Mobile’s Mardi Gras season is notable not only for its papier-mache behemoths carrying revelers who throw treats into reaching hands on the parade route. It’s also known for its nightly grand soirees. Without connections most Mardi Gras balls can be inaccessible, but there’s one mystic society that has spent nearly a decade welcoming one and all to a unique party.
For eight years, the Mystic Order of Revolutionary Enlightenment (M.O.O.R.E.) has held its Mardi Gras Masquerade, with each year’s event bigger, better and more interesting than the previous one.
In addition to food and art, this year’s M.O.O.R.E. Mardi Gras Masquerade will bring the brassy sounds of Ocean Springs’ Blackwater Brass as well as New Orleans new-school funk masters Naughty Professor. The band’s Azalea City debut in 2014 left quite an impression on locals and its set at this year’s M.O.O.R.E. event should be just as impressive, if not moreso.
Funk is as synonymous with the New Orleans music scene as jazz. Over the past decade, the Crescent City’s rich funk legacy has attracted musicians from across the nation. According to drummer Sam Shahin, the NOLA music scene and its exotic culture attracted Naughty Professor’s members to the Crescent City. As with many non-local NOLA musicians, the members hoped to catch some of the vibe that has inspired many iconic musical artists.
“We came to New Orleans because the community of musicians created the magic of the city that lured us,” Shahin said. “I’m from Austin, Texas. My parents brought us to New Orleans to see friends for Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest. I always knew that I would end up in New Orleans. There’s been a certain lure to the city that I’ve never been able to avoid.”
The group’s suggestive moniker fits its style of funk. While the band maintains the intricate bass lines and plucky guitar riffs that characterize the genre, Naughty Professor has added a versatile facet in the form of jazz. In true professor fashion, its funk style is equal parts method and experimentation mixed with what Shahin describes as “the raunchiness, the sex, the sweat” of the modern era.
While maintaining funk’s structure and attitude, Naughty Professor produces horn-heavy cuts haunted by the spirits of John Coltrane and Miles Davis.
“We think of the music that we write as bridging the gap between the mainstream verse/chorus and one/four/five structure with a jazz mentality, which has the extended harmonic structure and A-A-B-A form,” Shahin said.
Naughty Professor’s latest release, “Out on a Limb,” screams with the band’s jazz influences. Intricate horn work weaves modal jazz through each song. However, the tracks on this album reminded the members of their mission statement based on experimentation. With this in mind, Shahin says, this album reminded the band they did not need to put limitations on their music, a move that would defeat the band’s musical ideologies.
With this in mind, Naughty Professor began formulating an experimental game-plan for the tracks that will be featured on its upcoming album, “Identity.” For this album, Naughty Professor decided to invite a lineup of guest artists into its rehearsal space — not simply as featured artists, but as collaborators with a hand in the songwriting.
Shahin says the band hoped this move would result in songs that were weirder, jazzier and headier while allowing space for catchy melodies and lyrics. Collaborators include Ivan Neville (Dumpstaphunk), Sasha Masakowski, Dexter Gilmore, Voli Genova, Mykia Jovan, Mike Dillon, Chris Hines, Jason Butler, Dave Shaw (The Revivalists), Chali 2Na (Jurassic 5) and members of the Soul Rebels Brass Band and Dexter Gilmore (Sexy Dex & the Fresh).
“We’ve leaned towards the jazz in the past,” Shahin said. “That had to do with any number of limitations that were on us, whether … financial or geographic. Now that we’ve opened up to other songwriters in our creation process and bringing them into our performance space, the idea is to expand in all directions.”
Shahin says the recording process was just as interesting as creating the tracks. Naughty Professor’s experience with each artist was unique.
The track with Dexter Gilmore was a lengthy process, even though Gilmore lives just a few blocks from the band’s rehearsal space. The two-month process began with three rehearsals. With each, the group layered a sonic facet on top of the previous session’s material. The group expanded harmonics and chords until they came to a basic structure. Afterward, horns were added. Shahin says writing this song turned into a two-month process in an effort to arrive at studio perfection.
The band’s experience with Chali 2Na on the track “Darker Days” was quite different. This unique mix of Naughty Professor’s jazzy funk and Chali 2na’s buttery vocal work began with 10 demos, of which 2na chose two.
“We went back and forth with him a little on that and figured out what kind of songs that they would be,” Shahin said. “We talked about a couple of ideas here and there. He flew into New Orleans the day before the recording session, and we had a long rehearsal and focused on the song that we would record the next day. We wrote the song right there in rehearsal the day before.”
Shahin says “Identity” will be available in April. Until then, fans of Naughty Professor can enjoy the singles “Darker Days” and “Stray,” which features David Shaw. Those attending the M.O.O.R.E. event might even get a preview of new material. Ballers will definitely get a live interpretation of Naughty Professor’s trademark funk. Shahin says the shared emotion between audience and band as well as the group’s improvisational attitude is a different experience from the sterile environment of the studio.
“When we’re onstage, what we feel carries into the audience,” Shahin said. “To really understand what we do, then, you have to see us live.”
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