The title of this collaborative album between Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, which brought home a Grammy in 2009, doesn’t really scream that its contents are all about New Orleans.
Except for Bridgewater and NOJO’s lush interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” all the material here is either a New Orleans classic, references this city’s cultural traditions, or was written by a New Orleanian.
Bridgewater reveals her sassy side on the opener, Harry Connick Jr.’s “One Fine Thing.” She’s in a flirty vocal mode reminiscent of days past, and it’s a style she returns to throughout the CD. Tonally, it matches well with Mayfield’s trumpet—they “speak” to each other often, as in the conversation they share on Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans.” This tune shows off the tightness and beauty of the orchestra as Bridgewater and Mayfield engage in a long, exciting exchange of scatting and blowing. It gets pretty damn wild.
Bridgewater is paired vocally with guest artist Dr. John on Earl King’s masterpiece “Big Chief.” Again, she uses her “other”—what might be described as a “character”—voice, that is sharp and somewhat little girly. The band joins in to sing the familiar call-and-response chorus, “Find a levee and burn it down…” With Dr. John on piano and the ensemble full of some of this city’s finest players, this unusual version retains the essential spirit as it fades out with “Shotgun Joe.”
The title cut, the Bridgewater, Mayfield and Bill Summers original “Dee Dee’s Feathers,” takes its rhythm and sparseness of instrumentation from the Mardi Gras Indian culture. With Summers adding percussion, Bridgewater sings the simple verse that shares similarities with how girls chant while jumping rope. The repeated refrain, “Hold ‘em steady,” emphasizes the Black Indian connection.
Mayfield contributes the ballad “C’est ici Que Je T’aime,” a romantic change of pace that finds the orchestra moving in fine coordination with Bridgewater’s more rounded vocals. Mayfield’s heartfelt solo touched with splashes of cymbals reflects the sadness of reminiscing that is echoed in Bridgewater’s vocal interpretation of the lyrics.
It seems that other songs from the great big New Orleans songbook—rather than the often performed and recorded “What a Wonderful World,” “St. James Infirmary” and “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”—might have been better considerations. Folks here are kinda weary of those chestnuts. Happier is John Boutte’s “Treme Song,” on which Bridgewater does some hot scatting and offers some gritty, percussive vocals. The orchestra’s horns and Mayfield’s trumpet bring in the bright street feel. It moves logically into Rebirth’s smash hit “Do Watcha Wanna.”
The album Dee Dee’s Feathers often flies in unexpected directions, though the target remains the heart and soul of New Orleans.