A lot more than a tribute
Allen Toussaint was a legendary songwriter whose death in 2015 rocked the musical world, so you can imagine the impact it had on his home town of New Orleans. The story goes that city resident and drummer Stanton Moore was about to start recording a new album with bassist James Singleton and pianist David Torkanowsky when the news of Toussaint’s passing came out, as a result they decided not to record their own compositions but to make this homage to the great man instead. It was a good move not least because Moore rallied a swathe of great New Orleans musicians for the project, including Cyril Neville, Trombone Shorty, Maceo Parker and Nicholas Payton. A band that he probably had little difficulty in coaxing great performances out of given the nature of the cause, and for that matter the quality of the songs.
Stanton Moore is a hard working jazz drummer with a recording CV that started in 1996 with funk band Galactic, an outfit with whom he continues to play. Collaborators include Medeski, Martin & Wood as well as members of the Meters, another New Orleans institution to which Moore can trace his musical roots. With You In Mind is his seventh solo album. It starts with the upbeat Here Come the Girls featuring vocals by Neville and Shorty’s stonking trombone playing. This has a big juicy sound thanks to lovely rounded bass and vibrant percussion that drives all with it. It’s followed by another Neville vocal on Life which has a distinctly Steely Dan feel at times, though it’s safe to say that the latter were more than likely influenced by Toussaint in the first place. Here Nicolas Payton and Skerik contribute short trumpet and sax breaks that add to a powerful groove created by Moore’s percussion and Singleton’s bass.
The first instrumental is Java, a song first recorded by Toussaint in 1958 but redolent of an earlier era thanks to rag time themes and a buoyant upbeat vibe that is made fresh in this production. Jolynda Kiki Chapman provides the only female vocal lead on All These Things, a slow ballad that has all the hallmarks of a jazz standard. It’s followed by the superb Night People where Maceo Parker delivers up the funk and Torkanowsky’s electric keyboard fills out the sound to create a near perfect groove. But The Beat beats it with a swampy blues feel where the keys cook up a bubbling gumbo underpinned by a down tempo bass line. Neville’s vocal once more proves why he remains so much in demand.
Riverboat sticks to brass in the form of Payton’s trumpet and David Harrison’s sax, the former’s phrasing making this all the more essential. The title track is a real beauty, just the core of piano, drums and acoustic bass in a reverberant space that sounds good and open. It’s the most touching track of the lot because it’s piano lead reflects Toussaint so well. Southern Nights, a hit for Glen Cambell 40 years ago, has a sonorous voice over intro by Wendell Pierce backed by Moore’s drums which expands into a piano lead instrumental, it’s powerful stuff and a great way to end a very fine album indeed. This is New Orleans jazz at its most fresh and vibrant, music that will appeal whether you’re familiar with Toussaint or a newcomer, I suggest you give it a spin.
– Jason Kennedy