The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch)

Allen Toussaint

Released April 21, 2009

Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album 2010

JazzTimes Top 10 Albums of 2009

Grand Prix de l’Académie du Jazz 2009




Nonesuch Records released The Bright Mississippi, Allen Toussaint’s first solo album in more than a decade, on April 21, 2009. Produced by friend and frequent collaborator Joe Henry, the record includes songs by jazz greats such as Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Billy Strayhorn. Toussaint and Henry created a band of highly regarded musicians for the sessions: clarinetist Don Byron, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist David Piltch, and percussionist Jay Bellerose. Additionally, pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman each join Toussaint for a track. The Bright Mississippi was reissued on 140-gram vinyl on June 10, 2016.
Growing up and learning to play the piano in New Orleans, Toussaint knew the music that is on The Bright Mississippi well, although his career tended more toward rock and popular music; he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, by his friend and collaborator Robbie Robertson of The Band. This return to the music of his roots was suggested by The Bright Mississippi producer Joe Henry, who had produced Toussaint’s 2006 album with Elvis Costello, The River in Reverse, as well tracks from as I Believe to My Soul, a collection of classic R&B and soul songs, and songs on Nonesuch’s 2005 Gulf Coast benefit album, Our New Orleans.
As Henry explains, “At the close of the day’s Our New Orleans session, Allen sat alone at the piano and played through an arrangement he’d devised of Professor Longhair’s Crescent City standard, ‘Tipitina.’ It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before and like everything I’d ever heard.” He continues, “In the weeks that followed I worried over this brief piece of music like it was a rosary, and I wasn’t alone in my devotion to it. The principals of Nonesuch Records were thinking what I was: that a door had been nudged open, and behind it lay a room; and in that room there perhaps resided a particularly gifted and heretofore unsuspected executor of the broad musical amalgam born to New Orleans at the dawn of the 20th century.”
While Toussaint has always known material like “West End Blues” and “St. James Infirmary,” he admits that, as a performer, “I hadn’t tackled them on my own. ‘Tackle’ is a bad word—I hadn’t caressed them on my own, except to listen from time to time in passing. Even the gigs that I’ve done during my gigging days, I was playing whatever was on the radio at the time, boogie-ing and woogie-ing and the like. I hadn’t been through this standard bag. I always loved those songs, but I had never been in a setting where that is what I would do for a while. Until now.”
He calls the experience of making The Bright Mississippi “wonderful. Everything is live, of course. This isn’t the kind of assembly line music where somebody put the wheels on here and somebody put the top on there. Everything got done at the same time, so everybody fed on each other, their personality and tonality.”

Track Listing:

1. Egyptian Fantasy (Sidney Bechet / John Reid) 4:39

2. Dear Old Southland (Raymond Bloch) 6:19

3. St. James Infirmary (Traditional) 3:51

4. Singin’ the Blues (Con Conrad / J. Russel Robinson) 5:40

5. Winin’ Boy Blues (Jelly Roll Morton) 6:41

6. West End Blues (Joe Oliver /  Clarence Williams) 3:51

7. Blue Drag (Django Reinhardt) 4:21

8. Just a Closer Walk with Thee (Traditional) 5:10

9. Bright Mississippi (Thelonious Monk) 5:07

10. Day Dream (Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn) 5:27

11. Long, Long Journey (Leonard Feather) 4:50

12. Solitude (Eddie DeLange / Duke Ellington / Irving Mills) 5:31


Allen Toussaint: piano (1-12), vocals (11)
Don Byron: clarinet
Nicholas Payton: trumpet
Marc Ribot: acoustic guitar
David Piltch: upright bass
Jay Bellerose: drums and percussion
Special guests
Brad Mehldau: piano (5)
Joshua Redman: tenor saxophone (10)

Recorded March 19-22, 2008, at Avatar Studios, New York

Produced by Joe Henry

Recorded by Kevin Killen, assisted by Anthony Ruotolo

Mixed by Kevin Killen, assisted by Rick Kwan

Cover photography by William Claxton (New Orleans, 1960)

Design: Sequel Studios


Pianist, writer, producer and arranger Allen Toussaint can justifiably be called a living legend. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he helped define the New Orleans R&B sound of the ’60s and ’70s through his work with Lee Dorsey, Irma Thomas, The Meters and Dr. John, then went on to collaborate with rock giants like The Band, Paul Simon and Little Feat. He also produced the funk classic “Lady Marmalade” for LaBelle and wrote “Southern Nights,” a number one hit for, of all people, Glen Campbell
Toussaint’s first solo effort in more than a decade is a heartfelt tribute to his hometown of New Orleans and the classic jazz on which he grew up. Producer Joe Henry, a jazz-loving rocker who also produced The River in Reverse, Toussaint’s 2006 album with Elvis Costello, surrounds Toussaint here with a talented and eclectic crew including guitarist Marc Ribot, clarinetist Don Byron, New Orleans-born trumpeter Nicholas Payton and, from Henry’s own band, bassist David Piltch and drummer Jay Bellerose. Pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redmanalso sit in for a track each: the cerebral modernist Mehldau showing his earthier side on Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” and Redman offering gorgeous, rough-hewn solos on Ellington-Strayhorn’s “Day Dream.”  Although he’s spent his career in other genres, the 71-year-old Toussaint, an heir to the rollicking New Orleans piano style of Professor Longhair, Fats Domino and others, is clearly at home playing this music. And the rest of the band feeds off Toussaint’s laid-back vibe and obvious joy in revisiting the music of his youth. Highlights include Ribot’s spot-on acoustic guitar solos on Ellington’s “Solitude” and Django Reinhardt’s “Blue Drag” and Byron’s moving clarinet work on the gospel standard “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” The set’s most surprising and memorable number is the title track by Thelonious Monk, which Toussaint and company turn into a strutting New Orleans shuffle.

Joel Roberts (All About Jazz)