Dr. Michael White’s Tricentennial Rag in stores today, 6/29

The New Orleans tricentennial has occasioned celebrations large and small across the city and the country. Surprisingly, there isn’t much new music being released to commemorate the historic occasion. So, Tricentennial Rag, the latest album from clarinetist, bandleader, and music historian Dr. Michael White is a welcome addition to both his voluminous output and the city’s festivities. After a local Jazz Fest release, the album is in stores today nationally on Basin Street Records.

All of the tunes on the new album are originals with the exception of the record’s closing song, the perennial favorite, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The chestnut is given a treatment that takes the song back to its origins as a hymn. Longtime White sideman, trumpeter and vocalist Gregory Stafford, takes the vocal and brings the song back to the ecstasy of the black church.

Elsewhere on the album, Stafford sings another gospel-inspired original, “I Saw Jesus Standing in the Water.” But don’t think for a second that the album is filled with sacred songs, Stafford also takes the lead vocal on a new addition to the short list of modern-day Carnival originals with his vivacious take on “On Mardi Gras Day.”

But it’s the instrumental tunes that define White’s work on the clarinet and the skillful playing of his backing musicians. The lead song “Frenchmen Street Strut” and the title cut bring out the best in the ensemble playing of the band as White’s clarinet weaves in and out of the other instruments.

There are a variety of musicians on the album ranging from regulars with White, like Stafford and relative newcomers on the scene like cornetist Shaye Cohen, best known as the leader of the trad outfit Tuba Skinny. Detroit Brooks’ banjo work stands out, as does the ace tailgating of trombonists David Harris and Richard Anderson. Steve Pistorius plays stellar piano on all the cuts except one, the ballad “Loneliness.”

Since the beginnings of his career, White has made an effort to incorporate the deep traditions of New Orleans classic jazz into his original work. Tricentennial Rag is a welcome addition to his catalog. The tunes themselves are bound to become standards joining the old-time repertoire as the enduring genre grows into its second century.

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