Lost Bayou Ramblers release ‘Rue Vermilion Revival’ to benefit flood victims

24 08 2016

LBR-RVRCassette

Offbeat.com

The first time Louis and Andre Michot played together as the Lost Bayou Ramblers, the show ended up spilling out of Café Rue Vermilion and into the streets of downtown Lafayette as Louis led a boisterous crew of musicians, friends and family into bars and restaurants, courir de Mardi Gras-style, while playing the traditional Cajun Mardi Gras song, “Danse de Mardi Gras.”

That’s the scene American music scholar (and longtime Ramblers collaborator) Ryan Andre Brasseaux describes in the liner notes for Rue Vermilion Revival, a live recording of the showreleased today on Bandcamp to benefit victims of the historic flooding that devastated much of Acadiana this month.

In the spirit of that first performance, the band will also hold “a roving fundraiser” in Lafayette on Friday, Aug. 26, beginning at 6 p.m. The event is slated to start at Lagniappe Records (313 Jefferson St.) and make stops at Rêve Coffee (200 Jefferson St.) and Jefferson Street Pub (500 Jefferson St.) before wrapping up on Vermilion Street where Café Rue Vermilion once sat. Beneficiaries of the Ramblers’ fundraising efforts and album sales include Second Harvest Food Bank and the Community Foundation of Acadiana.

“I had been doing a lot of minidisc recording [at the time] and I brought it to our first show and I just set up a few mics,” Louis Michot said last week at the flood-damaged Dockside Studio, the Ramblers’ go-to recording venue.

“I gave the recording back to a friend of mine and he bounced it onto cassette tape years ago and it’s just kind of been floating around. We’ve been talking about releasing it for years and thought this was a good opportunity.”

The album features 13 songs, most of which are traditional Cajun tunes shot through with early traces of the raw energy the Ramblers have become known for. It’s rounded out by a pair of original songs, one of which Louis recalls as being the first song he and his brother ever played on fiddle and accordion — at least the first song they ever played seriously.

Asked about the photo of the pair that serves as the album cover, Louis said it was recovered from the food. He estimates it was taken in 1985 when they were about 7 and 10. “But we weren’t really playing back then,” he said, “just messing around.”

That changed after Louis spent three months hitchhiking across Canada when he was 18 or 19.  He’d become interested in traditional Cajun music like the material played by Les Freres Michot, the band his father and uncles started in the mid-‘80s, and was starting to learn the tunes on fiddle. When he returned to Louisiana, he found that Andre had also gone back to traditional Cajun music while living in Freetown.

“It was really weird because when I came back from Canada, I had just picked up the fiddle and had learned the songs and [Andre] wasn’t aware of that,” Louis recalled.

“When I was gone, he was learning accordion. Right when I got back from that trip, we sat down and showed me this song he’d written, ‘Main Street Special,’ and that was the first time we’d ever played accordion and fiddle together,” he said.

“The other original is called ‘The Autumn Waltz’ and I wrote that the summer before. The interesting thing about those two songs, we didn’t record them ‘til 2008 here at Dockside [on]Vermilionaire. So we recorded them 10 years later for the first time. Now they’re being put back out another 10 years later.”

The live version of those tunes from 1999 is significantly more stripped-down than what appears on Vermilionaire. The Ramblers’ instrumentation has shifted over the years, too: at Café Rue Vermilion, the band featured a second fiddle (Matthew Doucet), clarinet (Gary Hernandez), t-fer (Adam Cohen) and froittoir (Thad Duplechin) in addition to accordion, guitar and upright bass.

“We didn’t mean to start a band, really and it’s become our main profession,” Michot said with a snicker.

After the show at Café Rue Vermilion, he recalled a progression of gigs that began in Lafayette clubs, then expanded to local festivals and eventually into tours in New York and on the West Coast.

“It’s constantly gotten just a little bit better,” he said.

In addition to the online Bandcamp release, Rue Vermilion Revival will be available in a limited edition cassette format at Lagniappe Records in Lafayette, and Euclid Records and the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans.





Review: Mike Dillon, Functioning Broke

29 06 2016

mike-dillon

Offbeat July 2016

The breadth and sheer number of different voices Mike Dillon has at his command is impressive in just about any setting. On his new solo recording, inspired largely by the music of Elliott Smith, it’s downright staggering—and not just because he plays marimba, xylophone, timpani, orchestral bells, tubular bells, tabla, congas and vibes, although that helps.

