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New Orleans Jazz Festival Tease: Los Hombres Calientes, George Porter, Nicholas Payton & Steve Masakowski

By BK

If you want a taste of what the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is all about, here are four recent recordings that provide the New Orleans flavor.

 

Los Hombres Calientes / Vol. 2 (Basin Street Records, 1999)

For anybody who read the Vermont Review’s Top 250 Albums of the Millennium, you probably found a lot of familiar albums and artists. One of the lesser-known but equally impressive representatives on the list was Los Hombres Calientes’ debut album. Now the New Orleans band has come out with another collection of Latino and Caribbean jazz sounds. Los Hombres Calientes consists of the core group of Bill Summers (percussion), Irwin Mayfield (trumpet) and Jason Marsalis (drums) and they are supplemented by pianist Victor Atkins, bassist Edwin Livingston and percussionist Yvette Summers. The band is a meeting of young and old as Summers is a veteran of the jazz scene (his most notable sessions was part of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters) and both Mayfield and Marsalis are in their early twenties. This album is not about age or who’s played with whom. It is an album that celebrates the island grooves. Los Hombres Calientes bring out the Afro-Cuban aspects of the Crescent City. New Orleans is often associated with its R&B funk or ragtime/stride piano styles but its links to the island nations are often overseen. Ry Cooder may have gone to Cuban to resurrect its island’s forgotten stars but Los Hombres Calientes shows that the music style was alive and well on the mainland. Through the album’s first seventeen original songs, Los Hombres Calientes works through mambas, rhumbas and bossa novas, creating mellow moods and frenetic dance pieces. Overall, there is a sense of honor with the album as the band pays respect to the Afro-Cuban drummer Chongito with the song "Fongo Sunk" as well as Shango, the leader of an ancient African culture ("Alabi Oyo E"). For "Suite Obatala", the band partakes in a traditional lyrical song set to a standard jazz arrangement. By the end of the album, things get a little more "mainstream" as Los Hombres Calientes funks it out with Herbie Hancock’s "Chameleon" and George Clinton’s "We Want the Funk." Vol.2 is a celebration of both music and culture. It is an introduction to new sounds (Nyabingi drums, shekere, guataca and bata) as well as new cultures (the Babenzele people, the ancient city of Oyo). Vol.2 is much more than an enjoyable listening experience for it has inherent educational value as it shows that the rhythms and beats that we take for granted today find their roots in a much different environment.

 

Nicholas Payton/ Nick @ Night (Verve, 2000)

The list of New Orleans trumpeters is impressive to say the least – Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis, Kermit Ruffins. The latest addition is the up and coming Nicholas Payton. Looking at his resume would suggest that he is veteran of the scene. He partook in the soundtrack recording for Robert Altman’s Kansas City with folks like David "Fathead" Newman and Mark Whitfield. He has toured with his own band, Nicholas Payton's Gumbo Nouveau Band. He has been a sideman for Elvin Jones and Marcus Roberts and he recorded a great album with the fellow New Orleans trumpeter Doc Cheatham. He has also been featured at the Jazz At Lincoln Center program. His latest endeavor is Nick @ Night for which he enlisted the support of saxophonist Tim Warfield, pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist Rueben Rogers and drummer Adonis Rose. Payton wrote all 13 songs for Nick @ Night in which he shows his variety of styles. The album swings with "Pleasant Dreams", make hints of fusion with the short ditties "Interlude #1" and "Interlude #2", slows the tempo down with the ballad "Somnia" and lays down the classic acoustic funk with the title track. As for his playing, Payton can employ the subtly registers of Miles Davis("Prince of Night") but also blow with incredible force("Blacker Black’s Revenge". In a short span of time, Payton has quickly risen to jazz prominence. With this installment of originals, he will surely continue to rise to the pack.

