- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

In the years since Elvis Costello arrived on the music scene, complete with punk sensibilities and trademark eyeglasses, he has managed to leap beyond the limitations of the field into a variety of musical genres.

The one-time new wave rocker has sung rockabilly with T. Bone Burnett, played with the Brodsky String Quartet and crooned with Tony Bennett. He has done gigs with Swedish mezzo-soprano Ann Sofie von Otter and sessions with the Charlie Mingus Orchestra. Of course, there’s the songwriting partnership with his wife, jazz pianist and vocalist Diana Krall.

Tonight at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, the veteran collaborator teams up with Crescent City great Allen Toussaint for an evening of music with a New Orleans flair.

The two first collaborated in the 1980s, when Mr. Toussaint acted as producer for a version of Yoko Ono’s “Walking on Thin Ice,” which Mr. Costello recorded with his band the Attractions and the T.K.O. Horns. Later, Mr. Toussaint provided the piano stylings for a track on Mr. Costello’s 1989 album, “Spike.”

Call it the “Toussaint touch.” Known for both his pianistic virtuosity and producing expertise for more than 40 years, Mr. Toussaint also has worked with a range of artists, including Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe, Dr. John and Patti LaBelle. An early tune, “Whipped Cream,” became a hit when it was performed by trumpeter Herb Alpert as the theme song for television’s “The Dating Game.”

Like Mr. Costello, Mr. Toussaint moves easily among musical idioms. In just the past few years, he has tapped into rhythm and blues, pop, country, musical theater and jazz, all leavened with his trademark New Orleans style.

It took the displacement caused by Hurricane Katrina to reunite the two.

After the hurricane, Mr. Toussaint relocated to New York City, where he performed at a series of benefit concerts that also featured Mr. Costello. A new collaboration seemed a natural fit, and the two began to talk about a new album.

The result is “River In Reverse,” recorded both in Hollywood and back in New Orleans in what is thought to be the first major recording project to take place in that city since Hurricane Katrina.

The album includes a variation of Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina,” with new lyrics by Mr. Costello, along with five songs that were written by the pair especially for the project. Seven tracks are from Mr. Toussaint’s catalog, including “Freedom Stallion” and “On Your Way Down.”

Mr. Costello wrote the title track, marked by soulful horn arrangements that add “a second voice” to the work.

• • •

Meanwhile, Ebony Jackson is just one of the artists who will appear Saturday in Summer LoveFest, a celebration of women in hip-hop, soul and house music at R&B Coffee on H Street Northeast. They are all part of the Can a Sista Rock a Mic? week, running through Sunday and showcasing some of the best of distaff local talent.

“I’m really excited about doing the festival,” says Miss Jackson, who came to the District from Kansas City via a full music scholarship at Howard University.

Drawing from the gospel, jazz, and R&B influences that surrounded her as a child, Miss Jackson has put together a varied group of musicians and backup vocalists in a show that propels listeners beyond a simple rehash of popular favorites.

“When people went to hear groups like Parliament Funkadelic, they got a lot of energy from that performance,” she says. “I want to give people that same powerful feeling.”

R&B Coffee, the brainchild of Alphonso Morgan, is part of the new crop of businesses appearing along a stretch of “the new H,” just off Capitol Hill.

“We want to have positive events in what has been an underserved neighborhood,” Mr. Morgan says. “Right now, things are really looking up.”

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