Saturday, September 15, 2007

Piano 'professor' leads class at Telluride

By Donald Frazier

Morning at the Blues and Brews Festival, and the venerable New Orleans tradition of the virtuoso keyboard ‘professor’ is alive and well in the hands of Henry Butler with the opening act, R&B supergroup Rhythm Council.

Warhorse familiars like Tipitina and Down in New Orleans, just like they’re supposed to, took on a new stridency and oomf, thanks to vocals from Papa Mali and an unexpected delight, funk sousaphone master Kirk Joseph, a founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (which, for anyone with a long enough memory, was once something of a house band for that New Orleans seedbed of great brass bands, The Maple Leaf).

But this set’s guiding spirit, in keeping with the New Orleans theme of the festival, was definitely Professor Longhair (Henry Byrd). A critical mass of musicians and the confluence of musical styles ranging from blues and jazz to funk, country, classical and even West Indian made New Orleans and Lousiana into the finishing school for American indigenous music, spawning a rich variety of traditional, schools, and teachers – all hotly competitive.

In this demanding environment, a piano ‘Professor’ was a player who mastered all of the styles expected of him, and Professor Longhair was the acknowledged kingpin. Here in Telluride, we’re going to hear a lot of Louisiana styles in artists such as Chubby Carrier (zydeco), Robert Randolph (soul/gospel), Beth Popovic (blues), Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes (jazz/rock) and The Radiators (everything at once),

You can hear the excitement of discovery in Rhythm Council’s play: each of the members was accomplished in his own right before coming together in an impromptu recording session. Each song has a raw energy and these players, each with a lot to say and a zeal in saying it, finding a way to combine it into something new.

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