 

Steve Masakowski/ For Joe (Compass Records, 2000)

Besides Leo Nocentelli of the Meters and Danny Barker who played with Cab Calloway, Steve Masakowski may be one of the most revered guitarists to come out of New Orleans. Although noted for his collaborations with the likes of Crescent City legends such as Ellis Marsalis and Nicholas Payton, Masakowski is best known for the brilliant jazz group the Astral Project which masterfully blends New Orleans, Hard Bop, fusion and Latin jazz sounds. Astral Project has been together for 22 years and the last two releases, Voodoo Bop and Elevado have been pure pleasurably experiences for the ears. For Joe is a continuation of the theme as Masakowski’s third solo album pays tribute to the legendary axeman Joe Pass. The album’s lynchpin is "For Django" which was originally recorded by Pass. In the liner notes, Masakowski discusses the song "When I first heard "For Django" for the first time, I can only remember disappearing into my basement for weeks at a time trying to figure out how this guy, Joe pass, could play the guitar with such fluidity and perfection." Other highlights on the album are the appropriately titled Masakowski originals "Pass Presence" and "I’ll Pass" as well versions of Pass’ ""I’ll Know" and the classic ‘Poinciana". Masakowski also pays tribute to his hometown with "The Big easy". For Joe also features bassist Bill Huntington and fellow Astral project colleague, drummer Johnny Vidacovich. The album is great look at Masakowski’s influences and the subtle jazz guitar playing that is so pleasant to the ears but so rarely heard today. When you hear Joe Pass, you will hear much more than evidence of pass – you will also hear Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, and Pat Martino – and most importantly, Steve Masakowski.

 

George Porter and Runnin’ Pardners/ Funk ‘N’ Go Nuts (Ora’s, 2000)

Bassist George Porter needs little introduction in terms of both New Orleans music and funk in general. As one the primary architects of the Meters R&B funky sound, Porter put polyrhythmic dancing grooves on the musical map. Mick Jagger once said "The Meters are the best motherf$#%er band in the world." With George Porter at the helm, there is little use refuting Mr. Jagger as Porter has more funk in his little pinky than most people have in their entire bodies. Besides his work with the Meters, who have been playing steadily for the last 30+ years, George Porter keeps his passion for laying down a groove with his band "Runnin’ Pardners". The name originated from a George Porter album titled Runnin Pardner and has since developed into a steady touring and studio act. Through songs like the slow moving slinky blues of "Is Pray", the barrelhouse party-time rock & roll of "Up Late at Night", the slow gospel ballad of "How Long?" , the R&B/soul vibe of "Let’s Get It" and the straight ahead New Orleans instrumental funk of "What’s It For?" and "By Athenish", the Runnin’ Pardner’s seek get people dancing and jibing on the dance floor. The dual keyboarding, Michael Lemmler and John Gros, are the masters at giving each song on the album its desired texture – their Hammond B-3 harks to 1960s jazz-blues; their Fender Rhodes evokes the 1970s while their synthesizers show a little touch of Bernie Worrell/Clinton space funk. You name the era of funk and Gros/Lemmler have it covered. The fantastic drumming of David Russell Batiste, a long time partner from the reformed Meters, complements Porter’s insane rhythms. The two’s interaction is best displayed on ""Let’s get It" which have the two taking a fantastic battling dual. For the tunes "Check Your Mind" and "Highwire Walking", the Runnin’ Pardners are joined by guitarist Brian Stoltz who is another present day member of the Meters. Brint Anderson, who is a great blues man who loves to get down and dirty with the Delta Blues, holds down the band’s primary axe duties. Check out his ripping solo on "J Black Attack" and you will bow to him like a god. George Porter plays on Anderson’s great album I Knew This Would Happen. In addition to this new release, I would also have to suggest the live Things Ain’t What They Used To Be and the studio recording Funk This. George Porter and Runnin’ Pardners are a mainstay of the jazz fest experience as they cane be seen and heard either at the fairgrounds or jamming on into the early morning hours in any on eof New Orleans unique and vibrant clubs. (www.georgeporterjr.com)

 

Instead of reading about these guys, go down to New Orleans and see them for yourselves. Go to Jazz Fest – you will not be disappointed.