Allen Toussaint ‘The Bright Mississippi’ (Nonesuch) 5/5

allen-toussaintLegendary singer-songwriter, pianist and master producer Allen Toussaint has delivered one of the finest albums of his glittering career with this jazz-inspired project, devoted to the great jazz writers from Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington through to Django Reinhardt and Thelonius Monk. In so doing he has enlisted the collaborative talents of Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Don Byron on clarinet and Marc Ribot on guitar and this works wonderfully well. Factor in on a song apiece the talents of fellow pianist Brad Mehldau and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman and you have a magnificent array of the jazz world’s major exponents on offer. While this is not the first foray into jazz that Toussaint has made (the 2005 indie label ‘Going Places’ preceding the present album), it is by far the most successful. Classic renditions of evergreen blues and jazz compositions abound and this is amply illustrated on the instrumental ‘Singin’ The Blues’ which features appropriately blues licks from Toussaint and the gorgeous tone of Payton. An album highlight is the take on ‘St. James Infirmary’ on which the acoustic guitar of Marc Ribot is outstanding and he obviously delights in trading licks with Toussaint. Indeed it is the degree of collaboration between musicians that makes the album so cohesive and on Ellington’s ‘Solitude’ guitar and piano duet alone, showcasing a side to Ribot’s playing seldom heard previously. Likewise the contemplative ballad ‘Day Dream’ allows Toussaint to team up with Redman and so compelling is the end result that the two should seriously consider an entire album between the two of them to rival the Hank Jones and Joe Lovano collaborations. This will go down as one of the most effective recent interpretations of the New Orleans jazz style and the Crescent city continues to exert a major influence on countless artists from Elvis Costello (with whom Toussaint worked on the ‘River In Reverse’ album in 2006), Jools Holland to Tom Waits, and of course just about every conceivable musical form.

Tim Stenhouse