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The Graham Album Review #1906

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Stanton Moore: With You in Mind
by George Graham

(Mascot Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/2/2017)

New Orleans has always had a unique place in music. The Crescent City’s multi-ethnic heritage has imbued its music with that cross-cultural foundation. From the start of Dixieland jazz, to the second-line brass band tradition, to its distinctive piano style of artists like Professor Longhair, to the soul and rhythm and blues that the city became well-known for, there is something about the New Orleans’ music that that sets it apart and gives it a wide appeal.

Over the years, there have been figures who have been key to the New Orleans scene, going back to Louis Armstrong, to the aforementioned Professor Longhair, to more contemporary people like Dr. John and the Neville Brothers. Another of those very influential figures was Allen Toussaint, a prolific songwriter, producer, pianist, record company executive and in later years a more recognized performer in his own right. Toussaint passed away suddenly in November 2015 while on tour in Spain. Tributes to Toussaint have been appearing, and this time, we have a particularly interesting one involving New Orleans musicians performing Toussaint’s songs in often-unexpected ways, without losing the New Orleans groove. It’s by drummer Stanton Moore, and it’s called With You in Mind (The Songs of Allen Toussaint).

Stanton Moore is a busy and versatile drummer who has been a member of the funk band Galactic since the 1990s. He has released some previous solo recordings that were mainly instrumental and strong on a funk beat. Moore’s musical partners on this album are a long-running but on-and-off trio of keyboard man David Torkanowsky and bassist James Singleton. All are busy as studio musicians and on stage with other headliners. They originally had planned a joint mostly jazz album, but when the news came of the death of Toussaint a kind of mentor for many on the New Orleans soul scene, the trio put aside the tunes they were working on, and turned it into a tribute album for Toussaint. They brought in a number of New Orleans guests, including Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers, Trombone Shorty and jazzmen Nicholas Payton and Donald Harrison. They perform ten Toussaint songs from the well-known to more obscure material, including a set of lyrics that Toussaint left behind that the band set to music. The interpretations range from funk to more-or-less straight-ahead jazz.

Going in to the project Moore had studio time booked for the jazz album, for which they had prepared, but in the wake of the death of Toussaint, Moore decided to make it into a tribute recording, they ended up doing last minute arrangement ideas, and setting up for some guest cameos. But it came together well, and the result is an enjoyable album, especially for those who are fans of the New Orleans funk and soul groove.

Opening is a song called Here Come the Girls, which Toussaint wrote for Ernie K-Doe in 1970. Cyril Neville does the lead vocal with a horn section including Trombone Shorty. Stanton Moore and the group give the song a kind an edge but keep it soulful. <<>>

That is followed by one of the album’s more creative arrangements. It’s one Toussaint’s better known compositions, Life which the group puts into a 7/4 time signature. Neville again is heard on the lead vocal while jazz trumpet man Nicholas Payton is also featured. <<>>

One of two instrumentals on the album is Java which was a big hit for Al Hirt in the early 1960s. Payton is again featured on the trumpet, while another prominent contemporary New Orleans jazz man Donald Harrison is heard on alto sax with Trombone Shorty featured as well. Moore and his group give it a real New Orleans second-line groove. <<>>

The album gets into more mainstream jazz on a couple of tracks. A Toussaint piece called All These Things features Jolynda Kiki Chapman, daughter of veteran New Orleans jazz singer Topsy Chapman. The result is very tasteful. <<>>

Moore explains that he obtained a book of poetry that Toussaint had written, and in it he found a poem that Toussaint had not recorded, called The Beat, which Moore and company frames as a drum groove with the words recited by Cyril Neville. The result is quite interesting and creative. <<>>

Maceo Parker, the saxophonist known for his work with James Brown is featured guest on a song called Night People with the vocal again by Cyril Neville. The band turns up the funk, appropriately. <<>>

Another creative treatment of a familiar Allen Toussaint song is Everything I Do Gone Be Funky, originally recorded by Lee Dorsey in 1970. Moore and company put it in a 5/4 time which gives the song a whole other spin. <<>>

The album ends with a song that Allen Toussaint often ended his own performances with, Southern Nights, which was a big hit for Glen Campbell. Moore and company again give the song and entirely different approach. The lyrics are recited by actor and New Orleans native Wendell Pierce to Stanton Moore’s drums. <<>> Then the piece turns into a slow Gospel-influenced bluesy organ feature, with trumpeter Nicholas Payton on the organ as well as trumpet. <<>>

Stanton Moore’s new album With You In Mind – the Songs of Allen Toussaint is a creative project paying tribute to the late New Orleans songwriter and musical institution. There is a nice cross section of Toussaint’s work from his funky tunes to soul ballads to jazz, with arrangements that are often quite different from the original, but are still very imbued with the distinctive New Orleans sound. The album came together on short notice after Moore changed his plans upon hearing of the death of Toussaint. But the process worked out very well, with the creative arrangement and some first-rate New Orleans musicians appearing, including Cyril Neville, Nicholas Payton, and Trombone Shorty. All the players are first rate and seem to be making an extra effort to pay tribute to Toussaint.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The sound is clean and warm, with a nice punch to the funk beats. There are no inappropriate studio effects, in fact, there is almost no reverb used in the recording. The dynamic range, how well the recording reproduces the differences between loud and soft, is decent and above average for contemporary pop albums.

Tribute projects tend to be quite variable in quality, especially multi-artist anthologies. Stanton Moore and his New Orleans-based group put together an enjoyable album that is both musically eclectic and coherent from the underlying trio of Stanton Moore, David Torkanowsky and James Singleton, who work with several Crescent City guests. I’m sure Allen Toussaint would approve.

(c) Copyright 2017 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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This page last updated August 07, 2017