Release Date: Apr 21, 2009
Record label: Nonesuch
The Bright Mississippi stands alone among Allen Toussaint albums. Technically, it is not his first jazz album, for in 2005 he released Going Places on the small CD Baby-distributed Captivating Recording Technologies, a label run by his son Reginald, but for most intents and purposes -- and for most listeners -- The Bright Mississippi might as well be his first foray into jazz, since it's the first to get a major-label production and release as it's a de facto sequel to Toussaint's successful, high-profile, 2006 duet album with Elvis Costello, The River in Reverse. Like that record, The Bright Mississippi is produced by Joe Henry, who has a knack for a sound that's clean yet soulful, one that lets the music breathe but still has heft to it.
Sometimes jazz is best left in the hands of players who don’t normally record as jazz artists. It can be too easy to fall into patterns: melody-solos-melody, an assured set of blues licks, a certain instrumentation. Allen Toussaint—the veteran New Orleans pianist, songwriter and producer—has just made what may be the finest jazz recording of 2009.
The Bright Mississippi is Allen Toussaint’s first proper album since 1996’s Connected, but his absence from the spotlight speaks to just how busy the man has been the last 13 years. In 2005, along with vintage soul legends like Irma Thomas and Billy Preston, he guested on Joe Henry’s I Believe To My Soul compilation. Later that year, his New Orleans home was flooded during Hurricane Katrina, forcing him to become a temporary New Yorker.
Hurricane Katrina brought a renewed appreciation of New Orleans' musical legacy. Having met soul auteur Toussaint on a benefit album, producer Joe Henry suggested he revisit the city's jazz era. His piano versions of standards such as Winin' Boy Blues show that the funk was always in the Big Easy's blood. .
Piano patriarch evacuates the Big Easy for the Big Apple, where like-minded sessionistas young (Nicholas Payton) and old (Marc Ribot) mean Ellington standard "Day Dream" almost doesn't miss Johnny Hodges and closer "Solitude" compliments Dr. John's inspired Duke Elegant. Don Byron reeds his best Sidney Bechet for the professor, whose thoughtful dialogues encompass all configurations of American roots music while being constrained by none.