"You mean there's another damn Marsalis?" This was my incredulous response after a couple of trusted N'Awlins residents named the band they consider the hottest new jazz outfit in the city.
Los Hombres Calientes is a new Afro-Latin jazz ensemble fronted by young drummer Jason Marsalis, trumpet prodigy Irvin Mayfield, and veteran percussionist Bill Summers, ex of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. Other group members include David Pulphus (bass), Victor Atkins (piano) and Yvette Summers (percussion).
This is an extremely sophisticated Afro-Latin jazz band, and it's even more remarkable when you consider the ages of two of its frontmen. Irvin Mayfield is only 20 years old, yet he displays the dexterity and intelligence of a jazzman twice his age. And this is his debut recording! Jason Marsalis is also 20, but some critics believe he's the most talented of the Marsalis brood. All I know is that both of these kids can really play.
New Orleans musicians seem to mature earlier, maybe because they start earlier. While in New Orleans, I attended the release party for James Andrews' new CD, The Satchmo of the Ghetto, at the new Tipitina's in the French Quarter. The festivities included a jam session involving Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, both of whom appear on Andrews' album. However, the cat who completely stole the show was Andrews' kid brother Troy, aka Trombone Shorty, whose instrument was taller than he was. Here was a stage occupied by some of the greatest New Orleans musicians ever, yet these cats were willing to share it with a little kid who couldn't have been more than 10.
This ready willingness to share experience and knowledge with succeeding generations explains why New Orleans jazz is so special, and it also explains why this recording is so mature. Los Hombres Calientes mixes cha chas, congas, sambas, African call and response, Cuban vocal chants, bop, and Latin percussion in a savory multicultural stew. Mayfield and Victor Atkins play serpentine, airy bebop on top of the exotic tropical rhythms laid down by Summers, Marsalis and the rest. Favorites include a beautiful samba take on "Stardust," a Cuban rhythmic celebration called "Rompe Saraguay," and a bossa nova version of the standard "After You've Gone." The other seven tunes are originals, and each would make Dizzy Gillespie proud.
Jazz critics everywhere will soon be crowing about Los Hombres Calientes, the hottest new jazz band in The Big Easy. By the way, they assure me that Jason is the last Marsalis, at least until Wynton's and Branford's kids are old enough to begin tooting their own horns.