Music

Various Artists: Putumayo Presents New Orleans

Robert R. Calder

A fair enough sampler of music of a sort that's still being played in New Orleans.


Various Artists

Putumayo Presents New Orleans

Label: Putumayo
US Release Date: 2004-12-31
UK Release Date: 2005-01-25
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Putumayo Presents New Orleans isn't too dreadful a selection of New Orleans music, though some choices could have been improved upon and to call the notes informative would be a lie. Their author is described as a musicologist, but I'd never have known. The set is said to be 'enhanced', but the clip video footage is quite simply a sort of New Orleans City Tourist Board presentation: sunset, dining tables, parasols (some carried by members of the token marching band), and handy contact details. You could perhaps get something similar online. Similar details are printed in the CD booklet, along with a recipe, © 1984, for Seafood Gumbo. However, dates and personnel details for the music are --deplorably -- missing.

There's a Kermit Ruffins title here, a kind of anthology of influences and of anything that ought to have been on this disc: brass band beginnings, bluesy tenor and piano in the Professor Longhair fashion. The Verve catalogue is sampled for "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues," from the album by Doc Cheatham and the very young Nicholas Payton. Doc would be somewhere around 90 at the time, and sings and plays trumpet as well as ever. He was born in Nashville in 1905, and between playing in Chicago and touring as a young man in the 1920s, he was able to hear and take extensive notes on older New Orleans trumpet styles not recorded on disc - and long swirled away on the whirligig of waste. In Chicago Doc also knew young Louis Armstrong. Old Louis is featured on a "Tin Roof Blues" from, I'd guess, c.1970. The footnotes cite a sampler disc it was included on, no date or source or personnel. (Pshaw!) Nicholas Payton, incidentally, shows his prodigious chops in bringing the track with Cheatham to a climax. Doc was a great soloist and especially good at building things up for another player.

Louis Prima's "Basin Street Blues" is from maybe the 1950s, when he was a Ruffins predecessor but used an R&B sort of tenor player. His early records have good things on them, but the short duration of the track here is even more regrettable given its ear-opening demonstration of what a remarkable trumpeter Prima could be.

Wendell Brunious is another trumpeter of real class, as this site's review of a CD by the Preservation Hall 4 with Duke Dejan insists. Bloody silly of Preservation Hall recordings to have allowed the inclusion here of "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams", which is probably the least interesting title on that CD. I already thought poorly of them for that CD's stingily short playing time, and how do they expect to sell it if they give tracks away that don't even commend it. Harold Dejan -- who does receive a little note among the shoddy paragraphs here -- doesn't in fact appear on the track in question. I think Don Vappie's the singer. The photo shows a quartet, but with John Brunious, father of Wendell, holding the trumpet. It's Wendell on the title, you know!

Topsy Chapman is indeed a decent vaudeville-blues singer in the old vein, but who's in her band here? (Check Error! Reference source not found. for the very nice growl trumpeter). There is next to no information about Kevin Clark, who is white and not a native and seems at least to live in Canada. His "The Devil Done Got Me Blues" has a nice clarinettist, in a Rebirth band style of performance with the bass guitarist doing tuba-like things.

Dr. John was an obvious choice. Doubling up on Louis Prima's "Basin Street Blues" with the same title from Dr. John's Goin' Back to New Orleans album was quite badly obvious. The vocal is cowboy and the band accompaniment big and stock and not all that N.O. Dr. John's sometime sideman Deacon John is featured from a CD entitled Deacon John's Jump Blues, singing a "Going Back to New Orleans" which suggests he might have been away from the place for a long time and hasn't made much headway homeward from a pretty well generalised pre-R&B style.

Much, much more interesting are the two contributions from Dr. Michael White, on which he plays clarinet very well indeed. All that work with Trumpet Kid Marsalis paid off instrumentally. In a very tight little band well up to the standard of, say, Tiny Parham, or another group Doc Cheatham heard in 1920s Chicago, White alone is credited. His "Give it Up" is subtitled "(Gypsy Second Line)", and he is quoted as saying he was influenced by Gypsy and Klezmer music in composing this. Fortunately he did not go over to Klezmer clarinetism. Some insensitive German would-be New Orleans-ish bands blunder into decent Klezmer on some of their repertoire, slipping between idioms. This neat little band from a 2004 Basin Street Records CD just seems like its 1924 Chicago antecedents to have picked up a fairly generalised exotic tinge of a sort once common. This is maybe the neatest performance of the sort in recent years (decades?).

We do have a little musicology after all, where the notes to the last track report that, "in New Orleans jazz, the lines of the individual voices remain distinct, stacking into a dense polyphonic whole rather than blending into a single sound". Perhaps this ascent from tourist brochure platitude was inspired by the religious focus of the track: "Bye & Bye/Saints". You can guess from the photograph that Stafford, who also sings, is the trumpeter.

I shouldn't be too severe. The major exception to the "no personnel listed" rule might be the identification of Dr. John as pianist on Deacon John's title, a fact actually of little or no interest. The omissions are serious. Some people ought to be mentioned, though Kevin Clark might be pleased that any curiosity about him would demand that his website be checked. Dizzy Gillespie used to say to the audience, 'I'd now like to introduce the band', and proceed to pretend to tell the pianist the tenor's name, and vice versa. And when the whole band had shaken hands they sat down and played something else. The notes for Putumayo Presents New Orleans are no more informative and less funny, for how's a guy to listen out for somebody whose name nobody told him?

6

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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