There is an old adage that says, “You can judge a person by the company they keep.” If you take that as a given, then Naughty Professor is clearly one of the funkiest collectives on the scene right now. On their latest release, Identity, the New Orleans-based outfit brought funk luminaries like Chali 2na of Jurrasic 5, Ivan Neville of DumpstaphunkEric “Benny” Bloom of Lettuce and The Shady Horns, David Shaw from The Revivalists, Jason Butler, Dexter Gilmore, Sasha Masakowski, Mike Dillon, Mykia Jovan, and Cliff Hines together to make each track a unique work of art. Though that list is incredible, the most impressive thing about the disc is that the band always maintains their musical voice, or, as the conceit of the title acknowledges, their Identity.

“Mirrors” kicks in with a looping guitar line that lulls the listener into a trance before the welcome arrival of the horns and percussion. Using a disorienting track as the lead is a cunning move on their part, a move that lets listeners know that nothing can be taken for granted on Identity. The parade of guest stars on this record is, as previously mentioned, mind boggling. On “Without A Trace,” Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na brings his bass-heavy verbal flow to the proceedings while Ivan Neville croons the chorus and adds some lovely organ fills. Spot on horn breaks from the brass trio of Nick Ellman and Ian Bowman on sax and John Culbreth on trumpet provide a high register counter to 2na’s legendary deep flows while Neville funks up the middle ground. Benny Bloom blends his trumpet to the mix on the instrumental “Without A Trace” taking things down a smoky, jazzy journey down the Nawlins alleys before guitarist Bill Daniel lets loose a little sonic fury. Daniel provides some very clean and cutting licks to the next track, “Stray,” which features David Shaw of The Revivalists dropping by to add some palpable sensual undertones.

Check out this wonderful video featuring David Shaw on “Stray”

Keyboardist Jason Butler slides his gurgling jams into the snaking horn and percussion jam of the instrumental “Do You Like Dragons” so smoothly it seems as if he had always been there. When the smoothly expressive singer Dexter Gilmore enters “I Can’t Sleep at Night,” the Naughty Professor guys pull themselves back a pace, but even then, they can’t stop themselves from punctuating his sharper notes. Daniel delivers one of his crunchier solos, which serves as a perfect counterpoint to the R & B stylings of Gilmore. Breathy singer Sasha Masakowski is a revelation with her call-and-response riffs with the band during “Through It All.” Madman Mike Dillon pops in on “Venison Poetry” to build something truly beautiful before starting fires and watching the music burn.

Watch Dillon team up with the Professor boys in this just-released video for “Venison Poetry”

When Chali 2na and Dexter Gilmore team up to share the mic for “Darker Daze,” you get the feeling that the world can indeed be oppressive, but the splashy horns seem to insinuate that there is always hope.

Check out the “Darker Daze” video from Naughty Professor below:

Mykia Jovan almost steals the show on “Stolen Ones” with her lower key turn at the beginning of the track, and when she gets into the groove, her flow is unstoppable. Even artists accustomed to taking the lead, like bandleader, composer, and guitarist Cliff Hines works to add to the music rather than dominate the flow. Professor drummer Sam Shahin and bassist Noah Young are at their strongest while Hines works his fret board magic on “Psycho Switch.” The wild and horny “Funk 4 Lunch” shows that you really CAN’T have too much of a good thing as a plethora of horn players descend on the track like locusts, devouring everything in their wake.

The performances on the record, from both the hosts and the parade of guest stars, are all spot on and somehow remain balanced and representative of each player’s natural sound. Special credit should go to Qmillion (Robert Glasper) for his deft production work on Identity. The members of Naughty Professor have a lot to be proud of on their latest release. Not a lot of bands could give themselves over to so many distinct voices and still make music that resonates with their own voice. Luckily for listeners, when it comes to identity, Naughty Professor is completely aware of who they are and what they do best.

[Photo: Jeffrey Dupuis]