Photos by Kyra Kverno
Brooklyn Bowl is a really good time, but “a good time” is an idea with many components. The crowd needs to reach that unspoken consensus that the really fervent dancers will dance along the sides and in the rear, non-dancers may be jostled, but it is not personal; always ‘make a hall’ for anyone carrying beer. The bathroom and beer lines need to move swiftly; cash is king. This unspoken agreement,” is even more urgently needed when New York hosts New Orleanian musicians. New Yorkers must approach the show with an attitude that embodies freedom, a certain joie de vivre’ which feels anathema to structured New Yorkers. Once, we were carefree. Now, any remnants of a carefree spirit may not be easily summoned after a long work week and schlepping the half mile through Williamsburg from the train to the Brooklyn Bowl. Enter Mr. Cleary and his Absolute Monster Gentlemen.
First though, the early audience was treated to an energetic opener by Naughty Professor, a fine group of young men, whose virtuosity was best showcased when their tunes exploded in that big, brassy, controlled cacophony that New Orleans artists do so well. The set was a Garden District type jazz, at times smooth, and always academic, and while it occasionally nodded in the direction of the blues, the songs mostly represented the fusion side of jazz, with its disjointed meter and form.
Then Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen took the stage. Calls of “Hey Big D!!” punctuated the songs, for a good portion of the audience had probably been introduced to Big D. and the rest of the Gentlemen in a more intimate, personal venue, maybe the Maple Leaf, perhaps. The band returned the homey salutations in song form, and the conversation continued, with old and new songs, some of the strongest being from the 2015 release, GoGo Juice, a collection of original songs that were “comprised entirely of lines [he’s] heard people say in New Orleans.” “Boneyard,” the set opener, was immediately familiar to anyone who had ever been to New Orleans, with the familiar shuffle that usually signaled you to step asideor get to steppin’ yourself, cuz the line is coming through!
Jon then settled into a beautiful gospel piano solo, where he once again demonstrated his 35 years of experience at the keys in the Crescent City. He didn’t make the audience wait too long for two of his most popular tunes, a great cover of The Meters’ “Just Kissed My Baby” and the Cleary original “When You Get Back.” Then it was back to GoGo Juice with the groovy-as-all-get-out “Beg, Steal or Borrow,” and the deep, dark “9-5,” one of the strongest of the set, painting a picture of the day-to- day drudgery that accompanies living in a gritty place like New Orleans—or New York. Mr. Cleary then reminded us what a great voice he calls on when he tells his stories, with “Bringing Back The Home,” to remind the listener “rhythm and blues was the greatest gift that America gave the world.”
His last tune was“Pump It Up,” a lively original ‘pudding’ of nods to Ray Charles, sprinkled with a little Toots and the Maytalls. All the gentlemen had a chance to step up and show out with wonderful contributions given by all, with Cornell C. Williams giving great support on bass and vocals, and Alex Joseph “A.J.” Hall killing it on the drums, and last but not least Big D, who called up the ghost of B.B. King with his introduction. Jon Cleary and the Monster Gentlemen advised that before we made it to the boneyard, we should try to have some fun, and last Friday night, at Brooklyn Bowl, New Yorkers did exactly that.