Simpkins-Tenor Sax, Kermit Ruffins-Trumpet,
Vocals, Jason Marsalis-Vibraphone,
Tuba Fats-Tuba, Peter Martin-Piano,
Roland Guerin-Bass, Cecil Brooks III-Drums
Tenor saxophonist Nat Simpkins brings
his Bluejay Records machine down to New Orleans for his latest
offering, "Crescent City". Simpkins has that big
Texas Tenor sound tempered by a touch of Southern hospitality.
Add in the relaxed atmosphere of the Big Easy, and guest appearances
by some of the hottest modern day New Orleans players around,
and the recipe produces a spicy stew that lives up to the
otherwise cliche of jazz as a rich New Orleans gumbo.
Nat Simpkins always brings a wide-ranging bill of fare to
the table. Nat is one of that dying breed "the deep,
tough tenor" but he is so much more. Nat spent his formative
years in Bermuda, and his music is informed by that island
beat, and the loose flutter of the leeward tinge is a satisfying
contrast to his rough hewn sound. Simpkins also has assimilated
the wide scope of the modern jazz idiom, and his gigs always
include the blues, Latin, R&B, shuffle, ballads, and Calypso
as well as the refined hard bop groove. His previous albums
on Bluejay likewise have varied from the organ-tenor beat
to the mellow Cape Ann Escape. Now, a trip to New Orleans
solidifies the continuum of this melting pot mixture.
Nat has been visiting New Orleans for a few years now, and
he always has felt right at home. The southern culture fits
with his Bermuda roots, and in the Crescent City the music
is in the air, on the streets, and anywhere you look. On this
latest visit, he went in to the recording studio for sessions
that the vocalist Henri Smith helped arrange with local musicians.
(Henri's album, "New Orleans Friends and Flavours"
from these sessions is also being released on Bluejay.) The
rhythm section is the basis of all fine recordings, and the
section here cooks. Nat's Bluejay cohort Cecil Brooks III
is along for the ride, and with his drums he brings a colorful
palette of polyphony into the mix. Local musicians Peter Martin
on piano and Roland Guerin on bass (from Nicholas Payton's
band among other New Orleans credits) join Brooks. While it
is the first time that they played together, they immediately
jelled with a power and sophistication that match Cecil's
New York collaborations. Some of the tunes feature Simpkins
alone in front of this rhythm section, but the album doesn't
stop right there. The date also includes New Orleans stalwarts
Anthony Tuba Fats Lacen, Kermit Ruffins, and Jason Marsalis.
Tuba Fats is a New Orleans legend and he's played in traditional
bands for well over thirty years, from all the Brass Bands
like the Olympia to organ groups, and he spends his afternoons
outdoors in Jackson Square. Kermit Ruffins is the hot young
trumpeter and growling vocalist who's founded the Rebirth
Brass Band and many other re-births of the traditional New
Orleans style. Jason Marsalis is a young member of the storied
musical family, and he's made his name on the drums. Jason
is also searching for a new sound on the vibes, and this is
his first record featured on that instrument.
The record was made in one sitting, with no rehearsal, no
overdubs, and minimal editing. The program includes both Simpkins
originals written especially for the date and standards arranged
with a twist, but the easy rapport makes it seem like the
output of a working band.
By Sid Gribetz