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Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Edinburgh '08 arrow Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen
Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen
Written by Ali Lauder   
Published on Tuesday, 29 July 2008

4.5 stars

Jazz and Blues Festival
At the Minto Hotel; Run ended

I HAD NO IDEA what to expect from Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen.  A veteran of the New Orleans music scene, English-born Cleary has recruited a three-man band all hailing from Louisiana’s largest city to assist him in his pursuit of funky rhythm and blues.  I had a feeling that tonight’s show wouldn’t really be my style, assuming it was perhaps a little too polished-sounding for my tastes - but I was to be very pleasantly surprised.

Over the next two and a half hours, Cleary and his band of gentlemen played an awe-inspiring mix of traditional and contemporary rhythm and blues, with a strong funk element.  Concerned mostly with the spirit of New Orleans’ party connotations, the band demonstrated their catalogue by way of shifting tempo, constant improvisation and an astonishing number of interesting twists and turns, all the while maintaining a soulful, funky and bluesy sound.

With traditional rhythm and blues piano-playing that flits between delicate and all-out wild, and intricate drums and percussion covering jazz, funk, blues and traditional New Orleans parade styles, Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen pack a lot into their music.  Add to this template hugely funky bass playing with groovy bass lines, runs, trills and slides, and gentle blues guitar that acts as a backdrop but at times comes to an expressive fore.  Mix in finally the warm soulful vocals, and you have a band with a varied and totally engaging sound.

They constantly experiment with breakdowns, solos, trade-offs and isolating instruments, whilst still finding time for a spot of scat singing and even some cowbell.  Astonishingly tight, they kept surprising each other with their improvisations and time shifts - and almost never missed a beat.  One of the most enthusiastic bands I’ve ever seen, they all looked to be having a great time as they each laughed in disbelief at their band mates’ talents; and the feeling was communicated to the audience, who were laughing and dancing along in no time.

The solos were another notable feature.  Rather than playing for long isolated minutes at a time, the individual band members would perform snippets throughout the set, allowing the audience to marvel at their technical prowess as well as enjoy interesting playing that was pertinent to the songs.  The solos explored a full range of possibilities without going overboard, and were soon helped along by the rest of the band. It was refreshing to witness the exchange of runs and melodies, soloing that was passed on rather than left to stagnate.

Lyrically, Jon Cleary isn’t so original, maybe even a little clichéd; but with he and his band playing such unique, vibrant and colourful music, who cares? They’re not always technically perfect, but they play challenging music that’s far from predictable - to both the listener and the band alike. With everything sounding so clear and high in the mix, save for maybe the guitar, it was unfortunate that the odd mistake was quite noticeable amongst an otherwise perfect performance.  But coming mostly a result of improvisations that saw the band watching one another intently for changes, it wasn’t something to dwell upon.

With its impressive array of lights and mirrors, intriguing architecture and starlit curtain backdrop, the Spiegeltent provides the perfect setting for a rhythm and blues extravaganza. The stage set-up allowed all four members of Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen a prominent playing space, while the outer rim of tables all facing the performance and encapsulating the central seats make for an all-inclusive spectators’ area. It’s just a shame that the unsuitable wooden deck chairs in the central seating area are so uncomfortable, especially over the course of a sold-out two and a half hour show.

They were hindered, too, by the sound of the torrential rain outside for the first few songs of their set.  But the weather eventually relented - allowing Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen their chance to shine. By the end of the show the audience were singing, dancing and crying out for more amongst rapturous applause. Hats off to Jon Cleary and his trio of gentlemen for bringing a New Orleans Mardi Gras atmosphere to what would otherwise have been a miserable rain-soaked night.

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