In a collaboration that could’ve only been dreamed up in New Orleans, Emerald Quintet, featuring saxophonist Skerik (Garage a Trois), drummer Stanton Moore (Galactic), keyboardist Robert Walter (Greyboy Allstars/Mike Gordon), bassist Andy Hess (Government Mule, Black Crowes), and guitarist Scott Metzger (Joe Russo’s Almost Dead) took the stage last night as the Brooklyn Bowl channeled its inner Jazz Fest. The group garnered its name as a tribute to the 55th Emerald Anniversary of Jazz Fest earlier this year, where they were formed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Skerik and Moore’s first time playing the renowned festival together, and on the heels of Skerik’s 1998 debut solo album All Kooked Out. The supergroup treated Brooklyn to a rare and energetic performance on a very limited tour that included a stop in Anchorage, AK in September, and a pair of shows in Ardmore, PA and Denver, CO sandwiching last night’s Brooklyn offering.
And they came out swinging! Appropriately opening with “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” the quintet got right to the funk, passing solos like a baton. Each musician announced his presence in a collective far greater than the sum of its parts.
“Sprung Monkey” followed, a familiar song that already had the crowd deep into a groove that would never let up. Walter’s solos tickled the crowd while his fingers tickled the black and whites, held down all the while by the best rhythm section in recent memory with Hess’s bass lines and Moore’s funky driving beats. Then Metzger’s turn with the baton, straight ahead guitar solos, no pedals, no effects, purity at the nexus of rock and funk, a touch of his signature blues, taboot.
How do you follow that? By passing the baton to Skerik of course, a powerhouse saxophonist with not only the chops to pick up where Metzger left off, but probably a large part of the reason why each member of this band pushes each other’s boundaries in all the right ways.
While most of the two-plus hour set was just straight ahead ass-shaking funk, there were moments of delicacy and patience mingled throughout. These intensely brief intervals of darkness, always pulled back by a signature Stanton beat, only served to make the light that much brighter – a true testament to the familiarity and trust shared amongst these musicians. The band was intently listening and reacting to one another, improvising while simultaneously appearing extremely well practiced. Even Peter Shapiro, owner of the Brooklyn Bowl, was on hand, an eager fan like the rest of us, but with an aura of proud papa as he, too, wore a grin from ear to ear.
“Humdinger” was an early highlight from Metzger’s Wolf! Catalog. James Casey, saxophonist (Trey Anastasio Band) joined the stage for a duelling sax number with Skerik that visibly melted the crowd, wrapped up with a spontaneous long note competition that had Skerik checking his watch while he showed off his impressive lung capacity. “Don’t Chin the Dog” highlighted both Robert Walter’s songbook and Metzger’s unbelievable talent. A cover of The Band’s “Ophelia” gave the crowd it’s only chance for a singalong before the set closing “Funky Mule.” “Who Took the Happiness,” also played by Galactic in the New Orleans tradition, was the first of a two-song encore kept the crowd grooving past the two-hour mark.
For those smart enough to be there, this was a truly special night in Brooklyn. Top shelf musicians pushing and validating each other, listening and reacting, smiling and having fun, appreciating the rarity of the occasion and the delight of the crowd in equal measure, for what may very well be one of the year’s best sets.
Setlist (via Robert Walter): Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Sprung Monkey, Aquafresh, Humdinger, Chalk Giant, Calm Down Cologne, Ironic Twist, Don’t Chin the Dog, Ophelia, Funky Mule, Who Took the Happiness, Kickin Up Dust.