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  • Monday, April 20, 2009
    NY Times: Allen Toussaint "Shines Up" Jazz Standards on "The Bright Mississippi"

    Allen Toussaint's Nonesuch solo debut album, The Bright Mississippi is set for release tomorrow, and already the critical response on both sides of the Atlantic has been outstanding. Produced by Joe Henry, the record includes songs by such jazz greats as Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Billy Strayhorn, and features a stellar band: clarinetist Don Byron, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist David Piltch, and percussionist Jay Bellerose, with pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman each joining Toussaint for a track.

    In this week's Critics' Choice of new releases, the New York Times's Ben Ratliff describes the album as "a work of the imagination," one of "reconfigured Americana, magic regionalism," and ultimately, one that works because of what Toussaint brings to it:

    Mr. Toussaint brings to these songs his own elegant, reserved sensibility. He doesn’t rip them apart or interrogate them on the harmonic or rhythmic terms with which they’ve usually been met; he shines them up and levels them out into slow-rolling and grandiloquent New Orleans songs, full of tremolo chords and serenity no matter whether they were written by Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk or Django Reinhardt. Given plenty of space to be themselves, the improvisers in the band play on Mr. Toussaint’s wavelength, getting into the gentle good times, no matter where they lie on the spectrum of the jazz tradition.

    Ratliff contends that The Bright Mississippi "is a jazz record for people who think they don’t like jazz—as [the 2007 T Bone Burnett-produced Robert Plant / Alison Krauss collaboration] Raising Sand is a country record for people who think they don’t like country ..."

    Read the complete review at nytimes.com.

    ---

    The Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot gives four stars to the new album. It's one that "puts the focus squarely on his most underrated gift," his expert piano playing, with an "all-star band" that deftly "follows the master's lead." Kot credits producer Joe Henry with capturing the "palpable sense of in-the-room atmosphere and urgency" of the recording studio. "Whether embroidering the impishness of Thelonious Monk on the title song or delving into the tragic heart of 'St. James Infirmary,'" Kot concludes, "Toussaint affirms he's equal to the material. Both are absolutely top-notch." Read the review at chicagotribune.com.

    ---

    The Independent (UK)'s Andy Gill gives four stars to the album and describes Toussaint as "the jewel in New Orleans's crown, not merely the most distinctive of soul songwriter/producers, but a virtuoso piano stylist with an unparalleled knowledge of the city's musical development."

    Gill compares the collection to Dr. John's Gumbo "as a repository of Crescent City styles." Joined though he is "by a peerless band" on the album, Gill says, "[t]he standout track is Toussaint's solo take on Jelly Roll Morton's 'Winin' Boy Blues.' It's a bravura performance that bears out Van Dyke Parks's estimation of Toussaint as 'the greatest piano player alive.'" Read the full review at independent.co.uk.

    The album comes "highly recommended" from Gill's colleague at The Independent, Nick Coleman, who sees "Toussaint's deconstructive yet lyrical piano at the centre of everything, pushing, teasing, floating the music out of its genre box with gentle intensity. It is very beautiful in parts." You can read Coleman's review at independent.co.uk as well.

    ---

    The BBC's Louis Pattison describes the new record as "a more personal landmark" for Toussaint than some of his recent projects, focusing as it does on jazz standards, with the result "both confident and relaxed, familiar tunes made over with characterful arrangements that suggest that while Toussaint may have made his living playing rock, rhythm and blues, something of old Orleans is in his blood."

    Given that there's just one track featuring vocals from Toussaint ("Long, Long Journey") Pattison longs for more of it, nevertheless concluding, "It's a small complaint, though, for an album that shows a new old side to an American original."

    Read the full review at bbc.co.uk.

    ---

    Clive Davis of London's Sunday Times says "Toussaint’s slyly funky phrasing adds an inimitable taste of Bourbon Street" to the proceedings, calling it "very much Toussaint's show." The Observer's Neil Spencer says that through his performance on the new record, "soul auteur Toussaint" show "that the fun was always in the Big Easy's blood."

    ---

    Also, on today's episode of Soundcheck on WNYC, 93.9 FM, in New York, the show marks the start of Jazz Fest in New Orleans this coming weekend by examining how the city's musicians are working to stay in the spotlight, four years after Hurricane Katrina. Tune in at 2 PM ET today or listen online at wnyc.org.

    Allen performs a number of sets at various venues around New Orleans over the festival's two weeks, culminating in a set at its main stage on closing day. Visit nonesuch.com/on-tour for more information on those and other upcoming performances.

