New Orleans Nightcrawlers
Live at the Old Point
by John Sinclair
The Nightcrawlers blasted onto the New Orleans brass band scene in the mid-’90s with an extremely interesting premise: could an all-star ensemble of musically mature, highly skilled white transplants from all over America with backgrounds in ragtime, traditional jazz, bebop, R&B and swing make an authentic contribution to the long-established native black brass band idiom?
The Nightcrawlers’ eponymous initial recording for Rounder Records provided a most positive answer. Boasting impressive original compositions and arrangements, imaginative improvisers, precise ensemble playing and a contagious joi de vivre all their own, the Nightcrawlers quickly established themselves as a popular addition to the city’s extensive menu of memorable musical offerings.
Because its members have always stayed extremely busy with regular work in bands from the Dukes of Dixieland to Dr. John, the Nightcrawlers’ live engagements have been relatively rare. Yet the ensemble has continued to grow through regular rehearsals and their occasional public performances: adding new material, replacing key players, getting looser and ever more comfortable with the brass band context and the band’s permanent repertoire.
Finally, for their third album release, the Nightcrawlers have decided to show off their exuberant on-stage sound with this exciting program of new and tested material played for an enthusiastic crowd at the Old Point bar in Algiers, an ancient sector of the city situated across the Mississippi River from the French Quarters and downtown New Orleans.
Here the core members of the Nightcrawlers -- Matt Perrine, Kevin Clark, Barney Floyd and Ken "Snakebite" Jacobs -- are joined by their current bandmates: trombonist Rick Trolsen, reedman Jason Mingledorff, and the dynamic drum team of Tanio Hingle (New Birth Brass Band), Kerry "Fat Man" Hunter (Sixth Ward Big Shots) and Howard "Smiley" Ricks, a long-time Mardi Gras Indian Chief from the West Bank who has traveled the world playing percussion with Dr. John and his band.
The new New Orleans Nightcrawlers are on fire here from the opening cut, and they flame ever brighter as the set unfolds, unveiling splendid new works by Matt Perrine ("Can of Worms," "Stone Puppy") and Jason Mingledorff ("Red’s Cap," "Mardi Gras Mumbles"), throwing a collective salute to WWOZ Radio ("90.7"), swinging the hell out of Kevin Clark’s compelling arrangement of the Tito Puente/Santana favorite "Oye Como Va" and the now-familiar Tom McDermott arrangements of Steve Masakowski’s "Sidewalk Strut" and his own "Martin’s Mambo."
The set peaks in true brass band fashion when "Martin’s Mambo" erupts into a fervid chant and segues into Stanton Moore’s soulful "Tchfuncta," triggered by an exultant recitation of New Orleans funk history by Craig Klein which proudly connects the Nightcrawlers to the tradition they have so enthusiastically embraced. Then Chief Smiley Ricks takes everything to a fever pitch with his impassioned, wholly idiomatic delivery of the Mardi Gras Indian anthem "On That Day," and vocalist Debbie Davis emerges to close the show over the band’s rousing reading of the wildly self-referential "Black Water": "I wanna hear that funky brass band and dance that honky tonk!"
This is the place to find it, dear friends, with the New Orleans Nightcrawlers in full flight at the Old Point bar across the river, and like they say in the Sixth Ward, it ain’t gonna be nothing nice. Put on your honky tonk clothes and your favorite dancing shoes, turn up the volume on your CD machine and get ready to kick ‘em up high. This is what brass band music is all about.
-- New Orleans
April 10, 2000
© 2000 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.
You can buy New Orleans Nightcrawler CD's at Kevin Clark's site
See the other Sinclair articles
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