The weekend before the New Mastersounds played Higher Ground, I got together with some friends to watch the documentary Coals to Newcastle -- The New Mastersounds: Leeds to New Orleans, a film about the band's approach to music and the Englishmen's first trip to play NOLA Jazz Festival. It was the perfect warm up for the show.
"Enthusiasm is contagious" drummer Stanton Moore (I believe) states about the Mastersounds in the film, and there was no denying that seeing them perform at Higher Ground. The sheer joy that have playing music does feel so contagious, that even the biggest music curmudgeon and saltiest of salty music fans would have a hard time not letting go to the way these cats lay it down. The grooves are as tight as can be and they bounce, twist and bend like the best of those all too often overlooked American Funk/Soul Jazz/Boogaloo records from the 60s and 70s. They have that spirit.
With that said, the New Mastersounds aren't breaking any new ground sonically, but it's too real and present to not feel the hard kick-in-the-ass reminder about how amazing and powerful this form of American music can be. Bottom line: they do it really fucking well.
Throughout the night I heard the great lineage -- Grant Green here, the Meters there. But the best parts were watching the dialogue. Several times during the evening I would get sucked into the subtle nuances in their playing, especially the conversation between bassist Pete Shand and drummer Simon Allen. Underneath holding it down, there were so many great sub-conversations. And a few times during the night keyboardist Joe Tatton took us to the soul revival party, making that Hammond scream the gospel from a church you'd actually want to go to. Guitarist Eddie Roberts just does it right -- everything from the tone of his guitar when it gets chugging along to his keen sense of when not to play and just let the music breathe, everything was spot on. And even a few times when he picked up the tambourine, it brought a rise of energy to the stage.
About an hour or so into their set you pretty much heard everything you're going to hear from these guys, but so what. I looked around and nobody in the room seemed bored. It was just a lot of people getting down and having some fun like they should on a Thursday night. The New Mastersounds are the real deal.