The way Dillon deconstructs and reconstructs Smith’s music gives individual song elements—from melody to repeated tension and resolution to harmonic subversion—their own, audible identities, magnifying some of Smith’s most gratifying qualities as a songwriter. On top of that, Dillon approaches his instruments with open ears, tweaking expectations about their sound and use to coax kaleidoscopes of color and lyricism out of each one.

The result is an intensely focused set of music that avoids getting tethered to the anguish Smith is often associated with. The opener, “Half Right,” is darkly pretty in all the right places but also satisfying and anthemic in a way the original version only hinted at. The warm buzz that envelops the intro to “Christian Brothers” casts that Smith classic in a new light, too (as does the lack of lyrical “F” bombs), while “Alameda” provides a jazz-meets-pop interlude that mixes things up.

The non-Smith half of the album features a handful of originals, including the playful “Friendship,” whose appealing staccato thwunks are more in line with Dillon’s self-described “punk jazz freak funk” than the finespun Smith arrangements, and a short yet hypnotizing tabla meditation.

Neil Young’s heroin elegy, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” makes an appearance. And Dillon—who recorded this material between Primus tours more as a fun personal exercise than an intentional album—really sinks his teeth into Exotica lounge master Martin Denny’s “The Enchanted Sea,” dragging what sounds like a thumb against a drum skin in a way that recalls Dillon’s own spoken word/rap voice.





Sounds of the Snowball: In which GoNola lets me ramble about Hansen’s …

7 06 2016

hansen's

GoNola.com June 2016 [*Paul Broussard’s vibrant pics and George Ingmire’s reliably great New Orleans Calling piece accompany this on the website; worth a peek.]

On a steamy weekday afternoon in June at the corner of Plum and Burdette Streets way Uptown, a cluster of teenage girls, an older couple, and a smattering of solo sweet-treat fans sit in plastic chairs beneath the bright yellow mural that decorates Williams Plum Street Snoballs’ front wall.

The now-daily summer rain has just passed, cooling off the lush green neighborhood and, more importantly, signaling my favorite time to indulge in one of New Orleans’ favorite hot-weather traditions. There’s no line — thanks, rain! — when I walk inside the tiny stand that hosted my college-era snowball pilgrimages a couple of decades ago. I’m greeted with a sunny “hello” from the guy tasked with operating the machine that makes the fine-ground ice, or “snow.” Plum Street is famous for its dizzying array of flavors, posted on the wall in the appealing if rag-tag fashion we’ve come to expect from mom-and-pop snowball stands in the city.

As George Ingmire explains in the “Summer Days and Nights” edition of WWOZ’s “New Orleans Calling,” the snowball was invented in New Orleans and owes its name snowflake-like shaved ice that’s now giving me a late-day sugar jolt.

Once carved by hand from a block of ice, today’s snowball ice is generally made by a machine that churns out tiny chips of ice into each individual snowball container. (At Plum Street, those containers are usually Chinese food store take-out boxes.) The “snow” it produces is light and fluffy, a humorous contrast to the clunky ice shaving machines and their laborious grunts and bangs as they work to produce each snowball.

The first such machine was engineered by a machinist named Ernest Hansen in the early 1930s and initially just used for his family. In 1936, Ernest and his wife, Mary, began selling the treats to the public under a Chinaball tree outside their house on Saint Ann Street, as the story goes, with Mary’s homemade, cane sugar-based syrups for two cents a piece.

(There’s a great Southern Foodways interview with Mary and Ernest’s son, Gerard, and their granddaughter, Ashley, who runs the shop today, that tells the family’s snowball story in more depth.)

After a few on-and-off years during which Mary was busy raising her kids, the couple reopened the store as Hansen’s in 1939. It now stands at the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Bordeaux Streets, with a large “77 years” painted on the side wall in honor of the number of years the family-run business has been churning out snowballs.

When Hansen’s reopened, there was a competitor on the scene. In 1936, George Ortolano designed his own version of the automated ice chipper, which he dubbed the Sno-Wizard. According to Wikipedia, Ortolano’s first machine was made of wood. He tweaked that design to create a galvanized metal model that could be manufactured and sold to other companies. And while his company still sells machines — they’re reportedly the most widely used version of the machine on the Gulf Coast — Sno-Wizard also maintains a busy stand that boasts more than 150 flavors at 4001 Magazine Street.

A Flurry of Colors and Flavors

Back at Plum Street, I assure the server I’m not put off by the alarming blue color of their almond cream syrup, have them toss in some vanilla for kicks and head out for a stroll while alternately slurping cold, almond-flavored, melting “snow” from the bottom of my cup and scooping out mouthfuls of the more coarse top layer with a plastic spoon. Mission half accomplished.

