The Masakowski Family, “N.O. Escape” (Independent)

masakowski-family-n-o-escape1-300x267Given the amount of talent involved, the Masakowski clan didn’t need to stretch very hard to make a good record. But they did anyway, and came up with something a bit special: a full-fledged band album, based in jazz but calling on all the family’s diverse musical leanings—father Steve’s electric jazz, son Martin’s gypsy and klezmer music, and daughter Sasha’s jumps between jazz vocals and progressive rock.

That’s a lot of sounds to juggle, but they make it work pretty seamlessly—in part because this is also a loose concept album, steeped in the romance and the darker mysteries of New Orleans (including three songs that Steve co-wrote with lyricist Jay Griggs, based on the locally loved novel A Conspiracy of Dunces). Those three are the most eclectic on the disc: “Mancuso” lands somewhere between gypsy jazz and spy soundtrack, with a playfully decadent lyric and the surprising touch of Steve playing all the lead-guitar parts on a banjo. The title tune edges closer to art-rock, with the banjo returning, Sasha singling double-tracked harmonies, and the rhythm section swinging gracefully along. Sporting an absolutely gorgeous melody, it’s an early pick for favorite songs of 2017.

Everybody gets a chance to shine, including the one non-family member, drummer Paul Thibodeaux, who grooves in tandem with Martin Masakowski’s bass on an inventive arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun” (Martin also does a nice turn on bowed bass in the Bechet tune “Les Oignons.”) Though he gets to play more acoustic instruments here than in Astral Project, Steve gets in plenty of his elegant electric tones in “Crescent City Jones,” a rocked-up second-line piece. And Sasha’s vocals are wonderful throughout, whether she’s doing a torchy turn on her own song “Too Bad” or scatting on “House of the Rising Sun.” She clearly relishes the chance to slip into the character songs, but on the ’30s standard “Exactly Like You” she and the band evoke a romantic mood, just for the joy of it.