Stanton Moore’s tribute to Allen Toussaint – Out on July 21. Features include Maceo Parker and Cyril Neville
Stanton Moore’s busy all the time. Besides his solo projects, studio and TV work, and teaching, he’s the drummer of Galactic, the funky New Orleans conglomeration now in its third decade of touring, and he still finds time to record and travel as a trio with David “Tork” Torkanowsky (keys) and James Singleton (bass).
Like Moore, Tork and Singleton are in high demand, so it takes some lead time to clear everybody’s schedule. They’re both first-call players with ridiculously long resumes and long apprenticeships under departed masters, both composers, both deeply rooted in New Orleans. (Singleton moved to town 40 years ago to be in the Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown Band; Tork’s father conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic for 14 years.)
The trio had a new record ready, they thought. But then, “a couple of days before we were supposed to start recording,” says Moore, “Allen Toussaint passed.”
Toussaint’s sudden death on November 10, 2015 (in Madrid, far from home, of a heart attack, after playing a concert) shocked the city. The polymath New Orleans producer, songwriter, arranger, bandleader, pianist, singer, and all-around figure of elegance had been a vital, active presence in New Orleans since the 1950s. He wrote and/or produced scads of hits for R&B artists from Irma Thomas and Lee Dorsey to Labelle and the Pointer Sisters, rock artists including The Band and Elvis Costello, and decades’ worth of unclassifiable New Orleans musicians. He had shown no signs of slowing down.
The three musicians immediately shelved their planned album and went into creative hyperdrive. “We already had studio time booked, we couldn’t wait,” Moore recalls. “It’s not like we wrote out all these arrangements ahead of time. We were flying by the seat of our pants.”
As they began working up pieces of Toussaint’s vast repertoire, it quickly became a vocal album with guest singers. “As Tork likes to say,” Moore comments, “being a musician in New Orleans is like having the greatest musical toolbox at your disposal.” Supplementing their trio with some of New Orleans’s living legends — their friends — they reimagined Toussaint’s songs, conceptualizing and building out an album on the fly.
They called in Cyril Neville to sing a song. “It turned into him singing four songs,” laughs Moore, “plus one as a spoken-word performance.” Neville kicks off the album with “Here Come the Girls,” written by Toussaint for Ernie K-Doe in 1970, with the added muscle of the musicians’ longtime colleague Trombone Shorty, the former child prodigy who is now a marquee attraction all over the world. Neville gamely sings one of Toussaint’s best-known numbers, “Life,” in 7/8 (James Singleton’s idea). Inspired by that, Moore put the 1969 Lee Dorsey classic “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)” into 5/4 (It was Tork, says Moore, who figured out how to make “fun-ky” line up on the 1). And Neville’s version of “Night People” features an alto solo by funk legend Maceo Parker.
With You in Mind: The Songs of Allen Toussaint is built on the livest grooves the trio could deliver. “We’ve been doing this together for four years now,” says Moore. “I don’t think we could have done this as well as we did if we were just starting to play together. We play in New Orleans every Tuesday when I’m in town and not out with Galactic, but we became better friends and started playing better together once we started traveling together. We’ve been touring — not a lot, but four days in Japan at the Cotton Club, we’ve done that three times, France twice, the Blue Note in New York twice. You become a more coherent unit when you travel like that together, plus we got more comfortable bouncing ideas off each other.”
It was a bittersweet project for all concerned, celebrating the memory of someone whose living presence was so important. “I didn’t get to work with Allen as often as I’d have liked to,” Moore says, “but I did get to.” Their friendship went back twenty years. “Back in ’95, when we were first getting started with Galactic,” he recalls, “we were brought to Allen’s attention, and he called us into his office to meet with us to discuss the possibility of producing us for his label at the time. But unbeknownst to him we had already gone into Sea-Saint [Toussaint’s studio, subsequently destroyed in Hurricane Katrina] and recorded Coolin’ Off, which became our first album. So we not only already had a producer, but we had recorded the album. He said, ‘looks like you guys are on your way.’ Through the years we crossed paths a few times. The first time he played with us was also the first time we played the Saenger Theater,” referring to the 2,600-seat New Orleans landmark.
“What was really interesting working with him was the rehearsal process. His ears were so refined, he heard everything that was going on. The way that he would hear, and the way that he would sculpt the band, every time we ran through it he would add details. He wasn’t spitting out an arrangement by rote, he was adapting the way we played together and making a new arrangement as we went.
“Allen Toussaint wrote the soundtrack to New Orleans,” says Moore. “He came out of an environment that no longer exists. The level of talent and ability and artistry that he embodied — we won’t see this again.”
Toussaint’s compositions stand as a brilliant display of why the city’s music is eternal and why New Orleans is still so artistically urgent. But the soundtrack keeps being written. The musicians on With You in Mind: The Songs of Allen Toussaint are present-generation masters of the unique musical style of the world-historic city of New Orleans. These singers and players felt the mission of the album, and delivered inspired, focused performances. Producers Torkanowsky and Moore sculpted it all into a great album that grows with every subsequent listen.
STANTON MOORE – WITH YOU IN MIND
- Here Come The Girls (feat. Cyril Neville & Trombone Shorty)
- Life (feat. Cyril Neville, Nicholas Payton & Skerik)
- Java (feat. Nicholas Payton, Donald Harrison Jr. & Trombone Shorty)
- All These Things (feat. Jolynda Kiki Chapman)
- Night People (feat. Maceo Parker)
- The Beat (feat. Cyril Neville)
- Riverboat (feat. Nicholas Payton & Donald Harrison Jr.)
- Everything I Do Gone Be Funky (feat. Maceo Parker)
- With You In My Mind
- Southern Nights (feat. Nicholas Payton & Wendell Pierce)
Released July 21, 2017
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