Familiar Pleasures: Kermit Ruffins, We Partyin’ Traditional Style

By Daniel Garrett

Kermit Ruffins, We Partyin’ Traditional Style
Produced by Tracey Freeman
Executive Producer Mark Samuels
Basin Street Records, 2013

In his cheerfully gravelly voice, on We Partyin’ Traditional Style, the trumpeter and singer Kermit Ruffins offers joy, along with parade-style horn playing, supported by syncopated rhythm, in a song, “Chinatown,” celebrating a city’s diverse local and international culture.  His band features trombonist Lucien Barbarin, clarinetist Tom Fischer, drummer Shannon Powell, and, among others, banjo player Don Vappie.   “Exactly Like You,” written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, is jaunty, playful but can’t quite supplant Nina Simone’s version, which is inflected with experience, surprise, and pleasure: and, additional lyrics about Jack and Jill going up the hill and Jill coming down with money in her hand has rude implications.  The half-whispered style of “Careless Love” works well, very well, over a consistent percussive rhythm and with what sounds like a clarinet.   “I Guess I’ll Get the Papers and Go Home” is finding consolation in reading a lonely hearts column, a downbeat song with comforting humor and growly scat.  The Harry Warren-Johnny Mercer “Jeepers Creepers” has something of a quick rhythm that made me think of Charlie Chaplin (it is a song of attention to someone’s large eyes).  A slow-paced affirmation is “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” composed by Clarence Muse, Leon Rene, and Otis Rene.   Brassily boisterous, pleasantly cluttered with a fragmented, fast rhythm is Kermit Ruffins’ own “Treme Second Line” and Ruffins’ rough delivery, half-spoken/half-sung, is a unique acquired taste.  “Over the Waves” is a somewhat mournful instrumental sound; and yet its old-fashioned quality gives it a kind of wit that is confirmed when the rhythm quickens (its shifting structure makes this one of the most appealing pieces on the recording We Partyin’ Traditional Style).  “All of Me” has a muted trumpet introduction, joined by a high female voice echoing Billie Holiday’s (singer Mykia Jovan), before Ruffin joins in for a duet.  ‘Marie” is an uptempo seduction song, not particularly persuasive.  “When the Saints Go Marching In” is joyfully brassy.

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today.  Daniel Garrett has written extensively about international film for Offscreen, and comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader.