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Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen

• Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen

No one who has seen Jon Cleary and his band in person is likely to dispute the band's sobriquet: The Absolute Monster Gentlemen. At least when it comes to funkiness, they are arguably the best band in the land--monsters indeed.

For evidence one need only check out the first track of Mo Hippa Live, "Go To The Mardi Gras." The track includes Cleary declaring, "We're ready," indicating that it is the set opener, and yet it reaches an energy level that most groups would be more than happy to attain for their big finale. It enters with a classic New Orleans second-line groove--not exactly white bread to begin with--but about halfway through the tune Cleary shouts, "Make if funky!" The syncopation level then shifts into high gear, leaving only people lacking a pulse still sitting sedately in their seats.

Cleary fans are well acquainted with this band's gigs as mini-Jazzfests, but previous studio records, while all worth owning, have not quite conveyed the combination of military precision and loose-limbed party feeling that these guys purvey on a nightly basis.

Mo Hippa Live should change that. All the elements that make a Cleary show a must see are here, from the English ex-pat, long time New Orleans resident's soulful singing, to his Professor Longhair/James Booker inspired keyboard work. The record also showcases the strengths of his band. Cleary found guitarist Derwin "Big D" Perkins and bassist Cornell C. Williams playing together in church, and a deep gospel feeling pervades their every note, albeit updated with modern funk flair. The tightness bred by their long association is highlighted in "Tipitina" where the band breaks down to the duo playing a tricky line over and over, with such precise synchronization that they might as well be one instrument. Big D (the name is not ironic, he must weigh in at over 300lbs) offers superlative, near-telepathic support throughout and gets to strut his stuff on the R&B ballad "Help Me Somebody" with a solo that would do George Benson proud. Drummer Eddie Christmas sounds equally at home on the "Nawlins" parade rhythms and the Stevie Wonder style soul of "When U Get Back."

Bonnie Raitt calls longtime sideman Cleary the Ninth Wonder of the World, and his brilliant triple-threat singing, song-writing, and keyboard work make her claim sound like merely a slight exaggeration. Combine him with the AMG band and her statement shifts even closer to a simple truth. • Michael Ross


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