Hurricane Katrina scattered New Orleans musicians across the country. Many have returned to the Big Easy, but others are rebuilding their lives elsewhere. A former Ninth Ward resident, pianist Matt Lemmler is settling in Houston. Lemmler grew up just blocks away from Fats Domino's house and studied with Marsalis family patriarch Ellis Marsalis. He was evacuated to Houston when the storm hit, and less than two weeks later, he was installed at Tommy's Seafood Steakhouse. (Lemmler is there four nights a week, mostly with the Matt Lemmler Duo or Quartet featuring other local jazz artists such as Dennis Dotson or Warren Sneed.)
The Music of New Orleans, the CD, is much like the music of New Orleans, the city today: a familiar sound, a different landscape. Lemmler recorded the album in Houston with a mix of musicians from both cities. Lemmler on piano, New Orleans's Mark Brooks on drums and Houston's Joe Ferreira on bass complete the core trio, with Houstonians David Caceres and Diane Landry and New Orleanians Kim Prevost and Kimberley Longstreth sharing vocal duties. Tunes include a slow, sorrowful “What a Wonderful World” and a sassy “Sweet Lorraine,” with Caceres singing on both, and “Bye Bye Blackbird,” with vocalists Landry and Longstreth alternating both verses and styles.
But the real show here is Lemmler. It's easy to see why he was set to replace a retiring Ellis Marsalis as professor of jazz at the University of New Orleans he is incredibly talented. On “New Orleans,” his playing is poetic and profound. The intro is a long, aching solo by Lemmler; while beautiful, the tune is also wrenching.
As with most of the Hurricane Katrina transplants, New Orleans's loss is Houston's gain.
A CD release party for Music of New Orleans is scheduled for Friday, April 20, and Saturday, April 21, at Tommy's Seafood Steakhouse, 11660 Westheimer, 281-679-1112.
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