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NY Times: Allen Toussaint "Shines Up" Jazz Standards on "The Bright Mississippi"

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on April 20, 2009 - 12:12pm
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Publish date: 
Monday, April 20, 2009 - 16:00
Excerpt: 

Allen Toussaint's Nonesuch solo debut album, The Bright Mississippi is set for release tomorrow. "Mr. Toussaint brings to these songs his own elegant, reserved sensibility," says the New York Times. "He doesn’t rip them apart or interrogate them on the harmonic or rhythmic terms with which they’ve usually been met; he shines them up and levels them out into slow-rolling and grandiloquent New Orleans songs, full of tremolo chords and serenity no matter whether they were written by Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk or Django Reinhardt." The Chicago Tribune gives four stars to the "top-notch" new album; The Independent gives it four stars too and describes Toussaint as "the jewel in New Orleans's crown," citing one track as "a bravura performance that bears out Van Dyke Parks's estimation of Toussaint as 'the greatest piano player alive.'"

Copy: 

Allen Toussaint's Nonesuch solo debut album, The Bright Mississippi is set for release tomorrow, and already the critical response on both sides of the Atlantic has been outstanding. Produced by Joe Henry, the record includes songs by such jazz greats as Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Billy Strayhorn, and features a stellar band: clarinetist Don Byron, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist David Piltch, and percussionist Jay Bellerose, with pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman each joining Toussaint for a track.

In this week's Critics' Choice of new releases, the New York Times's Ben Ratliff describes the album as "a work of the imagination," one of "reconfigured Americana, magic regionalism," and ultimately, one that works because of what Toussaint brings to it:

Mr. Toussaint brings to these songs his own elegant, reserved sensibility. He doesn’t rip them apart or interrogate them on the harmonic or rhythmic terms with which they’ve usually been met; he shines them up and levels them out into slow-rolling and grandiloquent New Orleans songs, full of tremolo chords and serenity no matter whether they were written by Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk or Django Reinhardt. Given plenty of space to be themselves, the improvisers in the band play on Mr. Toussaint’s wavelength, getting into the gentle good times, no matter where they lie on the spectrum of the jazz tradition.

Ratliff contends that The Bright Mississippi "is a jazz record for people who think they don’t like jazz—as [the 2007 T Bone Burnett-produced Robert Plant / Alison Krauss collaboration] Raising Sand is a country record for people who think they don’t like country ..."

Read the complete review at nytimes.com.

---

The Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot gives four stars to the new album. It's one that "puts the focus squarely on his most underrated gift," his expert piano playing, with an "all-star band" that deftly "follows the master's lead." Kot credits producer Joe Henry with capturing the "palpable sense of in-the-room atmosphere and urgency" of the recording studio. "Whether embroidering the impishness of Thelonious Monk on the title song or delving into the tragic heart of 'St. James Infirmary,'" Kot concludes, "Toussaint affirms he's equal to the material. Both are absolutely top-notch." Read the review at chicagotribune.com.

---

The Independent (UK)'s Andy Gill gives four stars to the album and describes Toussaint as "the jewel in New Orleans's crown, not merely the most distinctive of soul songwriter/producers, but a virtuoso piano stylist with an unparalleled knowledge of the city's musical development."

Gill compares the collection to Dr. John's Gumbo "as a repository of Crescent City styles." Joined though he is "by a peerless band" on the album, Gill says, "[t]he standout track is Toussaint's solo take on Jelly Roll Morton's 'Winin' Boy Blues.' It's a bravura performance that bears out Van Dyke Parks's estimation of Toussaint as 'the greatest piano player alive.'" Read the full review at independent.co.uk.

The album comes "highly recommended" from Gill's colleague at The Independent, Nick Coleman, who sees "Toussaint's deconstructive yet lyrical piano at the centre of everything, pushing, teasing, floating the music out of its genre box with gentle intensity. It is very beautiful in parts." You can read Coleman's review at independent.co.uk as well.

---

The BBC's Louis Pattison describes the new record as "a more personal landmark" for Toussaint than some of his recent projects, focusing as it does on jazz standards, with the result "both confident and relaxed, familiar tunes made over with characterful arrangements that suggest that while Toussaint may have made his living playing rock, rhythm and blues, something of old Orleans is in his blood."

Given that there's just one track featuring vocals from Toussaint ("Long, Long Journey") Pattison longs for more of it, nevertheless concluding, "It's a small complaint, though, for an album that shows a new old side to an American original."

Read the full review at bbc.co.uk.

---

Clive Davis of London's Sunday Times says "Toussaint’s slyly funky phrasing adds an inimitable taste of Bourbon Street" to the proceedings, calling it "very much Toussaint's show." The Observer's Neil Spencer says that through his performance on the new record, "soul auteur Toussaint" show "that the fun was always in the Big Easy's blood."

---

Also, on today's episode of Soundcheck on WNYC, 93.9 FM, in New York, the show marks the start of Jazz Fest in New Orleans this coming weekend by examining how the city's musicians are working to stay in the spotlight, four years after Hurricane Katrina. Tune in at 2 PM ET today or listen online at wnyc.org.

Allen performs a number of sets at various venues around New Orleans over the festival's two weeks, culminating in a set at its main stage on closing day. Visit nonesuch.com/on-tour for more information on those and other upcoming performances.

featuredimage: 
Allen Toussaint, "The Bright Mississippi" [cover]

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