Woody Allen and His New Orleans Jazz Band

As a director, Woody Allen has demonstrated infuriating narcissism and lobotomy-worthy judgment by continuing to cast himself in his own films. While the rest of his actors outdo themselves at their craft in order to fulfill his still-vital ideas, Allen insists on burdening his work with his overworn nonacting, essentially getting in his own way. Music fans, then, couldn't be blamed for expecting the same from Allen's ragtime-style jazz band, which he fronts on clarinet. Or for thinking that perhaps Allen would fare better being backed, Robert Palmer-style, by a group called Soon Yi and the Adoptees.

But where Allen has worn out his welcome onscreen by at least two decades, his onstage ability will send your jaw hurling straight to the ground, which is where it will remain stuck until he plays his last note. Nothing short of a miraculous surprise — which wears off a bit when you remember his deep affinity for jazz and when you consider his claim that he's been playing daily since the age of fifteen — Allen's proficiency, presence, and individual voice on the delicate instrument won't strike you merely as "pretty good for a director" but also damn formidable by any standard. He certainly sounds like someone who plays every day. And, much like the supporting cast in his films, Allen's band members push themselves to sublime heights, effortlessly transporting you to a bygone era as if they were conjuring some sort of magic cloud. Not to be missed. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

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