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Dr. Michael White: Jazz From the Soul of New Orleans

This album is charming in its simplicity and evocation of early New Orleans jazz. Dr. Michael White’s clarinet playing derives from George Lewis, the New Orleans clarinetist whose ensemble and solo style favored melody over hot-fingered, hot-lipped virtuosity. The tunes include traditional standards plus hymns, blues and a couple of Spanish-tinged White originals.

Eight other instrumentalists and two singers appear with the leader in various configurations. The trumpet-trombone-clarinet frontline pieces (“Hindustan,” “Fidgety Feet,” White’s “Caribbean Girl,” et. al.) march along on clear, uncongested melodic polyphony and harmony, arpeggio-laced solos and an infectious, danceable beat. Lucien Barbarin is the trombonist. Gregory Stafford and Clyde Kerr alternate on trumpet. Stafford also sings “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” with a joyous, knocked-out charm. Juanita Brooks handles the vocal on White’s recently composed “If We Ever Needed Jesus,” and Thais Clark takes over on his innuendo-filled “Horn Man Blues.”

White steps out front with the rhythm section for “Summertime,” a formally structured clarinet feature that builds to a climactic coda. Here and elsewhere the rhythm players (banjoist and guitarist Detroit Brooks, pianist Steven Pistorius or Rickie Monie, bassist and tuba player Kerry Lewis and drummer Herman Lebeaux) show admirable fidelity to tradition and an ensemble focus.

I hope this album won’t be judged in the context of today’s infighting by neoconservatives versus progressives. It seems to exist unpretentiously on its own considerable merits without need of philosophical or political baggage.

Originally Published