Higher Ground Hurricane Benefit Relief Concert

Wynton Marsalis

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Higher Ground Hurricane Benefit Relief Concert Review

by Steve Leggett

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall at New Orleans on August 29, 2005, and the levees failed, devastating the city, the world's complete attention was suddenly focused in on the cradle of jazz, and several benefit relief concerts were quickly organized, including the concert that is presented here, held September 17, 2005, at P. Rose Hall in New York City. The album itself is an elegant and measured affair, opening with a burst of energetic gospel from Shirley Caesar and Eric Reed, who deliver a stirring version of "This Joy," followed by trumpeter Terence Blanchard's stately, beautiful, and meditative "Over There." Other highlights include the Marcus Roberts Trio's take on Jelly Roll Morton's "New Orleans Blues," which is really a rather joyous rendition; Buckwheat Zydeco's stomping "I'm Gonna Love You Anyway"; and Norah Jones' stunning version of Randy Newman's brilliant and poignant "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," with its powerful and repeated refrain of "Human kindness is overflowing/I think it's going to rain today." In the wake of the tragedy many wondered what might become of New Orleans' unique culture and music, and this concert gives listeners a clue. It will not only survive, it will circle back on itself and draw strength and vitality from its storied past. The smooth sophistication of jazz might at times make it appear fragile, but it is anything but, and has always fed on the wild and unpredictable elements of its improvisational DNA. It will take a lot more than a storm surge to wash it away.

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