Amber Rachelle & The Sweet Potatoes • Too Sweet

Amber Rachelle & The Sweet Potatoes • Too SweetA New Orleans group without familiar players is always a nice find. I love how the city contains and continues to attract multitudes. Amber Rachelle & The Sweet Potatoes are as fresh as it gets. Forming around 2021, this debut album is from 2023, a year that also found them on stage at the NOLA Jazz Museum in a show you should seek out on YouTube. May 2024 has them active with two appearances each at the 21st Amendment, and the Maison, and shows at several other New Orleans venues. They recently played the French Quarter Fest and seem to be growing a following.

With no biography available I did some digging and discovered a 2017 video of Amber Rachelle on the streets of Seatle with an earlier group playing 1920s jazz tunes including “Egyptian Ella” and other crowd pleasers. Interviewed, Amber tests two one liners: “Jazz, not for old people. Jazz, for everybody.” Amber also talks about wanting to go to New Orleans; looks like she made it.

Red Wood Coast

She is so young in that video I suddenly realized that many of the New Orleans musicians I still consider to be part of a traditional jazz youth movement are now in their 40s and 50s and have 20 solid years behind them. Katrina was 19 years ago, and even those who migrated to the city after were usually playing elsewhere already. Amber Rachelle headed to the birthplace of jazz in the 2020s, and she isn’t the only one. Among her local inspirations are vocalist Germaine Bazzle, now 92; clarinetist Doreen Ketchens, who, as a 25 year old living in the French Quarter pre-Katrina, I used to watch play on Royal Street; and singer Meschiya Lake who, as my contemporary, I consider part of the post-Katrina wave.

What distinguishes the Sweet Potatoes from those fine ladies, Amber’s earlier group, and the other groups around New Orleans today, is that they are more of a swing band, though one unavoidably rooted in New Orleans playing. “Stompin at the Savoy,” “Frim Fram Sauce,” “Drop Me off in Harlem,” “Swing Brother Swing,” and other titles suit the timeless swing of the band, not hammering in on one style, or playing super tight arrangements for committed swing dancers, just being their entertaining selves. It remains an interesting choice for her, when finally reaching New Orleans, to step a little forward in time. Though it does add some variety to the local scene, and maybe give them an in.

Caleb Nelson on trumpet is also very young, coming to New Orleans by way of Sacramento, where the traditional jazz influence remains strong. Connor Bigelow plays an impressive saxophone. He graduated from UNO in 2020, his graduation recital, featuring his arrangements of Isham Jones, Duke Ellington, Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, and Horace Silver can be found on YouTube. There are videos of Tyler Hotti ripping some electric guitar blues riffs with a portable amp on the streets of Vancouver back in 2011 when he must have been a teenager. Steve Walch on bass is a little more established in the city and can be heard backing some acts a bit outside our scope, but also with Sunny Side, a super solid group reviewed in my March column. Ronan Cowan plays drums, his Masters recital for UNO was in May. Everyone may be still in their 20s!

Hot Jazz Jubile

That said there is nothing juvenile about this band. They are in the thick of it, playing multiple times a week in a city that sweats music, and promise to be on the scene for decades to come. The magnetic power of New Orleans for jazz musicians remains.

A few tracks I found give Amber a chance to be more sultry, bluesy, or push her vocal expressiveness to its limits. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is and example of this from the album and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” is worth finding in the video from the NOLA Jazz Museum. She can belt one when the title calls for it. There is a Facebook video of her performing Bessie Smith’s “’Lectric Chair Blues” in tribute to Meschiya Lake, which is frankly as things should be. Last month I noted a Brian Holland and Danny Coots group covering an original that first appeared on a Meschiya Lake album. Nothing is more indicative of a healthy jazz scene than generations both older and younger feeding off each other.

Too Sweet
Amber Rachelle & The Sweet Potatoes
amberrachelleandthesweetpotatoes.bandcamp.com

Joe Bebco is the Associate Editor of The Syncopated Times and Webmaster of SyncopatedTimes.com

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