New World Funk Ensemble releases
rare late 1990s live performances

If you were active on the New Orleans music scene in the late 1990s, you were privy to a golden age of funk and world music. Young musicians were rewriting the musical landscape of New Orleans and the New World Funk Ensemble was right in the middle of an era that spawned Galactic and many other bands and musicians. Their new live album is available on Bandcamp here.

Everyone in the band was a first class musician and most have gone on to have stellar careers. One, the guitarist and band co-founder Todd Duke, passed away recently. So in a way, this release of live performances from Snug Harbor, the House of Blues, Tipitina’s, the Funky Butt, and the sorely missed Mermaid Lounge is an elegy for him.

The New World Funk Ensemble released one studio album and had a record release party at Snug Harbor on May 20, 1998. I was there and it was one of the fifteen or so times I saw the band live from their inception in early 1997 to their reunion shows in 1999. At that time it was rare for a band that was highly danceable and played African-inspired original music to play at the premier jazz club in town.

But most of the musicians were jazzers at heart and when you listen to these live cuts you can immediately tell how intense they were live. The studio album, while a fine document of the band, just doesn’t do justice to the musical interplay between the musicians and the strength of the group.

Everyone sounds wonderful, but Duke truly stands out with blistering solos and great hyper articulate comping. For anyone who only heard him backing up ace vocalist John Boutte, this album will be a revelation.

Kudos go to keyboardist Charlie Dennard for his excellent job of transferring the digital audio tapes (DAT), editing and mastering them. Not only is the music stellar, but the album sounds great too.

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