While all the snowball stands in town have advantages and disadvantages (Plum Street’s open ’til 9 p.m. in the summer — definitely a plus), folks are as allegiant to their favorite stands as they are to their favorite po-boy shops. That’s why I’ve ordered a kiddie cup (a bargain at less than $1.50): I’m now determined to make it to Hansen’s for my favorite snowball in town: half cardamom, half almond cream. Yep. Two snowballs in one afternoon. Because research. OK, because gluttony, but whatever.

Where to Get ‘Em

For your own personal snowball blitz, check out one — or all — of these local favorites:

Plum Street Sno-Balls

  • 1300 Burdette St.
  • Open 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. every day but Sunday, when they open at 2 p.m.
  • Fun perk: Dating back to 1945, these guys stay open late for you night-owl sno-ball seekers; they also have a Metairie location at 3000 Downs Blvd.

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz

  • 4801 Tchoupitoulas St.
  • Open Tuesday – Sunday, 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. in season (March through October)
  • Fun perks: The “Super Duper” is super crazy, while the “fancy flavors” probably helped earn Hansen’s its James Beard American Classic designation. They support farm-to-table foodie-ism by using Paradigm Gardens’ products and occasionally donating to the Grow Dat youth Farm.

Sno-Wizard

  • 4001 Magazine St.
  • Open Sunday – Friday 12 p.m. – 8 p.m. and Saturday 12 p.m. – 7 p.m. in season (April 1 – Sept. 30)
  • Fun perks: Sno-Wizard’s central Uptown location makes a visit easy mid-Magazine Street stroll; they also host a Haydel’s king cake popup during Carnival time.

Beaucoup Juice

  • 4719 Freret St.
  • Open seasonally Monday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. (the juice bar and smoothie shop is open year-round)
  • Fun perks: All the syrups are made of fresh fruit juice; Beaucoup Juice uses Sno-Wizard ice machines and makes frequent appearances at festivals around town.

Pandora’s Snowballs

  • 901 N. Carrollton Ave.
  • Open Monday – Sunday 12 p.m. – 7 p.m.
  • Fun perks: Pandora’s serves food items including 100 percent Angus beef burgers and other food as well as snowy goodness; as one on-the-ball Yelper points out, their clear flavors are a good option if you’re wearing white … or generally spazzy, like me.




Jazz Fest Redux: Elvis Costello, Paul Simon, Rockin’ Dopsie

31 05 2016

FullSizeRender (20)

Offbeat June 2016 [*Bits and pieces from my contributions to our group stab at covering Jazz Fest in bite-sized chunks. Because who doesn’t like bite-sized chunks?]

ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE IMPOSTERS

He could have stayed in his trailer backstage at Gentilly, but Elvis Costello had clearly come to this year’s Jazz Fest on a mission of honoring his late friend and collaborator, Allen Toussaint. And Toussaint was a guy whose ability to inspire awed stares and teary-eyed handshake introductions never kept him from passing out warm “hellos” by the food stands or by his Rolls after it pulled up on the track.

Shortly after the brown fedora–clad Costello arrived backstage for his set, he exited the Imposters’ trailer, tiny silver teacup in hand, and chatted with whomever passed by, smiling for pictures with giddy fans and looking content as he watched other artists load in under darkening skies. As his set time approached, Costello retreated into his trailer again, then returned, this time wearing a Toussaint button–adorned raspberry beret.

The set began with a massive burst of energy. What initially sounded like Kraftwerk blared through the speakers, the words “rise, robots, rise” audible through the ’60s sci-fi sound blur. A trip to the end of the Internet indicates it’s a tune from the 1965 flick Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon that sets the stage for what multiple bloggers say is some kind of intelligent robot takeover. That sounds about right given Costello’s use of radio and old-school TV imagery on his last tour. Whatever it was, it lasted less than a minute—long enough for Costello to give himself and a guitar a “ready, set, go” before running, full-speed, to center stage and slicing his hand into the first chord of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?”

The amped-up energy continued, courtesy of the megaphone siren Costello turned on the audience with a snicker after the line, “it only took my little fingers to blow you away” in “Watching the Detectives”; the sheer speed and intensity of “Radio, Radio,” and some guitar work as internally complex as Costello’s image-stuffed lyrics.

