ESQUIZITO / “Just A Closer Walk”
That’s a famous Meters song called “Cissy Strut” that Esquizito is mixing with the traditional gospel song “Just A Closer Walk.” That’s New Orleans. That’s Esquizito. Just crazy. Wild. Who would think of such a combination? We do, down in the gumbo. We come up with all kinds of concoctions. And don’t nobody think it the least bit strange. People just say, that’s just the way they want to do it. And that’s ok.
In this case, I wish there were two or three more crazy cuts. Not that there aren’t some other beautiful covers on Esquizito's newly-released Vol. 4, it’s just there’s something wild and wonderful about this acapella rendition that mixes funk and gospel like that’s the way it always goes.
Come to think of it, that’s how Mahalia Jackson got kicked out of some Chicago churches. Gospel was her thing, but she was singing what was obviously a mixture of musical influences.
Eric Paul Perez is a vocalist/guitarist who comes from a long line of Creole jazz musicians including cornetist Manuel Perez and saxophonist Harold Dejan, both of whom are major names in the world of traditional New Orleans jazz. Eric’s musical persona of Esquizito is a mix of modern jazz vocals, New Orleans street character, traditional jazz and gospel, and a healthy dab of bohemian zaniness. He studied arranging and composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston and spent a little over a decade performing in New York City.
Although not a great vocalist, his smooth baritone offers an attractive soothing sound. What I dig the most however is the arrangements and the playing of the band members. There is a strong, strong Coltrane flavor in the way Esquizito uses vamps especially on the out choruses. He calls his band The Imperial Quintet of New Orleans (Esquizito – guitar and vocals; Khari Allen Lee – alto sax; David Easley – pedal steel guitar; Dylan Hicks – drums; Greg Smith – bass).
Befitting an acoustic set up, the production is warm and intimate with each instrument well defined in the mix. Listen to the swish of brushes or the way the distinctive pedal steel is up front but not over powering. Khari’s saxophone has an enormous presence without being overly loud.
It’s truly a strong effort by the entire band working in simpatico to make the music “breath”—no rushing, no showboating. They work expertly together like accomplished dancers who are in love with both the music and each other. I really like the codas on the end of the three ballads: Ellington’s “Come Sunday” and the two standards, “Come Rain Or Come Shine” and “I’m Glad There Is You.”
This is not the kind of music one immediately thinks of in terms of New Orleans but it is very New Orleans in how it is put together utilizing unique instrumentation and off-kilter arrangements that are at once recognizable and comfortable but at the same time a bit different and in some cases a bit bizarre albeit wonderfully so. I’m sure this is not to everyone’s taste but if you give these interpretations a couple of listens you will begin to appreciate their relaxing effect like a mint julep on a hot August day or a cup of hot chocolate with a touch of rum on a winter afternoon.
Equizito self-produced this music. There is not a huge market for it. (Go to his website to order the CD.) I doubt he will get much air play outside of WWOZ, the New Orleans music station, but it’s non-commercial character is one of the major strengths of this outing. Esquizito is not playing to produce a popular hit. This is just some softly-swinging jazz that an idiosyncratic New Orleans musician sincerely felt like creating. It is what it is: a man quietly sharing some music he loves.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
The thing you have to love about Esquizito's "Cissy Strut" scat is that he does both rhythms. The one that drops right at the intro and the one they switch to after the first chorus. That's some crazy shit. I think Kalamu described his overall vibe well. My man is definitely an original.
My favorite track of these selections is "Come Sunday." It may just be that I'm a sucker for the song. I've raved about it in these pages before and I selected Mahalia Jackson's version as my favorite posting from our first year. It's a great song and this is a beautiful rendition. I love how relaxed and "oh, by the way" the accompaniment is. The band sounds like they just happened to be there outside of Esquizito's window while he's there chillin' in his front room, pretending to be an opera singer or something. Only as he's pretending, he's also dead serious. It's quirky and strange, yet truly delightful. The sax is sweet too.
BTW, I was just about to sign off and shut down my computer when I realized who this cat's music reminds me of. Danny Barker. New Orleans' own, of course. Not only that, I've never seen a picture of Danny Barker as a young man, but Esquizito looks like what I imagine Danny would've looked like when he was in his twenties or thirties. You could never tell when Danny was being 100% serious or when he was putting you on. He was very relaxed and conversational in his style, yet he also knew exactly what he was doing at all times, musically. Anyway, there you go. I'll try to talk Kalamu into posting some Danny Barker one of these days.
—Mtume ya Salaam
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