Crescent City Gold – The Ultimate Session (1994)

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NICK DERISO: “The Ultimate Session” might not completely live up to the billing. Forgive us, however, if we cherish its sense of hip-shaking fun, anyway.

Assembled are a who’s-who group of New Orleans musicians who played nearly five decades before with the likes of Little Richard, Fats Domino and Professor Longhair. Fronted by familiar performers Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, “Session” includes the great funky drummer Earl Palmer (pictured at right; he originally played on “Lucille,” reprised here, and on scores of other early rock sides); saxophonists Alvin “Red” Tyler and Lee Allen; and pianist Edward Frank, among others.

They weren’t content, however, simply to reminisce. Clever updates on a series of choice period remakes — including “Don’t You Just Know It,” by Huey “Piano” Smith, and “Junco Partner” — are coupled with a batch of tunes written specially for this recording that sound lived in and true.

“Red and Lee,” as you’d expect, is an effective sax showcase. Tyler, a criminally underappreciated performer, is in turn groovy and bright on “Slick Is.” Trumpeter Stacy Cole, tenor saxist Amadee Castenell and baritone Cindy Mayes add a second-line counterpoint to Palmer’s brilliant conversational style on Toussaint’s “New York Buzz.”

“Session” stops short of the title’s hyperbole on tracks like “Lucille,” which ends up as a mildly disappointing vamp. But even on “Cold Blooded Woman,” an otherwise rote piece of R&B, Allen does a brilliant job of quoting John Coltrane.

Together, this group of musicians helped construct the New Orleans sound so closely associated with tunes like “Mother In Law,” “Rip It Up,” “I’m Walkin'” (embedded below from a performance by Palmer and Tyler) and “Slippin’ and Slidin,'” among countless others.

Sadly, “The Ultimate Session” also ended up as one of the final bows for largely forgotten sidemen like Allen, Tyler and Palmer, who once appeared on Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High,” the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” and Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.”

Tyler, dead a decade now, would subsequently indulge his love for jazz. Allen, who died later in 1994, staged a revival of sorts when the Stray Cats and then the Blasters asked him to sit in. Palmer passed away earlier this year after being inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame’s newly created “sideman” category back in 2000.

If anything, that should deepen our appreciation for remaining contributors like Dr. John, credited here by his real name, Mac Rebennack. He principally appears on his original instrument, the guitar, and adds sharp, incisive riffs throughout. Toussaint can’t help but leave his own indelibly easy-going stamp on “Hang Tough,” a good-grooving aside.

The two trade verses for the first time — though Toussaint actually sang some back up for Dr. John’s long-ago hit “In the Right Place” — on the modern New Orleans standard “Trick Bag,” the witty love-gone-wrong centerpiece of “Ultimate Session.”


Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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