In the hallowed ranks of New Orleans “piano professors,” Jon Cleary is on the tenure track. With his new release MO HIPPA (FHQ Records), Cleary finally puts the sizzling energy of his live shows on wax.
“The fact is that the magic that happens in a live performance is unique and will only happen once,” Cleary says. On MO HIPPA, that magic is captured. The Absolute Monster Gentlemen are Cleary on piano; New Orleans natives Derwin “Big D” Perkins on guitar and Cornell C. Williams on bass, both ten-year vets of the band; and new face Eddie Christmas on drums. While Cornell’s deep grooves and Eddie’s hard, funky beat anchor the grooves, Big D and Jon soar, with R&B licks that take the best from island rhythms, jazz, funk and traditional New Orleans soul.
Cleary, born in England, is an adopted son of the Crescent City, who’s made good his citizenship with five soul-soaked R&B funk albums with the Absolute Monster Gentlemen. As a session man, he’s played with Taj Mahal, B.B. King and Bonnie Raitt, to name a few, and is a longstanding member of Raitt’s touring band. Musically, though, his heart and soul reside on the banks of the Mississippi.
Recorded at the Vanguard club in Sydney, Australia, MO HIPPA shows Cleary and his ace band stamping their signature, groove-laden style on New Orleans classics like Professor Longhair’s iconic “Tipitina” and the Meters’ funk masterpiece “People Say.” Originals like “C’mon Second Line,” and “Port Street Blues” show the British-born Cleary’s fluency in his adopted hometown’s idiom – as he slides from street-parade swagger into soulful blues, he funks it up like a native. The smoking original track “When U Get Back” is a singular example of Cleary’s eclectic style: killer R&B infused with Caribbean funk, Cajun sizzle and a catchy pop sensibility that infects the dance floor.
The closing track, the shack-shaking funk blues original “Mo Hippa,” is a celebration of everything New Orleans, playfully challenging the rest of the world to step to the Crescent City’s legendary and effortless groove. The infectious energy in the Vanguard that night as the song took over the room is audibly apparent on the recording. The audience was “seated, and like many jazz club audiences they were a little polite and almost seemed to be waiting for permission to move all the chairs and tables out of the way,” Cleary remembers. “When it came time, we gave them a gentle nudge and the next minute they were all getting down and shaking it New Orleans style.”