A Steve Nieve–centric piano ballad and a billowy version of “Beyond Belief” reined things in before Costello switched gears for the inevitable—and lovely—Toussaint dedication portion of his set, featuring the Crescent City Horns, a great story about Toussaint’s unwaveringly polite studio demeanor and an arms-in-the-sky singalong to “I Cried My Last Tear” with Bob Andrews on keys. (JO)

PAUL SIMON

“You got to have a wristband, my man, you don’t get through the door.” That line off Paul Simon’s new album cracked me up the first time I heard it, as did the tune’s narrative of a guy whose band is about to perform when he steps out for some air and suddenly finds he doesn’t have the credentials to get back in the venue.

There was something both magical and hilarious about seeing one of the great American music icons of our time holding up his hands above the Acura Stage repeating the mantra “wristband … wristband” eight days into our most wristband/pass/list/laminate–required time of year.

Yes, Simon’s set was plagued by technical problems to which he could have responded with a bit more grace but the highlights stood out to me more than the minor flubs. He’d hit his stride by “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and his deep affection for the use of unexpected rhythms made tunes like that even more compelling in the midst of a festival that highlights the blended rhythms of different cultures like Jazz Fest does.

That said, I’m still irritated with the cameraman whose obsession with keeping the lens focused on Simon left most of the audience unable to see what was making all those glorious sounds in the breakdown on “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” among other things. Luckily (for me, anyway), so many folks had split before the encore that it was easy to move way up through soupy mainstage muck for the evocative familial love song, “Father and Daughter,” and a rendition of “The Boxer” so alternately soft and peaceful then dark and stormy that the music felt like an aural expression of New Orleans springtime. (JO)

ROCKIN’ DOPSIE’S PRINCE TRIBUTE

It was still pouring. It was still gross. My ankles and calves were starting to blister and bleed from all the water in my rainboots. But when I stopped to slurp down some spinach, zucchini and crawfish bisque near Fais Do-Do, I heard the strains of “Purple Rain.” Unlike the other zillion times it was played on the Fair Grounds, this version was coming from Rockin’ Dopsie. And he was wearing a calf-length purple robe that glistened like wet Saran Wrap. After hyping the crowd to sing the chorus with him (“we doin’ it in the rain, y’all!”), he tore off the robe, James Brown–style, spun around, waited a few beats, then busted out some high-to-low, second line–ready spin-dance moves that would have worked equally well during a TBC-fronted parade or a New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars performance. Sometimes the best things come to those who get soaked. (JO)





Eat Street: The Resurgence Of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard

31 05 2016

eat-street

Offbeat June 2016  [*This one looks so much prettier on Offbeat’s site, which has rights to pics of all these joints … worth the trip over there to check it out, link is on the left.]

When the St. Roch Market opened in 2015, Councilmember-at-Large Jason Williams heralded the Landrieu administration capital project for “providing a necessary service to the surrounding neighborhoods,” and called it “an example of how community input can enhance public projects.” Though the market has become a great destination for locals and visiting foodies, it would be a stretch to say it’s filling the neighborhood’s “food desert” void with affordable groceries.

A year later in Central City, however, the Dryades Public Market is doing what many hoped would happen in St. Roch—and it’s not alone. The food and beverage boom that’s cropped up on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard now features a diverse array of concepts, menus and price points, giving it a unique profile at an explosive time for restaurants in New Orleans. And while redeveloped corridors like Freret Street are starting to welcome new-construction residences that boast all the trappings of gentrification, Oretha Castle Haley has managed to balance community-focused food and beverage options with higher-end fare. The combination means more foot traffic for what was once a busy, commerce-heavy main street and more awareness, city-wide, about a historic neighborhood.

Located in the former Myrtle Banks Elementary School building at 1307 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, Dryades Public Market celebrated its grand opening in April after a slow ramp-up during which its name changed from Jack & Jake’s and its leadership shifted from original CEO John Burns to Chef Daniel Esses, one of the owners of Three Muses on Frenchmen Street. Buzz around the market has proliferated for more than a year, in part because of the cost and initial scope of the project, which Esses reined in when he took over at the end of August. Rather than withhold the space from public use any longer, he opened the doors in September, launching individual components like the coffee bar and sandwich counter as they became ready for business. Now, the market is starting to come to life.

“We brought in Associated Grocers to help us give it the look of a grocery store, including products at an affordable price. Then we also brought in people who specialize in what they do, such as bakers and butchers,” said Esses, who’s been vocal about his commitment to keeping reasonably priced fresh foods available for the community.

Its namesake is the Dryades Market, which opened across the street in 1849, long before the street was renamed in honor of civil rights worker Oretha Castle Haley. (A 1960 boycott of Dryades Street merchants who refused to hire black employees is considered a keystone of the city’s early freedom struggle and an important aspect of the neighborhood’s rich history.)

