Review: “Higher Ground: Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert”

Detroit Free Press
Sweet home New Orleans
By Terry Lawson
November 20, 2005

Higher Ground: Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert

There was no shortage of tireless volunteers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and one of the true early responders was proud son of New Orleans Wynton Marsalis, who sacrificed his tiresome jazz purity to put together a benefit concert at Frederick P. Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. It manages to pay respect to the multiple musical tributaries of the Big Easy, yet maintains a cohesive spirit that is captured on this CD.

Gospel singer Shirley Caesar sets the sanctified tone with an earth- and heart-shaking “This Joy,” while trumpeter Terence Ballard, also from N.O., contributes an achingly empathetic “Over There.” Marsalis gets the opportunity to revisit the R&B he played with high school bands as he joins two Neville Brothers, Art and angel-voiced Aaron (whose interpretation of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927” would become the sad anthem of the disaster), on a rollicking version of Professor Longhair’s “Go to the Mardi Gras.” Marsalis also takes his chair with the Lincoln Center Orchestra, conducted by Don Sebesky, to provide a beautifully blue backdrop for Bette Midler’s surprisingly appropriate rendition of the Peggy Lee hit “Is That All There Is?”

Marsalis’ personal moment comes, however, with a Louis Armstrong-style Hot Seven romp through King Oliver’s “Dippermouth Blues,” a standout on a condensed version of the program that also includes contributions from Diana Krall, Dianne Reeves, Norah Jones, James Taylor, Marcus Roberts and Joe Lovano. We hope an upcoming DVD will include more, or maybe all, of a show that also featured Elvis Costello and Allan Toussaint, Paul Simon, Arturo O’Farrill and the great Abbey Lincoln.

All net profits from the CD will be donated to the Higher Ground Relief Fund, established to benefit the musician and, music-industry related enterprises from the New Orleans area that were affected by Hurricane Katrina and to provide other general hurricane relief.

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