michael white's new moon

Of all the recent recordings from musicians born-and-raised in New Orleans--and there are several notable ones--the one I've focused on lately is Dr. Michael White's Blue Crescent (Basin Street Records). It's an important marker in one man's spiritual and musical rebirth since Katrina. Here's my Blu Notes column in this month's Jazziz magazine on White:

Back to life

by Larry Blumenfeld

NEW ORLEANS IS TWO PLACES NOW: one, loudly welcoming tourists back; the other, a silent stretch of barren homes. There's danger and dislocation around many corners, yet it's hard to feel more secure and connected than while dancing through the streets behind a brass band in a Sunday second line. It's still too soon to fully grasp the effect of the floods that followed Hurricane Katrina. And we've only just begun to hear real echoes of the experience as channeled through music.

Dr. Michael White's Blue Crescent (Basin Street) offers careful musical consideration of questions that are at once highly personal and broadly aesthetic: What did all this mean? How do we move forward without forsaking -- but, rather, by nurturing -- what we once held dear? The album is "not intended to be another trendy 'Katrina CD' or an escape from and cover-up of reality," writes the clarinetist and Xavier University professor in his liner notes.

White has spent the nearly three years since the floods in his own pained state of transition, shuttling between Houston, where he'd relocated, and New Orleans, where he'd kept a trailer near his office at Xavier. (He's since moved back into his childhood home in the Carrollton section of town.) He lost nearly all the contents of his one-story home, including thousands of books and recordings; transcriptions of music from Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, and other jazz pioneers; vintage clarinets dating from the 1880s to the 1930s; and photographs and memorabilia, including used banjo strings and reeds tossed off by early 20th-century musical heroes.

Yet the challenge at the heart of this new CD -- how to keep an endangered music alive while staying true to the present moment -- has long occupied White. Even before Katrina, he sensed a gradual fading away of the musical tradition of brass-band players clad in white shirts, ties, and black-banded caps, playing everything from hymns and marches to blues and jazz, always with swinging rhythms, complex group improvisation, and specific three-trumpet harmonies.

"There was something about that sound," White told me last year when I visited his Xavier office, recalling the moment high-school band director Edwin Hampton first played him a 1950s recording of the Olympia Brass Band. He peered over the jagged pile of books and CDs atop his desk -- including the red notebook in which, during the weeks following the hurricane, he'd jotted down the names and whereabouts of colleagues -- and shared more early epiphanies: the first funeral he played with trumpeter Doc Paulin's Brass Band, and the recording he picked up on a whim, by clarinetist George Lewis, that turned out to be his most profound discovery. More recently, over the phone, White confessed that he hadn't written much good music since the floods -- until a December residency at a local artists' retreat, A Studio in the Woods. There, the music flowed from him in torrents. "It was like I came back to life," he said.

The 12 original compositions on White's new CD reflect the range of emotions White sorted through in retreat: the title track's wistful reverie; the prideful confidence of "Majestic Strut"; the celebratory spirit of "Crescent City Calypso"; and the ominous minor-key theme to "Dark Sunshine." White colors his traditional songs with a broad palette of influences. Some are historically minded, as with the Spanish and French Caribbean dance passages of "Ooh La La (Danse Créole)," while others are more experimental, such as the South African harmonies during an ensemble section of that same song.

For Blue Crescent, White assembled longtime members of his Original Liberty Jazz Band,including trumpeter Greg Stafford and trombonist Lucien Barbarin, as well as New Orleans natives who don't often perform with him, such as trumpeter Nicholas Payton, who shines throughout. "I wanted to foster what we have on the streets here every day," White explained, "old friends and new friends sharing their reality." Such musical conversation turns especially deep on "Katrina," a dirge scored for jazz ensemble, and the album's only explicit evocation of tragedy. It's not a traditional dirge, not meant for a brass band. There's no tuba anchoring the music. The band includes both piano and banjo. There's less of the traditional ensemble playing and more individual lines of melody and improvisation, hints of dance-band oriented traditional jazz. White meant this as an amalgam of the musical styles he treasures as much as anything he lost in the storm. "Everybody has their own Katrina story," he said. "The idea was to let that happen musically." 


June 4, 2008 10:17 AM | | Comments (0)


Leave a comment


Evan Christopher Django à la Créole (Lejazzetal) 

Clarinetist Evan Christopher, a California native, moved to New Orleans in 1994. In his frequent duets with Tom McDermott, and as a standout member of trumpeter Irvin Mayfield's New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, his erudite and personalized approach to traditional jazz commands attention.

Dr. Michael White Blue Crescent (Basin Street) 

Long before the floods that devastated his city, clarinetist Michael White wrestled with the challenge of preserving New Orleans traditional jazz without embalming it. He sought to write tunes built on time-honored local forms that spoke to the here-and-now. But Dr. White struggled to compose anything at all during the past three years--until late 2007, when original music began pouring forth.

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Red Earth: A Malian Journey (DDB Records/Emarcy/Universal) Despite her place in the top rank of American jazz vocalists and her crossover success, Dee Dee Bridgewater has often felt displaced. "I'm always trying to fit in somewhere," she once told me. This new disc, which finds Ms. Bridgewater and her band in collaboration with a cast of Malian musicians and singers, is no further pose:
David Murray Black Saint Quartet featuring Cassandra Wilson Sacred Ground (Justin Time) 
Long among the strongest, most adventurous reedmen in jazz,
Joe Zawinul Brown Street (Heads Up) 
The list of great Viennese composers must include Zawinul--same for the honor roll of jazz innovators.
more listengood


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by ListenGood published on June 4, 2008 10:17 AM.

dr. john's healthy dose of rage was the previous entry in this blog.

vision fest looks at new orleans is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.