Today’s Dryades Public Market offers fresh and mostly local produce, meat, seafood, canned goods and dairy products, mostly at Rouses-level prices.

Prepared sandwiches, salads and a coffee bar; Esses’ fresh pasta shop; seafood courtesy of Curious Oyster (which relocated from the St. Roch Market) and a full wine and booze bar are also available inside the spacious and sunny three-floor building. Outside by the parking lot, peas, squash, herbs and fig trees make up a young, “edible landscaping” garden.

The market’s top floors are currently a mix of offices and open space that has been used for events like a recent juried art exhibit. On June 1, Cochon Butcher alum Leighann Smith, who runs the market’s meat program, is offering a $5 class on sausage making featuring Mississippi-raised pork.

“It’s a balance between giving people the yin and the yang,” said Esses. “We sell artisanal bread and cake but then you also have something way less hardcore. If they want that and they can afford it it’s available. If [customers] want something with ten ingredients instead of 100, we have that too.”

During a visit after Jazz Fest in May, the market’s first floor was peppered with a handful of shoppers perusing massive $3 bags of locally grown kale and equally enormous local cauliflower priced at $4 apiece. There were also folks working on laptops or trickling in from offices on the boulevard to enjoy a $5 glass of happy hour wine at Bar 38, which is situated in the center of the market next to the raw and coffee bars. Small plates like seared yellowfin tuna marinated in a spicy soy vinaigrette with olives and oranges ran for $8 on the bar side, while diners slurped a mix of local and imported oysters ($1 to $2 during happy hour), crab claws, hush puppies and tangy pickled shrimp on the Curious Oyster side.

In May, Esses was in the process of hiring a community outreach liaison whose role would be to ensure the market was meeting the needs of the neighborhood. The Dryades group also seems to have both the mayor’s office and City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell on its side (Esses cited Cantrell’s efforts to help bring a local farmer’s market to the store on Saturdays as an example of her advocacy there).

Asked if he sees Oretha Castle Haley as a foodie destination, Esses was optimistic.

“I always believe the more restaurants on one street, the better,” he said.

“Competition is good for the restaurant business, not bad. I want us to help bring business to the other businesses. Oretha Castle Haley still needs more foot traffic and more attention.”

Efforts are underway to make that happen. On May 6, the Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchants & Business Association launched its inaugural First Fridays event, featuring happy hours, live music and extended gallery hours at participating venues. Although the event got off to a slow start, spots like the patio at Roux Carré were bustling by sunset as diners sampled ceviche and pupusas from the Pupusa Lady, po-boys and gumbo from Estralita’s Express, jerk and curry chicken from Johnny’s Jamaican Grill, cochon de lait po-boys from the Splendid Pig and fresh-squeezed juices from the Youth Empowerment Project’s Juice Box stall.

Roux Carré also recently opened a bar booth that features daily half-price happy hour specials. This summer, the space plans to feature live music two to three days a week.

Like the market, Roux Carré was created with an eye to serving the community in a unique way. Phyllis Cassidy’s non-profit group the Good Work Network opened Roux Carré in November as an incubator for local restaurant entrepreneurs. Its current vendors all took classes in restaurant management and financial planning through the Good Work Network, which also provided them with business mentors.

“I first found out about Roux Carré from an article in the Times-Pic about two and a half years ago and we pretty much applied right away,” recalls Jennifer Sherrod-Blackwell, who runs the Splendid Pig with her husband, Brandon Blackwell.

After the Blackwells were accepted into the program, construction delays prevented Roux Carré from opening as scheduled. During that time, the couple took over Curious Oyster’s former space at St. Roch Market with their other business, Elysian Seafood.

“I love being in both spaces, but they are completely different,” Sherrod-Blackwell said. “The Roux Carré is sort of a warmer, inviting and relaxed atmosphere. What’s happening with live music makes it more of an experience rather than just dining. Also, Roux Carré is drawing people in from the neighborhood and the community as the solid base of our customers. St. Roch draws people not only from all over the city but from all over the country.”

In addition to the cochon de lait po-boy, Splendid Pig offers a blue crab cake and “pork-a-mein,” a lemongrass-braised pork over rice noodles with cilantro and pickled vegetables. The menu features a salad of fresh Louisiana strawberries and goat cheese with a pepper jelly vinaigrette and crispy bacon, plus homemade pork jerky and three different kinds of dark chocolate brownies.

“We source a good bit of our produce from the Dryades Market up the street and from Hollygrove [Market] and we use local rice,” Sherrod-Blackwell said. “Anything that we can reasonably source locally we do.”

