Thursday, November 29, 2001

If you know what it means to miss New Orleans, then tonight you have your choice of two of the Crescent City’s more famous musical traditions.

Brass band fanatics can buck jump and jive with the legendary Dirty Dozen at the State Theater in Falls Church tonight. The Dozen are actually a septet of trumpet and saxophone players, a drummer and, most importantly, a tuba providing the bass. Begun as the house band for a New Orleans Dirty Dozen Social Aid and Pleasure Club, the band has never officially been a twelvesome.

“One time, we had a picture taken of us after a gig and we were all excited because there happened to be 12 of us playing that night,” says sax man Roger Lewis, one of the band’s original members. “But when the picture came out, there were 13 musicians in the picture one fella standing on the sidelines accidentally ended up in the frame.”

When the band first formed in 1977, it revolutionized New Orleans’ brass band tradition by taking the music into the streets and dirtying it up with soul, funk and bebop. Like most musical pioneers, the early members of the Dozen didn’t set out to change the music, Mr. Lewis said, they were just playing the music they wanted to play.

And it’s still music that people in and out of New Orleans want to hear. The band plays about 200 gigs a year, usually spending three weeks on the road packing every house and then a week playing in New Orleans at clubs such as Donna’s and the Maple Leaf.

“The audience always responds to the music we play because New Orleans’ music is so rhythmic and spiritual and intellectual,” Mr. Lewis says. “People come out and have a good time. We play music for the mind, body and soul.”

Those partial to contemporary Cajun music can tread the boards at the Barns of Wolftrap to the accordion- and fiddle-based tunes of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. Though founder and frontman Steve Riley and his bandmates are all in their mid-twenties to early thirties, their Cajun credentials are strong. Mr. Riley, who grew up in the central Louisiana burg of Mamou, where French is spoken on the street and Mardi Gras is treated as a national holiday, came into the Cajun music scene as a tender 15-year-old accordion player in the legendary Dewey Balfa’s band. The other members are all rooted geographically and musically in the Cajun tradition, having apprenticed with the likes of such Cajun music stars as Belton Richard, Aldus Roger, Wayne Toups and Jo-el Sonnier.

With all that history in their bones, Mr. Riley and his Playboys still manage to invigorate the genre. Followers consider the band the torchbearers of what’s called “swamp pop” a beguiling gumbo of Cajun and zydeco, spiced up with a dash of rock, blues and folk. The result, evidenced on their latest CD, “Happytown,” is a tasty stew for the ears and, most importantly, the feet.

One of the best things about seeing a show at the Barns is that it’s a great spot for dancing, and the Mamou Playboys are a perfect fit for the venue. With Mr. Riley’s effortless vocals many of his songs are sung in French and the band’s tight, seductive rhythms, two-steppers and waltzers will never want to sit down.

• • •

Lovers and jazz lovers alike would do well to visit Blues Alley tonight through Saturday, when trumpeter Roy Hargrove leads his quintet. The set will feature several of the romantic standards the talented young jazz musician recorded for his current CD, “Moment to Moment” (Verve), including “You Go To My Head” and “The Very Thought of You.”

The lush, orchestra-backed tracks of “Moment to Moment” take a long ride away from the songs on his previous release, “Habana,” a Grammy-winning exploration of lively Afro-Cuban rhythms. While the success of that recording took his career to a new level, Mr. Hargrove was eager to explore a new direction for his music. He noted that audiences always responded positively to the romantic vibe of some of the jazz classics he’d play during his sets. So he decided to devote an entire recording to those ballads, finding his inspiration in the ballads-with-strings albums of Clifford Brown and John Coltrane.

Since releasing “Moment to Moment” last Spring, Mr. Hargrove has toured with R&B singer D’Angelo and, more recently, performed to sold-out houses with jazz masters Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker. According to Mr. Hargrove’s manager, Dale Fitzgerald, the trumpeter will go into the studio with Mr. Hancock and Mr. Brecker early next year to record his next CD, which should be ready for release by late Spring 2002.

• • •

Celebrate the holiday season with Lee Ann Womack tomorrow night at the Patriot Center. The Country Music Awards’ Female Vocalist of the Year makes Fairfax the second stop on her three-week-long Christmas tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The petite Texas singer brought the realism and resonance of traditional country music back on to the country charts just when the genre was about to become indistinguishable from broadly defined “pop” music. Miss Womack will surely bring that same unapologetic traditionalism and reverence to her holiday-themed show. Hopefully, as a stocking stuffer, she’ll include a big band rendition of her smash hit “I Hope You Dance.”

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