By Pat Gunther
NOLA’s Naughty Professor and local venue darlings Captain Green took the stage to an underwhelming crowd at the Varsity Theatre last Friday. From the get-go, all but a few fans vibing directly in front of the stage could not meet Naughty Professor’s virtuosity and energy.
With that said, the six-piece acid jazz/funk collective brought some impressive instrumentation to the table. Immediately, Nick Ellman on the baritone sax lured the audience in with soulful call and response cuts, while Sam Shahin’s drum work provided a sturdy framework for the horns section to maneuver in and out. As the band continued to rinse through old and new cuts, I was taken back by the trippy and entrancing guitar work of Bill Daniel, who evoked a sound as if Tony Iommi was a member of Pink Floyd with his lengthy and sometimes jarring solos.
However, I couldn’t help but notice myself getting lured into these complex and different solos before they were cut short and transitioned back into the typical NOLA funk/jazz combo that so many acts of the area try to make their own. While Noah Young’s bass grooves provided a steady yet free ranging template for the band to groove off of, the horns section of Nick Ellman, Ian Bowman and John Culbreth really stole the show.
The cohesion between the three brass instrumentalists spoke volumes about Naughty Professor’s ability to riff off of one another and come back to the same place, but ultimately left me feeling like they were not adventurous enough in the end, thanks to that New Orleans homogeneity that inevitably seeps in to any local act’s sound after enough time in the Big Easy.
At around 11:45 p.m., the headliner Captain Green finally took the stage to a still lackluster, but growing crowd. As people filed in to the empty aisle spaces on the main floor, a large number sat complacent at their tables sipping whatever drink they had committed to for the evening. I was immediately struck by David Melancon’s trumpet, which stood out particularly among the rest of the group’s instrumentation. Much like Naughty Professor, though, Captain Green’s set served as a platform for each individual to shine.
Ross Hoppe on the keyboard and synthesizer added deeper textures than present in the opener’s act, and the drum work of Michael Harris was nothing short of spectacular at times in the set. As the six of them continued to transition from track to track, I found myself unable to distinguish where one song ended and where another began, despite the fact that they were blending tracks from their old and new albums, respectively. This, above all else, was my biggest issue with Captain Green’s set.
Undoubtedly, the group is full of talented and hard working musicians who can improvise well enough to keep an audience riding along with them, but as a whole I felt that their tracks really lacked that stand out quality that sets them apart. Though it was a celebration of Captain Green’s latest labor of love, Protect Each Other Together, I felt that their tireless energy and super-fun tracks were wasted on a terrible turnout on a chilly Friday evening. Despite their lack of diversification among tracks, both Captain Green and Naughty Professor are adept musicians trying to perfect that typical New Orleans sound, even if there weren’t many people around to hear it.