• 'Treme,' Ep. 16: A Village On An Island

    June 1, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) leads the Soul Apostles in the latest episode of Treme. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    I think I'm starting to figure this place out. It's a village — a village on an island. Everyone's connected. They may love each other, they may hate each other, but they're all related. ... It's all connected somehow. And I'm this close to seeing how it all hooks up.
    --Nelson Hidalgo

    The New Orleans of Treme has often felt like a small town, where many characters wear multiple hats, and six degrees of separation feel more like one or two. But this season, that quality has been heightened ever so slightly.

    Perhaps it was just the juxtaposition in this episode of Davis' raucous rehearsal and his irritated neighbors next door, but it feels like many different characters are intersecting now. It didn't take long for Nelson to make very important political contacts. Batiste is now teaching in the schools, and hiring all different types of musicians. Janette and Delmond are now friends. Toni Bernette and Lieutenant Colson are possibly becoming more than friends. And everybody who seems to care about the city sees music in clubs and dances in second lines.

    About that music: Here's our (belated, sorry) rundown of this week's performances, with Josh Jackson of WBGO. Our full archive, too.

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  • 'Treme,' Ep. 15: Finding Your Voice

    May 23, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Antoine (Wendell Pierce) and Desiree (Phyllis Montana LeBlanc) march in a recreation of the Silence Is Violence parade in Jan. 2007. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    If you've ever been to the funeral of a beloved musician, you know there's a lot of positivity under the somber tone. It's one of the few times a busy musical community manages to come together and remember the contributions of their late compatriot. And in the New Orleans of Treme, funerals have often been healing and regenerative: There's catharsis in walking in that second line.

    But Hot 8 Brass Band snare drummer Dinerral Shavers was murdered senselessly. And the grief was more intense, more palpably real than previous funerals we've seen from this show. That's where we start with our weekly recap of the music — and more — of Treme.

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  • 'Treme,' Ep. 14: Christmas Blues

    May 16, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce, left) leads a rehearsal with his Soul Apostles, featuring guitarist June Yamagishi. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    Unlike the previous installment, episode four of Treme's second season has few major plot twists. That leaves a lot of time to look at the lives of "average" working musicians — both on and especially off stage.

    The Antoine Batiste-as-bandleader storyline is seemingly engineered for this very purpose. He needs a teaching job to afford middle-class creature comforts: gifts for his kids, jewelry for his girlfriend. In the meantime, he's also herding cats: auditioning new band members (Sonny), dealing with their departures (Raymond leaves for Dumpstaphunk) and busy schedules (his guitarist can't work on Christmas), organizing sideshows (c'mon, you all thought he was going after the hot women for another reason), calling rehearsals, writing arrangements, dealing with band members who won't read his arrangements, lining up gigs with surly bar owners who may be ex-wives. That's a lot to deal with, and none of it is paid.

    Meanwhile, there's also Davis trying to deal with the frustrations of the studio and the record business, Delmond developing new repertoire which might actually reach the mainstream, and Annie brushing up with fame and professional artist management. Even when we hear that — spoiler alert — Hot 8 Brass Band snare drummer Dinerral Shavers is shot and killed, we're told his bandleader Bennie Pete reacts with a mixture of grief and "How am I going to find a substitute for Thursday" worry. These are the relatively invisible, insider-y things that go into music-making in public. And kudos to Treme, this episode in particular, for telling those stories.

    To talk about some of the music itself, and whatever else comes to mind, I'm again joined over email by New Orleans native Josh Jackson of WBGO. As you may know, we do this every week.

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  • 'Treme,' Ep. 13: All Politics Is Local

    May 9, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Steve Earle as Harley performs with Jamie Bernstein in episode 13 (season two, episode three) of Treme. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    Spoiler alert: There are three break-ins during the latest episode of Treme. There's the looting that happened at Janette's old place, the bust of Sonny's apartment and, of course, the sexual assault on LaDonna. (What a performance from Khandi Alexander!)

    It seems like the writers behind the show are attempting to weave the surge of (violent) crime in late-2006 New Orleans into the fabric of the show's narrative. But this episode in particular seems to concentrate on impact of such things on the financially unstable people, especially freelancers and small business owners, who work in service industries — a huge part of the New Orleans economy. Janette won't get anywhere fast with her crazy chef boss. LaDonna can't run her bar. Sonny can't work without an instrument; the life of the musician is further highlighted when Antoine won't even interview for a steady teaching job. And the Nelson Hidalgo storyline highlights how the rich get richer, while subcontractors like Riley (and Chief Lambreaux, for that matter) see relatively little trickle down.

    With me once again to make the commentary much more palatable is Josh Jackson of WBGO. Here's our weekly e-mail discussion of the music of this episode.

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  • 'Treme,' Ep. 12: It's Gonh Be Funky

    May 2, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    DJ Davis (Steve Zahn) and his WWOZ boss (Darien Sills-Evans) argue, while DJ Jeffy Jeff (Spud McConnell) hosts programming. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    In November 2006, new problems were emerging in the rebuilding of New Orleans. To compound the lingering issues with police work immediately after Hurricane Katrina, crime is up again. Government agencies are spending freely with contractors via patronage networks, while working-class laborers are seeing relatively little of that money. There are proposals afoot to rezone the city and wipe out neighborhoods, and new politicians who are debating those ideas. Public schools are underfunded, and parents are taking notice. And, when it can afford it the least, a leading food authority lines up a broadside against the entire city's cuisine — and its culture at large.

    Treme's trick is that these issues are all reflected in intersecting human dramas. In episode two of season two, these plotlines begin to take shape. With me again to help break it all down is New Orleans native Josh Jackson of WBGO. We start, as we always do, with a discussion of the episode's live music performances.

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