Gettin’ Schooled by Naughty Professor
Doc Taylor’s Seaside Market & Lounge in Virginia Beach is my Thursday night hang. It’s the only day all week they open for music, providing a mix of local, regional and national talent throughout the year. Since I still have a day job, I’m usually a “first set and done” kinda guy. But after the opening song of Naughty Professor’s first set on July 16, I knew I’d be there to the very end.
The band rolled into town near the end of a month-long tour that began June 18 in Tuscaloosa, AL, stretching all the way to Burlington, VT with stops in TN, VA, PA (with a late-night show at Mad Summer Meltdown 6), RI, CT, MA, ME, NY, and NC before returning home to New Orleans.
Savvy MusicFestNews readers will already have a good feel for this band after reading Scott Hopkins’ “On The Rise” feature from early May. Here’s the link for those less savvy: http://musicfestnews.com/2015/05/05/on-the-rise-naughty-professor/ This is a “horns front and center” band that draws from that great roux of New Orleans jazz heritage to cook up a spicy gumbo that gives equal nods to traditional styles, fusion, funk, and even heavy metal. Entirely instrumental, the lyrics flow, croon, stab and leap out from the horns, guitar, bass and drums. The first notes of their opening song slapped me in the face, making me stand up and pay attention lest I miss any of the subtleties or nuances. The first word that immediately came to mind was “tight!” In spite of all the intricacies, syncopation, polyrhythms, key and tempo changes, everyone came in together, right on time, every time. I haven’t listened that closely to a live performance in a long time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The front line is made up of Nick Ellman on alto and baritone sax, John Culbreth on trumpet, and Ian Bowman on tenor sax. Whether playing in unison or harmony or taking a solo, they can play powerfully, subdued, or expressive depending on the tone of the song. And if you think the back line was just there to provide support, you couldn’t be more wrong. With Wild Bill Daniel on guitar, Noah Young on bass and Sam Shahin on drums, there was definitely a solid foundation for the horns to work from. But they also got ample opportunities to strut their stuff, and the rest of the band showed respect by stepping to the sides, old-school style, to give the soloist the spotlight. Daniel ripped off a number of trippy, stratospheric guitar solos when not providing the melodic background. Young got a couple of opportunities to show his chops, including opening one song, and every now and then he’d throw in a little run down the bottom of the neck or a slap/pop stanza to funk things up. Shahin was the engine that kept things going, but he was always on the verge of breaking loose with a run here and there, and his drum solos were truly amazing.
I was chatting with Ian Bowman during the break, trying to get a copy of the setlist. He said “You know, we usually use a setlist. But we’ve been grooving so hard and working these songs for the last month, so we came in tonight and just decided to see where the mood took us.” I, for one, enjoyed where they took it. The second set was even better than the first. Ellman’s alto work was always happy and melodic. Culbreth’s range and texture on the trumpet was fantastic. But this was clearly Bowman’s night to shine. He seemed to have more opportunities to feature his skills on the tenor sax, going from tender and moody to powerful and evocative, playing with incredible emotion and intensity. At one point in the second set, the band invited a local friend by the name of Polar Bear to join them on trumpet. While not the same caliber musician as the others, he definitely held his own.
The crowd screamed, yelled and cajoled one last tune from the band before they had to shut it down. The buzz as we packed up and settled our tab was extremely positive. Naughty Professor definitely left an impression on the crowd. Even though it was tough dragging myself out of bed to go to work that morning, it was more than worth it.