Does it get anymore New Orleans than Allen Toussaint who has been around since the begining of the sixties and has played with just about everybody from New Orleans as well as many famous international stars. Jazz, R&B, Blues, Soul, Disco, Rock and Pop are all just part of his repertoire but here on "The Bright Mississippi" it is all Jazz but like all Allen Toussaint's piano or keyboard playing it has New Orleans all over it. Allen is only on piano here with vocals on one composition and has not written anything himself for this one but no matter as the material is still given his touch and transported back to the twenties and early thirties with the Traditional and Ragtime influence that is the major influence throughout the album. Missisippi the home of the blues is used in the title and that is just another component of the album with Marc Ribot having the job on accoustic guitar throughout the album. Allen is not the only New Orleans native present as Nicholas Payton is blowing trumpet and if it is New Orleans you want there is no better man for the job going around today. Jay Bellerose is drumming and Jay and Marc Ribot have worked together before as David Piltch on bass has and all with Joe Henry who actually surprise is the albums producer. Brad Meldhau who makes a guest spot on piano on one track has also worked with those four musicians mentioned and Joshua Redman makes a guest spot on tenor saxophone as well for one tune. Last but not least we have Don Byron on clarinet and yes he also is familar with those other four musicians having played with them as well on Joe Henry's albums. As most of the musicians are all familar the seamless does come into the production and Joe Henry has produced a similar sound that has been apparent on his last four albums by just applying that slight muddy effect to the sound but although that touch is there the clarity remains with the result of a beautiful mixing job in the albums construction with an old time feel with one foot in the traditional and one in the contempary.
Sidney Bechet is the co-writer for the album's start being "Egyptian Fantasy" with that old sounding drum thump and the trumpet of Nicholas Payton commencing proceedings and the surprise of the album is Don Byron's input with the clarinet that just melds with Nicholas's trumpet bringing a sound that is pure New Orleans but not from the present but 1920 with Allen Toussaint giving us a great little old time piano solo. "Dear Old Southland" is the follower with Nicholas Payton stealing the show with his part by just playing Gershwin's "Summertime" which is the base for this laid back composition which does not get anymore South than this classic song. Allen Toussaint's piano playing is spectacular to say the least he really does capture the time and feel with another classic Southern tune to be given a work over being "St James Infirmary" and Allen's piano trades licks with Marc Ribot's guitar and the piano roll is just perfect blending with the accoustic guitar blues throughout. Nicholas Payton on trumpet gets things underway on another old time classic "Singin' the Blues" with great work from Allen Toussaint on piano which follows. Brad Meldhau makes his only appearance next on piano with the Jelly Roll Morton composition, "Winin' Boy Blues" and Brad does keep it 1920's but he still injects a more modern improvised solo bringing another side to the tune. The great Louis Armstrong tune, "West End Blues" is straight after with Nicholas on trumpet doing a nice job with that loopy intro and well as playing the song just beautifully but things improve still when Allen plays his turn at piano on this traditional jazz standard with more beautifully picked blues to follow from Marc Ribot. There is not a poor track within and things stay right where they belong back in the early 20th century with the construction and sound. "Blue Drag" by Django Reinhardt is superb with a beautiful slow roll, "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" the old Gospel tune is given more great treatment as the Monk tune which is the albums title, "Bright Missisippi" is with that old time shuffle. Joshua Redman makes his appearance on "Daydream" which is the only tune within the album containing saxophone and the dream element is all there on this old Ellington/Strayhorn composition with Joshua's sax just right with a great lovely laid back solo with Allen Toussaint on piano following. Allen Toussaint sings as well as his usual piano for the next, "Long Long Journey Home" with the clarinet and trumpet providing support but Marc Ribot is pickin' Blues as he knows how bringing a great feel to the song. The album closer is another slow Ellington tune, "Solitude" and once again it is Allen and Marc sounding so natural playing together with a mix of pure New Orleans and yet Marc Ribot has taken a more Blues approach to his accoustic guitar contribution and not just to this tune but the whole album bringing to the proceedings their own distinct sound.
Highly recommended album as it is one on its own and perhaps that is due to the fact the production has been given that Joe Henry master touch. He has his own stamp with music these days and he is original and creative and what more can you ask for. Allen Toussaint is simply stunning with his piano but so are all the other musicians that took part in this project. I hope that they do another but if you can't wait there is another similar in production and sound with a more contempary edge but still with a similar 1920's Jazz Hall sound, try Joe's last one, "Blood From Stars" with many members from this album's project present.