“Stately” is an adjective I rarely use to describe an album, but it fits Allen Toussaint’s new album, The Bright Mississippi, like a glove. The Bright Mississippi is a special album, demanding multiple listens to truly get the tapestry of American music – Ellington inspired jazz, r&b, Creole, ragtime – that it weaves with such effortless cool. It’s an album that contains the full experience that is life – its joys, sorrows, delights and hardships. That is to say, it's an album with soul.
Toussaint, of course, is an American Treasure; one of the masters of American R&B, a songwriter and producer who has worked with the likes of Dr. John, The Meters, Labelle, Elvis Costello, Solomon Burke, the Band and dozens of other greats. American R&B (and therefore, American music) is practically inconceivable without him.
But The Bright Mississippi is Toussaint’s first recorded foray into jazz, and with Joe Henry producing, and an all-star cast including guitarist Marc Ribot, clarinetist Don Byron, and saxophonist Joshua Redman providing loving support, Toussaint takes on some of the most treasured standards in jazz history, with complete aplomb. It’s the sound of masters playing for love, and out of complete respect for both the music and for one another.
There are too many sublime moments on the album to mention, but Toussaint’s version of “West End Blues” merits special notice. Toussaint’s piano runs almost inspire laughter with their ease and grace. Toussaint plays with the melody masterfully, like he's Michael Jordan taking over a game, and he then passes it off to Ribot and then Redman who play impossibly gorgeous solos – every single note perfect, with not one wasted.
This will be one of the best albums of the year – go out and get it. It’s not only that they don’t make albums like this anymore – it’s that no one before has ever made one quite like this.
Buy The Bright Mississippi at the Amazon Mp3 store