Bluesiana – II (1991)

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NICK DERISO: As reliably great as the first Bluesiana release was in 1990, this one packed its own considerable surprises.

I didn’t have high hopes. See: Art Blakey, this jazz-soul-and-something-else supergroup’s original drummer, passed in the interim between releases — who could forget one of his final turns on “Shoo Fly”? — only to be replaced by … Will Calhoun.

Yes, that Will Calhoun. The one you were seeing at that point pounding the skins behind Corey Glover in the fun funk-metal band Living Colour.

Well, Calhoun is stunning. His contributions (as composer on two tracks and center of attention on several others) are both restrained and refreshing.

Dr. John, Essiet Okon Essiet, David “Fathead” Newman and Joe Bonadio all return from the original Bluesiana configuration, with one other notable addition: Ray Anderson on the trombone. Both as foil and foundation, Anderson proves indespensible.

And the record comes off more New Orleans for it (on the titanic “Fonkalishus,” for instance) — but also more collective, as Anderson joins Newman in writing several songs. Things hang together better on this outing, with Bluesiana sounding less like a made-for-the-studio project and more like a functioning band. (Newman and Anderson are particularly sympathetic collaborators on the horn-driven “Skoshuss.”)

“Doctor Blooze” is a terrific showcase for Dr. John. There are also not one but two tributes to Blakey, including a dramatic showcase for Calhoun on “For Art’s Sake.”

Never thought I’d say this (RIP, Bu), but I may like this every bit as much as the group’s original CD on Windham Hill, “Bluesiana Triangle.”

Purchase: Bluesiana – II

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