If the trumpet is the essence of New Orleans, then trumpeter Kermit Ruffins is emblematic of the Crescent City's modern musical heritage. As a teen, Ruffins brought the Rebirth Brass Band to national prominence and was instrumental in inspiring a whole generation of young brass musicians to blend the urban styling of hip-hop, funk and heavy jazz into a vibrant street sound.
Today, the "Big Butter & Eggs Man" is considered a living embodiment of the great Louis Armstrong, in playing style and in his lovable, raspy singing. His latest effort is a simmering red beans and rice crock-pot of New Orleans jazz that's never abstract and always hot. The band, consisting of Corey Henry, trombone; Emile Vinette, piano; Rod Paulin, sax; Kevin Morris, bass and Jerry Anderson, drums; swells and swoons like an outfit twice their size, using excellent dynamics and flawless tonality. They set new heights with dazzling interpretations of "Ain't Misbehavin," "Bogalusa Strut" and Gershwin's "But Not For Me;" yet, at the same time, Ruffins' originals feel like they've been around New Orleans forever. "Can't Take My Baby Nowhere" is a hilarious tale of a guy constantly humiliated by his girlfriend; "Treme Second Line (Blow Da Whistle)" kicks off the Mardi Gras festivities in all its revelry. Meanwhile, if it's not a gorgeous, lip-splitting trumpet line, Ruffins' charismatic personality and a twinkle-in-your eye sense of humor reveals the kid from the Treme is one mighty fine entertainer. - Dan Willging