Mark Braud, Living the Tradition (Album Review)

Carrying on traditions is one thing, but contributing to and expanding on them is an entirely different task—especially if the tradition is New Orleans music. If Mark Braud’s goal was to deliver an album that both honored traditional New Orleans music, in all of its glorious permutations, and added a solid batch of new songs that will surely become part of the New Orleans music canon, then he undoubtedly succeeded. The album is comprised of all original material, 10 tracks composed by Braud, one by Meghan Swartz, and one a collaboration between Braud and Swartz. Living the Tradition successfully melds old and new while celebrating the traditional jazz, rhythm and blues, funk and gospel that the Crescent City is known for.

“You’re the One” kicks off in fine fashion. The frontline of Mark Braud (trumpet), Lucien Barbarin (trombone) and Tim Laughlin (clarinet) is driven by a rhythm section featuring Herlin Riley (drums), Mark Brooks (bass) and Meghan Swartz (piano). This is surely a composition that will find a home in the Economy Hall Jazz Tent. “La Tomate” honors the Spanish tinge that has been a part of jazz dating back to Jelly Roll Morton. The palette created by Riley and Swartz really allows for Braud and Laughlin to shine as they play off of one another in beautiful fashion. This feel is carried on in the infectious and upbeat “At the Carnival,” which finds Braud and company in a decidedly romantic mood as they deliver a slow and sensual performance. Braud, Laughlin and Barbarin all shine as they take turns soloing.

The tenor of the album changes with “Mary Jane” as Braud gets his first chance to show off his vocal chops. The song harkens back to classic Allen Toussaint and Ernie K-Doe, and is certainly a tradition that needs to be embraced and celebrated.

On “Lately,” Braud and company deliver a classic Horace Silver vibe before Braud gives another vocal performance on “I Should’ve Known” which features some silky yet sinewy playing from Mark Brooks on bass.

“Trouble” combines numerous traditions in a romp through time as Braud and company combine gospel and rhythm and blues, with brass band exuberance. Gerald French handles the vocals, Ronell Johnson joins in on tuba and trombone, and Roderick Paulin channels some classic David “Fathead” Newman on saxophone. If only real-life trouble felt this good! Brooks kicks off “Wellman Braud” with a swampy groove. As the horns join in and expound on the deep groove, the sound that is developed sounds oddly reminiscent of the Radiators, another New Orleans tradition deserving of recognition and preservation.

“Toulouse Rag” closes things out and bookends nicely with “You’re the One.” This is traditional jazz in the hands of masterful modern purveyors of the idiom.

In a world where tradition is often either strictly adhered to or shunned entirely, it is so refreshing to hear musicians who embrace the past while following the musical muse as they explore and contribute to the living breathing tradition that is New Orleans music.