John Medeski’s Mad Skillet

John Medeski’s Mad Skillet
(Indirecto)

For John Medeski’s Mad Skillet, it’s all about the bass—or in this case, the sousaphone. Because in Medeski’s New Orleans funk band, it’s Kirk Joseph’s harrumphing bottom line that both makes and breaks the project.

Assembled for a late-night gig at 2015’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Mad Skillet could have been just another postmodern take on The Meters had it used a conventional drum-and-bass team. But by building its rhythmic axis upon Joseph and drummer Terrence Higgins—both veterans of the trailblazing Dirty Dozen Brass Band—the quartet was able to concoct a more street-savvy version of Crescent City funk.

From the semi-psychedelic groove of “Tuna In A Can,” where Joseph’s deep-breathing bass line makes a very human counterpoint against Medeski’s sci-fi synths, to the moody Sun Ra chestnut “Golden Lady,” where sousaphone is matched against a convincingly synthesized bass clarinet patch, the advantages of brass bass are obvious. Elsewhere, though, it can be an awkward fit. On the fatback funk of “Little Miss Piggy,” Joseph simply sounds like a guy playing an electric bass line on a tuba—not wrong, exactly, but not ideal. Still, it would be hard to imagine the skittering “Piri Piri” working as well with anything but a sousaphone huffing underneath, and Joseph’s sound fits perfectly with the percolating polyrhythms of the horn-spiked “Invincible Bubble.” It might just be that, as with any New Orleans delicacy, it takes a few tries to get all the flavors balanced. —J.D. Considine

John Medeski’s Mad Skillet: Man About Town; Invincible Bubble; Tuna In A Can; Golden Lady; Piri Piri; Psychedelic Rhino; Little Miss Piggy; Adele; The Heart of Soul. (52:29)

Personnel: John Medeski, keyboards; Will Bernard, guitar; Kirk Joseph, sousaphone; Terrence Higgins, drums; Gilbert Elorreaga, trumpet (2); Dan Bechdolt, tenor saxophone (2); Mark V. Gonzales, trombone; Josh Levy, baritone saxophone (2); Jonathan Doyle, bass saxophone.

Ordering info: medeskimartinandwood.com