which follows, conveys old-time charm. “House of the Rising Sun” is a spare, mournful performance that features Detroit Brooks’ banjo alongside White’s licorice stick. In classic NOLA fashion, the theme might be sad but we can rejoice in the soulful expressiveness of the players; White truly has his sound and arpeggio-dominated solo style together. His “Black Stick Rag” further exemplifies this, as does “Basin Street Blues” (which also features Greg Stafford’s trumpet and vocal).

The album is a solid ensemble effort, and the tunes that include a typical New Orleans horn frontline—“South African Medley,” “One Love,” “Haitian Celebration” (“Rara Second Line” by White, and “Haiti Cherie”), White’s “Mpingo Blues” and “Take Me to the Mardi Gras”—are prime examples of give-and-take improvised polyphony of the highest order. White’s enthusiastic articulation and drive, robust tone and faithfulness to the grand New Orleans clarinet tradition make Adventures a charm.

Originally published in October 2011
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