Producing a 26-track album is no simple feat, yet New Orleans jazz torchbearers Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield have done so with an impressive cohesiveness and creative finesse. The two trumpeters have released a collaborative LP, titled A Beautiful World, via Basin Street Records.
The album is a celebratory token for Basin Street, which is observing its 20th anniversary this year. Kermit and Irvin, the label's two most recorded artists, brought in 57 different musicians (mostly from the New Orleans area) for studio work, including notable figures such as clarinetist and label mate Dr. Michael White, percussionist Shannon Powell, jazz innovator Jason Marsalis, The Meters' Cyril Neville, singer John Boutté, local institution Rebirth Brass Band, and accomplished actor Wendell Pierce.
According to a statement on the Basin Street Records website, the ambitious Mayfield, who occupied the role of producer, organized the various contributors into four formations: funk ensemble, big band, chamber orchestra, and traditional marching band.
Ruffins, whose raspy vocal outbursts appear all over the album, explained that, "Good food and good music are my passions. I wanted to make a record people could eat." Metaphorically speaking, the eccentric entertainer has accomplished such a task (although it is slightly perplexing that he neglected to include new versions of "Smokin' With Some Barbecue," "I Ate Up The Apple Tree," "Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner," and "Chicken and Dumplings"). The compilation is robustly flavorful with sizzling brass, and the musical assortment is generously varied and akin to a fine multi-course meal.
Popular New Orleans jazz standards dot the record, including an animated take on "When The Saints Go Marching In," an organ soaked "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," and a funky "Li'l Liza Jane" interlude that pops with sharp electric guitar work. A couple of Ruffins' contemporary originals that fit comfortably within the customs of regional jazz practice, such as "Drop Me Off In New Orleans" and the uproarious Rebirth Brass Band tune "Do Whatcha Wanna," are also incorporated. The gorgeous title track, featuring former American idol contestant Haley Reinhart, is "the true gem of the album" and "conveys a message of hope in tumultuous times à la Louis Armstrong’s 'What A Wonderful World.'"
Aside from jazz, Ruffins and Mayfield consistently blur the lines between funk, hip hop, rock, and even spoken word in a crafted display of musical command and diversity. Songs like the upbeat "Trumpet Bounce" and "Lexine," which shares its name with Kermit's wife and manager, have unmistakable hints of R&B and hip hop. "Be My Lady," "Mystic," "Good Life," and "Move On Ahead" radiate with a nuanced fusion of funk, jazz, and rock elements.
Wendell Pierce, a seasoned showman appearing in HBO's The Wire and Tremé, lends his voice to several playful interludes, including a brief Shakespeare monologue from King Lear, and the horoscope-inspired track "Sister Soul." There is even a delightfully lighthearted cover of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" with a debut vocal performance from Jason Marsalis, and a rollicking tribute to the late influential songwriter Allen Toussaint. Fun reigns supreme, and the LP lives up to the anniversary festivities.
Our favorite songs are "Well, Alright," "Good Morning New Orleans," "Allen Toussaint," "Li'l Liza Jane," and "Just A Closer Walk With Thee."
In addition to the commemorative LP, Basin Street is set to release a graphic novel titled "The One and Twos: Kermit, Irvin, and the Golden Record V.1" by English writer Amen Neville and a documentary about Kermit Ruffins in 2018.