Mike Dillon and Brian Haas have crossed paths and jammed together for about twenty years; as a member of outlier funk-jazz outfits like Garage Á Trois, The Dead Kenny Gs and his own bands, the gonzo vibes player Dillon has found himself sharing the bill with the progressive jazz outfit the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, of which pianist Haas has been a part of since the band’s inception.
On the other hand, you have the venerable rhythm section of James Singleton and Johnny Vidacovich who have backed New Orleans legends like Professor Longhair and James Booker for nearly forty years. Given Haas and Dillon’s Crescent City connections, it was probably inevitable that they would cross paths with this bassist/drummer combo and it’s an association that’s now blossomed into a full-fledged collaboration.
Say hello to Nolatet, the newest Big Easy-inspired jazz supergroup. On February 26, 2016 Nolatet will issue their debut album Dogs via the Royal Potato Family.
With a name like that, it’s reasonable to expect some Mardi Gras mambo from them, and there’s some of that found on “Bongo Joe.” What stands out more about it is that they take the jazz part very seriously, too, and the song swings as much as it shuffles, even as Singleton’s bass emits a nasty fuzz tone a time or two.
Elsewhere, the music is delicate and nuanced more than these guys are generally known for, which can be looked at as the band being an outlet for them to show off their legit straight ahead jazz chops. “Pops” is downright graceful, as Dillon and Haas pair up for a choral melody that gives way to thoughtful solos by Dillon and later Singleton on bowed bass. Not bad at all for a song — like all the others — that was just a sketch going into the studio and nailed on either the first or second take.
That can only happen with a lot of telepathic understanding (and some pretty good musical wherewithal). Those qualities also make possible the relaxed nature of these recordings, done in a single day at New Orleans’ noted Esplanade Studios. So, despite the complexity of the multi-motif “Dogs,” with tempos ranging from swing to tango, the vibe stay constant. The same goes for the blues-based “Mellon Ball” where Vidacovich all but introduces the melody on his kit. Dillon ignites a brisk vibes solo after which Haas shows off his polished deluge of chords.
Ventures to the outside do happen, as on “Morphine Drip/Lento” and also “Nails,” whereby Haas intros a wandering figure as the others improvs around it, varying the tempo and even briefly going completely off hook before returning home. Even in these instances, Nolatet seems to be playing with purpose.
Playing with nervy purpose is purpose enough for Haas, Dillon, Singleton an Vidacovich to get together and make a record. Dogs showcases talented different sides than you might hear from these individuals in other guises. And that’s why Nolatet is worth serious regard strictly on its own merits.
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