Color: Purple Mist | Weight: 180 Gram
New Orleans trombonist Craig Klein is accustomed to playing 30 or more gigs with various bands in a typical month. Thanks to the coronavirus shutdown, he isn’t playing any.
“To go from 100 mph to zero overnight is strange,” he said. “How do you even process that?”
As luck, or lack thereof, would have it, one of Klein’s longest-running projects, the all-star brass band New Orleans Nightcrawlers, had planned to release its first album in 11 years this spring. Even though the spring festival season has been canceled, the Nightcrawlers decided to go ahead and unveil “Atmosphere” anyway.
The new music is available on most digital platforms, as well as CD. It is also the first Nightcrawlers release on vinyl.
That all nine members of the band are in-demand musicians with many commitments — two also teach at the university level — getting together to write, rehearse and record isn’t easy.
But Nightcrawlers sousaphonist Matt Perrine, who produced “Atmosphere,” believes it was important to conjure the camaraderie of the band’s early years. A series of relaxed rehearsals at saxophonist Brent Rose’s house in Gentilly, for which Perrine and other band members cooked, were as much social gatherings as practices.
That spirit carried over to last year’s recording sessions for “Atmosphere” at Marigny Studios.
“The best way to make a record is when you have the right vibe and atmosphere,” Klein said. “We’d play, and eat, and play some more, and eat some more.”
The influence of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the patriarchs of contemporary New Orleans brass band music, looms large in the crisp musicianship, sophisticated arrangements and spirited execution of “Atmosphere.”
“The Dirty Dozen,” Klein said, “is at the top of the pyramid, when you’re looking at guys who play modern brass band music.” Appropriately, on “Atmosphere,” the Nightcrawlers revive the late saxophonist Eric Traub’s “Glasshouse,” a tribute to the fabled nightspot where the Dirty Dozen held court for many years.
Perrine arranged the Nightcrawlers’ instrumental take on Spinal Tap’s heavy metal spoof “Big Bottom.” Here, the “big bottom” is not a derriere but a trio of sousaphones wielded by Perrine, Miles Lyons — who normally plays trombone in the Nightcrawlers — and special guest Wes Anderson Jr.
Perrine also arranged the Nightcrawlers’ version of “Great Googa Mooga,” by late great New Orleans vocalist Lee Dorsey; Klein sings it. The title of the album’s opening track, “Gentilly Groove,” refers to those well-fed rehearsals at Rose’s house.
“Fatman,” by Rose, is an in-house tribute to Nightcrawlers snare drummer Kerry “Fatman” Hunter and bass drummer Tanio Hingle. The interlocked Hunter and Hingle, who formerly anchored the New Birth Brass Band, rank as one of the brass band genre’s most renowned drum duos.
The dirge “Tomb Tune” was originally commissioned in 2010 for the funeral of local drummer and actor Bernard “Bunchy” Johnson. Klein, saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter and the late great New Orleans arranger Wardell Quezergue are credited as writers.
“Ursuline Second Line,” by saxophonist Jason Mingledorff, is the Nightcrawlers’ take on a traditional New Orleans jazz song, which tend to emphasize collective ensemble playing rather than individual soloing. The Nightcrawlers’ horns — Klein, Rose, Mingledorff, Lyons and trumpeters Barney Floyd and Kevin Clark — understand the craft. Gerald French helps out on bass drum, as he does on “Glasshouse.”
Mingledorff’s “Frenchmen Fiasco,” which was omitted from the vinyl version of the album because of space constraints, is a comment on the evolution, or devolution, of Frenchmen Street.
Perrine’s “The Lick” is based on a set of notes that have become a well-trod and much-mocked jazz cliché, “something of a musical meme,” he said. His song, which deploys more than a dozen variations on “the lick,” is “a joke on top of a joke for my nerdy young musician friends.”
Writing such a song, Klein noted, “is a very Matt thing to do.”
To mix the recording, Perrine turned to Mike Napolitano, whose voluminous résumé as a producer and mixer included Ani DiFranco, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Blind Melon, Andrew Bird, Joseph Arthur, Garage a Trois, the Twilight Singers, Stanton Moore and many more — but no brass bands.
“I love brass band records,” Perrine said. “But I never want to make art that is repeating something that was done before. I wanted to work with someone who was super-bad ass, lived in New Orleans and had never done a brass band record.
“Mike wanted that cacophony of sound that he felt was essential to hearing a brass band live in New Orleans. He said he wanted to make sure it had ‘atmosphere.’ That word stuck with me.”
And gave the excellent “Atmosphere” its title