The late Allen Toussaint wrote hundreds of songs, many never recorded, many turned into local and national hits. He’s now entered the stage where eminent musicians are devoting entire albums to his legacy. The first I know of was Jon Cleary’s feisty 2012 Occapella. Now we get drummer Stanton Moore with an all-star New Orleans cast and With You in Mind.
It’s a nice mix. There are super-standards (“Southern Nights,” “Everything I Do Gone Be Funky,” the only ones that overlap with the Cleary CD), lesser-known hits from the day (“Java,” from 1958, made a national hit by Al Hirt in 1964, and “Life,” a Dr. John staple) and some real obscurities.
Moore steers the ship ably without drawing undue attention to himself. Of the musical guests, the star here may be Cyril Neville, who squeezes a lot of juice out of these lyrics; it shows what a fine singer he is given the right material.
Donald Harrison and Nicholas Payton put in good showings too. Nicholas, unless I’m imagining things, doing a nice bit of staccato-Hirt stylizing on his “Java” take. This version cleverly extends the bridge to facilitate blowing; while disorienting at first, you quickly hear how it makes sense.
Other tinkering—especially the odd meters—is a little less satisfying, but then, complicating things is one thing jazz guys do. Playing “Life” in 7/4 causes the singer to swallow some syllables to accommodate. “Everything…” in 5/4 is better, but I wonder how a kicking 4/4 take with some of the best New Orleans players alive might have come out.
The album opens with Toussaint’s latest hit. Ernie K-Doe’s “Here Come the Girls,” re-used for a British TV commercial before making the Irish and British charts in 2007–8, is played straightforwardly with just the right bit of attitude. And it ends ingeniously, with Wendell Pierce reciting the splendid lyrics to “Southern Nights,” making you hear them anew, before the band grooves out on a gospel waltz.
The title track, “With You in Mind,” merits special mention, a magisterial take redolent of Abdullah Ibrahim that shows off Moore’s regular New Orleans jazz trio and the CD’s house band: pianist David Torkanowsky and bassist James Singleton.
All in all, it’s a fine performance by Stanton in his continuing evolution from funkateer to all-around drum eminence, with great sidemen and material. For now, Toussaint is New Orleans’ Great American Songbook and Beatles combined; let’s hope the cover trend continues, and as creatively as it’s done here.