Who better to articulate the feelings of a drowned city than New Orleans’ own grizzled virtuoso Dr John? With the wrath of Hurricane Katrina still at the forefront of Louisiana’s collective mind, the good doctor has thrown together a short personal musical statement and a request for everyone to donate to the city’s relief effort.
A pleasingly compact charity record, all proceeds go to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Jazz Foundation of America and the Voice of the Wetlands. With a riff on the failings of the authorities and the state of the city’s soul, the doctor receives a little help from The Lower 911 in making a mini-album of six tracks.
Clean Water, originally released by Bobby Charles, tops and tails the record, while the doctor’s languidly funky standard Sweet Home New Orleans gets a reworking with additional lyrics by his wife.
But it’s the album’s central section that will be of most interest to the man’s music fans. The Hurricane Suite, the record’s only new tracks, treats the city’s jazz heritage like classical music and arrives formed of four parts. Proving that jazz can be relevant in a contemporary cultural context, the Suite runs from ominous instrumental beginnings to a hopeful vocal-centric conclusion.
Storm Warning employs cymbals, tremolo and bass to create a meteorological effect before calming to a piano-led toe-tapper. Storm Surge’s tremolo and piano mash-up then give way to the chilled Calm In The Storm, a track so tropical in pace that it demands a comfy seat and a long drink with which to watch the world going by. The Suite ends with the vocal-driven Aftermath, as people return to the city, “wading in the water… Coming back better than ever.”
Charity records can so often be overblown affairs of celebrity ego and suspect quality. Dr John has said his piece succinctly and in a timely fashion. New Orleans may never be the same again, but a city is not merely buildings. Rather, as this record demonstrates, it is defined by its people.