As pointed out in the liner notes, this recording, Live at Snug Harbor, was initially captured purely to be used as “reference.” “During the very first song, I realized something special was happening this night,” saxophonist Brad Walker is quoted as saying. That “something” is a lot of energy that transmits between the musically compatible and highly-talented members of the quartet, who are saxophonist Walker, pianist Oscar Rossignoli, bassist Nathan Lambertson and drummer AJ Hall.
Walker, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in saxophone and jazz at Louisiana State University, and who has achieved a reputation as a go-to sideman (most notably with country star Sturgill Simpson), shows himself as an insistent leader. He’s all over his tenor saxophone from its deepest to highest tonal ranges as heard on his introductory solo number that opens the set.
Walker’s original soulful number, “Pilgrim,” builds in passion, as many of the tunes here do, with Rossignoli’s two- handed emotional piano. The pianist contributes “Never Odd or Even,” which at first focuses primarily on the rhythm section, featuring provocative interactions between the pianist, bassist and drummer. Walker steps into the mix to take it to the outer levels.
Herbie Hancock’s “Oliloqui Valley” receives a gentler, more classic treatment with Lambertson’s modal, then walking, bass that swings the tune with melody firmly in place.
Walker’s “Samurai,” begins introspectively but lifts to a happy and fully relatable feel, particularly when Rossignoli introduces some strong Latin rhythms. The always-melodic pianist takes off with drummer Hall behind him all the way. Walker, as is his way, digs down hard, then brings the song to a satisfying resolution.
The climax of Live at Snug Harbor sums up the best of the Brad Walker Quartet in that it offers the dynamics of the ensemble in its most comprehensive mode, yet reveals a progressive essence.
On this live recording at Snug Harbor, Brad Walker’s quartet generates a high energy set of great music. It shows how the next generation of New Orleans modern jazz players is building on the musicians who came before but also making their own great original music. This is music both modern and of New Orleans that follows in the footsteps of Kidd Jordan, Clyde Kerr, and Tony Dagradi. Walker is a versatile musician. He is more than comfortable onstage with everyone from the gonzo rock of Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, the psychedelic soul-country of Sturgill Simpson, and the many different types of jazz he plays at any given moment in New Orleans. He also has developed a beautiful and signature tone, something that is difficult to do and neglected by many jazz musicians these days. Whether he is playing long flowing notes in the “Intro” here or the quickly cascading scales of “Never Odd or Even,” it is easy to tell that Walker is the player here. And his sound moves between different styles from the more abstract opening of “Lullaby” to the electronics of “Horizon,” and the pretty melody of Bon Ivers’ “Tower.” His playing inspired both the audience and his band. There are several moments where each member of the band pushes the others and the collective playing gets even more intense. Nathan Lambertson’s bass solo on “Oliloqui Valley” or pianist Oscar Rossignoli’s stirring playing on “Horizon” push the intensity and the other musicians pick up on it. The audience is with the band at these moments, and their presence and exhortations give the album moments of great excitement.