Sam Henry: Treme Soul: New Orleans Gumbo

Although little known outside of New Orleans, organist Sam Henry has been a fixture in that city since the early ’60s, both playing and teaching music. Circa 1967-68 he teamed with Cyril Neville and others to form Sam and the Soul Machine, a funky outfit that kicked around for about a decade, cut some tracks at the legendary Cosimo Matassa’s studio (most of which remained unreleased until six years ago) and receded into history. Henry, who lost his home in Katrina, has made a lot of friends in NOLA over the years, and he’s called upon several of them for this release, along with a handful of Texans he’s met since relocating in the aftermath of the hurricane. Trem√© Soul is a festive and eclectic set, from its standout lead track, which mashes the melody of the Beatles’ “Come Together” with the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody”-with Neville (who also provides the album’s percussion) and Dr. John trading vocals-to the closer, a Latinesque take on “Smooth,” the number one hit penned by Rob Thomas and made famous by Santana. Ray Benson, leader of western swing revivalists Asleep at the Wheel, is another high profile guest, turning in a suave croon and soulful guitar solo on Johnny Mercer’s “I Wanna Be Around.” But ultimately it’s Henry himself, who also plays piano and other keyboards on the set, as well as strings, who provides the hottest sparks. His Hammond B3, particularly in tandem with saxophonist Gary Brown, another Soul Machine alumnus, is always elegant and expressive, whether on a quintessential Big Easy R&B groove (Wardell Quezerque’s “Coffee Pot,” the Meters’ “Just Kissed My Baby”) or an adventurous, swinging jazz adaptation (Horace Silver and Jon Hendricks’ “Doodlin'”).