Seriously, I was not going to post about the performance of Naughty Professor last night at the Dunedin Brewery. MusicFestNews had recently posted a review from Virginia Beach (read it here) and an On the Rise feature in May (read it here).
But last night was so over-the-top astounding that I have no choice. Really. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Mid-set, this message came in from Bret Peretz, promoter with Don’t Fret Entertainment:
“Take Snarky Puppy and Lettuce, jam them in a cannon, sprinkle a tiny bit of Primus on top, then fire it out, and you get Naughty Professor.” Or consider the words of Josh Formanek, a superb guitar player in the area:
“They are the best live band I’ve ever seen. And every time out, they seem to have new arrangements of their great material.”
No argument from me. Notice that Josh did NOT say the best band ever (it’s all so subjective, anyway), although those of you who don’t care for jazz would at least appreciate the professionalism and showmanship, but this powerhouse sextet exhibits depth and vision far beyond their young years. You don’t normally associate the adjective ‘powerhouse’ with a traditional jazz group. Here was my attempt at a description:
“Naughty Professor is a New Orleans-based sextet of young musicians in the present respecting the jazz traditions of the past while playing the music of the future.”
DO. NOT. MISS. NAUGHTY. PROFESSOR. For real.
From the opening notes of “Chef’s Revenge” to the coda of the last tune, “Seventh-Inning Stretch,” Naughty Professor sky-rocketed through seven songs from their recent album release, Out on a Limb, several from Until the Next Time, their first full-length CD, one from The EP, and two brand-new songs. It was a master class given by players who look more like students than distinguished faculty.
As Formanek and I compared notes afterward, we observed that this is a full-functioning six-member coalition of talent. The moment you begin to praise one player, it invariably leads to the next, and the next. They are all brilliant players. But there is more to it than that.
Naughty Professor features excellent original material, incredible arrangements, and mind-blowing unison work and interplay. The three-horn attack is reminiscent of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers — on steroids. This is part of that respect for the past. Another part — and I will never, ever tire of seeing this — is how the horn players walk offstage to make sure that the soloist of the moment has the spotlight.
And the band channels the same energy that drives Snarky Puppy, Lettuce, the Motet, Orgone and Monophonics. There is a sheer intensity to the music, and, if there is a momentary quiet section, be assured the the musical hurricane will resurface shortly.
Every member of the band gets plenty of space to display his talents. First, you get to appreciate the awesome unison power of the front line: Nick Ellman on alto and baritone saxes, John Culbreth on trumpet, and Ian Bowman on tenor sax. That initial blast takes your breath away, and then you get caught up in the whirlwind.
There were wonderful solos all night long; my notes attempted to highlight a few. Bowman had a great blow on “Third Past.” Guitarist Bill Daniel (and his nickname Wild Bill is well deserved) had a great turn on “As They Say in the Biz” (great title, too). It is worth noting that all six band members contribute to the writing, which further solidifies their unity as a musical entity.
During “Brain Storm,” drummer Sam Shahin took his first ‘solo,’ but this was not a solo in the almost unstructured way many drummers approach them. This was a brilliant showcase within the context of the song, bassist Noah Young and Daniel still vamping while Shahin exploded. The horns were playing during the segment, with Ellman far stage left and Bowman and Culbreth offstage right. It was so cool.
“Prune Juice” gave us one of Culbreth’s best trumpet solos of the night. I hear the history of the trumpet every time he plays, from Louis and Dizzy to Nicholas and Wynton, and perhaps Hubcaps (Freddie Hubbard) most of all.
“Six Dog Night” began with a sweet extended duet from Young and Shahin, then into full band mode, then another Bowman solo. Ellman was killing it on alto for much of the night but switched to baritone for this and several others. It was a treat to see that the smiles on the faces of the sextet matched the smiles on the faces of the rapt audience.
The arrangements, and particularly the mind-boggling time changes, were overpowering. I sent out a Facebook message: “How are they possibly a light year better than the last time I saw them (which was incredible)?” Shahin, Young and Daniel had one more delicious romp at the end of “Seventh-Inning Stretch.”
And when it was done, it was done. They had left it all on stage. This show did not need an encore; it was perfect.
There was music before Naughty Professor’s set, and it was deluxe. I’ve been to the Dunedin Brewery many times, but apparently I had never made it there for Wednesday Open Mic Night. There is a house band comprised of players from various bands who live in the area. This particular band featured four great musicians from four excellent local bands and included two great sit-ins as well.
Austin Llewelyn (Row Jomah) has been playing keyboards there on Wednesdays for some time. In fact, Row Jomah formed during these sessions. Brandan Lewis (Currentz) was bandleader and sang and played guitar. Rob Sanger (Serotonic) was on bass, joined in the rhythm section by Dave Gerulat (shoeless soul, former drummer and more recent percussion for CopE). It’s worth noting that Lewis makes/builds guitars, and Sanger does the same with basses.
I know them all, but I was not prepared for this remarkable performance. It launched immediately with “Smile,” and everybody got a turn to shine. Sanger and Gerulat had things locked down tight in the rhythm section all set. “Roots Rock Reggae” was more than just a repetitive reggae beat, with Llewelyn taking a great organ solo and Sanger owning the tune. Lewis’ guitar and vocals were showcased on “What You Need,” with an electric piano solo from Llewelyn.
Then the fireworks started. They called up Jordan Garno, Sanger’s bandmate in Serotonic and also the guitar player for Infinite Groove Orchestra. It was another reggae rock song, moving along until — WHAM — double-time! Sanger was huge, and Garno took two brilliant solos, followed by Lewis with a killer of his own.
After “Stand By Me,” Josh Formanek got on stage as Garno departed. It has been too long since we’ve seen Formanek on stage, so this was a treat. Lewis introduced the tune “Cambodian Blood Bath,” but, he said, “It’s not anything like that!” OK! What it was… was some deep fusion in the TAUK vein, with Formanek blowing it up, Llewelyn on clavinet (I think), Lewis answering, and superb interplay — especially given that only Sanger knew Formanek previously.
They closed with a dynamite reading of Phish’s “Birds of a Feather,” with great solo space for everyone. Llewelyn was huge on organ.
Like I said, I seriously had not planned to post this, but I simply could not contain myself.
As always, the sound was perfect in the capable hands of sound engineer Chris Fama!
DO. NOT. MISS. NAUGHTY. PROFESSOR. For real. Check their itinerary here. I’ll buy you a beer if you don’t agree.
[NP SETLIST: Chef’s Revenge, Glass Two Apples, Third Past, As They Say in the Biz, Brain Storm, Trooper of Storms, Prune Juice, The Contract, Do You Like Dragons, John’s New Tune, Six Dog Night, Norman, Six Paper Joint, Seventh-Inning Stretch]
[DBHB SETLIST: Smile, Roots Rock Reggae, What You Need, Shadows, Stand By Me, Cambodian Blood Bath, Birds of a Feather]
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