Picks and Pans Review: Uptown Jazz
The Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble of New Orleans
To many New Orleans musicians, Dixieland is a four-letter word, denoting the ossified, gratuitously flashy tourist music played in bars on Bourbon Street. The collective spirit of traditional New Orleans jazz, though, has flourished in Preservation Hall for more than two decades and more recently has arisen in little meeting halls and bars like Munster's in the Uptown section, which is along the Mississippi, upriver from the French Quarter. That's where, since 1980, the eclectic mix of eight young and old, black and white musicians who constitute the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble lets 'er rip every Wednesday. Paralleling experiments with period instruments by players of baroque music, LRJE members work with mandolin and the tubalike helicon and sousaphone, and Frederick Starr (who also happens to be a jazz scholar and president of Oberlin College) plays a vintage turn-of-the-century clarinet, with the antiquated Albert fingering system, and the seldom heard C-melody saxophone. More important than the mechanical authenticity is the feeling the band brings to such cornerstones of New Orleans music as Louis Armstrong's saucy but relaxed Perdido Street Blues, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings' suspender-snapping She's Cryin' for Me and Oscar "Papa" Celestin's It's Jam-Up. (Despite its title, the last is a delicious reverie perfect for playing as the sun slips behind the gazebo, leavening the steamy summer air.) Above all, the LRJE reminds you that New Orleans music was intended for dancing—the kind you need a partner for. The affable sousaphone, rat-a-tat drums and smartly crackling banjo evoke the swirl of crinolines and cuffed pants over hardwood floors. Yet the band's vigor and sass prevent the formation of any nostalgic mildew. (Stomp Off, 549 Fairview Terrace, York, Pa. 17403)
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