How tight are the generations of musical greats that have kept New Orleans rocking decade after decade? Well, find out by listening to “Here Come the Girls,” the lead-off track to “With You in Mind,” a wonderful new tribute album to the late Crescent City musical colossus Allen Toussaint by Stanton Moore, drummer for one of New Orleans’ most heralded jam bands, Galactic.
It begins with a second line groove supplied by Moore and transplanted New Orleans percussionist Mike Dillon before roaring to life with a groove fronted by one of the city’s most esteemed vocalists, Cyril Neville (of the Neville Brothers and The Meters). Then the cheery funk fractures into merry horn play led by one of the city’s true young lions, Trombone Shorty, who released his own version of the same tune not three months ago.
As far as “With You in Mind” is concerned, the family that plays together — even one as expansive as the gathering assembled for these sessions — rocks together. The unifying force for that bond, of course, is the great Toussaint. Throughout this album, his legacy as a funk and groove merchant, pianist, composer and vocalist is touched upon with comprehensive detail.
But the catalyst is Moore, a musician whose command of the jazz and groove music of his homeland is nothing short of scholarly. He doesn’t show off during “With You in Mind,” often remaining the shadows of tastefully wicked rhythms that regularly embrace New Orleans tradition without being confined by it. What Moore does best here is work as a traffic cop, guiding the generations of New Orleans artists to and fro through a library of Toussaint works that range from his most familiar compositions (“Southern Nights”) to obscurities (the previously unpublished and unrecorded “The Beat”).
Neville sings lead on roughly half of the album, sounding soulfully at home amid the brass (led by a seasoned trumpet wail from Nicholas Peyton), vocal sass and a powerfully percussive rumble on “Life” (originally cut by Dr. John on the 1973 Toussaint-produced career breakthrough album “In the Right Place).
But there is so much more at work here, like having Peyton and saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. resurrect a street parade reading of “Java,” the Toussaint instrumental from the late 1950s that became an Al Hirt hit in 1963. But as great as the guest list is, one of the highlights of “With You in Mind” is the title tune, which Moore and his working trio tackle alone. Even then, Moore relegates himself to a hushed, brushed backdrop so pianist David Torkanowsky and bassist James Singleton can translate the 1978 soul-pop ballad into a gorgeous summery reflection.
From its funkiest grooves to its most contemplative introspection, “With You in Mind” is a token of admiration from a familial musical assembly, with Moore as its capable skipper, to Toussaint. It is gloriously expansive, lovingly assembled and delivered with all the grace and grit you would expect out of a world-class New Orleans party.