by Kevin Clifford
We all know that music in New York has no limits. Every night you will find artistry from the subway to street, from the Lower East Side’s ‘Cake Shop’ to midtown’s MSG. But the night I experienced on Sunday, October 16, was a bit more elevated. The bowling-hall-turned-party-central invited the New Orleans funk sextet Naughty Professor featuring vocalist Sasha Masakowski and wait for it… Chali 2na of the historic L.A. hip-hop collective Jurassic 5. So, not something you see waiting for the A train.
With the honor of photographing the event, I arrived early to make sure the lighting was bright enough to see my subjects, got my batteries charged, and excitedly, reunited with my music school cohorts from Naughty Professor. As jazz studies and music industry students at Loyola University New Orleans, the six gentlemen, now in their mid 20’s, sponged up as much brass band music, traditional jazz, and second-line rhythms as they could in four years. With a multitude of musical influences from John Coltrane to D’Angelo to Kendrick Lamar, the band involuntarily began a process of fusing jazz tradition with soul-infused dance music.
The birthplace of jazz and funk with its Latin and African influences was the impetus for these players to begin composing progressive dance music rooted in tradition. Friday and Saturday nights at Loyola buzzed with news of Naughty P gigs. Where are they playing? What time do they start? Dedicated music nerds and casual dance lovers alike grooved all night to them and we knew they were undoubtedly taking off.
In an interview with trumpeter John Culbreth, I asked him how the band was formed.
“The inception of the band came from a series of jam sessions amongst the freshman + sophomore jazz majors in a practice room at Loyola. Nick(saxophones) knocks on the door, introduces himself and asks if I want to play with him and others from the jazz band. I ditched the chart and after we played someone said, “we should really start a band…” and it turned out we were all thinking the same thing. And then Bill(guitar) booked us a gig.”
Along with Culbreth, the members of Naughty Professor are alto/baritone saxophonist Nick Ellman, bassist Noah Young, drummer Sam Shahin, tenor saxophonist Ian Bowman, and guitarist Bill Daniel. Each agrees that New Orleans leaves an indelible mark on his musical development as Culbreth explains,
“The initial impact New Orleans culture had on our music was to bring us together. We were all drawn there by the wealth of incredible musicians whose performances set a high and clear standard, as well as the amount of love for music the entire city exhibited. There’s also a certain raw, honest way that good New Orleans musicians play, which local musical icons have provided many examples of. I’ve only been in New Orleans for 6 years, so I’m still catching up. And we bring these ideals with us everywhere we go.”
These musical ideals aligned with Chali 2na, the rapid-fire baritone lyricist and rapper of Jurassic 5. Upon meeting backstage after Naughty P opened for the established funk act Galactic a year ago, they invited Chali 2na to a recording session with them at The Parlor recording studio in New Orleans and instantly clicked. So a tour seemed necessary.
Even about 30 seconds into their opening number “Chef’s Revenge”, the band’s chemistry invoked whistles and yells of satisfaction from many. After three more originals, the band brought out New Orleans native and singer Sasha Masakowski whose vocal style blended jazz and r & b in the similarly original way that Naughty P has done. Chali 2na then took the stage and invited everyone in Brooklyn Bowl to move a little closer.
As the crowd began to fill up more and more, they dug into “Outspoken”, “Comin Thru”, “Lock Shit Down”, and “Cut Chemist” before Masakowski joined him for “Hype 2nite”. Commanding stage presence, flawless rhymes and graceful precision make it quite hard for the energy in any venue to turn down so Naughty Professor ensured that everyone was turned up.
Their charm as a band is that they know how control chaos. Naughty knows how to share a stage, as well as shred one. With guitar solos whose tones range from rumble to howl in milliseconds, they never indulge in taking it as far as many jam-band guitar solos go. On and on and on. The spectrum of sound blends sultry tone, soaring melodies, punchy riffs, metronomic stamina, raw distortion, and multi-metered pulses. Never detracting from the words and storytelling of Chali 2na and Sasha Masakowski, the two continued their string of duets on compositions like “Don’t Stop”, “Darker Daze”, and “Sugar Coat”. The band then played back to back Jurassic 5 classics, “Quality Control”, “Great Expectations, “If You Only Knew”, “Concrete Schoolyard”, and finished with “What’s Golden.”
It seemed as if this was Chali 2na’s veteran backing band with their constant smiles at one another and just the ease of transition from section to section and tune to tune. The instantaneous encore brought Naughty Professor out for one last original and featured solos from various members which were celebrated by the crowd full of fans, old and new.
As for the feeling after playing with Chali 2na, John Culbreth responded,
“It did feel special. Firstly because playing in Brooklyn can be a sort of a litmus test. If we play here and don’t get called out, maybe we’re doing something right. It was also sort of special that it was at the Brooklyn Bowl, because that’s where we met Chali only last August, and our paths brought us right back to that same spot a year later. Now after playing there we’re already talking about where we’re going to hit next.”
Just as a bonus, I asked John to give me two adjectives for everyone in the band…
Noah Young(bass)- Dirty, Solid
Sam Shahin(drums)- Glue, Berserk
Nick Ellman(alto sax) – Wailing, Sultry
Bill Daniel(guitar) – Shreds, Soars
John Culbreth(trumpet) – High, Loud
Ian Bowman(tenor sax) – Tender, Merciless
I think anyone seeing Naughty Professor could make similar comments after seeing them just once. Naughty Professor is currently on the last leg of their Fall Tour going through November 18th from North Carolina to Texas to Louisiana. They will be playing again with Chali 2na on October 21st at the LEAF Festival in North Carolina and again on October 22nd in Charleston, South Carolina.
All photos by Kevin Clifford