by Bea Willis
Everyone involved in jazz knows the significance that New Orleans has on jazz. It is a very special gumbo of traditional Dixieland, straight ahead jazz and most importantly a style of music that also reflects soul and African rhythms. The New Orleans online website truly describes and reflects the meaning of why and how jazz became, “In the late 19th century, while the rest of America was stomping their feet to military marches, and New Orleans was dancing to VooDoo rhythms.
New Orleans was the only place in the New World where slaves were allowed to own drums. VooDoo rituals were openly tolerated, and well attended by the rich as well as the poor, by blacks and whites, by the influential and the anonymous. It was in New Orleans that the bright flash of European horns ran into the dark rumble of African drums; it was like lightning meeting thunder. The local cats took that sound and put it together with the music they heard in churches and the music they heard in barrooms, and they blew a new music, a wild, jubilant music. It made people feel free. It made people feel alive! It made people get up and dance. And they danced to the birth of American music. And nobody played it like they played it in New Orleans, a city already used to feeling jubilant, and expressing its jubilation. A city where you could dance down the middle of the street, in the middle of the daytime, in the middle of the week, and instead of people wondering why you weren’t at work, they’d be wondering how they could join you. The glory of New Orleans is that it’s still that way today. Everyone loves a parade. Everything is touched by the joyous anarchy called New Orleans Jazz. And everybody’s middle name is Celebrate.”
Love is a celebration of what is best about jazz, the spiritual mixed in with secular, but with no separation of church and state. The New Orleans style celebrates that both are treated as jazz, as truly it is the roots of this music. Its gentrification in today’s times, is what is starting to lack in the genre itself. Pianist Matt Lemmler exemplifies this spirit in his latest offering simply entitled Love, it is the most powerful and basic word that all humans need. The album is filled with spirituals, jazz tunes and originals that reflect the many facets of this well-versed musician. Could it be called a religious album, it could – but then that would be discounting the fact that in honesty that is what jazz is. A genre of music that is based in VooDoo rituals, hence the religious overtones. For most Orleanian residents, it’s about great music that has soul in it, and certainly that is what this album is about. There is a bonus disc sub-titled Love – Southern Songs & Sonatas, that is a live performance celebrating the Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s tenth Anniversary, Lemmler was commissioned to compose and arrange original music that was inspired by the Ogden’s permanent art collection. Tunes like “Spirits” embody what I call the Orleanian sound. Filled with soulful playing that lifts your spirits with top-shelf performances and band members such as the royal family’s kin Jason Marsalis on drums and vibraphone.
Also, on this disc is “Animal Funk Party” another tune I really dug, its melody had a nice motivic sensibility. Lemmler shines on this tune, his use of colorization works well, heavy handed in his style, it certainly drives the band to propel their solo performances. Rex Gregory on soprano saxophone is not to be missed on this tune, his soloing is reverent, while guitarist Shane Theriot weighs in with a gritty, funk-based solo filled with emotion on his single lines. Lemmler and I am talking Michael Lemmler this time, pours out a synth solo that is worth noting. This tune cooks with all the spices and flavors you would expect from a southern song.
There are many tunes to choose from on this double disc, from smoking originals, to spirituals to jazz standards to pop mainstays. A cornucopia of sounds and textures, but certainly well worth the taste, if you are a gumbo fan, this mix will seal your appetite. Don’t expect one style or genre but do expect great music based in soulful performances.
Tracks to sample first: “Spirits,” “Animal Funk Party.” The song to take a chance on is “In My Life”.