The sometime quintet of New Orleans musicians called Frequinox used to play exclusively in its own ballpark, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Lately, though, they have been giving the rest of the country a taste of their Crescent City approach to funk, and late Thursday night, they brought their foot-stomping music to the heart of the Sunset Strip.
Drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio come from the rhythm section of Galactic — and Moore is carving out a notable solo career; his most widely distributed release is 2002’s superb “Flyin’ the Koop” on Blue Thumb. Robert Walter on Hammond B3 organ and Rhodes electric piano and guitarist Will Bernard hail from the group 20th Congress. Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison is the emissary from jazz, having been one of the anchors of the Terence Blanchard/Donald Harrison Quintet as well as an Art Blakey/Jazz Messengers alumnus.
Clearly this eclectic mix of talent has the ability to stretch out into uncharted territory. Yet for a good deal of their long set, they seemed content to churn out unsubtle, everyday funk for the young dancing crowd, bashing us over the head instead of seducing us with the intricacies of New Orleans rhythm. In particular, Harrison’s inventiveness was often limited to generic three-note R&B licks, with hardly a trace of his jazz side.
Perhaps they felt defeated from the start by the poor, congested sound mix, which improved somewhat as the evening progressed. Or perhaps the special hometown ambience just doesn’t translate that well to a West Hollywood night club.
Yet there were times when Frequinox was able to break through the murk and deliver some great grooves that roamed around New Orleans and up the river to Memphis. Moore, whose nerdish look is as deceptive as that of Charlie Haden, is an extraordinary drummer, most of all when he digs deep into the N’Awlins second line on the tom-toms or revives the loping strut of the Meters.
And on occasion, Bernard could generate some tasty wah-wah licks that stoked the rhythm section and lifted it higher.