Jon Cleary

Pin Your Spin

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On his second offering for the Basin Street label, pianist, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jon Cleary and his smoking band, the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, take their Crescent City funky groove machine and open it up to the eclectic side of nighttime party music from across the rhythm and blues, jazz, and even Afro-Caribbean spectrum. Working once more with producer John Porter, Cleary and the Gents keep the blues, soul, jazz and second-line grooves that make them such a central live attraction in New Orleans, and slick them up just a bit. These songs have an almost futuristic bent to them, which gives them an off-kilter feel as they encounter the popping rhythm section of bassist Cornell Williams, percussionist Daniel Sadownick, and drummer Raymond Weber. Cleary's voice is smooth enough for a jazzman's croon as he plies his keyboards and guitar fills in concert with Derwin Perkins' wonderful rhythm playing. Cleary is also fortunate to have singers like Perkins, Williams, and Ivan Neville helping him out, creating a chorale of male voices that cannot be topped. For fans of Moonbeam and Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Pin Your Spin is a subtler record: it's far more nocturnal and mysterious. A listen to the opening title track is excellent evidence of this. With the synth bass slowly vamping in groove, the guitars and keyboards strut in concert over skittering rimshots. The slippery "Agent 00 Funk," touches upon the layered soul vocals of Parliament as the half-step syncopated cadences put the listener in a kind of ethereal, finger-snapping, Jetsons-era frightzone. But it's on "Oh No No No," with its Cuban son piano (via a New Orleans Street party) stylings and smooth vocal harmonies that is the real surprise here. The killer "Best Ain't Good Enuf," is an acappella doo wop tune offers the view that this is really Cleary's vocal album. It's flawless, with all the right silky sheen in the harmonies. "Funky Munky Biznis," is right and tight, with dirty-ass guitars and sub-basement bass popping. The futuristic noir in "Is It Any Wonder," would seep completely out to lunch if it wasn't for the beatnik slither in its soulful vocals. For fans of basic New Orleans stomp and stroll, there is the oily "Got to Be More Careful," and the return to Cubana with a host of second-line polyrhythms in "Zulu Strut." In all, this is the most musically satisfying and adventurous outing Cleary has issued to date.

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