Kermit Ruffins Wraps Your Troubles in Dreams....
.... And parades those troubles away. Kermit Ruffins is a perfect embodiment of New Orleans music history, and remains one of the city’s most vibrant performers. He continues the living legacy of trumpet/vocalist/bandleaders under the influence of Louis Armstrong. Anytime Putumayo World Records dedicates an entire collection to one artist, you know you’re in for something special.
Born in 1964, Ruffins is one of the most prominent young musicians keeping the Big Easy legacy alive. The trumpet/singer/songwriter co-founded the Rebirth Brass Band, and later the Barbecue Swingers (named for his custom of grilling sausages for fans between sets.) He is often credited with the resurgence of Brass Bands and other traditional forms of live music. The ghosts of Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, and many other important New Orleans horn players loom large over this entire collection. Ruffins loves to party, and everywhere he goes becomes one.
Putumayo’s collection is a seamless collage of classics and originals, a testament to the superior quality of his songwriting. He makes even the most familiar tunes his own with a mixture of reverence and revelry. Ruffins takes a jazz standard like "Aint Misbehavin’" and jazzes it even more with unexpected twists, turns, and false endings. In the same spirit, Ruffins borrowed a tune called "Christmas Time in New Orleans" that Louis Armstrong used to play, set his own lyrics to it, and retitled it "Monday Night in New Orleans." It serves as proof that hot jazz is alive and well in its hometown.
It may seem odd that Ruffins alters "On the Sunny Side of the Street" to sing "On the Side of the Street that’s Sunny" but he got it from Nat King Cole, so it works just right. "When My Dream Boat Comes Home" and "Bye and Bye" (complete with Gospel Choir) are timeless New Orleans anthems, infused with its citizens’ undying optimism. Perhaps the best example of this resilience is "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams," one of the tracks graced by Eric Traub on sax and Dr. Michael White on clarinet. It seems unfair to single people out though, because every single solo is brilliant.
"Leshianne" is an original instrumental featuring Ruffins with a metal mute. It features a slow, sultry swing beat, great musical interplay, and seemingly effortless sustained high notes. "Kermit’s Second Line" is another original and a definite highlight. The song found immediate acceptance in the party and parade repertoires for which it was intended. Ruffins and his Barbecue Swingers close the set with "Do the Fat Tuesday," a live version with interactive dance lessons. Pop this one in your sound system, and you can make any day Mardi Gras!
Ruffins possesses a marvelously mangled singing voice, crystal clear trumpet tone, and a genuine joy of existence that colors all his improvisations. Ruffins is blessed to work with the Crescent City’s finest traditional jazz musicians, but certain names stand out to jazz fans everywhere: Lucien Barbarin, Walter Payton, Ellis Marsalis, Dr. Michael White, and Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen.
Highly recommended to all jazz fans. You should also check out his song "Drop Me Off In New Orleans" featured on another fine disc Putumayo Presents: New Orleans, as well as any of his seven Justice and Basin Street releases.
-David Seymour is a jazz journalist upriver in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA.