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Published: 2013/02/15
by Brian Robbins

The New Orleans Supects
Caught Live At The Maple Leaf

Self-released

Help me out here: what constitutes a supergroup? My cynical side says media hoopla and plenty o’ merchandise seals the deal in many cases; enough cries of “We are a supergroup” and the t-shirts to prove it is the norm these days.

If a confab of veteran players with amazing talent and the pedigrees to prove it qualifies, then I humbly offer The New Orleans Suspects. Check out these resume highlights: guitarist/vocalist Jake Eckert hails from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band; keyboardist/vocalist CR Gruver was a jam monster in Outformation; sax player Jeff Watkins was James Brown’s musical director; drummer Willie Green has been laying down the Neville Brothers’ beat since back in the 80s; and Reggie Scanlan was The Radiators’ bassist for their 33-1/3-year run. If you want to throw in the side projects and historic jams this bunch has been involved in, the list would just get ridiculous. The point is, The New Orleans Suspects are a bunch of amazing players – and their new album Caught Live At The Maple Leaf proves it.

The single biggest tribute I can apply to the Suspects’ music is the fact that their original tunes on Caught Live (The raucous “Willie’s Second Line” and the space grease of “Swampthang”) blend perfectly with tasty NOLA classics such as The Meters’ “Look-Ka-Py Py”, Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina”, and James Booker’s “Classified”. The tunes make the transition from the Maple Leaf to tape extremely well: the sound is superb throughout – even during the multi-layered jams of “Blackbird Special” and “Big Chief > Ooh Poo Pah Doo > Big Chief” when guest sax Kevin Harris joins the action – and there’s just enough crowd reaction mixed in to let you know this was pulled off without a net. The Suspects’ arrangements are a mix of turn-on-a-dime change-ups and let-it-roll jams; you hear (and feel) how one hot solo inspires the next.

A cool surprise on Caught Live is the band’s cover of Traffic’s “Glad”: the opening couple of minutes or so are played pretty close to the vest with the Suspects firmly establishing the Stevie Winwood-penned tune’s theme before taking off into Out Thereville. Watkins leads the way with a hard-blowing solo over top of a driving groove laid down by his bandmates. At 3:23 the Suspects touch down on “Glad”’s bridge momentarily, take a quick look around, and let the tune drift … Gruver offers up some lovely piano that modulates with a distinctive Spanish flavor; Green and Scanlan quickly grab what he’s hinting at with additional rhythm reinforcement from Eckert. Gruver takes off on a beautiful roll and tumble across the keys; Watkins adds some glossy horn; Eckert pulls the pin on a guitar flurry that shapeshifts the moment from dreamy to wild-assed; Scanlan and Green refuse to give up the groove – and Gruver’s piano goes into a power dive that pulls out at the last possible moment … landing smack-dab back into “Glad”’s signature riff. It’s a cool moment – an example of some talented players teaching an old tune some new tricks.

So getting back to the original question … or maybe I already know the answer.

Want to hear a supergroup? Catch the Suspects.

*****

Brian Robbins keeps his hot sauce on the table over at www.brian-robbins.com.

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