New Orleans has long been the epicenter of jazz with a healthy mix of strange and delightful influences. The melding of traditional and avant garde is the lifeforce of the new album Dogs by Nolatet, the band of funky brothers Brian Haas (Piano), Mike Dillon (Vibraphone/ Percussion), James Singleton (Bass) and Jonny Vidacovich. These influential musicians have been part of the bubbling underbelly of jazz and experimental music in New Orleans for years and each have a distinct pedigree that naturally finds other like-minded individuals. Singleton and Vidacovich have been playing together since the 1970’s as some of the most wanted rhythm sections around and have played every bar, bistro and back alley in The Big Easy. Dillon and Haas have teamed up in bands like Garage A Trois and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, and have been a part of each other’s musical companionship for 20 years.
The album is a heady piece of jazz exploration that focuses on feeling and inspiration. The seven songs on Dogs were recorded in just two days to tape in Esplanade Studios in New Orleans after a week of shows in the city to feel out material. The group created little sketches of chord progressions and melodies that gave lots of room for improvisations and just ran with it, resulting in an album that feels immediate and fresh. Dillon described the recording process as throwing kids into a candy shop and feasting off the delightful treats and it is hard to find artists that compliment each other’s styles as well as the members of Nolatet.
The group is made up entirely of rhythmic musicians and it is fun to listen to each play with each other’s different grooves in “Bongo Joe.” Singleton and Dillon usher in the track bouncing dirty, plucked bass lines off of rattling percussion. The song settles on a stop-start melody from the piano and vibes the band drags into both contemplative territory and beachside joyfulness. Dillon buzzes around the track with different percussion and vibraphone hints like a bee in a garden, adding color where it fits with the rest of the players.
The respect with which each player has on each other is incredible. They step lightly around one another and let each other have the breathing room they need to let the song flourish. Haas’ crawling piano drags everyone along in the opening stanzas of “Dogs” like a dough-faced owner pulling his bulldog reluctantly down the street. But it opens up into an airy park where Haas nimbly skirts over Vidacovich and Singleton’s staggering rhythm and Dilon’s rippling vibraphones.
“There’s No Fire” punches forward with rumblings from Vidacovich on the toms and Haas on the piano. Vidacovich is as melodic on his drums as Dillon is on his vibraphones and the song lets everyone shine for flashes of brilliance. Even when all the instruments are flying at each other in percussive mayhem like in parts of “Morphine Drip/ Lento” and “Mellon Ball,” no one ever seems to step on each other’s toes. Exemplfying the band’s masterful touch, the band completely drops out on the second half of “Morphine Drip/ Lento” and Singleton leads everyone in mournful dirge with his bowed bass, contrasting the explosive with the implosive.
Take this little record on a spin and you’re sure to get lost in all the little interesting nooks and crannies Nolatet has built in Dogs and probably a couple more they didn’t even realize. The album was released on February 26th, and you can order it here.