Vendors sign a one-year lease that’s then made available for renewal, Sherrod-Blackwell said.

“They don’t want to force anyone to leave,” she added, “but they also want to let people leave if they’re not being profitable and growing their business.”

There are no formal mandates regarding menu prices, but the Good Work Network encourages vendors to keep prices at a level Central City residents are likely to find reasonable, she added.

Linda Pompa, the Executive Director of the Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchants & Business Association, says her organization encourages similar thinking when new businesses move into the neighborhood.

“Private property is private property, but we have the intelligence about what people want in the neighborhood,” Pompa explained, noting the importance of encouraging more foot traffic.

The push to redevelop the neighborhood began in the ’90s, but it didn’t start gaining real steam until after Hurricane Katrina. The strip was designated as a Louisiana Main Street in 2006 and a Cultural Products District in 2008, both of which helped revitalize the region. The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority has also pitched in with funding pegged to construction and building facades up and down the street.

In sum, Pompa said, “a combination of non-profit, public, philanthropic and private investment, especially post-Katrina, along with specific planning since around 2000 has helped push the neighborhood forward.”

In May, the street was notified that it will receive a state-wide Main Street Award from the Louisiana Culture Awards.

Uptown-based realtor Jean-Paul Villere says the corridor was long seen as an inner-city stretch that was “harder to put on the public radar,” making it slower to revitalize than Freret Street, which he says had the advantages of being closer to Tulane and Loyola and mostly shuttered after the storm. The liquor license moratorium along the boulevard was another factor.

“O.C.H., while dry, had a decent population, but in non-profits,” Villere said in an email. “Whereas Freret was basically a blank canvas, O.C.H.’s occupancy and distance from the newer blood revitalizing the city placed its resurgence to the last little while. Prices are of course relative but they’re higher than they’ve ever been—not Magazine [Street]-high, of course.”

Pompa points out that the proliferation of non-profits along the boulevard has helped keep new businesses coming in to remain focused on the community. Organizations like the Good Work Network or Café Reconcile, which since 2000 has offered weekday New Orleans–style lunches prepared and served by job training program participants from at-risk communities, have invested in the neighborhood and won’t be forced out by rising rents.

“What has kept it from turning into Freret Street is that so many buildings here are owned by non-profits,” Pompa said.

While Café Reconcile was the first restaurant to open along the boulevard long after its heyday, Pompa says Casa Borrega was a catalyst of sorts for the eventual proliferation of food-focused venues in the corridor.

Hugo Montero and his wife Linda Stone opened their Mexico City street food–inspired eatery and live music venue in 2013 as a Benefit Corporation—a for-profit business whose goals include creating what Wikipedia describes as “a positive impact on society, workers, the community and the environment.”

Decked out with a vast array of artwork and knickknacks, Casa Borrega hosts Latin cultural events and features jazz, Latin and funk bands, plus singer-songwriters, both inside by the main bar and outside on the patio. There’s also a steady stream of movie and event-goers from the Zeitgeist theater across the street, as well as the coffee bar, Church Alley, which occupies the Zeitgeist’s front space.

Dishes at Casa Borrega range from traditional central Mexican options to creative spins on apps like a deep-fried cauliflower. This summer, they’re working towards the launch of a Cuban food truck program called La Cubana.

“When we moved in we used to walk our dog where the NORA building is now and it was like the wilderness,” Stone recalled. “It was kind of fun—we were like in this outpost.”

That’s obviously no longer the case. Chef Adolfo Garcia and his partners Ron Copeland and Jared Ralls opened Primitivo at 1800 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. The building was previously a daycare center downstairs and apartments upstairs. According to Copeland it was “gutted down to the studs” and completely renovated to make room for the meat-heavy, open hearth–focused restaurant, which offers happy hours, but generally has a higher price point than other dining options in the area. Drink prices, however, remain relatively low for a restaurant of Primitivo’s caliber.

“For the cocktail program, I have a two rules: Drinks should take 45 seconds or

ess to make and we have to be able to charge $9 or less with named liquor,” Copeland said in an email.

“It really upsets me when I see a cocktail menu with well liquor as the main ingredient and it’s $10–$12. It’s stealing from the customer, plain and simple.”

Chef Ryan Hughes’ contemporary Southern–inspired Purloo, which opened down the street in January 2015, also features higher prices. But the open kitchen and the restaurant’s location inside the Southern Food and Beverage Museum give it an interesting twist.

Liz Williams founded the museum as a way to combine her interest in historical food culture with her experience launching institutions like the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the World War II Museum. She says she moved “SoFAB” to Central City from its initial location on the Riverwalk for a number of reasons, but the food history aspect of where they ended up now plays a key role in the museum’s identity.

