Music

Kermit Ruffins: Putumayo Presents Kermit Ruffins

Robert R. Calder

A singer-trumpeter descended from followers of Louis Armstrong who he mostly declines to imitate: a fun performer from the happily not too fashion-conscious New Orleans of today.


Kermit Ruffins

Putumayo Presents Kermit Ruffins

Label: Putumayo
US Release Date: 2004-12-31
UK Release Date: 2005-01-25
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Kermit Ruffins first emerged as a youngster in the foundation of the Rebirth Brass Band, quite a time ago now, reviving civic pride and a music of considerable historical interest. Death was going to have all the old men eventually, but there was no reason to let the grim reaper shut down good music or the best tunes.

There was also no reason to put that music in a museum, or treat it as a museum piece. It was one forebear of the R&B and soul music that was current at the time, so why not remarry the old thing to what would wake it up for some morning exercise?

As charity organisers and AIDS campaigners have learned, a certain mind-set has been cultivated to ensure prompt turnover between one season's mode or craze and another's. The problems of Africa go on and on and on, unrecognised because while many people attend promptly in word or deed to the latest crisis the more enduring ones get ignored and allowed to endure. You can learn a lot from what happens to music. Whatever happened to Rebirth in the years since it lost its latest new thing status, the name was right. Rebirths matter in a time tyrannised over by sheer novelty.

Ruffins is now a sort of Nat Gonella -- the prime English follower of Louis Armstrong, an important incidental apostle of jazz values, and at least as good a trumpeter as young Ruffins. Neither of them could be called an all-out imitator, though to consider them as sorts of imitators is fruitful. Gonella took up Armstrong's style of the earlier 1930s, which was current at the time. Ruffins, when he does try to sound like Armstrong, goes in for the late mannerisms. There is the occasional re-re-repetition of the coda, Da-ra-dah-da-ra-pah-oh-not-again!, which patronises Armstrong obscenely, and helps people be sick of him before they've had a proper chance to hear him. I wish laryngitis on anybody crass dumm stupid enough to re-do that yet again.

Ruffins has produced something like a dozen albums, for the Basin Street recording company and for Justice Records. Both catalogues are drawn from in Putumayo Presents Kermit Ruffins, an issue of music from 1992-2002. On the opening "Ain't Misbehavin" (1999), the vocal is very well accompanied by Corey Henry, who also takes a funky trombone solo. On "Monday Night in New Orleans" (1992), Doreen Ketchens played good clarinet and Danny Barker was still around to play banjo. Barker was already a veteran by the time Armstrong had developed the clichés and mannerisms and reference points presented here. The most striking negative thing is his tendency to go into the same heavy vibrato and huge brassy tone which can be heard in recordings of Armstrong's later years, where the trumpeter played more soaring phrases. Ruffins would probably be a better trumpeter if he integrated that sort of register into his own playing, rather than lapsing into instrumental mimicry.

Another curiosity of Armstrong's later years, when the years and hard work had taken their toll on lip and lungs yet to the last he still wanted to tour and play, was the status of nurse which tended to fall to the trombonist in his band. For a long time it was Trummy Young (who sacrificed a lot, including much of his reputation), and then especially Tyree Glenn. They played rough and big (and at times, by their own standards, primitively) and filled in a lot when Armstrong was relatively frail in merely physical terms. There is a tendency towards that sort of balance in band performances here. Joe Muranyi was generally regarded as the worst clarinetist ever in Armstrong's long-standing small group format, but when later he astonished people by being an excellent soprano saxophone player, he could also tell people that he'd played so bad with Louis because that was how management had told him to play. It's refreshing to hear the mostly spontaneous and respectable music-making here, given that in the model of 1960s Louis Armstrong small groups Ruffins has already a tourism-polluted sort of genre.

"Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" makes clear the resolve to feature Mr. Ruffins as singer, and sometime trumpeter (rather than the other way round). There's too much singing and too little trumpet, and while Michael White's clarinet may have been present during the recording of this track nobody seems to have been playing it.

"Leshianne" is the odd track out, in featuring Ruffins as trumpet soloist with rhythm trio. He could be mistaken for a trumpeter who came up in the 1940s, and picked up on the muted trumpet-with-rhythm thing of Harry Edison and Jonah Jones. He has never developed the magnificence of open tone with which each of these masters filled the mute, and if he plays lines a bit like Edison - very many people did - he's yet another whose playing would be better if he could get rid of the repressive hankering to sound like Miles Davis.

The pianist on the closer, "Do the Fat Tuesday", is Emil Vinette. He sounds like a very competent modernist. So in fact does Ruffins on this one, his horn work not so far from that of a Jazz Messenger (another part of the mix which went into the Rebirth band). Quite possibly there are better selections of Ruffins on some of the CDs from which this one's tracks were drawn. This isn't anybody's recording of the year, but it's very good that this music is present to be recorded.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.