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CD Reviews 

Kermit Ruffins
Live at Vaughan's
(Basin St. Records)

Restaurants with an eye towards marketing beyond the scope of their immediate surroundings (Emeril, anyone?) often go for the now well-tested move of franchising a signature flavor -- doing a bottled version of a patented favorite sauce, say, or a frozen dinner in supermarkets or via mail-order, so far-off fans can squint a little and pretend to be eating their smoked-duck pizza at Wolfgang Puck's Spago and not over the kitchen counter in New Jersey. Does it ever quite measure up? Of course not. But it's enough to prompt the really tasty part -- the memories -- to flow. Kermit Ruffins' Live at Vaughan's exists much in the same vein. Kermit and his trusty Barbecue Swingers at Vaughan's on a Thursday is very different from a simple live performance. It's the smell of sausage in the smoker, close quarters on the dance floor, smoke, booze, sloppy dancing and the otherwise reasonably quiet Upper Ninth Ward. Ruffins produced this disc himself, and the overall result is pretty great -- not the overdose of clinking glass and hooting and hollering that'd make it a novelty record, but just dirty enough to place you squarely on Dauphine and Lesseps. The album heats up mid-set with loose, extra-swingin' versions of "Palm Court Strut," "Treme Second Line" and "Hide The Reefer," and you can literally hear the crowd and the band starting to get rowdy. It's high time this record was made -- and it's exactly the thing to send to anyone who knows what they're missing. Let's just advise him not to freeze and package those barbecue sandwiches. They won't travel nearly as well. -- Alison Fensterstock

Tom McDermott
Live In Paris
(STR Digital)

Piano virtuoso Tom McDermott epitomizes the swinging scholar type of musician. The longtime New Orleans resident has written about Crescent City jazz in these pages, as well as the rather more rarified leaves of The New York Times. His performances and compositions also can have a cerebral air. He's successfully probed and deconstructed New Orleans' (and other cultures') rich and venerable piano soundtrack over the years, revealing an utterly thorough understanding of musical traditions from ragtime to bossa nova. The kicker that makes McDermott a consistent joy to listen to is that he's far from the ivory tower. As a musician, he inhabits the sound so completely that it seems like an effortless -- if incredibly sophisticated -- afterthought. The live, solo piano recordings on this album are an utterly pure example of that. It sounds almost as if you've wandered in on McDermott noodling around in his living room. The slide from originals like the playful "Copasetic Boogie" into structured blues like W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues," looser grooves by Fats Waller and James Booker, traditional gospel, and even a loosened-up, snazzy version of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer," is so natural and at ease that it's practically unnoticeable. The only thing that interrupts the album's spare, groovy purity is a very French smattering of polite applause. -- Alison Fensterstock

Delfeayo Marsalis
Minions Dominion
(Troubadour Jass Records)

On his most recent CD, Minions Dominions, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis assembles a terrific band to do a straight-ahead, no-gimmick jazz record that would not be out of place as a 1950s or 1960s Prestige or Blue Note session. Marsalis touches all the bases here from mid-tempo swinging numbers to fast cookers to impressionistic ballads. Marsalis' playing is strong and assured, although less in-your-face or brassy than many trombonists in New Orleans. His solo on the second track "Lone Warrior" starts slow and relaxed before building over the course of several minutes to hit several higher notes than most trombonists are willing to attempt. Then, instead of ending as most musicians might, he continues to solo, bringing it back down for a solid ending. As well as Marsalis plays, his band is right there with him. Percussion titan Elvin Jones puts his powerful and distinctive touch on every tune whether on the powerful opening cadences and subsequent powerhouse snare and cymbals of the title track or with the light subtle brushes of the ballad "If You Only Knew." Brother Branford Marsalis shows why he is pound for pound one of the best tenor players in the world with his beautiful tender playing on the aforementioned ballad or his quick, Coltrane-like runs pushed by Jones on "Minions Dominions." Veteran unsung sideman pianist Mulgrew Miller fills in the gaps with well-chosen chords like Red Garland on the standard "Just Squeeze Me" or the opener "Br'er Rabbit." On that same tune, Donald Harrison gives listeners the lyrical and energetic solos for which he is known. Alternating bassists Edwin Livingston, Eric Revis and Robert Hurst III anchor the rhythm section, giving all the soloists and Jones a solid footing from which to improvise and play. -- David Kunian

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