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07/19/12

Dr. Michael White
Adventures in New Orleans Jazz, Part 2
Basin Street Records

Clarinetist Dr. Michael White’s second installment in a project designed to freshen traditional New Orleans material with newer tunes done in that same style has a certain charm; it certainly goes down easy. It’s also limited, and some of White’s choices—particularly a recasting of “Happy Together” that robs the Turtles’ original of its pop charm, and a “Me and Bobby McGee” that bleaches the pathos out of Janis Joplin’s classic—are questionable.

But above all, Adventures is accessible, like a souvenir. It evokes simpler times through simple rhythms, vintage instruments and beats that rarely vary or transcend mid-tempo. The version of “St. James Infirmary” is appropriately weepy, and “Midnight Special,” sparked by White’s smooth solo and the deferential banjo of Detroit Brooks, is endearingly loopy. There’s even occasional depth: Dr. Lonnie Smith’s dirge, the darkling and moving “And the World Weeps,” delivers welcome, surprising and too-rare gravity.

The playing can be luminous: Trumpeter Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown and trombonist Lucien Barbarin give Smith’s tune pizzazz and power, and vocalist Cynthia Girtley brings passion to “Precious Lord.” White’s original, the jaunty “I Love You Too Much to Ever Leave You,” is charming, too, largely due to Gregory Stafford’s vocal turn. White, to his credit, brings a variety of tones to these tracks, keeping the listener moderately engaged in how hard he’s working to keep the second-line tradition alive.

Originally published in July/August 2012
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