Months ago, Serotonic’s guitar player, Jordan Garno, put a bug in my ear. “Naughty Professor,” he near-whispered. “Incredible New Orleans band.” And he just nodded.
Let’s suppose you wanted to build a funky jazz band. Or a jazzy funk band. How would you go about it? Here is an architect’s rendering:
You need a strong foundation. Start with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, with that three-horn frontline. Add a floor of Chicago Transit Authority and Blood, Sweat and Tears. Next floor: James Brown’s Famous Flames and P-Funk. Going up: Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band and Larry Coryell’s Eleventh House with the Brecker Brothers and David Sanborn. You’re getting the picture.
Assorted Marsalis collaboratives. Dirty Dozen, Rebirth and Soul Rebels Brass Bands. Galactic, Karl Denson and Lettuce. And Snarky Puppy in the penthouse.
Naughty Professor hit every one of those – and more — at some point during their mind-blowing sets. I felt at times as if I had lucked into a History of Jazz concert. Take trumpeter John Culbreth, for instance. His magnificent tone kept reminding me of Dizzy Gillespie. Nick Ellman’s alto sax work recalled Paul Desmond and Art Pepper. These six young men form an incredible juggernaut, and the possibilities for them are endless.
This band is tight, as tight as any I have ever seen, and I thought I had made the same pronouncement about a number of bands on our scene (mentioned above and more). It starts, as it must, with the rhythm section. You almost don’t notice Noah Young on bass, because he is fairly stoic (especially compared to the horns!), but as you listen you realize he is just crushing it, along with drummer Sam Shahin. Shahin is lots more animated, and he has a marvelous sense of time. Together, they provide the superb syncopation for the ensemble horn attacks.
NP is old school and new school all at the same time. Whenever one of the horn players takes a solo, the other two have a delightful habit of walking off stage to focus attention on the soloist, then playing as they walk back on stage. It is effective, respectful and engaging, and it also allows more face time for the rhythm section and Wild Bill Daniel on guitar.
Ian Bowman plays tenor saxophone, and through his horn you hear the history of jazz as well. Clearly, these boys have studied and listened and synthesized and made this music their own. Ellman also plays a monster baritone saxophone.
I missed the entire first set. I won’t make that mistake again! I walked in just as the second set began. Jordan and Robert Sanger, bassist for Serotonic, were there already. I also spotted Jamie Newitt, drummer for the Heavy Pets, sitting at the bar, and Josh Formanek, guitar player for Infinite Groove Orchestra. Musicians in the house!
Right out of the gates, they hit Jazz Messengers stride with “Knockwurst” from their new CD, Until the Next Time. Next was a tune from theep (the EP), “Chef’s Revenge.” Bass and drums led eventually to a fine tenor solo from Bowman; I kept hearing Tiny Universe in my head. A new tune, “Prune Juice,” showcased Ellman on both alto and bari.
Then they called up Newitt to sit in on Lettuce’s “Breakout.” The mutual joy and respect were evident. They closed the set with “Chef’s Special” from the new disk, featuring solos from Culbreth and Bowman.
During set break, I mentioned to Formanek that the guitar player did not have much solo space that set, although we agreed we liked what we heard from him. What we did not know was that the third set was merely an excuse to unleash “Wild Bill” Daniel.
And unleash they did! A pair of great originals (all the tunes were theirs except for the Lettuce song) was followed by “Elephant’s [??],” and “Wild Bill” took off. A ballad followed, “Out on a Limb,” with Bowman and Young stepping out, but then “Wild Bill” forgot it was a ballad and blasted out again with another great solo.
Next up was a baritone sax tour de force with Ellman blowing and gyrating, working along with Shahin’s drums. After that, a couple of guys who knew the material kept calling for a tune. And what a great call it was! From the new disk, they closed with “Six Paper Joint.” Bowman took another mean turn on tenor, and then “Wild Bill” went on a long, trippy guitar excursion. It was awesome!
There was obvious support for an encore, and they rolled out “Metal Mariachi” from theep. Once again, Wild Bill” got the nod, and then Shahin entertained with a joy-filled drum solo.
And every tune featured that tight ensemble horn work at some point during the tune. Hubbard, Shorter and Fuller? Brecker, Sanborn and Brecker? These boys belong in the same conversation. For real.
Paul Levine: I’m sure you already know about these cats, but PLEASE bring them to Bear Creek. Thor, Wayne, In the Groove and WMNF: PLEASE bring these boys back to the Tampa area. And thanks to Naughty Professor for donating a copy of Until the Next Time to WMNF and In the Groove!
To quote from Pedro Bell’s album cover for Uncle Jam Wants You: DESE CHUMPS ARE SE-REE-OUS!
Did I mention that I love the Dunedin Brewery? And that they have in Chris Fama one of the best sound engineers anywhere?
Great to see Jordan, Kelli-Ann, Robert, Josh and Jamie. Wonderful to meet Julie and Kimi Tortuga! And I’m looking forward to hearing you, Kimi!
[Setlist: SET 1: ??; SET 2: Knockwurst, Chef’s Revenge, Prune Juice, Breakout, Chef’s Special; SET 3: ?, ?, Elephant’s ?, Out on a Limb, [bari tune], Six Paper Joint; Encore: Metal Mariachi]