The weekend of the cancelled New Orleans JazzFest seems like the perfect time to get down and review some classic NOLA sounds from the New Orleans Nightcrawlers latest album Atmosphere.  The title is appropriate as one listen will take you right into the NOLA mood.

The Nightcrawlers have been around for more than 20 years and I first got hooked on them with Funknicity in 1997.  Despite their tenure, this is only their fifth album and first since 2009’s Slither Slice.

Although the group credits Dirty Dozen Brass Band as the progenitors of the brass bound sound, I feel the Nightcrawlers have definitely carved their way into the quintessential funk, brass NOLA style sound which they’ve made all their own.  Listen to this album end to end and you’ll be transported right to the center of Congo Square. Here’s a track by track rundown of this 5 star disc.

Track List

  • Gentilly Groove: This one gets started with a classic horn riff before the sousaphone kicks in.  There’s some great horn interplay with a sweet trombone solo midway. It gives way to a sousaphone solo which you really can only catch on an authentic NOLA record. The second half features a nice tenor solo and we’re off and running.
  • Great Googa Mooga: This tune is the first with vocals on it and its title phrase is a throwback, in this case to a girl and expressing how terrific she is.  I was first familiar with this expression in The Temptations “Ball of Confusion.” After the intro chorus, there’s a terrific trumpet solo with that continuous pulsating drum + sousaphone beat.  A buttery smooth sax solo hits next and over to some heavy trombone work before the vocals come back. “Great Googa Mooga, you’re mine all mine.”
  • Glass House: I love this one as the sousaphone takes the main voice with the rest of the horns taking the accompanying parts. The bridge features a slick trombone solo with some heavy sousa as well. Next some extra greasy sax licks join the sousa for the next bridge section. The main chorus has some nice swirling horns to close out.
  • The Lick: Again, this one opens with the sousaphone and then some gorgeous horn melodies. The trombone solo has some nice back and forth with the main horn section before the melody comes back. Another break has a very sultry sax solo with the pulsating bass and snare drum. There’s a surprising orchestral, panorama horn riff three quarters before the main horn line abrupt close.
  • Fat man: The is notable for its “fa fa fa, fa fa fa fa fa” melody — it sounds like a classic.  The horns have a big band feel and then support the percussion solo with some quick licks. This is a real shining moment for Kerry ‘Fatman’ Hunter on the snare drum solos throughout the whole midsection of the tune.
  • Tomb Tune: As expected, this one starts off with a real dirge like tone, highlighted by Jason Mingledorff on clarinet.  For me, it brings some real connections to Eastern European klezmer music.  The clarinet is such a crying voice and the slow sousaphone notes just make it so melancholy, and beautiful at the same time. Jason’s clarinet solo in the middle is terrific. There is such a heavy tone here only appropriate for  the “tomb.”
  • Ursuline Second Line: Louis Armstrong would be proud of this one as it’s exactly the opposite of the previous song, so upbeat and so Dixieland, I kept waiting for vocals to kick in here. That sousaphone buzzing is plentiful here and throughout the album and I love it.  Again Jason on clarinet is terrific and the last sax solo is pure honey. The closing chorus has an “All of Me” kinda feel.
  • Big Bottom: I dig the sousa, drum, sax opening that segue’s into some more straightline big band sounds although you can’t detach NOLA sounds from any tune as long as Hunter, Hingle and Perrine on the backline.  There’s some excellent bari sax solo here in the middle before the full horn impact comes back.  If you like that vibrant sound, you can’t beat a seven-piece horn section. This has some neat sousa x 3 trio combos about three-quarters through followed up the sax and big band punchy sound to the end.
  • Fiasco on Frenchmen: The tune opens with what sounds like horn chaos (fiasco?) almost like a car crash that breaks down into a snare-sousa march with some excellent big band riffs coming in unison. The sax solo is sweet here with some excellent spacing to let the sousaphone + snare power through. The follow up is a an extra slippery trumpet solo with some sweet altissimo peaks.

Personnel

Jason Mingledorff, sax, clarinet
Brent Ros, sax
Kevin Clark, trumpet
Barney Floyd, trumpet
Craig Klein, trombone, vocals
Miles Lyons, trombone
Matt Perrine, sousaphone
Tanio Hingle, bass drum
Kerry ‘Fatman’ Hunter, snare drum