“We went into that neighborhood because it was affordable and because it was accessible by bus and streetcar. Once we were there, though, we selected the building that was the Dryades Market,” she explained. “So then that building becomes our largest artifact because we’ve saved this building that really does represent something about the food and culture of New Orleans.”

SoFAB’s tenant Purloo was selected with an eye to Hughes’ plan to showcase cuisine that highlights “regional foodways,” complimenting SoFAB’s exhibitions.

In addition to gallery displays, the museum offers interactive cooking demos and a summer camp for kids. It also operates the John & Bonnie Boyd Hospitality & Culinary Library at 1609 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, which features more than 11,000 volumes of archival information about food history and culture.

Looking ahead, Pompa says she’s unaware of any new food projects opening on the boulevard in the next four to six months. She points out, though, that the general public is still in the process of discovering some of the neighborhood newcomers, like Filipino chef and Paul Prudhomme protégé Crispin Pasia’s CK’s Hot Shoppe at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Baronne Street, or Brady’s Wine Warehouse on the strip’s downtown end.

In the meantime, the new burst of food-related activity on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard continues to draw a healthy mix of members of the Central City community and curious diners from the surrounding city and further away.

Villere, who’s been watching Central City spring back to life since the storm, muses, “OCH’s golden years are still ahead of it.”





Players: Matthew Hartnett

24 05 2016

matthew-hartnett

Downbeat May 2016

When trombonist Matthew Hartnett moved to New York from Houston in 2010, he sat in on a few jam sessions, suggesting tunes used in similar settings in his hometown of Houston: Freddie Hubbard’s soul-meets funk vehicle “Red Clay,” for example, or Wayne Shorter’s bass line-centric “Footprints.”

“Guys would either not want to play the tune because [it] didn’t have quote unquote ‘enough changes’ or they didn’t know the tune,” recalls Hartnett. “In Houston, you’re going to hear tunes that are more groove oriented. You’re not going hear a lot of heavy swing and fast, frantic music, because it doesn’t fit the culture of the region, which is like, blues and R&B and screw music,” he said, referencing DJ Screw’s early ‘90s hip-hop movement. “People like things to feel good.”

Rather than adjust his playing to better fit the more academic style of playing he first encountered in New York, Hartnett clung to what he describes as the “gritty soulfulness” and “country swag” he heard in his own music. He identified other horn players who shared his musical taste and established Team Horn Section, a tight-knit group of like-minded horn players who have since worked as the go-to horns for artists like Lauryn Hill and Talib Kweli. It wasn’t until a Team Horn Section work lull in 2013 that Hartnett opted to write material for a solo album. The result, Southern Comfort, arrived in February 2016.

Replete with jazz riffs on slow jam grooves (“She’s In Spain”) and hip-hop concepts (“Da Crib”), the project reflects Harnett’s musical roots. And yet, he says it wouldn’t exist as such had he not relocated five years ago.

“It’s a little backwards, but I feel like I came to New York and I became more country, more soulful,” he explains, adding that he joined a shout band in New York, delving into a form of Southern music he’d never tried playing when he actually lived below the Mason Dixon Line.

“Pretty much whoever you are, New York embraces that … I think I was free to become more of myself when I got here.”

Born in the Western Louisiana town of Lake Charles, Hartnett spent his childhood listening to ‘60s and ‘70s R&B with his mom, hip-hop with his friends and playing classical and jazz trombone in grade school. Summers spent back in Lake Charles added hymns to the mix courtesy of vacation Bible School, plus brass band and Mardi Gras Indian music he picked up on the playground.

By the time he got into jazz as a music student at Texas Southern University, Hartnett’s ears and skills gave him the right sensibilities to find local horn section work with college friends. It sustained him financially and satisfied him artistically, he said, admitting he always thought of himself more “as a band guy” than a soloist.

When club gigs started drying up in Houston and he headed North, Hartnett found it to be fertile ground to establish another horn section for hire. This time, he had the chops to snag bigger touring gigs while making a name for himself and his collective of horn players with popular weekly gigs at the Village Underground.

Members of the group appear on the Louisiana-inspired “New Sunlight in Lake Charles (NCLS),” while the opener, “I Surrender All,” showcases Hartnett’s flexibility and unique voice when, for example, his trombone lines glow with the same celestial textures as the organ that joins him.

“What I really got out of being in New York just pouring myself into being me,” he muses. Focused on blending R&B, brass band music and new elements like shout music, Hartnett says, rounded out his sound and allowed him to develop it in the context of Southern Comfort.

