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An Allen Toussaint Tribute by New Orleans’s Modern-Day All-Stars

The sessions quickly became a way station for New Orleans’s modern-day all-stars: the vocalist and percussionist Cyril Neville, the trumpeter Nicholas Payton, the saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. and the trombonist Troy Andrews, known as Trombone Shorty, all stopped by for cameos.

The result was “With You in Mind,” out last Friday, which contains versions of 10 classic Toussaint songs, rendered with a loving joie de vivre and a freewheeling, communitarian touch.

“Allen Toussaint wrote the soundtrack to my life,” said Mr. Neville, 68, a former member of the Meters, who sings lead vocals on half the album’s tracks. “Everything that’s in me that is musical and can continue to contribute to the ongoing legacy of New Orleans music — a lot of it I learned from him.”


Troy Andrews, known as Trombone Shorty, at the 2017 Essence Festival. He also plays on the album.

Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Mr. Andrews, 31, wanted to offer thanks to a mentor who had reminded him that a musician’s calling continues offstage as well.

“What Mr. Toussaint did for me, outside of encouraging me to be a better musician, is that he taught me to always respect other people,” Mr. Andrews said. “He was always kind and always consistent in his actions.”

As a composer, Mr. Toussaint packed that avuncular warmth and street wisdom into tight moral dramas and testimonies of love. As an arranger and producer, he married New Orleans’s early rock ’n’ roll tradition — descended from Fats Domino — to a strutting, marching-band-influenced rhythmic feel. Horns and backing vocals often worked in conversation with a crackling rhythm section, creating a sense of buoyancy and sidewalk chatter.

“If you grow up in New Orleans, you’re very aware of Allen and his presence,” Mr. Moore said. “There’ll be stuff that comes on WWOZ,” he said, referring to a prominent New Orleans jazz radio station, “and he’s not singing or playing on it, but you can tell by the vocal harmonies or the horn arrangement that it’s him.”


Mr. Moore is best known for his work with Galactic, a jam ensemble with a loose brand of funk that owes greatly to Toussaint’s impact. The band’s first album was recorded at Sea-Saint. And on “Ya-Ka-May,” Galactic’s experimentally minded LP from 2010, Toussaint wrote a song and sat in with the band on piano and vocals. In its shows, Galactic often covers Toussaint compositions.

Mr. Moore and Mr. Torkanowsky, who co-produced “With You in Mind,” knew that creating a tribute to Toussaint meant ditching the idea of a trio album and investing in a formidable horn crew. But the driving force remains Mr. Moore’s drumming, strong-footed and centered on the snare and kick drums, locked almost perfectly in step with Mr. Singleton’s bass playing.

The album rolls along with a thicker, slightly less tightly wound flow than most Toussaint productions, which tend to be precisely arranged and nimbly planted on the balls of their feet. But just as Toussaint did in his broad catalog, the core trio on “With You in Mind” retains an identity across a wide range of affiliations.

Stanton Moore Trio ‘With You In Mind’ | Live Studio Session Video by KNKX Public Radio

It’s there on two hip-swiveling homages to hipness, “Night People” and “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky,” both featuring the vocals of Mr. Neville and the alto saxophone of Maceo Parker (“If everybody went to sleep at the same time/ Every night the world would just die, die, die”). And it remains intact on “Life” — a classic of Dr. John’s repertoire — which Mr. Moore renders with the vibe of an ambitious party. (“I didn’t know what once I was told,/ About the work of the Devil, and now I know”). The trio transposes the groove into seven-beat measures, retaining the song’s bodily sway by alternating the emphasis between odd and even beats.


The drummer Stanton Moore, who envisioned the musical tribute to Toussaint.

Marc Pagani

Mr. Torkanowsky played in the house band at Toussaint’s studio for many years, and was the musical director of his live ensemble. Mr. Torkanowsky said that in recording “With You in Mind,” he and Mr. Moore were guided by Toussaint’s meticulous attention to detail, and his focus on creating a musical language.

“When he worked with artists, he was going for lyrical and story clarity,” Mr. Torkanowsky said. “In playing his music, it’s that sense of clarity that informs our other improvisations.”

Mr. Moore said that the group held onto Toussaint’s spirit as it created an album relatively quickly, spurred by the news of his death and the will to elevate his legacy.

“We didn’t have much time to prepare preconceived arrangements, which I think was an asset, because we went in with open minds and collaborated together in the moment,” he said. “We all worked it out together in a collaborative way. Much like working with Allen.”

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