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Tasty jazz from the Crescent City

A variety of bands playing 'New Orleans Night' at the Bowl makes for a delightful mix of soulful songs.

August 20, 2004|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

New York City may be the Big Apple for jazz, but the music's roots are deeply embedded in New Orleans. Even today, a century after the music began to burst into cultural consciousness, the Crescent City continues to simmer a musical gumbo of sounds, styles and rhythms.

"New Orleans Night" at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday offered a succulent tasting of that colorful music via the offerings of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Terence Blanchard ensemble and the Neville Brothers. Despite differences in style and orientation, each group displayed the unique combination of soulful melody making, irresistible rhythmic drive and improvisational inventiveness that is at the root of New Orleans music.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band's music harked back to the high-spirited, marching band-based sounds of the second line ensembles that emerged in the early 20th century.

But in the 25 years since its founding, the Band has created much more hybrid music by adding funk grooves, R&B accents and traces of bebop, rock, rap and gospel to the mix. And it didn't hesitate to incorporate all those elements into a relatively brief Bowl set, with trumpeters Gregory Davis and Efrem Towns, and baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis soaring over a rhythmic drive propelled by Julius McKee's sousaphone.

Blanchard's playing has been one of the finest musical entities to arrive from New Orleans since Wynton Marsalis ushered in the jazz revival of the '90s.

Opening his program with trumpet calls echoing the descriptions of the legendary (and, sadly, never recorded) Buddy Bolden, he led the way through a characteristically diverse collection of tunes. Among the high points were his own scintillating trumpet work, the electrifying saxophone playing of Brice Winston and the stunning guitar and vocalizing of Benin's Lionel Loueke.

In the headliner position, the Neville Brothers expanded the New Orleans musical spectrum into even more colorful areas, while remaining close to the jazz orbit. Although Aaron Neville's soaring tenor is one of pop music's most magical sounds, it was matched, on this program, by the hard-driving saxophone work of Charles Neville. And it was an intriguing balance.

"Rivers of Babylon" and a lyrically updated version of the Temptations' "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" were among the showcase items for Aaron Neville, but Bobby Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe" was transformed from a story song into an instrumental vehicle for Charles Neville's saxophone rendition -- the combination providing another piquant sample of the continuing potency of contemporary New Orleans music.

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