“I thought I was complete in Houston,” he says. “But I really became a complete trombone player in New York.”

 





Review: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter Duo and more Jazz Tent highlights at Jazz Fest

1 05 2016

Downbeat July 2016 [*educated guess on the month they run this …]

For at least a decade, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell has been dogged by criticism of its pop-heavy programming. The trend began when the Jazz Tent began being pushed from a more central location to its current home on the edge of the Fair Grounds Race Track. It seemed to worsen after AEG Live came on board as a producing partner in 2004. That the festival’s website url spells out “no jazz fest” hasn’t helped matters.

This year, festival producer Quint Davis and his team made a concerted effort to change the “no jazz” bad rap. As he told Nola.com in the spring, Davis felt he owed jazz and blues fans more than the festival had been giving them. He implied he spent twice as much as usual on that programming for the 2016 festival, which ran April 22 through May 1. And it showed – particularly on April 24, when one afternoon in the Jazz Tent featured Herlin Riley, a Herbie Hancock/Wayne Shorter duo performance and Terence Blanchard with his E-collective.

The stack of stars drew a massive audience, filling the Jazz Tent to capacity and leaving a slew of fans relegated to listening from outside the tent for Riley’s set, a hard bop-fueled performance drawn material featured on his latest recording, New Direction. Once Riley closed with a bouncing rendition of Danny Barker’s “Tootie Ma,” the aisles filled with Hancock and Shorter fans hoping to score a seat for their performance.

Repeated announcements about capacity came from the stage, with dire warnings like “there will be no standing in the aisles or charging of the barricades,” providing a strange preface to a jazz duo.

After a long welcome via standing ovation, Hancock and Shorter began to play, launching the meditative set with a pair of extended, mellow soprano saxophone lines. Hancock echoed his longtime friend and collaborator’s introspective vibe as he dug in on the piano positioned alongside his keyboard setup. Even when he engineered a series of fast, dark motifs with his left hand, things remained contemplative as the two indulged in 75, virtually wordless minutes of musical exchange.

As Hancock pressed on, seemingly anchoring much of the music’s direction, Shorter bended his approach, shifting timbre and power to simultaneously play up and build out the musical narrative Hancock was creating next to him.

For most of the first, nearly 50-minute- long tune, Hancock alternated between intensely cerebral figures, cascading harmonies and a use of time and space that said as much through silence as his more virtuosic moments said through sound.

Shorter, meanwhile, mixed swirls of color with vaults into unexpected registers that seemed as if they could lift the top of the tent off and send it careening skyward.

Hancock soon moved to his Korg Kronos, and a series of extra terrestrial sounds, some dissonant, some not, wafted out over the crowd. Slowly at first and then building in intensity, he hammered out a sparse drum beat, alternating it with sheets of low, spaced out soundscape waves that seemed to billow off the stage like a floating tapestry. Shorter added restrained improvisations to the top of the new mix, which by then had more in common with the EDM-meets- jazz feel of Hancock albums like Future 2 Future, than with the pair’s 1997 duo recording, 1 + 1.

At one point, Hancock unleashed a hard-edged Bhangra beat of sorts on the room, sending the rhythm ricocheting between tent flaps in an immersive departure from the meditative give-and- take displayed at the beginning of the set. The dynamics enlivened the whole set — and saved it from the Acura Stage sound bleed, which leaked a distracting amount of Red Hot Chili Peppers bass and reverb into the tent prior to Hancock’s energy boost.

Before they closed, Hancock returned to piano and both artists sounded invigorated by what had just transpired between them. Shorter’s energy and power shone through more decisively as Hancock set up complex, high-speed harmonies beneath him.

Later, Hancock worked his way into a deep-toned groove and Shorter played off of it, mixing wild upper register torrents with playful nods to Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

Another jazz programming highlight came in the form of an unofficial focus on jazz drummers. One day before Riley’s performance, the Jack DeJohnette helmed DeJohnette Coltrane Garrison trio played an ethereal set of music that ranged from spiritual (“Atmosphere”) to groove-minded (“Two Jimmys”) and featured DeJohnette on piano as well as his electronic drum pad-enhanced kit.

Among the headliners at the festival’s second weekend, which was unfortunately marred by rainouts and flooding, was Joe Lovano’s two-drummer- centric Us Five ensemble. Though Lovano’s music selections for the set hewed more toward a note- heavy approach that feels slightly out of place in New Orleans, the spirited exchanges between drummers Francisco Mela and Otis Brown III consistently pushed the music forward.








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