New Orleans jazz – helping to “make America great again?”…
Delfeayo Marsalis & the Uptown Jazz Orchestra – Make America Great Again – Troubadour Jazz TJR103016, 62:48 (9/16/16) ****:
(Delfeayo Marsalis – trombone; Khari Allen Lee – alto & soprano sax; Jeronne Ansari – alto sax; Roderick Paulin – tenor & alto sax; Gregory Agid – clarinet & tenor sax; Scott Johnson – tenor & baritone sax; Roger Lewis – baritone sax; Terrance Taplin, Charles Williams, Jeffery Miller, T. J. Norris, Maurice Trosclair – trombones; Andrew Baham, Scott Frock, Dr. Brice Miller, John Gray, Jamelle Williams – trumpets; Kyle Roussell – piano; Meghan Swartz – piano; David Pulphus – bass. With special guests – Dee-1 – rap; Cynthia Liggins Thomas – vocal; Wendell Pierce – narration; Branford Marsalis – tenor sax; Victor Goines – tenor sax; Oliver Bonie – baritone sax; John Culbreth – trumpet; Jeff Albert – bass trombone; Uptown Music Theatre Choir – Cynthia Liggins Thomas, Tara Alexander, Ebon George, Jazmine Piper-Marsalis, Kiya Henderson, Justice Smith, Celeste Metoyer, Hillary Vaucresson)
Jazz artists are not typically political junkies, with some notable exceptions, i.e Bob Brookmeyer, and Charlie Haden. However, many jazz musicians have keen hip observational skills in finding hypocrisy when it rears its ugly head. At the epicenter of hipness you’ll find New Orleans. How appropriate then to find native NOLA resident, Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Orchestra skewering our present political season with its new issue of Make America Great Again. They deftly point out that those that want to return the country to the “good ol’ days” may have a selective memory that excludes some hard-fought battles for social justice for all its citizens.
By blending patriotic themes (“Star Spangled Banner, “Fanfare for the Common Man”) with New Orleans’ sassy grooves (“Snowball, “Second Line” and “Java”) along with pithy social commentary on Marsalis’ originals (“Back to Africa” and “Living Free and Running Wild”), the Orchestra blends a deep funky groove to help leaven any heaviness. Its rollicking big band “in your face” swagger is a constant all along the way.
After a relatively straight ahead version of our national anthem, the band gets down to business with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s “Snowball.” It features Roger Lewis’ raucous, belching baritone sax. Ellington’s tribute to New Orleans, “Second Line” is just what you might expect from Duke, sophisticated riffs that match the Crescent City’s stature. Gregory Agid shines on the clarinet and the brass section and saxes compete mightily. The only thing missing is a visual of jitterbuggers flying across the dance floor.
“Back to Africa” has NOLA rapper Dee-1 along with the Uptown Music Theatre Choir commenting on the flavor of New Orleans deriving from slave roots. The title track with noted actor, Wendell Pierce, tackles directly themes from our just concluded presidential campaign. It takes no prisoners in a biting social commentary. Its lyrics are proudly presented on the liner notes of this issue.
“Dream on Robben” is a rousing elegiac tribute to Nelson Mandela. “Symphony in Riffs” is from Benny Carter and its silky smooth swing theme is enhanced by Andrew Baham’s trumpet solo. “Put Your Right Foot Forward” written by the Rebirth Brass Band has Roger Lewis on bari sax leading the way. Lewis is a NOLA treasure and a fixture on the scene for sixty plus years. He played behind Fats Domino and is a founding member of both Dirty Dozen and the Uptown Orchestra. “Living Free and Running Wild” is a vocal paean to when America was an open land populated by Native Americans before the Europeans came.
The jazz tradition is honored by swinging readings of “All of Me” and “Skylark” on which Delfeayo’s lyrical trombone is featured. It is followed by Allen Toussaint’s “Java” on which Roderick Paulin on tenor handles the familiar theme with aplomb. The always-welcome “Fanfare for the Common Man” is a striking reminder of the need for understanding and compassion. The Mandela theme, “Dream on Robben,” done as an instrumental, concludes this invigorating release. It’s feel good music, an elixir for some contentious times in our country, and a plea for an inclusive vision.
Star Spangled Banner, Snowball, Second Line, Back to Africa, Make America Great Again, Dream on Robben, Symphony in Riffs, Put Your Right Foot Forward, All of Me, Living Free and Running Wild, Skylark, Java, Fanfare for the Common Man, Dream on Robben (instrumental bonus track)
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