Leo Nocentelli left his roots in the 1950s, but the music that sticks is his swooping and swooping horn. This beautiful collection celebrating his solo career – what he calls “my New York show” – gives us the old and the new, many of them made by the Meters. The new is John Coltrane’s Bitches Brew, and a soprano sax solo by the great Jamaican jazz musician Joe Budd – a record that took a long time to come out of the Meters’ creative darkness, once Nocentelli had left the band.
But the Meters kept on making music. The most celebrated of these were the 10 long, intricate albums they recorded in 1962-66 – but their after-hours discos and raucous concerts during the 60s also resonate. One of the joys of this collection is listening to the camaraderie of the Meters as they were forming in the early 60s: players like Calvin Byrd and Doc Powell, Nocentelli’s original foil, are surrounded by his new bandmates, and sharing music – also from the time – with them.
The Meters’ innovative reggae trumpet player, Larry Young, is included, as is organist Harry Manx, former collaborator Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, and saxophonist Fats Navarro. Hammond organ pioneer Louis Armstrong makes an appearance, and so does singer/trumpeter Véronique Gumbs, the Meters’ stylish trombonist and Nocentelli’s protege – she’s the star of this graceful record.
Even a critic as very much in touch with the Meters’ own origins as hippies – someone whose father played “reincarnated” and “poured full of youthful vitality into the air all around us” – can barely believe the sheer frenzy that all these musicians managed in mid-60s New York. They were a fertile combination of malcontents, freaks, saints and bobos, all getting on one exotic wavelength. The recording a mass of bebop and have-a-go jazz, R&B, new wave and blues blips and surges; you can hear the anticipation they felt when they heard Tadd Dameron’s story-of-a-girl Who Can Replace You on the radio; and read the “probing scat” that Manx finds in Young’s records. There’s certainly no shortage of new material here. “And you can be sure we will have another bigger gig when I’m ready,” Nocentelli once sang. This is exactly that.