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Ornette Coleman at the SF Jazz Festival

Los Hombres Calientes: Bill Summers (left), Irvin Mayfield (right)

“If Kermit would just get rid of that big ass hat,” quipped trumpeter Irvin Mayfield during an impromptu photo shoot preceding Basin Street Records’ anniversary soiree. Crammed into Tipitina’s small upstairs dressing room, the label’s artists yucked it up, expressing a light-hearted mood that prevailed throughout the night.

All the elements were in place for a good-time New Orleans-style party. Basin Streets’ rock-solid roster, which the hometown label carefully developed over the last five years, boasts some of the city’s finest, most-respected and best-loved musicians. Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, the first to sign with the Basin Street, was also first to take the bandstand with his Barbecue Swingers. The combo, which specializes in traditional jazz and swing, jumped this night with the hot syncopations of drummer Herlin Riley and was further augmented by the clarinet of labelmate Michael White.

It was a night of mix-and-match among these affable musicians who, though they might come from different genres, share a common language that is laced with a New Orleans accent.

“Brother Irvin, come play a number with the old man,” beckoned Ruffins to fellow trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, who does double duty on the label leading his own band and co-leading–with percussion master Bill Summers–the very successful Latin jazz ensemble, Los Hombres Calientes.

The mood and rhythm later moved in a new, though totally natural, direction as Mayfield headed a group with a mind to dig into some modern jazz. With a very animated Riley remaining behind the drums and Los Hombres’ pianist Victor Atkins and bassist Edwin Livingston taking over in the rhythm section, the enthusiastic ensemble soared on “Mr. P.C.”

By this time Tipitina’s was packed with appreciative fans and the party was on a roll. Few musicians could, or would want to, step out for a solo performance at such a moment. But then, few musicians have the sheer power and magnetism of pianist/vocalist Henry Butler, a new Basin Streets acquisition. The previously rather boisterous crowd became hushed when Butler performed his soulful, gospel-tinged rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.” He held church.

This night, the New Orleans piano style reigned beneath the banner of the late great Professor Longhair that hangs triumphantly over the stage. Two of the genre’s greatest purveyors, Butler and Britain-transplant Jon Cleary, gave the keyboards workouts worthy of Fess himself. Cleary and his aptly named band, the Absolute Monster Gentleman, took a hold of the Meters’ classic “Just Kissed My Baby” and tore it up. Bill Summers, who sat in for Cleary’s entire set, brought extra rhythmic dimensions to crowd pleasers like Cleary’s clever original “When You Get Back” off the pianist’s debut release on the label. By the end of Cleary’s set, which ranged from New Orleans R&B to funk to swing, to reggae, another Basin Street artist, Jason Marsalis popped up on drums and the stage was full of horns. In the wee hours, “Hey Pockaway” reverberated in Tipitina’s as it has so many times before.

Originally Published