On New Orleans Pearls, Amón expertly showcases a strong cast of musical personalities. With pianist Steve Pastorius, guitarist-banjoist Alex Belhaj, and bassist Tyler Thomson on most selections, eight of the 16 numbers also include trumpeter Wendell Brunious, trombonist Freddie Lonzo, and Tom Fischer on alto and clarinet. Two quintet numbers apiece put the spotlight on clarinetist Tim Laughlin (who sounds particularly wonderful on “Did I Remember”) and Joe Goldberg on clarinet, soprano and vocals.
Pianist Pastorius gets James P. Johnson’s “Eccentricity,” Tony Jackson’s “The Naked Dance,” and James Scott’s “Grace And Beauty,” as his features. “Benny Face” is an unaccompanied drum solo by Amón that is reminiscent of Baby Dodds in the mid-1940s. His colorful and very alert drumming throughout the album (check him out during “Grace And Beauty”) adds to the infectious nature of the music.
The full septet is quite spirited during their performances. A delightful version of Kate Smith’s theme song “When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain” begins as a waltz before becoming a stomp. The group also performs a heated “Snake Rag,” the rarely-revived “Oriental Strut,” “Back In Your Own Backyard” (which has a spirited Brunious vocal), a rambunctious rendition of “Give Me Your Telephone Number,” “You Made Me Love You” (the Louis Armstrong original, not the swing era hit), a lyrical “The Purple Rose Of Cairo” and “California Here I Come” (with Brunious singing like Satch).
Recorded in a church, the echo and general acoustics are similar to that of a New Orleans dance hall in the 1950s and ’60s. New Orleans Pearls is pure musical joy.