Dr. Michael White, Tricentennial Rag (Basin Street Records)

A Birthday Ode to New Orleans


In honor of New Orleans’ 300th birthday, Dr. Michael White has put together some of the city’s finest traditional jazz players for an album of originals that draws inspiration from various eras and styles of the city’s most treasured art form.

He starts off with “Frenchmen Street Strut,” referencing the street where Jelly Roll Morton grew up and the current musical center of the city. This double identity, the old and the new, is one of the album’s major through lines. We see that same kind of juxtaposition, stylistically, in the album’s title track, “Tricentennial Rag.” Here he’s got a very traditional-sounding rag, but with pop-like chord progressions that make it feel modern. “On Mardi Gras Day” is a lyrical tableau of the ideal Mardi Gras day in traditional brass style which features Gregory Stafford, charming as ever, on vocals and trumpet. “I Saw Jesus Standing in the Water” is an uptempo hymn in revival style. “What I Wouldn’t Do to Be with You” is winking and flirty with Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown on trumpet and vocals. “Instigator’s Lament” and “Mandeville Stomp” open the floor for some fine ensemble playing featuring Shaye Cohn and David L. Harris. White’s playing is showcased best on “Blues on the Bayou” and “Sassy Creole Woman.” “Loneliness” starts out somber then gathers strength as it moves along, a sort of meditation on where we’ve been and a hope for where we’re going, which is, ultimately, the theme of the album. There’s no better way to end a birthday ode to our city than with a sincere and joyous rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”