Though Friday night’s program at the Hollywood Bowl was entitled “Hot Nights in New Orleans,” the music, along with the weather, was often rather cool, even sedate. It was a case of irresistible forces like Pete Fountain and Dr. John running into an immovable object called the Los Angeles Philharmonic, thus diluting the virtues of all three.
Really, now, was a symphony orchestra necessary for this program? In Fountain’s set, “Clarinet Marmalade” found his group and the under-rehearsed L.A. Phil ensnared in a hopelessly tangled opening, and some elephantine orchestral charts held down “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” and “Basin Street Blues.”
For Dr. John, the arrangements were somewhat more urbane and classy, with the good Doctor slyly rephrasing chestnuts like “Blue Skies” and “Candy” in a manner reminiscent of his “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Afterglow” albums. But when orchestra and performer lurched into a perpetually busy “Goin’ Back to New Orleans,” the results were neither this nor that, just a dull hybrid of little value.
While matters improved whenever the two Crescent City headliners broke free of their symphonic bonds, there was still a sense of restraint in their music, tailored perhaps to the laid-back sensibilities of the picnicking audience.
Fountain, who is still a most inventive clarinetist caught between the worlds of New Orleans and swing, stuck with the Dixieland idiom this time. And while Fountain’s pedestrian New Orleans Jazz Band doesn’t really push him much, the evening’s guest principal trumpeter Warren Luening, an old Fountain colleague from the Lawrence Welk band, did inspire the clarinetist as they traded licks on “It Had to Be You.”
With the Phil laying out, Dr. John spent a good deal of time gradually transforming a batch of Ellingtonia, alternating between piano and organ and reaching a peak of alchemy when his rhythm section laid down a heavy, Meters-like groove to “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” Yet even though Leadbelly’s “Good Night Irene,” retooled as a boogie shuffle, lit some fires, this wasn’t quite the man who can hover over an audience like a witch doctor.