Music in the Present Tense: The Joe Krown Trio @ the Parish Public House, 11/13/15


By Fred Rudofsky

The best bands move one’s feet, dazzle the brain and speak to the soul.

Allen Toussaint, acclaimed singer-songwriter-pianist-producer, died at age 78 last week of a heart attack following a concert in Spain. Though his name is not evoked verbally, the grooves of the Joe Krown Trio speak to his profound influence.

All three musicians are virtuosos from the Big Easy and have a history with native son Toussaint. As their website points out: “In November 2010, the Trio was invited to be part of 15-city U.S. tour called ‘New Orleans Nights.’ The Trio performed a feature set and then backed up Nicholas Payton and Allen Toussaint.” For singer-guitarist Walter “Wolfman” Washington, the loss must be acute: he knew the genius back in the 1960s, when Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey and Ernie K. Doe were recording classics under the supervision of Toussaint, who wrote those early songs under the pseudonym “Naomi Neville,” his mother’s maiden name.

At Albany’s Parish Public House, Russell Batiste, Jr. plays with power and finesse, slicing and dicing time like it’s a big sweet onion, readying it for the sonic gumbo. Washington, seated and dapper (his beret, silver shoes and fine threads that would have made the late Toussaint smile in approval), fires off smooth solos and tangy rhythms from his guitar; his raspy vocals attest to decades of singing from the heart for the people. Joe Krown, perched behind his Hammond B-3, cooks up some meaty hooks and swirling fills. In 90 minutes, the band mesmerizes with instrumentals like “Trio’s Anthem” and “Another Day in the Life” from 2013’s Soul Understanding and reaches way back in the day for Ray Charles’s “Mary Ann”, Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years” and Bobby Bland’s “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby.” George Jackson’s “Last Two Dollars” sounds like it was written just for Washington to sing – he owns it.

There is an extended pause before the last song. Gravely, Krown announces that the trio sends out its love to the people of Paris, and reassures us that their friends have all so far checked in to verify their safety. I can hear the sorrow in Krown’s voice; the city is shaken, raw with pain and loss.

What happened in France?!!! I half-mouth the question. I have been out of the news cycle all day, reviewing Voltaire’s “Candide” and going over the fine points of drafting research papers, busy grading essays and writing college recommendation letters.

A pall falls over me as I look at the floor. Horrific images flash like lightning across my mind’s eye: carnage, cries for help, gasps of disbelief and sirens from all directions. My throat knots up.

Not again. Not again.

An elegiac introduction, infused with each player’s distinct ache, gives way after a few minutes to the deep, redemptive funk of “You Were Meant for Me.” A few couples dance in the shadows, several loners raise their glass of beer, and this band of brothers from the City That Care Forgot play their hearts out.

I see a woman – four diagonal steps away from the stage – wiping away tears from her face. By mid-song, she’s gradually smiling, soft-shoeing in time to Batiste’s deft drum work.

Our world is fraying at the edges, crying out for justice and peering with trepidation into the future.

Music in the present tense. It consoles. It understands. It loves.

Seek it out…

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