'Treme' Ep. 23: Long Black Lines
For all the plot development in the series' infancy, last Sunday's episode of Treme was unusually saturated in live performances. The second half of the episode, especially, seemed like one concert after another. Here with me to recap the musical goings-on is WBGO's Josh Jackson.
Patrick Jarenwattananon: The Annie storyline is becoming a lesson in the life of the touring musician. Now billed as "Annie Tee and her Bayou Cadillac" — again, her backing band is known as The Red Stick Ramblers in real life — she manages to get the attention of the manager named Marvin after playing a show. But that presents another set of problems: recording a demo, writing original material and dealing with "oozy" men in the business.
Josh Jackson: Like Davis says, having an oozy manager could be an advantage in the music business. We'll see how this works. Meanwhile, Annie is polishing some of Harley's unfinished songs — you'll recall she "inherited" a stack of his music after his death last season. So far, she's made a pretty rocking demo, "That All You Got?" We also hear "Made in the Shade" as she and the band play a Halloween set at One Eyed Jacks.
PJ: Annie is opening for an act called Quintron and Miss Pussycat. Other than their obvious penchant for costumes and electronics, I don't know much about them. But I gather this season is going to feature other goings-on in Louisiana music, too.
JJ: Quintron is an electronic musician and shapeshifter of sound, as we hear in this performance of "Waterfall." Miss Pussycat does performance art. I'm not sure they need to be described as much as witnessed. I remember seeing them years ago at their Spellcaster Lodge, probably the first time they hosted the alt-blues phenomenon Andre Williams. Anyway, how about that modified vehicle front end? That's a good look for a keyboard. It should be noted that the item that looks like a perforated coffee can with a Lite Brite is actually an instrument, the Drum Buddy. Guitarist Nels Cline has one.
PJ: Antoine seems to be taking it upon himself to introduce his students to the New Orleans tradition. They're curious to play more than marching-band arrangements of "Basin Street Blues," it should seem. What's the significance of the Papa Celestin recording he shows his student?
JJ: It's "Marie Laveau," a little ditty about the legendary voodoo queen of New Orleans. It comes from a recording late in Oscar Celestin's career. He's one of the early practitioners of the Creole music of New Orleans, before anyone ever called it jazz. Papa led the Tuxedo Brass Band in addition to the Tuxedo Orchestra. Both Joe "King" Oliver and Louis Armstrong were in his band. Celestin himself was a cornet player.
PJ: Having never been to Preservation Hall myself, it was cool to see that on film when Antoine took his students there. I was surprised to see that it's really quite small, with no amplification. Also, I recognized that song as "Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing," a song that band has recorded with Tom Waits.
JJ: Preservation Hall is quite simply a listening room. No big cozy chairs; just sit on a wooden bench and listen to those fellas swing. "Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing" is one of the songs Danny Barker recorded in the late '40s. Guitarist John Scofield also covered the song with Medeski, Martin & Wood. A few years ago, Preservation Hall made a limited-edition 78 RPM record with Tom Waits' funky bellows. Aside from performing in a low-key setting at home, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band travels the globe. Its newest recording, St. Peter and 57th St., comes from its 50th-anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall.
PJ: One more Antoine quickie: His driver when he goes to greet his kids is a fellow named Cornell Williams. I know I've seen him before in the show.
JJ: He's the guy who helps Sonny kick his addictions in a previous season. Cornell is a very capable bass player who plays a lot of gospel music in addition to his work with pianist Jon Cleary's Absolute Monster Gentlemen.
PJ: We also saw lots of one-off music performances this episode. There was that solo pedal-steel player, Spencer Bohren. I trust that was an original song?
JJ: We hear Bohren playing his original, "Long Black Line," a very poignant song about the ubiquitous water line you'd find on people's homes following Katrina. We also heard a snippet of "Born in a Biscayne," the title song from an early-1980s recording.
PJ: At the club Snug Harbor, we saw at least two Marsalises and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, where Delmond sat in on trumpet.
JJ: Yes, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer Jason Marsalis. They're the two Marsalis brothers who have really kept their music close to home, literally. The band plays "Lone Warrior" and "Brer Rabbit" at one of the few places you can consistently hear modern jazz in New Orleans. The Uptown Jazz Orchestra occupies Wednesday nights at Snug Harbor.
PJ: At the Spotted Cat, we saw Sonny try to show his lady friend a good time — as much as he can, with her father there — by taking her to see Meschiya Lake, the singer with the prominent tattoos.
JJ: I finally had an opportunity to meet Meschiya at Jazz Fest this year, thanks to pianist Tom McDermott. She recorded a live duo album with McDermott at the club called Chickie Wah Wah. Here, we hear Meshiya and The Little Big Horns performing "Do for Myself," one of the songs from a recommended recording, Lucky Devil. I don't have tattoos, but I think the body ink is pretty cool — second only to our mutual friend John Rogers, who shoots our live broadcasts in New York. Speaking of which, here's John's photo of Tom and Meschiya.
PJ: Sonny gets a gig himself, with a bluesman I don't know. The in-joke about taking the band to Amsterdam wasn't fully lost on me, though.
JJ: That's Guitar Lightnin' Lee. He has a group called the Thunder Band. They're playing "Going to Amsterdam" at the Saturn Bar. Definitely an inside joke, if you know anything about where Sonny comes from.
PJ: John Boutte makes an appearance on the radio to talk about a song he's hoping to record.
JJ: I would be the first in line to fund a Kickstarter project with John Boutte and the great Brazilian artist Milton Nascimento. That is all.
PJ: And there's more live music at LaDonna's bar.
JJ: Yes, Little Freddie King doing "Chicken Dance." If LaDonna's was a real and current club in New Orleans, it would likely be penalized for violating a permit ordinance. Fortunately, there's a moratorium in place. That story is also still developing.
PJ: Finally, the episode ends with what seems to be a very obvious pass-off between father and son, when Delmond is the first to call order to Mardi Gras Indian practice. He hesitates at first, but then we hear the familiar "My Indian Red."
JJ: Delmond is not the Big Chief yet, but his father, Albert Lambreaux, is possibly signaling that a change is gonna come. The elder has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Those beautiful handmade suits are very heavy for a man short on breath. But there's still some fight in him yet.