SummaryThrough his work as producer, composer, arranger and consummate session man, New Orleans native Allen Toussaint has truly earned living-legend status. He's collaborated on landmark recordings for such artists as Ernie K. Doe, Lee Dorsey, Dr. John, the Meters, the Pointer Sisters and Labelle and released acclaimed albums of his own. The 70 year-old pianist, already a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee, was the recipient, on the recent Grammy Awards telecast, of the Recording Academy's prestigious Trustee Award, honoring a lifetime in the studio, both behind the scenes and in front of the mic. On The Bright Mississippi, his Nonesuch debut, Toussaint continues to break new ground with his first jazz-oriented set, displaying the same effortless swing and relaxed charm he brought to his classic rock and roll sides. He salutes Big Easy stars of a previous generation, the jazz greats who, in the early 20th century, built the genre from the ground up and turned the ears of the world to New Orleans.
Backed by an all-star combo that sounds like a group of old friends, Toussaint reinterprets classic jazz and blues tunes popularized or written by such New Orleans greats as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton and Joe "King" Oliver, as well as pieces composed by fellow travelers Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. He accedes the producer's chair to trusted friend Joe Henry, who sat behind the board for Toussaint's contributions to Our New Orleans, Nonesuch Records' best-selling 2005 benefit disc aiding hurricane victims on the Gulf Coast. Henry also produced The River In Reverse, Toussaint's 2006 post-Katrina collaboration with Elvis Costello. Henry assembled a decidedly non-traditional band of backing players for The Bright Mississippi, assuring a fresh take on such venerable tunes as "West End Blues," "St. James Infirmary," and "Dear Old Southland." Joining Toussaint for four days of sessions at Manhattan's Avatar Studio were guitarist Marc Ribot (Costello, Tom Waits), bassist David Piltch (k.d. lang), clarinetist Don Byron, trumpeter Nicholas Payton and drummer Jay Bellerose (Robert Plant /Alison Krauss, Sam Phillips). Nonesuch label-mates Brad Mehldau (piano) and Joshua Redman (saxophone) stopped by for one tune each.
"It was wonderful," says Toussaint of these convivial sessions. "Everything is live, of course. This isn't the kind of assembly line music where somebody put the wheels on here and somebody put the top on there. Everything got done at the same time, so everybody fed on each other, their personality and tonality."