WBGO Blog
  • 'Treme,' Episode 5: Struttin' With Some Southern Cooking

    May 10, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

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    L-R: Actual New York chefs Tom Colicchio, Eric Rispert, Wylie Dufresne, David Chang crash the fictional New Orleans restaurant of Janette Desautel. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    So you know when, in episode five of Treme, those four big-time chefs come in from New York to eat at Janette's restaurant? She makes a point not to "out New York" them, but still hits them with artful Southern cooking: sweet potato andouille shrimp soup, rabbit kidneys wrapped in bacon lardons, crawfish and grits, lamb, etc. Janette impresses those guys, and they seem loose and relaxed. It seems to me to be saying something to the effect of "we do it our own way here" — but still at a very high level, objectively speaking.

    Well-stated. Negotiating the line between New Orleans and New York has its rewards, whether you're a big chief, a big chef, or Louis Armstrong. Negotiating your way through a plate of grits and grillades versus a pastrami sandwich is helpful to understand the difference.

    Oh, hello again Josh Jackson of WBGO. You know, I can see a theoretical parallel scene in my head: Delmond is going to show up in a later episode with a bunch of New York jazz musicians, and they're going to be really impressed with the local talent.

    They should be. Connecting to the music of New Orleans can be a powerful experience. On that note ...

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  • 'Treme,' Episode 4: Tragedy, Comedy, Song

    May 3, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

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    John Boutte performs the Treme theme song and prominently in episode four as well. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    We're only four episodes into Treme. But one idea that keeps recurring: everyone is ultimately doomed, and everyone manages to crack an occasional smile in spite of it all.

    Insurers' greed, correctional incompetence, municipal utilities failure, corruption, death of loved ones, physical injury, resentment, racism, relationship drama, parental guilt and the federal government's crocodile tears greet every character at every turn. But for nearly everyone, playing, hearing or being around music enables some sort of familiar grin. Davis' madcap songwriting, Antoine's gruff incantations (to LaDonna in particular), Albert's Indian rituals, Sonny and Annie gigging, Toni and Creighton's Christmas music, Jacques' kitchen radio, Delmond's sheepish encounter with jazz greats and so forth: whether transmuting their emotions or escaping from them, music is there for people. Even the visual sequence behind the theme song juxtaposes images of hurricane destruction with an upbeat, good-mood tune.

    Part of this is the character of musical theater, sure: everything gets filtered through song. But it's especially effective for Treme. There's powerful, unmitigated grief in the show, met by bureaucratic mess. And if you think about oil spills, erosion, global warming and inevitable future hurricanes, nothing seems to be working in Louisiana's favor. When faced with the mortality of your entire culture and community, the humor tends toward darker shades of black. New Orleans just so happens to have great music as a way to work through that.

    Again joining me to talk about the music is WBGO's Josh Jackson. HBO's full playlist is here.

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  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band: No Added Preservatives

    April 30, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

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    The Preservation Hall Jazz Band's Freddie Lonzo. (Image Credit: Josh Jackson)

    When Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined My Morning Jacket on the rock band's first Saturday performance at Jazz Fest, it was the beginning of a tit-for-tat. They recombined later that evening for a benefit in the French Quarter, at Preservation Hall itself. And Sunday at the Gentilly Stage, PHJB played a set of traditional New Orleans music laced with recent adaptations to the repertoire like The Kinks' "Complicated Life."

    That's part of the complicated charm of Preservation Hall's new identity -- there's a firm grasp of the tradition, but also an inherent pliability of the New Orleans style that can still resonate with a whole new audience. It's old sometimes, but it's also relevant.

    Trombonist Freddie Lonzo and trumpeter Mark Braud provided the low-down brass blues, clarinetist Charlie Gabriel added a soaring clarinet response and singer Clint Maedgen was hip without pretense. Their version of "I Believe Like Moses Did" never broke down, even when they were goofing.

    Preservation Hall has recently released a benefit CD, and they featured a few of the special guests from that recording. No, not Tom Waits doing "Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing"….

    But Amy LaVere was there to sing the enticing "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" into a vintage-style ribbon microphone, albeit one that was wreaking havoc for the sound technicians. Her auburn-accented hair sailed into the breeze, and she handled an equally flowing delivery.

    Jim James showed up in the band's suit-and-tie dress code, with a bullhorn resembling a stolen traffic cone. There was little caution to his sweetness on "Louisiana Fairytale," a song about smelling magnolias and being in love -- "The world is at our feet, the picture is complete, like a Lou'siana fairytale." Really, Yim Yames?

    Then homegrown trumpeter Terence Blanchard and trombonist Freddie Lonzo traded modern vs. traditional, and the lines from both kept blurring. James stayed in for the closer, "St. James Infirmary Blues," an old folksong about the usual – a man walks into a bar, having just returned from the hospital visit to see his dead girlfriend. Drink up.