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Sippiana Hericane (2005)

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Dr. John

Dr. John and the Lower 911 lay out this short (25:25), hastily recorded benefit for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Jazz Foundation of America and the Voice of the Wetlands. Musically, it's Mac in his laid-back mode, but the band crackles a fair bit throughout. The centerpiece of this seven-track set is the "Wade: Hurricane Suite" consisting of the old spiritual "Wade in the Water," improvised and extrapolated into four parts revisiting the levee breaks, storms, and catastrophes that have visited the Crescent City since history has been written. Mac plays his best jazz piano and organ as it has been influenced by deep blues, second line and old-school gospel and funk. The band, which includes John Fohl on guitar, bassist David Barard, and drummer Herman Everest II, sits tights with Mac's strolling and sometimes dramatic groove. The tunes are fine though the production feels sterile, too clean for the music, and that's a drawback. One would have liked to hear this band stretch out more and really click in a rawer setting on the suite because the blues are so prevalent in its construction and ripe for improvisation. But this mini album was recorded in New York and not at home, as has been his wont for a few years now. That's not to say that Sippiana Hericane is a disappointment, but it's not fully satisfactory either. The heartbreak and desperation are pervasive, but the rave-up sections don't quite climb out on the limb or out of the emotional basement either. The dissonance on "Storm Surge," is wonderful, as each player follows Mac's lead into some angular yet no less vamp-based playing. The record feels ambivalent throughout, and perhaps it should, because the grief is genuine, but the rage that is touched on here, as well as the hope for a New Orleans that will be back "twice as strong," feels reined in, and not allowed its full expression. ~ Thom Jurek