The Mindful Bard – Allen Toussaint, The Bright Mississippi

Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World

CD: Allen Toussaint, The Bright Mississippi

Label: Nonesuch

Release date: 2009

A New Orleans Old Soul Makes Everything New Again

?As a youngster I was listening to whatever was on the radio, and there were things like boogie-woogie, and popular songs and even a lot of hillbilly music?Red Foley, Jimmy Dickens, Ernest Tubb. On Sundays my mother would play classical radio all day long, so I heard a lot of that. And it all seeped in.?

Allen Toussaint in City Pages

Toussaint is one of the deepest living taproots of the New Orleans music vineyard. He’s been so active for so long in such seemingly disparate musical genres that he has absorbed elements from every one of them to deliver music that is both voluptuous, complex, and of a classical calibre.

He plays, in the words of Wynton Marsalis, ?all of jazz,? but the focus is the music of his hometown. Toussaint has long embraced New Orleans jazz, blues, R&B, zydeco, and more, but The Bright Mississippi is pure, distilled jazz. And for now the calendar is irrelevant.

Toussaint’s piano playing is thoughtful. The most penetrating poetry spills effortlessly from the man’s fingers.

On this album he’s working with some amazing musicians, and the rapport is palpable. Some high points are:

The title track, which sounds like a Mardi Gras parade with Professor Longhair eighty-eightin? on the balcony and a horde of youngsters playing homemade rhythm instruments. (Note the contrapuntal rhythms set up by the piano and carried on by the reeds.)

The smoky, film noir atmosphere and Marc Ribot’s brilliant guitar lines in ?Blue Drag.?

The way the musicians accent the similar chord structures between standards by adding in traces of sister songs; for example, insinuating the melody of ?It Ain’t Necessarily So? into ?St. James Infirmary? and ?Dear Old Southland.?

Toussaint’s celestial piano playing and Joshua Redman’s sweet, sweet tenor sax on ?Day Dream.?

The way Jelly Roll Morton’s ?Winin? Boy Blues? actually sounds like a happy drunk staggering down Story Street, dissonant, rolling chords just adding to the poignant joy of it all.

?Long, Long Journey,? the only track Toussaint sings on.

The Dixieland ecstasy of the reeds and horns halfway through ?Egyptian Fantasy.?

The Bright Mississippi manifests seven of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it makes me want to be a better artist; 3) it gives me tools which help me be a better artist; 4) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 6) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; and 7) it stimulates my mind.

The Bard could use some help scouting out new material. If you discover any books, compact disks, or movies which came out in the last twelve months and which you think fit the Bard’s criteria, please drop a line to bard@voicemagazine.org. If I agree with your recommendation, I’ll thank you online.

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