Move over Jelly Roll, Fats, Professor Longhair and Doctor John. There’s a new Crescent City piano master in town. Standing firmly in the time-honored tradition that has produced piano geniuses for close to a hundred years, transplanted English keyboard maestro Cleary and his Absolute Monster Gentlemen create a glorious groove on Pin Your Spin. Combining doo-wop, gospel, the Cuban Son tradition, blues and—above all—a heavy dollop of P-Funk bass-quake, Cleary and his band stomp through a dozen tracks that considerably spice up the already-rich N’awlins piano gumbo.
It’s a heady mixture. The Cuban polyrhythms of “Zulu Strut” and “Oh No No No” recall Buena Vista Social Club piano master Ruben Gonzalez, while “Ain’t Nuttin’ Nice” recaptures the groove and grit of southern-fried fusion bands like Sea Level and The Dixie Dregs. “Smile in a While” is a gospel-influenced soul workout, while “Doin’ Bad Feelin’ Good” and “Funky Munky Biznis” compare favorably to Stevie Wonder funk-pop classics like “Superstition” and ”Livin’ for the City.” The Absolute Monster Gentlemen are spectacular throughout. Derwin “Big D” Perkins’ impossibly syncopated stop/start guitar and Cornell Williams’ popping bass particularly stand out, and Perkins, Williams and guest Ivan Neville sing up a gospel storm behind Cleary on nearly every track, tossing in revelatory whoops, asides and swooping glissandos. There’s no denying the righteous funk at work here.
Cleary is a solid, if unspectacular, vocalist, and a couple of his songs are generic Mardi Gras party tunes designed to get the Midwestern housewives up-and-dancing on Bourbon Street. “Agent 00 Funk” (with a license to chill, no less) is particularly egregious, leaving me neither shaken nor stirred—only annoyed by the kitsch. But these quibbles aside, this is an absolute monster band, as funky as they come, and they’ve created an album that is an absolute joy to hear.